This is a piece that I have been thinking about for quite a while. The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” business. Gone are the days when teams would draft QBs in the first 3 rounds to sit behind their starter and learn how to make the transition from a college quarterback to an NFL caliber quarterback. We all know the men in the NFL are faster, stronger, and more experienced than the boys in college, so why do we expect these young QBs to come in and lead their new franchise to victory from day one? Because others have done it. In addition to “what have you done for me lately,” the NFL is also a “copycat” league, and when something works for one team, another will most certainly take notice and try to use it as well. The point of this article is to show you how difficult it is to make it in the NFL as a quarterback. I will focus on the modern-era (post-Manning). Since 1998, there have been 86 quarterbacks selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Some have had tremendous success and are on their way into the Hall of Fame, others have had strong careers and some have faded into obscurity. I will go year-by-year to show you just how special it is to be an NFL-caliber quarterback.
*First round QBs will have their draft pick in parentheses.
1998 (4): Peyton Manning (1), Ryan Leaf (2), Brian Griese, Jonathan Quinn
1999 (7): Tim Couch (1), Donovan McNabb (2), Akili Smith (3), Daunte Culpepper (11), Cade McNown (12), Shaun King, Brock Huard
2000 (3): Chad Pennington (18), Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman
2001 (4): Michael Vick (1), Drew Brees, Quincy Carter, Marques Tuiasosopo , Chris Weinke
2002 (3): David Carr (1), Joey Harrington (3), Josh McCown
2003 (6): Carson Palmer (1), Byron Leftwich (7), Kyle Boller (19), Rex Grossman (22), Dave Ragone, Chris Simms
2004 (4): Eli Manning (1), Philip Rivers (4), Ben Roethlisberger (11), J.P. Losman (22), Matt Schaub
2005 (6): Alex Smith (1), Aaron Rodgers (24), Jason Campbell (25), Charlie Frye, Andrew Walter, David Greene
2006 (7): Vince Young (1), Matt Leinart (10), Jay Cutler (11), Tarvaris Jackson, Kellen Clemens, Charlie Whitehurst, Brodie Croyle
2007 (6): Jamarcus Russell (1), Brady Quinn (22), Kevin Kolb, John Beck, Drew Stanton, Trent Edwards
2008 (5): Matt Ryan (3), Joe Flacco (18), Brian Brohm, Chad Henne, Kevin O’Connell
2009 (4): Matthew Stafford (1), Mark Sanchez (5), Josh Freeman (17), Pat White
2010 (4): Sam Bradford (1), Tim Tebow (25), Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy
2011 (7): Cam Newton (1), Jake Locker (8), Blaine Gabbert (10), Christian Ponder (12), Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Mallett
2012 (7): Andrew Luck (1), Robert Griffin III (2), Ryan Tannehill (8), Brandon Weeden (22), Brock Osweiler, Russell Wilson, Nick Foles
2013 (3): EJ Manuel (16), Geno Smith, Mike Glennon
2014 (5): Blake Bortles (3), Johnny Manziel (22), Teddy Bridgewater (32), Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo
The Central Limit theorem, or the law of large numbers, says that as a sample gets larger, the sample mean grows closer to the population mean. Usually to use the central limit theorem the sample size is around 30. Out of these 86 quarterbacks, I selected 26 to see how well they performed as rookies. The stats that I used were from their first 3 years or when they played 7 or more games. I am going to keep the identities of the quarterbacks secret until the end of the article for objectivity.
Before I show the individual statistics, I will show the population average. This was the total average for all 26 quarterbacks selected for each statistical category. For the 26 quarterbacks in their first three seasons, these players on average started 11.5 games, had a 57.3% completion rate, 2,455 passing yards, 6.7 YPA, 14.8 TDs, 10.5 INTs, and a 77.9 QB rating. For the individual averages I did not include stats with 0 starts by the quarterback. Here. We. Go.
The Alphabet of Quarterbacks
Quarterback A started every game for his team in his first 3 seasons. He had a 60.4% completion rate, averaged 4,096 passing yards, 7.3 YPA, 28.3 TDs, 19.3 INTs, and a 85.5 QB rating.
Quarterback B started 14.7 games for his team, had a 55% completion rate, averaged 2,515 yards, 5.8 YPA, 18 TDs, 10.7 INTs, and a 74.1 QB rating.
Quarterback C averaged 11.3 starts for his team, had a population high 66% completion rate, averaged 2,644 yards, 7.4 YPA, 17 TDs, 9 INTs, and a 92.7 QB rating.
Quarterback D averaged only 9 starts, had a 51.4% completion rate, averaged 1,655 passing yards with 6.8 YPA, 9 TDs, 6.5 INTs, and a 72.9 QB rating.
Quarterback E averaged 14 starts after sitting out his first year, averaged a 61.3% completion rate, averaged 2,850 yards, 6.7 YPA, 18.3 TDs, 12.7 INTs, and a 83.1 QB rating.
