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Older rookies

Do younger rookie QBs have more upside?

With apologies to Spencer Rattler, there are six quarterbacks at play in this year’s draft. They’re interesting in that three of them have been in the college game for at least five years, with more time to hone their craft. But I’m not sure if that’s a positive or a negative.

Bo Nix and Michael Penix are on the older side. Both will be 24 on opening day, and Jayden Daniels isn’t far behind. At the other end of the scale, we’ve got J.J. McCarthy, who’s only 21.

In evaluating these guys, then, there should be some weighing of older, more experienced quarterbacks being more ready to play sooner, versus the possibility that the younger quarterbacks might have more untapped potential – they haven’t yet fully developed.

I poked around with some numbers on this. I can’t say they’re terribly revealing. Since 2000, there have been 76 quarterbacks selected with top-40 picks. Normally, I would look at just the 32-team era, but I saw 24-year-old Chad Pennington sitting there in 2000 and wanted him included. And I would typically stick with the first round, but I dipped into the first few picks of the second to pick up guys like Carr, Dalton and Kaepernick.

So we’ve got 76 guys, and they appear below in descending order by age. Oldest first. Only two are older than Nix and Penix, while only six are younger than McCarthy. (For the ages in the chart, I’m using age on about Sept. 1 of their rookie year.)

If the theory is that older quarterbacks are better situated to play well early, that’s not supported by the big-picture numbers. None of the six 24-year-olds put up top-15 numbers (using standard fantasy scoring) in their first season. Only 1 of the 27 23-year-olds did it. It’s rare for any rookie to put up top-15 numbers immediately, but the 22-year-olds had more success (5 of 25). For the 21-year-olds, they went 2 of 18, and that includes C.J. Stroud last year.

I was more interested in longer-term success, so I tagged with black dots all quarterbacks who ever had a top-10 season. That’s what we’re looking for, right? Guys who eventually become good. The chart is flawed somewhat by guys like Blake Bortles, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman somehow putting together top-10 seasons, but it’s a stab at it. (In hindsight, I should have included a black dot for each such season, but live and learn.)

Of our old guys (the 24-year-olds), only 1 of 6 ever had a top-10 season (thank you, Ryan Tannehill). For the 23-year-olds, 7 of 27 did it.

The hit rate is much better for the younger quarterbacks. Of the 22-year-olds, 15 of the 25 picked had a top-10 season at some point. And half of the 18 quarterbacks who were 21 their rookie season.

This is not an apples-to-apples comparison, of course. For the bulk of these 21- and 22-year-olds, they’re coming out because teams can see that they’re first-round type quarterbacks. With the bulk of the guys who are 23 or 24 years old, they were not viewed as first-round quarterbacks when they were 22 (otherwise they would have entered the draft).

In general, there’s some correlation that suggests that when a quarterback plays a bunch of college football, eventually becoming a good quarterback as a 23-year-old, those guys aren’t as likely to pan out in the pros. But I would hesitate to slap that tag on Nix and Penix, since they both actually put up good numbers also in the 2022 season. Penix also played impressively at Indiana but just happened to get hurt in all four of his seasons there.

