Josh Freeman is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL today, but he's also the youngest NFL starter in the game today. He's younger than Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and Mark Sanchez and he's just as old as most of the rookie quarterbacks selected in the first two rounds of this year's draft. This makes his stellar sophomore year even more remarkable. While he's compared to Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman likely has a much longer career ahead of him. Matt Ryan was in his third season last year at age 25. Josh Freeman will be in his fifth season when he's 25. That's remarkable.
With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look at any historical precedents. How did other 22-year-old quarterbacks do in the NFL? Historically there have been very few 22-year-old starters, and it's very hard to compare quarterbacks across different era. The statistics of the best quarterback in 1970 would look absolutely horrible compared to the statistics quarterbacks are putting up today. Which is why Pro Football Reference came up with index statistics - statistics for a player's season, compared to every other player in the same year. With this, we can compare players across different eras.
As it turns out, Josh Freeman had the third-best year for a 22-year-old quarterback since at least the AFL/NFL merger. There are only two players than Josh Freeman who had a better year in terms of Adjusted Net Yard per Pass Attempt (adjusted for era): Dan Marino in 1983 and Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. As if that wasn't impressive enough, Ben Roethlisberger was in some ways worse than Freeman: he threw many more interceptions and took many more sacks. In fact, Josh Freeman was an above average quarterback in every facet of his game last season, at least according to the statistics - and Dan Marino is the only other 22-year-old to ever be that good across the board.
To name just a few of the quarterbacks who were worse than Josh Freeman as 22-year-olds: Steve McNair, Michael Vick, Steve Grogan, Matt Stafford, Bernie Kosar, Drew Bledsoe, Peyton Manning, Shaun King, Ken Anderson and the list goes on.
What's even rarer than 22-year-old starters is 22-year-old sophomore quarterbacks. There have only been twelve of those in NFL/AFL history, and only six since the NFL/AFL merger. Of those quarterbacks, Freeman was easily the best, beating out Michael Vick, Matthew Stafford and Drew Bledsoe. Another interesting name on the list is Alex Smith, who has turned into one of the biggest quarterback busts in NFL history. It's comforting to know that Josh Freeman's 2010 season looked nothing like Alex Smith's 2006 season, who was well below average in every category. Josh Freeman, on the other hand, is the only 22-year-old sophomore starter to be an above average player in every facet of the game. The best young quarterback in the game? He is, at the very least, the youngest good quarterback in the NFL.