With the announcement that Russell Wilson’s game jersey has been added to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s collection after he became “the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to finish a game with at least one touchdown pass, three rushing touchdowns, and 90 yards rushing” in the Seahawks’ 50-17 win over the Bills last Sunday, I thought it might be fun to take a quick look at how Wilson’s rookie season to date compares to some other notable performances by rookie quarterbacks throughout the years.
To keep things manageable, I limited my search to quarterbacks who threw at least 15 touchdown passes in their first pro season. After eliminating players who sat on the bench for a year or more before seeing their first season of action (Carson Palmer, Charlie Conerly, etc.) and guys who played in other pro football leagues before joining the NFL or one of the two leagues that eventually merged with it, the AAFC and the AFL (Jim Kelly played in the USFL, Butch Songin in the CFL, etc.), I was left with a list of 24 quarterbacks1:
|Rank||Rookie Year||League & Team||Name & Passing TDs||Rank||Rookie Year||League & Team||Name & Passing TDs|
|1||1998||NFL – Ind. Colts||Peyton Manning (26)||13(t)||1946||AAFC – Cle. Browns||Otto Graham (17)|
|2||1948||AAFC – Buf. Bills||George Ratterman (22)||13(t)||2004||NFL – Pit. Steelers||Ben Roethlisberger (17)|
|3(t)||2011||NFL – Car. Panthers||Cam Newton (21)||15(t)||1948||AAFC – Bal. Colts||Y.A. Tittle (16)|
|3(t)||2012||NFL – Sea. Seahawks||Russell Wilson (21)||15(t)||1990||NFL – Ind. Colts||Jeff George (16)|
|5(t)||1983||NFL – Mia. Dolphins||Dan Marion (20)||15(t)||2008||NFL – Atl. Falcons||Matt Ryan (16)|
|5(t)||2011||NFL – Cin. Bengals||Andy Dalton (20)||18(t)||1962||AFL – S.D. Chargers||John Hadl (15)|
|5(t)||2012||NFL – Ind. Colts||Andrew Luck (20)||18(t)||1967||AFL – Mia. Dolphins||Bob Griese (15)|
|8||1971||NFL – N.E. Patriots||Jim Plunkett (19)||18(t)||1969||AFL – Cin. Bengals||Greg Cook (15)|
|9(t)||1961||NFL – Min. Vikings||Fran Tarkenton (18)||18(t)||1993||NFL – N.E. Patriots||Drew Bledsoe (15)|
|9(t)||1965||AFL – NY Jets||Joe Namath (18)||18(t)||1996||NFL – St.L. Rams||Tony Banks (15)|
|9(t)||2010||NFL – St.L. Rams||Sam Bradford (18)||18(t)||1997||NFL – Ari. Cardinals||Jake Plummer (15)|
|9(t)||2012||NFL – Was. Redskins||Robert Griffin III (18)||18(t)||1999||NFL – Cle. Browns||Tim Couch (15)|
Currently, Wilson is tied with Cam Newton for third most passing touchdowns by a rookie QB with 21, and Andrew Luck isn’t far behind him with 20. Wilson needs five more TDs to tie Peyton Manning, but seeing as how his next two opponents the 49ers and Rams have allowed just 14 passing TDs all season long (tied for fourth fewest in the NFL), his chances of meeting or exceeding Manning’s record are pretty slim.
Next, here’s how Wilson stacks up when we add in rushing touchdowns:
|Rank||Name||Pass TDs||Rush TDs||Total TDs||Rank||Name||Pass TDs||Rush TDs||Total TDs|
|1||Cam Newton||21||14||35||13(t)||Otto Graham||17||1||18|
|2||Peyton Manning||26||0||26||13(t)||Joe Namath||18||0||18|
|3||Andrew Luck||20||5||25||13(t)||Ben Roethlisberger||17||1||18|
|4(t)||Russell Wilson||21||3||24||16(t)||Jeff George||16||1||17|
|4(t)||Robert Griffin III||18||6||24||16(t)||Jake Plummer||15||2||17|
|6(t)||George Ratterman||22||1||23||16(t)||Matt Ryan||16||1||17|
|6(t)||Fran Tarkenton||18||5||23||19(t)||John Hadl||15||1||16|
|8||Dan Marino||20||2||22||19(t)||Bob Griese||15||1||16|
|9||Andy Dalton||20||1||21||19(t)||Greg Cook||15||1||16|
|10||Y.A. Tittle||16||4||20||19(t)||Tim Couch||15||1||16|
|11(t)||Jim Plunkett||19||0||19||23(t)||Drew Bledsoe||15||0||15|
|11(t)||Sam Bradford||18||1||19||23(t)||Tony Banks||15||0||15|
Unless the Seahawks are going to be starting every drive over the next two weeks at their opponent’s one yard line, Wilson is not likely to rack up the 11 touchdowns it would take to match Newton’s inhuman record of 35.
