Which Quarterback in This Year's NFL Draft Is Statistically Superior?
Ray Farmer grasps for the handrails as he fumbles his way back into the Cleveland Browns draft room. The first-year general manager loosens the tie from his neck, hoping it will alleviate the throbbing pain above his right eye brow.
Farmer realizes how difficult this decision is. With the fourth pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Farmer's Browns are in a position to turn around their pungent offense if they can simply find the right quarterback to feed the pigskin to the beast/snipe/mythical fairytale creature that is Josh Gordon.
Because he read part one of our three-part series on drafting a quarterback in the first round, Farmer knows there are some serious risks involved with rolling the dice on a signal-caller. But, he also read part two of the series and knows that if he wants an elite quarterback, he almost has to snag one in the first round. Because of this, he's decided that he will, indeed, pull the trigger and try to find the next Brandon Weeden. Fingers crossed!
Coming to this conclusion doesn't mean that Farmer's brain work is done. Nay, comrades, that would be far too simple. Now he must decide which quarterback in this year's draft class he will rely on for years to come. Does he go with the gun-slangin', rain-makin', lady-takin' Johnny Manziel? How about Blake "I look like a quarterback, therefore I am a quarterback" Bortles? Or Teddy "I wear gloves to hide that I actually have squid fingers" Bridgewater?
Well, Ray, we got your back. While we may not be able to prevent you from landing the next Brady Quinn, part one of our series did show which statistics you can completely disregard when evaluating a quarterback's performance. It also showed which ones merit further investigation. So, let's run these through the numberFire statistics grinder, which I assure you is much more strenuous than the Gruden Quarterback Camp.
Before we dive in, let me make a couple things clear. I'm not saying that you can completely judge which quarterback will be a success just based on his statistical performance in college. That would be pretty dumb. I'm also not saying that these are the be-all, end-all statistics for evaluating quarterbacks. I'm sure some nerdy guy or gal could craft up some stupid sick numbers to evaluate these bros, but we'll stick to these puppies for now.
For this little exercise, we'll be looking at four statistics: games played, passer efficiency rating, adjusted yards per attempt and adjusted QBR. Games played only includued games in which the player attempted at least 10 passes. Passer efficiency rating is a stat that only the world's most beautiful geeks know how to calculate based on the number of touchdowns and interceptions a player throws as well as their yards per attempt. Adjusted yards per attempt is a stat from College Football Reference that does roughly the same thing, but with a different formula. And adjusted QBR is the stat ESPN concocted to try to include a quarterback's rushing abilities. All rankings that I cite for this stat will be out of 24 total quarterbacks because data only extends back to 2004.
So, y'all ready? Let's dive in and hopefully save Mr. Farmer from what appears to be a mild brain aneurysm.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Games Played: 25 | Passer Efficiency: 172.9 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 10 | Adjusted QBR: 86.3 | Top Statistical Comparison: Alex Smith
Of the five quarterbacks we'll be looking in this shindig, Manziel had the highest passer efficiency rating and and adjusted QBR. The only problem with that? Total QBR didn't prove to be particularly useful in projecting a quarterback's abilities.
In that study, I took each of the four statistics and found their correlation to the player's average Net Expected Points (NEP) in his NFL career. NEP is a numberFire-specific stat that tracks a player's effectiveness based on his ability to increase a team's expected number of points scored on a drive. If you need a further explanation, click here. Of those four statistics, total QBR had the lowest correlation coefficient with a player's total NEP.
Passer efficiency rating, on the other hand, does provide us with some clue of a player's abilities, especially in the case of Manziel.
Of the 52 total quarterbacks studied (47 drafted in the first round from 1995 to 2013 and the five from the incoming draft class), Manziel had the seventh-highest passer efficiency rating. None of the players above him on that list ended up in our bottom tier of NFL quarterbacks - the tier you could safely label as busts.
The quarterback with the highest passer efficiency rating in the lowest tier was Akili Smith at 167.3. All of the previous quarterbacks with a passer efficiency rating higher than that either ended up in the middle tier (guys that weren't quite solid NFL starters, but not really busts either) or the top tier (better-than-average NFL starters).
Manziel, overall, is among one of the best statistical quarterbacks in this study. In addition to being seventh in passer efficiency rating, he was third in adjusted QBR and 13th in adjusted yards per attempt. This spells riches for JFF, right? Not so fast, cowboy.
In our analysis of those first-round quarterbacks, the best predictor of success was the number of games that each player played in college. Why is this? Well, it may give film gurus more of a sample size to look at and evaluate prior to making a commitment. It may also mean that a player is simply more prepared. Manziel is on the low end of that scale with his 25 games with at least pass attempts in college.
There were 18 players that qualified for our top tier of above-average NFL starters. Only one of those players, Michael Vick, played in fewer than 26 games in his collegiate career. The average number of games with at least 10 pass attempts for players in the top tier was 37.39. That number fell to 32 for the middle tier and 31.58 for the lower tier.
This is the stat that makes Manziel a bit of a gamble in terms of this study. His other statistics all indicate that he has a lusciously high ceiling, but this one at least makes you think twice.
Blake Bortles, UCF
Games Played: 34 | Passer Efficiency: 163.4 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 8.8 | Adjusted QBR: 78.9 | Top Statistical Comparison: Mark Sanchez
It's actually kind of eery how similar Bortles's numbers are to Sanchez's. In his final season, Bortles had a 163.4 passer efficiency rating and an 8.8 adjusted yards per attempt. Sanchez, on the other hand, had totals of 164.6 and 8.8. Interesting.
The obvious thing that Bortles has going that Sanchez did not is that Bortles played in more than twice as many games as Sanchez. Outside of that, the two are nearly identical.
