Which Quarterback From the 2016 NFL Draft Class Is Statistically Superior?
What was the best holiday present you ever received when you were a kid?
For me -- and this wasn't even close -- it was the Fisher Price Great Adventures Castle. It was a castle that was almost as big as I was, complete with cannon balls, good and bad knights, and a pair of horses. For a five-year-old kid, that's the bee's knees.
When you have that glimmering spectacle of perfection, it's hard for subsequent gifts to live up to those expectations. Don't get me wrong -- my parents were awesome at gift-giving, and I was pretty spoiled as a child. It's just hard to think of ideas that are as wonderful as that castle.
That's a lot what the 2016 crop of NFL draft prospect quarterbacks feels like. Because we've seen shining statistical examples of Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota over the past two seasons, expectations have been thrown all out of whack. These guys had everything you looked for in a quarterback's collegiate stats, and it's hard to duplicate that on a year-by-year basis.
However, that doesn't mean there's nothing to get excited about here.
In our re-examination of collegiate quarterback stats, we set the blueprint for what you want in a college quarterback's statistics. You want guys who have started for three seasons (roughly 36 or so games played), had a passing efficiency rating near 165, and an adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) of 9.3 or higher. Those are the marks of quarterbacks who were consistently among the top-10 quarterbacks, according to numberFire's metrics, and that's what the numbers say you should be looking for with a first-round pick.
If we're using these as the benchmarks, then we shouldn't dismiss this as being a statistically-down draft class simply because they don't measure up to the top options of the past.
With this in mind, let's rank the top five quarterbacks from the 2016 draft class based on their collegiate statistics. These are the quarterbacks who occupied the top five spots in Mel Kiper's big board as of January 21st. Scouts are great at their jobs, so if they view these as being the top five quarterbacks, that's likely the case (as much as I'd love to slobber all over Vernon Adams, who wasn't even in the top 10).
For each player, we'll list their games played (as defined by the number of games in which they attempted at least 10 passes) with their final-season passing efficiency rating, AY/A, and Adjusted QBR, which is ESPN's stat that includes rushing value and adjusts for strength of schedule. Adjusted QBR didn't test out as well as passing efficiency rating or AY/A, but it is still interesting information to have.
Finally, we'll also have a top statistical comp for each quarterback. These will all be former first-round picks whose statistical profiles align with that specific player's. This does not mean -- by any means -- that the prospect's career will mirror that of his top comp. It's merely providing additional context to what the numbers could mean.
Now that we've got all of the clarifications out of the way, let's get into the fun part. Which quarterback in the 2016 NFL Draft class is statistically superior? Let's take a look.
1. Jared Goff, California
Top Statistical Comp: Andrew Luck
Games Played: 36 | Passing Efficiency Rating: 161.2 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 9.4 | Adjusted QBR: 82.2
When I first started looking at Jared Goff's numbers, they didn't do much for me. It goes back to what we discussed in the intro: because he wasn't Mariota, his numbers looked sub-par. In actuality, though, Goff is pretty intriguing.
Goff meets the criteria we're looking for in every category except for passing efficiency rating. There, he fell just a bit short, but he does have the statistical profile of a player who could be a successful NFL starter.
There are several things to like about Goff, but topping that list for me is his combination of volume and efficiency. He was sixth in the nation in pass attempts his junior season, yet he still managed to have the best efficiency marks in this class. Counting stats aren't reliable for evaluating quarterbacks, but maintaining high levels of efficiency when producing volume is a great sign. Goff did that this year.
The other aspect of Goff that is encouraging is that he improved his efficiency every season at Cal. His AY/A increased three yards from his freshman to his junior season, and his passing efficiency rating increased by almost 40. He capped things off by posting a passing efficiency rating of 180 or higher in three of his final four games, topping 220 twice. Not too shabby.
As for his top statistical comp in Andrew Luck, remember the disclaimer at the top. Goff is not as highly-regarded as Luck was out of college, so his expectations should not be as high. However, the two do look very similar statistically.
|Quarterback||Games||Pass Efficiency Rating||AY/A||Adjusted QBR|
Goff falls short of Luck in every area except of AY/A, though that was the more predictive efficiency stat. Goff's isn't quite on Luck's level, but he definitely has the potential to be a quality quarterback.
Given all of this, teams should have no problem drafting Goff within the first 10 selections. He has quality stats that held up despite heavy volume, he has the requisite amount of experience, and the scouts seem to like him, too. When you combine those three, it's hard to have a lot of concerns about him.
2. Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Top Statistical Comp: Matt Leinart
Games Played: 38 | Passing Efficiency Rating: 157.5 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 9.4 | Adjusted QBR: 77.3
Paxton Lynch's top comp easily could have been Goff. The two are incredibly close across the board, even posting identical AY/A's. Check out the similarities here.
|Quarterback||Games||Pass Efficiency Rating||AY/A||Adjusted QBR|
Outside of passing efficiency rating and Adjusted QBR, they're almost carbon copies. However, the dip in those two categories saddles Lynch with Matt Leinart instead of Luck. Welp.
The Leinart comp looks bad because Leinart's career was so short, but it really isn't a sign of doom for Lynch. In the only season in which Leinart recorded 200 drop backs, he finished 12th in the league in Total Net Expected Points (NEP), numberFire's efficiency metric which combines points added both through the air and on the ground. There was a reason he only had one qualified season, but Leinart may not be as bad as his perception.
As for Lynch, there's definitely a case to be made for making him a first-round pick. He -- like Goff -- started for three seasons and improved each year. He cut his interceptions down to only four during his junior season on 443 attempts, less than one percent of his throws. Because of all of this, Lynch sits on the same tier as Goff statistically. Goff has a definitive edge, but Lynch is at least in the ballpark.
When Lynch is brought up between now and April 28th, someone will inevitably mention the Birmingham Bowl, in which Auburn throttled Memphis and made Lynch look lost. That's a fair criticism. Lynch was abysmal that day.
However, when that happens, make sure there is also a mention of his performance against Ole Miss, in which Lynch threw for 384 yards with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception in a Memphis victory. Just because one performance against a quality opponent was more recent does not mean it should carry more weight. Lynch is a worthy first-rounder, and I wouldn't let one game taint that image.
Is Lynch a surefire success story? No. His passing efficiency rating falls short of the mark we are looking for, albeit only by a bit, putting some risk on his resume. However, he's so close to our blueprint in each category that it would seem foolish to overlook a guy who certainly has the potential to be good.
3. Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
Top Statistical Comp: Brandon Weeden
Games Played: 23 | Passing Efficiency Rating: 152.3 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 8.7 | Adjusted QBR: N/A
Goff and Lynch are in their own tier for this class. Carson Wentz's efficiency stats are a step down, and he is also much less experienced than they are. This puts Wentz an additional rung below those top two.
Wentz's efficiency stats aren't bad by any means, but they're firmly in the middle tier of previous first-round picks. Of the 52 quarterbacks taken in the first round from 1995 to 2015, Wentz would be 30th in AY/A and 33rd in passing efficiency rating. The guys right in front of him in AY/A are Mark Sanchez and Blake Bortles, and those behind him are Jim Druckenmiller and Brandon Weeden. Dubious company, indeed.
This is all before we discuss the number of games Wentz played. Among the categories we looked at in our study of collegiate statistics, none was more important than games played. This would be the main cause for concern for Wentz.
Of those aforementioned 52 former first-round picks, only six had fewer games played than Wentz coming out of college. Those players combined to record 200 drop backs in 25 separate NFL seasons; they only finished in the top 10 in Total NEP twice in those 25 seasons. Both of those top-10 finishes came from Michael Vick.
Those are the guys with less experience than Wentz. The four players immediately ahead of Wentz in the category are Tim Couch, Blaine Gabbert, Johnny Manziel, and David Carr. Calling this a "cause for concern" seems a bit mild.
One thing to note with Wentz is that he should not be penalized -- in statistical evaluation -- because of where he played his college ball. One of the most efficient quarterbacks of the early 2000's -- Steve McNair -- played his college ball at Alcorn State. McNair's numbers were better than Wentz's, but they weren't other-worldly. If anything, Wentz may require a bump up due to the schedule North Dakota State plays, including a pair of national championship games.
The other similar player with regards to competition level was Joe Flacco at Delaware. Flacco played three more games than Wentz, but his passing efficiency rating and AY/A were both lower. If you're looking for reason to buy into Wentz, Flacco's relative success may be the best argument. However, even Flacco has never been in the top 10 in Total NEP, and he has only been in the top 15 in four of his eight seasons. That leaves a bit to be desired.
