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Can Mac Jones Succeed As A Rookie? Let Recent History Be His Guide

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- A rookie quarterback taking over as the starter hasn't happened in New England in a long time. It was 1993 when Drew Bledsoe, the first overall pick in the draft, lined up under center in Week 1, saving the Patriots from the Hugh Millen-Scott Zolak-Tom-Hodson-Jeff Carlson debacle from the year before.

Since then, Jacoby Brissett's emergency starts in 2016 are the only instances of a rookie starting a game in New England.

Suffice it to say, this region doesn't know a lot about rookie quarterbacks starting a lot of games for the Patriots.

But of course, rookies end up starting at quarterback around the league just about every year. It's the nature of the business.

So with an eye on what might lie ahead for Jones, it's worth looking at how rookies have performed over the past five years when starting the bulk of their teams' games, in order to lay out some expectations for the Pats' rookie. Every quarterback is obviously in a unique situation, so there's not necessarily a grand conclusion that can be discovered. But looking at everyone else's performances as rookies can help present some perspective for Jones' forthcoming rookie season.


Joe Burrow
10 starts, 2-7-1 record
264-for-404, 65.3%
2,688 yards, 6.7 Y/A
13 TDs, 5 INTs
89.8 rating
37 rushes, 142 yards, 3 TDs

Tua Tagovailoa
9 starts, 6-3 record
186-for-290, 64.1%
1,814 yards, 6.3 Y/A
11 TDs, 5 INTs
87.1 rating
36 rushes, 109 yards, 3 TDs

Justin Herbert
15 starts, 6-9 record
396-for-595 (66.6%)
4,336 yards, 7.3 Y/A
31 TDs, 10 INTs
98.3 rating
55 rushes, 234 yards, 5 TDs

Herbert was the third QB taken last year but ended up having by far the best season of his fellow rookie QBs, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors for his performance. Herbert, though, wasn't the Day 1 starter, as he only got his chance when a pregame injection punctured Tyrod Taylor's lung in Week 2. Herbert landed in a decent situation, with the Chargers only two years removed from a division title and a playoff win.

Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick, didn't quite land in such a nice position in Cincinnati. He joined a bad Bengals team but played well despite that hurdle. That was until he suffered a torn ACL in Week 11.

Tagovailoa, the No. 5 overall pick, didn't start to begin the season but took over in Week 8. He missed one game due to injury after that, while riding some ups and downs. He threw three interceptions in Buffalo in Week 17, when the Dolphins needed a win to make the playoffs.

Tagovailoa may be the best comparison for Jones, even if they're extremely different quarterbacks, if only for the fact that they both came out of Alabama. Tagovailoa threw 87 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions in 32 games in his college career, yet that translated to just 11 touchdowns and five interceptions as a rookie. That's worth keeping in mind when you consider Jones' 56 touchdowns and seven interceptions in college.

Also of note: Tua and Mac will face off in Week 1.

Jalen Hurts -- a former Crimson Tide QB who left the school because of Tua -- started four games for Philadelphia last year. The 53rd overall pick completed just 52 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and four interceptions. Hurts threw 80 touchdowns with 20 interceptions in his collegiate career at Alabama and Oklahoma.


Kyler Murray
16 starts, 5-10-1 record
349-for-542, 64.4%
3,722 yards, 6.9 Y/A
20 TDs, 12 INTs
87.4 rating
93 rushes, 544 yards, 4 TDs

Daniel Jones
12 starts, 3-9 record
284-for-459, 61.9%
3,027 yards, 6.6 Y/A
24 TDs, 12 INTs
87.7 rating
45 rushes, 279 yards, 2 TDs

Dwayne Haskins
7 starts, 2-5 record
119-for-203, 58.6%
1,365 yards, 6.7 Y/A
7 TDs, 7 INTs
76.1 rating
20 rushes, 101 yards

Gardner Minshew
12 starts, 6-6 record
285-for-470 (60.6%)
3,271 yards, 7.0 Y/A
21 TDs, 6 INTs
91.2 rating
67 rushes, 344 yards

The best rookie quarterback of 2019 was undoubtedly Gardner Minshew, who happened to be the 10th quarterback taken in the draft. That's a positive sign for Jones, who was the fifth QB taken this year.

Minshew wasn't supposed to start as a rookie, but when Nick Foles was injured in Week 1, Minshew stepped right in. He threw 11 touchdowns and just one interception in his first seven starts.

Murray, the No. 1 overall pick, was still the Rookie of the Year, for his dual threat ability. He topped 300 passing yards five times, but threw for under 200 yards six times, putting forth an up-and-down rookie season that would be expected for someone quarterbacking a bad Cardinals team.

