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Colleges are not running pro-style offenses, leaving college quarterbacks not ready for the pros, they say.

New rules under the collective bargaining agreement limit practice time, making it harder for rookies to adjust to the NFL, they say.

No one told Jimmy Garoppolo, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Trevor Siemian, Jacoby Brissett, or Cody Kessler, I guess. Those are the six quarterbacks this year whose first NFL start came this year. Collectively, that group has started 13 games this season, and have completed 275 of 415 passes (66.3%) for 3,227 yards. Most impressively, they have thrown for 15 TDs (while running for three more) against just 3 INTs, with 21 sacks, and 112 sack yards. That translates to a 7.52 ANY/A.

Meanwhile, among starting QBs in 2016 who started a game before this year, they are 1913 for 2057 (62.6%), for 22,223 yards, with 122 TDs and 79 INTs, 183 sacks, 1171 sack yards lost. That’s a 6.15 ANY/A average.

The main driver in that great ANY/A is a low interception rate: inexperienced quarterbacks have a 0.7% interception rate, while the experienced quarterbacks are at 2.6%.  Incredibly, among all players with zero interceptions this year, five of the nine with the most attempts never started a game before this season!

What do we make of this? Calling it a fluke is an easy explanation, given that interception rate is pretty random.  And a lot of these players are throwing very short passes: Prescott (18th) and Garoppolo (19th) rank below-average in average depth of pass, while Wentz (30th) and Siemian (32nd) are both in the bottom three (there are 32 qualifying passers so far this year, and neither Kessler nor Brissett meet that threshold). That helps to keep interception rates down, but still: is the story of September how well these inexperienced quarterbacks have played?

And, most importantly, why?

  • sacramento gold miners

    In a tiny sample size, we’ve likewise seen unheralded MLB pitchers and NHL goalies have success. But as time goes on, and opponents obtain more information on tendencies, we usually see the expected drop in productivity. The offensive coordinators are calling lots of short passes for these guys, but October will be more difficult than September was for these QBs.

    • eag97a

      Agree. As more game film becomes available for study DCs’ and defensive players will adjust and then we will see which among them is the real deal

  • Jonathan Aicardi

    I have to think scheme plays somewhat into their hands, particularly wrt to Prescott and Wentz. PFF has showed how they’re not being asked to make too many risky throws into tight windows or into deep coverage, which is totally reasonable when you’re sporting skill players like the Cowboys and Eagles. Both teams also have nice offensive lines and combining that with impressive read skills it’s easy to see how they might be able to maintain above-average ball security.

    • Same comment to you: what about the fact that we’re talking about a QB who was in the FCS last year and a 5th round pick?

      • Jonathan Aicardi

        It’s hard for me to put too much weight into actual draft position. Of the QBs coming in the top 5 selections over the last 10 years I can name only Philip Rivers as someone who has put up something resembling elite production. Eli, Alex Smith and RGIII certainly had moments and Luck had more than a few, though even he seems to be regressing. Meanwhile Rodgers, Brady, Romo, Wilson, Bree’s are guys who have managed upper tier numbers over their careers and have all gone at least after the 20th pick. I think it’s super interesting that such a disparity in draft position of QBs is yielding such strong results across the board, but should it really surprise us anymore?

        • Jonathan Aicardi

          Unless you meant to comment upon the inexperience as opposed to the pedigree. That I will grant you is a bit strange because you’re right, most QBs tend to struggle ages 22-24 as professionals.

        • Adam

          I would add Cam Newton to the list (if winning the MVP doesn’t qualify as elite, then I don’t know what does), but I agree with what you’re saying. Even if we extend the criteria to top dozen picks, the cupboard remains relatively bare. Matt Ryan is good but not great. Joe Flacco is a middling starter who would be largely irrelevant if not for the Ravens consistently strong defenses. Ryan Tannehill is a below average starter with a low ceiling. Honestly, Rivers, Roethlisberger, and Newton are the only three who could be considered legitimately great, and Newton hasn’t yet proven he can sustain his elite play. I know a lot of people would add Luck to that list, but I don’t think he’s as good as his reputation. Eli certainly doesn’t count despite winning two championships.

          • Jonathan Aicardi

            I had been going just off the top of my head and had forgotten Newton and Ryan. I agree with you on all points for Newton but thinking about it now, I’d actually include Ryan in with Rivers and Roethlisberger. There’s a lot of data supporting that he’s right up against the floor of that upper tier. Eli is certainly a cut or two below, but not as bad as his ANY/A+ or TAY/A+ tends to show. According to PFR, during his career the Giants are 6th among NFL teams in rushing touchdowns and 2nd in rushing touchdowns fewer than 5 yards, so there’s evidence that Eli’s touchdown total is artificially depressed.

