Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel, and Projecting Rookie Quarterbacks


What is it with rookie quarterbacks these days? I mean, seems like it wasn’t that long ago when they were destined to be nothing more than first-string clipboard holders in their debut NFL season.

Now, things are different. More appropriately put—expedited.

You know how it goes. Rookie quarterbacks, especially those taken in the first few rounds, are rarely, if ever automatically relegated to the bench in their inaugural campaigns anymore.

Personally, I think this phenomenon is due to the collegiate game preparing quarterbacks for the professional game better than ever before. The two games have become so similar. Also, and probably more importantly, thanks to the exceedingly impatient society we live in, coaches have been forced to simmer their egos and tailor their systems to the strengths and familiarities of their highly drafted signal-callers.

(About time.)

We’re fresh off, arguably, the finest rookie quarterback season in history. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson were incredible. Heck, by old-school standards, Ryan Tannehill wasn’t that bad.

So, what does this all mean from a fantasy perspective?

It means that rookie quarterbacks are no longer just late-round options, guys you draft to store in a dynasty league with production two or three years down the road as the best-case scenario.

Predicting real football is hard enough, and we all know how difficult is it to accurately project fake football, especially when it comes to players who have yet to take an NFL snap.

In hopes of gauging what to expect from “today’s” rookie quarterbacks, I decided to turn to recent history as a guide.

I looked at the rookie seasons of quarterbacks drafted in Rounds 1 through 3 over the past 10 years, who attempted at least 200 passes and charted the following; completion percentage, touchdown percentage, interception percentage, sack percentage and yards per completion.

You may be thinking a few of those statistical categories don’t directly translate to fantasy football. In that case, here was my reasoning for charting the aforementioned metrics:

Completion percentage — Few leagues award points for completions, but points don’t come without them.

Touchdown percentage — Simply using touchdown totals would have rewarded quarterbacks who joined pass-happy teams and hurt those who joined teams that preferred to run more, particularly in the red zone. Touchdown percentage gives a better indication of how efficient a quarterback was.

Interception percentage — If you understand why I used touchdown percentage, you’ll understand this.

Sack percentage — This stat is probably the least important for fantasy, but to me, the good quarterbacks aren’t sacked as often as the bad ones. It’s not always on their offensive lines.

Yards per completion — Again, another attempt to level the playing field.

At the very least, these cumulative averages can serve as an expectation baseline, which I think is important after being drastically disappointed by the 2011 quarterback class and spoiled rotten by 2012’s.

With fantasy, we want yards and points from our quarterbacks, and we don’t care about much else. But I wanted to show percentages and subsequent efficiency rather than elementary statistics. (Obviously, a 517-attempt campaign from Cam Newton in 2011 was going to yield more yards and touchdowns than Ben Roethlisberger‘s 295-attempt 2004.)

In essence, I wanted to take a real football approach and apply it to the wonderful world of fantasy.

Player Completion% TD% INT% Sack% Yards/Comp.
Carson Palmer 60.9 4.2 4.2 5.5 11
Byron Leftwich 57.2 3.3 3.8 4.3 11.8
Kyle Boller 51.8 3.1 4 7.1 10.9
Ben Roethlisberger 66.4 5.8 3.7 9.2 13.4
Jason Campbell 53.1 4.8 2.9 3.3 11.8
Kyle Orton 51.6 2.4 3.5 7.5 9.8
Vince Young 51.5 3.4 3.6 6.5 12
Matt Leinart 56.8 2.9 3.2 5.3 11.9
Trent Edwards 56.1 2.6 3 4.3 10.8
Matt Ryan 61.1 3.7 2.5 3.8 13
Joe Flacco 60 3.3 2.8 7 11.6
Matthew Stafford 53.3 3.4 5.3 6 11.3
Mark Sanchez 53.8 3.3 5.5 6.7 12.5
Josh Freeman 54.5 3.4 6.2 6.5 11.7
Sam Bradford 60 3.1 2.5 5.4 9.9
Jimmy Clausen 52.5 1 3 9.9 9.9
Colt McCoy 60.8 2.7 4.1 9.4 11.7
Cam Newton 60 4.1 3.3 6.3 13.1
Blaine Gabbert 50.8 2.9 2.7 8.8 10.5
Christian Ponder 54.3 4.5 4.5 9.3 11.7
Andy Dalton 58.1 3.9 2.5 4.4 11.3
Andrew Luck 54.1 3.7 2.9 6.1 12.9
Robert Griffin III 65.6 5.1 1.3 7.1 12.4
Ryan Tannehill 58.3 2.5 2.7 6.7 11.7
Brandon Weeden 57.4 2.7 3.3 5.1 11.4
Russell Wilson 64.1 6.6 2.5 7.7 12.4
Nick Foles 60.8 2.3 1.9 7 10.6
Average 57.22 3.51 3.39 6.53 11.59

