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Not Tim Couch

Not Tim Couch.

The preseason is meaningless, right? Well, as it turns out, it might give us a window into quarterback development, despite what you might think. The threshold for whether the preseason is useful is whether including that information tells us anything about a quarterback’s potential that we don’t already know from his draft position (or perhaps certain analytics). I have been putting together data from preseason box scores going back to 1997. The data show that, for some quarterbacks, the preseason is not quite meaningless.

Neil Paine showed some interesting evidence relating to this idea on Friday. Looking at team performance since 2009 for teams with new quarterbacks, Neil showed that preseason passing efficiency helps predict regular season passing efficiency. It’s important to note that part of this result may have been pretty predictable even before we watched those preseason games. The 2012 Redskins replaced Rex Grossman and John Beck with the #2 pick in the draft who would have been #1 in an average year. So we would expect a big improvement to come just by way of moving from Grossman to a healthy RGIII. [click to continue…]

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Some teams, like the Rams have done a good job of fielding a very young roster; others, like the Raiders, have made a conscious effort to head in the other direction. Overall, the Rams are more representative of the current trend. NFL teams have made a shift towards younger players in the last three years, although you might be surprised by just how dramatic and sudden the change has been. The drop in Approximate Value (AV)-weighted ages of NFL rosters in the last three years is more than 50% larger than in any other three-year period in NFL history.

healy 1

Looking at the graph, there are two seismic shifts that changed the age distribution of the NFL in the Super Bowl era: the increase that started in the late ‘80s and the decrease in the last five years. These changes tell us about how changes in the collective bargaining agreement can change the NFL landscape in both subtle and dramatic ways.

First, the increase in NFL roster age in the 1980s coincides pretty closely with the introduction of Plan B free agency in 1989. It looks like the increase maybe starts a year too early. Remember, though, that the 1987 age may be skewed a bit by the three games with replacement players. Taking that point in mind, the increase from 1988 through 1993 coincides exactly with the introduction of limited free agency. [click to continue…]

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Bush played with some talented teammates at USC.

Bush played with some talented teammates at USC.

Last week, I wrote about whether having great college teammates might cause quarterbacks and wide receivers to be overvalued in the NFL draft. The results were inconclusive on the impact of teammates on quarterbacks, but they indicated that wide receivers who played with first-round QBs in college tended to underperform in the NFL relative to their draft position. Receivers such as Mike Williams of USC (#10 in 2005) and Marcus Nash of Tennessee (#30 in 1998) may have gone too high in the draft in part because they played with great college QBs who made them look good.

Today, I look at running backs drafted since 1984. I use a slightly different way of looking at the data that I think is a little better. I also revisit the QBs and WR/TEs with that method. Instead of considering the number of first-round college teammates that a player has, I consider the total draft value of college teammates at different positions, as determined by Chase’s chart.1 Going this way makes it possible to look at the entire offensive line’s value, for example, rather than just the number of players who were high picks.

For example, according to PFR’s Approximate Value (AV), Ki-Jana Carter is the biggest underachiever at RB relative to his draft position (since 1984). After being drafted #1 in 1995, he generated just nine points of AV in his first five years.2 Carter also had a lot of help from his friends in college. He ranks 10th out of 104 RBs picked in the top 32 in terms of the total value of his college offensive linemen according to my measure. His tight end also went in the top ten in 2005; Carter would be 2nd in total line value if we included TEs. Two of his offensive lineman went in the first round in the following year. Two Penn State fullbacks were drafted that year, too.3 Could Carter have looked better than he was because he ran behind those great college blockers? Or is the NFL success of the running back who ranks fourth in terms of offensive line help (Warrick Dunn) more representative of RBs, in general?

In addition to looking at the offensive line, I’ll consider whether the total value of college teammates at other offensive positions predicts that running backs become overvalued in the draft. While we might think that RBs are particularly dependent on line help, it actually appears that having a great QB is again the one clear predictor for players being overvalued. [click to continue…]

  1. I thank commenter Stuart for suggesting this approach in the comments to last week’s post. []
  2. Carter averaged 3.3 yards on 227 carries over his first five injury-plagued seasons. []
  3. Two Penn State halfbacks were drafted in 1996, as well. One of them was Stephen Michael Pitts, who went to Middletown High School South (NJ), a school that also graduated Knowshon Moreno and, only slightly less famously, me. []
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Bradford had a lot of surrounding talent in Norman.

Bradford had a lot of surrounding talent in Norman.

Do players get too much credit when teammates make them look good? Take Johnny Manziel. In the last thirty years, no quarterback has had teammates around him drafted so highly. Last year, his left tackle (Luke Joeckel) was the second pick in the draft. This year, his new left tackle (Jake Matthews) was the sixth pick in the draft and his talented wide receiver went immediately after. That’s three top seven picks from his offense in two drafts. Does this means, perhaps, that Manziel was riding those players’ coattails? Or is it Manziel who helped make his teammates look better?

