As the list of Broncos injured in the off season and/or training camp grows, so do questions regarding the kind of season Denver can be expected to have in 2010. What has concerned me in this on-going litany of problems facing the Broncos is whether or not Denver can be competitive in 2010, but rather, the number of comments that I’ve seen that have declared -- before even a single preseason game has been played -- that 2010 is a lost year.
I’m seeing more and more comments about how Denver can expect, at best, to win 4 to 6 games in the coming season. A spin-off based upon that assumption is an equally growing sentiment in some circles that since the season is already lost, the team should go ahead and name Tim Tebow the starter and give him a chance to gain valuable NFL experience when there will be no pressure to win, since chances are Denver won’t win anyway.
The first point I'd like to address is the question of whether or not the injury list does indeed spell doom for the 2010 season. Here is the current injury list, as posted on cbssports.com:
I have issues with both of those propositions on at least two levels, and I’ll share those after the jump.
1)Josh Barrett, DB, Shoulder, Waived & Picked up by New England
2)Demaryius Thomas, WR, Foot, Questionable for Aug 15 vs Cin
3)Eric Decker, WR, Leg, Questionable for Aug 15 vs Cin
4)Jarvis Moss, LB, Hand, Questionable for start of Regular Season
5)Elvis Dumervil, LB, Chest, Out for start of Regular Season, may miss 2010 Season
6)Jamal Williams, DL, Elbow, Questionable for Aug 15 vs Cin
7)Ronald Fields, DL, Side, Questionable for Aug 15 vs Cin
8)Correll Buckhalter, RB, Back, Questionable for Aug 15 vs Cin
9)Knowshon Moreno, RB, Hamstring, Doubtful for Aug 15 vs Cin, probable for start of regular season
10)Kenny McKinley, WR, Not specified, IR
11)Darrell Reid, LB, Knee, PUP
12)Ryan Clady, OT, Knee, Have not seen update on him
When I look at that injury list, it appears to me that the overwhelming majority of them will be available, if not in the preseason, then at least by the start of the regular season. Based on that information alone, I would find it hard toargue in favor of the view that the 2010 season is lost.
Not only that, but IMHO, it is far too early to declare exactly what effect those injuries will have on the team and the season. We have yet to see the current roster of players perform in a game situation. Thus, we have no basis on which to determine whether or not they have gelled as a team, the degree of comparative skill under pressure, etc, etc. Add in to that, we have not yet seen in what ways the coaching staff will adapt/modify/change their original plans to emphasize the strengths of the players that they will have available. So, at this point in time, it is as plausible to posit the view that some of the newer players will rise to the challenge and excel, as it is to hold to the view that we cannot, at least, match last year's performance. It is my opinion that we will need to wait until the middle of the season before we can determine whether or not the season is "lost."
As a side observation, if we choose to not embrace the view that the 2010 season is already a lost cause, much of the rationale for throwing Tebow into the starter's role in 2010 vanishes. However, that would not be the only reason that I, personally, would prefer not to see Tebow named the starter.
My first hesitancy on this issue is based on my own experiences as a teacher. It concerns me when someone wants to put an untried person into a situation in which little or nothing is expected of him. Putting Tebow in, when the expectations for team success are very low, is a very good way to teach Tebow how to not be successful. It has been my experience that students -- be they minors or adults (and I have taught both) -- will do their utmost to achieve at the level of expectations that are set for them. If the expectations are high, they will try to rise to them. If the expectations are set low, they will be content to glide along at that level.
Another point of concern is the often stated questions about how well the offensive line can be expected to perform, given the injuries to Clady and Kuper. If we are anticipating a poor showing by the o-line, do we really want to risk our first round draft pick QB behind it? Do we want Tebow to take that kind of pounding? Think about the career of David Carr: the first overall pick in the 2002 draft. He was put behind an offensive line on an expansion team and was sacked 76 times for a loss of 411 yards in his rookie season.
From where I sit, when looking at the issue of the development of a young quarterback, if the season is lost, the last thing I would want to see is Tebow put in and be allowed to make losing a habit. From a developmental point of view, starting Tebow if the team is expected to fail, simply does not make much sense.
The other concern I have with making Tebow a starter as a rookie is the "coin-flip" nature of success for first round rookie quarterbacks. It would be nice to say that QBs who were chosen in the first round and played as rookies experienced great success.
Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. In some instances they did. In others they did not. I went back and looked at the quarterbacks who were first round picks in the years 2000-2009. I looked to see who sat before become the primary starter, who played more than a couple, but less than half the games of their rookie season, and those who were the primary starters for their teams during their rookie seasons. There were 26 quarterbacks picked in the first round during that span. 8 of them sat for at least a year. 6 of them played some of their rookie year. 12 were the primary starter for their team as a rookie. Here are the twenty-six:
Players Who Sat at Least a Year
Players Who Started Multiple Games as a Rookie
Players Who Were the Primary Starter as a Rookie
Matt Leinert, Ari, 2006, Matt Ryan, Atl, 2008, Joe Flacco, Bal, 2008
We can see from the table above, that the majority of first round QB picks were named their team's primary starter as a rookie. Some of that may have had to do with where they were picked in the draft -- that is, the higher the draft pick, the worse the team had done in the previous year, and by extension, the more in need the team was. Another way to look at these players is by their relative positions in the draft.
Draft Position - Players Who Sat
Chad Pennington, 18th, Michael Vick, 1st, Carson Palmer, 1st
Philip Rivers, 4th, J. P. Losman, 22nd, Aaron Rodgers, 24th
Jason Campbell, 25th, JaMarcus Russell, 1st
Draft Position - Players Who Started Some
Patrick Ramsey, 32nd, Rex Grossman, 22nd, Eli Manning, 1st
Alex Smith, 1st, Jay Cutler, 11th, Brady Quinn, 22nd
Draft Position - Rookie Starters
David Carr, 1st, Joey Harrington, 3rd, Byron Leftwich 7th
Kyle Boller, 19th, Ben Roethlisberger, 11th, Vince Young, 3rd
Matt Leinert, 10th, Matt Ryan, 3rd, Joe Flacco, 18th
Matthew Stafford, 1st, Mark Sanchez, 5th, Josh Freeman 17th
What I found surprising in this table is the fact that more of the QBs who were the 1st overall pick of their draft either sat, or saw limited duty their rookie year (5) as opposed to those who were thrown into the fire right off (2). The majority of the late 1st rounders (pick 20+) either sat or saw limited duty. Of those who were the primary starters as rookies, 2 were 1st overall picks, 6 were in the top 10, and 4 were in picks 11-20. Of the 6 in the top 10, 4 were taken with picks 2-5.
What this would seem to suggest is that, on the average, the tendency among teams was to either sit, or have play in limited duty thei very top picks, and the very late picks in the first round, while those chosen with picks 2-5 tended to be named starters as rookies. It is interesting to note that not a single QB taken in rounds 20-32 were named the primary starter for their team in their rookie year.
Another approach in analyzing the question of whether or not to start a first round rookie QB is to look at their records in their first season as the primary starter (please remember that to qualify as the primary starter, the QB had to have been the starter in the majority of the games in a given season):
Players Who Sat
Pennington 8-4, Vick 8-6-1, Palmer 8-8
Rivers 14-2, Losman 1-7, Rodgers 6-10
Campbell 6-7, Russell 5-10
Players With Some Starts (Rookie Season)/1st Season as Primary
Ramsey (2-3) 4-7, Grossman (2-1) 13-3, Manning (1-6) 11-5
Smith (2-5) 7-9, Cutler (2-3) 7-9, Quinn (0-0), 2-7
Carr 4-12, Harrington 3-9, Leftwich 5-8
Boller 5-4, Roethlisberger 13-0, Young 8-5
Leinert 4-7, Flacco 11-5, Ryan 11-5
Stafford 2-8, Sanchez 8-7, Freeman 3-6
This table gives us a preliminary look at how these 1st round QBs fared in their first season as a primary starter. Among those who sat their rookie year, 3 had seasons above .500, 1 was at .500, and 4 had sub .500 seasons. Among those who saw limited action, only 1 posted a winning record in that limited action, and in their first season as the primary, 2 had above .500 season, while the other 4 were all below .500. Out of the 12 who were primary starters as rookies, 6 had above .500 seasons and 6 had sub .500 ones.
According to this date, it would appear that the choice to sit, play sparingly, or start a 1st round rookie is pretty much a coin toss. It may come up successful, or it may not. It should be noted, however, that the worst scenario seemed to fall upon those who started only a portion of their rookie season, since on 1 of the 6 had a winning record in that rookie campaign, only 2 had winning seasons when they finally became the primary starter. Let's take a look and see what can be discerned by looking at these players' records over the course of their careers to date.
