Peyton Manning has long been the face of the National Football League. Perhaps not exclusively (Tom Brady), but he is certainly a high profile player who is instantly recognizable to the average fan. Before Peyton there was Brett Favre, with Joe Montana before him, Roger Staubach, Joe Namath, and Johnny Unitas and on and on back to the advent of the forward pass. The subject is always debatable, of course, and the careers overlap, but one thing that is certain is that we football fans love our gunslingers.Even if you don’t think Peyton is currently the guy, names like Brady and Brees, Rodgers and Roethlisberger, Romo and even Rivers have all warranted consideration in the last five years, not to mention Carson Palmer and Peyton’s little brother Eli, or the recently retired Kurt Warner.
With all due respect to the great workhorse backs of the league, the QB is the guy who handles the ball on every play, and the one who gets the most attention. Although Trigger and Bullet and Silver were great horses, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and The Lone Ranger were the ones who got the headlines, which these days translates into commercial deals and NFL Network specials.
Every ten to fourteen years, nature and attrition dictate a changing on the guard. Warner was the first of the aforementioned group to step away from the field, and in all probability Rodgers will be the last. In the next four to six years, all of them (with Rodgers the lone exception) will be gone from the grid iron.
That doesn’t mean we’ll see an abnormally large number of collegiate signal callers flooding into the league at the same time, however, we’ve already been there and done that. It may be a bit surprising, but there are currently 13 players twenty-five years of age or younger that are slated to start under center this season. There are an additional 4 competing for the starting job, and one back-up (Kirk Cousins, Redskins) that would likely start if he played elsewhere.
Not all of them will have illustrious careers; some will washout, and some succumb to injury, but others…others will one day be enshrined in Canton and don the fabled yellow jackets. Now whether or not they end up in the Hall of Fame isn’t important, but we better get used to their faces, because we will see them for the next ten to fifteen years if we keep watching the games.
They’re not all rookies, or even experienced for that matter. In today’s NFL, it’s rare for a player to sit for several years before getting a shot under center. There was a day when no coach in his right mind would throw a rookie to the defenses of this league, but there seems to be a new sheriff in town, and with him a new modus operandi. RGIII, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson all got their shots as rookies last season, and all went to the playoffs. Colin Kaepernick got his opportunity halfway through his second year, and led his team to the Super Bowl.
Those aren’t the only of this group with promise; Matt Stafford of Detroit has thrown for over 10,000 yards and 61 touchdowns in the last two seasons. With four years in the league, he has seen quite a lot of action for a 25 year old.
The same may be said of Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman. Although only 25, Josh has already started 57 games as a Buc. Last year, he posted career highs for yards 4,065 and touchdowns 27.
Not to be outdone, another 25 year old signal caller, Andy Dalton of the Bengals has shown marked improvement in each of his two seasons, leading his team to the playoffs twice. His numbers from the first two years match-up with, and perhaps even outshine, those of two other QB’s (Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan) who just signed nine figure contracts.
At 24, Cam Newton has shown that a young man can play in this league. In 2 seasons he has accounted for over 9,400 yards of total offense and 62 touchdowns. That’s a great start for a career that could last another ten to fifteen years.
There are others that haven’t posted great numbers yet. There are some who haven’t yet been given their chance. But names like, Sam Bradford, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Tannehill, Terrelle Pryor, Kirk Cousins, Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel and Matt Barkley could all soon be commonplace.
Just as Tom Mix gave way to John Wayne, and the Duke yielded to a young Clint Eastwood, who in turn handed the reins over to the likes of Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Southerland and Lou Diamond Philips, the young guns will always be around. We may resist them at first, but eventually they grow facial hair and become our grizzled veterans, our fiery field generals and fixtures in our “all-time greats” debate.
This season, I’m looking forward to see who the next Wild Bill Hickok or Wyatt Earp may be, and who will end up as the next Davis Tutt (Google it).
About the Author
Written by Steve Massey
Steve Massey is the author of Grid Iron Audible at @prosportsblogging.com, a weekly column covering all things NFL related. He is originally from California, but now resides in Northern Arkansas with his beautiful wife and best friend, Debbie. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveMassey9