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Rookie QBs getting trial by fire on NFL opening weekend comes with mixed history

Three quarterbacks were drafted in the first round this past spring, and all three — Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson — will start their first NFL games on Sunday.

League history is littered with successes and failures of rookie quarterbacks who’ve been anointed as starters right away.

Two of the league’s current top quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, began their respective careers on the bench, learning from veteran starters. We live in an impatient sports world that demands success now, in the case of the Panthers, who picked Young first overall, the Texans, who chose Stroud with the second pick, and the Colts, who took Richardson at No. 4. Their franchises are all in need of an immediate shot in the arm.

Whether that translates to instant gratification remains one of the mysteries to be solved this season. It’s important for those teams and their fans to understand that struggles are certain to come and to remember these past cases:

Quarterback Troy Aikman drops back to pass as offensive linemen Nate Newton and Mark Stepnoski and fullback Daryl Johnston block against the Philadelphia Eagles during a game at Veterans Stadium on December 10, 1989.
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Bryce Young looks on during the second quarter of a preseason game against the Detroit Lions.
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More recently, Trevor Lawrence, after growing pains in his first year in Jacksonville, led the Jaguars to the playoffs last year in his second season.

There is the other side, too, as with David Carr, the Texans No. 1-overall pick in 2002. He threw for 2,592 yards with nine TDs and 15 INTs in his 16 starts as a rookie, but was sacked an NFL single-season-high 76 times that year and never reached his potential. Carr, at that time, became the poster child for the argument that teams should not starting a rookie quarterback right away.

Trevor Lawrence running with the ball in the 3rd quarter against the Jets.
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Will Levis, Joey Porter Jr., Anthony Richardson, and CJ Stroud stand in the green room backstage during the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
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<img src="; alt="<!– wp:image {"align":"center","id":28646348,"sizeSlug":"large","credits":"Getty Images","chpId":"NYPICHPDPICT000026875307"} –> <figure class="wp-block-image aligncenter size-large"><img src="; alt="" class="wp-image-28646348"/><figcaption>C.J. Stroud</figcaption></figure>
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This, of course, is a different era, and the Panthers, Texans and Colts are hoping that their rookies can do what Dak Prescott did with the Cowboys and Ben Roethlisberger did with the Steelers as rookie starters, winning an NFL-record 13 games.

Now this new crop will get its chance to make history.

Panthers head coach Frank Reich said of Young: “He’s in control. He knows what he wants and how he wants it done.’’

Anthony Richardson looks to pass the ball during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills.
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Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer called Young “unflappable,’’ adding, “He looks young in the face, but he’s a grown man.’’

Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans said his biggest advice to Stroud has been to “not make the game bigger’’ than it is and to “go out and do what got you here.”

Colts head coach Shane Steichen had similar advice for Richardson, who sounds like he has taken it to heart.

“Don’t overthink it and just play football,” Richardson said. “The trust from my teammates and the coaches … them believing in me and trusting me and me knowing my information, that lets me know that I’m ready.’’