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Class of '11 rivals best crop of rookie quarterbacks ever

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Week 14 of the 2011 season will go down in NFL history as the first time ever that as many as six rookie quarterbacks threw touchdown passes on the same day.

Only time will tell if this year's class of rookie quarterbacks is the best in NFL history. After all, it will be many years before you can fairly compare it to the famed draft class of 1983, which produced three Hall of Fame quarterbacks and four quarterbacks who started a combined 11 Super Bowls. But for sheer volume, it might be safe to say this year's rookie QB class is at least the best since 1983.

If Jake Locker starts for Tennessee this week, we could have six rookies starting in Week 15, with Locker joining Cincinnati's Andy Dalton, Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert, Minnesota's Christian Ponder, Houston's T.J. Yates and Carolina's Cam Newton. Four of those players were first-round picks, with Dalton going in the second round and Yates in the fifth. The success of these players will only increase the chances that more and more teams take chances on QBs higher in the draft. It seems like that's always been the case, but that's not entirely true.

First-round QBs
Cam Newton was one of four quarterbacks taken in the first round this year and all four have seen action as rookies. Overall, there have been 32 QBs drafted in the first round since 2000, and you have to go back to 1996 to find a year when no quarterbacks were drafted in Round 1. Check out the QB draft class by year. More ...

As recently as 1988, there were actually no quarterbacks taken in the first two rounds of the draft. In fact, two punters, a kicker and a return specialist from Puget Sound (Mike Oliphant) were drafted before the Indianapolis Colts selected Chris Chandler with the 76th pick in the third round.

Let's take a closer look at some of the numbers as they compare to impressive rookie crops of the past:

This year's class already has 46 combined games started, with 17 wins. By comparison:

» The 2006 class, which featured Jay Cutler, Vince Young and Matt Leinart, also has 17 wins.

» The 2004 class, with Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and J.P. Losman, had 18 wins.

» The 2008 class, though only highlighted by two QBs, had 22 wins. That would be 11 each for Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco.

» The 1983 class remains the bumper crop, with six first-round picks including Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino. Kelly began his career in the USFL, and Ken O'Brien didn't start as a rookie with the Jets, but the class as a whole still showed flashes in '83.

As for this year's class, here's a status report on their progress, along with some hindsight observations:

Andy Dalton:
Has started every game for the Bengals -- he's won seven, and that number easily could be more. He's thrown 18 TD passes and 12 interceptions, with only one game completing less than 50 percent of his passes.

Where he was drafted: Round 2, 35th overall -- fifth QB taken.
Where he'd be drafted today: Second QB drafted, though the only reason I'm not completely sure of that is because the jury is still out on Locker, who could move into the second spot.

Blaine Gabbert:
Has won three of his 11 starts for the Jaguars, throwing 10 TD passes and nine interceptions. He's been under 50 percent in completions in five games. Gabbert needs more work on his accuracy. Gets a bit of a pass since he is playing for a poor team that is lacking receivers.

Where he was drafted: Round 1, 10th overall -- third QB drafted.
Where he'd be drafted today: Fifth QB taken.

Jake Locker:
Hasn't started yet. Played in two games and looked exceptionally good. I wouldn't be surprised if he starts this week.

Where he was drafted: Round 1, eighth overall -- second QB drafted.
Where he'd be drafted today: It was a bit of a surprise to see Locker as the second QB drafted. I'd still see him as at least the third QB taken.

Cam Newton:
He's started 13 games, won four, thrown 15 TD passes with 16 interceptions. His completion rate of 59.7 percent is the highest among rookies, and he's only had one game completing less than 50 percent. He's proven to be a better passer than most people thought, and he's displayed the discipline to avoid panicking and running with the ball.

Where he was drafted: Round 1, first overall.
Where he'd be drafted today: Still the No. 1 pick.

Christian Ponder:
Has started seven games, winning one, with 11 TD passes, 11 interceptions, and a completion rate of 55.7 percent. He is playing with a very poor team and having Adrian Peterson out really hurts. I think he'll be a solid NFL quarterback.

Where he was drafted: Round 1, 12th overall -- fourth QB drafted.
Where he'd be drafted today: He'd still be the fourth QB taken.

T.J. Yates:
This fifth-round pick from North Carolina has made two starts for the Texans, and he won both. Yates has thrown three TD passes and one interception, while completing 59 percent of his passes. Clearly, Yates has proven he's much better than his draft position indicated. He's very good for the system that Houston uses with play-action passes.