Wentz certainly isn't a terrible prospect, and he deserves to be in the discussion of being a first-round pick. Personally, though, I wouldn't take him there. The lack of experience makes Wentz a major risk that is better fit for the second round.
4. Connor Cook, Michigan State
Top Statistical Comp: Brady Quinn
Games Played: 40 | Passing Efficiency Rating: 136.6 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 8.1 | Adjusted QBR: 74.9
There has been a perception that this year's quarterback class is weak compared to other seasons. I don't disagree with that assertion, though I think it is more reflective of the lack of depth than anything else.
Both Goff and Lynch -- based on their college stats -- are legit first-round picks. Wentz is at least interesting, and he could be a solid second-round pick most seasons. After that, though, things get ugly fast.
Connor Cook has the experience we're looking for in a first-round pick, but his efficiency numbers leave much to be desired.
Of our 52 first-round picks at quarterback, Cook would rank 42nd in passing efficiency rating, sandwiched between Joey Harrington, J.P. Losman, Josh Freeman, and Christian Ponder. His AY/A is 39th, right behind his top comp of Brady Quinn.
This doesn't tell the full story on Cook, though. He did sustain a shoulder injury during his senior season, which certainly had an impact on his effectiveness. As a result, he actually took a step back from the numbers he posted his junior year. Should we be factoring this into our analysis?
I would say yes. Cook's efficiency numbers in 2014 were better than those of both Goff and Lynch that year. If he had maintained the same trajectory as those other players, it's entirely possible he would have been much higher on this list. That's the glimmer of hope when it comes to Cook.
The interesting thing about Quinn as Cook's top comp is that he also regressed during his final season. His numbers during his junior season were better than Cook's in 2014 (similar to Lynch's 2015 season), but then he took a sizable step back as a senior. That didn't translate into NFL success.
The two seasons in which Quinn had at least 200 attempts -- 2009 and 2012 -- he finished 23rd and 37th in Total NEP. His NFL production was more closely tied to the numbers he posted his senior year than those of his junior year.
Quinn's production doesn't necessarily kill any optimism for Cook. You could sell me on a team selecting Cook in the second or third round because of what he did during his junior season. I just don't see it as enough to put him in the same zone as Wentz, much less Goff or Lynch.
5. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Top Statistical Comp: Kyle Boller
Games Played: 38 | Passing Efficiency Rating: 123.9 | Adjusted Yards Per Attempt: 7.2 | Adjusted QBR: 51.9
As a graduate of a Big Ten school, I'm not trying to rag on the conference here. Since 2000, no conference has produced more top-10 finishes in Total NEP than the Big Ten. It just happens that their top two representative quarterbacks this year didn't have great seasons.
Christian Hackenberg's tenure at Penn State was essentially a roller coaster. He posted decent numbers as a freshman. Then Bill O'Brien left for the NFL, and Hackenberg spent the next two seasons getting torpedoed by defensive linemen. He basically got David Carr'd by the end of his sophomore year of college.
The result of the constant hits he took was truly brutal numbers during his junior season. Among the 52 first-round picks from 1995 on, only Patrick Ramsey and Rex Grossman had worse passing efficiency ratings than Hackenberg. No bueno.
The one thing that does bring some mild intrigue to Hackenberg is how he performed as a freshman. He, Goff, and Lynch all started during their freshman seasons at their respective schools. If we were to compare each of those, Hackenberg had the pretty clear advantage.
|Quarterback||Pass Efficiency Rating||AY/A|
When Hackenberg had O'Brien and an offensive line that was not the equivalent of five cardboard cutouts, he was actually pretty good. It's just what happened after then that sent him to the bottom of this list.
Hackenberg's numbers as a freshman at least make you think an additional second about a guy whose resume looks truly gross. I just don't think they're enough to justify heavy investment.
If Hackenberg's still on the board in the third or fourth round, then it makes sense to bank on progression and pray that his struggles were a result of his situation. However, anything beyond that seems like too much risk to inherit. There's a chance, though, that Hackenberg stays on the board that long, in which case he could make for an interesting case study for future young studs who fizzle out later.