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Blame Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, and the Risk of Drafting a QB

Colin Kaepernick

Photo courtesy of Football Schedule

Drafting well is about risk management. As this site’s creator likes to say, it rarely makes sense to make a particular selection if you can get 90% of the value later. “At this point I am dancing dangerously close to having my real draft strategy match my joke strategy of ‘wait on all positions‘.”

I originally wrote a long intro to this piece, which included, among other things, Karl Popper’s thoughts on Occam’s Razor and a brief discussion of how much I hate TQBR. It then occurred to me you probably came for actionable reality/fantasy intelligence. If you’re interested in the original intro, feel free to visit Money in the Banana Stand.

Anyway, that’s a long short(er) way of introducing the concept we’re hearing a lot about this year: waiting until the second or third round to take a flyer on your franchise quarterback.

Is NFL Success Predictable at the QB Position?

While simple WR projection algorithms can be shown to dominate scouting-generated rankings, many analyst-generated models for quarterback projection haven’t held up particularly well. (That said, Jon Moore does an excellent job breaking down Ryan Nassib and explaining how analysts would have pulled the trigger much earlier on Tom Brady.)

There’s some evidence to suggest completion percentage and interception rate help predict NFL success, but both of these metrics are built into a simple stat that provides more information as well. Adjusted Yards Per Attempt.

Deleted discussion of scouting foibles and why Blaine Gabbert’s work ethic is probably not the problem.

Before we can discuss the 2013 prospects, it’s important to understand the profile of current NFL starters.

Adjusted Yards Per Attempt – Final Year Before Drafted

Average NFL Starter 8.7 3.5 3.9


* This does not include Tony Romo or Joe Flacco, who didn’t play at FBS schools, nor does it include Drew Stanton or Tarvaris Jackson who don’t really seem like legitimate candidates to start in Buffalo and Arizona.

Averages only take us so far. Grouping the players in tiers gives a sense of the likelihood for breakout stars and franchise-crushing busts.

Tier One – Elite passers in terms of AYA (above 9.2)

RG3, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, Alex Smith, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford

Quick Take: There are a lot of stars and only one franchise anchor (Sanchez). Most of these guys are fairly recent. Most are fairly agile. Most were good immediately.

Tier Two – Mediocre college passers in terms of AYA (9.1 to 8.0)

Brandon Weeden, Colin Kaepernick, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Tom Brady

Quick Take: Again a lot of stars and only Weeden as a potential liability. (He’s also a weird comp for anybody because of age; if he weren’t already at the tail end of his athletic peak, his rookie year would have been fine.) These guys took a little longer to break out but exploded when they did.

Tier Three – Weak college passers in terms of AYA (below 8.0)

Josh Freeman, Matt Schaub, Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Christian Ponder, Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Jake Locker, Matt Ryan, Blaine Gabbert

Quick Take: This tier includes only two stars in Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. It sports a lot guys who will be out of the NFL by 2014.

General Conclusions

1) Most current NFL starters were efficiency juggernauts as college quarterbacks.

2) The 2011 and 2012 drafts that yielded Andy Dalton (9.9 aya), Colin Kaepernick (8.6), and Russell Wilson (11.8) as non-1st round picks were relatively unique events. Scouts missed badly on these quarterbacks who combined plus athleticism with excellent passing peripherals.

3) If you are in a draft season where quarterbacks with awful efficiency numbers are projected to go in the first round (Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert) and quarterbacks with strong efficiency numbers are projected to go later (Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick) then it may make sense to roll the dice and hope an elite prospect falls to the second round.

In Part Two we’ll look at the 2013 crop to see how the passers really measure up. Is this a terrible draft for quarterbacks as most would have us believe? Does it make sense for quarterback-needy teams like Jacksonville, Cleveland, Arizona, and Buffalo to wait until the second round to pull the trigger?


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