NFL Draft: How to Draft an NFL Quarterback

Ever wonder how to find one of these guys? (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Alright, because I'm gone for the next 10 days (in fact, these articles are automatically set, so I should have been gone the past couple days), I'm not going to be up to date with new material. Anyways, this past semester I took a class called "The Business of Sports" where I was asked to write a paper on any sports subject that I wanted. Naturally, I decided to write something about football. Looking around the league, it was interesting to see how many teams have drafted quarterbacks that do not pan into NFL successes. Quarterbacks like JaMarcus Russell flame out, while Matt Leinart and Brady Quinn never get a chance. Other players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady thrive. What's the reasoning? Is there some way of predicting NFL success by just looking at college success?

It turns out, yeah, there's a way of determining a quarterback's potential success. Others have already written on the subject and they've done a pretty solid job of evaluating this subject. However, I wanted to come up with a new metric, so I came up with a 100 point scoring system, based on 5 qualifications. When I wrote the paper, I hadn't fully ironed out my scoring system, so some of my numbers have changed, but the point still remains on the prospects.

The paper is over 20 pages. It's copied and pasted from Microsoft Word so it might have an odd format, but it's all after the jump. Be ready. I hope you enjoy reading!

Read it all after the jump!

Drafting an NFL Quarterback

            The quarterback on the football team in the National Football League is the most important player on the squad. They usually touch the ball on every offensive snap and are charged with the responsibility of handing the ball off to the running back or throwing the ball to the receiver. They must be able to read opposing defenses, make accurate throws and lead the team to victory. Out of the 32 teams in the NFL, 26 teams have a quarterback as a team captain.[i] The quarterbacks are the leaders on the offense and are usually held responsible for both victories and defeats.

            A quarterback can help a team succeed by producing well on the field and being role models off the field. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is renowned for his prolific play on the field as well as his humanitarian efforts in his spare time, having won the Super Bowl, which is the league championship game in the NFL, in the 2009 season and having won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award in 2006.[ii] On the other hand, a quarterback who does not produce on the field and who is ill perceived by the public off the field will lead his team to ruin. Former first pick overall in the 2007 NFL Draft JaMarcus Russell could not perform on the field and was cited for being in possession of illegal substances and is regarded as one of the greatest draft failures of all time.[iii] A quarterback

            A great quarterback will bring the team offensive success on the field, which is important because 14 of the past 20 Super Bowl champions have field one of the league's top 10 offenses of that season. The quarterback is integral in getting the ball to other players on offense, which means that a quality quarterback is necessary for a quality offense. A terrible quarterback will not be able to produce on offense, which means that the team will be unable to score and will not win many games. Due to the team's success being so closely linked to the performance of the quarterback, the top quarterbacks in the league are rewarded the greatest contracts and are the most paid players on the team. For example, in 2009, five of the six most paid players in the NFL were quarterbacks.[iv] With so much money wrapped up in a single position, it is crucial that the team signs a quality quarterback, or else they will have invested a large quantity of money in an asset that does not perform as expected.

            If a quarterback does not play as well as he should, the team will not perform at a high level and they certainly will not play at a level that will sell tickets and merchandise. The Arizona Cardinals reported a great increase in merchandise and ticket sales after their Super Bowl run in 2008 and have since seen a sharp decrease in interest as the team has become one of the worst in the league.[v] The rise and fall of the Cardinals is directly related to quarterback Kurt Warner. He played extremely well and brought the Cardinals to the Super Bowl and the playoffs in 2008 and in 2009. He retired after the 2009 season and the Cardinals did not have a suitable quarterback replacement, throwing the team into offensive disarray. The team has underperformed and sales have decreased.

            The quarterback transcends just on-the-field success of the team; he becomes the face of the franchise. Teams like the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots are known as successful franchises, which are directly linked to the high level of quarterback play by their quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The Pittsburgh Steelers gained a negative image during the summer of 2010 as sexual assault allegations were connected to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. If a lot of money is invested into the quarterback, like Russell with the Oakland Raiders, then the franchise will have to deal with negative connotations for an extended period of time.

