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The Dreaded Comparison: How Does Edwards Stack Up?

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Edwards is 5-1 as a rookie starter (BuffaloBills.com)

You had to know it was coming at some point. With Bills rookie QB Trent Edwards 5-1 as a starter - an occurrence that used to be rare in the NFL (thanks, Big Ben) - the question now becomes pertinent: how does Edwards' rookie season stack up? Before we get too deep into the comparisons, let me first disclaim this: in no way am I attempting to predict Edwards' future or make claims as to just how good he can be. This is merely a comparison between the great first seasons of three rookie quarterbacks, and how Edwards' performance in his first six starts looks next to the first-year stats of two other rookie phenoms.

We could bring Dan Marino into the equation here; I decided against it. Marino's rookie season was 24 years ago. That's certainly not to take anything away from Marino's rookie season - he still remains the only rookie QB to ever start in the Pro Bowl - but the two quarterbacks we'll compare Edwards' season to are a bit more modern. So with Marino out of the equation, let's compare Trent Edwards' rookie season to two recent rookie legends: Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Chicago's Kyle Orton.

Crunching the Numbers
Without further ado, here's the early numbers of the three quarterbacks in question (note: statistics only include those which were accrued during starts):

Ben Roethlisberger (2004 - 13 starts)
174/275 (63.3%), 2445 yards, 15 TD, 9 INT, 1 rush TD, 30 sacks (Rating: 96.4)
Rookie record as starter: 13-0

Kyle Orton (2005 - 15 starts)
190/368 (52.9%), 1869 yards, 9 TD, 13 INT, 30 sacks (Rating: 59.7)
Rookie record as starter: 10-5

Trent Edwards (2007 - 6 starts)
103/160 (64.4%), 1115 yards, 5 TD, 4 INT, 9 sacks (Rating: 84.8)
Rookie record as starter: 5-1

What stands out? Well obviously, Edwards has not started half the games that Big Ben or NeckBeard did in their rookie seasons, so a lot can change over the Bills' final three games of the season. Even with that fact accounted for, there are aspects to Edwards' game that stand out - most specifically, the fact that he's sacked at a much less frequent rate. His completion percentage is higher than even Big Ben's, but he hasn't made as many plays as Roethlisberger either. Yards per attempt is also a huge advantage for Big Ben over both Orton and Edwards (8.9 yards per attempt as compared to 6.97 for Edwards and 5.1 for Orton). Edwards seems light years ahead of Orton at this point; Orton lost his job that year to Rex Grossman despite his team's success.

What makes Edwards' season stand out a bit from those of Roethlisberger and Orton, however, is that Edwards is winning games without much help.

The X-Factor Variables
Roethlisberger and Orton spent their rookie seasons winning a lot of ball games. They did not, however, have the pressure of carrying the team game in and game out; Edwards has had that type of pressure on him a bit more:

2004 Steelers: #1 overall defense, #2 rush offense
2005 Bears: #2 overall defense, #8 rush offense
2007 Bills: #30 overall defense, #16 rush offense

Roethlisberger and Orton both enjoyed very strong defenses and league-leading running games. Edwards has not had that luxury - Buffalo's defense has performed admirably this season, but it's questionable each week just how well that unit will perform. The Bills do have one of the game's best young runners in Marshawn Lynch, but an offensive line learning to play together and the lack of a viable #2 threat have hampered the Bills' rushing ranking. There has not been an overwhelming amount of pressure on Edwards, but it's very fair to say that he's had a tougher go of it than either Roethlisberger or Orton had in their rookie seasons.

What This All Means
Ultimately, this comparison doesn't mean much. As mentioned at the outset of this exercise, this study has literally nothing to do with Edwards' future. It does, however, show just how stellar our quarterback's play has been. You don't get the sense when you watch Edwards play that he's a rookie; his numbers as a starter compare to a young veteran, and they certainly compare well with other quarterbacks who excelled in their rookie seasons.

Again, I'm not making the claim that Edwards is the next Roethlisberger; I'm certainly hoping that he's not the next Orton, either. But make no mistake, Bills fans: if Edwards keeps it up, our young quarterback will be finishing up the third phenomenal rookie season by a quarterback in the last four years.