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Yesterday, I looked at how long it took the best quarterbacks to break out. Today, I want to apply what we learned from that post to 15 current NFL quarterbacks with fewer than 50 starts, all of whom were 26 years old or younger during the 2013 season.

Bradford looks to check down

Bradford looks to check down.

Sam Bradford (49 career starts): Career Relative Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of -0.68.

Bradford was overrated after he put up good counting stats but weak efficiency numbers as a rookie; he posted a -1.0 RANY/A in 2010, a -1.4 average in 10 starts in 2011, was at -0.3 in 16 starts in 2012, and then +0.2 in seven starts last year. Yesterday, we noted that great quarterbacks who came to terrible teams (Warren Moon and Drew Brees, in addition to former number one picks like Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Vinny Testaverde, and Steve Young) struggled initially. Bradford would seem to fit that mold, although he’s now 49 starts into his career. Are there other reasons to give him a pass?

St. Louis had the third-youngest offense in the NFL last year, and the man who has gained the most yards from Bradford over the last four years is Brandon Gibson. The former first overall pick has received very little help, and been saddled with a revolving door of mediocre receivers.

On the other hand, Kellen Clemens posted better numbers than Bradford last year, at least when you adjust for strength of schedule. As Bill Barnwell pointed out last week, Bradford’s big problem is his inability to throw the ball down the field, which jives with some of the work I’ve done Bradford’s historically low yards per completion averages.  If not for Bradford’s first season of above-average work last year, I’d say his odds of ever being a franchise quarterback are very low.  But there has been some progression, and he does fit the mold of number one pick being saddled with bad teammates.  Of course, the presence of Brian Schottenheimer is enough to make me skeptical of Bradford’s ability to put it all together this year.  Perhaps the best case scenario is a Testaverde-like revival with another team years from now.

Cam Newton (48 career starts): Career RANY/A of +0.30.

Not much to see here. Newton’s RANY/A has moved from +0.3 as a rookie to +0.7 in 2012 to -0.2 last year; it went under the radar because #QBWINZ, but Newton did have a down season in 2013.  It’s hard to find any reasons for optimism for the Panthers this year after a mass exodus in the offseason, but that doesn’t say much about Newton’s long-term prospects.   Add in his rushing ability, and Newton has shown enough to say that he’s still in contention (if he’s not already there) to go down as a franchise quarterback.

Andy Dalton (48 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.01.

Look at that, Dalton is almost perfectly average! Bill Barnwell did a nice job profiling Dalton last week, and it does seem like what you see is what you will get from Dalton.  After posting slightly below-average RANY/A numbers in 2011 and 2012, he was above-average (+0.4) last year.  But the Bengals have one of the most talented offenses in the NFL if you exclude the quarterback position; at this point, you’d be hard-pressed to find many folks who believe Dalton will turn into a future star.

Of the 42 quarterbacks I looked at yesterday, 13 failed to be significantly above-average during any of their first three 16-game samples.  Dalton doesn’t really resemble any of them: Bradshaw/Testaverde/Elway/Vick were former number one picks; Brady/Favre/Krieg/Kelly were on the border of being good enough on to not make the list, and were certainly ahead of where Dalton is now; McNabb and Cunningham were running quarterbacks.  Moon played for a terrible team, and Gannon and Theismann sat for long stretches.  That’s the full thirteen. The best case scenario may be that Dalton turns into a Krieg or a poor man’s Jim Kelly.  Of course, he could also win a Super Bowl by riding the coattails of one of the more talented (and youngest) rosters in the league.

Christian Ponder (35 career starts): Career RANY/A of -1.19.

There are always excuses to be made for bad quarterbacks, and I’m sure that there are still some Vikings fans who believe in Ponder.  He produced a -1.7 RANY/A as a rookie, improved to -0.9 in 2012, but was back at -1.1 in nine starts last year.  Minnesota may not have a ton of talent at wide receiver, but Ponder’s failure to produce even with Greg Jennings is yet another strike against him. The Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the first round in the 2014 draft, which seems like the beginning of the end for the former Florida State star.

Wilson is watching game tape right now.

