Ranking the 2012 Quarterback Draft Class

February 14, 2014 | Nick Dorsey

It has been two full NFL seasons now for the quarterbacks of the 2012 draft class. Expectations were high going into the April draft that year, but those expectations skyrocketed once they performed at a high level during their rookie seasons. The performances were so overwhelming from some of these draftees, that some were comparing the draft class to the great quarterback class of 1983.

Leading up to April, you had your certain superstars in Luck and Griffin III, your draft day riser in Tannehill and your sleepers like Wilson and Foles. Now that these quarterbacks have had two full seasons under their belt, it is time to rank them amongst each other.

1. Andrew Luck

Luck went into the 2012 draft as the consensus number one pick and it was deservedly so. Andrew Luck was the greatest quarterback prospect of all time coming out of college, comparable to John Elway when he left Stanford. By Luck’s final season, it was hard not to compare him to Peyton Manning. He was running the Stanford offense himself and had a full grasp of running the hurry up comfortably as well. He was so perfect in college; it almost became boring to watch for most people.

Once the Colts got rid of Manning in favor for Luck, it was hard not to make the comparison between the two. As soon as he stepped into Indianapolis, the offense had the same kind of feel to it. Luck has gotten the Colts to the post-season in both years he has been the starter. He got his first career playoff win this season, but fell short at Foxboro in the next round.

So why is Andrew Luck number one on this list? He is the best quarterback of this draft class plain and simple. He carries the most burden of any of these quarterbacks from their respective teams. When the Colts were healthy early on this past season, they were one of the leagues best. The beat both the Bronco’s and Seahawks at home.

Once the injuries started to pile up with impact guys such as Vic Ballard, Dwayne Allen and Reggie Wayne, the task became too much to overcome at times for Luck. He still managed to lead the Colts to a 11-5 record despite the significant losses. At times, his defense made it nearly impossible for him to comeback from, the playoff win against the Chiefs was a fine example of that.

Andrew Luck is becoming a difficult quarterback to defeat for any team, especially in the clutch. Ever since he entered the league, Luck has 11 game winning drives. That leads the league in the past two seasons and has created the discussions of putting Luck amongst the names of the most clutch in the league.

The quarterback has also made significant strides of improvement from his rookie season to this past season. Luck put up 23 touchdown passes in both seasons, but the difference from year one and two is the turnovers. He threw 18 interceptions his rookie season, but only 9 in his second. By cutting the turnovers in half, his QB rating went up from 76.5 to an 87.

It is no question how great Andrew Luck can be especially with the strides he has made in just two seasons. If he wants to continue to take his game to the next level, he must cut down on the turnovers in the playoffs. He managed to do it in the regular season, so there’s no doubt to me he will fix it come next year for the post season. Once the front office builds a better foundation around Luck, the Colts will consistently be Super Bowl contenders.

2. Russell Wilson

 

I was a huge fan of Russell Wilson going into the 2012 draft. Ever since I witnessed what Wilson did to my Mountaineers in the Champs sports bowl just a few years ago, I hopped on his bandwagon. He was the QB for NC State with one more year of eligibility left, so he went to Wisconsin to finish off his polished collegiate career.

Wilson had first round grades all across the board, but size was his only issue going into the process. Wilson was strong, accurate and his ability to extend the play was what made him unique. His only downfall was that there was only one quarterback in the NFL with a short stature and that was Drew Brees.

Brees is who Wilson was compared to the most, but teams come draft day still stayed away. It was the Seattle Seahawks in the third round that took a shot on the quarterback who “was too small.”

Wilson entered a situation in which there was no pressure. Matt Flynn was signed to a nice deal set to be Seattle’s starter, so Wilson had nothing to lose. Coach Carroll preached throughout the camp that it was an open competition and he was telling the truth. Wilson beat out the veteran for the starting position and it turned out to be a gold mine for Carroll.

Now two seasons later, Russell Wilson stands at the top of the world hoisting the Lombardi trophy. If someone would have told you a QB from the 2012 draft class would have won the Super Bowl after his second season, no one would have envisioned it to be Wilson.

Wilson’s numbers in his two seasons of being a starting NFL quarterback are beyond ridiculous. He tied Manning’s rookie record for most touchdown passes and his efficiency is superb. He posted a 100.0 QB rating year one and a 101.2 rating his second season.

Critics stereotype Wilson as a game manager, but I’d like to point out he is more than that. Think back to his rookie season in the playoffs. He drove his offense down the field and took the lead when Wilson passed for a touchdown with just barely a minute left. It was his defense that let him down and let Atlanta drive down the field for the game winning field goal.

This season, Wilson did not have to do as much to win games because of how great his defense was. Don’t call him a game manager though because he has shown he can go out and win you a big game when it counts. He is the most winning quarterback in his first two seasons in the league history.

More interestingly, its not like Wilson has the greatest set of weapons. Once you rule out Marshawn Lynch, his corps of weapons include Baldwin, Tate and Kearse. He does not have a true number one guy like some of the other young quarterbacks on this list do. So his ability to be as efficient as he is with his set of weapons solidifies him in the second slot.

