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Have Bears set Caleb Williams (or other QB) up for success? Ranking best situations for rookie QBs since 2000

There are two lines of thinking when it comes to rookie quarterbacks. Some feel that it’s better to have them sit and learn from a veteran, while others feel that playing right away is the way to go. For me, it depends on the player and the situation they inherit. 

Take Joe Burrow, for example. Burrow was clearly ready to play as a rookie (he led the NFL in passing through 10 games), but the Bengals didn’t have the talent around him yet, especially on the offensive line. Burrow’s rookie campaign ultimately ended early after he suffered a season-ending injury. 

The experience, though, of playing that season paid instant dividends for Burrow and the Bengals, as Cincinnati went to the Super Bowl the following year. Not all situations end up like that, though. Just ask Robert Griffin III, who enjoyed a fabulous rookie year but was never the same after getting seriously injured during the end of that season. 

If you plan to start a rookie quarterback, it’s critical to put him in the best possible position to succeed. That’s something the Patriots and Bears are currently trying to do with whoever they select during April’s draft, whether that’s Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels. 

While no situation is perfect, these are about as good as it gets if you’re a rookie quarterback. They’re already among the list of the best situations for a rookie quarterback sine 2000. Let’s find out where they rank on the list. 

10. 2012 Washington 

NFL fans shouldn’t forget the year Robert Griffin III had in 2012. Quite simply, it was one of the better rookie campaigns in league history. It’s a shame that it ended with Griffin suffering an injury that altered the course of his career. 

Griffin went 9-6 as a starter that year. He threw five times as many touchdown passes than interceptions in addition to rushing for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. Griffin was complemented by fellow rookie Alfred Morris, who rushed for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns. Washington’s offense that season also included veteran wideout Santana Moss and left tackle Trent Williams, who that season was named to the first of his 11 Pro Bowls. 

A leaky defense is the biggest reason why Washington is this low. It finished the regular season 32nd in red zone efficiency and was gashed by Seattle in the first round of the playoffs. Washington’s dependency on Griffin to make plays also factored into them not ranking higher. That dependency also played a role in his injury at the end of the season. 

9. 2018 Browns 

Cleveland started 0-1-1 before Baker Mayfield replaced injured starter Tyrod Taylor during the Browns’ third game. Mayfield led a comeback win over the Jets that night in what was a preview of things to come that season. 

Mayfield went onto win six of his 13 starts that season, a remarkable feat given the fact that the Browns had gone 1-31 the previous two seasons. He made the most of an offense that featured fellow rookie Nick Chubb, veteran wideout Jarvis Landry, tight end David Njoku and Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio

8. 2011 Panthers 

The defense wasn’t very good, but the 2011 Panthers had plenty of talent on offense, led by rookie quarterback Cam Newton. Newton took over a Carolina offense that had two talented running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Pro Bowler Steve Smith Sr., tight end Greg Olsen and Pro Bowl center Ryan Khalil. 

Newton took full advantage of his situation. While the 2011 Panthers finished 6-10, Newton did his part by becoming only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 20 touchdowns and run for at least 10 more in the same season. His 14 rushing touchdowns was the single-season record for a quarterback until the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts broke it in the 2023 season with 15.  

7. 2024 Patriots 

Whoever starts for the Patriots next year will have a decent supporting cast that currently includes wideouts K.J. OsbornJuJu Smith-SchusterKendrick Bourne, running backs Rhamondre Stevenson and Antonio Gibson and tight ends Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper. The offensive line, though, needs some work as they are currently tabbed as the league’s 30th best unit by Pro Football Network. 

New England should be solid defensively next season, which will help whoever is the Patriots’ quarterback. But the fact that the Patriots play in the ultra-competitive AFC East was a big reason why the Patriots’ current quarterback situation isn’t ranked higher. 

6. 2023 Texans

On paper, Houston didn’t surround C.J. Stroud with nearly as much help as the other teams on this list. But the Texans clearly did something right as Stroud had the best statistical rookie season of all-time for a quarterback. 

For starters, Stroud was aided by a defense that excelled under first-time head coach DeMeco Ryans. Offensively, Stroud benefitted by playing in a system that played to his strengths. Stroud also had a solid group of receivers, led by Nico Collins, Tank Dell and tight end Dalton Schultz

5. 2024 Bears 

I was tempted to put Chicago higher, but I couldn’t get past the Bears’ recent lack of success. One thing is clear, though: the Bears have put their next quarterback in a better position to succeed than their last starter, Justin Fields

The Bears recently acquired longtime Chargers wideout Keenan Allen, Pro Bowl running back D’Andre Swift and veteran tight end Gerald Everett. Chicago’s offense also includes wideout DJ Moore, who caught 96 passes for 1,364 yards and eight touchdowns last season. 

Unlike New England, Chicago has a solid offensive line, as long as it can stay healthy. Defensively, the Bears are also in pretty good shape, with Montez SweatTremaine Edmunds and recently-acquired Kevin Byard manning that side of the ball. 

4. 2020 Chargers 

Before Stroud’s monstrous 2023 season, Justin Herbert’s 2020 season served as the most prolific rookie passing season ever. Herbert took full advantage of an offense that included wideouts Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and versatile running back Austin Ekeler. Herbert’s secret weapon that year was Hunter Henry, who caught 60 passes for 613 yards and four touchdowns during his only season with Herbert. 

Unfortunately for Herbert, the Chargers’ defense had too many leaks that contributed to seven losses by seven points or less. Those looses ultimately led to the Chargers missing the playoffs with a 7-9 record. 

3. 2016 Cowboys 

An injury to Tony Romo thrust then-rookie Dak Prescott into the starting lineup in Week 1. Prescott didn’t play like a rookie, though, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and helping the Cowboys match a franchise record with 13 regular season wins. 

Prescott played exceptional that year, but he had help. Ezekiel Elliott, who was also a rookie that year, won his first of two rushing titles and had nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards. Dallas’ receiving corps was led by franchise stalwarts Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. The Cowboys’ offense also possessed Cole Beasley, who was one of the NFL’s top slot receivers at that time. 

The Cowboys also had the league’s fifth-ranked scoring defense, led by All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee

2. 2012 Seahawks 

The Seahawks went to the second round of the playoffs two years before Russell Wilson arrived in 2012. But subpar quarterback play sunk Seattle’s playoff hopes in 2011, thus leading to the Seahawks taking Wilson in the third round of that year’s draft. 

Seattle’s receiving corps wasn’t great, but it was deep, led by Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. What really helped Wilson was having All-Pro running back Marshawn Lynch and the league’s top-ranked defense at his disposal. Wilson parlayed those assets into a successful rookie season that included a wild-card win over RGIII and Washington. 

1. 2004 Steelers 

Ben Roethlisberger has said himself that the Steelers were way too good of a team to be in a position to select him with the 11th overall pick in the ’04 Draft. Pittsburgh was in that position after going 6-10 the previous season, largely because of a turnover-prone passing attack, a dormant running game and a young secondary. 

Pittsburgh strengthened its roster that offseason by signing former Eagles running back Duce Staley to team up with future Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis. Staley enjoyed a successful start to the year before an injury slowed him down. Bettis took over from there and enjoyed a Pro Bowl season. 

Along with a stout running game, Roethlisberger had a solid receiving corps that was led by Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El. The offensive line was anchored by future Hall of Fame guard Alan Faneca. 

Defensively, the Steelers finished first in the NFL in points allowed, largely on the improved play of then-second-year safety and future Hall of Famer Troy Polaamlu. 

The Steelers won a then-AFC record 15 games that year, with Roethlisberger going 12-0 as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback during the regular season. 

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