The first round quarterback with the closest comparable surrounding college talent — a left-handed former Florida QB drafted in 2010 — doesn’t appear to be a very promising comparison. Tim Tebow’s top wide receiver was drafted 22nd overall (Percy Harvin) in 2009, and successive linemen Pouncey brothers were drafted in the top 20 the next two years (Maurkice went #18 in 2010 and Mike #15 in 2011).1 Tebow is obviously very different from Manziel, most notably in lacking the important skill for a quarterback of being able to throw a football well. But Tebow may have looked better as a college player in part because of the great talent around him, a situation which may be similar to Manziel.

In general, does having better college teammates cause QBs like Manziel to be overvalued in the draft? Or, do better QBs cause their college teammates to be overdrafted? To check these ideas out, I compared how draft picks performed in their first five years (according to PFR’s Approximate Value) relative to their expected value given their draft position.2 I then compared performance relative to expectation for players who had the benefit of teammates who were drafted in the first round to those who weren’t so lucky. The results are certainly not what I expected: by the end of this post, it might be Bucs fans who worry the most that they overvalued a high pick in the 2014 draft.

Quarterbacks

I first considered the value above expectation (VAE) for quarterbacks drafted in the first three rounds since 1984. It looks like having a lineman drafted in the first round either in the same or subsequent draft has no clear impact on the QB’s VAE. Those QBs who played with first-round linemen do about 1.8 points worse in VAE than QBs (relative to a baseline of 22.2), but this difference isn’t close to being distinguishable from zero.3

Here’s the list of QBs from the first three rounds who had at least one lineman drafted in the first round of the same or subsequent draft.4 The VAE for the last few entries is missing because those players have not finished their first five seasons. Keep in mind that the VAEs cannot be too low for third-round picks like Bobby Hoying, since little was expected of them given their draft position.

Quarterback
Year
VAE
School
OL
Boomer Esiason198441.3MarylandRon Solt
Chuck Long1986-18.7IowaMike Haight
Todd Marinovich1991-21.2USCPat Harlow
Matt Blundin1992-19.2VirginiaRay Roberts
Billy Joe Hobert1993-8.4WashingtonLincoln Kennedy
Rick Mirer1993-5.8Notre DameAaron Taylor
Kerry Collins1995-6.8Penn St.Jeff Hartings; Andre Johnson
Todd Collins1995-10MichiganTrezelle Jenkins
Bobby Hoying1996-9.6Ohio St.Orlando Pace
Charlie Batch199814.9East. MichiganL.J. Shelton
Eli Manning20049.5MississippiChris Spencer
Brian Brohm2008-15.7LouisvilleEric Wood
Chad Henne20086.4MichiganJake Long
Matt Ryan200837.9Boston Col.Gosder Cherilus
Sam Bradford20100OklahomaTrent Williams
Tim Tebow20100FloridaMaurkice Pouncey; Mike Pouncey
Andrew Luck20120StanfordDavid DeCastro
Ryan Tannehill20120Texas A&MLuke Joeckel
Russell Wilson20120WisconsinKevin Zeitler; Travis Frederick

There are definitely some classic failures on this list, notably Todd Marinovich, but there are some big successes, too. And, for the more recent QBs, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson will more than balance out Tebow. Overall, there’s little reason to think getting to play with a first-round lineman causes QBs to be overdrafted in general. As a result, Manziel critics may not have much support if they want to point to Matthews and Joeckel as the reason for Manziel’s college success.

But what about the presence of Mike Evans? Does having an elite wide receiver or tight end mean that a QB might be overvalued in the draft? I ran a separate regression looking at whether having a first-round WR/TE predicts a QB to succeed or flop relative to his expectation. Here, there’s more reason to think there might be something going on, but there is still not clear evidence that teammates make the QB. Part of this is just the relatively small number of QBs with first-round WR/TEs in the sample. On average, QBs with first-round WR/TE teammates in college do 6.5 points worse relative to expectation than other QBs. That gap is still indistinguishable from zero, however.5

Below are the QBs since 1984 who had at least one WR/TE teammate in the same or following year drafted in the first round.