For Bortles, none of his statistics really jump out of the page at you. Of the 52 quarterbacks in the study, Bortles ranked 14th in games played, 14th in adjusted QBR (out of 24), 21st in passer efficiency rating, and 28th in adjusted yards per attempt. It's about as blah as you can get.
The obvious reason that Bortles is so highly sought after is the fact that he is just a large human being. However, you would think that, if this height was such a grotesque advantage, it would have translated into grotesque stats as well.
Obviously, Bortles didn't have Jake Matthews protecting him or Mike Evans catching every football within a few cubic miles, so that should compensate for some of the differences between the two. But, either way, it's clear that, judging based solely off of statistical production, Manziel is the better option than Bortles right now.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Games Played: 37 | Passer Efficiency: 171.1 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 10.3 | Adjusted QBR: 80.9 | Top Statistical Comparison: Chad Pennington
Like Bortles, Bridgewater's parallels with his top statistical comparison are striking. Pennington played in one more game, had a passer efficiency rating 0.3 points higher, and an adjusted yards per attempt 0.3 yards lower. Basically, the two are statistical clones.
In all honesty, Manziel and Bridgewater are pretty close comparables as well. Manziel had a slightly higher passer efficiency rating (172.9 to 171.1) and adjusted QBR (86.3 to 80.9), while Bridgewater edged Manziel in adjusted yards per attempt (10.3 to 10.0).
The area where Bridgewater really stands out is his adjusted yards per attempt, as his total ranks tied for seventh of the 52 quarterbacks in the study. Of those players that had a higher total, only Akili Smith ended up in the lower tier. The top two in the category, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton both started and excelled in their rookie campaigns, and the person right beneath Bridgewater, Philip Rivers, has the third-highest average NEP of any quarterback taken in the first round since 1995.
Statistically, there is really no reason for Bridgewater to be a fringe first-round pick. Of the seven people ranked ahead of him in passer efficiency rating, only two were taken after the fifth overall pick, and four of the players were taken either first or second. Again, you can't judge a player based solely on his stats, but if you could, Bridgewater would be very worthy of a top-five selection.
Derek Carr, Fresno State
Games Played: 39 | Passer Efficiency: 156.3 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 8.7 | Adjusted QBR: 76.3 | Top Statistical Comparison: Byron Leftwich
Statistically, Carr really isn't even close to the other quarterbacks in this class. Among the five we looked at, Carr ranked last in every stat except for games played. While Carr racked up the volume stats, the rate stats tell a very different tale.
Carr's passer efficiency rating ranked 28th among our 52 quarterbacks. Behind him are plenty of players that were successes, such as Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and that Peyton Manning guy. But the failures around Carr far out-number the successes.
Just a quick glance at Carr's raw stats from the year can certainly impress. On the season, Carr threw 50 touchdowns to 8 interceptions with 5,082 total passing yards. Those are great numbers. But then you dig a bit deeper and see his 7.71 yards per attempt and his 76.3 adjusted QBR, and you see that when you throw the ball all of the time, you're going to put up some pretty gross stats.
I feel like I need to keep reiterating that these statistics are far from perfect. Obviously, as I talked about in part one of the series, it's incredibly difficult to see which first-round picks will be successes and which will be busts. But if we view Carr through the lens of statistics, he comes up short of what the other players achieved.
A.J. McCarron, Alabama
Games Played: 40 | Passer Efficiency: 167.2 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 9.8 | Adjusted QBR: 82.7 | Top Statistical Comparison: JaMarcus Russell
I feel bad pairing McCarron up with Russell because both actually had excellent collegiate stats, but Russell is one of the most notorious first-round busts in NFL history. However, their statistics are ridiculously similar, and they come from the same conference.
Russell - Games Played: 34 | Passer Efficiency: 167.0 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 9.7 | Adjusted QBR: 82.2
People rag on McCarron for being a game manager, but his stats make him look like something much more. Just for funsies, let's do a blind test of statistics. I'll show you two different stat lines, and you pick which player you'd rather have your team draft:
Player A - Games Played: 40 | Passer Efficiency: 167.2 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 9.8 | Adjusted QBR: 82.7
Player B - Games Played: 34 | Passer Efficiecny: 163.4 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 8.8 | Adjusted QBR: 78.9
Clearly Player A is the better choice. As you probably figured out, Player A is McCarron, and Player B is Bortles. Yet, Bortles is a sure-fire top pick, and McCarron could go any where from the first to the third round.
I don't know anywhere near as much as NFL executives and NFL Draft gurus that obsess over these players for month on end, so it's probably safe to say that Bortles is, in fact, better than McCarron. I just think it's interesting to see how little credit a player can receive for posting some very good statistics in college.
Just for fun, let's rank these puppies on their statistics alone:
1. Teddy Bridgewater
2. Johnny Manziel
3. A.J. McCarron
4. Blake Bortles
5. Derek Carr
So there you have it. I could have gone either way on Manziel or Bridgewater, but because of the importance of the number of games played in determining success, Bridgewater got the nod. Either way, statistics make it look like those two are going to be solid NFL quarterbacks. The other three, while none are particularly horrendous, are a bit more questionable in the statistical arena.
Now that you know my idiotic opinion, let's hear yours. I posed the question of which quarterback from this class you'd rather have on your team on the numberFire question forum, and you can answer that by clicking here. You can also send a tweet to @numberFire to sound off.
As we return to the poor Mr. Farmer, his condition is no better now than it was before. The statistics seem to conflict some of what has been projected in recent weeks with regards to who is ready to take his team to the promised land.
The clock keeps ticking. We're only one week from the draft, and this man has a career-changing decision to make. Who will he go with? Will they succeed? Only time will tell. But I can tell you this right now: strap in, muchachos, because this is going to be a fun ride.