Over the 50-plus years of Super Bowls, many types of quarterbacks have achieved victory in the NFL’s ultimate game. We’ve seen gunslingers like Brett Favre, field generals like Peyton Manning, versatile athletes like Patrick Mahomes, and even unheralded longshots like Elvis Grbac. One thing we’ve never seen? A rookie quarterback win (or even play in) the Super Bowl.
So what’s the probability of a rookie quarterback making the Super Bowl and why hasn’t it happened yet?
Bill Barnwell’s research about rookie QBs and the Super Bowl
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell compiled data on rookie quarterbacks’ playoff performance and found that not one had ever appeared in a Super Bowl. Barnwell’s math dictates that a rookie quarterback should play in a Super Bowl, on average, about every 30 years. But after 50 Super Bowls (and 100 starting quarterbacks appearing in Super Bowls), not one had been a rookie.
He also looked at how rookie quarterbacks have performed in the playoffs overall, and the results were not great. According to Barnwell, their yards per attempt is an abysmal 4.3 while they toss interceptions on 5.4% of their passes.
Second-year quarterbacks winning the Super Bowl
Despite rookies failing to make the big game, there is a precedent for second-year quarterbacks winning Super Bowls:
- Tom Brady was in his second year when he came in for Drew Bledsoe to lead the New England Patriots to an AFC East title and a Super Bowl win.
- Russell Wilson was also a sophomore when he led the Seahawks over the Broncos in a Super Bowl.
- Ben Roethlisberger defeated the Seahawks in only his second season for his first of two Super Bowl titles.
None of these players was nearly the quarterback they’d become later in their careers, and they all had great teams around them. Two of them went on to more titles while Wilson has led Seattle back to a second Super Bowl appearance. All three at one time or another have been considered among the best signal-callers in the league.
Why hasn’t a rookie quarterback won the Super Bowl by now?
You can examine rookie quarterbacks and their performance, but there are a few fairly simple reasons why a rookie QB hasn’t won an NFL title yet:
- It takes time to become a great player. Super Bowl winners typically have very good quarterbacks. Rookies experience growing pains, even ones who show proficiency early in their careers.
- Getting through the playoffs is hard enough. Clearly, playing well in the playoffs isn’t easy. Few rookies have been able to even do that, much less lead a team through multiple playoff wins.
- Rookies tend to start for bad teams. Most rookie quarterbacks who start immediately were likely selected by teams with a high draft pick. That means they struggled the year before and may not have the infrastructure in place needed to contend for a title. It’s the same reason why you often see coaches get fired shortly after a rookie QB takes over — they’re likely part of the regime that led to the team being in the position to use a high pick on a QB in the first place.
The truth is that it’s highly unlikely a rookie quarterback will make the playoffs, much less win the Super Bowl. The few rookies who have made it to the playoffs typically don’t play well once they get there. Chalk it up to first-time jitters or an overall lack of experience.
A rookie QB won’t appear in the Super Bowl until two things converge: the right QB, with the right skills and mindset, and a team stocked with talent around him. If a team like the New England Patriots had traded up for a quarterback like Joe Burrows or Tua Tagovaiola, it might have been possible. But until that QB-team fit comes along, you’ll probably have to wait even longer to see it.