If nothing else, this table really emphasizes just how special this 2012 rookie QB class really is. I mean, Luck, Wilson, and Robert Griffin III are all firmly ensconced in the top five, and they still have two games left to play – how many more times do you think we’ll see that happen in our lifetimes?
Still, rookies aren’t perfect, and they’re going to make mistakes. Here’s how Wilson stacks up in terms of their ratio of passing touchdowns to interceptions:
|1||Robert Griffin III||4||9:2||12(t)||Sam Bradford||15||6:5|
|2||Otto Graham||5||17:5||14||Jim Plunkett||16||19:16|
|3||Dan Marino||6||10:3||15||Tim Couch||13||15:13|
|4||Russell Wilson||9||7:3||16||Andrew Luck||18||10:9|
|5||Y.A. Tittle||9||16:9||17||George Ratterman||20||11:10|
|6||Ben Roethlisberger||11||17:11||18||Fran Tarkenton||17||18:17|
|7||Andy Dalton||13||20:13||19(t)||Drew Bledsoe||15||1:1|
|8||Matt Ryan||11||16:11||19(t)||Tony Banks||15||1:1|
|9||Greg Cook||11||15:11||19(t)||Jake Plummer||15||1:1|
|10||Cam Newton||17||21:17||22||Peyton Manning||28||13:14|
|11||Jeff George||13||16:13||23||Bob Griese||18||5:6|
|12(t)||Joe Namath||15||6:5||24||John Hadl||24||5:8|
Finally, here’s how the ratio shakes out when we add in rushing TDs and fumbles:
|Rank||Name||Fumbles||All TDs:All Screwups||Rank||Name||Fumbles||All TDs:All Screwups|
|1||Otto Graham||0||18:5||13||Andrew Luck||10||25:28|
|2||Y.A. Tittle||0||20:9||14(t)||Jim Plunkett||6||19:22|
|3||Dan Marino||5||2:1||14(t)||Sam Bradford||7||19:22|
|4||Russell Wilson||5||12:7||16||Joe Namath||6||6:7|
|5||Robert Griffin III||11||8:5||17||Peyton Manning||3||26:31|
|6||Cam Newton||5||35:22||18||Jake Plummer||6||17:21|
|7||Ben Roethlisberger||2||18:13||19(t)||Bob Griese||3||16:21|
|8||Andy Dalton||5||7:6||19(t)||Greg Cook||10||16:21|
|9||George Ratterman||0||23:20||21||Drew Bledsoe||8||15:23|
|10(t)||Jeff George||4||1:1||22||Tim Couch||14||16:27|
|10(t)||Matt Ryan||6||1:1||23||John Hadl||8||1:2|
|12||Fran Tarkenton||8||23:25||24||Tony Banks||21||5:12|
I don’t have much to add to this one, other than to point out that all three players listed above Wilson and Griffin in this last table are all in the Hall of Fame. Not a bad start to a career, I’d say.
* * *
1 I found it interesting to see how the names are grouped by time period and league. It’s no surprise to see multiple rookie QBs managed the feat in the freewheeling offenses of the AFL IV2 in the 1960s, but I didn’t expect to see quite so many names from the AAFC (and before you assume that result was because of a handful of strong teams like the Browns beating up on weaker competition, it bears noting that the Colts teams Tittle played on were pretty awful).
In the more conservative NFL, it was traditional for QBs to go through an apprenticeship period where they sat on the bench for a few seasons of development before being trusted to start, and even when they did play their rookie year the run-heavy offenses that dominated the league for most of its history didn’t offer much in the way of scoring opportunities for young signal callers. Either way, it isn’t hard to understand why so few NFL rookies met the 15 TD mark prior to the early 1990s.
2 Yes, there really were three other American Football Leagues. The first one played for just one year back in 1926 and was only organized in the first place so that C.C. Pyle could strong-arm the NFL into awarding him a franchise (it worked, by the way). The second one lasted two years, 1936-37, before going bankrupt (apparently the middle of the Great Depression isn’t the best time to organize a new sports league). The third AFL was successful enough that it began to show a profit by the end of its second season in 1941, but they suspended operations when the United States entered World War II (they fully intended to resume play after the war, but for whatever reason they never did).