            The combination of on-the-field success as well as franchise success means that having a high quality quarterback is extremely important to fielding a high performing NFL team. Teams can acquire a quarterback in many ways- through the free agency period, through trades and through the NFL Draft- but no acquisition affects a franchise more than drafting a quarterback in the first round of the NFL Draft. The first round is usually reserved for college prospects that have a high chance of a high level of success in the NFL. Players drafted in the first round command high contracts, with the first couple picks receiving contracts in the upper echelon of all NFL players. In fact, the first pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, quarterback Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams, received the most guaranteed money of any contract in NFL history before playing a minute of professional football.[vi] If a player drafts a player who does not translate well into the NFL, then the franchise will be set back many years because they will not have a top level quarterback and they also will be spending large quantities of money on underperforming players, preventing the team from spending money on other players. Therefore, the most important question when drafting a college quarterback for the NFL is "how can a team maximize their chances of drafting a successful quarterback?"

            There are numerous ways to evaluate a college prospect, but none are as prominent as the NFL Combine. The Combine runs prospects through a series of events in order to provide a base comparison of all the top quarterbacks who are considered NFL prospects.[vii] Each player has their height, weight and other measurements taken down and undergoes physical examinations to check for injuries. Teams are able to schedule interviews with prospects to determine the character of the player. Players are also given intelligence tests, like the Wonderlic, in order to gauge their intelligence.[viii] While quarterbacks are asked to run the same field events as prospects that play other positions, such as the 40 yard dash to determine straight line speed and the 3 cone drill to show agility, the real purpose for quarterbacks at the Combine is to perform well at the position drills.

            During the quarterback position drills, each quarterback is asked to throw the football in a variety of methods. They are asked to throw 3 step, 5 step and 7 step drops to see how comfortable the quarterback is while dropping back in the pocket. The 3 step drop is to see how the quarterback can make a pass on a quick throw, while the 7 step drop is for plays that are down the field. Within those drops, the quarterbacks are asked to throw to receivers who run and entire route tree. A route tree is the standard routes receivers are asked to run in the NFL, ranging from slant routes across the field, out routes to the sidelines, in routes to the middle of the field, corner routes to the deep corners of the field, and go routes which test arm strength as the receivers run straight down the field.

            Coaches and scouts are most focused on how the ball is released. Quarterbacks in college play a lot of football in the spread offense, which asks the quarterback to start in the "shotgun" position, which is a couple steps behind the ball. In the NFL, quarterbacks will be asked to take snaps directly above the football, so scouts want to see how a quarterback can drop back into the pocket, instead of starting the play already inside the pocket. They want to see the form of the quarterback, such as if he throws a tight spiral, if he plants his foot to drive the throw, if he shows arm strength on the deep routes and how he carries the ball when he's waiting to throw- is the ball in a place where a defender could easily strip the ball and force a turnover? [ix]

            The biggest disagreement over how the combine is run and how the quarterbacks are graded in the position drills is how quarterbacks are throwing to receivers they do not know. Quarterbacks do not have any chemistry with the receivers they are throwing at, which means they aren't always going to throw the ball right at the receiver. Scouts don't worry themselves over the quarterback if the receivers do not catch the ball, but that is the flaw in the combine. It is a poor judge of a quarterback's accuracy. While a quarterback can show off his throwing technique and his footwork, as well as his strength, his accuracy will not be fully represented.

            In order to better see a quarterback's accuracy, and to give the scouts a greater opportunity to watch prospects, college teams organize "Pro Days" which allows prospects to run through Combine events at their own institution. The benefit of a Pro Day is that players get to work with familiar players and equipment. Quarterbacks get to throw to their own receivers to better show accuracy and chemistry. Teams that attend Pro Days usually have some base interest in a prospect so it allows the teams to have more time to work with potential players. NFL Coaches tend to run the Pro Day events, which allow coaches to have a better sense of how players would fit into their team's dynamic.[x] However, despite the benefits of a Pro Day and a Combine in showing teams a quarterback's technique, neither event fully shows a quarterback's prowess because neither events feature a quarterback throwing against a defense.

            Therefore, a different method for evaluating prospects is watching their college performances. Watching game film shows how a quarterback can throw while under duress and how quickly they can make decisions. Teams can grade a prospect on how many touchdowns they throw in a season, how many yards they throw for, how many interceptions they toss and how many wins or losses they earn. Game film shows a different style of quarterback play than watching a prospect at a Pro Day. It shows a quarterback throwing to familiar players and it also shows a quarterback throwing against a defense. Scouts can learn how well a quarterback can read a defensive scheme and how well he can make adjustments to counter what a defense is doing.