201222Brandon Weeden, Cle.28.91557%338514171110
200740John Beck, Mia.26.0456%55913121
2024?Bo Nix24.5???????
2024?Michael Penix24.3???????
202220Kenny Pickett, Pitt.24.21263%2404792373
202333Will Levis, Ten.24.2958%180884571
200018Chad Pennington, NYJ24.2040%671000
20128• Ryan Tannehill, Mia.24.11658%329412132112
20023Joey Harrington, Det.23.91250%2294121640
201135• Andy Dalton, Cin.23.81658%339820131521
201136Colin Kaepernick, S.F.23.8060%3500-20
20201•• Joe Burrow, Cin.23.71065%26881351423
2024?Jayden Daniels23.7???????
20031•••• Carson Palmer, Cin.23.70--00000
20162• Carson Wentz, Phil.23.71662%378216141502
200525Jason Campbell, Was.23.70--00000
20041•••• Eli Manning, NYG (5)23.7748%104369350
20037Byron Leftwich, Jac.23.61357%281914161082
200818Joe Flacco, Balt.23.61660%297114121802
200232Patrick Ramsey, Was.23.5552%153998-11
201112Christian Ponder, Min.23.51054%185313132190
200422J.P. Losman, Buff.23.5060%3201150
201316EJ Manuel, Buff.23.51059%19721191862
201436Derek Carr, Oak.23.41658%32702112920
20181Baker Mayfield, Cle.23.41364%372527141310
200611•• Jay Cutler, Den.23.3559%100195180
200610Matt Leinart, Ari.23.31157%25471112492
20083•••• Matt Ryan, Atl. (8)23.31661%344016111041
20063Vince Young, Ten.23.31352%219912135527
20118Jake Locker, Ten.23.2052%54240561
20021David Carr, Hou.23.11652%25929152823
201025Tim Tebow, Den.23.0350%654532276
20172Mitchell Trubisky, Chi.23.01259%2193772482
200322Rex Grossman, Chi.23.0353%43721-10
200736Kevin Kolb, Phil.23.00--000-20
202115Mac Jones, N.E.23.01768%380122131290
20121•••• Andrew Luck, Ind. (5)23.01654%437423182555
201339• Geno Smith, NYJ22.91656%304612213666
200722Brady Quinn, Cle.22.8038%450000
20101Sam Bradford, St.L.22.81660%35121815631
20095• Mark Sanchez, NYJ22.81554%244412201063
2024?Caleb Williams22.8???????
20044•••• Philip Rivers, S.D. (10)22.7063%3310-50
200132•••• Drew Brees, S.D. (13)22.6056%22110180
201626Paxton Lynch, Den.22.5259%49721250
20122• Robert Griffin, Was.22.51566%32002058157
20205• Tua Tagovailoa, Mia.22.5964%18141151093
200411•••• Ben Roethlisberger, Pitt. (7)22.51366%262117111441
202111Justin Fields, Chi.22.51059%18707104202
20206••• Justin Herbert, LAC22.51567%433631102345
20143•• Blake Bortles, Jac.22.31359%290811174190
201915Dwayne Haskins, Was.22.3759%1365771010
20111•••• Cam Newton, Car. (5)22.31660%4051211770614
20187•••• Josh Allen, Buff. (5)22.31153%207410126318
20196Daniel Jones, NYG22.31262%302724122792
200319Kyle Boller, Balt.22.2952%126079620
20231Bryce Young, Car.22.11660%287711102530
20212Zach Wilson, NYJ22.11356%23349111854
20191•• Kyler Murray, Ari.22.11664%372220125444
20071JaMarcus Russell, Oak.22.1155%3732440
2024?Drake Maye22.0???????
201712••• Deshaun Watson, Hou.22.0662%16991982692
201710•••• Patrick Mahomes, K.C. (6)22.0163%28401100
20232C.J. Stroud, Hou.21.91564%41082351673
20211•• Trevor Lawrence, Jac.21.91760%364112173342
20161••• Jared Goff, LAR21.9755%108957161
201110Blaine Gabbert, Jac.21.91451%22141211980
20152Marcus Mariota, Ten.21.81262%281819102522
201432Teddy Bridgewater, Min.21.81264%291914122091
200524•••• Aaron Rodgers, G.B. (11)21.7056%650170
201422Johnny Manziel, Cle.21.7251%17502291
20151•• Jameis Winston, T.B.21.61658%404222152136
200917• Josh Freeman, T.B.21.6954%185510181610
201832••• Lamar Jackson, Balt.21.6758%1201636955
2024?J.J. McCarthy21.6???????
20091• Matthew Stafford, Det.21.61053%226713201082
201810Josh Rosen, Ari.21.61355%227811141380
20051• Alex Smith, S.F.21.3751%8751111030
20213Trey Lance, S.F.21.3258%603521681
20234Anthony Richardson, Ind.21.3460%577311364
20183Sam Darnold, NYJ21.21358%286517151381
20011•••• Michael Vick, Atl.21.2244%785232891
202126• Jordan Love, G.B.21.10--00000

—Ian Allan

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