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Rough Start For The NFL’s Top Tier Of Young Quarterbacks

A young and talented group of NFL quarterbacks aim to limit mistakes in quest to join list of elite.

Bo Marchionte



The first weekend of action in the NFL revealed many things, both good and bad, for plenty of players and teams around the league.

First and foremost was the match up of the top two overall selections in the 2015 NFL Draft.  Never before in the history of the NFL had the No. 1 (Jameis Winston) and No. 2 (Marcus Mariota) drafted quarterbacks squared off on opening day.

Mariota dazzled in his debut that included four touchdowns passes, zero interceptions and a perfect passer rating of 158.3 and most importantly a win for his Tennessee Titans.

What happened to Mariota in Week 1 is an anomaly in the realm of being a rookie in the National Football League, especially at the position of quarterback.

Even with his superb performance, Mariota will likely earn his bumps and bruises as the season progresses and defensive coordinators zero in on his early deficiencies.

In the wake of Mariota’s monstrous performance was a cluster of younger quarterbacks lacking experience and looking inadequate at handling the nuances of playing quarterback at a Pro Bowl caliber level.

Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Week 1 Stats

CP/AT     YDS    TDS    INT

16/33       210       2         2

Winston’s last college game ended in a loss and that is the same way his NFL career began after being defeated by the Mariota-led Titans, who throttled the Buccaneers 42-14.

“Of course Jameis didn’t play (well) and he’ll play better than he did yesterday,” said Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith referring to Winston’s poor debut.

His first NFL completion went for six points, unfortunately it was the result of an interception returned by Tennessee defensive back Cody Sensabaugh for 26 yards and the score.

He made some ill-advised throws and showed he still can stare down his targets, a bad habit he displayed in college.  Those are corrections that can me made with practice and preparation. Those issues should eventually work themselves out as he grows and matures into a pro-ready quarterback.


Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins

Week 1 Stats


21/31      196       1       2


One very important thing to remember about Kirk Cousins moving forward is what round he was selected in during the NFL Draft.

In case you forgot it was the fourth-round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Why is that important?

Cousins’ was the only quarterback drafted in the fourth round to start under center in Week 1. 26 other quarterbacks were selected in rounds higher than Cousins, leaving only five other starting quarterbacks drafted below Cousins draft grade.

That leaves Cousins vulnerable to losing his job to a current college quarterback aiming to enter the 2016 NFL Draft.

As for now, the Redskins are doing their best to ensure both Cousins and their fan base that they are backing their current starter (the same thing they did with Robert Griffin III before benching him).

“I think he played well,” said Jay Gruden head coach of the Washington Redskins on Cousins opening day performance. “I’m know there are a couple of plays I’m sure he wishes he had back but I think he was decisive with the ball.”

Gruden’s vote of confidence should be expected, due to the team benching former No. 1 pick Robert Griffin III. Even with Gruden publicly backing Cousins he could pull the plug on his current starter with a few more interceptions.

Interceptions led to Cousins losing the starting job last season to Colt McCoy.

“I don’t know,” Gruden said last season via the Tennessean on his quarterbacks struggles with turning the football over. “If I knew, I wouldn’t call those plays. They’ve come in bunches.”

Over the span of his short career (2012-15) that includes appearing in 15 games and 10 starts, Cousins has thrown 21 interceptions compared to 19 touchdown passes. He must overcome the ill-advised throws if he plans on being the starting quarterback in our nation’s capital or anywhere else.

Limiting turnovers are the key to Cousins holding off Colt McCoy for the starting job and keeping Washington from drafting a quarterback next year. He possesses the size and smarts to move a pro-style offense but the reality is that the turnovers must cease. It’s too hard to win with them.


Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Week 1 Stat-line


22/40     183       1       2


Bortles was the third-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and expectations to elevate the Jaguars from the bottom of the AFC South builds with each and every game.

Bortles has all the physical tools along with the mental smarts to be a franchise quarterback. The former Fiesta Bowl champion has shown glimpses of greatness along with aggravating moments of missed execution on passes.

In the third quarter against the Carolina Panthers with Jacksonville holding on to a one-point lead, Bortles threw a pick-six to Josh Norman. The Jaguars never recovered and scored zero points in the second half of the game losing 19-9.

“Obviously it is adversity,” Bortles said post-game discussing the interception. “Gus (Bradley) talks about that all the time, being able to respond to that and bounce back from it. I know, personally, I was fine and the rest of the huddle was as well.”

The fact of the matter is he did not help lead the offense to respond and bounce back.

Those mistakes can haunt a young quarterback from taking the next step to stardom. Bortles will lose the confidence of the huddle if he continues to make those costly passes without being able to lead the offense for other scoring drives.

Jacksonville is doing their best to supply a talent deprived offense with play-makers that includes Bortles himself. Additional pieces added via the NFL Draft and free agency include tackle Luke Joeckel, running back T.J. Yeldon and tight end Julius Thomas.  Unfortunately in the second half of Sunday’s game, Yeldon was the only player that was healthy.

When healthy, it is a young and talented group of players on offense in Jacksonville.

For Jacksonville’s offense to realize their full potential they will need Bortles to emerge and develop into a franchise caliber quarterback.



Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders

Week 1 Stat-line


7/12      61        0       0

To no fault of his own, Carr left Sunday’s loss against the Cincinnati Bengals after hurting his hand stiff-arming defensive back Pacman Jones.

Carr left the game late in the second quarter of the Raiders 33-13 loss, with the only Oakland points coming in the fourth quarter off the arm of back-up quarterback Matt McGloin.

But make no mistake this is Carr’s team and he’s the future in Oakland.

Starting all 16 games last season and throwing 21 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions, Carr showed he has successfully transitioned from the college to pro level.

After his rookie success, the idea is Oakland will improve by leaps and bounds from their 3-13 record a year ago. In order to accomplish that Carr must return from his hand injury (considered minor) and help the Raiders offense to put points on the board.

Even if wins elude the Raiders, it is imperative Carr leads the Oakland offense to points on the scoreboard and remain competitive. Carr is smart with good pocket presence and knows how to take care of the football. His next step towards success is getting points on the scoreboard.



Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns

Week 1 Stat-line


13/24     182       1       1


Browns starting quarterback Josh McCown did his best impression to duplicate the helicopter spin first made famous by former Miami Dolphins receiver Nat Moore and more recently John Elway.

McCown left the pocket and made a mad dash to the end zone. He leaped towards the goal line and after being hit from the side he spun violently in the air. He fumbled the ball and ended up being concussed and forced out of the game.

It breathed life into “Johnny Football” to come in and lead the Browns to victory.

Manziel followed the script by throwing his first NFL touchdown pass, a 54-yard bomb to Travis Benjamin. It was the only touchdown scored by the Browns offense on opening day as they went on to the New York Jets on the road 31-10.

With each pass thrown by Manziel, the reality began to sink in how far he still has to go to become Cleveland’s long term solution at quarterback.

“I thought he did some good things,” Browns head coach Mike Pettine said of Manziel coming in off the bench. “The throw to Travis I thought was outstanding. He did some good things with his feet (Led the Browns in rushing 35 yards), but he’s got to be more protective of the ball. You can’t turn the ball over and expect to win. So it’s something he has to get better control over.”

In the second half, Manziel threw one interception and lost to fumbles to the Jets defense.

“I know I can’t turn the ball over,” said Manziel after the loss. “That hurt us.”

Besides the killer turnovers, his passes sailed over receivers or skipped across the ground before hitting their hands. Accuracy is going to be a big obstacle for Manziel who has yet to master the art of delivering (consistently) catchable passes to his wide receivers.

Due to his lack of interest last season about being a NFL quarterback, he struggled to earn time on the field as a rookie and it is setting him back in his sophomore season in the NFL.  In terms of his pass attempts (59), he has about two games of real action in the NFL delivering the football to his teammates. It shows in his accuracy or lack there of and that will limit his effectiveness until he can get enough game reps to feel comfortable.

His legs are his biggest asset as he picks up big chunks of yardage launching out of the pocket.

If he can limit turnovers and deliver a higher pass completion percentage then he’ll have a shot to be the guy Cleveland is desperate to cheer for as their quarterback of the future.

Bo Marchionte is an NFL writer for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade. His background includes being staff for the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game as a talent evaluator for player personnel along with an internship scouting with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Canadian Football League. Bo’s draft background includes working for the NFL Draft Bible and currently owns and operates He has done radio spots on NBC, Fox Sports and ESPN and their affiliates in different markets around the country. Bo covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Panthers along with other colleges in the northeast.

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