Where he was drafted: Round 5, 152nd overall -- ninth QB drafted.
Where he'd be drafted today: Somewhere in the middle of the second round.

The other six
For the record, there were six other quarterbacks drafted this year. Here's a quick reminder/assessment:

Colin Kaepernick, 49ers (Round 2, sixth QB drafted): Has a chance to play because of his athletic ability.

Ryan Mallett, Patriots (Round 3, seventh QB drafted): I'm not sure Mallett has much of a chance to excel in the NFL, because he's just too slow-foted to handle NFL blitzes.

Ricky Stanzi, Chiefs (Round 5, eighth QB drafted): I think he's a project. Tall kid who looked lost in training camp when I saw him, but he does have a good arm.

Nathan Enderle, Bears (Round 5, 10th QB drafted): Hasn't thrown a pass this year. Probably his only negative is the same as Mallett's -- he doesn't have quick feet.

Tyrod Taylor, Ravens (Round 6, 11th QB drafted): A bit of a wild card -- he has similar athletic ability as Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor. The Ravens must think he's pretty good, because they've only got two quarterbacks on the roster. You heard right: If Joe Flacco was to get injured during a playoff game, Tyrod Taylor is under center for the Ravens.

Greg McElroy, Jets (Round 7, 12th QB drafted): On injured reserve. He's got an OK arm, but he's extremely smart. He's been associated with winners at every level he's played.

NFL odysseys

» As Cam Newton continues his march into the rookie record books, he is on the verge of another mark: He needs 167 yards to set a new rookie record for most passing yards, overtaking the previous mark of 3,739 set by Peyton Manning in 1998.

» Not only does Rob Gronkowski now own the single-season record for most receiving touchdowns by a tight end with 15, but he's only four scores away from the third-best season total for any player.

» With three games still to play, the Green Bay Packers have already set a franchise record for most points scored (466). They are on pace to finish with 574 points -- not far off the pace of the 2007 Patriots, who own the record of 589 points.

» While Drew Brees continues his chase of Johnny Unitas' record for most consecutive games with at least one TD pass, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has tied the record for most consecutive games with at least two TD passes. Rodgers' streak is at 13 games, tied with Don Meredith, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

» This season marked the abrupt end to the Indianapolis Colts' streak of nine consecutive seasons with 10 or more victories. But the Patriots, who entered 2011 with eight straight seasons of 10-plus wins, have extended their streak. The only team that's had a longer string of 10-win seasons is the San Francisco 49ers, who did it for an incredible 16 consecutive years (1983-98).

» If I told you there was a team that featured 16 players on its roster that were undrafted free agents, you'd guess it was not one of the NFL's elite teams, right? Actually, that would be the undefeated Green Bay Packers.

» Would you believe the top two picks in last year's draft were coached by a father/son team? No. 2 pick Von Miller was coached at Texas A&M by Dennis Franchione -- whose son was Cam Newton's coach two years ago at Blinn Junior College.

Game of the week:
Patriots at Broncos

Did anyone think before the season that this would be a battle of first-place teams in Week 14? Didn't think so. Denver has fared well vs. New England since 2000, going 6-3 -- including a playoff win in 2005.

As marquee matchups go, it doesn't get more marquee than Tom Brady vs. Tim Tebow. You've got the classic drop-back passer who's completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and has a 50-TD season under his belt against the unorthodox QB who seldom drops back, often runs, and does not complete a high percentage of his throws -- until the fourth quarter, that is. With Brady, the Patriots have scored 396 points in 13 games, third-most in the NFL. Brady studies the defense every chance he gets and will throw all types of passes -- sidelines, deep balls and across the middle. Tebow, meanwhile, is getting better as far as accuracy is concerned. And he has an AFC-best five fourth-quarter comebacks. He's thrown just one interception in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps more vital to the outcome of this game will be the matchup of Patriots OT Matt Light vs. Broncos LB Von Miller. It's a blue-ribbon matchup between a Pro Bowl pass protector and a terrific rookie pass rusher. Light, a three-time Pro bowl pick, has very good feet and is very smart. He has to be concerned with both Miller and Elvis Dumervil, as both will line up on either side. Miller will be on Light's side most of the time. He has great quickness and competes very hard on every play. He has 10.5 sacks for the year, which is just 4.5 off the rookie record, held by Jevon Kearse. Light will have to play well against Miller if the Patriots are to win.

Prediction: Patriots 23, Broncos 19

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