NFL teams have been impressed thus far with the development of the class of 2011's quarterbacks. Cam Newton has already emerged as one of the league's most exciting players and Andy Dalton has the Bengals in the thick of the playoff hunt. Though wins and big plays have been tougher to come by for Christian Ponder (Vikings) and Blaine Gabbert (Jaguars) thus far, each have shown flashes.
The relative success of his young peers bodes well for the Houston Texans and their rookie quarterback, T.J. Yates.
Yates, graded as a sixth round pick last year by NFLDraftScout.com, was the Texans' 5th round pick (No. 152 overall).
A year earlier, the idea of Yates being drafted at all would have been considered a long shot.
As a junior Yates completed barely 60% of his passes and threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns on the season (14) despite being surrounded by a lot of NFL talent, including current Cleveland Browns' rookie Greg Little and rising 2012 prospect Dwight Jones, among others.
Yates, however, showed remarkable poise a year later during the scandal that eventually led to year-long suspensions of Little, defensive tackle Marvin Austin and defensive end Robert Quinn, among others.
While everything around him was crumbling, Yates developed into a legitimate pro prospect, completing 66.% of his passes for 3,418 yards and a 19-9 touchdown to interception ratio. For his improvement, Yates was named an honorable mention All-ACC pick and helped lead the Tar Heels to a dramatic double overtime victory over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
When Yates entered last Sunday's game against the Jaguars, he did so with the same poise and leadership he'd demonstrated while at UNC. The moment wasn't too big for him -- a testament to the calm he's gained as a three-year starter while at UNC.
Certainly there are other quarterbacks with greater talent. Yates, in fact, will be playing opposite one this week in Atlanta's Matt Ryan. Like Ryan, however, Yates is more than the sum of his parts. While he doesn't have a howizter or great mobility, he's already a savvy enough player to spread the ball out to Houston's playmakers and manage a game.
For the AFC-South leading Texans, that may be all he has to do to help them reach the playoffs.