Are NFL Rookie QBs Ready? How Top-Five, Day-One Starters Have Fared Since 2000

Pat Pickens
Last Updated: Aug 29, 2023

The NFL is generally unkind to rookie quarterbacks.

Even Hall of Famers like Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman took their lumps as rookies playing for downtrodden teams. With three QBs — Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, and Anthony Richardson — chosen in the top five of the 2023 NFL Draft, and each named the opening-day starter for his team, there’s a plethora of fresh meat for defenses to get after.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how each top-five QB who started from Day 1 fared in his rookie season since 2000.

NFL Quarterbacks Drafted in Top Five That Started Week 1

Trevor Lawrence

Chosen: No. 1 by the Jacksonville Jaguars, 2021 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 3-14 Record, 3,641 Pass Yds, 59.6 Cmp%, 12 TD, 17 INT, 71.9 QB Rating

Takeaway: Lawrence was always going to be the prize for whichever team ended up with the No. 1 pick in 2021, and the Jaguars edged out the Jets for the right to choose the 2020 Heisman runner-up and 2018 national champ. Lawrence made your typical rookie mistakes but wasn’t bad despite playing for a terrible team under Urban Meyer’s toxic culture. He and the Jags then took the leap in Year 2, where they made the playoffs and reached the divisional round, and the future in Duval looks bright.

Zach Wilson

Chosen: No. 2 by the New York Jets, 2021 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 3-10 record, 2,334 Pass Yds, 55.6 Cmp%, 9 TD, 11 INT, 69.7 QB Rating

Takeaway: Wilson looked like a solid consolation prize for the Jets, and his rookie season wasn’t terrible, especially considering he missed four games with a knee injury. But thus far, Wilson hasn’t been worthy of the second selection in his draft year, especially after a tumultuous 2022 season where he was both injured and benched.

Joe Burrow

Chosen: No. 1 by Cincinnati Bengals, 2020 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 2-7-1 Record, 2,688 Pass Yds, 65.3 Cmp%, 13 TD, 5 INT, 89.8 QB Rating

Takeaway: Joe Cool was on his way to winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year until he sustained a devastating knee injury on the notorious FedEx Field turf. Still, Burrow was the lone bright spot on a terrible Cincinnati team in 2020 and has since become one of the NFL’s best QBs while guiding the Bengals to the playoffs in the two seasons since and Super Bowl LVI.

Kyler Murray

Chosen: No. 1 by Arizona Cardinals, 2019 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 5-10-1 Record, 3,722 Pass Yds, 64.4 Cmp%, 20 TD, 12 INT, 87.4 QB Rating

Takeaway: Murray was selected in the top 10 of the NFL and MLB drafts and flirted with a career with the Oakland Athletics instead of playing football at Oklahoma. But his career in Arizona was memorable from the outset, having authored an exceptional comeback in an opening-day tie against the Lions. Murray earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors while surpassing 300 passing yards five times in his rookie season. When healthy, Murray is a dynamic quarterback with superb run-pass ability, but he has sustained season-altering injuries each of the past two campaigns.

Sam Darnold

Chosen: No. 3 by New York Jets, 2018 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 4-9 Record, 2,865 Pass Yds, 57.7 Cmp%, 17 TD, 15 INT, 77.6 QB Rating

Takeaway: On the heels of a spectacular career at USC, Darnold was arguably the most polished quarterback to enter the 2018 Draft. He was the only 2018-drafted QB to start opening day, and he won his first outing against the Lions while helping New York to a 3-3 start. But the Jets lost nine of their final 10, and Darnold sustained an injury to his foot that cost him three games and hasn’t progressed much in his four subsequent seasons.

Carson Wentz

Chosen: No. 2 by Philadelphia Eagles, 2016 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 7-9 Record, 3,782 Pass Yds, 62.4 Cmp%, 16 TD, 14 INT, 79.3 QB Rating

Takeaway: Wentz was a little-seen prospect from North Dakota State, but he threw five TD passes and no picks during the Eagles’ 3-0 start in his rookie season. Philadelphia lost seven of its final 10 games despite Wentz’s solid play, and he was on pace to win the NFL MVP in his second year before a knee injury cost him the rest of his 2017 season. The Eagles won Super Bowl LII without him, but Wentz returned and played solidly in 2018 and 2019. However, his play dipped substantially in 2020, leading to his cut that season.

Jameis Winston

Chosen: No. 1 by Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2015 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 6-10 Record, 4,042 Pass Yds, 58.3 Cmp%, 22 TD, 15 INT, 84.2 QB Rating

Takeaway: Winston had a terrific rookie season, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and earning Pro Bowl honors while finishing as runner-up to Todd Gurley as Offensive Rookie of the Year. Yet, turnovers led to Winston’s undoing in Tampa Bay, who replaced him with Tom Brady and won Super Bowl LV in 2020. Winston has since earned and lost the starting QB job in New Orleans.

