Almost every year there are one or two highly touted rookie quarterbacks that fans expect to thrive their first season in the NFL. It does not help that the NFL hype machine is working overdrive with respect to these players, focusing so much attention on them.
In 2013, it was EJ Manuel and Geno Smith, both of whom have been disappointments. In 2014, Johnny Manziel was a major bust and Blake Bortles was underwhelming, while Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr showed promise but were not particularly useful for fantasy.
Perhaps the 2012 class of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, in which each of these players finished Top 12 in fantasy points per game, is too fresh in our memories. This group is the exception though, not the norm. It usually takes at least one season for a quarterback to get a true feel for the NFL and enter fantasy football relevancy.
Even though fan bases put pressure on teams to start their new young quarterback early, and teams often bow to that pressure, the best approach for fantasy players is likely set expectations low and hope for the best. The player will quite possibly be overwhelmed like Manuel, but may fall into an ideal situation and blossom like Griffin (as a rookie).
Do we have a Griffin situation for 2015? Here are my post-NFL Draft Top 5 Rookie Quarterbacks:
1. Jameis Winston, Buccaneers
With the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, quarterback Jameis Winston went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One of the most hotly debated rookie quarterbacks coming out of college due to off-field issues, the Buccaneers made sure to do their research on Winston. Boasting a BCS Championship, a Heisman Trophy and a 26-1 career record as a starter in college, Winston is, arguably, the most NFL-ready of all rookie quarterbacks. Winston will be under center Day One. He gets the pleasure of throwing to veteran WR Vincent Jackson, last season’s rookie sensation receiver Mike Evans, and tight end sleeper Austin Seferian-Jenkins. With Charles Sims likely assuming a larger role in the running game, this means Winston should be spreading the ball around and utilizing quick reads. With the franchise in his hands and weapons to be dangerous, consider spending a higher rookie pick on Winston than usual for a QB in your dynasty leagues. While we are keeping redraft expectations in check, he is a fringe starter in QB-flex leagues, and is a potentially useful bench player in 12-team or larger, traditional start one QB leagues.
2. Marcus Mariota, Titans
The most speculation leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft was when Marcus Mariota will be drafted and to which team. Rumors were swirling the former Oregon Ducks quarterback would be reunited with his former coach Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, or go the San Diego Chargers, or Cleveland Browns, but none of that came to fruition. Instead, Mariota went second overall to the Tennessee Titans. With a 36-5 record as a starter for the Oregon Ducks, Mariota is a dual-threat quarterback. He doesn’t have as strong an arm or pocket presence as Winston, but can hurt defenses with his legs. The Titans offense is in complete rebuild mode. Not only are the receivers young, between Justin Hunter, Kendall Wright and rookie Dorial Green-Beckham, but the Titans running game is also a work-in-progress, featuring sophomore Bishop Sankey and rookie David Cobb. Tough to say whether the Titans will roll out Mariota or let Zach Mettenberger take some lumps first, but the Titans travel to face the Buccaneers Week 1, so we know who the NFL has in mind for this matchup.
Outside of Winston and Mariota, the other quarterbacks drafted in 2015 were selected as backups who may develop into future replacements for current starting quarterbacks. All are dynasty stash and hold picks, and not draftable for redraft leagues.
Bryce Petty, Jets
In 2014, the New York Jets were abysmal at the quarterback position between Geno Smith and Michael Vick. In Week 8 last season versus the Buffalo Bills, Geno Smith had more interceptions (3) than completions (2, of 8 attempts). Yes, the Jets are in desperate need for a franchise quarterback. New Head Coach Todd Bowles is hoping Bryce Petty will be that guy. Unfortunately, Petty still has some developing to do and may not get a chance to start for another year or two; that is unless the very-opined Jets fan base has anything to say about it. In Petty’s first full season for the Baylor Bears, he passed for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He also rushed for 14 touchdowns. The Jets have some offensive weapons in Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall and Jace Amaro, but if Smith falters the Jets likely turn to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick before Petty this season.
Garrett Grayson, Saints
Garrett Grayson has the privilege to learn from Super Bowl winning quarterback Drew Brees. The investment in Grayson in the third round of the NFL Draft shows that Head Coach Sean Payton is preparing for the future without an aging Brees. Brees is still a few years away from hanging up the towel, so that gives Payton time to develop Grayson into the future franchise quarterback. With the acquisition of running back C.J. Spiller, and trading away Jimmy Graham and burner receiver Kenny Stills, it is apparent the Saints are leaning towards a more run-based offense, which takes pressure off of Brees and may help extend his career. Still, at 36 years old, it is a good time for the Saints to develop Brees’ successor.
Brett Hundley, Packers
Just like Grayson, Brett Hundley lands immediately into the backup role and opportunity to learn from one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay Packers coaching staff likes athletic quarterbacks and Hundley fits that mold. Hundley needs to work on his pocket presence, but that develops with practice and time. While Hundley is not any sort of immediate threat to Rodgers, should A-Rod get injured then Hundley has an excellent supporting cast to work with and help streamline his development.
Sean Mannion, Rams
St. Louis Rams made a surprise trade during free agency when they traded away oft-injured quarterback Sam Bradford for former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. Foles had an impressive rookie season in 2013, finished third in fantasy points per game, but was off to a bad start for the Eagles last season prior to breaking his collarbone. Now with the Rams, Foles will have a short leash with Head Coach Jeff Fisher. Mannion is a big man with a big arm; and will definitely be groomed for a future in St. Louis, and could find himself starting sooner than expected.