When the Miami Dolphins announced Monday that Ryan Tannehill will be their starting quarterback in Week 1, they became the fourth NFL team to give the top job to a rookie signal-caller. Tannehill will join the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck, the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III and the Cleveland Browns' Brandon Weeden in the group of first-year players under center when the 2012 regular season begins.
Last season, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton were able to instantly transform the Carolina Panthers and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively, into competitive squads during their rookie campaigns. Given their success -- and the strong play of several other young quarterbacks -- more teams are willing to trust in rookies at the helm. With two weeks of preseason play in the books, I thought it'd be a good time to examine the challenges facing Luck, RG3, Tannehill and Weeden.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
What's the challenge? To simultaneously replace a legend and return a former perennial AFC powerhouse to the ranks of the elite.
What are the expectations? Luck was regarded as the most pro-ready quarterback prospect to enter the NFL since Peyton Manning, someone who could reverse the fortunes of any franchise that landed him. In Indianapolis, Luck has been tasked with helping the Colts, who won 12 or more games in seven of the past nine seasons, recapture their swagger after going 2-14 in 2011. No one expects the Colts to go from worst to first in Luck's debut campaign. But he's certainly raised expectations by looking like a legitimate franchise quarterback through the first few weeks of the preseason.
What can we actually expect? The Colts seemingly fell off the face of the earth after their lost season and a subsequent mass exodus of veteran players. However, Luck's superb play this month has fueled optimism about the Colts' chances in 2012, despite the fact that they field a young and inexperienced lineup. If Luck can continue to quickly adapt to the speed and tempo of the pro game while showing a complete mastery of the Colts' offensive system, a wild-card spot is not outside the realm of possibility.
Predicted stats: 3,900 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
What's the challenge? To help the Redskins return to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and give the franchise someone to build around by stabilizing a long-unsteady position.
What are the expectations?Griffin is supposed to push the Redskins into the postseason for the first time in the Mike Shanahan era. He inherits a team with a championship-caliber defense and several intriguing offensive skill players (such as receivers Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and Santana Moss, as well as tight end Fred Davis). A shaky offensive line could limit Griffin's opportunities to show off his extraordinary playmaking skills, but RG3 and Shanahan are nonetheless expected to produce fireworks -- and, at some point, an NFC East division title.
What can we actually expect? Griffin has had an up-and-down preseason, but he's flashed enough brilliance to suggest he can develop into a Michael Vick-like weapon from the pocket. He has the athleticism to make plays on the perimeter and the pocket poise/awareness to pick apart defenses through the air. RG3 will need time to acclimate to the complexities of NFL coverage concepts, but there's no reason to think the Redskins shouldn't make the postseason, even in the tough NFC East.
Predicted stats:3,200 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
What is the challenge? To be the Dolphins' first franchise quarterback since Dan Marino retired following the 1999 season.
What are the expectations? They're low, considering the New England Patriots' stranglehold on the AFC East, but some observers think the Dolphins have enough blue-chip defensive talent to contend for a playoff berth. That might be a stretch, though, considering the dearth of established receivers. The Dolphins don't have a legitimate No. 1 receiver on the roster -- sorry Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and Clyde Gates -- and it's hard to imagine Tannehill thriving with an offense that lacks explosiveness on the perimeter.
What can we actually expect? The Dolphins appear headed for a tough season. Tannehill is relatively inexperienced, having registered just 19 starts at quarterback at Texas A&M. He should have a keen understanding of Miami's system, thanks to the time he spent working with offensive coordinator (and former Aggies head coach) Mike Sherman in college. But he will need time to adjust to the speed of the pro game and figure out how to decipher complicated blitz schemes. How quickly he learns to make sound decisions under duress will determine whether the Dolphins finish above .500 in coach Joe Philbin's debut season.
Predicted stats: 2,800 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
What is the challenge? To revive a downtrodden franchise that has made just one playoff appearance since returning to the NFL in 1999. Weeden must also vanquish the ghosts of disappointing first-round picks Tim Couch and Brady Quinn.
What are the expectations? No one thinks the Browns, with their recent losing history and lackluster roster, can contend in the AFC North. On paper, Cleveland is well behind its division rivals. The only hope for the Browns hinges on the rapid development of Weeden. To complicate matters, the Browns have a new owner, and Weeden is being counted on to possibly save the jobs of president Mike Holmgren, coach Pat Shurmur and others. However, overall expectations are at an all-time low; if Weeden and the Browns make any progress, it would be considered a significant step in the right direction.
What can we actually expect? The mature, experienced Weeden quickly won the starting job by displaying all of the physical tools teams covet in a franchise quarterback. He can throw to all areas of the field and brings confidence and leadership to the huddle. It will help if fellow first-round pick Trent Richardson can return to health and become a workhorse back capable of carrying the offense on the ground. However, Weeden can elevate Cleveland's inexperienced receiving corps with his extraordinary arm strength and ball-placement skills. If he forms a strong rapport with Greg Little and fellow rookie Josh Gordon on the perimeter, the Browns could field a respectable squad and be far more competitive than most expect.
Predicted stats: 3,100 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.