            However, game film cannot be the final decision for selecting a prospect because a lot of how a quarterback performs in the game is how well his supporting cast plays in the game. A quality quarterback could be playing with awful receivers, which would reflect poorly upon the quarterbacks in the statistics and in how the team appears on tape. On the other hand, a poor quarterback can be made to look excellent if his receivers are excellent and make plays to make the quarterback look good. So when grading a prospect on his game tape, a scout must account for the quality level of the other ten players on offense, as well as the eleven players on defense who could affect the quarterback's play.

            A third method of evaluating a prospect is by reviewing is Post-Season Awards. At the beginning and end of every season, players receive accolades according to their perceived level of play. Voters of coaches, football writers and analysts generate lists that denote a player's level of excellence. Awards like "All-American" can show a prospects rank in comparison to the rest of the college football quarterbacks. There are many other awards that are given to the top quarterbacks at the end of the season; the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award is given to the best senior quarterback, the Davey O'Brien is given to the best college quarterback, the Sammy Baugh trophy is given to the most prolific passer and even the prestigious Heisman trophy is given to the best college football player.

            However, none of these awards are solid indicators of a solid professional career. Between 1989 and 2006, there have been eleven quarterbacks that have won the Heisman and only one quarterback, the Cincinnati Bengals' Carson Palmer, has gone on to be a successful starter.[xi] During that same time period, looking solely at the quarterback awards, there has been an extremely low success rate from award winner to NFL winner. Out of the combined 40 Johnny Unitas, Davey O'Brien and Sammy Baugh award winners during that time frame, only quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Daunte Culpepper, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning and Chad Pennington have led successful quarterbacking careers. Out of the players elected to "First Team All American", only Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer have had NFL success. Clearly, it is not a given that college success translate into NFL success.

            A new method that was developed in 2006 by David Lewin of Football Outsiders involves reviewing a college player's number of games started in college and completion percentage to project a player's success in the NFL.[xii] The idea is that if a college player starts 35+ games in college, then they've shown enough unchallengeable talent as a player on their team's roster. Also, if a player has completed over 60% of his passes in college, then he's an accurate enough passer to succeed in the NFL. The final piece for success is that the player is drafted in the first or second round because talent scouts can weed out which players are only successful because of their college's offensive system. The end result of Lewin's research is a value of how much the quarterback will add to his future team's offense. In 2007, this method has successfully predicted the downfall of JaMarcus Russell, but incorrectly predicted the value of Brady Quinn.[xiii] While this technique does not yield a 100% success rate, it is often correct when judging how much value a player adds to a team. However, this relies on evaluating a player after the draft because of the "first or second round" rule. This is unable of predicting a general expectation of a player prior to the draft.

            In the summer of 2010, John Lopez of Sports Illustrated altered the method created by Lewin by factoring in the Wonderlic score of the player. Lopez calls his method "The Rule of 26-27-60", where "if an NFL prospect scores at least a 26 on the Wonderlic test, starts at least 27 games in his college career and completes at least 60 percent of his passes, there's a good chance he will succeed at the NFL level."[xiv] This technique allows for pre-draft evaluation of a prospect, but it struggles to weed out the system quarterbacks who have inflated production because of how the offense is run at their college program. Some of the players who grade out successfully are Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers and Drew Brees, but also unsuccessfully includes Brady Quinn and Matt Leinart. The method eliminates busts Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell, but also eliminates Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre and Tom Brady. There are some clear flaws in the system because of how the Wonderlic exam removes less academic prospects, who could still be extremely cerebral football players.

            There is a clear need for a more definitive method that can better predict a prospect's success in the NFL. Looking over the past 15 years of NFL quarterbacking, there have been some elite quarterbacks who were taken in the first round of the draft, but also elite quarterbacks who were picked up in free agency. A lower boundary is set for quarterbacks considered in this study for quarterbacks having graduated after 1996 because there was a dramatic shift in college quarterbacking in the latter part of the decade. [xv] College teams transformed from run-first squads into throw-the-ball spread offenses, as quarterback prospects experienced a great increase in passing statistics such as yards, touchdowns and interceptions. A cap for recent players was incorporated into this study so quarterbacks who have not been in the league for an extended period of time would not be included.

