May 12, 2012

Rookie of the Year: Steve Bartkowski, 1975


Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons



Age:  23 (Nov. 12)
College: California
Height: 6’4”    Weight: 213

Prelude:
The Falcons traded star OT George Kunz to the Colts to obtain the first overall pick in the 1975 NFL draft in order to select Bartkowski, who passed for 2580 yards as a senior and was already acclaimed for having a strong throwing arm, although he was also immobile and strictly a pocket passer. He was immediately inserted into the starting lineup.

1975 Season Summary
Appeared and started in 11 of 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 255 [19]
Most attempts, game – 37 vs. San Francisco 12/14
Completions – 115
Most completions, game – 19 vs. San Francisco 12/14
Yards – 1662 [19]
Most yards, game – 305 vs. San Francisco 12/14
Completion percentage – 45.1
Yards per attempt – 6.5 [20]
TD passes – 13 [14, tied with Roman Gabriel]
Most TD passes, game – 3 vs. Washington 12/7
Interceptions – 15 [13, tied with James Harris]
Most interceptions, game – 3 at LA Rams 10/19, vs. Denver 11/23, vs. Washington 12/7
Passer rating – 59.3 
300-yard passing games – 1
200-yard passing games – 3

Rushing
Attempts – 14
Most attempts, game - 5 (for 5 yds.) at St. Louis 9/21
Yards – 15
Most yards, game – 7 yards (on 3 carries) at Oakland 11/30
Yards per attempt – 1.1
TDs – 2

Scoring
TDs – 2
Points – 12

Awards & Honors:
NFC Rookie of the Year: NEA, Sporting News

Falcons went 4-10 to finish third in the NFC West and ranked 20th in the league in total offense (3861 yards) and 19th in passing offense (2067 yards) and scoring (240 points).

Aftermath:
Bartkowski followed up his promising rookie year with two poor seasons in 1976 and ’77, missing much time to injury and playing badly when healthy, and seemed on his way to becoming a major first-round bust. However, he regained his starting job four weeks into the 1978 season and led the Falcons to the first postseason appearance in franchise history. He also played well in the Wild Card playoff win over the Eagles and a near-upset of the Cowboys in the Divisional round. While the team dipped in ’79, Bartkowski continued to improve and had two Pro Bowl years in 1980 and ’81. He threw for 3544 yards and a league-leading 31 TDs in ’80 and a career-high 3829 yards and 30 touchdowns in 1981. Atlanta was 12-4 and back in the postseason in 1980 although again dropped back to 7-9 in ’81. The Falcons were back in the playoffs following the strike-shortened 1982 season. Bartkowski led the NFL in passing in 1983 (97.6 rating) as he threw for 3167 yards with 22 TDs and just 5 interceptions and led the league in completion percentage (67.3) in ’84. However, the team’s performance was dropping off and the effect of taking many sacks was causing shoulder and knee injuries. After appearing in just five games in 1985, he was dealt to the Rams where he was 4-2 as a starter in ’86 before knee problems finally finished his career. Overall, he played 11 years for the Falcons, as well as the one abbreviated season in LA, and completed 55.9 % of his passes for 24,124 yards with 156 TDs and 144 interceptions. His 23,470 yards and 154 TDs with Atlanta remain franchise career records.

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Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL (including NFC/AFC), AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

[Updated 2/9/14]