ESPN The Magazine's How to Raise a QB Issue, on newsstands Nov. 13, features this seven-part package assessing the state of the young NFL quarterback. Subscribe today!
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Keating: How to raise a young NFL QB
Year 1: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota
Year 2: Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr, 2014 class
Year 3: EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, 2013 class
Year 4, Part 1: Andrew Luck
Year 4, Part 2: Russell Wilson
Year 5: Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick
Why NFL QBs are getting younger and younger
In The Crucible, Arthur Miller's classic play, the townsfolk of Salem, Massachusetts, accuse a man named Giles Corey of witchcraft, and to extract a plea from him, the authorities lay Corey in an open pit and pile heavy stones on his body, one boulder at a time. Yet Corey's only reply -- to his death -- is a command to bring it on: "More weight!"
In the crucible of today's NFL, traditional practices are crumbling away, and the weight of carrying teams is increasingly falling on younger and younger quarterbacks. But instead of succumbing to pressure -- or the doomsaying prophecies of old-timers -- the new generation is thriving.
On the Sunday before Halloween, 22-year-old Teddy Bridgewater threw for 316 yards in a Vikings win over the Lions. Blake Bortles, 23, launched a 31-yard touchdown with 2:16 left to lead his Jaguars over the Bills. Derek Carr, 24, amassed 289 yards with three TDs and no picks to lead the Raiders past the Chargers. Ryan Tannehill, drafted in 2012 by the Dolphins, pasted the Texans for four touchdowns and 44 points. Kirk Cousins, also drafted in '12, passed for three TDs and rushed for a fourth as the Redskins overcame a 24-point deficit to clip the Buccaneers -- despite the efforts of 21-year-old Jameis Winston, who threw for 297 yards and two TDs. Young guns have been firing all season -- and earning the trust of their organizations. Nearly half the league's teams are starting quarterbacks who were drafted in the past five years.
Year 1: How Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota learn from rookie mistakes
It was a deep dig route. A basic pattern that Jameis Winston has thrown since high school, maybe even peewees. With the Buccaneers protecting a 9-7 lead at Houston in Week 3, the rookie could extend an early third-quarter drive with a crucial third-and-7 strike. What Winston couldn't do -- with a safety trailing the route and a corner over the top -- is throw to receiver Mike Evans' back shoulder. But he tried anyway.
The window was extremely tight, and the throw, the placement, the timing, had to be perfect. It wasn't. Safety Quintin Demps intercepted the ball, and Tampa Bay never scored again in a 19-9 loss.
Winston wasn't the only one to blame. Given the pervasive philosophy of win now among front offices and fan bases, Winston and the Titans' Marcus Mariota are expected, unfairly, to arrive on the biggest stage already dropping dimes and leading comeback victories. Draft a QB in the top five? Put him on the field; careers and ticket sales are tied to that young arm.
Year 2: Second reads on Derek Carr, Johnny Manziel and the 2014 QB class
The scouting report on Johnny Manziel: So far this year Manziel looks like he's trying not to be Johnny Football anymore, as far as the constant scrambling and throwing it all over the place goes. In limited snaps, he's shown improved maturity and poise. And in his start against Tennessee in Week 2, he did a nice job (11.5 ypa). Even so, it would still be difficult benching Josh McCown for him.
Year 3: EJ Manuel, Geno Smith headline the worst QB draft of recent memory
It's not too early to call it: The QB draft class of 2013 is the worst of recent memory. EJ Manuel, the 16th overall pick, and Geno Smith, the second QB off the board at No. 39, have lost their starting gigs in Year 3, and there isn't anything close to a Russell Wilson type among the later picks. What happened?
Year 4, Part 1: Andrew Luck is besieged, but can the Colts QB bounce back?
Andrew Luck flings a wet sock over his shoulder and stares at the drab carpet in the visitors' locker room at Carolina's Bank of America Stadium. His backup, Matt Hasselbeck, leans over and hands him a towel. "How'd you come out?" Hasselbeck whispers, which is what he usually asks Luck after a game to make sure he's not injured, or any more injured. But on this rainy night that burns into morning, Hasselbeck says it mostly as an icebreaker because he has no clue what to say.
It's the first week of November, and the Colts have just fallen 29-26 to the Panthers in overtime, Luck's fifth loss in six starts. As in most games this season, he took way too long to get going, showed flashes of his old self at the end, then reverted to 2015 Andrew by throwing another interception. This one, on Monday Night Football, was surely the most crushing.
Year 4, Part 2: Why Russell Wilson is perfect for the Seahawks
On March 18, 2012, the Seahawks spent $19 million for Matt Flynn to be their next franchise quarterback. A month later, GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll drafted a fifth-year senior out of Wisconsin, Russell Wilson, in Round 3 to compete to be the No. 2. The rest, of course, is history.
Entering this season, Wilson's 68.2 career QBR trailed that of only Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. From 2012 to 2014, he won 36 regular-season games, tied for second with Brady behind Manning and the most ever for a QB in his first three seasons. During that span, he also led the Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowls and picked up two Pro Bowl nods. Flynn, meanwhile, was traded a year later and, after five teams and five starts since, is an unsigned free agent.
Year 5: The key to the futures of Andy Dalton, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick
Three star quarterbacks in their fifth years -- Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton -- all appear to have reached turning points this season. All have endured their share of question marks and been burdened by different narratives. Dalton: the pocket guy who, in fits and starts, seems now to be figuring it all out but still must prove himself in the playoffs. Kap: once thought to be the future of the NFL but now a backup. Newton: the guy with the potential to be the game's most dangerous player. But these narratives obscure the most fundamental truth about trying to become a great NFL quarterback: It's a messy and mundane and insanely frustrating process, and the payoffs from one's labors don't necessarily appear all at once. You just hope they do so before it's too late.