The 2012 NFL draft class was among the best in the history of the National Football League at quarterback. Only the '83 class with John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino compares to it. Now, this doesn't mean that any of the players who jumped on to the scene in 2012 will become Hall of Fame quarterbacks. It is, however, an indication of just how well they performed as rookies.
By no means does this indicate that each of them don't have things to work on in preparation for the 2013 season. In fact, as rookies, they have a whole heck of a lot to work on. Each can improve on his mechanics, on-field awareness and accuracy. Each struggled to an extent at times this past season, which leads me to believe they will have to work on consistency.
Today's article is going to focus on where each 2012 rookie quarterbacks can improve on the most heading into next season.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck had himself quite the rookie season. He led Indianapolis to a nine-win improvement from the 2011 season and did so with a bunch of youngsters on the offensive side of the ball. Rookies Vick Ballard, T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen made huge impacts. This just goes to show you how good Luck was in 2012. Most successful rookie quarterbacks come into the league with a veteran-laden supporting cast; he didn't have that.
With that said, Luck did struggle a great deal at times. In fact, he probably has as much to work on as any of the top-flight rookies from this past draft class.
Luck threw the fifth-most passes in the NFL (39.2 per game), which was 110 more overall attempts the Brandon Weeden, who was second among rookie in that category (via NFL.com). Needless to say, Indianapolis relied more on Luck than most rookies would be comfortable with.
Overall, Luck turned the ball over 23 times from the quarterback position in 2012, second highest in the NFL behind Mark Sanchez (via eDraft.com). Those numbers need to decrease a great deal moving forward if Luck is going to join the club of elite quarterbacks.
In addition, Luck ranked 33rd among quarterbacks with at least 200 passes attempts in completion percentage at 54.1 (via NFL.com). While those numbers are a bit skewed considering that he threw a lot of deep passes and Colts' receivers struggled catching the ball on a consistent basis, they do show an issue in terms of accuracy. Of course we all know accuracy was a primary strength of Luck's coming out of college, so I don't see that as being a major issue moving forward.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
It's hard to imagine one single thing that Robert Griffin III struggled with as a rookie. After all, he finished third among qualified players in quarterback rating, completed 65 percent of his passes and only turned the ball over seven times on 513 overall touches as a rookie (via NFL.com). Those are some crazy numbers right there.
The one primary thing that RGIII needs to work on heading into his sophomore season is avoiding hits. As we noticed late in the season and in the playoffs, he could turn into an injury-prone quarterback. While one setback doesn't show a trend, it is something for the Redskins to worry about moving forward. Unlike some of the other mobile young quarterbacks, RGIII can succeed as a pocket passer because of his deadly accuracy and strong arm.
While I will stop short of saying that he needs to nix the running game completely, RGIII would be well served to know when to get down or go out of bounds instead of taking the hit. We saw Russell Wilson (more on him later) and Colin Kaepernick understand this as the season progressed. It's high time that RGIII does as well.
RGIII can also improve on his downfield pass. I fully understand that he wasn't asked to do this a whole lot as a rookie in 2012; common sense seems to indicate that there was a reason for that. I noticed his performance on longer passes (balls that traveled over 20 yards) dropped a tad bit in his final season at Baylor. In addition, he struggled putting the necessary loft on the ball down the field as a rookie in 2012. Of course, this is something that should be rectified with more experience.
While it really isn't something RGIII needs to work on, the dreaded sophomore slump has haunted some of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. We saw this firsthand with Cam Newton this past season, at least in the first half of the year. Even after one of the best rookie seasons in the history of the NFL, there is still a lot for RGIII to work on.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Between the hashes, Wilson is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the entire NFL. He puts the ball in a place where the receiver can make a play after the catch, doesn't struggle looking over the top of the defensive line and is rarely batted down at the line.
If there is one area of his game that Wilson can improve on a great deal it is accuracy and decision making on the outside. He got away with some pretty poorly thrown passes and equally bad decisions throwing outside the hashes. On more than one occasion, I noticed Wilson throw across his body from one hash to the opposite sideline.