So why is the Super Bowl winner not number one on the list? Wilson has one of the leagues top running backs and does sit comfortably behind a great offensive line when healthy. Luck has a dysfunctional offensive line with a non-existent run game. Luck does have Wayne, a true number one, but he has shown what he is able to do without him in the game. If you place Luck on the Seattle team, they are still winning the Super Bowl.

3. Nick Foles

Nick Foles was the other big-time quarterback selected during the third round of the 2012 draft class. Foles was intriguing coming out of Arizona because scouts did love him for his size at 6’6 and his arm strength. The only question was how he would adjust to the NFL coming from the system he was in from Arizona.

People might think it is a bit premature to rank Foles this high because this was his first season as a starter, but I beg to differ. I was not that big on Foles when he came out of college, but he proved me wrong in his limited time of action his rookie season.

He even proved me wrong further when he ran Chip Kelley’s system to perfection. When Kelley was hired, Vick was the unquestioned starter and seemed like the best QB to run his system. Vick had success, but got injured early forcing Foles to assume the role.

Foles got six starts in his rookie season and threw for 6 touchdown passes to 5 interceptions, which accounted for a 79.1 QB rating. Not bad when being thrown to the wolves especially given the distractions of Reid being on the outs in Philly. The one thing that stood out to me in watching him some his rookie year was his poise. That same poise transitioned over into Kelley’s system.

In his 13 games played, Foles put up ridiculous numbers in Kelley’s system. He led Philly to the playoffs while posting the best passer rating in the league at 119.2. He threw 5 interceptions his rookie season, but only 2 his second year in over double the games played. His touchdown production skyrocketed from 6 to 27. Nike Foles was the most improved quarterback in the 2013 season.

Now to be fair, Foles arguably has the best supporting cast around him out of all these quarterbacks on the list. He leads an offense that consisted of the leagues leading rusher in LeSean McCoy, receivers like DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz. While he has this great set of weapons, you still got to give him credit for executing this offense on a consistent basis especially since it is a system that seemed to not be fit to his style.

So why is Foles behind Wilson? Pretty simple, Wilson won the Super Bowl and has shown to be incredibly efficient with a whole lot less on offense than Philly. Foles is efficient as well, but Wilson’s efficiency with his set of weapons is more impressive than that of Nick Foles with his arsenal. It will be interesting to see how defenses adjust to this offense in the future and see if Nick Foles will be able to handle those adjustments going forward. If his game slips because defenses figure out a way to slow him down, his ranking will slip.

4. Ryan Tannehill

Ryan Tannehill was the biggest riser back in the 2012 NFL draft, but it was not too big of a surprise. He was drafted due to familiarity with his former college coach Mike Sherman and a similar system he ran in college. His size, arm, mobility and intangibles were all reasons why Miami made him the third first round quarterback selected ever behind Hall of Famers Bob Griese and Dan Marino. No pressure on the QB from Texas A&M.

Tannehill won the starting job his rookie season over Matt Moore, who was voted the team MVP just the season before. It was not an easy start for Tannehill, as his first start came at Houston and was a disaster. From then on, you saw glimpses throughout the season to show why he had the potential.

To be fair with his rookie season, Tannehill did not exactly have the weapons to work with that other QB’s did. His most reliable target was Brian Hartline. So the main goal of the off-season was to get him more weapons to throw to.
The Dolphins went out and signed Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller to surround him. The Dolphins let their leading rusher Reggie Bush walk in the hopes that Lamar Miller would be able to handle the full work load.

Miami was off to a great start to the season, with three straight wins. Tannehill’s game winning drive against Atlanta was impressive and it had the team riding high. The team hit a rough patch at mid season and later a media driven bullying scandal depleted the team of two starters from the offensive line. After playing great in December for three straight games, the season ended in disappointment with two straight losses causing Miami to miss the postseason.

When you look at Tannehill’s second season as a starter, there was significant improvement in many different angles. His touchdown production doubled from 12 passing touchdowns his rookie season to 24 passing touchdowns his second year. While his interception total increased from 13 to 17, he carried way more weight on the team causing that total to go up.

There are a lot of things to like about Ryan Tannehill, including what he can do for you late in a game. He led four game winning drives his second year and the Miami offense was amongst the best in the league in scoring with only two minutes to go in the first and second half of games. So he shows the ability to lead scoring drives at crucial times of a game and also to win games.

He also did a nice job of distributing the ball all around. Dustin Keller was a big loss in the pre season and the loss of Brandon Gibson during the first England game hurt as well. He still found ways to distribute the ball to guys like Charles Clay and Rishard Matthews. There are performances from the past season that can convince you Tannehill will grow into a top 10-caliber quarterback. For those don’t get to watch him a lot, check out his games vs. the Colts, Falcons, Bengals and Patriots at home. Those games will leave you impressed with his potential.

There are area’s where Tannehill still needs to improve. His deep ball is wildly inconsistent. He underthrew Mike Wallace a lot or simply just missed him deep. If he wants to take the next step, he will need to be able to connect on the deep ball consistently because he left a lot of points off the board and costed Mike Wallace a monster season and potentially a pro bowl year.He still can cut down on the interceptions and choose to make better decisions early in games.

