The standards for rookie quarterbacks in the NFL are unusually high these days after the superb rookie seasons of the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III, the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck and the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. All three led their teams to the playoffs.
A new NFL draft class of quarterbacks now must cope with the suddenly raised expectations. This group of rookie quarterbacks-to-be, perhaps led by Geno Smith of West Virginia and Matt Barkley of Southern Cal, is not nearly as well-regarded by draft observers.
Barkley said Friday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis that he and the other members of this quarterback class can’t worry about comparisons to the Luck-Griffin-Wilson triumvirate.
“Those guys came in and played right away, won games, won playoff games,” Barkley said. “There’s always going to be that comparison, whether it’s just or unjust. I don’t feel any pressure on my part to live up to them. I know every situation’s different than what they went into last year. I don’t feel any pressure to live up to them. I have my standards and hopefully those add up.”
Smith said he’ll do his best to follow in the footsteps of last season’s celebrated rookie quarterbacks.
“I think those guys changed the expectations for any quarterback, let alone a rookie,” Smith said. “Those guys get brought in, including Russell, and were leaders, most of all, from day one. That’s the one thing I took from it. No matter your age difference or where you come from or what pick you are, when you’re placed into that role as a starting quarterback in the NFL, you have to lead. You have to lead by example. I think that’s the thing all those guys did. They set the bar very high. I want to be one of those guys to step in and do those things.”
The Colts selected Luck first overall in last year’s NFL draft and the Redskins took Griffin second. Wilson was a third-round steal by the Seahawks. This year, there is debate among draft experts and NFL personnel about whether any of the available quarterbacks is worth choosing with the draft’s early picks—or even in the first round at all–and whether any will emerge as a successful starter during his rookie season.
“I can’t expect to prove any of those people wrong without even playing a down in the NFL,” Smith said Friday. “My expectation is to become as polished as I possibly can entering into the NFL. Despite what team I’m on or what team I land on, I’m going to compete and continue to be a competitor. That’s all I know how to do. Once I step foot on a team and I’m drafted, I’m going to come in with the same mentality and it’s not going to change. I’m going to continue to just grow as an athlete and as a person.”
Barkley is a particularly interesting case because there was speculation that he might have been taken third overall last year, behind Luck and Griffin, if he had entered that draft. Instead, he chose to return to USC for another season. He and his team struggled, and Barkley suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him from throwing at the combine. He said Friday that he expects to be ready to throw at USC’s pro day late next month.
Even so, Barkley said Friday that he had “no regret” about his decision not to enter last year’s draft.
“I haven’t looked back once,” he said. “And I wouldn’t change my USC career for anything.”
Of course, few draft observers were talking at this time last year about Wilson becoming a quarterback who would have such an immediate impact in the NFL. So some are cautioning not to judge this group too harshly, too soon.
“We talk about that every year,” Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said Friday. “We try to assess the talent of the quarterback group. We all know how incredibly important they are and we all go as our quarterbacks go. Look, there’s talent in this group. It’s a matter of evaluating where the talents are and how you can use whatever the talent they do have when you do draft that player, and how you navigate that.”
The circumstances in which a rookie quarterback finds himself play a key role in his success, Dimitroff said.
“Back in 2008, I thought we did a very fine job with our coaching staff in how we eased Matt Ryan in…as a lot of these other teams have done with their quarterbacks,” Dimitroff said. “You can take a quarterback out of this draft and place him in the right situation with the right approach, and it’s going to be beneficial and you can win a lot of games, in my mind. The actual strength of the quarterback group? My feeling, as always, is let’s see how this pans out in time. That’s the way that I truly do approach it. Fortunately for us right now, we’re not looking for a quarterback. We have a quarterback who hopefully will be with us for a long, long time. To answer your question, there are some good quarterbacks in this draft.”