NFL Position Battles: Kevin Kolb vs John Skelton

Reports have Skelton in the lead for the Arizona Cardinals' QB job. But the numbers might make the decision a bit harder than it seems.

Yesterday, Kamran Khan took to our question boards and asked one of the fundamental questions of our time: Kolb or Skelton? OK, so maybe that question may end up falling somewhere between "Paper or plastic?" and "American Idol or X-Factor?" in terms of ultimate importance on your life, but to the Arizona organization, it's still a tough choice. Kevin Kolb is American Idol: he was acquired by the Cardinals with a high price tag and he has been the established name, but he may have lost some of the luster that he once had. John Skelton is the X-Factor: he's the younger, hipper option who came out of nowhere, and frankly, people seem to like better thus far. According to the New York Post, Skelton holds the slight lead in the race. But according to the numbers, the Cardinals may be tending the wrong way in awarding the position of "Honorary Larry Fitzgerald Jump Ball Thrower".

Skelton: By the Numbers

Skelton to this point has been unproven, only starting a total of 11 games over his two season NFL career. But for a guy from whom the Cardinals weren't expecting much, he hasn't been bad. He completed 54.9% of his passes in 2011 for 1913 yards and 11 TDs, numbers that would have given him close to 4000 yards passing if projected over an entire season. The Cardinals ended up going 5-2 in his starts, but much of that success can be attributed to the defense. As compared to giving up 30 points in four of Kolb's seven starts, the defense never gave up more than 23 points the entirety of Skelton's time in the lineup. Fordham Pride, ho!

The main number numberFire looks at for efficiency is NEP: Net Expected Points. As explained in our previous QB battle breakdown of Tebow vs. Sanchez, NEP is the number of points your team gains or loses with that particular player when compared to the average NFL team. Skelton's 2011 NEP number was slightly below average, coming in at -0.09 NEP per play. In simpler terms, that means that each of the 298 times Skelton went back to pass, his team lost an average of 0.09 points per attempt when compared to an average NFL team. On the season, that's a total of 26.61 points lost for the Cardinals due to Skelton being their quarterback. When compared to other full time starters, a number had a worse NEP per play percentage, including the man who went #1 overall the same year Skelton went in the fifth round (-0.15), Tebow Christ Superstar (-0.19), and Jaguars' kind-of-savior Blaine Gabbert (-0.15).

Kolb: By the Numbers

Kolb's initial numbers don't look too much better than Skelton's, especially considering that he started two additional games. His 1955 passing yards in 9 games accounts for a lower yardage per game total than Skelton, and his 9 touchdown passes are two less than Skelton had in his 8 games played for the season. He completed 57.7% percent of his passes, a slightly higher, but ultimately similar, number when compared to Skelton. The one major advantage Kolb has in conventional numbers is interceptions - only 8 compared to Skelton's 14. As mentioned above when talking about records, the man had some Tsutomu Yamaguchi-level luck: much of the Cardinals' 1-7 record as a starter can be attributed to the defense. He topped the Cardinals under Skelton's season-high 23 points on three separate occasions in his nine starts.

When looking at numberFire's preferred NEP metrics, however, Kolb starts to have a bit more of an advantage. On the season, Kolb averaged just -0.01 NEP per play on the season, meaning that he only performed decimal points worse than an average NFL QB. The Cardinals only lost 2.87 points in his 9 games started due to Kolb being in at quarterback. Kevin Kolb threw slightly less passes than his Fordham counterpart at 284 compared to Skelton's 298, but both numbers are high enough to be considered a legitimate sample size. This NEP per play number is not out of the ordinary for Kolb, either. In his three seasons with at least 50 passes thrown (one for Arizona, two for Philadelphia), Kolb has registered NEP per play numbers of -0.01, -0.04, and 0.08. For those of you too busy to be bothered to scroll back up the page, none of those numbers are as low as the -0.09 registered by Skelton last season.

The Verdict

It seems that Kolb is running out of favor as the chosen boy in the Arizona backfield, but there's no reason that he should be. Neither Kolb nor Skelton perform better than the average NFL QB, but the numbers say Kolb is at least closer to that middle point than Skelton is. This battle will likely come down to the final day of the preseason. I don't even think it should get that far.

Advantage: Kolb