How Many Rookie Quarterbacks Have Led Their Teams To The NFL Playoffs?

A lot of hopeful Seahawks enthusiasts this year have opined that in Russell Wilson, we not only have our Quarterback of the Future, but we’ve got our Quarterback of the Now.  Many Seahawks fans, not as jaded as myself, have high hopes for this team making the playoffs.  While I still come from the school of thought that your team is doomed when you’re prominently featuring a rookie quarterback, I understand in recent years there have been exceptions.  You put a decent quarterback on an already-good football team and you have as good a chance as anyone, so long as he limits turnovers and such.

So, I did a quick search.  My goal was to find Rookie Quarterbacks Who Have Led Their Teams To The Playoffs.  That’s easier said than done, so my search went like this:  I found a list of rookie quarterbacks who have started at least 1 playoff game and who threw at least 2 passes in that game.  Then, I cross-referenced them to see which of those quarterbacks actually “Led” their teams vs. which ones were merely replacing injured starters (or, T.J. Yates, for those who want a specific example).  Essentially, what I was looking for are the rookies who started the bulk of their team’s games in that regular season.  With major apologies going to those rookie quarterbacks who may have led their teams to the playoffs, but were injured before they had a chance to PLAY in those playoffs.

The list isn’t large.  In fact, it’s only nine, and it only dates back to the 1983 season.

  • John Elway started 10 games as a rookie in 1983 for the Denver Broncos, going 4-6 and leading his team to a first round Wild Card loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
  • Dan Marino started 9 games as a rookie in 1983 for the Miami Dolphins, going 7-2 and leading his team to a first round BYE and a second round loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
  • Bernie Kosar started 10 games as a rookie in 1985 for the Cleveland Browns, going 4-6 and leading his team to a first round BYE and a second round loss to the Miami Dolphins.
  • Dieter Brock started 15 games as a 34-year old rookie in 1985 (fresh from a long career in the CFL) for the Los Angeles Rams, going 11-4 and leading his team to a first round BYE, a second round win over the Dallas Cowboys, and an NFC Championship loss to the Chicago Bears.
  • Ben Roethlisberger started 13 games as a rookie in 2004 for the Pittsburgh Steelers, going 13-0 and leading his team to a first round BYE, a second round win over the New York Jets, and an AFC Championship loss to the New England Patriots.
  • Matt Ryan started 16 games as a rookie in 2008 for the Atlanta Falcons, going 11-5 and leading his team to a first round Wild Card loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
  • Joe Flacco started 16 games as a rookie in 2008 for the Baltimore Ravens, going 11-5 and leading his team to a first round Wild Card win over the Miami Dolphins, a second round win over the Tennessee Titans, and an AFC Championship loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • Mark Sanchez started 15 games as a rookie in 2009 for the New York Jets, going 8-7 and leading his team to a first round Wild Card win over the Cincinnati Bengals, a second round win over the San Diego Chargers, and an AFC Championship loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
  • Andy Dalton started 16 games as a rookie in 2011 for the Cincinnati Bengals, going 9-7 and leading his team to a first round Wild Card loss to the Houston Texans.

What you’ll notice right off the bat is that none of these quarterbacks ever led their teams to a Super Bowl as rookies, Bill Simmons.

Second, only 3 of these rookie quarterbacks managed to start all 16 games.  Many of the others came in as injury replacements.

The next thing you’ll notice is, while a lot of these teams were coming off of bad seasons, which led to them starting rookie QBs, none of them were necessarily coming off of TERRIBLE seasons.  Here are the records of the above-referenced teams who went on to start rookie quarterbacks and make the playoffs the very next year:

  • Denver – 2-7 (strike-shortened 1982 season, Elway drafted #1 overall by Colts, forced trade to Denver)
  • Miami – 7-2 (made the playoffs as a #2 seed in the strike-shortened 1982 season, drafted Marino #27 overall, sixth QB taken)
  • Cleveland – 5-11 (third in the AFC Central in 1984, drafted Kosar #29 overall, first QB taken)
  • Los Angeles Rams - 10-6 (second in the NFC West in 1984, made the playoffs as a Wild Card, Brock went undrafted)
  • Pittsburgh – 6-10 (third in the AFC North in 2003, drafted Ben #11 overall, third QB taken)
  • Atlanta – 4-12 (last in NFC South in 2007, drafted Ryan #3 overall, first QB taken)
  • Baltimore – 5-11 (last in AFC North in 2007, drafted Flacco #18 overall, second QB taken)
  • New York Jets – 9-7 (third in a very-good AFC East in 2008, drafted Sanchez #5 overall, second QB taken)
  • Cincinnati – 4-12 (last in AFC North in 2010, drafted Dalton #35 overall, fifth QB taken)

So, you know, none of those players were going to the very WORST teams in the NFL.  One would think, those teams had a solid foundation in place.  The Seahawks aren’t the very WORST team, and they also have a solid foundation in place.  So, it’s not CRAZY to think that Russell Wilson could lead this team to the playoffs.

But, it’s also not bloody likely.  The list of rookie quarterbacks who started the most games for their teams as rookies and DIDN’T lead their teams to the playoffs is astoundingly long.  In other words, I wouldn’t bet the family farm on Russell Wilson succeeding in this charge.  Doesn’t mean he’s going to be a bad quarterback.  It’s just that his odds are long.

3 thoughts on “How Many Rookie Quarterbacks Have Led Their Teams To The NFL Playoffs?

  1. Pingback: Predicting Offensive ROY Winner Based on Schedules | Patriot Day

  2. Pingback: The Greatest Quarterback Class Ever – Major Onions