Wilson is watching game tape right now.

Russell Wilson (32 career starts): Career RANY/A of +1.15.

Franchise quarterback achievement badge mode: unlocked.

Ryan Tannehill (32 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.80.

Tannehill was at -0.7 RANY/A in 2012 and at -0.9 RANY/A last year; neither of those numbers put his future prospects in a positive light.  There are excuses, to be sure: he was a raw prospect, the Dolphins offensive line was the worst in the NFL, he and Mike Wallace have the chemistry of a pair of tomatoes, etc., but the numbers are bleak enough to cast doubt on Tannehill’s future.  Unless the argument is that Tannehill landed on one of the very worst offenses in the league — which would allow you to lump him in with the Aikmans, Bradshaws, Breeses, and Testaverdes of the world — there is simply no precedent for a quarterback being this below average for this long and then turning into a franchise passer.1 Barnwell is a little (and only a little) more bullish on Tannehill than I am, but 2014 would appear to be Tannehill’s last chance to convince the Dolphins that he was not a wasted pick.  There are a couple of mitigating factors here — the running game has been terrible, and as an immediate starter, Tannehill is at a disadvantage relative to other quarterbacks on this list — but I’m not going to lose sleep over whether this prediction will look bad in a few years.

Andrew Luck (32 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.06.

Since starting this site, Luck has been one of the quarterbacks I’ve profiled the most.  He wins without much help and is an ESPN QBR star, but he’s below average in ANY/A.  I’m inclined to grade Luck on a curve — after all, the Colts team he inherited didn’t look any better than the ’70 Steelers or ’89 Cowboys or ’87 Bucs.  On the other hand, Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton have given Luck some excellent targets, which has probably been enough to boost his ANY/A to league-average proportions.

Perhaps the best comparison will be to another quarterback drafted first overall by the Colts who had a magical history of producing comebacks: John Elway.  In any event, Luck’s already a franchise quarterback.

Can RG3 get up from a disastrous 2013?

Can RG3 get up from a disastrous 2013?

Robert Griffin III (29 career starts): Career RANY/A of +0.5.

Griffin’s career RANY/A is like measuring the temperature of a person with a foot in the freezer and a foot in a frying pan.  As a rookie, he had a RANY/A of +1.5; last year, it was -0.4, and that number doesn’t begin to explain how ugly things were in D.C.  The simplest explanation is that Griffin is a franchise quarterback who struggled last year as he recovered from ACL surgery and dealt with an ego-maniacal head coach.  But it’s hard to just assume Griffin is a franchise quarterback after 2013.  If Griffin one day turns into a Hall of Famer, we’ll remember that it was obvious from the start, as he had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever.  If he flames out, the first chapter of that book has already been written, too.

Blaine Gabbert (27 career starts): Career RANY/A of -2.15.

Spoiler alert: Gabbert is not a franchise quarterback.  He started at -2.2 RANY/A as a rookie on a team not dissimilar from the ’89 Cowboys; he’s followed that up, however, with a -1.2 RANY/A in 2012 and a -4.7 RANY/A over three starts last year. Suffice it to say if Gabbert turns into a franchise quarterback, it will have taken the greatest reclamation project in NFL history.

Colin Kaepernick (23 career starts): Career RANY/A of +1.06.

Kaepernick was mind-bogglingly efficient in 2012, producing a +1.6 RANY/A over 13 games and seven starts.  That number dropped to +0.8 RANY/A last year, but much of that is due to the loss of Michael Crabtree.  With an all-star crew of receivers set to take the field in 2014, I expect another very strong year out of Kaepernick. He may not be a finished product, but he already has the label (and contract) of a franchise quarterback.

Jake Locker (18 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.25.