            First, a prototypical quarterback needed to be determined in order to best compare all quarterback prospects. In order to best judge what players would be successful NFL quarterbacks, I compiled data of quarterbacks at an NFL level who have careers that beat the league average in three of the following: yards/attempt, touchdowns, interceptions and completion percentage. These quarterbacks needed to have a minimum of 48 starts in the NFL in order to prevent one-year-wonder quarterbacks from skewing the data. They also needed to be able to win without have a consistent running game to support the offense. There were 10 quarterbacks who qualified:

Tom Brady

Peyton Manning

Phillip Rivers

Drew Brees

Donovan McNabb

Ben Roethlisberger

Daunte Culpepper

Carson Palmer

Tony Romo

 

Chad Pennington

 

 

            Each quarterback has, over a minimum of 48 games, been above average as a quarterback. 48 games is the length of three seasons, which is bare minimum length of success to warrant a high draft selection. Some quarterbacks were excluded (like Matt Hasselbeck, David Garrard, and Marc Bulger) who only had success when a star running back (Shaun Alexander, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, and Steven Jackson) carried the offense.

            After deducing that these ten quarterbacks represent the ideal quarterbacks of the past decade, I had to find out how these players performed in college to see if there was any correlation between college success and professional success. Then, I compiled the college statistics from every quarterback drafted in the first round since 1996 to compare their college production. I then split up the players into three categories- the NFL Elite, who are the ten prototypical quarterbacks, the NFL Average, who are the first round picks who have become contributors, and then the NFL Busts, who are the first round picks who have not accomplished anything from a quarterbacking perspective.

            The way the data is compiled shows the player's statistics in relation to the year they are drafted. "Year 4" stats are the player's last year of production, whether they're a junior or a senior- if they leave for the draft, their "Year 4" stats are their last. Out of the "Elites", only Tom Brady did not have three years of production; the other nine quarterbacks were starters for three or four seasons. Brady was a starter for two. While starting more games at a college level gives a player a great chance for success, it is not a guarantee. Over half of the first round quarterbacks who are average or are busts played three or more seasons. The results show that a player isn't a guaranteed success if they've played three years, but they should start three seasons if they wish to have the chance at success.

            Looking at the quarterbacks' accuracy, the previous model by Lewin is dead on target- 60% is the magic "completion" number. Quarterbacks must have close to a 60% completion average if they wish to succeed in the NFL because if they cannot complete passes in college, then they won't be able to make the passes necessary against stronger competition in the NFL. It is not necessary that quarterbacks increase their accuracy if they play in a main college football conference like the SEC, Big 10 or PAC-10, but if the quarterback plays in a smaller division, then they must show improvement in their completion rate. A quarterback in the big conferences will be playing against top talent that grows with them, but a quarterback in the small conference needs to show progress and needs to show that they can dominate weaker competition.

            From a productivity point of view, a quarterback must have a quality touchdown to interception ratio. An elite prospect will not post lower than a 2:1 ratio in their final season. Also, an elite prospect should see an increase in the ratio by a point (ie: 1:1 to 2:1; or 2:1 to 3:1) during the college career because it shows a greater control of the football. The ratio is more important that the pure interception number because the older a college quarterback is in the system, the more he will be expected to throw the football. However, it is still important to watch the interception total since Busts tend to throw a similar quantity of total interceptions between their final and penultimate seasons, whereas the Elite and Average prospects show improvement over time. The following graph shows how the different prospects have their TD:INT ratio improve over time.

             The chart shows the traditional pattern of growth for quarterbacks. Normally, Year 1 is a red shirt year when the quarterback sits on the bench and watches the field to learn the plays, which leads to a low TD:INT score. Year 2 is when most of the prospects get on the field. They usually have a limited playbook since it's their first year as a starter, which leads to low risk throws to prevent turnovers. Year 3 is when the coaches start to allow the quarterback to utilize more of the playbook and throw the ball more (all prospects averaged around 50 more attempts per season between Year 3 and Year 4). Of course, more reign as a young quarterback leads to more mistakes and a dip in production. Finally, Year 4 is when a player makes or breaks it as a prospect. Either they make the leap as a player and start producing at a high level, or they don't produce and they become a Bust. As stated before, and as the graph shows, an average Elite or Average prospect will improve their TD:INT ratio by around 1 during their course as a starter, while Busts will only improve by 0.5. Busts have slower learning curves, which won't translate well into the NFL.

