Every year, there is hype surrounding rookie quarterbacks, and expectations rise to extremely high heights for the young stars. This year, the main rookie names are Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and Jared Goff, with Wentz and Prescott the only opening day starters of the three. Wentz and Prescott were both solid in their debuts, but did not do anything spectacular or noteworthy. In order to focus on the positives, this week’s Pick-Six takes a look at the top rookie quarterback debuts that the NFL has ever seen.
6. Fran Tarkenton
Although he didn’t actually start in this game, Fran Tarkenton still put on one of the most impressive rookie debuts for a quarterback in league history. The Vikings’ starter, George Shaw, was benched for his lackluster play early on, and in came the talented young rookie. Tarkenton’s first drive featured him throwing a touchdown, and he didn’t let up at all for the rest of the game. In the second half, Tarkenton threw three touchdowns, and he finished the comeback win with a total of 250 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown.
5. Dan Marino
Many rookies in the modern day NFL are drafted in the first round and see the field as a starter in their very first game. For Dan Marino, however, this wasn’t the case, as he didn’t get his first start until Week 6 of his rookie year. He made the most of the opportunity, and threw for 322 yards and three touchdowns, and tallied a quarterback rating of 108.7. On the negative side, Marino threw two picks, and the team lost his debut performance, but he finished the year by helping Miami win seven of their last eight games.
4. Jim Kelly
Jim Kelly is notorious for his play for a Buffalo Bills team that lost four straight Super Bowls, but his legendary career had an impressive starting point. Against the New York Jets, Kelly threw for 292 yards, three touchdowns, and didn’t throw a single interception. He had a passer rating of 119.8 to round out his solid debut, but the team couldn’t come out on top in the game. Kelly’s career turned out a lot better than the result of his debut, as he led the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances and six divisional championships from 1988 to 1995.
3. Cam Newton
Cam Newton was one of the most hyped up college players coming into the league in decades, and he has lived up to the buildup so far in his career. His success started in his NFL debut, where he set records and gave his team a fighting chance against the Arizona Cardinals. Newton threw for 422 yards, which set the record for most yards in a rookie debut, and he came up just a single yard short of Chris Weinke’s franchise passing yards record. Only five other players before Newton had even thrown for 300 yards in their NFL debuts, and he shattered those numbers with his performance. He threw two touchdowns, and also ran one in himself, but the team fell short in a 28-21 loss to the Cardinals.
2. Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III’s career has gone downhill since his rookie campaign, but he showed real promise in his debut with the Washington Redskins. His first touchdown pass immediately lived up to the hype that had followed him out of college, as he threw an 88-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon. He finished the game with 320 yards, two touchdowns, and he completed over 73 percent of his throws on the day. He finished with a quarterback rating of 139.9, and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week, the first time in NFL history that a rookie quarterback has been given the award in his debut. He had a successful season, helping Washington win the division, before his career took a serious dive.
1. Marcus Mariota
Marcus Mariota’s debut is the most recent on the list, and is definitely the most impressive. Mariota also had a lot of hype surrounding him and his debut, and he proved to be worth the high draft pick with his debut performance. Mariota managed to throw for 209 passing yards and four touchdowns in the game, and finished with a 158.3 quarterback rating, becoming just the third QB to complete the feat after Griffin III and Drew Bledsoe. His first half was good enough to top the list, as he went 10-for-13 with 175 passing yards and four touchdowns. The Titans won the game 42-14 against the Buccaneers, but Mariota hasn’t since dazzled like he did in his debut.