Originally posted on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 9/2/13
Last season saw several quarterbacks break through various career barriers and become NFL mainstays. The rookie class of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson continued the recent trends of rookie success and also set a new standard for youngsters with all three of their teams reaching the playoffs. Second year phenom Colin Kaepernick took over the starting role in the middle of the season and lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl thanks to his dynamic skill set giving their offense an added dimension. Meanwhile Matt Ryan managed to finally win his first playoff game after numerous attempts. Despite the success of these youngsters, a quarterback in his fifth year was the story of the season. Joe Flacco of the Ravens, in a contract year no less, caught fire in the postseason and played near perfect football to win the Super Bowl MVP award. After years of trying to convince fans and pundits he was elite, Flacco’s postseason performance earned him a big money contract and a whole new level of expectations this season. In 2013 there will be a new batch of quarterbacks looking to establish themselves as part of the league’s elite. The following quarterbacks will enter 2013 each with something to prove, some will be battling just to stay in the league and others are playing for a big money deal. The Rookie Class Life as a rookie quarterback in the NFL has become much easier and subsequently much more difficult as well. The gap between college and the NFL has been reduced making the transition for young signal callers much easier to deal with. That in turn now leads to fans expecting their young star to come in and have success within their first season under center. In recent draft classes, there has been some exceptional talent such as Andrew Luck, RG3 and Russell Wilson in last year’s group. The class of 2013 however has talent that could best be described as average. The top two picks are likely to be starting for their team in week one but it will be through necessity rather than winning the job. Buffalo’s EJ Manuel appears to have shaken off a knee injury and is practicing as though he is playing on Sunday. Initially it seemed like the plan was for Manuel to sit and learn for a while under Kevin Kolb however a career threatening concussion has left the rookie as the next best option. Meanwhile Jets rookie Geno Smith will be starting despite an appalling showing in the preseason thanks to Mark Sanchez’s injury, but he does not look ready for the NFL yet. Other rookies may see time as the season goes on but it is hard to see them making a playoff run at the helm of an offense. Battling to Save a Job Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker Four quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the 2011 Draft and all four of them are facing potential make or break seasons as they head into that critical third year of their career. With rookie contracts getting more team friendly, front offices are not tied to underperforming draft picks for a crippling amount of time. With that in mind, the four first round picks from 2011 are all facing differing levels of pressure as the look to prove themselves as the long-term options for their respective teams. Cam Newton, the infamous first overall pick appears to be the safest of all four players however he needs to prove that he has finally outgrown those immature spells which have marred his career to this point. Next came Jake Locker who went eighth overall to the Titans and is going into his second season starting. Locker showed some flashes last season but battled a shoulder injury all year missing five games. This year he needs to show that he can become an accurate passer and bring his completion percentage up over 60%. Blaine Gabbert was taken by Jacksonville and has been almost completely ruined by playing for a team full of atrocious receivers. After 24 starts in his first two years, Gabbert still has more questions than answers about his ability to play quarterback with the big boys. A positive preseason will hopefully lay the foundation for a solid third year but Gabbert may be safe just because there are too many holes on the Jaguars roster. Finally comes Christian Ponder, the guy with the easiest job on this list. With Adrian Peterson lined up behind him, Ponder just needs to play smart, measured football and cut down on the mistakes he has made so far in his career. If Ponder can get his turnovers down into the single digits and remember how to hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson then the Vikings should keep him around for his fourth season. While the 2011 draft class is by no means bad, it certainly says a lot about it that the two most successful quarterbacks so far have been the second round pick Andy Dalton and the third rounder Colin Kaepernick. The first rounders were all picked to come in and help out their respective teams but they still have a way to go to prove their usefulness at the NFL level. Other quarterbacks still have a way to go but those are just six youngsters that have a something to prove in 2013.
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