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NFL rookie QB roundup: Is Robert Griffin III now head of the class?

Five rookie quarterbacks started their teams' season openers Sunday. Results were mixed for Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. But Robert Griffin III put in a sparkling performance. 

By Correspondent / September 10, 2012

Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III reacts after throwing a touchdown pass in the first quarter of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Sunday.

Bill Haber/AP

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If Week 1 of the NFL season has taught us anything, it’s this: The days when rookie quarterbacks got to ride the bench for a few years and gradually learn offenses behind seasoned veterans are numbered, if not gone completely.

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The five true rookies who made their National Football League (NFL) debuts as starters Sunday did so carrying the expectation that they would be able to lead their teams like professionals straight away – expectations born from the increasing sophistication of the college game and the growing necessity for NFL teams to have marquee gunslingers.

It’s a lot of pressure, and while some thrive under the increased scrutiny and attention, others buckle. Last season, four true rookies made their NFL debuts as starters, and their performances ranged from Cam Newton’s historic highs to Blaine Gabbert’s Jaguars-worthy depths. How did this year’s crop fare in their first week?  

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck, widely described as the most NFL-ready college quarterback in 20 years – and perhaps ever – looked like something during his rookie start that nobody expected: a rookie. The first overall draft pick had a rocky start in the Colts’ 41-21 loss to the Chicago Bears, throwing three interceptions and fumbling once in an outing where he was given the bulk of the offensive workload (throwing the ball 45 times for 309 total yards and one touchdown).

His offensive line was dreadful, though, meaning he often didn't get a chance to set his feet and throw. And he didn’t get a ton of help from the Colts defense, either: The unit gave up 41 points and 428 yards in total offense to Jay Cutler and a rotating cast of effective Bears running backs.  

A bit of perspective, however: Luck’s debut numbers were eerily similar to that of his predecessor, Peyton Manning. Back in 1998, Manning went 21 of 37,  for 302 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions.

What’s more, it would be premature to take Luck’s dire-seeming box score as an indication that he isn’t going to be a force in the NFL for years to come. “Just watching film, you can’t tell he’s a rookie,” Chicago defensive back Kelvin Hayden told the Indianapolis Star Tribune. “He’s going to learn from his mistakes and he’s going to be one of the good ones.”

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Being an über-athletic rushing threat with a winning smile, RG3 has been compared ad nauseam to second-year Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. But Griffin is three inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter than the hulking Newton, and plays a lighter, more improvisatory game. You won’t see him powering through a line for short yardage the way Newton does.

But like Newton, he’s a blast to watch and he had a lights out NFL debut. The second overall pick threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns and scrambled for 42 yards in the Redskins’ 40-32 win over New Orleans, upsetting Drew Brees and the scandal-beleaguered Saints in the Superdome. He was the only rookie quarterback of the five to start things off with a win and boasted the fourth-most yards in a rookie start ever, behind Cam Newton, Otto Graham, and Ed Rubbert.

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