Murray had similar production in his final collegiate season (42 TDs, 7 INTs) to Jones (41 TDs, 4 INTs), so Murray's so-so passing numbers as a rookie are worth keeping in mind.

Dwayne Haskins may be the greatest example of college stats meaning absolutely nothing in the NFL, as Haskins was coming off a 50-touchdown season -- a fifty touchdown season -- at Ohio State before turning in a dud of a career with Washington.


Baker Mayfield
13 starts, 6-7 record
310-for-486, 63.8%
3,725 yards, 7.7 Y/A
27 TDs, 14 INTs
93.7 rating
39 rushes, 131 yards

Sam Darnold
13 starts, 4-9 record
239-for-414, 57.7%
2,865 yards, 6.9 Y/A
17 TDs, 15 INTs
77.6 rating
44 rushes, 138 yards, TD

Josh Allen
11 starts, 5-6 record
169-for-320, 52.8%
2,074 yards, 6.5 Y/A
10 TDs, 12 INTs
67.9 rating
89 rushes, 631 yards, 8 TDs

Josh Rosen
13 starts, 3-10 record
217-for-393, 55.2%
2,278 yards, 5.8 Y/A
11 TDs, 14 INTs
66.7 rating
23 rushes, 138 yards

Lamar Jackson
7 starts, 6-1 record
99-for-170, 58.2%
1,201 yards, 7.1 Y/A
6 TDs, 3 INTs
84.5 rating
147 rushes, 695 yards, 5 TDs

That's a lot of rookie quarterback action right there.

All things considered, Baker Mayfield delivered on his No. 1 draft status. He joined a Browns team that had gone 0-16 a year before, with quarterbacks throwing 15 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. So he wasn't exactly entering the ideal situation. And then he went from head coach Hue Jackson (who oversaw that 0-16 debacle but kept his job into the following season) to Gregg Williams. He still put together a solid rookie season, which is impressive in those circumstances.

Sam Darnold, who didn't exactly have a spectacular final season at USC, didn't play particularly well. He never really progressed, either, and the Jets have already moved on from the No. 3 overall pick.

Allen is an interesting case, in that his rookie season was putrid, and his second season was merely decent. Yet his third season in 2020 was spectacular. The No. 7 overall pick showed that sometimes, even the top picks take a little time to enter their own.

Josh Rosen was thought of highly before the draft, and he was taken No. 10 overall by Arizona. He didn't end up in an ideal spot, either, but he's thus far been a classic case of a first-round bust. He went 0-3 as Miami's starter in his second year, throwing one touchdown and five interceptions. He hasn't thrown a pass since Week 6 of the 2019 season, and he's now on his fifth team.

A hip injury to Joe Flacco ushered in the Lamar Jackson era in Baltimore, and while his numbers were tame to start as a passer, he was immediately successful on the ground. He sure figured out the passing game in year two, when he was league MVP. While those passing numbers leveled a bit last year, he's still been a great fit for Baltimore, and his 30-7 record as a starter is indicative of that.


Mitchell Trubisky
12 starts, 4-8 record
196-for-330, 59.4%
2,193 yards, 6.6 Y/A
7 TDs, 7 INTs
77.5 rating
41 rushes, 248 yards, 2 TDs

Deshaun Watson
6 starts, 3-3 record
126-for-204, 61.8%
1,699 yards, 8.3 Y/A
19 TDs, 8 INTs
103.0 rating
36 rushes, 269 yards, 2 TDs

DeShone Kizer
15 starts, 0-15 record
255-for-476, 53.6%
2,894 yards, 6.1 Y/A
11 TDs, 22 INTs,
60.5 rating
77 rushes, 419 yards, 5 TDs

C.J. Beathard
5 starts, 1-4 record
123-for-224, 54.9%
1,430 yards, 6.4 Y/A
4 TDs, 6 INTs
69.2 rating
26 rushes, 136 yards, 3 TDs

The most important quarterback drafted in this year isn't even on the list, because Patrick Mahomes only started one game as a rookie. He ... has since blossomed into a pretty good NFL quarterback.

Trubisky, on the other hand, has not. He's been the picture of mediocrity in his four seasons, never living up to that status as the No. 2 overall pick (in front of Patrick Mahomes, in case that wasn't clear). Now he's the backup to Josh Allen in Buffalo.