Maybe it’s because I’m a college football guy, too, but doesn’t it feel like Locker has already been around forever? I can’t believe he only has 18 career starts. And his RANY/A is nearly league-average, even if it doesn’t feel like Locker has been even that good.  I was not a fan of him as a prospect, but he has been better than I feared.  While we shouldn’t compare Locker’s first 18 starts to those of a quarterback who started immediately, I think Locker has shown enough that you can’t just write him off just yet.  On the other hand, his numbers last year were a bit inflated by one of the NFL’s easiest schedules. Like Tannehill, this is the crucial season for Locker, who also carries with him the injury prone label. But if Locker can stay healthy and produce strong numbers, Ken Whisenhunt may prove that he really is a quarterback whisperer (to the extent he’s not whispering to someone named Skelton, or Kolb, or Anderson, or Leinart, or Lindley, or Hall….)

Nick Foles (16 career starts): Career RANY/A of +1.45

Foles had a rookie RANY/A of -0.8 before posting an absurd +3.3 RANY/A in 2013. Even the bigger Eagles homer would admit that much of Foles’ success was due to good fortune, the presence of Chip Kelly, or both.  Foles may not have arrived just yet as a franchise quarterback, but if he turns into one, nobody will ever question when we first saw a glimpse of that ability.

Geno Smith (16 career starts): Career RANY/A of -1.70.

Smith was bad — really bad — for long stretches as a rookie.  But he finished the season well, and terrible rookie numbers on a talent-deficient offense are not the death knell for a quarterback’s career.  The Jets need to see a lot more from him this year, though, and he’ll need to produce roughly league-average numbers to make the Jets think he’s not just another Mark Sanchez.

Mike Glennon (13 career starts): Career RANY/A of -0.9.

Glennon had a very different rookie campaign than Smith, but the acquisition of Josh McCown sends Glennon to the bench, at least for now.  We don’t know how he’ll fare in (or when he’ll see) his next three starts, but Glennon’s performance through 16 starts likely won’t be enough to write him off.

EJ Manuel (10 career starts): Career RANY/A of -1.0.

Manuel had a rough rookie year, especially when you consider how much worse he looked than Thaddeus Lewis. On the other hand, ten starts of bad (but not horrendous) play certainly isn’t enough to write off Manuel, not when Smith was worse for a longer stretch.  Still, as with Smith, this is a big year for Manuel, especially after the team went out and acquired Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.

  1. I suppose one could point to Phil Simms, but I’d object for a couple of reasons. For one, Simms didn’t crack my initial list, checking in at #86 in my GQBOAT series.  Then again, I’ve made the argument that Simms’ numbers underrate him because of his terrible receivers, so I would morally classify Simms as a franchise quarterback. However, the Giants teams of the late ’70s and early ’80s were so terrible that he really has more in common with the Aikmans of the world than someone like Tannehill. Here is how Simms fared compared to the other Giants quarterbacks during Simms’ first three years and 1978, the year before he came to New York. That’s U-G-L-Y. But if Dolphins fans want to point to Simms as a pro-Tannehill example, so be it. []
  • Bo

    Still not sold on Andrew Luck’s franchise-worthiness, at least compared to others here. For all of the wackiness of RGIII’s season in Washington, his “off” season by RANY/A is still better than the average Luck season — and that was with zero off-season reps, a leaky O-line, an inconsistent WR core outside of Garçon, and Shanaclan mucking up the offense. And, for all of the #QBWINZ Luck has had, his best season is 0.2 RANY/A; far from RGIII’s, Kaep’s or Wilson’s best, and still below Newton’s best. Yes, “clutch” and drawing PIs and all that jazz; but (to take some myth out of the clutch narrative) he was actually brutal in 3rd down conversions in 2014, and who knows if drawing PIs is a repeatable and reliable QB skill? He’s been a great runner, sure; but you can also get that from his aforementioned peers.

    He racked up those #QBWINZ in a cupcake 2013 AFC South, and still won the division by default in 2014 (despite a stingier SOS); then he adds to those wins by gunslinging his way back into a playoff game vs. KC, after he almost handed to them with his errant play and after some key injuries to the Chiefs on both sides of the ball. Then, he lays an egg vs. NE with a four-int performance.

    Would we be looking at this guy the same way if the name “Dalton” was on the back of the jersey?