Tannehill enters his third season with a lot on the line. He has a very high ceiling still and with the departure of Mike Sherman, he could benefit greatly. Sherman’s offense lacked creativity and it was time he grew up from his college coach. Bill Lazor comes in as the new offensive coordinator, who was Nick Foles QB coach in Philly just last season. Lazor was able to work wonders with Foles, so its got a lot of people intrigued to see what he can do with Ryan Tannehill.

So why is Tannehill behind Foles? Foles ability to execute alone puts him ahead of Tannehill. He does have a better set of weapons around him, but Foles did get his team to the post season. Foles put up the highest passer rating during the season, so it is hard to put many in front of him, especially when Tannehill only had a passer rating of 79.1.

5. Robert Griffin III

The other sure thing besides Andrew Luck in the 2012 NFL draft was RG3, the Heisman trophy winner from the college season heading into the draft. The only question that surrounded Griffin leading up to the draft was his durability. He held up running the read option offense for the majority of the season, but injuries began to add up. He tore his ACL during the playoff game against Seattle, which led to questions about his status for the following season.

The RG3 hype started in early in his rookie season from his first start in New Orleans. He was the most impactful rookie quarterback since Cam Newton his rookie year in Carolina. His superb play throughout his rookie season even warranted some to put him in MVP discussions at one point. Then the injuries began to mount on him affecting his play.

His rookie season was amazing as you can simply put it. His numbers were stellar, posting a 102.4 rating with 20 touchdown passes to only 5 interceptions. While his 3,200 passing yards was good, his versatility is what made him special. He rushed for over 800 yards with 7 rushing touchdowns. His threat of running opened it up for fellow rookie Alfred Morris to have a breakthrough season as well. He led the Redskins to a playoff birth and a 9-6 regular season starting record. Although the playoff game was great, it is what changed RG3 for the next season.

He went down with an ugly ACL injury on Fed Ex field and it was hard for any NFL fan to watch. His return for next season was in question, but he made it certain he would be ready for the first week.

His sophomore season he faced the “sophomore slump” that is so often talked about with young quarterbacks. The Redskins coaching staff did not want him to see any action in the preseason because they felt it was in his best interest.

During the course of the regular season, it was evident that RG3 was not healthy and not the same QB that he was his rookie year. His second year was filled with all sorts of drama in DC. The coaching staff was fired and so much was made of his involvement with the owner Dan Snyder.

From his rookie season to his second, Griffin’s touchdown production went down from 27 total to 16; his interception total went up from 5 to 12. His passing yard production stayed around the 3,200-yard mark, while his rushing total went down nearly half. The rushing yard total did not come as a surprise, but his completion percentage went down 5% and his rating went down 20 points.

It was not a pretty season for Griffin, but too much blame was put on him. It is true he was not the same quarterback that is something you cannot argue. But the defense was the biggest letdown on the team from year one to year two. His offensive line did not do him any service either, failing to protect the injured QB on a consistent basis.

So why is Griffin behind Tannehill? You would never have thought after year one that the rankings fell this way, especially with the explosive rookie season RG3 had. The reasons behind this ranking are absolutely warranted.
There was a lot of discussion of how bad the Redskins offensive line was during the last season. Besides pro bowler Trent Williams, the line was a train wreck. Despite how bad they were, they are nowhere near as horrendous as the Miami line.

Miami lost two starters, including pro bowler Richie Incognito, so Miami was forced to call upon players from the practice squad to fill the roles. Washington had a bad offensive line, but that offensive line was at least able to put out the NFL’s 5th best rushing offense with Alfred Morris rushing for nearly 1,300 yards. Miami’s offensive line helped account for the NFL’s 26th best rushing attack with Lamar Miller leading the team with 709 yards rushing.

As if Miami’s offensive line was bad enough run blocking, they were even worse in pass protection. A season after Jake Long left in free agency, the Dolphins offensive line gave up an NFL high 58 sacks, which was also a franchise record. Robert Griffin III was sacked 38 times, which was 20 less than Tannehill.

So to put this into perspective of why Tannehill is ranked above RG3, lets break down the statistics. Tannehill had a better season passing all around despite having a non-existent running game and the worst pass protection in the league. Another reason why he is ranked above Griffin, Tannehill is healthy and has progressed from year one to year two. We don’t know how healthy Griffin is and if he will ever return to his rookie season form. He also has regressed from his first year to his second.

So common sense will tell you to rank the guy who is healthy and has shown improvement over two years over the guy who is injured and has regressed in his two years.

These rankings I am confident with after doing the research and stating the facts I have throughout this piece. What I am not confident in, that these rankings will be the same after year 3. Things change as they always do, but that will be addressed at seasons end of the 2014 regular season.

All in all, this quarterback class is special and still has a lot to improve on. At the rate these quarterbacks are going at, this could be one of the greatest quarterback classes of all time. We will wait til then because time will eventually tell the legacy in where the 2012 draft class will stand.

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