Yesterday, I was a guest on the Wharton Moneyball show on SiriusXM Channel 111 (@BizRadio111), discussing the NFL draft. As always, it was a lot of fun, but the hosts threw me a curveball in the final seconds:
Now I am quite familiar with the value of taking the field in these sort of bets. We are prone to being overconfident in our ability to predict things, especially when it comes to the NFL Draft. But I still said I’d take Winston/Mariota and leave you with everyone else, and be reasonably confident that I would end up with the draft’s best quarterback.
But am I right? How far down the quarterback slots do you have to go in the average draft to find the best QB? Would taking the top two generally be enough?
This is, of course, a question without a clear answer because there is no objective answer to the question “who was the best quarterback in the [__] Draft?” It’s much too early to grade the 2013 or 2014 drafts, and you will get no shortage of debate as to whether Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson is the best quarterback from the 2012 draft. In 2011, Cam Newton was the first overall pick, but Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick were the 5th and 6th quarterbacks taken.
In 2010, Sam Bradford does appear to have been the best quarterback from that draft, and should be remembered that way absent Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, or Jimmy Clausen having a magical career turnaround.
In 2008, the top two quarterbacks were Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. The book is not yet written on which one of them will be remembered as the best, but we can say that both will wind up being better than the field of Chad Henne, Matt Flynn, and Josh Johnson.
In 2007, the quarterback class was… ugly. The top guy will probably go down as one of Trent Edwards (most starts, most wins, most yards), Kevin Kolb (a positive TD/INT ratio!), or Drew Stanton (highest ANY/A but only 12 starts). Although for our purposes, we don’t need to finely split hairs. That’s because it’s clear the top quarterback was not JaMarcus Russell or Brady Quinn, the top two quarterbacks in that draft. Score one for the field.
Say what you want about Jay Cutler, but he was the clear top quarterback of 2006. In fact, he has thrown for more touchdowns than the rest of the class combined! As the 11th overall pick, he doesn’t quite meet the spirit of today’s question, but he is part of the field technically. That’s because Vince Young and Matt Leinart were the 3rd and 10th selections.
We need not spend much time on 2005. It was Aaron Rodgers, the second quarterback selected. Although Rodgers was much closer to the field (Jason Campbell was taken 25th overall, one pick after Rodgers) than being the first pick (Alex Smith).
In 2003, it’s easy: it was Carson Palmer, the first overall pick. Nobody else comes close. Well, I guess that depends how you define class: Tony Romo went undrafted that year. Does the field include undrafted quarterbacks?
In 2002, not only is the answer David Garrard, but I think it’s Garrard by a wide margin. Garrard had a winning record, the most yards, the most TDs, and the best ANY/A out of the group with him, Patrick Ramsey, Josh McCown, and the first and third overall picks: David Carr and Joey Harrington. Score another one for the field.
For 2000, let’s put that one down for the field.
1999 isn’t particularly close: Donovan McNabb made six Pro Bowls and started for 11 years; Daunte Culpepper is the runner up with three and five, respectively. And we know about 1998. So that’s two more for the top two.
Okay, we can do this all day, so let’s change gears. First, to recap: in the 13 drafts from ’98 to ’10, the top quarterback was the first quarterback drafted 4-6 times (depending on your view of how ’04 and ’08 are resolved), and one of the first two 8-9 times (depending on your view of ’04).1 Instead of just going down the list, let’s get a little more scientific about it. What if we rank by passing yards? Let’s begin with the 1967 draft, the first common draft of the AFL/NFL era. And let’s go through 2010, as I think we can safely put that one in the books, while it’s too early to review the drafts since then.
For example, here’s how to read the table below. The quarterback with the most passing yards among quarterbacks drafted in 2008 was Matt Ryan, who has thrown for 28,166 yards. He was a first round draft pick and the third overall selection. And he was the first quarterback taken in his class.
|Year||Quarterback||Pass Yds||Rd||Pk||QB Order|
Let’s look at six criteria. For “order” I mean where the player was drafted at the position. So a median order of 2 means if you sort the quarterbacks by where they were drafted in their class (1st taken, 2nd taken, 3rd taken, etc.), the median is the 2nd quarterback taken.
Average order: 3.6, which is heavily weighted down by four players who led their class in passing yards but were not among the first ten players drafted.
Median order: 2
Mode: 1 (18 times)
Average draft pick: 64
Median Draft pick: 32.5
Percentage that were either the first or second quarterback drafted: 61%
Now, what if we used Pro-Football-Reference’s AV metric instead of passing yards? As it turns out, very little changes.
Average order: 3.5
Median order: 2
Mode: 1 (17)
Average draft pick: 61
Median Draft pick: 33
Percentage that were either the first or second quarterback drafted: 59%
What about using QB wins? Incredibly, 64% of the time, the first or second quarterback off the board winds up with the most wins of any quarterback in that class.
Average order: 3.2
Median order: 2
Mode: 1 (16)
Average draft pick: 53
Median Draft pick: 29.5
Percentage that were either the first or second quarterback drafted: 64%
Finally, let’s use some sort of efficiency metric. I looked at the quarterback with the most Relative Adjusted Net Yards over average in each class, although there were some classes with no quarterback (because every quarterback either had a below-average career ANY/A or had too few attempts to qualify).
Here, the metrics are only looking at these 37 quarterbacks, not the 44 draft classes:
Average order: 3.8
Median order: 2
Mode: 1 (11)
Average draft pick: 70
Median Draft pick: 33
Percentage that were either the first or second quarterback drafted: 51%
The field fares the best here among our four metrics, particularly in the last category. This isn’t too surprising: yards, AV, and wins are all more strongly correlated with playing time than ANY/A, and we know that the top draft picks are more likely to be given more playing time.2
I think in an average year, picking between the top two quarterbacks and the field is pretty even, although I suppose I’d lean towards the top two. And this effect seems to be getting stronger, with more of the years where the top quarterback was one of the first two quarterbacks drafted coming recently. But in this year, with the top two quarterbacks perhaps going 1-2 and no other quarterback going until maybe even the 3rd round, it would seem to be a slam dunk to go with Winston/Mariota. So the good news: I don’t need to amend my answer to Wharton Moneyball!
Finally, here’s where the first quarterback drafted in each year since ’67 ranked among his classmates in each of the four categories. I have left the RANY/A Rk column blank if he was either below-average in that metric or did not have enough attempts to qualify.
As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments. And does anyone want to make the argument for the field? What would your choice have been before reading this post?
- I am, of course, playing with multiple endpoints here, albeit for no nefarious reason other than laziness I could go back earlier than ’98, but I’d rather move on to the larger data set. However, if we include ’96 and ’97 to bring the class to 15, I think we’d have the top quarterback going 1 or 2 in both of those drafts as well. [↩]
- However, let’s look at the eight classes with the “none” rows. In 2010, Bradford would be the top choice. In ’96 and ’97, Banks and Plummer still lead their classes in yards, AV, and wins. One could make the argument for Dilfer over Frerotte in ’94, and for Wilson in ’80. Todd was the only notable quarterback in ’76. I’d say that in at least 4, and maybe up to 6, of these 7 years, the best quarterback was the first or second pick taken. So while I prefer the efficiency metric, the way I defined efficiency probably deflated that 51% number slightly. [↩]