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One of the most difficult decisions an organization has to make is when to admit its mistakes. The Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert with the 10th overall pick in 2011, and his lack of success is even more striking when compared to the rest of the top dozen selections:

Last year, there were three legitimate excuses the Jaguars could proffer to defend Gabbert’s play: he was a rookie, the lockout prevented him from getting proper training, and Jacksonville had the worst set of receivers in the league. Giving up on a first round quarterback after just one season would be silly, especially one where the expectations were that the rookies would struggle. And the cupboard was bare: Jacksonville became the first team since the 2004 Ravens and only the 5th team in the previous 20 seasons to not have a 500-yard wide receiver, so it’s not like Gabbert had a lot to work with.1

But through five games, little has changed in Jacksonville. The Jaguars should wait to evaluate Gabbert’s career — five games into his second season isn’t a fair sample size — but his production so far have been extremely disappointing:

A few years ago, Jason Lisk wrote this post on when the Lions should have given upon Joey Harrington. One of the most relevant points of that article was Lisk’s supposition

that teams are far more likely to commit errors of holding on to a quarterback for too long, while rarely giving up on a quarterback too early — once they have seen him play any amount of time in a real NFL game. I can think of examples of quarterbacks who were drafted, never started for their original team, and found success elsewhere, but its relatively rare to find a quarterback who started but never had success with his original team, and moved elsewhere to have his first breakout.

There were 70 quarterbacks selected in the first round of NFL drafts between 1978 and 2010. How often did a team give up too early on a good quarterback?2 Vinny Testaverde had success outside of Tampa Bay, but the Bucs didn’t give up “early” on him by any means; he played for six years in Tampa with with varying levels of success. The team did give up too early on Steve Young, although he wasn’t included in this study because he was selected in the supplemental draft. Jim Harbaugh had success in Indianapolis, but it’s not like the Bears didn’t know what they had: Harbaugh was in Chicago for the first seven years of his career.

Jeff George had good years outside of Indianapolis, but I wouldn’t say the Colts gave up early on him. He was inconsistent for four years and caused problems off the field; he was finally traded in connection with a holdout. Mike Vick has had success in Philadelphia, but the Falcons obviously had their hands forced when they gave up on him. Ditto Kerry Collins, whose off the field issues left the Panthers with little choice.

With the exception of Steve Young, who Tampa traded after two years — and who may not have ever turned into a star quarterback in Tampa Bay — you’d be hard pressed to find any examples of teams giving up on first round picks too early (with the exception of those released/traded for nonfootball reasons). Chad Pennington had one great year in Miami, but that was after a long career in New York. Doug Williams and Trent Dilfer won Super Bowls with other teams, but Tampa Bay didn’t give up on either quarterback too early by any reasonable definition of the phrase. The reality is, teams will do just about everything before giving up on a first round quarterback too early and as a result, take way too long to move on from a bad investment. And while teams are (understandably) deathly afraid of giving up on a highly drafted quarterback too early, they’re more likely to harm themselves by waiting to move on for too long on a bad investment.

Through six weeks, NFL teams are averaging 6.44 NY/A, meaning Gabbert is averaging only 67% as many net yards per attempt as the average passer. How does that compare historically? The table below shows all drafted quarterbacks who threw at least 250 passes in their second season, and lists their NY/A and NY/A relative to league average during their sophomore years:

