Especially after Stafford's performance in the Cleveland preseason game, the debate has intensified between the two camps arguing whether or not he should sit out the year or start from day one.
Some people say that sitting a year and playing sparingly is the best thing a rookie QB can do, as it acclimates them to life in the pros and allows them to witness what it takes to be a starter in the league. That way there are no surprises in their sophomore year, and they're ready to step in and play. Critics of this idea say it's stupid to have them waste time carrying a clipboard that could be better spent carrying a team, and that the only experience worth having at the end of the day is in-game experience. Which side is correct? The answer is neither, and both.
Peyton Manning started his first year, and though he took his lumps, he's quoted as saying the experience he gained was invaluable to developing into a good QB. From that, you could conclude it's best to throw your star rookie QB into a starting role from the outset, and have him learn through trial by fire.
The other first ballot Hall of Famer from this decade, Tom Brady (Go Blue), famously rode the pine his first year behind former Pro-Bowler Drew Bledsoe, completing one pass out of three attempts for the entire season. While he was inactive for most of the year, he gained about 25 lbs in muscle and got NFL ready. It would be redundant to go into what he did from his second year on, but from that you could reach the equally logical conclusion that you should sit your rookie QB a year, and have him learn through observation.
Carson Palmer and Drew Brees both sat their first year. Jay Cutler and Donovan McNabb started in five and six games respectively their rookie years. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco both played well starting from the get-go as rookies, and Ben Roethlisberger won a Super Bowl.
You can get historical here too. Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, and John Elway all started their rookie years, and they all looked like hell. Jim Kelly and Dan Marino started their rookie years and tore it up. Len Dawson sat for FIVE years before his storied carreer in Kansas City.
Steve Young is always used as the quintessential example of how good sitting on the bench can be for a rookie quarterback, but after doing some research, I need to take a moment to set the record straight. Steve Young played his first two years in the league as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, throwing 3 TDs to 8 INTs for 935 yds as a rookie, with 1 TD and 233 yds rushing, and 8 TDs to 13 INTs for 2,282 yds in his sophomore year, with 5 TDs and 425 yds rushing. After spending his time on the bench for four years with the 49ers, though he was ready to play long before that, he then started and played at a Pro-Bowl level. Steve Young is really an example of why playing a rookie QB is better, while ironically enough, it was Joe Montana who rode the pine his rookie year.
So, which option is better? There isn't a right or wrong answer, and it really depends on who your QB is. It appears that if you're going to be a great QB, you're going to be great regardless of when you're put into the game. What seems to stand out is rookie QBs tend to not play very well at all, and the guys that are able to are the exception to the rule. I don't know whether the great QBs who sat their first year only to explode in their second would've had good or bad years had they played as rookies, because there's no way of knowing. There's also no way of knowing if there've been QBs who would've/could've been great if only they were allowed to sit their first year instead of being thrown to the wolves on a bad team **cough-Joey-cough,** because there's no way of knowing that either. You could say having the patience to sit your rookie QB doesn't seem to hurt, while hypothetically playing someone too early can hurt their career.
I think the logical conclusion is this: If you're absolutely going to be a great NFL quarterback, you can handle having a shitty rookie year, because you're a tough and rare sort of human being who's destined for greatness, whose confidence never wavers. But some QBs really do need a year to sit, and some seem to do well sitting the first half of their rookie year, then playing in the second half when they're truly ready. It all depends on the individual, and there's no gaurantee as to what category Stafford fits into. All you can say with some degree of certainty is if Stafford starts the season, expect him to struggle. If being a successful rookie QB was easy it would happen every year, not every 10 years, and usually only to Hall of Famers. And if he plays like crap when he starts this year and is "ruined" as a QB, then he probably wasn't going to be a great one anyway. In my opinion, I think he should sit until the bye week and start the rest of the games. From what we've seen, he's physically ready and talented enough to make all the throws, but doesn't have the decision-making ability of a starter yet. Let him sit, learn a little more, and come in and start when he's more prepared. It's very likely the season will be a wash anyway by the time the bye week rolls around, so it would be a perfect opportunity to go through the growing pains of being an NFL QB.
Unless, of course, we're in the race for a playoff spot...: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3-eavMSBnk