In the modern era, becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL has been a multiyear project, which usually entails playing behind a veteran, holding a clipboard and taking at least two or three years to learn the craft of playing at this level. Reading complex NFL defenses was, and still is, a difficult thing to master for a young QB. However, a lot of current offenses are alleviating that pressure by simplifying their passing schemes. Quarterbacks in college are running a lot of spread offense with basic reads and placing a premium on movement and quick throws. NFL coaches seem to be adapting to the same principles.
I talked to several NFL coaches and scouts in the last couple of weeks and asked why so many young QBs were having early success -- and the reasons seemed to vary.
There is a feeling that there are not enough quality cover corners coming into the league to keep up with all the multi-receiver sets we see in the NFL, and that gives young QBs good matchups on the outside. NFL QBs coming through the draft process also attend camps, which helps prepare them for the rigors of an NFL offense. Working with former professionals like Chris Weinke, young QBs are more ready than ever by the time training camp opens.
Another theory is that the lockout had a big effect on the success of the young guys. NFL defensive coaches weren't able to put their full packages in play because of time constraints, and that forced them to "dummy down" their schemes, making them easier for offenses to attack and exploit. This same theory holds true for the other side of the ball, as offensive coaches had to simplify their schemes for the same reason. The real question is whether the 2011 success for young QBs was an exception or the new standard of today's NFL?
Carolina's Cam Newton and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton were the most successful of the 2011 rookies, and what they had in common was a solid run game and a franchise WR (Steve Smith and A.J. Green) to bail them out of trouble. The other guys, Christian Ponder (Minnesota), Blaine Gabbert (Jacksonville) and Jake Locker (Tennessee) didn't have the same consistent supporting cast, but they all showed enough flashes of good play to make their respective teams optimistic about their futures.
With that in mind, let's look at the top QBs in this year's draft class and how their prospective teams' (Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins) offenses fit their strengths.
In all likelihood the Colts will select Luck who, ironically, has a lot of qualities that remind you of Peyton Manning. His physical skills are probably better than Manning's and his preparation and intangibles are terrific. Both will be tested because he will lead a rebuilding effort that may take a while, and he won't have a great supporting cast of skill players around him.