Marcus Mariota

Chosen: No. 2 by Tennessee Titans, 2015 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 3-9 Record, 2,818 Pass Yds, 62.2 Cmp%, 19 TD, 12 INT, 91.5 QB Rating

Takeaway: Mariota had an otherworldly career at Oregon, capped by his 2014 season where he became the first Ducks player to win the Heisman Trophy. Mariota put up solid but not extraordinary numbers in his rookie season, emblematic of his five-year tenure in Tennessee. He has since bounced around as a backup in Las Vegas, Atlanta, and now Philadelphia.

Andrew Luck

Chosen: No. 1 by Indianapolis Colts, 2012 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 11-5 Record, 4,374 Pass Yds, 54.1 Cmp%, 23 TD, 18 INT, 76.5 QB Rating

Takeaway: Luck was billed as the Colts’ savior, and he lived up to the hype in a rookie season where he finished as runner-up in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting, qualified for the Pro Bowl, and guided Indianapolis to the playoffs. Luck and the Colts were great together over his first three seasons before injuries decimated his career, and he abruptly retired before the 2019 season.

Robert Griffin III

Chosen: No. 2 by Washington Commanders, 2012 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 9-6 Record, 3,200 Pass Yds, 65.6 Cmp%, 20 TD, 5 INT, 102.4 QB Rating

Takeaway: Griffin had arguably the best rookie season of any quarterback while flawlessly executing Mike Shanahan’s offense that was tailor-made for Griffin’s skill set. He earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors by amassing more than 4,000 all-purpose yards and 27 combined rushing and passing TDs, but his career was permanently altered by a devastating knee injury sustained in Washington’s playoff loss to the Seahawks.

Cam Newton

Chosen: No. 1 by Carolina Panthers, 2011 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 6-10 Record, 4,051 Pass Yds, 60.0 Cmp%, 21 TD, 17 INT, 84.5 QB Rating

Takeaway: On the heels of winning the Heisman Trophy and the National Championship in his senior season at Auburn, Newton earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and a Pro Bowl invite in his rookie campaign in Carolina. It was the first of his three Pro Bowl honors, and Newton also won NFL MVP in 2015, helping the Panthers go 15-1 and reach the Super Bowl.

Sam Bradford

Chosen: No. 1 by St. Louis Rams, 2010 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 7-9 Record, 3,512 Pass Yds, 60.0 Cmp%, 18 TD, 15 INT, 76.5 QB Rating

Takeaway: Bradford earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2010 by setting a new rookie record for completions (354). The Rams improved from 1-15 to 7-9 in Bradford’s debut season, but they never took the next step to become a playoff team. Bradford never played in the postseason or even won more games than he lost in any full season, finishing his career with a 34-48-1 record.

Matthew Stafford

Chosen: No. 1 by Detroit Lions, 2009 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 2-8 Record, 2,267 Pass Yds, 53.3 Cmp%, 13 TD, 20 INT, 61.0 QB Rating

Takeaway: Stafford left Georgia and immediately became the Lions’ franchise QB. His rookie campaign was marred by injury as he missed six games due to a knee injury and separated his shoulder in Detroit’s 38-37 win over Cleveland in Week 11. That campaign ultimately started Stafford’s up-and-down career in the Motor City, where he guided the Lions to the playoffs three times before he was traded to the Rams.

Mark Sanchez

Chosen: No. 5 by New York Jets, 2009 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 8-7 Record, 2,444 Pass Yds, 53.8 Cmp%, 12 TD, 20 INT, 63.0 QB Rating

Takeaway: Sanchez’s career may be remembered for the infamous “Butt Fumble,” so it’s easy to forget that the USC product guided the Jets within a win of the Super Bowl in each of his first two seasons. He earned the starting QB job out of training camp, helped New York reach the playoffs, then won each of his first two postseason games. Sanchez and the Jets then built a 10-point lead over Peyton Manning and the heavily favored Colts before falling 30-17 in the AFC Championship Game.

Matt Ryan

Chosen: No. 3 by Atlanta Falcons, 2008 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 11-5 Record, 3,440 Pass Yds, 61.1 Cmp%, 16 TD, 11 INT, 87.7 QB Rating

Takeaway: The Boston College product won Offensive Rookie of the Year and spearheaded Atlanta’s seven-win improvement and the franchise’s first postseason berth in four years. Ryan made the playoffs six times in a Falcons uniform, headlined by his MVP season in 2016 where he helped Atlanta reach Super Bowl LI.

David Carr

Chosen: No. 1 by Houston Texans, 2002 NFL Draft

Rookie Stats: 4-12 Record, 2,592 Pass Yds, 52.5 Cmp%, 9 TD, 15 INT, 62.8 QB Rating

Takeaway: Carr won his first start in Houston’s inaugural game against the Dallas Cowboys, but his rookie season is remembered most because he set a record for most times sacked in a single season (76). Carr never became the franchise QB as Houston hoped, but he enjoyed a lengthy career as a backup.


Pat Pickens

Pat Pickens is a seasoned sportswriter who has covered the NHL since 2013 for various websites, including The New York Times,,, USA Today, the Associated Press and many others. His debut book, titled "The Whalers" about the history of the NHL's Hartford Whalers, was released in October 2021.

Related articles