Six weeks into the NFL season, the deep and talented rookie quarterback class of 2011 is already beginning to show what it’s truly capable of.
Fan favorite Cam Newton has brought his college talent to the NFL but has not been able to convert that talent into wins. His Carolina Panthers are 2-5 despite Newton’s 2,103 yards and eight touchdown passes (to go along with six rushing touchdowns). Newton is by far the best of the quarterbacks selected in last year’s draft, but let’s not forget about players like Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder.
Dalton, the Cincinatti Bengals’ rookie, is on pace for a similarly satisfactory first season to that had by St. Louis Rams’ quarterback Sam Bradford last year. After giving both Dalton and former Oakland Raiders’ quarterback Bruce Gradkowski chances to win the starting position, the Bengals opted for Dalton. Thus, I believe that a veteran like Gradkowski will remain a viable backup and mentor for Dalton. Out of all of the rookies, Dalton currently has the highest quarterback rating.
In Minnesota, Vikings’ quarterback Christian Ponder did a great job during his first NFL start against the Green Bay Packers last week, throwing two touchdowns and racking up 219 yards. In the fourth quarter, Ponder threw a beautiful pass to wide receiver Greg Camarillo and followed it up with a 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Jenkins. Ponder was able to find tight end Visanthe Shiancoe numerous times, including once for a touchdown. If he continues to play like this, the Vikings will have a good chance of making the playoffs next year. Ponder is also quick on his feet, having accumulated 39 rushing yards in two games.
Rookie quarterback Jake Locker, who showed enormous promise in the second half of his college career in Washington, has been benched in favor of veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck by the Tennessee Titans. Hasselbeck has a 87.7 quarterback rating as of week six, due to his 62.1 percent completion rate and ten touchdowns, so it is unlikely that Locker will see much playing time this year.
However, after 13 seasons, Hasselbeck is growing old. He was a good choice this year, but the Titans understand that Locker has potential. I wouldn’t be surprised if Locker followed in the Denver Broncos’ Tim Tebow’s footsteps, replacing Hasselbeck when the time comes next season.
After throwing 10,098 yards for 82 touchdowns in four years at Nevada, Colin Kaepernick seemed like a good potential replacement for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who has been mediocre at best in his first three seasons with the team. Kaepernick has not taken over for the 49ers, however, as Smith has raised his game considerably, and as a result Kaepernick should remain benched unless Smith reverts back to his old 1:2 touchdown-interception ratio.
Of these promising rookies, Newton, Dalton and Ponder will probably be the ones you will see the most in future highlight reels. Dalton is the most skilled at his position, Newton is an outstanding athlete, and Ponder is a sleeping talent poised for big things down the road.
Ondo is a member of the class of 2014.