Career Records - Those Who Sat
Pennington 43-37 (.537), Vick 38-28 (.574), Palmer 42-39 (.518)
Rivers 46-18 (.718), Losman 10-23 (.303), Rodgers 17-15 (.531)
Campbell 20-32 (.384), Russell 7-18 (.280)
Career Records - Limited Starts
Ramsey 10-14 (.416), Grossman 19-12 (.612), Manning 50-37 (.574)
Smith 16-24 (.410), Cutler 24-29 (.452), Quinn 3-9 (.250)
Career Records - Rookie Starters
Carr 23-56 (.291), Harrington 26-50 (.342), Leftwich 24-25 (.489)
Boller 20-26 (.434), Roethlisberger 60-26 (.697), Young 26-13 (.666)
Leinert 7-10 (.411), Ryan 20-10 (.666), Flacco 20-12 (.625)
Stafford 2-8 (.200), Sanchez 8-7 (.533), Freeman 3-6 (.333)
This, IMHO, becomes a more significant pattern than simply looking at the rookie season and/or 1st season as a primary starter. Among the 8 who sat their first year, 5 have career records above .500, while 3 have sub .500 records. Among the 6 who started some games, only 2 have career records above .500. Among the 12 who were rookie starters, 5 have above .500 career records while 7 have sub .500 records. As a side note, it should be pointed out that, among the 5 +.500 rookie starters, 2 only have 2 seasons on their resume, and 1 has played only a single season.
I'd like to a look at these 26 players from one more angle -- although I acknowledge there are many additional angles that could be explored -- and that is the number of teams each QB has played for over the course of his career.
Number of Teams -- Those Who Sat
Pennington 2, Vick 2, Palmer 1
Rivers 1, Losman 2, Rodgers 1
Campbell 1, Russell 1
Number of Teams -- Limited Starters
Ramsey 3, Grossman 2, Manning 1
Smith 1, Cutler 2, Quinn 2
Number of Teams -- Rookie Starters
Carr 3, Harrington 3, Leftwich 4
Boller 2, Roethlisberger 1, Young 1
Leinert 1, Ryan 1, Flacco 1
Stafford 1, Sanchez 1, Freeman 1
When we look at this table, we see that 5 of the 8 who sat their rookie season have played for a single team, as compared to 2 out of 6 (limited starters) and 8 out of 12 (rookie starters). It should be noted, that out of the rookie starters, 3 have only played for a single team. If we remove them from that groups count, then you only have 5 out of 9 who have played for a single team. Further, another 2 have only played 2 seasons, so if they are removed, the count becomes 3 out of 7. Just as with career records, longevity with a team is also something of a coin toss when it comes to starting a first round QB as a rookie, with those who sat more likely to stick with a single team, and the worst case scenario falling on those who started just a few games as rookies.
I'd like to offer up one final thought/view of this topic before opening it up for discussion. In January of 2010, bleacherreport.com published an article by Jon Schuman that gave a list (which is open to debate) of the ten, currently playing quarterbacks who should be considered the best in the NFL. I thought it might be interesting to see how these 10 QBs served their teams during their rookie seasons.
Player/Round Drafted/Started or Sat/Record in 1st Season as the Primary Starter
P. Manning, 1st, Started, 3-13
D. Brees, 2nd, Sat, 8-8
A. Rodgers, 1st, Sat, 6-10
T. Brady, 6th, Sat, 11-3
P. Rivers, 1st, Sat, 14-2
B. Favre, 2nd, Sat, 8-5
M. Schaub, 3rd, Sat, 4-7
T. Romo, Undrafted, Sat, 6-4
B.Roethlisberger, 1st, Started, 13-0
K. Warner*, Undrafted, Sat, 13-3
*this article was published prior to Warner's announcement of his retirement
Two things surprised me in compiling this list: (1)That 8 out of the 10 QBs considered to be among the best in the league, sat their rookie season. Then when they did start, 5 of those 8 had winning records, 1 had a .500 season, and only 2 posted losing records. Of the two who started their rookie season, 1 had a great season (13-0) while the other had a disastrous one (3-13). Though it should be noted that both of those QBs have gone on to have strong careers.
What all of this has brought me to are two basic conclusions:
(1)I'm not at all convinced that the rash of injuries we have seen so far in training camp mean that the 2010 season is lost, nor that it creates a certainty that the season will be particularly bad.
(2)From a developmental point of view, from McDaniels' repeated statements that Tebow "has a long way to go," and from the evidence of the historical record in regards to the careers of 1st round rookie QBs being the primary starter, I'm not convinced that it would be in the best interests of the Broncos, nor of Tim Tebow, to put him in that position.