Yesterday, I talked about the number of rookie QBs who could be starting this year, and also took a historic look at how much impact a rookie starter had on the passing offense rate stats compared to the predecessor.
Today, I’m going to give you a Top Nine list of the Most Improved Passing Offenses with Rookie Quarterbacks. I’m calling it that rather than “best” because this is an objective list that looks at how a rookie quarterback did relative to the main quarterback the season before. As I always say, teammates matter, and we will in fact see that with some of these guys. Also, the worse the offense was the year before, the more room for improvement. Some of the names on this list meet your perception; others may surprise you. These were the 9 largest improvements between how a rookie performed in league-normalized Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANYA+) versus the primary starter for the same team the previous season.
Why nine? Well, these were the only ones where there was at least one standard deviation improvement in passing numbers, there was a gap, and if I went to ten, it would include Heath Shuler just in front of Joe Flacco.
9. Rick Mirer, Seattle, 1993. A surprise right out of the gate, as Mirer most certainly is considered a bust. The offense improved from dreadful under the immortal Stan Gelbaugh – with a side of Kelly Stouffer and Dan McGwire – to merely below average in Mirer’s rookie season, and the team went from 2 to 6 wins. I offer Mirer as a cautionary tale for those already touting Sam Bradford (who does not appear on this list because Bulger was only marginally worse than Bradford) as a superstar, as they put up similar numbers as rookies.
8. Drew Bledsoe, New England, 1993. Back in 1993, it was Bledsoe and Mirer as the next hope. Bledsoe and an emerging Ben Coates and Bill Parcells taking over as coach resulted in an improvement over the dark ages that were Hugh Millen, Scott Zolak and Tommy Hodson.
7. Rodney Peete, Detroit, 1989. You think a rookie named Barry Sanders may have had a little something to do with this passing offense improvement?
6. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh, 2004. Big Ben is one of the most unique quarterbacks in history. If it is possible, he is both overrated and underrated–overrated by those that look just at rings (the defenses haven’t been shabby) but underrated by those that go to the opposite extreme. He made a big impact when he came in to replace Tommy Maddox as a rookie en route to a 15-1 season, and has been one of the 5-6 best quarterbacks when he plays.
5. Matt Ryan, Atlanta, 2008. Last season, Ryan got a little too much praise, only to then have it turn against him in the playoffs, but let’s not forget how disastrous the Atlanta organization was in the wake of Bobby Petrino and Michael Vick. Ryan immediately stabilized the team and helped turn them from 4-12 to 11-5 in one season.
4. Doug Williams, Tampa Bay, 1978. If it weren’t for his later revival with the Redskins as Super Bowl MVP, Doug Williams may have been unfairly overlooked. His Tampa career is probably underappreciated. He never completed a high percentage, but what he did do was avoid interceptions and sacks while throwing a nice deep ball. As a rookie, he started for a team that had won 2 of 28 games, and got them to a miraculous 5 wins, and then an improbable NFC Championship game a season later.
3. Jim Plunkett, New England, 1971. Here’s another where the narrative doesn’t fit the player. Plunkett is largely considered a failure until he emerged with the Raiders a decade later. In truth, he went from playing with bad teams to a loaded one. The year before, the Patriots brought in gutsy intangible winner Joe Kapp after he had a contract squabble with the Vikings. Turns out, he wasn’t very good when backed by a historically dominant defense, and his Patriot tenure was forgettable. As the #1 overall pick, Plunkett turned that offense into league average, which was actually quite the feat.
2. Steve Bartkowski, Atlanta, 1975. I was shocked that it was Bartkowski, not Ryan, near the top of this list. Bob Lee, the guy Bartkowski replaced, is one of the more unique players that no one knows–a real boom or bust player. In 1973, he put up a ridiculous 14.1 yards per completion and the Falcons almost made the playoffs for the first time ever. The next year, he fell apart, took a sack on 15% of his dropbacks, and averaged 5.0 yards per attempt as the Falcons got the #1 overall pick. Bartkowski turned in a near league average performance as a rookie, then struggled through two injury filled seasons before leading Atlanta to the playoffs in 1978 and again in 1980.
1. Dan Marino, Miami, 1983. Marino tops the list, and it isn’t particularly close. David Woodley was horrible, yet the Dolphins somehow managed to make the Super Bowl in 1982 with a combination of Woodley and Strock. After the team started 3-2 with Woodley, while he averaged only 5.9 ypa and just over 100 yards per game, Shula made the switch. Marino averaged 7.5 yards per attempt, as the offense took off and the team finished 12-4. Just how big was going from David Woodley to a Hall of Fame quarterback that was among the most NFL ready of all-time? If we convert the difference to 2011 dollars, it was a little bigger than the difference between going from Derek Anderson in Arizona to Tom Brady in New England.
[photo via Getty]