QBYearTmAttNY/ANY/A LgAvRd.Ovrl
Dan Marino1984MIA5648.6146%1.27
Ben Roethlisberger2005PIT2687.8131%1.11
Daunte Culpepper2000MIN4747.4127%1.11
Peyton Manning1999IND5337.3126%1.1
Eric Hipple1981DET2797117%4.85
Boomer Esiason1985CIN4316.8117%2.38
Jay Cutler2007DEN4676.8112%1.11
Matt Robinson1978NYJ2666109%9.227
Bernie Kosar1986CLE5316.3107%1.1
David Carr2003HOU2956.2106%1.1
Josh Freeman2010TAM4746.5105%1.17
Kerry Collins1996CAR3646.1105%1.5
Trent Edwards2008BUF3746.4105%3.92
Brett Favre1992GNB4716104%2.33
Eli Manning2005NYG5576.1104%1.1
Drew Bledsoe1994NWE6916.2104%1.1
Doug Williams1979TAM3975.9103%1.17
Joe Flacco2009BAL4996.3103%1.18
Jim Everett1987RAM3026103%1.3
John Elway1984DEN3806103%1.1
Gus Frerotte1995WAS3966.1103%7.197
Michael Vick2002ATL4216102%1.1
Brian Griese1999DEN4526102%3.91
Rodney Peete1990DET2716101%6.141
Vinny Testaverde1988TAM4665.9100%1.1
Charlie Batch1999DET2705.899%2.60
Joe Montana1980SFO2735.999%3.82
Byron Leftwich2004JAX4416.199%1.7
Tom Brady2001NWE4135.899%6.199
Craig Erickson1993TAM4575.799%4.86
Jake Plummer1998ARI5475.898%2.42
Timm Rosenbach1990PHO4375.998%1.2
Tony Eason1984NWE4315.898%1.15
Matt Ryan2009ATL451697%1.3
Tarvaris Jackson2007MIN2945.997%2.64
Tony Banks1997STL4875.597%2.42
Chuck Long1987DET4165.797%1.12
David Woodley1981MIA3665.897%8.214
Vince Young2007TEN3825.997%1.3
Carson Palmer2004CIN4325.997%1.1
Drew Brees2002SDG5265.696%2.32
Jim McMahon1983CHI2955.795%1.5
Mark Sanchez2010NYJ5075.895%1.5
Billy Joe Tolliver1990SDG4105.795%2.51
Alex Smith2006SFO4425.694%1.1
Mike Pagel1983BAL3285.694%4.84
Steve Walsh1990NOR3365.694%1.1
Shaun King2000TAM4285.493%2.50
Neil O'Donnell1991PIT2865.593%3.70
Chad Henne2009MIA4515.792%2.57
Patrick Ramsey2003WAS3375.392%1.32
David Whitehurst1978GNB3285.192%8.206
JaMarcus Russell2008OAK3685.590%1.1
Don Majkowski1988GNB3365.389%10.255
Tyler Thigpen2008KAN4205.589%7.217
Trent Dilfer1995TAM4155.389%1.6
Danny Kanell1997NYG294588%4.130
Troy Aikman1990DAL3995.288%1.1
Marc Wilson1981OAK3665.287%1.15
Todd Blackledge1984KAN2945.187%1.7
John Friesz1991SDG4875.287%6.138
Chris Miller1988ATL3515.187%1.13
Donovan McNabb2000PHI5695.187%1.2
Steve Fuller1980KAN3205.286%1.23
Browning Nagle1992NYJ387586%2.34
Joey Harrington2003DET554586%1.3
Charlie Frye2006CLE392584%3.67
Kellen Clemens2007NYJ250583%2.49
Cade McNown2000CHI2804.882%1.12
Rick Mirer1994SEA3814.982%1.2
Colt McCoy2011CLE4635.282%3.85
Steve DeBerg1978SFO3024.480%10.275
Phil Simms1980NYG4024.880%1.7
Tim Tebow2011DEN2714.978%1.25
David Klingler1993CIN3434.578%1.6
Sam Bradford2011STL3574.977%1.1
Kyle Boller2004BAL4644.675%1.19
Jeff George1991IND4854.575%1.1
Andrew Walter2006OAK2764.474%3.69
Akili Smith2000CIN2673.560%1.3

If your quarterback plays poorly in his second year, you’re basically hoping he’s Phil Simms (who had his first strong season at age 30) or the good version of Jeff George. Maybe Sam Bradford or [gasp] Tim Tebow, will also become solid starters in the NFL one day. But that’s only one part of the equation, and it’s the minor half. You could have the next Akili Smith or Kyle Boller or David Klingler or Colt McCoy or Rick Mirer or Cade McNown or Joey Harrington, too.

You might think it’s far better to wait a year too long with a first round investment than to cut bait a year too early. Tell that to the Ravens, who after two years of Kyle Boller, chose to wait it out in the 2005 draft and selected Mark Clayton over Aaron Rodgers (why take Rodgers, Cal quarterbacks are terrible!). Detroit selected Joey Harrington with the third pick in the 2002 draft, but as Lisk noted, Detroit could have reasonably “given up” (more on this in a second) on Harrington by the end of the 2003 season. The Lions did not, and selected Roy Williams in the 2004 draft instead of say, Ben Roethlisberger.

And “give up” doesn’t necessarily mean cut or spend a first round pick on another quarterback. Assuming Joe Flacco re-signs with Baltimore, there won’t be any real options in free agency for the Jaguars to address the quarterback position (Jason Campbell is probably the best of the bunch). But they can certainly address the issue in the draft. If a quarterback the Jaguars’ scouts view as elite is available with their (potentially very high) first round pick, then I don’t think you can simply say “let’s give Blaine one more year.” But at a minimum, the Jaguars must spend a pick on a quarterback in the 2013 draft if Gabbert doesn’t improve over the rest of 2012.