Quarterback F averaged 14.3 starts, averaged 56.8% completion rate, averaged 2,656 yards, 6.7 YPA, 11.3 TDs, 14 INTs, and a 71.9 QB rating.
Quarterback G averaged 14.7 starts, had a 54% completion rate, 5.6 YPA, 16 TDs, 16.7 INTs, and a 67.1 QB rating.
Quarterback H averaged 15 starts after not even attempting a throw in his rookie season. He also had a high 63.6% completion rate, averaged 3,589 yards, 7.3 YPA, 26 TDs, 14.3 INTs, and a 90.8 QB rating.
Quarterback I averaged 13.7 starts, 52.9% completion rate, 2,683 yards, 6.1 YPA, 18 TDs, 14.7 INTs, and a 69.4 QB rating.
Quarterback J averaged 16 starts for his team after not starting his first 2 years in the league. He also had a very good 62.4% completion rate, averaged 3,516 yards 8.1 YPA, 25.7 TDs, 11.7 INTs, and a 93.3 QB rating.
Quarterback K averaged only 10.3 starts, completed 58.5% of his passes, averaged 1,865 yards, 6.6 YPA, 9.7 TDs, 9.3 INTs, and a 75.6 QB rating.
Quarterback L averaged 10.7 starts, had one of the lowest completion rates at 52.6%, averaged 1,560 yards, 5.5 YPA, 6.3 TDs, 10.3 INTs, and a 57.6 QB rating.
Quarterback M played 2 straight seasons of 16 games after sitting for his first 3 seasons, and after getting playing time he completed on average 64.2% of his throws, averaged a population high 4,236 yards, 7.9 YPA, 29 TDs, 10 INTs, and had the highest QB rating with 98.5.
Quarterback N averaged 14 starts, completing 56.8% of his throws, averaged 2,373 yards, 6.5 YPA, 10.5 TDs, 15 INTs, and a 71.9 QB rating.
Quarterback O averaged only 12.3 starts due to only starting 5 games his rookie year, completed 61.7% of his throws, averaged 3,008 yards, 7.4 YPA, 18 TDs, 12.3 INTs, and a 87.5 QB rating.
Quarterback P averaged only 8.3 starts, had a 52.4% completion rate, averaged 1,361 yards, 5.8 YPA, 9.8 TDs, 7.7 INTs, and a 61.0 QB rating.
Quarterback Q averaged 15.3 starts had a 60.6% completion rate, averaged 3,354 yards, 7.0 YPA, 22 TDs, 11.3 INTs, and a 86.9 QB rating.
Quarterback R averaged 16 starts, had a 61.9% completion rate, averaged 3,402 yards, 7.2 YPA, 20 TDs, 11.3 INTs, and had a 87.3 QB rating.
Quarterback S averaged only 11.3 starts due to injury, completing 59% of his passes, averaged 3,202 yards, 6.5 YPA, 20 TDs, 13.5 INTs, and a 82.3 QB rating.
Quarterback T averaged 15.7 starts for his team, completed 55.1% of his passes, averaged 3,070 yards, 6.5 YPA, 18.3 TDs, 17 INTs, and a 72.1 QB rating.
Quarterback U averaged 14 starts, had a 57.7% completion rate, averaged 3,126 yards per season, 6.3 YPA, 15 TDs, 11.3 INTs, and a 76.5 QB rating.
Quarterback V averaged the lowest starts among his peers with 4.7, completed 57.2% of his passes, averaged 807 yards a season, 6.4 YPA, 5.7 TDs, 3 INTs, and a 80 QB rating.
Quarterback W started every game for his team his first 3 seasons, completed 59.8% of his passes, 3,766 yards, 7.6 YPA, 21.3 TDs, 14 INTs, and had a 86.5 QB rating.
Quarterback X averaged only 9 starts due to injury, he had a 58.6% completion rate, averaged 1,716 yards, 6.9 YPA, 9 TDs, 7.5 INTs, and a 80.4 rating.
Quarterback Y is in the midst of his 3rd season after starting every game for his team. I only used his first two seasons as he is on pace to far surpass his averages. He averaged 61.1% of his passes, 4,098 yards, 6.9 YPA, 23 TDs, 13.5 INTs, and a 81.8 QB rating. I would also point out he had the most passing yards as a rookie in this population.
Quarterback Z has the least amount of experience in this population. His two year averages so far are: 7 starts, 58.4% completion rate, 1,405 yards, 6.4 YPA, 8 TDs, 6 INTs, and a 79 QB rating.
Now if you made it this far, good for you! You must really like numbers. I hope you’ve been trying to guess who each quarterback was as you read along to at least spice it up.
Now if you guessed Quarterback A was Peyton Manning, I won’t give you a cookie. It might be a little surprising, as many people remember Peyton throwing a lot of interceptions his rookie year, and he did. His 28 interceptions his rookie year was more than any other quarterback in this sample.