            In summary of the statistical analysis, in order to select a prospect with the greatest chance of success, the quarterback should stand between 6'1 and 6'6 in order to have a high enough release point so that defensive linemen cannot knock down the ball. They must weigh between 210 lbs to 245 lbs to protect the quarterback from the hard hits of opposing defenses, but also to keep the quarterback nimble. For the greatest chance of success, quarterbacks should have three years of starting experience in college. Looking at on the field production, quarterbacks must be able to complete 60% of their passes and, if they're in a small conference, must show higher completion numbers each season as a starter. They must have a cumulative 2:1 TD:INT ratio over their time as a start, and should have improved upon their TD:INT ratio between becoming a starter and finishing their final year.

            However, even with these guidelines, there are some clear prospects that break the rules. Byron Leftwich and Eli Manning are two Average quarterbacks who posted excellent numbers in college. Leftwich hasn't been able to perform in the NFL due to ankle injuries in 2005, 2006 and 2007, but he played well when he was on the field. Manning has won a Super Bowl, but as a quarterback he has below average accuracy, high interception numbers and has a lower than average yards/attempted pass score. Manning's college numbers were erratic as he varied between having a great season and having a poor season, and that has trended into his performance in the NFL. Looking at the Bust quarterbacks, Matt Leinart, JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn all posted phenomenal college numbers and met the guidelines, yet they've struggled to succeed at the professional level as a quarterback. Still, there must be a reason for how these three players broke the rules. Further examination of the player's performance requires a look at the caliber of his teammates.

            Matt Leinart inherited a University of Southern California team that was 4th in the country in 2002, with two 1,000 yard receivers already on the team. USC also had two new running backs in Reggie Bush and LenDale White. Leinart was in a perfect place to succeed- the team was already successful without him as Elite quarterback Carson Palmer led the team the previous season. The two 1,000 yard receivers were successful and the two running backs were able to keep opposing defenses away from him. That's not to say that Leinart didn't have any part in the team's success, but he inherited a team with two future first round picks and three future second round picks. After his first season as a starter, the team recruited another player of high skill, Dwayne Jarrett, who would also be a second round selection. The team was loaded with talent, upon which Leinart just had to capitalize. His true ability as a quarterback was masked by the high quality of players he was with because they were able to put him in a place to succeed.

            JaMarcus Russell joined a team with two future first round wide receivers in Buster Davis and Dwayne Bowe. The year before he became a starter, Louisiana State was ranked 2nd in the country, meaning the team was already filled with talent. Russell took over the starting position part of the way through the 2004 season and held on until he left school in 2006. However, at the end of the 2005 season, Russell had to miss a couple games due to an injury. During that time, his back-up Matt Flynn produced better than Russell, despite playing improved competition. Flynn's high level of play should have been a red flag for those interested in Russell. Not only was he playing with highly talented players on offense, but his back-up was able to produce at a higher level. Russell only had one strong year as a starter, despite his team's overall success and was a clear product of his system's talent.

            Finally, Brady Quinn is an anomaly of a player. He was a long time starter, he improved each year as a starter and he ended his career with two phenomenal seasons. He started as a freshman at Notre Dame, with a team with very little receiving talent, but a lot of assistance with a strong running game. His first two seasons as a starter were mediocre as Quinn's head coach Tyrone Willingham was forced out his job. As a junior, Quinn had a new head coach by the name of Charlie Weis, who had won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. Immediately, Quinn's production increased and he posted two consecutive highly successful quarterbacking seasons. Quinn meets the requirements of a solid quarterback, but why has he not had success in the NFL?