  1. Of course, there is the obvious “chicken or the egg” question involved there. The other four teams on that list? The 2004 Ravens (Kyle Boller), 2003 Lions (Joey Harrington), 1997 Buccaneers (Trent Dilfer) and 1992 Bengals (Boomer Esiason/David Klingler) featured four first round quarterbacks who ended up being busts. []
  2. Note that for purposes of this post, I am considering Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Jim Everett, and John Elway as being drafted by the Giants, Chargers, Rams and Broncos. []
  • Shattenjager

    The 49ers spent a first round pick on Steve DeBerg? I’ve never known how he ended up going from Dallas to San Francisco. Since Dallas drafted him the year before in the 10th round and he never played a down for them, I figured he was just let go, but I’ve never actually found something that said what exactly happened. Does that mean San Francisco actually traded a first round pick for him a year after he got drafted in the tenth? (I ask because of my bizarre fascination with Steve DeBerg.)

    • Chase Stuart

      You know, I wrote this post four days ago, and honestly I have no idea what happened. That’s about as much of an explanation as I can offer. I assume it was a database error but I can’t see how that would have happened in retrospect.

      Anyway, thanks for pointing that out. As for how DeBerg got to San Francisco, I assume you are correct and that he was simply let go. What other bizarre fascination do you have with DeBerg?

      • Independent George

        Steve DeBerg is fascinating for being succeeded by three consecutive Hall of Fame QBs: Joe Montana, John Elway, and Steve Young. A fourth (Vinny Testaverde) might have been, had he only grown a goatee.

      • Shattenjager

        I was sort of hoping that he did get traded for a first round pick a year after being drafted in the tenth round without playing at all in between–it would be yet another weird twist in the bizarre legacy of Steve DeBerg. Oh well–glad my bizarre fascination could fix an error, then!

        In addition to his being succeeded by Montana, Elway, and Young, I find DeBerg fascinating because he was not a bad quarterback (career 101 ANY/A+ while playing on mostly bad teams) and yet could not ever hold onto a job because of the circumstances in which he found himself. He played for 17 seasons, starting 140 games, and yet he went into a total of two seasons (1990, 1991. It is arguable that he did in 1979 as well. It wouldn’t surprise me if this is revisionism, but from what I have read it sounds like there was some controversy about whether to start DeBerg after an awful ’78 and rookie Joe Montana.) as his team’s definite starter, at 36 and 37 years old. Then, when he actually was a starter, he put up one amazing season in 1990 and another decent year in 1991 before being shipped off again in favor of Dave Krieg in Marty Schottenheimer’s parade of old man QBs with the early ’90s Chiefs. He wasn’t some bum playing his way out of his jobs–he just ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time over and over.

        The situations in which he ended up were also fascinating. How in the world does a team end up in such dire straits at the QB position that it has to use a cast-off former tenth rounder who has never taken a professional snap for most of the season? Then he’s Bill Walsh’s first QB as a head coach. Then he’s in the mix as Denver tries again to move on from Craig Morton, only to have them end up trading for Elway. Then he’s in the middle of the Steve Young-Vinny Testaverde situation for the unbelievably awful mid-’80s Buccaneers who somehow had three young quarterbacks who would all turn out to be at least passable. Then he’s part of the Kansas City old quarterback obsession. Following DeBerg’s career opens the door to an amazing number of fascinating stories.

        He’s also the oldest player ever to start a game at quarterback, filling in for Chris Chandler for one game for the ’98 Falcons at 44 years old. He also had a fascinating game in 1990 against the Seahawks where he threw for 147 yards on his first two passes and ended up having (at least arguably) an all-time great single game: http://pfref.com/tiny/ViZWw. Further, we’ve all heard Bill Walsh’s description of a quarterback being, “Just good enough to get you beat.” He was talking about DeBerg.

    • Anne Dunn

      DeBerg was traded to the 49ers to play in the ’78, ’79 ‘and ’80 seasons. Montana was drafted in ’79 and looked to be ready to start by the end of the ’80 season. DeBerg was then traded to Denver where he started for a while and, even after Elway was drafted ,started while Elway was adapting to being a starting QB. Then DeBerg went to Tampa Bay.

      Look at DeBerg in Pro Football Reference and click on game logs. It’s an interesting history. Probably the only quarterback to help bring along 2 of the best quarterbacks of all time before he lost his job to both of them. I found this by accident when I was looking at first starts and first starting seasons for some of the all-time best quarterbacks and DeBerg showed up with 2 of them.