    • Ty

      This discussion has been had before, but Andrew Luck seems to be an anomaly. While he has had some good fortune, I think he is better than is RANY/A numbers, especially with the talent that the Colts have (besides the receivers, and Robert Mathis, the Colts are below average as far as talent goes). It does help to play in an easy division, but I think ESPN QBR captures Luck’s ability better than RANY/A does (and I used to have judgment against that stat, though they seemed to have revised it).

      I think this upcoming season will be interesting. Luck won’t be able to keep up his luck (……), but he could potentially make the next step to becoming a great QB.

      • andy

        This is the same narrative since from the beginning: (a) playing w/ an inferior team, (b) clutch factor, and (c) throw the ball down field. I’d agree w/ you about the AL phenomenon- his advanced metrics do not grade out on a consistent basis, the only one he excelled under is ESPN’s QB and average for others (i.e. PFF, NEP, Cold Hard Football etc.) I did an in-depth comparison between AL and RW for another site. The numbers are not even close at this moment.

        I am getting tired of these ‘analyses” that premised on the factors of AL is playing w/ an inferior team, clutch factor, and “throwing the ball down the field”. This is nothing further from the truth. Let’s compare the TEAM- a team basically makes up by 3 components- off, def, and special team. Let’s not do defense because we all know Seattle has a better defense. So let’s focus on the other two- offensive unit- let’s break down to sub-unit- OL, passing game, and running game. Let’s examine the talents of the pass-catcher. Based on PFF analysis, here is its take on the talent level-

        Wide receiver-

        Indy- 2 high quality (Wayne and Allen), 1 good starter (Hilton), 1 average (Fleener) (this is not including Nicks because he was not there last year) 1 1st rounder, 1 2nd rounder, 2 3rd rounders (draft position)

        Seattle- 1 high quality (former Golden Tate), 2 good starter (Zach Miller, Doug Baldwin), 1 average starter (Kearse) (Harvin did not play enough to qualify), 2 2nd rounders, 2 undrafted free agents (draft position)

        Actual production- (receptions, yardage, yards per catch, big plays 20 yards+, big plays %, touchdowns, touchdown %, team target percentage caught, team drop rate)

        Indy- 350 total team receptions out of 582 targets, 3952 total yards, 11.3 average yards per catch, 45 big plays, 7.73% big plays, 23 touchdowns, 3.85% td percentage, 60.7% team target caught, 4.5% team drop rate.

        Seattle- 267 total receptions out of 420 targets, 3508 total yards, 13.1 average yards per catch, 52 big plays, 12.38% big plays, 27 touchdowns, 6.43% td percentage, 65.3% team target caught, 3.2% team drop rate.

        Summary- It seems Indy has more talents but the production does not correlate to the talents. So there are two possibilities- a) overrated of talents or b) quarterback’s play is not up to par. It is probably a combination of both. One can argue RW makes his teammates better regarding to maximizing the talents around him. RW, supposedly, is a “game manager” but according to these metrics, I want that kind of game manager as my quarterback.

        Offensive Line

        Indy- 2 high quality, 1 average, 1 below, 1 undetermined (not enough information)

        Seattle- 2 high quality, 1 average, 2 below

        Now let’s examine the actual production for the OL (based on passing yards, passing yards per game, pass protection- sacks allowed, sacks percentage, pressurized percentage, ANY/A, and rushing yards (total and per game and adjusted per rush), percentage of total plays, rushing tds %

        Indy- 3,952 total passing yards, 247 average yards per game, 32 sacks allowed, 5.5% sack percentage, 25.6% pressurized of total drop backs (i.e. total sacks, hits, pressures, hurries etc.), 5.71 ANY/A, total rushing yards- 1743 on 409 total attempts, 25.56 rushes per game, 108.9 yards per game, 4.86 adjusted net yard rush attempt, 41.27% of total plays, 3.67% rushing td. Maybe they should commit to the run a bit more.

        Seattle- 3,508 total passing yards, 202.3 average yards per game, 44 sacks allowed, 10.48% sack percentage, 32.7% (last) pressurized of total drop backs, 6.68 ANY/A, total rushing yards- 2,188 on 509 attempts, 31.81 rushes per game, 136.8 yards per game, 4.65 adjusted net yard per rush attempt, 54.79% of total plays, 2.75% rushing td.

