When Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio on Wednesday surprised absolutely no one and named Blaine Gabbert his new starting quarterback for this week's game at Carolina, it was an announcement that doubled as a fait accompli.
Of course Gabbert will start. That's what highly drafted rookie quarterbacks do in today's NFL. They start, most of them from the very beginning, or darn close to it, as in the case of Gabbert's Week 3 ascension to the top rung of the Jaguars' depth chart. The days of a Carson Palmer going first overall and then sitting an entire year in Cincinnati behind veteran Jon Kitna are over in the NFL.
Starting with 2008 first-round picks Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, the list of highly drafted quarterbacks who have played early -- and played surprisingly well -- seems to grow by the week. Carolina's Cam Newton and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton are both off to impressive starts this year (with Newton's record-breaking first two games being the story of the season in the league so far). Last year it was Sam Bradford from day one in St. Louis and Colt McCoy taking over in Cleveland by Week 6. And 2009 gave us Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Mark Sanchez with the Jets and Josh Freeman, who was the guy in Tampa Bay by the time the Bucs' eighth game of the year rolled around.