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Rookie Quarterbacks: It Is Not 2012 Anymore

It's been a rough year for rookies like Blake Bortles

It’s been a rough year for rookies like Blake Bortles

Jets second-year quarterback Geno Smith has averaged 3.88 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt this year, which has resulted in him being benched for Michael Vick. That 3.88 ANY/A average is the worst of the 34 qualifying quarterbacks this season. In fact, only three other quarterbacks have averaged fewer than five Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt this year: Derek Carr (4.93), Teddy Bridgewater (4.75), and Blake Bortles (4.16). Those three, along with Johnny Manziel, were selected in the top 40 of the 2014 Draft. Since Manziel has been on the bench most of the season, and Zach Mettenberger does not yet have enough attempts to qualify, this means the only three rookie quarterbacks in the NFL this season have been terrible. With a capital T.

Which maybe isn’t too surprising. But it is a bit different. In 2008, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco played well as rookies, with Ryan posting outstanding numbers and Flacco making it to the AFC Championship Game. In 2009, Mark Sanchez made it to the AFC Championship Game, too. In 2010, Sam Bradford set some volume-based passing records, and helped St. Louis go from 1-15 to 7-9. In 2011, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton had varying degrees of success, and generally exceeded expectations.

And then 2012 happened. RG3 led the NFL in interception rate, yards per attempt, and yards per carry. Russell Wilson tied a rookie record with 26 passing touchdowns, and had a Joe Montana-like postseason performance.1 Oh, and Andrew Luck had a pretty good year, too: while his traditional efficiency statistics2 were not great, he was playing for a team that had gone 2-14 the prior year, and he guided the Colts to 11 wins.

Since then? Rookie quarterbacks have struggled. In 2013, Smith, EJ Manuel, and Mike Glennon were all below average. And this year? The quarterbacks are even worse.  The table below shows the Relative ANY/A — that is, each passer’s ANY/A minus the league average ANY/A — for all drafted rookies who have thrown at least 200 passes in a season since the merger.

rookie ranya

The blue dot in the upper left of the graph represents Dan Marino, of course; until 2004 (Ben Roethlisberger), Marino was the only rookie quarterback in the post-merger era to post a RANY/A of at least +1.00.  But Ryan in ’08 and then Griffin and Wilson also hit that mark, before rookie quarterback performance began cratering.  There have been only three rookie quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts, and all three are well below -1.00 RANY/A.  While they have some company when it comes to poor passing play as rookies, the 2014 numbers are clearly very bad.

For a few years, it looked like rookie quarterbacks no longer had much of a longer curve.  That assumption is either invalid, unless you take the view that Carr, Bridgewater, and Bortles are just destined to be bad quarterbacks.  That’s probably not the case, though: Terry Bradshaw, Donovan McNabb, and Troy Aikman all posted RANY/As of below -2.00 as rookies. So while it looked for awhile that drafting a quarterback could lead to immediate success, since the Luck/Griffin/Wilson class, the last six rookie quarterbacks have all fared well below average.

  1. Montana’s 49ers entered the 4th quarter of a 1983 playoff game against Washington down 21-0; he led San Francisco on three scoring drives to tie the game, only to lose on a field goal in the final minute. Wilson’s Seahawks trailed Atlanta in the playoffs, 27-7, before Wilson led Seattle to three scoring drives to take the lead, only to lose on a last-second field goal. []
  2. I wrote several articles during Luck’s rookie season about how his QBR ratings surpassed his standard stats. []
  • Richie

    Early returns on Mark Sanchez might be valuable to let us know that maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to write off young QB’s who are playing on offenses that otherwise seem to be pretty low on talent.

    • Richie

      …which probably applies to Bortles and Derek Carr. Possibly even Bridgewater (I’m not sure what to make of Patterson as a WR).

    • Alexander

      The surrounding talent argument should be taken into account, but we can’t just assume a quarterback will perform better or worse entirely dependent on it. As a counterexample, compare RG3’s 2012 cast to 2014. One would assume the addition of DeSean Jackson, the emergence of Jordan Reed, and the maturation of Alfred Morris would have made a difference, yet the team’s offense has hit a standstill.

      Yeah, I know that just ended up as a rant over my ‘Skins. 2012 nostalgia feels so bittersweet now.

      • Shawn

        Maybe this isn’t the best barometer to use here, but I know someone who played Jordan Reed for fantasy football while Griffin was out, and she wasn’t impressed. And hasn’t Alfred Morris actually been more effective with Griffin’s return?

        Who knows how Griffin will play at QB. But, with all due respect to Redskins fans, it also wouldn’t be surprising if another team picks him up and he is successful. That franchise seems to be a black hole for football careers, for both players and coaches.