Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for three years. Tom Brady sat for nearly two years behind Drew Bledsoe. The difference? Rodgers was a first-round draft pick and Favre a clear Hall-of-Famer. Brady was a sixth-round nobody and Bledsoe’s time in the NFL petered out pathetically.
Regardless, Brady and Rodgers are on the fast-track to Canton, and they both had time to adjust to the NFL while learning from an experienced quarterback. Pre-Rodgers, sitting a rookie quarterback was par, but since then, the majority of high-round draft picks are starting for their teams in Week 1.
Monday morning, Broncos fans learned that will not be the case for first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch. Head coach Gary Kubiak confirmed Monday what some have been assuming for weeks: Trevor Siemian will start Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.
Kubiak also said Lynch will play the entirety of Thursday’s final preseason game against Arizona, making him the presumptive quarterback No. 2. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders believes that’s a benefit for Lynch.
“Paxton is still a young quarterback,” Sanders said. “It’s good that he can sit back and grow and get a true introduction to the NFL.”
Let’s take a look at three rookies who sat their first year, versus three rookies who played in Week 1.
Aaron Rodgers (Drafted 2005; first NFL snap: 2008)
Rodgers has openly said he owes some of his success to sitting on the bench his rookie season.
“I do feel younger because of it,” Rodgers said in 2014. “I think it extended my career.”
At only 32, it’s a little early to talk about career longevity, but it’s not too early to talk about potential Hall-of-Fame induction.
Rodgers has compiled 32,399 yards and 257 touchdowns in the seven years since he took over for Favre. Of those, 4,038 yards and 28 touchdowns came in his first year as a starter. If he was a rookie, he would be bested in yards by Cam Newton (4,051) and Andrew Luck (4,374). He would hold the rookie record for touchdowns.
We’ll never know how Rodgers may have fared if he started as a rookie, but he is certainly thankful that wasn’t the case.
“You go to a place that has some pieces and you can have some success early,” Rodgers said. “But if you go to a team that doesn’t have the pieces . . . it can really mess with your confidence.”
Tom Brady (Drafted 2000; first NFL snap: 2001)
Brady’s story is so well known, it’s not really necessary to tell. Suffice it to say, he was the diamond in the rough of the 2000 draft, and when he took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001, he was still unknown.
Little did anyone know, he would lead the Patriots to an 11-5 finish to the season, an AFC Championship victory and the first of four Super Bowls.
Even though Brady was not expected to start — perhaps ever — the time on the bench and in the weight room helped him add 25 pounds to his skinny frame and gave him an extra few months to learn the playbook. His incredible accuracy is what he is famed for, and he honed that watching Bledsoe from the sideline.
Philip Rivers (Drafted 2003; first NFL snap: 2006)
Rivers sat his first two years behind Drew Brees, and took his team to an AFC Championship, finishing out the season strong with 10 straight wins, in his first year as the starter. The 14-2 regular season record was the best in Charger’s history.
Rivers has never made it to a Super Bowl and has only made the playoffs five times in his career, but one could argue his mediocre surrounding cast is more at fault for that than himself.
John Elway (Drafted 1983; rookie stats: 1,663 yards, 7 TDs, 14 INTs)
Elway goes down in history as one of the greatest to wear the orange and blue, but his rookie season was not anything to brag about.
He exponentially doubled his numbers from his second season onward, so one can only wonder if sitting out a year or two would have done more for Elway’s career numbers. He learned the hard way, getting thrown to the wolves at the first opportunity, but it was a painful season of adjustments for both Elway and Broncos fans.
Peyton Manning (Drafted 1998; rookie stats: 3,739 yards; 26 TDs, 28 TDs)
While Peyton Manning’s 26 touchdowns as a rookie remained a record until Russell Wilson came in and tied it in 2012, his rookie interception record (28!) still stands today — and likely will for a long time.
You could clearly see the talent with Manning, but it didn’t come together quickly, and his colts went 3-13 in 1998. Ouch.
Andrew Luck (Drafted 2012; rookie stats: 4,374 yards, 23 TDs, 18 INTs)
Though Luck inherited a team similar in talent to Manning’s, the 2012 first-overall-pick took Indianapolis to an 11-5 regular season record and a playoff berth.
Of all the first-round rookies to start, Luck had the most prolific season, and he was widely acclaimed for it. Luck’s rookie year was an anomaly, not only for rookies but possibly for himself. He exceeded his rookie yardage and touchdown numbers just once, in 2014, and regressed in 2015.
Of course, he was injured, but there will be plenty of eyes on Luck’s performance this season.