The Eagles Should Start Sam Bradford Over Carson Wentz
The Eagles' organization believes the best strategy is developing their young quarterback, though fans may feel differently.
This is Philadelphia we’re talking about: Rubén Amaro Jr. is gone, the “Process” is finally over, and for better or worse, the Chip Kelly experiment has ended.
The future of Philadelphia sports is now. For the 2016 Eagles, shouldn't that mean starting Wentz right away?
The answer is, no. Sam Bradford deserves the starting role.
Between 2000 and 2015, 41 quarterbacks were drafted in the first round.
Of those, 64% started at least half of the regular season games in Year 1 (which I will call first-year starters), and 39% started Week 1. These numbers are even higher for quarterbacks drafted in the top three: 77% were first-year starters, and 53% started Week 1. Despite the fact that Wentz currently sits third on the depth chart behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel, history suggests that Wentz will at least become the starter this year.
The reason the Eagles may instead choose to keep Bradford at the helm this season is that he compares favorably to those first-round rookie quarterbacks and to the veteran quarterbacks they replaced.
According to our points-above-expectation-level metric, Net Expected Points (NEP), first-year starters have an average Total NEP of -1.55 for their rookie seasons, while first-year starters drafted inside the top three have an average Total NEP of 11.83. This means that first-year starters generally lose expected points for their teams over a season.
For comparison, Bradford put up 31.22 Total NEP in 2015, which is just shy of the mean of 33.4 Total NEP for all quarterbacks in 2015. As a standalone passer (so, removing rushing from the equation), Bradford recorded a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.08 over 560 drop backs, shy of the league average 0.11. By comparison, Mark Sanchez recorded a score of -0.05 on his 100 drop backs.
Although eight first-year starters have topped Bradford’s 2015 Total NEP, six of them started Week 1, meaning Wentz is unlikely to beat Bradford’s 2015 mark without starting opening day.
Bad Quarterbacks Get Replaced
If rookie quarterbacks put up such paltry Total NEP as first-year starters, then why are they given the starting role?
The answer has to do with the quarterbacks they replaced. First-year starters come in for quarterbacks who, on average, put up 5.01 Total NEP the previous year.
Similarly, quarterbacks replaced by rookies selected within the first three picks put up -0.89 Total NEP the year prior to being replaced.
This means that, although Bradford was mediocre in 2015, he would be in the top quartile among quarterbacks replaced by first-year starters. In fact, if Wentz were named the starter for Week 1, Bradford would become the best quarterback ever to be replaced by a first-year starter in Week 1 since 2000.
Bad Teams Start Rookie Quarterbacks
Part of what makes this situation anomalous is that the Eagles traded up for the second overall pick, which is usually reserved for bad teams who are desperate for the hope of a new quarterback.
Just how much better were the 2015 Eagles than those teams who started rookies?
On average, first-year starters have taken the reigns for teams with a Total Adjusted NEP of -60.0, and guys taken in the top three took over for teams with a mark of -99.2.
The 2015 Eagles had a Total Adjusted NEP of 10.99.
Like Bradford, if the Eagles turn to Wentz in 2016, they would be one of the best offensive teams since 2000 to start a rookie quarterback. And if Wentz were to start Week 1, only the 2012 Bills, who started E.J. Manuel in 2013, would have had a higher Total Adjusted NEP of teams led by Week-1 rookies.
All of this is to say that it is statistically unlikely that Wentz would have a greater impact on the Eagles’ 2016 season than Bradford would.
Furthermore, Bradford has steadily improved since entering the league in 2010 and may be poised for an above-average 2016 for the first time in his career. The following graph displays a linear regression of Bradford’s Total NEP by Year, weighted by his number of drop backs.
If this trend were to continue, Bradford would post a career-high 50.3 Total NEP in 2016 and solidify himself as a worthy starting quarterback. This gives the Eagles a major incentive to flaunt Bradford as trade bait. Bradford is, after all, a former first overall pick and still only 28 years old.
While some may doubt the decision of Howie Roseman and the Eagles’ organization, the data suggests that they are handling their quarterback situation wisely.
Given what they traded, it is clear that they see Wentz as their future quarterback. Inevitably, some fans will call for that future after the first vicissitudes, perhaps as early as the pre-season.
It remains to be seen if the Eagles can withstand the pressure, but one thing is clear: the best thing for the Eagles in 2016 is keeping Wentz on the bench.