Age Versus Experience: Quarterbacks

If you've been paying attention to a few of the other active threads, you'll know that I've already brought this question up in a few places. I've been talking about the issue with regard to Alex Smith, but I think that it's an interesting enough topic to stand on its own and I wanted to open the issue up to the floor as a concentrated point of discussion.

This is something that's been on my mind a little bit lately. When looking at some other sports, the question of age brings back very different results. In baseball, age is one of the first thing anybody looks at when evaluating a prospect. "Oh, he mashed in AAA? How old is he?" "Well, his season in A ball wasn't so hot, but he's still young for the league so that's promising." It's so important in baseball that the correlation between age and development can be more important than actual production in some cases. But then take another sport, like basketball, and it's a completely different story. The NBA has a long history of success bringing players out of high school who managed rather well for themselves almost immediately. Draft rules in the NBA have changed now, but the idea that experience or latent talent can be more important than age in that sport is nothing new.

So what about football? And, specifically, what about quarterbacks? I've never seen a study. I've never even heard people talk about it. We have a quarterback on our team who was one of FOUR quarterbacks since 1980 who was a rookie at the age of 21. Only four! And I've never even heard the topic discussed.

So, after the jump I'm going to paste a couple of lists that I made to try to contextualize the question. I don't have any answers. I honestly just want to know what this (admittedly rough) data says to all of you.

First, I looked at the quarterbacks who are starting in the league right now. Of the established players, I wanted to see what age each of them seemed to actually come of age in the NFL. So the following list shows the established quarterbacks in the NFL today, and their age during their breakout season:

  1. Peyton Manning: 23
  2. Tom Brady: 24
  3. Donovan McNabb: 24
  4. *Joe Flacco: 24
  5. Aaron Rodgers: 25
  6. Brett Favre: 25
  7. Ben Roethlisberger: 25
  8. Philip Rivers: 25
  9. Drew Brees: 25
  10. Chad Pennington: 26
  11. Carson Palmer: 26
  12. *Vince Young: 26
  13. Tony Romo: 26
  14. Matt Schaub: 27
  15. Kyle Orton: 27
  16. Eli Manning: 27
  17. Matt Hasselbeck: 27
  18. Jason Campbell: 27/28
  19. David Garrard: 29
  20. Jake Delhomme: 29

A lot goes into evaluating that list: coaching, supporting cast, age drafted, and so on. What is notable to me is that a vast majority of these players were at least 25 before they were any good. The only exceptions to that rule will be going to the Hall of Fame.

The other lists I made was a list of notable quarterbacks since 1980 who were rookies when they were no older than 22.

First, the list of notable 22-year-old-rookie quarterbacks since 1980.

  1. JaMarcus Russell
  2. Aaron Rodgers
  3. Dan Orlovsky
  4. Ben Roethlisberger
  5. Kyle Boller
  6. Drew Brees
  7. Marquis Tuiasosopo
  8. Tim Couch
  9. Daunte Culpepper
  10. Cade McNown
  11. Shaun King
  12. Peyton Manning
  13. Ryan Leaf
  14. Steve McNair
  15. Trent Dilfer
  16. Todd Marinovich
  17. Brett Favre
  18. Andre Ware
  19. Randall Cunningham
  20. Todd Blackledge
  21. Dan Marino
  22. Neil Lomax
  23. Mark Malone

Then, the COMPLETE list of quarterbacks who were rookies at the age of 21 since 1980:

  1. Alex Smith
  2. Michael Vick
  3. Drew Bledsoe
  4. Tommy Maddox

What do we make of these names? What's age got to do with it? How important is age as opposed to experience? In tandem with experience? It's also telling to me that one of the supposed indicators of quarterback success coming out of college is having started 37 games. Which would almost necessitate that you're at least 23.

Are you aware of any studies that have to do with quarterbacking development and age?

I'm really curious. It seems to me that except for a few extreme examples, quarterbacks simply don't develop into very good players until they are at least 25 years old, and often older. On the other hand, a lot of these guys come out of college at 23 and 24, so they don't line up experience-wise with an extreme-young rookie quarterback of 22 or 21 years.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.

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