        Summary- It seems Indy has a better overall OL play. They are much better in pass protection and comparable in the running game as well per indication by the higher adjusted net yard per rush, even though Seattle has an elite running back compared to average running backs for Indy (Football Focus).

        Special Team

        Indy- 1 high quality (McAffee Punter, 1 good starter (Vinatieri, kicker)

        Seattle- 1 high quality (Haushka), 1 below average (Ryan)

        Actual production-kickoff touchbacks percentage, field goal efficiency, punt average

        Indy- kickoff touchbacks percentage- 46.6%, field goal efficiency- 1.52, punt average 45.4,

        Seattle- kickoff touchbacks percentage- 51.1, field goal efficiency- 1.27, punt average 41.6

        Summary- It looks even here for both teams. Better kicker vs. better punter, even though Indy scored much higher in field goal efficiency (own kicker has better average in field goal made per game vs. opponent).
        So as we can see, the team argument is not much of an argument. AL is given with better talents at the skill position, in the offensive unit, but lesser production; however, Indy’s OL is much better, talent wise, and production. So one can argue RW has lesser talents but because of his efficient and effective plays that help to maximize his teammates’ skill and talent, which is an indication of great players make their teammates better.

        The Clutch Factor- based on comeback wins, winning drives, and qb ratings in “pressurized situations” like blitz and pressures, playing from behind, and red zone efficiency.

        AL had 8 comebacks and 11 winning drives over the two seasons. Blitz- 2.1 and pressure at 1 grading (football focus 2013), playing from behind- 78.2 ratings (career average, his ratings went down at higher deficit (i.e. ratings of 72.75 when trailing between 9-16 points), Red zone passer ratings (career average) – 82.

        RW had 8 comebacks and 10 winning drives over the two seasons. Blitz- 21.5 (first in football focus 2013) and pressure at 4.5 (3rd), playing from behind- 101.08 ratings (career average, actually his ratings were higher at higher deficit (i.e. ratings of 113.45 when trailing between 9-16 points), red zone efficiency passer ratings (career average) – 98.25 ratings.

        Throw the ball downfield- Total Yards, YAC Percentage, Total Air Yards, Air Yards per Attempt,

        AL- 3,822 total yards, 52.7% is YAC, 1,808 Total Air Yards, Air Yards per Attempt- 3.17

        RW- 3,357 total yards, 46.3% is YAC, 1,804 Total Air Yards, Air Yards per Attempt- 4.43

        Let’s put this area into perspective, AL had a total of 570 attempts vs. 407 for RW and he had a total of 4 more air yards than RW.

        So ladies and gentlemen, based on the empirical evidence here, if you’re just as smart as a fifth grader then you should know who is a better quarterback at the moment. AL may turn out to be a better one in the future but at this moment he is not even CLOSE.

      • Bo

        I hear you about QBR, but it’s one stat out of a bunch of stats, and it’s not exactly blowing the doors off in predictive power, at least compared to the other stats. They’re all pretty similar. Plus, part of predictive power is due to the incorporation of QB scrambles and designed QB rushes. If you use Expected Points Added (EPA), Luck was easily tops in the league in Rush EPA and 17th in pass EPA; behind players like Wilson, Kaepernick, and Newton. The difference between Newton and Luck’s Pass EPA is larger than the difference between Luck and Griffin’s Pass EPA (Griffin ranked 23rd). The perception is that Luck is the best passer of the young QBs, but his legs are what have brought the most value to the Colts. He can scramble, but I don’t rank him as necessarily being a *better* runner than his peers. Luck can play, but he still has a lot to prove, especially compared to other young QBs; and especially compared to a QB (Wilson) who has the edge in most stats AND can show-off the shiny Super Bowl ring that the media cares about in QB rankings.