            One has to look at the level of competition that Quinn has faced and how he has fared against them. Notre Dame is an independent school, not attached to any football conference, so they are able to schedule whatever teams they wish to face over the course of the season. As a result, Notre Dame tends to play a large quantity of weak teams and only two or three strong teams each season. As a freshman, he was unable to beat an AP Top 25 team and when he finally beat two top teams as a sophomore, he played terribly. As a junior, under Weis, Quinn managed to put up tremendous numbers against the weak competition, yet when he faced the top teams, he once again faltered in production. Only 5 of his 32 touchdowns came in his four games against Top 25 teams. As a senior, Quinn played four games against Top 25 opponents, winning only one of those games. As a quarterback, 5 of his 7 interceptions came against the Top 25 teams. Throughout his college career, Quinn showed that he was an excellent quarterback when facing weak opponents. However, when he was faced with the challenge of playing Top 25 teams, he was unable to produce.

            The two lessons to be learned from these three players are that talent evaluators should be wary of players that are surrounded by other extremely talented prospects and that scouts should be on the lookout for players who produce well against weak squads, but are unable to perform when playing a high level of competition. When looking at all of the Elite quarterbacks, it's clear that these quarterbacks make the talent around them and are not a product of it. Chad Pennington began his career with NFL All-Pro Randy Moss for one season, yet still played at a high level without Moss. No other Elite prospect had the benefit of joining a team with an elite receiver already on the roster. However, over the course of the quarterback's reign, there were receivers who emerged as a result of the high level of quarterback play.

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            So after reviewing these prospects, there a couple rules that can be derived from the information. Following these rules will give the prospect a greater chance at NFL success:

1.      The quarterback must be between 6'1 and 6'6, between 210 lbs and 245 lbs and they should have three or more years of starting experience.

2.      They must be able to complete a cumulative 60% of their passes at the college level if they are in a Bowl Conference; if they are in a lesser conference, they need to show an improvement of dominance each season.

3.      They will have a minimum TD:INT ratio of 2:1 as a senior, and will have shown some increase in that ratio during their time as a starter.

4.      They must not be a product of the talent that surrounds them; be wary of quarterbacks on teams with elite receiving talent.

5.      They must be able to play well against top opponents, not just weak teams.

            Following these rules will not guarantee an Elite prospect, but they will increase the chances that the player will have success. Using these rules, we can review the past couple of seasons to see which quarterbacks mark out well as potentially successful NFL quarterbacks. Here's a list of quarterbacks drafted, over the past three seasons, being evaluated by the above criteria:

1.      Matt Ryan, Boston College, 2008 NFL Draft.

a.       Meets the size requirement and became a starter during his 2nd year.

b.      Completed exactly 60% of his passes during his career.

c.       Increased his TD:INT ratio as a starter, falls below the necessary 2:1 ratio.

d.      Ryan had little NFL talent around him at Boston College.

e.       Ryan won 75% of his games against ranked opponents and carried the offense.

Ryan meets 90% of the criteria to be an Elite NFL starter, only missing the TD:INT ratio. He projects to be an above average quarterback, according to his comparisons with the Elite quarterbacks.

 

2.      Joe Flacco, University of Delaware, 2008 NFL Draft.

a.       Meets the size requirement, but became a starter during his 3rd year.

b.      Averaged over 63% completion rate in college.

c.       Meets the TD:INT ratio requirement and increased over career.

d.      Flacco had little talent around him at Delaware.

e.       Flacco played in a weaker conference, but dominated the competition.

Flacco meets 90% of the criteria to be an Elite NFL starter, missing out on games started. He projects to be an above average quarterback like Ryan, but should take an extra season to mature to Ryan's level of play.

 

3.      Matthew Stafford, University of Georgia, 2009 NFL Draft.

a.       Meets the size requirement and was a three year starter.

b.      Did not have a cumulative 60% completion rate in college.

c.       Meets the TD:INT ratio requirement and increased over career.

d.      Had an elite running back, but no top receivers until his senior year, which happened to be his best season. Possible red flag.

e.       Stafford played in 15 games against Top 25 teams and won 66%. However, he did not play exceptionally well in any of these games.

Stafford meets 60% of the criteria to be an Elite NFL starter because he never showed a high level of accuracy and his performance is questionable when he's facing a high quality opponent and when he's playing with solid surrounding talent. Stafford should become an Average NFL starter.