(Baseline: 57% completion, 3.5 TD%, 3.38 INT%, 6.25 sack% and 11.59 yards per completion)

Notable non-qualifiers:

2004 Eli Manning

2004 Philip Rivers

2005 Alex Smith

2006 Jay Cutler 

2007 JaMarcus Russell

Done perusing? Here are some notable findings:

-To some, Cam Newton’s sparkling rookie season was considered to be simply the product of high volume (I somewhat insinuated that earlier), but his 4.1 TD% was extremely impressive for a quarterback who threw it as often as he did. In fact, he was one of seven quarterbacks out of the 27 in the study who finished his year with a TD% higher than 4.0. Also, his 13.1 yards-per-completion average was the highest of any quarterback. Hat tip to you, Rob Chudzinski.

Russell Wilson is good. He led the way with a 6.6 TD% and tied Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan for the lowest INT%. He also had the best TD/INT% differential of any quarterback (+4.1). Wilson’s 12.4 yards per completion weren’t too shabby, either.

Josh Freeman had the worst TD/INT% differential at -2.8.

– 11 of the 13 highest completion percentages have come from quarterbacks drafted in 2008 or later.

Here are some sample seasons, using the baseline figures:

200 attempts: 114 of 200, 1,321.6 yards, 7 TD, 6.76 INT, 12.5 sacks

300 attempts: 171 of 300, 1,981 yards, 10.5 TD, 10.14 INT, 18.75 sacks

400 attempts: 228 of 400, 2,642.5 yards, 14 TD, 13.52 INT, 25 sacks

500 attempts: 285 of 500, 3,303 yards, 17.5 TD, 16.9 INT, 31.25 sacks

Ok, Chris. Thanks for the info. What does it mean? What does it mean for the prospectus of EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and the far less publicized Mike Glennon? (Manuel, Smith and Tyler Wilson of the Oakland Raiders, who was drafted in Round 4, have the best chances to start in 2013.)

Well, nothing’s definitive, but to me, it could mean that while our expectations for rookie quarterbacks should probably be tempered a bit after the 2012 class put on an absolute show, the relative spike in productive efficiency we’ve witnessed over the past five years shouldn’t be ignored.

Rookie quarterbacks are better prepared for the NFL now. There’s no way around it.

Will Smith or Manuel—assuming they win their respective quarterback competitions—be given the opportunity to throw the ball 500 times? Probably not. Then again, Newton was perceived to be a “one-read”, somewhat raw pocket passer when he entered the NFL, and the Carolina Panthers allowed him to let it fly. All that came of that was one of the greatest rookie quarterback seasons of all time.

So who knows.

Will any of the 2013 rookie quarterbacks play better than the “expected baseline” from this study? The cumulative group of 2011 rookie quarterbacks were well below the baseline, while the 2012 class was well above it. Safe to say, the 2013 class will probably fall somewhere in between.

I won’t end this with a projection of how I believe the rookie quarterbacks will fare this season—although Manuel has a much better collection of talent around him than Smith or Wilson do.

You be the judge of how you think they’ll play, but now, you’ll have a more fair and logical baseline to compare rookie quarterback’s stats, not Blaine Gabbert‘s 2011 or Russell Wilson’s 2012.

Follow Chris on twitter: @ChrisTrapasso


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