Does Ball Velocity Tell Us Anything About QB Success?

In an age where medical records, Wonderlic scores and even questions/answers from private NFL combine interviews are leaked, an underdeveloped avenue of information related to the draft process is quarterback ball velocity. But does a measure of how fast a QB can throw a ball have any place in predicting a passer’s success?

With the top four passers in the latest RotoViz Scouting Index all posting notable velocity numbers, that’s what I’ve been tasked to find out.

THE SCOPE OF QB BALL VELOCITY DATA

Unlike the other testing data that is readily available, QB ball velocity data from the combine throwing drills is spotty at best. The best source on the matter appears to be radio host and NFL Draft QB expert Ben Allbright, who has compiled data on every thrower invited to the NFL scouting combine since 2008.

To examine what Allbright’s data tells us, we first need to establish some parameters. The average ball velocity of QBs who threw at the combine since 20081 was 53.7 mph. This year’s average ball velocity was 54.8.

Over that time, QBs have thrown as slow as 42 mph and as fast as 60 mph. Allbright grades ball velocity by absolutes, establishing that at 55 mph or higher a signal caller would earn his grade of ‘draftable’ in the category, and anything below that would qualify as ‘undraftable’.

If there is something here, looking at the hardest, softest, and mid-range throwers would be a good place to start. Of the 111 players whose ball velocities were tracked at the combine or their pro day from 2008-2016, 31 players threw 52 mph or slower, 53 players threw between 53-56 mph and 27 players threw 57 mph or higher.

FASTER, AVERAGE AND SLOWER BALL VELOCITIES

How much do these numbers matter, and what trends, if any, can be determined by them? Perhaps a look at the strongest, weakest and middle throwers by class will reveal something conclusive. To do that, I broke the data into quartiles, with the top 25 percent being the strongest (57+ mph) and bottom 25 percent the weakest throwers (52 or less mph). The rest are lumped in the middle group.

 QB Year Pick Velocity Logan Thomas 2014 120 60 Bryan Bennett 2015 UD 60 Stephen Morris 2014 UD 59 Zac Dysert 2013 234 59 Tyler Bray 2013 UD 59 Kirk Cousins 2012 102 59 Brandon Weeden 2012 22 59 Colin Kaepernick 2011 36 59 Teddy Bridgewater 2014 32 58 Austin Davis 2012 UD 58 Nick Foles 2012 88 58 Ryan Mallett 2011 74 58 Drew Willy 2009 UD 58 Mike Reilly 2009 UD 58 John Parker Wilson 2009 UD 58 Sean Mannion 2015 89 57 Brandon Bridge 2015 UD 57 Tom Savage 2014 135 57 James Vandenberg 2013 UD 57 Chandler Harnish 2012 253 57 Josh Freeman 2009 17 57 Mark Sanchez 2009 5 57 Chase Daniel 2009 UD 57 Paul Smith 2008 UD 57

In this group, the only current or potential starters are Colin Kaepernick, Mark Sanchez, Kirk Cousins, and Teddy Bridgewater. Now let’s examine the average throwers.

 QB Year Pick Velocity Marcus Mariota 2015 2 56 Anthony Boone 2015 UD 56 Blake Bortles 2014 3 56 Brett Smith 2014 UD 56 Jimmy Garoppolo 2014 62 56 Jeff Matthews 2014 UD 56 Keith Wenning 2014 194 56 Ryan Nassib 2013 110 56 Cam Newton 2011 1 56 Andy Dalton 2011 35 56 Pat Devlin 2011 UD 56 Colt McCoy 2010 85 56 Levi Brown 2010 209 56 Nate Davis 2009 171 56 Curtis Painter 2009 201 56 Jameis Winston 2015 1 55 Cody Fajardo 2015 UD 55 Geno Smith 2013 39 55 Tyler Wilson 2013 112 55 Russell Wilson 2012 75 55 Case Keenum 2012 UD 55 Scott Tolzien 2011 UD 55 Rhett Bomar 2009 151 55 Joe Flacco 2008 18 55 Kevin O’Connell 2008 94 55 Bryn Renner 2014 UD 54 Tajh Boyd 2014 213 54 E.J. Manuel 2013 16 54 Matt Scott 2013 UD 54 Jake Locker 2011 8 54 Nathan Enderle 2011 160 54 Brett Hundley 2015 147 53 Bryce Petty 2015 103 53 AJ McCaron 2014 164 53 David Fales 2014 183 53 Dustin Vaughan 2014 UD 53 Landry Jones 2013 115 53 Stephen McGee 2009 101 53 Tom Brandstater 2009 174 53 Brian Brohm 2008 56 53 Chad Henne 2008 57 53

There are several starters or potential starters in this range, including Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston, Case Keenum, Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. Now let’s look at the softer throwers.

