The rookie learning curve, only recently so steep that the newest professional players routinely spent a season on the bench, has been flattened...
The rookie learning curve, only recently so steep that the newest professional players routinely spent a season on the bench, has been flattened. The result: This is the NFL’s year of the rookie.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, rookies have started a total of 498 games in 2012, the most through the 10th week of any season since the league went to 32 teams in 2002. Only eight years ago, rookies had started 100 fewer games at this point. Rookie quarterbacks — Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden — had 21 victories through Week 10, virtually assuring that they will shatter the NFL season record of 23.
Seattle’s Wilson has thrown 15 touchdown passes, putting him on pace to challenge Peyton Manning’s rookie record of 26, one of 19 season rookie records that could fall at the hands of this class of first-year players.
“Every now and then, you get a group of guys in the same class — quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, whatever it is — and things just seem to click with those guys,” Griffin said. “We’re definitely, as a group, just clicking right now.”
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All those fresh faces signal not so much a lack of NFL patience — though coaches under searing job pressure often cannot afford to wait for young players to develop — as it does a revolution in how players are prepared long before they get to their first minicamp. The players the NFL gets now are in better shape, understand more of the sport’s complexities and have more experience dealing with the external duties of their job than those coming out of college just a few years ago, coaches and talent evaluators say.
Seven-on-seven leagues and tournaments have made football a year-round sport for high schoolers across the nation, giving them a head start on the pass-dominated game that has swept colleges so completely that Alabama coach Nick Saban recently lamented the popularity of no-huddle offenses.
Once players arrive at a major-college program, they are often greeted by a nutritionist who might take them grocery shopping and sit with them at every meal — programs began to adopt this about five years ago — to ensure they eat well, even when they go home during the offseason. Individualized strength training programs designed for their position are also a norm.