 

4.      Mark Sanchez, University of Southern California, 2009 NFL Draft.

a.       Meets the size requirement, but was barely over a one year starter.

b.      Had a cumulative 60% completion rate in college.

c.       Meets the TD:INT ratio requirement, but only had one season to evaluate.

d.      Inherited a 3rd ranked team with an established receiver and offense. Could be a product of surrounding players.

e.       Won the four games against ranked teams he faced and played exceptionally in each game.

Sanchez meets 60% of the criteria to be an Elite NFL starter because he lacks the experience and could be a product of his surrounding players. He should be an Average starter, however, if he's given the correct elite players he can excel.

 

5.      Josh Freeman, Kansas State, 2009 NFL Draft.

a.       Meets the size requirement and was a three year starter.

b.      Did not have a cumulative 60% completion rate in college.

c.       Meets the TD:INT ratio requirement and increased over career.

d.      Was not surrounded by top talent.

e.       Stafford played in 11 games against Top 25 teams and won 2. He played poorly in all but one of the victories.

Freeman meets 60% of the criteria to be an Elite NFL starter because he lacks the accuracy and the ability to perform well against high quality opponents. He projects to be an Average NFL quarterback.

 

6.      Sam Bradford, Oklahoma, 2010 NFL Draft.

a.       Meets the size requirement and was a three year starter, prior to an injury.

b.      Had a cumulative 60% completion rate in college.

c.       Meets the TD:INT ratio requirement and increased over career.

d.      Had an elite running back, but no top receivers. When he was injured in 2009, his replacement was unable to match his offensive output.

e.       Bradford won 8 of his 11 games against Top 25 teams and played exceptionally well in most of the games.

Bradford meets 95% of the criteria to be an Elite NFL starter because an injury prevented him from starting a third season. He projects to be a great cornerstone quarterback for a franchise to build around. He may take a year or two to reach his potential because of his injury in college.

 

7.      Tim Tebow, University of Florida, 2010 NFL Draft.

a.       Meets the size requirement and was a three year starter.

b.      Had a cumulative 60% completion rate in college.

c.       Meets the TD:INT ratio requirement, but it decreased over his career. Red flag.

d.      Inherited the #1 ranked team, with a plethora of offensive weapons. Struggled as a senior when his #1 target, Percy Harvin, graduated. Major red flag.

e.       Tebow went 10-3 against Top 25 teams as a starter and played well in most of the games as a junior, but struggled as a senior. Small red flag.

Tebow meets 60% of the criteria to be an Elite NFL starter because his production decreased over his career at Florida. He seemed to rely upon the talent around him and struggled without them. He could be an Average starter if he's put in a place where he's surrounded by a lot of talent.

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After reviewing these prospects, it seems that Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco project to be the most solid quarterbacks in the NFL. Looking forward to next year's draft, there are four consensus quarterback prospects that could be taken in the first round: Stanford's Andrew Luck, Washington's Jake Locker, Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and Auburn's Cam Newton. Here is how they grade out:

Andrew Luck, Stanford, 2011 NFL Draft.

a.       Meets the size requirement, but has been a two year starter.

b.      Had a cumulative 60% completion rate in college.

c.       Meets the TD:INT ratio requirement and it's increased.

d.      Inherited a strong running back, but did not have quality receivers.

e.       Luck has gone 4-1 against Top 25 teams and has played slightly above average. Minor red flag.

Luck meets 85% of the criteria to be an Elite NFL starter because he lacks experience and he hasn't been exceptional against top teams.

 

Jake Locker, Washington, 2011 NFL Draft.

a.       Meets the size requirement and was a projected four year starter, but sat out his second year with an injury.

b.      Does not have a cumulative 60% completion rate in college. Red flag.

c.       Does not meet the TD:INT ratio requirement and hasn't greatly improved. Red flag.

d.      Surrounded by no talent.

e.       Locker went 4 out of 15 against Top 25 teams and did not have many great performances. When he played well, he was exceptional, but he rarely played well. Red flag.

Locker meets 45% of the criteria to be an Elite NFL starter because he lacks accuracy, struggles to make the players around him better and he rarely plays up to competition. He will be considered a bust if taken in the first round.