 QB Year Pick Velocity Ryan Lindley 2012 185 52 Kellen Moore 2012 UD 52 T.J. Yates 2011 152 52 Mike Kafka 2010 122 52 Jevan Snead 2010 UD 52 Max Hall 2010 UD 52 Zac Robinson 2010 250 52 Tim Hiller 2010 UD 52 Graham Harrell 2009 UD 52 Pat White 2009 44 52 Erik Ainge 2008 162 52 Jerry Lovelocke 2015 UD 51 Shane Carden 2015 UD 51 Colby Cameron 2013 UD 51 Christian Ponder 2011 12 51 Sean Canfield 2010 239 51 John David Booty 2008 137 51 Connor Shaw 2014 UD 50 Ricky Stanzi 2011 135 50 Tyrod Taylor 2011 180 50 John Skelton 2010 155 50 Jarrett Brown 2010 UD 50 Matt Flynn 2008 209 50 Mike Glennon 2013 73 49 Tony Pike 2010 204 49 Dan LeFavour 2010 181 49 Josh Johnson 2008 160 49 Colt Brennan 2008 186 44 Blake Sims 2015 UD 42

Based on Allbright’s data, only one quarterback at or below 50 mph in ball velocity since 2008, Tyrod Taylor, is currently a starter.

But simply dividing those players into ranges and identifying current or possible starters isn’t very scientific, and is biased against older passers who were previously starters or younger passers who have yet to lock down a starting gig. Therefore, we need to correlate that data with a qualifier that is predictive of NFL success. To determine what relationship ball velocity data has to NFL success, let’s set the success criteria as any QB who had at least one season starting at least half the games with an AYA of 7.0 or higher. The eight game starting criteria ensures there’s enough attempts to make the AYA of 7.0 meaningful, and we focus on AYA to focus on the passing component of a QBs game. No criteria will be perfect, and this still could be biased against newer QBs, but both Winston and Mariota met this criteria last year. Upon removing the 2016 and seeing who meets the criteria we get the following hit rates:

• Bottom (1 of 29 = 3.4%)
• Middle (7 of 41 = 17.1%)
• Top (7 of 24 = 29.2%)

Hits in the top tier include Nick Foles, Josh Freeman¸Cousins, Austin Davis, Kaepernick, Bridgewater, and Sanchez. The middle tier had Bortles, Mariota, Newton, Dalton, Wilson, Winston, and Flacco all meet the threshold. Only Taylor met the criteria in the bottom tier.

On the surface, it certainly appears that ball velocity correlated with this particular metric of success2 and the relationship is statistically significant. However, this method of analysis also doesn’t take into account the high number of prospective QBs who were not invited to or chose not to throw at the combine over that time. The number of QBs that were invited and chose not to throw (62) means that 39.7 percent were assigned no value at all, and does weaken the conclusions that can be made about the sample.

THE APPLICATION OF BALL VELOCITY TO THE 2016 CLASS

Using ball velocity as a measuring stick for a QBs passing prospects bodes well for the top three projected QBs. Carson Wentz (57), Jared Goff (58) and Paxton Lynch (59) were the top three in ball velocity at this year’s combine, so we can’t say any of these three are hurt by this metric. On the flip side, Connor Cook (50), recorded the lowest velocity, which should temper expectations for him. Here are how all of the rookies fared by ball velocity.

 QB Velocity Tier Paxton Lynch 59 Top Jared Goff 58 Top Carson Wentz 57 Top Christian Hackenberg 56 Middle Jacoby Brissett 56 Middle Josh Woodrum 56 Middle Joel Stave 56 Middle Cody Kessler 55 Middle Brandon Allen 55 Middle Trevone Boykin 55 Middle Dak Prescott 54 Middle Nate Sudfield 54 Middle Kevin Hogan 53 Middle Vernon Adams 53 Middle Brandon Doughty 53 Middle Jeff Driskel 52 Bottom Connor Cook 50 Bottom

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1. Prior to 2016  (back)
2. for QBs that we have data for  (back)