by Rob Joyce
Don’t look now, but the Cowboys are leading what might very well be the best division in football. After a Week 1 loss to the Giants, Dallas has ripped off six straight wins and is firmly in the battle for the top-seed in the NFC. A big reason why is rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, who is thriving as the signal caller in Tony Romo’s absence. When Romo went down with a back injury in the preseason, Cowboys fans were probably thinking of last year, when the team was horrid once their franchise quarterback went down. Yet, in comes the rookie from Mississippi State, and now there’s a legitimate question as to whether Romo will get his job back once healthy.
Though he hasn’t shattered any records, Prescott and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott have the Cowboys’ future looking awfully bright. And Prescott is putting up statistics that few rookies have done. Though there’s time to better (or, for the pessimists, worsen) his case among these players who have had the best rookie seasons by a quarterback of all-time:
6) Matt Ryan, 2008:
Ryan’s first NFL pass was a 62-yard touchdown to Michael Jenkins, and his rookie campaign never really dimmed from there. On the year he tossed for 3,440 yards (the second-ever to surpass 3,000 yards) and 16 touchdowns, good enough to be named Offensive Rookie of the Year.
5) Russell Wilson, 2012:
The Seahawks signed Matt Flynn to a flashy contract that offseason, but it was the Wilson who won the starting job out of camp. In becoming the first third-rounder to start a season opener since 1973, Wilson quickly became one of the league’s best. He tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record by throwing for 26 touchdowns, but he added four more (and nearly 500 yards) rushing in. The next year he won the Super Bowl, and was a horrid interception away from a second.
4) Dan Marino, 1983:
Marino only played in nine games, which makes his numbers that much more impressive. He threw for 2,210 yards and 20 touchdowns to six interceptions as the Dolphins went 7-2. Those numbers would be good in the pass-happy 2016 version of the NFL. In 1983 that’s spectacular. Not bad for the sixth quarterback taken in the famed draft class of 1983.
3) Ben Roethlisberger, 2004:
Tommy Maddox getting hurt in Week 2 thrust Big Ben into the starter’s role, and he hasn’t given it up since. His numbers were fairly pedestrian (2,621 yards, 17 TDs to 11 interceptions – though he completed 66 percent of his passes), but the most important number was awfully good. He went 13-0 as a starter in the regular season, before ultimately losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. The next year he won the Super Bowl, becoming the youngest QB at the time to do so.
2) Robert Griffin III, 2012:
Okay, so not every star rookie quarterback becomes a franchise cornerstone. Taking a Washington team that was awful in 2011 to the playoffs, Griffin electrified nearly every time he touched the ball. He completed nearly two-thirds of his passes, throwing for 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Then, of course, he was as effective with his feet, rushing for 815 yards and seven scores. Then he tore up his knee in the playoffs, and has never been the same since.
1) Cam Newton, 2011:
The reigning MVP has been a force to be reckoned with from the get-go. As a rookie with the Panthers, Newton threw for over 4,000 yards, one of two rookies ever to do that. Add in his 706 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns and you have a certified phenom. Those 14 TDs are still the most by a quarterback in a single season since 1947.