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A quarterback who was constantly harassed and took a ton of abuse in 2016 and Colin Kaepernick

This website has been pretty light on coverage of Colin Kaepernick, despite his name turning into a traffic boom for the rest of the football world. The last time Kaepernick’s name appeared in a headline was over a year ago, when I wrote about him declining for three straight years (that ended last season). In fact, Kaepernick’s name has appeared in the text of just three articles at FP in 2017, where his name was used in passing in each case.

And I’m not interested in getting into the usual Kaepernick debate. But there is something that Football Perspective is well-equipped to address: the citing of Kaepernick’s 16/4 TD/INT ratio as evidence of his productive play. Regular readers know that I’m not a fan of TD/INT ratio, and Kaepernick is a pretty good case study in why TD/INT ratio is a poor way to judge a quarterback. A 4.00 TD/INT ratio is very good, no doubt: but in the abstract, it doesn’t mean much. And what do I mean by the abstract?

For starters, it only tells us what happened on 5% of all dropbacks Kaepernick had last year. The much more predictive measure of passing performance is Net Yards per Attempt, and there, Kaepernick ranked 29th out of 30 qualifying passers.1 And, for what it’s worth, he has the worst NY/A average over the past two seasons among the 35 passers with at least 400 attempts since 2015.

So we have a pretty significant disconnect, with Kaepernick ranking 2nd from the bottom, ahead of only Brock Osweiler, in passing efficiency, but tied for 6th with Sam Bradford but in TD/INT ratio. The best thing to do, of course, is to combine the two metrics as we do in ANY/A. There, Kaepernick ranks 23rd out of the 30 qualifying passers. That’s bad, but not horrible, for a starting quarterback.

Anyway, the above is just background for the trivia search I wanted to run. Kaepernick supporters can point to his great TD/INT ratio, but we know that’s a misleading figure give his NY/A average. So the real question is, how unusual is it for a passer to rank 6th in TD/INT ratio but 2nd-to-last in NY/A? As it turns out, pretty unusual. Since the merger, it’s happened just 11 times, with Ken O’Brien being the most extreme example. In 1988, O’Brien had the 2nd-best TD/INT ratio (15/7) in the NFL behind Dave Krieg (18/8), but ranked 27th out of 28 qualifying passers in NY/A.

The table below shows the 11 passers since 1970 to rank in the top 6 in TD/INT Ratio, and in the top 6 in Net Yards per Attempt… if, you know, you sort in ascending order.

year_idTeamQuarterbackTD/INT RkNY/A Rk (Asc.)
2016SFOColin Kaepernick62
2015GNBAaron Rodgers34
2008WASJason Campbell54
2002PHIDonovan McNabb36
1992PHIRandall Cunningham35
1989ATLChris Miller65
1988NYJKen O'Brien22
1987PHIRandall Cunningham63
1985STLNeil Lomax65
1977WASBilly Kilmer64
1971NOREd Hargett65

I have more thoughts on this — a lot more, actually. But those will come tomorrow. For now, I open it up to you in the comments.

  1. Neither the Bears nor Browns had a single passer finish with 224 attempts. []
  • kevin trammo

    Ken O’Brien is always going to fare well in stats that deal with low interception percentages. As much as I liked Kenny, it seemed like he was almost trained to take sacks as opposed to throwing the ball up for grabs, and risking interceptions or even just throwing it away. Ken always had good completions percentages, low interception rates and got sacked a ton.

    • Yup – you can see that here if you look at the variables that make up era adjusted passer rating. O’Brien is at 1.28 for the INT one.


    • Wolverine

      You can make the argument that Jim Harbaugh didn’t really make Alex Smith a better passer in 2011-2012…he just taught him to trade sacks for turnovers. This is a good strategy when defense and special teams are the strength of your team.

      • Paul

        Alex Smith has been consistently higher then league average in sack %, even before Harbaugh got there. So it might have more to do with his skillset and Harbaugh catered to that.

        • Wolverine

          But his sack% (if you exclude his historically bad rookie year) took a significant jump, with a concomitant drop in int% under Harbaugh. Under Andy Reid, his sack and int % have both remained relatively low (for him). It may not mean anything (maybe Smith simply got better with more experience or better teammates), but I just thought it was interesting.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Another factor when evaluating CK has to be the 3-16 won/loss record since 2015. Everyone knows the Niners have a talent drain, and lost Jim Harbaugh. But I don’t think you can place all of blame the supporting cast, and watching CK play the last couple years, it’s obvious to me he needs a change of scenery.

  • Paul

    That list includes some good quarterbacks, including one who many would consider one of the best ever.

    Even moreso then his place here, I was amazed when I ran the numbers on Aaron Rodgers 2015 and saw he produced negative ANY/A above average when you factor in SOS. Traditionally his stats look fine, but the Packers faced a very easy schedule of opposing defenses that year. Its strange as the game against the 15′ chiefs, which had a terrific defense, is one of the best games of his career. Something was certainly off with the Packers offense that year.

    • Wolverine

      Maybe it’s a coincidence, but maybe it just shows how important Jordy Nelson is to the Packers offense. Kind of like how Tom Brady, as awesome as he is, looks much better with a healthy Gronk in the lineup.

      • Paul

        That’s true, Tom Brady was the best weve ever seen in the 4 games before they were both hurt against Seattle. He averages 9.9 yds/attempt over 4 games, with 12 tds and no picks. He was on injury report till the second jets gamr, and played great after that mid season injury downturn, but it wasn’t as otherwordly as those first 4 games.

        So missing Jordy Nelson was likely a big factor

      • LightsOut85

        I think a big factor is that both of those players draw attention further down the field**, allowing the spread/short game to be much more efficient (/more space to work with).

        **For reference, PFF has Gronk with the highest average-depth-of-target (min 30 tar) in 2016 (15.1), 3.3 higher than #2, and much higher than the TE average of 8.2.

  • Zero Nada

    Colon Kapanigga is a mediocre QB at Best. The more accurate observation is that He Chose a Gold Digging Angry Black Racist Ghetto Muslim Hoodrat’s Poontang over Football & Decided to be a Victim which conveniently takes the Spotlight away from your Substandard Performance as a QB.

  • Adam

    Moving the ball is more important than protecting it. This can’t be emphasized enough.

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