Quarterback
Year
VAE
School
WR/TE
Vinny Testaverde1987-4.5Miami (FL)Michael Irvin
Tony Sacca1992-17.7Penn St.O.J. McDuffie
Rick Mirer1993-5.8Notre DameIrv Smith
Kerry Collins1995-6.8Penn St.Kyle Brady
Kordell Stewart199519.9ColoradoMichael Westbrook
Bobby Hoying1996-9.6Ohio St.Terry Glenn; Rickey Dudley
Peyton Manning199840.5TennesseeMarcus Nash
Marques Tuiasosopo2001-14.2WashingtonJerramy Stevens
Chris Simms2003-2.3TexasRoy Williams
Matt Schaub200410.9VirginiaHeath Miller
JaMarcus Russell2007-30.5LSUDwayne Bowe; Craig Davis
Sam Bradford20100OklahomaJermaine Gresham
Brandon Weeden20120Oklahoma St.Justin Blackmon
Robert Griffin20120BaylorKendall Wright
Geno Smith20130West VirginiaTavon Austin

The repeats from the earlier list who were blessed with great help both on the line and at WR/TE were Rick Mirer, Kerry Collins and Sam Bradford.6 As you can see, Peyton Manning swings this upwards, but JaMarcus Russell swings it down just as much. Both of those would seem to be anecdotes that fit the story of teammates potentially inflating another player’s perceived value, with the QB inflating the WR (the instantly forgotten Marcus Nash) in Manning’s case and the WR (Dwayne Bowe) perhaps inflating the QB in Russell’s case.

Overall, though, it’s unclear whether WRs in general tend to inflate their QBs, making them overvalued in the draft. The effect size is substantial and just three of the 11 QBs have positive VAE, but it could be driven by random chance given the small sample size.7 Given what I find below for predicting WR success, I suspect that the Manning-Nash example may happen more often than the Russell-Bowe situation.

Wide Receivers

Do great college quarterbacks cause NFL talent evaluators to reach for their wide receiver and tight end teammates? It seems like the answer to this question might be yes. Receivers selected in rounds 1-3 who come from schools with first-round QBs drafted the same or following year do 6.4 points worse relative to expectation from their draft position. Here, we have more data and the results are statistically significant that having a first-round college QB has led to their wide receivers being overvalued in the draft.8 WRs drafted in the first three rounds without a top QB generated an average value in their first five years of 17.6, so the predicted drop in value is down to about 11.2. Having a first round QB thus predicts a WR gets taken a little more than a round too early.9

In fact, from 1984 to 2009, only 20% of the round 1-3 WR/TEs who played with first-round QBs had a positive VAE.

WR/TE
Year
VAE
School
QB
Jonathan Hayes1985-11.9IowaChuck Long
Flipper Anderson198817.3UCLATroy Aikman
Mike Bellamy1990-16.9IllinoisJeff George
Derek Brown1992-26.7Notre DameRick Mirer
Irv Smith1993-14.9Notre DameRick Mirer
Cory Fleming1994-10.4TennesseeHeath Shuler
Malcolm Floyd1994-7.9Fresno St.Trent Dilfer
Tydus Winans1994-9.8Fresno St.Trent Dilfer
Kyle Brady1995-20.4Penn St.Kerry Collins
Bryan Still1996-10.9Virginia TechJim Druckenmiller
Joey Kent1997-15.7TennesseePeyton Manning
Marcus Nash1998-21.1TennesseePeyton Manning
Patrick Johnson1998-8.7OregonAkili Smith
Kevin Johnson199910.6SyracuseDonovan McNabb
Jabar Gaffney2002-1.1FloridaRex Grossman
Reche Caldwell20022.7FloridaRex Grossman
Taylor Jacobs2003-16.2FloridaRex Grossman
Mike Williams2005-25.8USCMatt Leinart
Anthony Fasano2006-2.3Notre DameBrady Quinn
David Thomas2006-2.5TexasVince Young
Dominique Byrd2006-10.7USCMatt Leinart
Maurice Stovall2006-6.1Notre DameBrady Quinn
Craig Davis2007-15.1LSUJaMarcus Russell
Dwayne Bowe200713.4LSUJaMarcus Russell
Fred Davis2008-2.3USCMark Sanchez
Jordy Nelson200812.8Kansas St.Josh Freeman
Juaquin Iglesias2009-10.1OklahomaSam Bradford
Mohamed Massaquoi2009-2.9GeorgiaMatthew Stafford
Patrick Turner2009-10.4USCMark Sanchez
Percy Harvin200917FloridaTim Tebow
Jermaine Gresham20100OklahomaSam Bradford
Coby Fleener20120StanfordAndrew Luck
Justin Blackmon20120Oklahoma St.Brandon Weeden
Kendall Wright20120BaylorRobert Griffin

And at least one of the successes on this list is an exception that fits the broader idea. Percy Harvin played with a QB who just maybe was a slight reach as a first round pick. It’s hard to think that Tim Tebow made Percy Harvin look good.10 At least based on these results, having a great college QB has caused wide receivers to be drafted much too highly over the last thirty years.

Conclusion

So it seems like Bucs fans might have more to worry about than Browns fans. The evidence is unclear on whether QBs such as Manziel generally become overvalued from playing with first-round receiver talent, although there might be something going on there. But the evidence is much clearer that WRs such as Evans become overvalued from playing with premier college QBs. Perhaps it’s not surprising from what we know about the NFL that there’s a pretty good chance that Manziel’s excellence helped inflate Evans’s value.

