What Can We Take Away From 2014's NFL Rookie Quarterback Class?
Entering the 2014 NFL Draft, there was no consensus about which quarterback would have the best pro career. You had the body with Blake Bortles, the college production with Teddy Bridgewater, and the excitement with Johnny Manziel.
Now we have a full season of data with which to analyze these guys. Whether or not that's a good thing depends on which young gun you're backing.
Let's take a trip back through the 2014 NFL season and see how these guys all fared. You'll see some good. You'll see some bad. You'll see some ugly.
The Numbers Behind 2014's Rookie Quarterback Class
To evaluate these kiddos, we'll use our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. This is an efficiency stat that measures the expected points added by the players relative to a league-average player. If a quarterback has a Passing NEP of -10.00, that means a team quarterbacked by him would score 10 fewer points than a team quarterbacked by an average player.
We can also use Total NEP, which includes rushing statistics into the equation. This gives the whole picture of how many points a player contributes -- or, in the case of most rookie quarterbacks -- takes away from his team.
What I'll do first is present you with the NEP stats of each of the four rookies who recorded at least 150 drop backs (including sacks) on the year. Then I'll go further into detail about each of those four to try to give a better scope of what they did in their respective debut seasons.
The reason you won't see good ol' Johnny Football on here is that he only recorded 38 drop backs prior to his injury. Sure, they were 38 fairly wretched drop backs, but it's definitely not enough off of which to judge a guy. So, for all of you that clicked here for a laugh at JFF's metrics, I apologize. Maybe next year.
Below is a chart of the four guys that qualified. Passing NEP per drop back (or Pass NEP/P on the chart) is just the player's Passing NEP divided by the number of drop backs.
|Quarterback||Passing NEP||Pass NEP/P||Total NEP|
Like I said. Good. Bad. Ugly. Let's break these puppies down one-by-one to see if we can get more meaning out of these numbers.
If you're a frequent numberFire reader, you already know I'm a little gaga for Bridgewater. A few weeks ago, I drooled over his metrics an embarrassing amount. I have since sought counseling, but Bridgewater's rookie season is still impressive.
Bridgewater finished with the eighth-largest Passing NEP of any rookie quarterback since 2000 with a minimum of 200 drop backs. That may not be a superstar level, but it's enough to conclude that he most likely will have a mighty fine career.
Even though Teddy's supporting cast was probably better than that of the other guys on this list, it was still far from perfect. Arguably his most talented receiver was on the Browns practice squad until September 20th in Charles Johnson. His offensive line suffered through a combination of injuries and being bad at football. Oh, and they were missing that Adrian Peterson guy, who is allegedly pretty good.
It's not just Bridgewater who is exciting about this Minnesota offense. In addition to Johnson, you have Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon wasn't bad prior to his back injury, as he ranked 14th of the 43 players who recorded at least 100 carries this year in Rushing NEP. These are all guys who had never played an NFL game prior to 2014, and they look like they should be building blocks for the future.
Even after taking the supporting cast into account, it still seems as though Bridgewater is at the top of this class. The gap from him to the rest is significant, and he compares favorably to other rookies throughout history. You can pencil this one in the win column, Teddy Truthers.
As you can see above, Mettenberger had a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.05. In his 160 drop backs, Locker had a -0.13 mark, more than two times worse than the rookie. This doesn't mean that Mettenberger is necessarily the answer, but it makes the decision not to pick up Locker's fifth-year option look even better.
The third quarterback in this equation, Charlie Whitehurst, actually had the best season on the team. Clipboard Jesus exercised the demons Locker unleashed and finished with a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.01 on his 203 drop backs.
If nothing else, Mettenberger at least gave the Titans something to think about. He had the smallest sample size of the qualified quarterbacks on this list, so the team really doesn't have a lot on which to go. Either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston will be on the board if the Titans don't trade down from the second overall pick. Do they start over at quarterback or roll the dice on the assets they currently possess?
Mettenberger definitely qualifies under the category of "needs further evaluation." But for a rookie sixth-round pick to perform as admirably as he did on such a dysfunctional offense is enough to justify an expanded look.
With Mettenberger, the biggest problem was a lack of data. You don't have that with Carr. He recorded 622 drop backs, which was almost 100 more than Bortles who had the second-most on this list at 530. It's always garbage time somewhere in Oakland.
No team in the NFL had a larger pass-to-run ration than the Raiders at 1.95. Chicago was second at 1.84. If the Raiders had maintained that ratio and run as many plays as Philadelphia, they would have thrown the ball 744 times, which would have broken the NFL record for passing attempts in a season.
This all resulted in Carr having, by our metrics, one of the worst seasons for a quarterback this year. He had the second-worst Passing NEP in the league (more on the guy that beat him -- Bortles -- in a second) and the fourth-worst Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks with at least 150 drop backs.
Let me provide a counterpoint on Carr, however. How many quarterbacks have to deal with a head coaching change four games into the season? How many of those quarterbacks are unfortunate to have that happen to them in their rookie campaign? The crazy thing is that Carr was actually significantly better after Dennis Allen's dismissal.
After Oakland's 38-14 loss to Miami in London, Carr had a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.14 through 136 drop backs. Then Allen was fired, the team had its bye week, and things started to click for Carr.
In the 12 games after the bye, Carr recorded 486 drop backs and had a -0.04 Passing NEP per drop back. All things considered, that's totally acceptable for a rookie. Give Carr a full offseason and some stability, and then you may be pleased with what you see.
I'm never an advocate of writing a guy off after just one season, and I don't think you should do so with Bortles. He just didn't exactly give a lot of reasons for optimism through the lens of our metrics.
Based on his Passing NEP, Bortles was the worst quarterback in the NFL this season. His -97.97 mark cleared all others by almost 60 expected points.
Bortles was also last in Passing NEP per drop back among quarterbacks with at least 150 drop backs by a decent margin. He clocked in at -0.18; the only other guys lower than -0.10 were Locker at -0.13 and Robert Griffin III at -0.15. This is all very encouraging.
Because we put Bridgewater up against the other rookies of NFL seasons past, we can do the same with Bortles, but for very different reasons. Of all 43 rookies to drop back at least 200 times since 2000, Bortles had the fourth-worst Passing NEP. Only Kyle Orton, Chris Weinke and David Carr were worse.
On a per-drop-back basis, things get a bit more optimistic. Here, Bortles moves up to a tie for 33rd. Who did he tie with? None other than Mark Sanchez, who had collegiate numbers that were eerily similar to Bortles's.
So, yes, the numbers are historically bad for Bortles. But, you once again need to consider what's around him. Outside of that brief Denard Robinson intervention and Allen Robinson's solid start to the year, there wasn't a whole lot popping on the Jags' offense.
Jacksonville certainly has to give Bortles another shot in 2015. You don't draft a guy third overall just to bail on him after one year. At the same time, you can understand why the team might be a wee bit nervous about its big investment after what he showed in 2014.