Start spreading the news: College football is producing instant NFL starters at a faster rate than ever before.
Five rookies are projected to start at quarterback on this opening weekend, most ever. Five more starting quarterbacks are in their second year. That's nearly one-third of the league's starters who played college football in the past 14 months.
This is nothing short of shocking considering that for the past decade or so, crusty NFL offensive gurus have grumbled that the proliferation of the spread offense in the college ranks was having a negative effect on quarterback development in college.
The spread didn't prepare a quarterback to take snaps under center. They threw too many quick timing patterns, too few deep outs. Too many gimmicks and not enough meat and potatoes.
Then Sam Bradford was named the league's offensive rookie of the year with the Rams in 2009. And Andy Dalton piloted the Bengals to the playoffs last year. And Robert Griffin III was a sufficiently lustrous prospect for Mike Shanahan to pledge everything short of his firstborn son to acquire the right to draft him. And no less an NFL quarterback traditionalist than Mike Holmgren handed the keys for Cleveland's offense to that 28-year-old codger of a rookie, Brandon Weeden out of Oklahoma State.
This isn't to say the spread offense is the best way to prepare a quarterback for the NFL. Rookies Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson all played in more conventional offenses in college. But it's becoming obvious the spread offense isn't some sort of handicap in a player's development. In fact, the increasing commitment to the passing may be accelerating it.
“They throw the ball much younger now,” coach Pete Carroll said. “You can go to Pop Warner games and see they're in the spread. It's a different time.
“They're reaping the benefits of it earlier on.”
That goes for teams, too. Quarterbacks are entering the league closer to a finished product than ever before. While not all of them operated a spread offense in college, enough did to make you recalibrate the expectations for not only what a rookie can do, but when he'll be ready to play.
“They're just better prepared,” Carroll said. “I don't think there's any other way to explain it than that.”
Apparently — and this is shocking — a shift to throwing the football more in college football has better prepared quarterbacks for throwing the ball in the NFL.
Used to be there was an overriding presumption that a rookie needed to sit a year before he saw any time. Carson Palmer didn't start a game as a rookie after he was the No. 1 overall pick in Cincinnati. Five quarterbacks were chosen among the first 12 picks of the 1999 draft, and not one of them started opening day.
The fact that a quarterback picked in the first round this year — even one from a spread offense — is more likely to start in Game 1 of his rookie season than his counterparts 10 years ago is nothing short of a tectonic shift in professional football.
“College football is changing, dramatically,” said former NFL coach Jon Gruden. “There's a lot of no-huddle offenses. There's a lot of check-with-me at the line of scrimmage. Coaches are demanding more and more from these quarterbacks at a high tempo.
“They are coming into the league much more accomplished in terms of throwing the football.”
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