Comparing the 2004 and 2020 NFL Rookie Quarterbacks
The 2004 NFL Draft featured three potential Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Since then, three quarterbacks of the same caliber have not been selected in any one draft. 2020 might break that streak.
The Cincinnati Bengals first overall pick, Joe Burrow, has thrown for 2,272 yards, 11 touchdowns, and five interceptions. The Los Angeles Chargers rookie, Justin Herbert, has thrown for 1,820 yards, 15 touchdowns, and five picks. Tua Tagovailoa, the Miami Dolphins’ first-rounder, started for the first time on Sunday and threw for 102 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.
Both Herbert and Burrow have proven that they can handle the role of starting NFL QB well. With limited action required, Tua proved the same in his first start. While Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Phillip Rivers were drafted in a different era, their career trajectories could very well be paralleled by the top three quarterbacks in this year’s draft.
The question is, which rookie will end up in the shoes of each 2004 rookie QB?
Ben Roethlisberger – Tua Tagovailoa
Roethlisberger walked into an organization that is known for consistency and excellence. Bill Cowher was an outstanding head coach. His replacement, Mike Tomlin, is a strong leader and remains a pillar in the organization nearly 15 years later.
Big Ben has won two Super Bowls in Pittsburgh, an organization with a propensity to draft and develop talent. He has played in a third and could very well add a fourth appearance this season. Roethlisberger has the skill of a Hall of Famer. He became a multi-champion because of the quality organization that drafted him.
Miami does not have the record that Pittsburgh has for organizational excellence. However, things are changing. The Dolphins respect head coach Brian Flores, and every unit is playing hard for him. The team has acquired a treasure chest of draft picks, and they continue to build a defense that can support the young, developing offense.
Out of the three QBs in the 2004 NFL Draft, Ben was the most talented. The same could be said about Tua when comparing him to Herbert and Burrow. That talent, combined with the promise of a consistent and smart organization, has Tua on the most likely path to replicating Big Ben’s career.
Phillip Rivers – Joe Burrow
Rivers started his career sitting on the bench for two years. His first season as a starter resulted in his team’s most successful season for the next 14 years. He had the talent and toughness to be a great quarterback in the league. However, the organization that drafted him is widely known for being loyal to their own while skipping out on talent as a result.
The same loyalty exhibited by owner Dean Spanos and the Chargers franchise has been ascribed to the Bengals. In a year or so, the Bengals could draft and develop enough talent to provide winning opportunities for Burrow. However, insisting on not spending in free agency and extreme patience with coaches will be the rookie’s downfall.
Joe Burrow will put up great numbers year after year. Unfortunately, as Carson Palmer stated, the Cincinnati Bengals are not an organization with a championship culture. Burrow could look 15 years into his career and realize that his hall of fame numbers would never be enough to win a ring as his team moves on from him.
Eli Manning – Justin Herbert
Eli Manning was a winner when he needed to be. He was above average all other times. Eli benefited from two strong defensive units during his Super Bowl runs. He also spent the majority of his career under Tom Coughlin. While the head coach was not the best strategist, the culture he built was always no non-sense, and his players believed that they could win, even when they probably should not have.
Justin Herbert looks like a winner. The only thing preventing Herbert from matching Manning’s career is his current head coach. Los Angeles has all of the pieces on offense and defense to be a perennial championship contender. The only problem is that their last few head coaches have earned their jobs by being good coordinators but are not leaders.
Norv Turner, Mike McCoy, and Anthony Lynn deserve to be in the league as assistants. The Chargers need a leader of Ron Rivera’s caliber to maximize Herbert’s potential fully. If the team can nail their next coaching hire, Herbert and the Chargers can beat the 16-0 ‘07 Patriots’ equivalent or better on any day.
2004 and 2020 NFL Rookie Quarterbacks
There are still plenty of pages left in the stories of Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Tua Tagovailoa. Eli Manning’s book is complete, and the last chapter is being written for Phillip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. While lots can still change, these two draft classes may forever be linked as the ending and beginning points of different eras in the NFL.