Of course, the last example of a 6’5 receiver drafted in the top ten who played with a first-round Heisman-winning QB doesn’t bode well for Evans, either.11 And while Evans will likely still be in the NFL after six years unlike Mike Williams, it is likely that he would have gone lower in the draft if he played with a quarterback not quite so good as Johnny Football.

  1. And he had a talented tight end go in the fourth round in 2010, too. Like Tebow, he is also no longer playing football. Let’s move on. []
  2. I did this by running a regression of a player’s value in the first five years on a fifth-order polynomial in draft position. This is pretty much the same thing as looking at the value a player generates compared to their expected value according to Chase’s chart, except I also control for whether a player went to a major football school. []
  3. The p-value is 0.70 []
  4. All analysis in this post ignores the supplemental draft. []
  5. p = .20 []
  6. All of those first-rounders were actually TEs (Irv Smith, Kyle Brady and Jermaine Gresham, respectively), although Collins also threw to a second-round WR in Bobby Engram. []
  7. Kordell Stewart is one of those three and he did play a little WR in his first few years, too, but almost all of his value was at QB []
  8. The p-value for this effect is .01 []
  9. For wide receivers, I estimate 17.6 as being the expected value generated by about the 46th pick, with 11.2 the expected value generated by the 89th pick []
  10. I’d argue the same for Dwayne Bowe and JaMarcus Russell, but Russell at least was a legitimately excellent passer in 2006 []
  11. The similarities don’t stop there. Mike Williams is listed at 229 lbs and ran a 4.56 40 at the combine. Evans is at 231 and ran a 4.53. And they’re both named Mike. []
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Finding Comparables For Mike Glennon

Not opposed to occasional acts of piracy

Not opposed to occasional acts of piracy.

It’s official in Tampa Bay: Josh Freeman is out and Mike Glennon is in at starting quarterback. But what are the odds that Glennon actually plays well this year? I’m not very optimistic for a couple of reasons.

Vincent Jackson is a star, but he’s dealing with injuries to his ribs. On 30 passes aimed at Jackson this year, Freeman has picked up 265 yards, an average of 8.83 yards per attempt. On 23 targets to Mike Williams, Freeman has averaged 5.5 yards per pass. On his other 38 targets, Freeman’s averaged just 4.7 yards per pass. Right now, there simply aren’t enough weapons in Tampa Bay, as the Bucs desperately could use a receiving tight end and a slot receiver.

But here’s another reason not to expect much from Glennon. Since 1978, there are 30 rookie quarterbacks who are “similar” to Glennon in that they met the following three criteria:

  • Were not first round picks
  • Did not start in week 1 (i.e., they didn’t pull a Russell Wilson and win the job with a great training camp — they generally became the starter because the man in front of them was ineffective); and
  • Started at least four games as a rookie.

[click to continue…]

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Last week, I wrote about how the 2012 Redskins were powered by a pair of rookies in Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. The only team whose rookies had more passing/rushing/receiving yards in NFL history was the 2012 Colts, while the only non-expansion team with a higher percentage of yards from rookies was the ’55 Colts.

In the comments, Shattenjager pointed out that the list I presented was pretty quarterback-heavy. So I thought a fun thing to do would be to use PFR’s Approximate Value (AV) system instead of yards, and re-run the numbers.

The table below shows all non-expansion teams since 1950 that had at least 25% of their AV come from rookies. For each team, I’ve listed their record and winning percentage, total team AV, their rookie AV, and the percentage compiled by rookies. Then I listed their top four rookies in terms of AV.
[click to continue…]

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The Redskins relied on rookies more than most

The Redskins relied on rookies more than most.

The Washington Redskins were powered by a pair of rookie stars in 2012. We all know about Robert Griffin III, but sixth round pick Alfred Morris finished second in the league in rushing. Griffin’s efficiency numbers were unmatched — he led the NFL in both yards per pass and yards per run — en route to 3200 passing yards and 815 rushing yards. Morris gained1,690 yards from scrimmage; add in Kirk Cousins‘ 466 passing yards and 22 rushing yards, and Washington rookies produced 6,193 “yards” in 2012. I put that in quotes because it’s not customary to sum players’ passing, rushing, and receiving yards, but I think that’s the right idea for the point of this post: figuring out which teams have most relied on rookies.

That 6,193 figure is the second most amount of “yards” produced by a group of rookies in NFL history. The leader in the clubhouse? The 2012 Indianapolis Colts, behind Andrew Luck, Vick Ballard, T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, LaVon Brazill and Dominique Jones. The third place spot belongs to the 2012 Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Travis Benjamin, Josh Cooper, and Brad Smelley combined for over 6000 yards.