 

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas, 2011 NFL Draft.

a.       Is a little taller than the size requirement, but is a two year starter.

b.      Had a cumulative 60% completion rate in college at Arkansas and has increased.

c.       Meets the TD:INT ratio requirement and has stayed constant.

d.      Inherited a losing team with only a tight end as a proven receiver. He has made some players into potential draft picks.

e.       Mallett won 2 of the 9 games against Top 25 teams, but he played either average or extremely well in most of the games.

Mallett meets 80% of the criteria to be an Elite NFL starter because he lacks experience and hasn't brought his team to victory against top teams.

 

Cam Newton, Auburn, 2011 NFL Draft.

a.       Meets the size requirement, but is a one year starter.

b.      Has a cumulative 60% completion rate in his one year as a starter in college.

c.       Meets the TD:INT ratio requirement, but only has one season to evaluate. Red flag.

d.      Inherited an average team with average receivers, but has not made those receivers better. Minor red flag.

e.       Newton has gone 5-0 against the five Top 25 teams that he's faced. However, he's only won one of those games by throwing the ball. His other victories are a product of his rushing ability. Small red flag.

Newton meets 50% of the criteria to be an Elite NFL starter because of his total lack of experience. His passing ability relies on his running of the ball, which is an offensive style that not many NFL teams utilize. 

---

            Looking at these prospects, it appears that Luck and Mallett are the top two prospects, while Newton and Locker are further behind. Newton could greatly benefit as a quarterback if he returned to school, or else he might become a bust in the NFL. Locker appears out of luck since he is a senior and must look towards the draft.

            The techniques developed in this piece are not a guarantee of a college player's success in the NFL. It is an evaluation of past quarterback prospects to determine a metric that can help predict how well a college player will transition into the professional league. This in-depth analysis can assist an NFL scout in determining the potential of an NCAAF quarterback.

---

Bibliography

 

"All Football Statistics." Totalfootballstats.com. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

"College Football Statistics." Sports-Reference.com. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

"Drew Brees - The Brees Dream Foundation." Drew Brees - The Brees Dream Foundation. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

Galko, Eric. "2010 NFL Combine Workout Preview." Optimum Scouting. 22 Feb. 2010. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

"History | NFL Scouting Combine." NFL Scouting Combine. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

Johnston, Jon. "The Spread Offense - Theory and Recent History - Corn Nation." Corn Nation. 2 Oct. 2008. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

Lewin, David. "2007 Quarterbacks Draft Preview." FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS. 17 Apr. 2007. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

Lewin, David. "College Quarterbacks Through the Prism of Statistics." FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS. 23 Mar. 2006. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

"List of Heisman Trophy Winners." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

Lopez, John. "Rule of 26-27-60 Predicts NFL Quarterback Success." SI.com. 8 July 2010. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

"National Football League Team Captains." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

"NCAA Division I Football Statistics." NCAAF. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

"NFL Salaries." USATODAY.com. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

"NFL Statistics." Pro-Football-Reference.com. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

"NFL.com Pro Days." NFL.com Blogs. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

Schefter, Adam. "St. Louis Rams, Sam Bradford Agree to Six-year, $78 Million Deal - ESPN." ESPN.com. 31 July 2010. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

Sunnucks, Mike. "Cards Country? Winning Ways Boost Sales, TV Ratings." The Business Journals. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

Tafur, Vitorrio. "Russell Accused of Illegal Codeine Possession." San Francisco Gate. 05 Aug. 2010. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .

"Workouts & Drills." NFL.com. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .



[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Football_League_team_captains

[ii] http://www.drewbrees.com/bio

[iii] http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/07/06/SPTM1E9TT7.DTL

[iv] http://content.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/salaries/top25.aspx?year=2009

[v] http://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/stories/2010/10/18/story2.html

[vi] http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=5425041

[vii] http://www.nflcombine.net/history

[viii] http://www.nflhouse.com/rankings/articles/2010-nfl-combine-workout-preview.html

[ix] http://www.nfl.com/combine/workouts

[x] http://blogs.nfl.com/category/pro-days/page/2/

[xi] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Heisman_Trophy_winners

[xii] http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2006/college-quarterbacks-through-prism-statistics

[xiii] http://www.footballoutsiders.com/nfl-draft/2007/2007-quarterbacks-draft-preview

[xiv] http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/john_lopez/07/08/qb.rule/index.html

[xv] http://www.cornnation.com/2008/10/2/627075/the-spread-offense-theory

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