The quarterback class of 2012 was a historical group topped with Luck — Andrew Luck.
The quarterback class of next week's NFL draft will arrive in the large shadow cast by last year's rookie passers, burdened by the expectations created by Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and the rest.
"Those guys changed expectations for many quarterbacks, let alone rookies," West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith said. "Those guys stepped right in, including Russell (Wilson), and were leaders from Day One. That's the one thing I took from it. No matter what age difference, where you come from or what pick you are when you're taken for that role as a quarterback in the NFL, you have to lead by example. That's the thing all those guys did.
"They set the bar very high. I want to be one of those guys that step in and do the same thing."
Last year's rookie quarterbacks drew draft day comparisons to the fabled class of 1983 that included John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino — all Hall of Famers. Luck, Griffin and Wilson led their teams to the playoffs as first-year starters.
Five rookie quarterbacks started their teams' openers in 2012 — the big three, along with Miami's Ryan Tannehill and Cleveland's Brandon Weeden. Before the season was over, two more rookies had made starts — Nick Foles for Philadelphia and Ryan Lindley for Arizona.
Into that swirl steps a group of draft prospects surrounded by questions, with no clear franchise quarterback among them. Some scouts have said they don't believe there is a quarterback prospect in this draft worthy of a first-round grade. Many of those scouts, though, say Smith could be a top-10 pick next Thursday.
"I haven't personally discussed it with the other quarterbacks, but I think it's something that can add a little motivation," said North Carolina State's Mike Glennon, who was Wilson's backup with the Wolfpack. "I try not to really listen to all of that. I know what's being said, but I think more I just want to prove myself and prove that I belong at the next level and that I can be someone that a team can win with."
Elway, now the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations, says one of the most difficult things for a rookie quarterback to adjust to is having the job. Dealing with the criticism, the life-in-a-fishbowl profile and the expectations that come with being a starter can be every bit as difficult as the countless on-field adjustments that have to be made.
"Just making it through that first year with your confidence intact is huge," Elway said. "Not everybody is up to that challenge. A lot of times, what happens that first year is a big part of the difference of why some guys make it and some guys don't."
The scrutiny will only intensify for this year's group. Teams that use a first- or second-day pick to select a quarterback without a clear No. 1 option already at the position will be implying the rookie can be the starter.
The public's most recent point of comparison will be the likes of Luck, Griffin, Wilson, Tannehill and Weeden — all 3,000-yard passers in 2012. Luck set a rookie passing record with 4,374 yards. Some talent evaluators believe where this year's group falls on the draft's historical calendar will greatly influence its development. An already tough road has a few more bumps in it.
"I think that's something that's going to be looked toward this year," said Syracuse's Ryan Nassib, who played for recently hired Bills coach Doug Marrone with the Orange. "That rookie of the year was really a tight race. I was fortunate enough to watch four of those rookie quarterbacks' film. They really did a great job. I was surprised to see what game plans they had for some of them, what plays they were executing from a rookie level. They really weren't playing like rookies. That's the type of level rookies are expected to play at nowadays."
Said Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley: "Those guys came right away and played and made their marks, won playoff games. There's always going to be that comparison, whether it's just or unjust. I don't feel like there's any pressure on my part to live up to them. I know every situation's different. Whatever a player's going into is going to be different from what they went into last year. I don't feel there's any need to live up to what they lived up to. I have my standards, and hopefully those are high enough."