Let’s begin with the obvious. It is too early to evaluate any of Ryan Pace’s draft classes. It might be fair to look at 2015, but even that could be seen as premature. It is certainly too early to weigh in on the quarterbacks taken in April--even though everyone is doing it. However, it is not too early to look back at 2012, when pundits were talking about what they thought might be the best quarterback draft class in ages.
In some ways, they were right.
After all, one member of the 2012 class led the NFL in passer rating as a sophomore (for the 2013 season) and tied an NFL record for touchdown passes in a single game. However, that was not one of the top draft picks. Instead, it was Nick Foles, the 88th pick in the draft. Likewise, the only quarterback from 2012 who is a Super Bowl champion (having made it to the big game twice already in his young career) is Russell Wilson--the 75th pick in the draft.
This does not mean that the earlier picks were failures. It does, however, suggest that it takes a while for the dust to settle down. Players drafted ahead of Wilson and Foles include include Brock Osweiler, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III, and Andrew Luck.
In any case, the real thing to take away from that draft class is that quarterbacks often take a bit of time to settle down into their real career arcs. Andrew Luck’s first year in Indianapolis saw him playing aggressive football and posting a meager 76.5 passer rating. For his career, the man heralded as the surest bet at quarterback for the draft in ages has a passer rating that stands at 87.3. Some of that is a testament to how tough it is to scout a quarterback’s performance using just a boxscore. Some of it, though, is a sign that a team has a pretty profound impact on a quarterback. Yes, the team had three consecutive 11-win seasons with him at the helm. He just had a lot of personal ups and downs as he navigated the Colts into the playoffs.
Consider Robert Griffin III. If someone were to go back in time to 2012 and suggest that RG3 would be unemployed in 2017, there would be skepticism or scorn. A few might correctly guess that injuries played a role in his downfall. Few would guess how quickly that fall might happen. As a rookie Griffin lit the NFL on fire, only to succumb to injury, personality conflicts, and a host of other problems.
Tannehill is similarly mired in mediocrity. Sometimes he looks really good. Other times, he looks like a guy who should be replaced by his backup. His injury this summer, five years after he was drafted, means that the highest-drafted quarterback from 2012 to see action in 2017 so far is Brock Osweiler.
That doesn’t seem right, does it?
Jumping back to the class of 2017, it’s easy to draw neat and tidy parallels. It’s tempting to look for the “Russell Wilson” in this most recent draft class, or to wonder if DeShone Kizer is the next Brandon Weeden. Ultimately, though, the 2012 draft class tells a story of caution in evaluating a group of quarterbacks.
A player needs a team around him in order to succeed. A player needs opportunity.
Look at two quarterbacks from this most recent draft. In his first two games, Deshaun Watson posted a win and a loss, and he had a passer rating of 60.4 in the loss and 75.9 in the win. Meanwhile, Mitchell Trubisky posted a win and a loss in his first two games. He had a 60.1 in the loss followed by a 94.0 in the win. There is so much context missing from those numbers that they are harder than normal to compare. All this really tells us is that the first couple of games of a quarterback’s career (really, almost any two games of a quarterback’s career) offer an incomplete picture. Still, fans of both the Texans and the Bears should be happy so far.
I am mildly surprised by how well Watson is playing (not at the numbers he’s posting, but the actual quality of his play). However, I want to see how he’s playing at the end of the season and at the start of the next season. I am not saying I think he’s going to regress. I’m saying I don’t know what’s going to happen, and even if he plays for another team, I can’t help but be curious.
Likewise, I am pleasantly surprised by how patient Trubisky has been at not forcing the ball. If I were the #2 pick in the draft and my coaching staff was dialing up run after run, I imagine I’d be sorely tempted to force passes just to try to make something happen in those rare opportunities I was given (side note: this is one of a billion reasons I would make a bad quarterback). However, I want to see if he is still patient if and when the team has a losing record in December.
In 2022, is Patrick Mahomes the pride of the class? CJ Beathard? Can we realistically hope it’s the “Pretty Boy Assassin?” I am seeing enough from Trubisky to say that I think he can survive the coaching staff around him, and that he has the potential to develop into a solid player. However, I saw enough of RG3 in 2012 to think “this kid has it,” and I saw enough of Nick Foles in 2013 to be mildly surprised.
For now, I’m comfortable that Trubisky isn’t an obviously bad player. His second game was already the best Bears’ quarterback performance since December 4th of 2016 and the second best since the bye week of last season (again, at least as measured by passer rating). When the dust settles, we’ll know more. For now, though, the only conclusion I’m prepared to jump to is that for all hype surrounding 2012’s quarterback class, the maligned class of 2017 has a chance of catching them.
As a fan of football, and as a fan of a team that took a player in this draft, that makes me excited for the next five years.