What if we instead look at percentage of team yards (defining yards as the sum of all passing, rushing, and receiving yards)? Expansion teams would begin to dominate the list — some AFL teams in 1960, the ’68 Bengals, and the ’02 Texans, for example. But what if we look at only non-expansion teams since 1950?

In that case, the 2012 Colts come in second, behind another Colts team.
[click to continue…]

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An ordinary hit

An ordinary hit.

Just about every article about Trent Richardson references his unimpressive 3.6 yards per carry average from last season. That stat is pretty meaningless, in my opinion. I suppose if you took a random running back from NFL history, and his YPC average in one random season was 3.6, and I knew nothing else about the player, I suppose I would probably assume that the running back was not (or was not going to become) a star. But Richardson isn’t a random running back from a database, because…

  • His 3.6 YPC average came on 267 carries, which represented 77% of all carries by Cleveland running backs
  • He was a rookie last year
  • He was a high first round pick

Since 1970, only 13 first round rookies have recorded 70% of all running back carries by their team. Two of those players were Richardson and Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin last year. Of that group, Richardson did post the lowest YPC average, but he was within 0.1 YPC of LaDainian Tomlinson. The next two lowest averages belong to Robert Edwards and Emmitt Smith; the former suffered a career-debilitating injury in a beach football game after his rookie season, while the latter ran for the most yards in NFL history.

Yeah, Richardson’s yards per carry average was well below average. But the universe of first round running backs who became workhorses right away as rookies and had a low YPC average consists of a HOF running back, a future HOF running back, and a player who suffered the flukiest of injuries. Richardson has something else in common with Emmitt Smith: after both of their rookie seasons, Norv Turner came on board as offensive coordinator.

But let’s say you don’t want to give Richardson any credit for his draft status. And you’re not in the mood to give him a pass just because he was a rookie. OK. Since 1990, 48 running backs have averaged fewer than 3.8 yards per carry while recording at least 70% of all running back carries for their team. Twenty-six of those players were at least 27 years old, and on the back half of their careers. Here are the other 22 running backs:
[click to continue…]

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Rookie Passing, Rushing, and Receiving

In the graph below, the blue line shows the number of passing yards by rookies in each year since 1970, while the red line shows the number of passing yards by non-rookies in the same season. Both are measured against the left Y-Axis; the green line shows the percentage of rookie passing yards to veteran passing yards. As you can see, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, and Brandon Weeden were part of an extremely productive rookie class:

rk vet pass yds [click to continue…]

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In the pre-season, I wrote three pieces on Cleveland Browns rookie Trent Richardson.  As part of a thought experiment, I wondered who would lead the NFL in rushing yards from 2012 to 2021? I narrowed my finalists to LeSean McCoy, Beanie Wells (was I drunk?), DeMarco Murray (ouch), Richardson and the rest of the rookies, and then a few college running backs. I concluded that Richardson was the obvious frontrunner, with McCoy, Doug Martin, and Marcus Lattimore (double ouch) as the next best bets. I’m not really sure 2012 helped clarify the issue, although Martin and Alfred Morris certainly raised their chances.

Then in August, I looked at the production of the highest drafted running back in each draft class.  I discovered that slightly fewer than half of the highest drafted running backs led their class1 in rushing yards as a rookie; as you can see, “the field” also turned out to be a better bet than Richardson in 2012:

Rk
Player
Year
Draft
Tm
G
Att
Yds
Y/A
TD
Y/G
1Alfred Morris20126-173WAS1633516134.8113100.8
2Doug Martin20121-31TAM1631914544.561190.9
3Trent Richardson20121-3CLE152679503.561163.3
4Vick Ballard20125-170IND162118143.86250.9
5Bryce Brown20127-229PHI161155644.9435.3
6Bernard Pierce20123-84BAL161085324.93133.3
7Daryl Richardson20127-252STL16984754.85029.7
8David Wilson20121-32NYG16713585.04422.4
9Robert Turbin20124-106SEA16803544.43022.1
10Ronnie Hillman20123-67DEN14843273.89123.4
11Brandon Bolden2012udfaNWE10562744.89227.4
12Lamar Miller20124-97MIA13512504.9119.2
13LaMichael James20122-61SFO4271254.63031.3
14Chris Rainey20125-159PIT16261023.9226.4
15Jeremy Stewart2012udfaOAK4251014.04025.3

In that post, I also noted that the running back drafted first in his class was slightly less successful over the course of his career: only one-third of the highest-drafted running backs finished with the most career rushing yards in their class.

The final post on the topic ended up being more relevant to Alfred Morris than Richardson. In August, I compared how the top rookie running back performed over the rest of his career relative to the other members of his class. From 1992 to 2002, 10 of the 11 backs to lead their class in rushing yards as rookies ended up finishing with the most career rushing yards. But in recent years, that trend has reversed itself: the odds are long that Ben Tate (2011), LeGarrette Blount (2010), Knowshon Moreno (2009 and competing with Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy), or Steve Slaton (2008) will also finish with the best careers from their class.

