Patience is key word for this year's rookie QBs

The hardest position to fill on an NFL roster is the franchise quarterback. Back in April, after six quarterbacks went off the board in the first two rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft, six front offices -- the Panthers, Bengals, Vikings, Titans, Jaguars and 49ers -- felt like they found the answer.

Then there were the QB-needy teams that didn't take one in the draft, including the Bills, Redskins, Dolphins, Raiders and Seahawks. Everyone questioned why they passed. As one head coach from those teams said to me, "We didn't think there was anyone worth taking that high in the draft."

Maybe those teams knew something the others didn't. Early on, the class of 2011 is having its struggles. So far, first-rounders Cam Newton (Panthers), Jake Locker (Titans), Blaine Gabbert (Jaguars) and Christian Ponder (Vikings) and second-rounders Colin Kaepernick (49ers) and Andy Dalton (Bengals) aren't playing much better than third-rounder Ryan Mallett (Patriots), fifth-rounders Ricky Stanzi (Chiefs) and T.J. Yates (Texans) or even the undrafted Scott Tolzien (Chargers).

The 10 rookie quarterbacks combined have thrown 304 passes and three touchdowns. They have averaged 5.4 yards per attempt, which means there's many incompletions and even more dink-and-dunk passes. They have completed 53 percent of their passes. They have been sacked 35 times. The only guy with respectable numbers is the Pats' Mallett, who has completed 63.6 percent of his throws and is averaging 7.1 yards an attempt. But something tells me he won't be winning the job in New England.

On Thursday night, we watched two rookie starters, Dalton and Newton, square off. They completed 17 of 36 passes with one touchdown, no interceptions and 3 sacks, along with a 5.7 per attempt average -- a very typical rookie day. The hard truth is both look like a pair of fourth- or fifth-round QBs who are just trying to scratch the surface of their careers. They are starting out of necessity rather than earning the spot.

The obvious conclusion is teams need to be patient with their rookie passers. Don't expect too much in 2011. Ponder already is moving down the depth chart. Kaepernick, Locker and Gabbert will be holding a clipboard most of the season as the learning goes on.

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