            By the way, first on that list of rushing TD’s within 5 yards: New England, by a mile. Their 174 TDs in that span is 39 higher than NYG. Even TAY/A+ may not entirely capture Tom Brady’s brilliance.

            • sacramento gold miners

              I’d put Matt Ryan below Rivers and Tony Romo, two excellent QBs, who aren’t quite HOF worthy. Brady, Rodgers, Brees, and Roethlisberger are HOF locks, so I wouldn’t put the others in that category yet.

            • WR

              Can you tell me where to find the team red zone rushing splits on PFR?

              • Jonathan Aicardi

                Here’s how I did it: Under the play index tab, go to game play finder and select “player stats” at the top. Then enter all of the necessary specs: goal to go within 5 yards, play is a rush only, results in a touchdown, during the years 2004-2016 (Eli’s career span) and enter.

                In my first attempt I had forgotten to check off “goal to go,” so the stats are slightly different, but NYG is still 2nd with 129 TD’s (Avg is 105) over that span. New England is still way ahead in first with 164.

                • WR

                  Thanks!

      • Jonathan Aicardi

        Unless you meant to comment upon the inexperience as opposed to the pedigree. That I will grant you is a bit strange because you’re right, most QBs tend to struggle ages 22-24 as professionals.

  • Adam

    I think it’s the short passes and a heavy dose of randomness. I expect these noobies to have an INT% that matches league average the rest of the way. In any subset of games, a handful of quarterbacks will have flukishly low INT rates, but they almost always regress toward the mean pretty quickly. For example, Trevor Siemian had two easy picks dropped against the Bengals, but that kind of luck won’t continue forever. Look at Fitzpatrick and Cousins last year; both posted an INT% well below their career average, and this year they’re back to their old ways (especially Fitzy lol).

    Also, can we please pump the brakes on the Carson Wentz hype train? Sure he’s played better than we expected, but his numbers are heavily padded by facing two awful teams (CLE and CHI) and an extreme amount of YAC from screen passes to Darren Sproles. It’s likely that Wentz’s numbers will fall off even if he improve his play as the season goes on.

    • I agree, but what about the fact that we’re talking about a QB who was in the FCS last year and a 5th round pick?

      • Adam

        I think QB scouting is an inexact science at best, and NFL front offices do a relatively poor job of identifying which QB’s should be drafted in the early rounds. Talent evaluators still get way too hung up on measurables like height and arm strength, which causes them to miss a lot of potentially great prospects who don’t fit the “ideal” QB prototype. To answer your question, I’m not the least bit surprised when a late round QB succeeds in the NFL. As far as FCS quarterbacks, I have zero interest in college football, so I have no idea how much disparity there is between FBS and FCS teams.

        • Anders

          A guy like Dak would also have been drafted higher had his 2015 matched his 2014. There is some recency bias to drafting QBs

      • sacramento gold miners

        As I recall, Louisiana Tech was a Division 2 program when Terry Bradshaw played there, and Cal-Davis(where Ken O’Brien played), was also a smaller school. I think the top level programs occasionally make mistakes at all positions when evaluating talent.

  • Richie

    I think sample size and scheme have a lot to do with it.

    Especially for Wentz, Prescott and Garroppollo/Brissett who either got the job late or are holding the fort for the #1 QB. I would imagine their coaches are emphasizing low risk plays. They don’t want the inexperienced QB’s to sink the team.

    Also, their game scripts might be relevant. They haven’t needed to come from behind. And I don’t think Prescott was throwing much when they were behind.

    • Richie

      Well, game script might not make much of a difference. The six QB’s have combined for just 122 pass attempts while trailing, but have put up a 7.1 ANY/A in those attempts.

      Even while trailing by more than a touchdown, they’ve combined for only 16 attempts, but put up a 7.8 ANY/A.

      2 of the 3 interceptions they’ve combined to throw came while they were trailing.

  • Richie

    I was curious about the correlation between overall draft position and passing yards. Here is the last 10 yards, looking at all QB’s who attempted at least 1 pass each season. For undrafted QB’s I used a draft position of 275 overall.

    The correlation improved in 2010 once guys like Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme, Matt Cassel, Matt Hasselbeck, David Garrard weren’t amongst the leaders. Romo also missed a bunch of games in 2010, to help the correlation.

    So far this year, the correlation is .39.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5e44d4ca687f260089baab82acdfae510eed93d02bfbe46cf7ed60932285b5f7.jpg