Watson's case in Houston was a bit odd, as the Texans opted to begin the year with Tom Savage at quarterback, for unknown reasons. Shocking. Watson took over at halftime in Week 1 and was the starter by Week 2, though, en route to earning Rookie of the Month honors for October. His career was off and running ... until he tore his ACL at practice in the first week of November.

As for Kizer, well, the Browns weren't exactly known for making great decisions at that point in time (or many other points in time). Cleveland drafted Kizer with the 52nd overall pick. If he had any chance to have a successful career, it was ruined immediately by starting 15 games for an awful Browns team. He led the league in interceptions (and losses) as a rookie, and he has yet to start a game since then.

Beathard, the 104th overall pick, took over for Brian Hoyer in San Francisco, in the pre-Jimmy G. era. The Niners acquired Garoppolo at the end of October, and he got the starting job only after Beathard got hurt. Beathard started five games the following year, losing all five of them, and he remains in the NFL, if only with a backup/emergency starter ceiling.


Jared Goff
7 starts, 0-7 record
112-for-205, 54.6%
1,089 yards, 5.3 Y/A
5 TDs, 7 INTs
63.6 rating
8 rushes, 16 yards, 1 TD

Carson Wentz
16 starts, 7-9 record
379-for-607, 62.4%
3,782 yards, 6.2 Y/A
16 TDs, 14 INTs
79.3 rating
46 rushes, 150 yards, 2 TDs

Jacoby Brissett
2 starts, 1-1 record
34-for-55, 61.8%
400 yards, 7.3 Y/A
0 TD, 0 INT
83.9 rating
16 rushes, 83 yards, 1 TD

Cody Kessler
8 starts, 0-8 record
128-for-195, 65.6%
1,380 yards, 7.1 Y/A
6 TDs, 2 INTs
92.3 rating
11 rushes, 18 yards

Dak Prescott
16 starts, 13-3 record
311-for-459, 67.8%
3,667 yards, 8.0 Y/A
23 TDs, 4 INTs
104.9 rating
57 rushes, 282 yards, 6 TDs

Jared Goff. No. 1 overall pick. Not good. Not good at all.

Goff sat on the bench for half the year, while Case Keenum played some utterly uninspiring quarterback for the Rams. Then he was bad. Bad by every measure. The next year, though, Goff was 11-4, with 27 TDs, 7 INTs, an 8.0 Y/A, and a 100.5 rating, making the first of two consecutive Pro Bowls. So a bad rookie performance can be wiped away rather quickly.

Going from Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay might help in that transition.

Similarly, Carson Wentz was the presumptive MVP before his injury in his second season, but his rookie year was not great in the least.

Jacoby Brissett didn't start enough games to qualify for this discussion, but his work in the New England offense as a rookie required his inclusion. Still, the 91st pick of the draft was in a different spot than 15th overall pick Mac Jones will be this year.

Kessler being on this list means that the Browns gave a lot of starts to rookie quarterbacks for three straight years. If that's not a recipe for failure, or a sign of organizational chaos, then nothing is.

And then there was Dak Prescott. The Offensive Rookie of the Year was selected with 135th overall pick, the eighth quarterback taken in 2016. That truly outstanding rookie season made Prescott the poster boy for the belief that a quarterback need not go in the first round to be a quality NFL starter.

So ...  What?

If you're looking for a grand conclusion, it may not exist. The variable conditions for each quarterback are so scattered that straight comparisons are difficult, if not impossible. Quarterbacks entering losing situations, or quarterbacks being thrown in way over their head, or quarterbacks without the right head coach, or any combination of the three make evaluation difficult. Goff's jump  from year one to year two might be the best illustration of that.

In terms of the height of expectations, Prescott's rookie year showed it can be done. He wasn't expected to be the starter, but when established starter Tony Romo suffered an injury in the preseason, it was Dak time ahead of schedule. He didn't throw a touchdown (or an interception) in his first two starts, but by midseason, he went on a five-game stretch with 10 touchdowns, no picks, and a 123.2 rating while finishing off a 10-game winning streak.

Though he and the Cowboys lost their playoff game vs. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, Prescott threw for 302 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in that game.

In terms of QBs who are closer to Jones in style, Burrow's relative success in a mess of an organization might be encouraging. Herbert's a different player, obviously, but his immediate success last year is likewise a rookie success story.

On the other side, Tagovailoa's lukewarm debut season provides a caution sign that even a quarterback with jaw-dropping numbers at Alabama can struggle in the NFL.

How Jones -- and the four other first-round rookie QBs, and any other rookie QBs who end up under center this season -- performs will depend entirely on him and his coaches and teammates. The recent history of rookies starting, though, at least provides some basis for the wide range of performances that's possible.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


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