      • Anne Dunn

        Sorry about posting this. I didn’t read further to see your next post where you clearly know this and more.

      • JWL

        DeBerg was waived by Dallas a week before the 1977 opener. He was claimed by San Francisco the following day and spent the season on the taxi squad.

  • Independent George

    “Assuming Joe Flacco resigns with Baltimore”

    It took me a few seconds to understand what you were saying there.

    • Chase Stuart

      You’re right; I’ve added the hyphen.

      Reminds me of when I saw on the ESPN ticker that said “Breaking News: New York Jets coach Al Groh resigns” and the next line was “from the Jets to go to the University of Virginia.”

      • Independent George

        I had the opposite reaction when Colin Powell resigned as Secretary of State. I was disappointed that the NYT did not disclose his signing bonus.

  • Richie

    I’ve never really noticed Phil Simms’ career before. He was a 25-year-old rookie? For some reason I didn’t know that. And he didn’t even play well until age 30. I’ve never really thought of him as a QB who aged well, but his career path is a little bit similar to Kurt Warner.

  • Richie

    I guess the other angle to this analysis: how often does a QB play poorly for his first ~2 seasons and then go on to have success with that same team?

    Terry Bradshaw is usually given as an example of a guy who had a rough start, but went on to be a good (great) QB. But even he was much better in his second season. (As a rookie, he had 0.9 ANY/A!!!!) There are 14 QBs who had 200+ pass attempts in a season, but ANY/A under 2.0. Given Shattenjaeger’s discussion, it’s awesome to see that 1978 Steve DeBerg is one of them. http://pfref.com/tiny/o7B7p

    As a quick-and-dirty, I did a query for QB’s with a career passer rating under 70 for his first 2 seasons, and at least 300 pass attempts and 14 starts. http://pfref.com/tiny/in7vb There are 78 of these guys. Of those, I would say the following guys had some sort of NFL success:
    Kyle Orton
    Alex Smith
    Kerry Collins
    Trent Dilfer
    Gus Frerotte
    Then in 1989 you had Aikman, and there are a bunch of other guys who have been good or great. Guys like Elway, Lomax, Steve Young, etc. (And Steve DeBerg, of course.)

    It seems that there was once a time where young QB’s could be expected to need a year or two to feel his way to becoming an NFL QB. But I just don’t think that’s the case any more. If you aren’t showing serious signs of life in your rookie (first) season, chances are slim that you ever will. And if you don’t show signs of life in your second season, it’s probably not going to happen.

    I have to believe this is due to colleges running more significant passing offenses now.

    • Richie

      “sophisticated” not “significant”

  • Anne Dunn

    I’m wondering about 2 things. First why single out the NY/A instead of using the more comprehensive Total QB Rating? You are choosing a stat that over weights a penalty for being sacked — just one factor. It may be that being sacked more is what happens to rookies, but it also happens to QBs with weak O-lines like Pittsburg and Dallas have this year.

    And second, why list Colt McCoy who has just entered his 3rd year in the league as a bust when everyone else you list played 8 to 10 years ago. One group is part of history; McCoy requires a crystal ball and a fortune teller. It’s unwise journalism to by pass history in favor of fortune telling, especially when McCoy has higher rankings that Tebow and Bradform in the TQR.

    • Richie

      What makes you think sacks are overweighted in NY/A? Avoiding sacks seems to be a skill for QBs: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=4395 So why shouldn’t a QB be penalized if he is unable to do so?

      • Anne Dunn

        NY/A = Passing Yds minus Sack Yds divided by Pass Attempts plus Times Sacked. Of course Sacks are heavily weighted in this stat. But why not use the sack category in the Total QB Rating system which is more situational. Why not use the TQR as a whole?

        There are plenty of reasons to find faults with Gabbert

        But in looking at sacks, some come because the QB takes too long to decide on a pass or to get the pass off, some come because the O-line can’t give the QB time to throw or throw the ball away. Sacks are definitely a problem and can reflect a problem with a quarterback, as I think they do with Jay Cutler, but the stat you use doesn’t reflect badly on Cutler at all.

  • Steve Kluth

    I read this after it was linked from Football Outsiders. The first thing I have to comment on when it comes to teams who give up on QBs too early is why no mention of Brett Favre? Jerry Glanville gave up on him after one year in Atlanta. Yes, they got a #1 pick for a guy picked early in the second round. But I think most teams would willingly trade a mid-first rounder for a future NFL Hall of Fame QB.