        • andy

          Good observations. Numberfire did a similar analysis in NEP (Net Expected Points) for these young guns and the numbers were not even close in the efficiency area. His efficiency during the season and passing per play were out of this world (i.e. RW- 79.34 vs. Cam, AL at 39.21, Andy dalton at 26.01, and RGIII at 47.25) He is also ahead in the per drop back NEP. The two qbs close to him were Cam and RGIII at .10 versus .18 for RW; AL was at .06. He is even better than most of the next generation of qbs like Matt Ryan, Big Ben, Eli, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, and Carson Palmer. He is slightly behind MR in the seasonal efficiency (MR at 83.94) w/ slightly ahead in per dropback .18 vs. .17 and comfortably ahead in the total NEP- RW at 104.84 vs. MR at 89.15). Regarding to the metrics correlation, ESPN’s QBR did rate out as the highest per this site’s analysis, granted the sampling was limited w/ varied assumptions. That is why I always have preferred ANY/A as one consistent advanced metrics to evaluate a qb’s individual performance. It also has the second highest correlation w/ bigger sample and consistent assumptions, on the methodology, among statisticians. That is why I find AL phenomenon is such an interesting case. In scientific research, we always have to “accept” the credibility of a study bases on two fundamental principles- validity and reliability. In his case, reliability is not always presented (i.e. high on one study and average among others) Why? The funny thing is if you rank these qbs across the spectrum of these advanced metrics, they tend to be “fitted” along each individual analysis. Even though, they are not in the exact position but the ranking is very close in proximity.

    • Seabass


      I agree with you 100%. It is hard to change people’s minds once they have drawn a conclusion. Before Luck was drafted, all the media and NFL insiders were saying was that this was the best Pro prospect since Elway. I will admit, that this does add pressure for Luck to perform, but at the same time, it gives him an extra-long leash and excuses, that other QB’s probably would not enjoy. Let us hold off on calling Luck great or elite, because, that Colts team he inherited was a team that won 10+ games with Manning at the helm and won and were competitive in 2011 once they had competent QB play.

      Luck is the only QB, where the media and fans want to quickly dismiss the stats.

  • I love the line about Whisenhunt. I keep wondering if Matt Leinart laughs whenever he hears about how Whisenhunt is a “quarterback whisperer.”

    I’m betting it’s pretty easy to whisper to a healthy Kurt Warner.

  • Nick Bradley

    I don’t think RANY/A appropriately adjusts for the opportunities a QB Had — QBR does that though. And the closest stat to RANY/A is QB Points Above Average (QB PAA) per action play.

    Below is all regular season and postseason since 2008 — 2008 is nice because we can look at Rodgers as well (first year as regular starter). When you look at it, its not all that dissimilar to the list above, but some players move dramatically, most notable Kaepernick and Luck. Cream of the Crop – clear franchise guys are Kap, Ryan, Wilson, and Luck. Foles, RGIII, Cam, and Stafford are could-be Franchise quarterbacks. Flacco, Dalton, Alex Smith, and Tannehill are bubble guys. Bradford is a bust — an expensive bust. Peyton has been a .1004 QBPAA/p guy since 2008, Brees 0.0708, Brady 0.0601, Rivers 0.0422.

    player QBPAA/p
    Aaron Rodgers 0.0793
    Colin Kaepernick 0.0741
    Matt Ryan 0.0553
    Russell Wilson 0.0463
    Andrew Luck 0.0402
    Nick Foles 0.0286
    Robert Griffin 0.0212
    Cam Newton 0.0174
    Matthew Stafford 0.0138
    Joe Flacco 0.0051
    Andy Dalton -0.0014
    Alex Smith -0.0033
    Ryan Tannehill -0.0042
    Mike Glennon -0.0109
    Christian Ponder -0.0129
    Jake Locker -0.0143
    EJ Manuel -0.0210
    Colt McCoy -0.0237
    Sam Bradford -0.0260
    Tim Tebow -0.0385
    Geno Smith -0.0401
    Case Keenum -0.0450
    Brady Quinn -0.0641
    Brandon Weeden -0.0735
    Blaine Gabbert -0.0974
    Jimmy Clausen -0.1500

    • Nick Bradley

      Defensive adjustments would push Rodgers, Kaepernick, and (to a lesser extent) Wilson higher up the chart due to solid post season play.