American Football: NFL’s season of the rookie quarterback

The regular campaign comes to a climax tomorrow and it has been notable for a trio of novices who have been hitting the endzone with unerring accuracy. Rupert Cornwell has been looking on in awe

Superbowl XLVII is still more than a month away. Indeed, half of the dozen teams who feature in the play-offs will only be decided by tomorrow's beautifully set up final Sunday of the regular season. But as far as quarterbacks go – the position that defines teams and defines eras – one thing is already clear about the 2012 edition of the National Football League. This has been the year of the rookie.

Yes, there have been the usual ration of epic quarterback fiascos and rousing quarterback comebacks: the former embodied by the soap opera at the hapless New York Jets involving the struggling Mark Sanchez and the prayerful Tim Tebow, the latter by Peyton Manning's terrific season at the Denver Broncos.

Manning has a decent claim to be considered the greatest NFL player of the first decade of the millennium. But he missed the entire 2011 season, undergoing four separate rounds of neck surgery, including spinal fusion; he was already 35, elderly in quarterback terms (though not quite the Methuselah that was Brett Favre, who played his last game aged 41), and his doctors warned he might never play again.

Adding insult to injury, the Indianapolis Colts, the team he had graced for 14 seasons and turned into one of the league's perennial powers, discarded him last March, in the interests of rebuilding. But Manning signed up with Tebow's former team, the Denver Broncos, and proved wrong every critic who believed his throwing arm was gone.

Medical recovery was followed by trademark Manning on-field heroics – most notably in October when the Broncos overturned a 24-0 half-time deficit in San Diego to win 35-24, tying the NFL's record for a comeback victory on the road. With one game to go, Manning-led Denver have compiled a 12-3 record, virtually guaranteeing home-field advantage throughout the play-offs.

But the rebuilding in Indianapolis hasn't gone too badly either. In the Manning-less 2011 they finished a league-worst 2-14. In US pro sports however, being worst has one huge compensation: you get to choose first in the new players draft for the following year. In the 2012 draft the Colts picked Andrew Luck, who had already been hailed as the next great thing for his exploits in college football at Stanford.

For once, the hype was not misplaced. The Colts' turnaround was supposed to take years. Instead, Luck has led them back to the play-offs in his debut season. And last Sunday, against the Kansas City Chiefs, he broke Manning's NFL record for most passing yards by a rookie, throwing 205 to bring his total to 4,183. Seven times already this season he has executed game-winning fourth-quarter drives, tying another NFL record – and not just for rookies – which is co-shared by Peyton Manning among others. But Luck is but one of the novice quarterbacks who have set the NFL alight.

In 2011, the Washington Redskins may not have been quite as dire as the Colts. But in the last few years, one of America's most financially valuable sporting franchises (behind baseball's Yankees but second only to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL) had become close to a laughing stock. Not since 2007 had the Redskins even made the play-offs. So they too went for broke in the 2012 draft, surrendering top picks for years to come in order to land the player deemed certain to be the second overall choice, a quarterback prodigy from Baylor University in Texas named Robert Griffin III.

Forget Barack Obama. In four short months 'RGIII' has become the most feted individual in Washington. Almost single-handedly he has turned the long-listless Redskins into one of the NFL's most potent offensive teams. An early-season concussion put him briefly on the sidelines and, at the start of November, Washington stood at 3-6, seemingly out of play-off consideration.

Since then however, the team has reeled off six straight victories to lead the NFC East. A play-off spot is not yet guaranteed – but tomorrow brings a regular-season climax made in heaven: a home game with the Cowboys, Washington's ancestral rivals, with the division title and a post-season place on the line. A win (or even defeat with the right combination of results elsewhere), and Griffin will join Andrew Luck as a post-season quarterback rookie.

If he does, that will make three in all. The biggest NFL surprise of the year has not been in Indianapolis or Washington, but out on the West Coast, in Seattle. Russell Wilson, who played his college football at the University of Wisconsin, was a mere third-round draft pick for the Seahawks.

But Wilson quickly made the quarterback position his own, transforming the Seahawks into an offensive juggernaut that has scored 150 points in its last three games, including a 42-13 rout last Sunday of the San Francisco 49ers. That night, Wilson threw four touchdown passes, bringing his season total to 25, one short of the rookie record set by Peyton Manning back in 1998.

NFL titans, of course, are not forged by a single season. Quarterbacks flaming like meteors across the sky are nothing new; as Griffin's concussion shows, injuries can wreck a career. Nor, even without the crop of newcomers, is the league exactly short of quarterback excellence: witness the mature talents of the Manning brothers Peyton and Eli, of Tom Brady at the New England Patriots, of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, and of the Cowboys' Tony Romo, who will do battle with RGIII tomorrow.

Even so, the rookie class of 2012 has already proved itself something special. Some even compare it to the legendary crop of 1983 that featured Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly, all three rated among the greatest quarterbacks ever. And if Messrs Luck, Griffin and Wilson carry their brilliance into the post-season, then who knows?

Young pretenders: Rookies' stats

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts:

Pass completion: 325 of 599

Pass completion rate: 54.3%

Passing yards: 4,183

Yards per pass attempt: 6.98

Passing touchdowns: 21

Interceptions: 18

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins:

Pass completion: 249 of 375

Pass completion rate: 66.4%

Passing yards: 3,100

Yards per pass attempt: 8.27

Passing touchdowns: 20

Interceptions: 5

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks:

Pass completion: 237 of 374

Pass completion rate: 63.4%

Passing yards: 2,868

Yards per pass attempt: 7.67

Passing touchdowns: 25

Interceptions: 10

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project and Quality Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Executive - OTE £20,625

£14625 - £20625 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role is for an enthusiasti...

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Recruitment Genius: Fertility Nurse

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join the ho...

Day In a Page

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash