Winning the QB waiting game

As 2006 showed, when 13 of the top 15 QBs in the NFL barely played as rookies, Aaron Rodgers' career isn't doomed because he has to sit behind Brett Favre for a third consecutive season, PackerReport's Steve Lawrence says.

Barring an injury to Brett Favre, former first-round pick Aaron Rodgers will spend a third season holding a clipboard instead of throwing touchdown passes.

Whether Rodgers eventually becomes a productive starting quarterback will be a question that will begin to be answered in 2008, at the earliest. His time on the bench, however, doesn't mean he won't someday become a fine successor to Favre.

In fact, an overwhelming majority of the best quarterbacks in the NFL spent a year or more watching and learning rather than learning on the fly.

Of the top 15 full-time starting quarterbacks, based on their 2006 passer ratings, 13 of them spent at least a majority of their first NFL season riding the pine.

The exceptions: top-ranked Peyton Manning and 14th-ranked David Carr, both of whom were thrown to the wolves right away as rookie. Manning, of course, is Hall of Fame-bound. Carr's future in Houston, meanwhile, is on shaky footing.

The others, in order of passer rating:

2. Drew Brees threw 27 passes as a rookie in 2001 before becoming a full-time starter.

3. Donovan McNabb started six games as a rookie in 1999.

4. Tony Romo didn't throw a pass in his first three seasons.

5. Carson Palmer didn't throw a pass during his 2003 rookie season.

6. Marc Bulger didn't start a game during his 2001 rookie season and made seven starts during his second year.

7. Philip Rivers, perhaps the best comparison to Rodgers, threw eight passes as a rookie in 2004 and 22 in 2005 while watching Brees start in San Diego. During his first season as a starter, Rivers led the Chargers to the NFL's best record and earned a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl team.

8. Tom Brady threw three passes as a rookie in 2000 before taking over in 2001 when Drew Bledsoe was injured.

9. Mark Brunell spent 1993 and 1994 behind Favre in Green Bay before getting a chance with Jacksonville.

10. J.P. Losman threw five passes as a rookie in 2004 and was a part-time starter his second season before blossoming in 2006.

11. Chad Pennington threw a combined 25 passes during his first two seasons, 2000 and 2001.

12. Jake Delhomme started two games from 1998 to 2002.

13. Steve McNair started a total of six games in 1995 and 1996 as the Houston Oilers intentionally kept him on the bench so he could make the jump from Alcorn State to the NFL.

15. Jon Kitna started a total of six games in 1997 and 1998.

The watch-and-learn approach for Rodgers is how it used to be done in the NFL. Perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Joe Montana, threw only 23 passes as a rookie in 1979. Hall of Famer Dan Fouts threw no more than 115 passes in his first three seasons. A third Hall of Famer, Len Dawson, threw no more than 15 passes in his first five NFL seasons before finally become a star with his third franchise, the Dallas Texans-turned-Kansas City Chiefs.

Bart Starr attempted only 44 passes as a rookie in Green Bay in 1956.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson doesn't think a third season on the bench will hold back Rodgers, either.

"I think, No. 1, you get to be able to watch Brett play and practice with him and go through all those things," he said last week during his Favre-is-back press conference. "Aaron takes more and more reps in practice because we try to tailor back some of the things Brett does. The actual playing experience certainly is valuable, but Coach McCarthy will work that through in preseason and things like that. We have to remember Aaron is still, I don't know if this is exactly right, but he's in the single digits of the youngest guys on our team still, even with all the rookies that we had in last year. He's going to be fine."

For the Packers' sake, let's hope Thompson is right, and Rodgers isn't just watching, but watching and learning.

 Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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