The future is now, and it is very young among the most dominant quarterbacks in the NFL. Yes, we’re going to see Tom Brady and Peyton Manning once again in yet another postseason, but one of the more impressive facts is that six of the twelve quarterbacks in the 2012 NFL playoffs – Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, are in their first or second year in the league.
Between them, the six have 111 regular season starts in the NFL. Tom Brady alone has 175, and Peyton Manning, who like Brady has one entire season missed on his resume due to an injury (correction, Brady did play a few snaps), has 224. One quarterback contains the entire career of six very young ones.
If you want to add a bit more “youth” into these playoffs – Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco are all under 30. But one of the more interesting things about four of the younglings is that the NFL’s four best rushing attacks – the Vikings, 49ers, Redskins and the Seahawks, either had a rookie or a sophomore playing at quarterback. Things are a tad different for San Francisco, who played with Alex Smith as their starter for more than half the season.
Wilson might be the most surprising name to see among the rookie quarterback standouts. But it’s not just him dropping into the right kind of system, with a fantastic running game and a very strong defense, that made it possible for him to shine. Wilson finished the regular season with a passer rating of 100, completing 64.1% of his passes for 3118 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for just under 500 yards, scoring 4 touchdowns and averaging 5.2 per carry. He’s fourth among quarterbacks in passer rating and fourth in yards per attempt with 7.9.
Andrew Luck was supposed to shine, but not make the playoffs. The number one draft pick led the Indianapolis Colts to an 11-5 record, nine wins better than last season. His completion ratio is pretty bad with 54.1%, but he did throw for 4374 yards, 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Needless to say, the Colts base much more of their offense on Luck’s throwing ability than the Seahawks do on Wilson’s. Luck led the NFL with 7 game winning drives this season.
Robert Griffin III was the sensation, from the first minute. Accurate passing, explosive running. Not a rookie, but right from the bat, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Griffin was third in the NFL with a 102.4 passer rating, first with 8.1 yards per passing attempt, 4th with 65.6% completion, first with only 1.3% of his passes intercepted and an NFL best 6.8 yards per carry, gaining 815 yards on the ground, scoring 7 touchdowns.
For Andy Dalton, believe it or not, it’s the second consecutive season in the playoffs. The Cincinnati Bengals flew under the radar for the second straight season, but a solid running game and a fantastic pass rush put them over the Pittsburgh Steelers and right at the top next to the Baltimore Ravens. Dalton needs to put his performance from last season’s playoffs, when he threw three interceptions against the Texans, well behind him.
Colin Kaepernick wasn’t supposed to become a starter, but some say Jim Harbaugh waited for an excuse to drop Alex Smith. An injury was perfect to pull him out, and not throw him back in. Kaepernick showed an impressive arm and an even better athletic quality to him, averaging 6.6 yards per carry while throwing for 10 touchdowns to his three interceptions.
Christian Ponder performed the worst out of the lot. Yes, the Minnesota Vikings need to thank whoever it is you thank these days that Adrian Peterson was so good this season; MVP good, which isn’t something you hear too often when it comes to running backs. But a lot depends on Ponder’s ability to refrain from risky throws and trying to force himself on the game. The last few games, all wins in the Vikings’ impressive run to the playoffs, showed us a much more responsible and focused Ponder, who most of the time was vastly improved when compared to his rookie season.