So where do we stand on Richardson and Morris? A year later, how much credit do we give Richardson for having been the #3 pick in the draft? For Morris, how much do we downgrade him for being a 6th round pick? And how does the presence of Robert Griffin III complicate things?
[click to continue…]

  1. Note that this only includes drafted running backs. []
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Russell Wilson is too awesome for snide comments.

Russell Wilson is too awesome for snide comments.

Since 1990, there have been 48 rookie quarterbacks that threw at least 224 pass attempts, the necessary amount to qualify for the league’s efficiency ratings. There are many conventional ways to measure rookie quarterbacks, but the off-season lets us play around with more obscure measures.

For example, have you ever considered how rookie quarterbacks performed compared to how their teams passed in the prior year? David Carr, Tim Couch, and Kerry Collins took over expansion teams, but we can compare the passing stats of the other 45 rookie quarterbacks to the team stats from the prior season. To compare across eras, I am grading each individual and team relative to the league average each season.

Let’s start with Net Yards per Attempt. Ben Roethlisberger averaged 7.41 NY/A in 2004 when the league average was 6.14; therefore, Roethlisberger was at 121% of league average. Meanwhile, the 2003 Steelers under Tommy Maddox were at 99% of league average. For each of the 45 rookie quarterbacks, I plotted them in the graph below. The Y-axis shows how the quarterback performed as a rookie, while the X-axis shows how his team performed in the prior season. Because it makes sense to think of “up and to the right” as positive, the X-axis goes in reverse order. Take a look – I have an abbreviation for each quarterback next to his data point:
[click to continue…]

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This is a starting NFL quarterback in an NFL uniform. Welcome to 2012.

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were drafted as franchise saviors, and have been expected to start on opening day for months; more recently Brandon Weeden in Cleveland and Ryan Tannehill in Miami won starting jobs. Then, last night, Pete Carroll announced that Russell Wilson had beaten Matt Flynn in the Seahawks quarterback battle. Barring injury, we’ll see five rookie quarterbacks starting on opening day for the first time since 1950 (and likely ever). Before Wilson, we were already in record territory, as no more than three teams have ever started the season with rookie quarterbacks since 1950 (and likely ever). In 1969, Roger Staubach, Greg Cook and James Harris were week one starters for the Cowboys, Bengals and Bills. The year before, Greg Landry, Dewey Warren, and Dan Darragh started for the Lions… Bengals and Bills. And in the AFL’s inaugural season, three teams fielded rookie quarterbacks. But on average, less than one rookie quarterback has started a team’s opening game each season since the merger.

Last year, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton were opening day starters, and their success (along with the success of Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan) have undoubtedly made teams become more willing to start rookie quarterbacks. In fact, the youth movement goes beyond just this year’s class: in addition to Newton and Dalton, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, and Blaine Gabbert will be second-year quarterbacks starting in week one this season. That’s another record, breaking the seven such quarterbacks in 2000. Remember 1999, the Year of the Quarterback in the NFL Draft? Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, and Daunte Culpepper were all high first-round draft picks, and all were sophomore starters in 2000. Shaun King, fresh off a strong late-season run for Tampa Bay, joined the group in week 1 of the 2000, as did Jeff Garcia in San Francisco.

What’s the explanation? Luck, Griffin, and Newton were uber elite talents who were too good to sit. Wilson legitimately won the Seahawks job in training camp and preseason, a rare event in any era for a rookie quarterback. But the rest of the group — Weeden, Tannehill, Dalton, Gabbert, Ponder, and Locker — seem to signal a shift in NFL philosophy. The table below lists all quarterbacks drafted in the top 40 — but not in the top 5 — since 1970, and the first year in their career when they started for their team in week one:
[click to continue…]

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Expect more MJD-style holdouts in the future

Jones-Drew's problems go back to how he was viewed as a college prospect.

The Maurice Jones-Drew holdout is slightly different than the typical holdouts we see every summer. As a 27-year-old running back, Jones-Drew is seeking his last big contract. But with a new owner and regime in Jacksonville, management is understandably hesitant to give a large contract to a player who already has two years remaining on his deal. The difference between Jones-Drew and most players is that this is his last chance to cash in. If he plays out his contract, even if he plays well the next two seasons, he’s unlikely to get a huge deal in 2014.

Would that be fair? I would hope that some of those writers who argued in favor of reducing rookie contracts would find such a result unjust, as a talented, star player should be rewarded with a big contract.1 But even if he performs well in 2012 and 2013, by 2014, Jones-Drew would be a 29-year-old runner who had just endured five years of punishment as a workhorse running back. No team would sign him to a large contract at that point, as he could not be expected to continue to produce at such a high level.