Quarterback B was Donovan McNabb, and if you guessed that Quarterback C was Chad Pennington then I will definitely mail you a cookie (you’ll have to prove you guessed it first). Quarterback D was the elusive Michael Vick, so his numbers may seem low due to his injuries and his versatility as a runner. Quarterback E is the guy that is now in the Big Easy, Drew Brees. Quarterback F had arguably the toughest time out of anyone in this sample, as David Carr was given an expansion franchise to lead. Quarterback G was Joey Harrington. Quarterback H was Carson Palmer. Quarterbacks I and J will always be linked as I was Eli Manning and J was Philip Rivers. Even though Rivers destroyed Manning stat wise, Rivers didn’t start right away like Manning did. Also, there’s a 2 ring difference between the two. Quarterback K was.. ugh.. J.P. Losman. The next quarterback may shock you the most as his rookie numbers would not imply that quarterback L, Alex Smith, would be as good as he is today. Now as we approach Quarterback M, this was one of the only guys in the group that had the “traditional” QB approach. Taking a franchise guy early, and let him sit and learn was the way of the past, but it’s hard to argue that Aaron Rodgers didn’t learn anything from Brett Farve, because Rodgers’ “rookie season” was when he was a 4 year veteran. Quarterback N is only one of 3 quarterbacks in this sample to win the BCS championship, but his success did not translate into the NFL. Vince Young was just very average. Quarterback O is Jay Cutler. Quarterback P is arguably the biggest bust in NFL history. Jamarcus Russell, due to his own problems, is no longer in the league and his numbers suggest he wouldn’t have done much better with more time. Quarterback Q and Quarterback R are almost identical, except for one key thing, a ring. Quarterback Q is Matt Ryan and Quarterback R is Joe Flacco. Quarterback S has one of the lower start averages, but that was due to injury. Matthew Stafford has proved that when healthy he can throw the ball with the best of them, as evidenced by a 5,000 yard season. Quarterback T is known more for running face first into a teammate’s behind than his skills as a quarterback. However, Mark Sanchez did have very comparable numbers to some of the top quarterbacks on this list. Quarterback U is currently sidelined due to injury, but Sam Bradford started most of his games in his first 3 seasons. Quarterback V had some of the worst numbers among his peers, and it’s really no surprise that Tim Tebow is out of the league. Quarterback W also won a college championship, and Cam Newton set the record for most passing yards in a rookie season. Quarterback X is Jake Locker. Quarterback Y, Andrew Luck, took Cam Newton’s rookie record. Luck’s numbers were one of the most impressive among this group, and he’s on-pace this season to surpass his first two tries.
All of this gets us to Quarterback Z and the main reason for the writing of my article. Sure, some of the previous quarterbacks have been benched at some point, but almost all of them have 16 consecutive starts in a season under their belt. Unfortunately, Quarterback Z does not. Due to his injury last year, and his benching this year, Quarterback Z only has 14 games of experience to his name. If instead of taking his two season averages, I added his numbers, he would look quite different comparatively to the other quarterbacks of the alphabet. In his 14 games, Quarterback Z has a 58.4% completion rate. That may not be spectacular, but is actually slightly above the sample average of 57.3%. His two season total of 2,810 yards, may not be great, but is again above the average of 2,455. That average was taking into account all seasons, including ones where some guys only played one game or none at all. Quarterback Z’s YPA is slightly below average at 6.4, but it’s only .3 off the average. His total of 16 touchdowns is actually better than the average of 14.8, and his 12 interceptions are only slightly above the average of 10.5. Quarterback Z’s quarterback rating of 79 is actually right around the sample average of 77.9. Haven’t guessed who Quarterback Z is yet? I’ll tell you; he is EJ Manuel. Now if you’re a “numbers person” and believe “numbers never lie,” EJ Manuel is almost matching the average of all the quarterbacks in this sample. Is an average of Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan mixed with Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, JP Losman, and Tim Tebow really that bad? Sure, I watched the Houston Texans game last week, and I thought EJ Manuel looked terrible. I thought he wasn’t ready, his accuracy was off and his awareness was almost non-existent. But that was before I put all of these numbers together. Numbers tend to put things into perspective. Was Peyton Manning’s 28 interception rookie campaign deserving of a benching? Probably, but what other choice did Indianapolis have at the time? Manning followed that 3-13 rookie campaign with a 13-3 record and a trip to the playoffs. Sure, not every quarterback is going to have the same success as Peyton Manning, but is pulling the plug on your “franchise guy,” the guy you took with your first pick as a head coach, before his 16th game the right decision? We may never know. Bills Mafia will just have to hope that EJ Manuel continues to go to work every day, get better, and maybe one day, he’ll get us to the playoffs.
Bills Mafia, what do you think? Did the Bills pull the plug on Manuel too soon or did Coach Marrone do what was right for the team?