Outside of that, I really don't have a lot for you here. In case you missed it, Matt Miller ranked Wilson as the No. 9 overall quarterback in the NFL 1,000 Series, which indicated he doesn't have a whole lot to work on. Miller had the following to say about the talented youngster and his mechanics....
When you think of compact deliveries and a fast release, Wilson comes to mind. He has a very solid, efficient setup and delivery, with no wasted motion or time. Russell throws like a spring, using his entire body to torque into the throw, transferring his weight from his back foot and stepping into the pass.
Usually that is something we focus on when it comes to rookie signal-callers. However, Wilson has the best set of mechanics I have seen from a young quarterback in a long time, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III included.
He could, however, work on taking less sacks. While he wasn't taken to the turf a whole lot—just 33 times—Wilson seemed to hold on to the ball longer waiting for the play to develop. Again, I am just nitpicking here.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Tannehill was supposed to be too inexperienced and raw as a rookie. Many experts concluded that he just didn't understand the quarterback position or the nuances of the NFL in order to be successful at this level as a rookie.
For the most part, the Texas A&M prospect looked these skeptics, myself included, in the face and laughed all the way to the bank. For all intents and purposes, he was much better than advertised as a rookie. By no means does this indicate that Tannehill doesn't have anything to work on. In fact, he is going to be a work in progress for the foreseeable future.
Decision making was a major issue for Tannehill as a rookie. He struggled getting the ball out fluidly on timing routes, which caused the ball to either be late or behind the receiver. A lot of this has to do with his inexperience under center and should be rectified with more playing time. However, it must be noted that these struggles persisted throughout the entire season and didn't seem to get better as he got more snaps under center.
Overall, Tannehill threw only 12 touchdowns in 16 starts. One of the primary reasons for his lack of scoring was that he struggled a great deal in the red zone. Despite an 8-to-1 TD/INT ratio inside opponents' 20, Tannehill completed less than 50 percent of his passes in those situation. By comparison, he completed nearly 60 percent from outside the 20. It is all about recognizing the defensive scheme, making the correct initial read and being able to check down to secondary receivers. Tannehill struggled in this aspect of the game, at least inside opponents' 20.
With a little more experience under his belt, this 2012 first-round pick should be a top 15 quarterback in the NFL. He has all the physical ability in the world and seems to have fixed issues with accuracy and mechanics much sooner than most of us thought he would. It's all about sharpening his skills in these other aspects. Once that happens, watch out.
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
If Weeden were a wide-eyed 22-year old rookie quarterback entering his rookie season, many would be sending praise his way for what has to be a decent rookie campaign. That being said, his relatively advanced age for a rookie led many to believe that the Oklahoma State product could come in and play like a vet.
It didn't happen.
Instead, Weeden was far too inconsistent, even within the matter of a single game, to be counted on. He would follow up a stellar string of plays with decisions that made me cringe. He couldn't hit the receiver on the outside in stride and struggled making secondary reads throughout the duration of the season. Once a play developed, Weeden rarely looked past his first read and threw too many passes into tight windows.
These are issues that we expect from a rookie quarterback. These are not issue we expect from a player set to turn 30 this upcoming October.
While Weeden still has time to develop into a starting quarterback in the NFL, I am not sure it will be with Cleveland. He is the product of a mistake from the previous regime, which doesn't bode well for his future with that franchise. Outside of dramatic improvement in 2013, Weeden may end up being relegated to a backup role moving forward. This is by far the most important offseason of his career, even dating back to college.
Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
I wasn't a huge fan of Foles coming out of Arizona. He struggled a great deal in his final collegiate season and just didn't seem to be more than a solid backup option in the NFL. The young quarterback changed my opinion quite a bit in replacement of Michael Vick for a handful of games during his rookie campaign.
He was pretty darn impressive overall.
Though, this isn't to say that Foles doesn't have a whole lot to work on. He struggles with accuracy on the intermediate routes and seemed to place the ball into coverage way too much for my liking. These are two issues, when brought up together, can cause a lot of interceptions. Luckily, it seems, Foles avoided that trap in '12.
He will need to fix these issues in order to be considered a solid starting quarterback in the NFL. It will take some time and he will have to refine what are improved mechanics for it all to come together.