When it comes to running backs, it is understood that they must try to maximize their salaries when they are young, as big paydays for older runners are few and far between. But in this situation, some have argued that since this is Jones-Drew’s second contract, he should honor his deal (or, alternatively, that we should be less sympathetic to his cause). In 2009, Jones-Drew signed his second contract, and the argument goes that unlike a rookie contract — where players have almost no leverage — Jones-Drew already had his bite at the apple. But that argument ignores the fact that Jones-Drew’s rookie contract remains part of his current predicament.
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  1. This is obviously shtick, but I do find it hypocritical for owners to argue against paying “unproven” players and then to argue against paying aging players who “have little left” in the tank. Players should be paid for what we expect them to produce, and the “unrpoven” argument is and always has been a red herring. []
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The best rookie season and best career from the class of '89.

Yesterday, I looked at how frequently the highest drafted rookie running back ended leading his draft class in rushing yards. Today, we’ll examine how often the best rookie running back ends up being having the most career rushing yards among the members from his class.

I performed this same exercise at wide receiver, and concluded that as great as A.J. Green was last season, the odds were stacked against him leading the 2011 rookie receiver class in career receiving yards.1 For whatever reason, there simply is not a strong correlation between rookie performance and career performance for wide receivers. Is the same true at the running back position?

There was an eleven-year stretch from ’92 to ’02, when Ricky Watters, Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Eddie George, Corey Dillon, Fred Taylor, Edgerrin James, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Clinton Portis each led their class in rushing yards both as rookies and over the course of their careers. The lone exception came in 2000, when Mike Anderson nudged by Jamal Lewis to lead the ’00 class in rookie rushing yards, while Lewis ended with the most career rushing yards. If I had written this article a decade ago, I would have thought that unlike at the receiver position, there was an extremely strong correlation between rookie and career performance for the top running backs.

But since then, things have changed. Domanick Williams (Larry Johnson), Kevin Jones (Steven Jackson), Cadillac Williams (Frank Gore), Joseph Addai (Maurice Jones-Drew), Steve Slaton (Chris Johnson), and Knowshon Moreno (Arian Foster) led all rookies in rushing yards but have been passed in the career category by another back from the same rookie class. It’s too early to get a handle on the last two draft classes, although I certainly wouldn’t take even odds on either Ben Tate or LeGarrette Blount finishing with the most career rushing yards of any running back who entered the league in either 2010 or 2011.

The table below shows the top rookie running backs and the top career running backs from each class since 1978.
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  1. From 1978 to 2008, only three of the 31 wide receivers with the best rookie seasons ended up with the most receiving yards from their class. []
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Chris Chambers' career path did not follow an upward trajectory.

In the first post at Football Perspective, I noted that A.J. Green became the first player in over 25 years to be the first wide receiver drafted and then lead all rookies in receiving yards during his rookie season. It’s a good thing that Green has a knack for bucking trends, because he’s going to want to do it again.

Ten years ago, Doug Drinen wondered how often the top rookie wide receiver ended up having the best career among his classmates. At the time, he was discussing Chris Chambers — yes, he was the top rookie in 2001 — and was surprised by the results.

The research showed that for the period between 1981 and 2000, the top rookie receiver almost never ended up as the top wideout from his class. Doug was correct in speculating that because of that track record, Chambers was a bad bet to end up being the best receiver among all 2001 rookies, despite Chambers having had the best rookie year.

Here’s a look at the top rookie receivers from 2001 based on receiving yards, along with three other notable wideouts:

Games Receiving
Rk Player Year Age Draft Tm Lg G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
1 Chris Chambers 2001 23 2-52 MIA NFL 16 7 48 883 18.40 7 55.2
2 Rod Gardner 2001 24 1-15 WAS NFL 16 16 46 741 16.11 4 46.3
3 Koren Robinson 2001 21 1-9 SEA NFL 16 13 39 536 13.74 1 33.5
4 Snoop Minnis 2001 24 3-77 KAN NFL 13 11 33 511 15.48 1 39.3
5 Quincy Morgan 2001 24 2-33 CLE NFL 16 9 30 432 14.40 2 27.0
6 David Terrell 2001 22 1-8 CHI NFL 16 6 34 415 12.21 4 25.9
7 Reggie Wayne 2001 23 1-30 IND NFL 13 9 27 345 12.78 0 26.5
8 Drew Bennett 2001 23 TEN NFL 14 1 24 329 13.71 1 23.5
9 Chad Ochocinco 2001 23 2-36 CIN NFL 12 3 28 329 11.75 1 27.4
10 Freddie Mitchell 2001 23 1-25 PHI NFL 15 1 21 283 13.48 1 18.9
11 T.J. Houshmandzadeh 2001 24 7-204 CIN NFL 12 1 21 228 10.86 0 19.0
16 Steve Smith 2001 22 3-74 CAR NFL 15 1 10 154 15.40 0 10.3
25 Santana Moss 2001 22 1-16 NYJ NFL 5 0 2 40 20.00 0 8.0

As it turned out, Chris Chambers, Rod Gardner, Koren Robinson and Snoop Minnis weren’t as successful as Reggie Wayne, Chad Johnson/Ochocinco, Steve Smith and Santana Moss.

