Since 2004, 137 quarterbacks have been drafted into the NFL by non-playoff teams. By my count, 35 of those have gone on to have legitimate NFL careers as a starting quarterback. (Note: I used non-playoff teams to remove outliers like Aaron Rodgers, who was drafted onto a team that won the division and then given control of an already-successful team. Some disagree with this decision, but I suppose that's what the comment section below is for.)
On Monday, Raiders head coach Dennis Allen announced that Derek Carr would likely be No. 36.
Of course, the announcement spurred the debate as old as the draft itself: is the decision to start a rookie quarterback one that means risking his psyche and eventual career? Don't quarterbacks who sit out at first go on to have more successful, stable careers?
In short, no and no.
The truth is that whether a quarterback begins his career as a rookie or a second-year man really has no impact on his long term career. In fact, you could go a step further and say that even a disastrous rookie season isn't a death-knell for quarterbacks.
Don't believe me? Ask Matt Stafford, Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Eli Manning.
Between the five of them, they had quarterback ratings ranging of 40.8 (Smith), 55.4 (Manning), 61 (Stafford), and 76.5 (Luck). I think it's safe to say the Raiders would be happy if Carr reached the level that any of the four of them are at right now.
But Jeff, just because there are four examples in recent history — think of all the guys ruined as rookies!
In a sense, you're right.
Of the 35 quarterbacks I referenced above, only 26 have started more than seven games as a rookie. Of the 26, only 7 (Robert Griffin III, Russel Wilson, Nick Foles, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger) have gone on to NFL careers with a QB Rating of 85 or higher. (You'll notice this still doesn't include Stafford, Luck, Smith and Manning — all who are hovering just below 85 for their careers).
So yes, by those numbers, only 27% of rookie starting quarterbacks go on to become successful (or at least average) NFL quarterbacks. Surely the nine guys who played sparingly as rookies (or not at all) before being handed the reigns fared significantly better, right?
Not so much.
Of the 9, only 3 (Phillip Rivers, Jake Locker and Colin Kaepernick) have achieved a career rating of over 85 — good for 33%, or just 6% higher than rookies.
So what do we do with all of this information (especially given the sample size)?
For me, it tells me a few things.
First and foremost, it tells me that when a quarterback starts his first game is less determinant of overall success than something far more simple -- his ability to play quarterback.
What I mean is that the guys who started as rookies and sucked, but rebounded for successful careers did so because they're good at football. And the guys who couldn't rebound — the Jimmy Clausens and Blaine Gabberts of the world — more likely did so because they just weren't that good.
Essentially, if Derek Carr succeeds as an NFL quarterback, it won't be because of how his team coddled him or didn't coddle him, it's going to be because he is a good player or he isn't.
Of course, there are other factors that negate the rookie quarterback debate as well, primarily, the evolution of football.
The reason I looked at the last 10 years of data and not the last 25 years of data is because the professional and collegiate levels of football have changed dramatically. Put simply, quarterbacks are far more ready today than they were 15 years ago — both because the NFL has adopted more progressive offenses, and some colleges have adopted more pro-style offensive trends.
I think as fans and as media, there's often a lot made about creating conversations and debates, or even keeping old debates going (like this one). The reality is, more quarterbacks are starting right away than ever — and more are having success doing it than ever.
There will always be cases of guys like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers who had time to develop on the sidelines before being thrown into the fire, but for every Brady and Rodgers there's a JP Losman, Jamarcus Russell and Brady Quinn. The difference between those two groups is talent and little else.
The NFL is a talent-hungry league that throws aside pretty much everything — including character, chemistry and injury concerns — in favor of talent. And with Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders, the bottom line is the same: is Derek Carr talented enough to be the quarterback of the future.
Well, rookie or not, we're about to find out.