Is Matt Schaub washed up? Is he the next Jake Delhomme? For the first six seasons of his Texans career, Schaub was an above-average quarterback in both Net Yards per Attempt and Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. But last year was disastrous in a way that his poor conventional stats fail to completely capture (for example, Schaub threws picks six in four straight games).
But does that mean hope is lost? Schaub turns 33 in June, which means more than you might think. Sure, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady can defy the odds, but 33 is still six years to the right side of the peak age for passers. Perhaps even more damning, Schaub’s steep decline in 2013 was his second in two years; he averaged 7.8 ANY/A in 2011, 6.5 in 2012, and then 4.5 last year; his NY/A averages (7.7, 6.6, 5.7) have followed a similar pattern. The graph below shows Schaub’s Relative NY/A and Relative ANY/A — i.e., his averages compared to league average — for each year of his Texans career:
So how many quarterbacks have mirrored Schaub’s fall? I looked to see all quarterbacks from 1978 to 2013 who met the following criteria:
- Between the ages of 30 and 34, had at least 200 dropbacks and finished with a Relative ANY/A of less than -1.0.
- The prior season, had at least 200 dropbacks and finished with an above-average Relative ANY/A.
Surprisingly, only 19 quarterbacks met those criteria, including Eli Manning and Schaub last season. How did the other 17 perform in the following season (i.e., 2014 for Schaub)? Three of them – Steve McNair, Troy Aikman, and Billy Joe Tolliver – retired after their below-average season. The table below shows Manning, Schaub, and the other 14 quarterbacks. Here’s how to read the table: For Delhomme, Year N was 2009; that year, he was 34 and had 344 dropbacks and a Relative ANY/A of -2.22. The prior year, Year N-1 (2008), he had 434 dropbacks and a RANY/A of +1.02. But in Year N+1 (2010), Delhomme had 155 dropbacks, a RANY/A of -2.20, and was limited to just four starts.
Yr N Age
Yr N Db
Yr N RANY/A
If we look at just the nine quarterbacks with 9+ starts, on average, they had a RANY/A of +0.93 in Year N-1, -1.38 in Year N, and then -0.05 in Year N+1. In other words, some reversion to the mean can be expected, which would be good news for Schaub (and Manning). However, that average is a biased sample; it ignores that players like Kurt Warner and Archie Manning and Delhomme were not good enough (in some cases due to injury, in some cases not) to even get to nine starts.
The aspirational example is Ken Anderson, who followed a stretch of good years in the ’70s with nondescript performances in 1978, ’79, and ’80. Then, in 1981, Anderson was the NFL MVP. That level of dominance was entirely unexpected, although it helped that the team spent first round picks on Anthony Munoz and Cris Collinsworth in ’80 and ’81, and his career revival was as much about an influx of talent as anything else. Schaub has no such excuse: not only was Andre Johnson still dominant last year, but the Texans also got strong production out of rookie DeAndre Hopkins.
Two other examples offer more realistic cases for optimism. Jim Everett had a very similar career to Schaub; after a long stretch of solid play with the Rams, a disastrous 1993 season led to a trade to New Orleans for a 7th round pick (hey, Schaub went for a 6th!). Everett revived his career in New Orleans, although he was 18 months younger than Schaub at that point in his career. Jim Harbaugh looked washed up at the end of his tenure with the Bears, but then experienced success in two seasons with the Colts. However, he was two and a half years younger than Schaub when he switched teams.
Whether the age gaps between Schaub and Everett/George make those examples inapplicable is up to the reader. Only four of the quarterback’s were Schaub’s age or older for purposes of this study, and Year N+1 was ugly for all four of them. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Schaub joins an Oakland offense that has undergone a significant makeover. James Jones (Green Bay) and Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville) add to a decent talent base at the skill positions of Darren McFadden, Rod Streater, Denarius Moore, Marcel Reece, and Mychal Rivera. And while Jared Veldheer is gone, Austin Howard (Jets), Donald Penn (Tampa Bay), and Kevin Boothe (Giants) have been added to bolster the offensive line (and second-year tackle Menelik Watson is expected to contribute more, too).
There is still a chance the Raiders draft a quarterback in the first round; if not, Schaub will have little competition for the starting role. An optimist would see a chance for an Everett- or Harbaugh-like revival, as years of good play shouldn’t be forgotten after one bad year. A pessimist would note that at Schaub’s age, one disastrous season usually means retirement is just around the corner. And putting away the numbers, anyone who watched Schaub’s 2013 would have to conclude that he’s just about finished. If that was your view before reading this post, I don’t think anything I’ve written today would cause you to change your beliefs. But if you’re a Schaub optimist, there are enough historical legs on which your table could stand.