Can Garrett Grayson Become a Successful NFL Quarterback With the New Orleans Saints?
History has shown that quarterbacks drafted after the first round are unlikely to be top-level starters. Even with that knowledge, the New Orleans Saints still got themselves a pretty darn good one in Garrett Grayson.
Grayson tore it up in his time at Colorado State. But can he bring that production to the NFL?
Throughout this piece, I'll be referencing numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). This measures a player's or team's performance relative to expectations. For example, when it's 3rd-and-9 from the 40 and a quarterback completes a 15-yard pass, the team's expected points on that drives increases. If he throws a pick, that, obviously, goes down. The summation of all of these plays over the course of a season is the team's NEP.
All of that said, let's get into why the Saints decided to take a chance on Garrett Grayson.
Back in February, we looked at the top five quarterbacks in this year's draft to see which one had the best relevant collegiate statistics. There was no competition for Marcus Mariota in the top spot because he was straight-up gross. The man who finished second, though, was none other than good ol' Grayson.
There were several reasons Grayson was so high. First, he started 35 games at Colorado State prior to departing. When we studied the anatomy of a first-round bust, the top-level quarterbacks averaged 37 starts in college. Mid- and lower-level quarterbacks (the busts) averaged only 32. Grayson is, obviously, not a first-round pick, but the same traits would most likely transfer. Of the top five quarterbacks this year, Grayson recorded eight more starts than Jameis Winston and 10 more than Bryce Petty.
That was a slight positive for Grayson. What vaulted him into second were the rate stats he posted. Based on our study, the most important collegiate statistics for quarterbacks (outside of starts) were Passer Efficiency Rating and Adjusted Yards per Attempt (which factors touchdowns and interceptions into yards per attempt). Grayson was second only to Mariota in each of these stats.
In looking at quarterbacks that were similar to Grayson, there were two players whose statistics were very similar. Those two would be Teddy Bridgewater and Ben Roethlisberger. The table below shows why. The rate stats referenced are from the player's last season at their respective school. The "games" column is the number of games in college in which they attempted at least 10 passes.
|Player||Games||Passer Efficiency Rating||Adjusted Yards per Attempt|
This doesn't mean that Grayson is the next Bridgewater or Roethlisberger. NFL scouts generally do a good job of evaluating which guys are going to succeed, and Grayson fell to the third for a reason. But from a purely statistical standpoint, Grayson is nothing if not intriguing.
The big question mark with Grayson would be the competition against which he played. In his three games this year against Power 5 opponents, Grayson's Passer Efficiency Rating dropped to 119.11 as he threw 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while averaging 6.4 yards per attempt.
The reason that this doesn't concern me too greatly is that while he is facing tougher competition, so is the rest of the team. If the offensive line can't block or the receivers can't get separation, there's not a whole lot Grayson can do. Don't get me wrong -- Grayson had plenty of talented players around him. But does that talent equal that of the tougher team's on Colorado State's schedule? Maybe not.
Should we expect more grotesque stats from players that played in weaker conferences? Not in the slightest. Joe Flacco's stats at Delaware (144.9 Passer Efficiency Rating, 8.6 Adjusted Yards per Attempt) wouldn't blow you away. Flacco's not a stud, but he's a serviceable starter. The same statistical story would be true for Steve McNair at Alcorn State (155.4 Passer Efficiency Rating, 9.0 Adjusted Yards per Attempt).
In this situation, it's not just that Grayson is great for the Saints. The Saints are great for Grayson considering what they have assembled.
A Brees Successor
It makes sense that the Saints would start to look toward the future. The team took a step backward last year, and it was clear the window was closing.
From 2011 to 2013, the Saints had Adjusted Passing NEP per Play marks of 0.27, 0.21 and 0.27. This statistic adjusts for the strength of the opponents a team plays. This year, that dropped to 0.12, which ranked 10th in the league. They were still very good, but it was clear that they took a step back.
With giving Grayson a year or two to get caught up in the NFL, the Saints may be able to bridge that drop-off when Brees eventually hangs up the cleats. Pairing a non-first-round quarterback as intriguing as Grayson with a young speedster like Brandin Cooks (Grayson is more two years older than Cooks) could lead to the Saints keeping their passing attack at a respectable level in the post-Brees era.
At the end of the day, this is a low-risk, high-reward move by the Saints. At worst, Grayson should be a serviceable back-up. At best, he could be a solid starter in the NFL. Because they used a third-round pick at such a crucial position, they should feel quite comfortable in their investment.