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NFL quarterbacks’ first 24 games can predict future career success

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, left, drops the ball as he is brought down by San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016, in San Diego.

Rick Scuteri/AP

Trade Marcus Mariota. Play Jared Goff now. Carson Wentz isn't as perfect as Eagles fans thought only a month ago. Dak Prescott can do no wrong. And where is Jameis Winston again?

Quarterback is the premier position in the NFL, and everyone is searching for that guy who can anchor a franchise for at least a decade. Then they often rush them on the field under pressure to win now, with patience in short supply.

For every Peyton Manning who survived a rough rookie year on his way to NFL stardom, being picked first or second over all is no guarantee of success.

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"The bottom line is we're playing these kids well before they're ready to play," said Rich Gannon, the NFL's 2002 MVP and now an analyst for CBS. "For many of them, they're going to have a bad experience. And in some cases such a bad experience, it can do real damage and irreparable harm to their confidence. The other thing is they learn bad habits as young players; they're often times very difficult to break when you get another coaching staff that comes in."

How a quarterback fares over the first 24 games of his career can be a pretty good measure of future success – or failure.

Ryan Leaf, the No. 2 pick over all in 1998, lasted only 25 games in the NFL. Robert Griffin III edged Andrew Luck for the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, yet is with his second team in five injury-filled years. Winston, the No. 1 overall pick of 2015, just played his 24th career game, while the No. 2 pick over all last year, Marcus Mariota, has 21 starts under his belt.

Yet Winston and Mariota already are on their second head coaches in just their second seasons. Tampa Bay promoted Dirk Koetter from offensive co-ordinator to maintain continuity with Winston, while Mariota is working with his third play caller in Tennessee since being drafted out of Oregon. Coaches with both teams believe they've seen enough to know they have the right quarterback.

"Is he there yet? No," Tampa Bay offensive co-ordinator Todd Monken said of Winston. "Are we there yet, collectively? No, but you'd rather have to try to reel a guy back in than try to develop some sort of toughness or will to win in competitive spirit. That's what we have at quarterback, and we need to embrace that and continue to mould that and develop that. That's coaching, that's playing, that's run the football better and him taking care of it better."

Mariota has helped the Titans (4-5) win more games than in all of his rookie season with seven games left.

"I'm glad he's our quarterback. There's no question about it," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said.

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Fans in Los Angeles believe Goff could be their quarterback, though coach Jeff Fisher has kept this year's top pick on the Rams' bench. Gannon credits Fisher both for knowing his quarterback and all the pieces the Rams don't have just yet to help Goff.

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