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How have previous Justin Blackmons fared?

Justin Blackmon was the first receiver selected in April’s draft. What are the odds that the former Oklahoma State Cowboy will be the best rookie receiver in 2012? And how likely is it that Blackmon will ultimately be the best receiver out of his class?

In some ways, it’s an unfair question. There were 33 receivers selected, including six in the first two rounds. The likelihood of Blackmon being the most productive is certainly greater than 1 out of 33, but how much greater is it?1

We don’t know, and we won’t know until his career (and the careers of his draft mates) ultimately unfolds, but we can speculate based on historical results.

Since the NFL merger, how frequently has the top drafted receiver ended up being the best rookie? Five out of 42 times, the top-selected rookie led his draft class in receiving yards that season. Believe it or not, before A.J. Green did it last season, Chicago’s Willie Gault in 1983 was the last to do so. The table below lists the top rookies selected in each of the last 42 drafts, along with their overall draft pick, and the number of receiving yards they recorded as rookies. The last two columns list the top rookie receiver (by receiving yards) and what percentage of that number of receiving yards the highest drafted rookie achieved.

Year
Receiver
Team
Pick
College
Rook Yds
% of Leader
Top Rookie
2011A.J. GreenCIN4Georgia10571.00A.J. Green
2010Demaryius ThomasDEN22Georgia Tech2830.29Mike Williams
2009Darrius Heyward-BeyOAK7Maryland1240.16Hakeem Nicks
2008Donnie AverySTL33Houston6740.69Eddie Royal
2007Calvin JohnsonDET2Georgia Tech7560.76Dwayne Bowe
2006Santonio HolmesPIT25Ohio St.8240.79Marques Colston
2005Braylon EdwardsCLE3Michigan5120.90Reggie Brown
2004Larry FitzgeraldARI3Pittsburgh7800.65Michael Clayton
2003Charles RogersDET2Michigan St.2430.18Anquan Boldin
2002Donte StallworthNOR13Tennessee5940.81Antonio Bryant
2001David TerrellCHI8Michigan4150.47Chris Chambers
2000Peter WarrickCIN4Florida St.5920.83Darrell Jackson
1999Torry HoltSTL6North Carolina St.7880.80Kevin Johnson
1998Kevin DysonTEN16Utah2630.20Randy Moss
1997Ike HilliardNYG7Florida420.08Rae Carruth
1996Keyshawn JohnsonNYJ1USC8440.75Terry Glenn
1995Michael WestbrookWAS4Colorado5220.50Joey Galloway
1994Charles JohnsonPIT17Colorado5770.67Darnay Scott
1993Curtis ConwayCHI7USC2310.36Horace Copeland
1992Desmond HowardWAS4Michigan200.06Courtney Hawkins
1991Herman MooreDET10Virginia1350.17Lawrence Dawsey
1990Alexander WrightDAL26Auburn1040.13Ricky Proehl
1989Hart Lee DykesNWE16Oklahoma St.7950.92Shawn Collins
1988Tim BrownRAI6Notre Dame7250.92Sterling Sharpe
1987Haywood JeffiresHOU20North Carolina St.890.14Ricky Nattiel
1986Mike SherrardDAL18UCLA7440.66Bill Brooks
1985Al ToonNYJ10Wisconsin6620.70Eddie Brown
1984Irving FryarNWE1Nebraska1640.19Louis Lipps
1983Willie GaultCHI18Tennessee8361.00Willie Gault
1982Anthony HancockKAN11Tennessee1160.46Lindsay Scott
1981David VerserCIN10Kansas1610.16Cris Collinsworth
1980Lam JonesNYJ2Texas4820.60Art Monk
1979Jerry ButlerBUF5Clemson8341.00Jerry Butler
1978Wes ChandlerNOR3Florida4720.47John Jefferson
1977Stanley MorganNWE25Tennessee4430.60Wesley Walker
1976Billy BrooksCIN11Oklahoma1910.21Sammy White
1975Larry BurtonNOR7Purdue3050.70Rick Upchurch
1974Lynn SwannPIT21USC2080.34Nat Moore
1973Isaac CurtisCIN15San Diego St.8431.00Isaac Curtis
1972Ahmad RashadSTL4Oregon5001.00Ahmad Rashad
1971J.D. HillBUF4Arizona St.2160.25Randy Vataha
1970Ken BurroughNOR10Texas Southern1960.28Ron Shanklin

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  1. I’m not going to comment on how Justin Blackmon was arrested on an aggregated DUI charge on June 3. []
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