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Tyler Wilson and the Curse of the “Old” Quarterback


In 2001 a young pitcher named Danny Almonte took the baseball world by storm.  He became a household name after striking out 16 en route to a perfect game in the Little League World Series.  He showed the kind of skill and velocity that led people to envision a future big league star.  Danny dominated the competition.  The only problem is that Danny was 14 years old, two year older than the competition, and too old to be playing in the tournament.

After recent RotoViz articles have explored the impact of age on running back and wide receiver performance, I thought it might be time to factor it into quarterback projections.  Because those positions rely on speed, youth is a key factor.  For quarterbacks, I’ve never paid much attention to age, except in Weeden-like instances.  Think about it: Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are both past their 35th birthdays and still going strong.  How many 35 year old running backs are still toting the rock?  Who cares if a QB is 22 or 24 when the expectation is that they could play for another decade?

But what if age DOES matter for quarterback prospects?

I plugged an age function into my quarterback database to consider the possibilities.  Similar to how baseball uses July 1 as their cutoff, I decided that October 15th is the midpoint of the college football season.  What I began to notice is that quarterbacks who play their final college season at 23+ are an unusual bunch, both in quantity and future performance.  This list was drawn from my spreadsheet of (almost) every QB drafted since 1995.  Consider the following:

QB Final NCAA Season Age College Readiness Grade Draft Round
Smith, Akili 1998 23 Oregon 103.7 1
Weeden, Brandon 2011 28 Oklahoma State 102.3 1
Druckenmiller, Jim 1996 24 Virginia Tech 100.5 1
Pennington, Chad 1999 23 Marshall 98.3 1
Harrington, Joey** 2001 22 Oregon 93.8 1
Tannehill, Ryan 2011 23 Texas A&M 84 1
Dalton, Andy** 2010 22 TCU 115.6 2
Beck, John 2006 25 BYU 107.7 2
Carter, Quincy 2000 23 Georgia 43.7 2
Hoying, Bobby 1995 23 Ohio State 100.1 3
McCoy, Colt 2009 23 Texas 94.4 3
Frye, Charlie 2004 23 Akron 88.1 3
Whitehurst, Charlie 2005 23 Clemson 81.2 3
Ragone, Dave 2002 23 Louisville 70 3
Edwards, Trent** 2006 22 Stanford 0 3
LeFors, Stefan 2004 23 Louisville 123.6 4
Weinke, Chris 2000 28 Florida St 92.6 4
Cousins, Kirk 2011 23 Michigan St 87.5 4
Davey, Rohan 2001 23 LSU 87.4 4
McGee, Stephen 2008 23 Texas A&M 0 4
Stanzi, Ricky 2010 23 Iowa 103.6 5
Fasani, Randy 2001 23 Stanford 97.1 5
Yates, TJ 2010 23 UNC 92.8 5
Doman, Brandon 2001 24 BYU 92 5
Feeley, AJ 2000 23 Oregon 0 5
Woodson, Andre 2007 23 Kentucky 98.3 6
Kingsbury, Kliff 2002 23 Texas Tech 97.7 6
Pike, Tony 2009 23 Cincinnati 97.5 6
Brennan, Colt 2007 24 Hawaii 92.4 6
Brandstater, Tom 2008 23 Fresno State 72.6 6
Painter, Curtis 2008 23 Purdue 65.6 6
Booty, Josh 2000 25 LSU 50.5 6
Harnish, Chandler 2011 23 No Illinois 105.3 7
Van Pelt, Bradlee 2003 23 Colorado St 90.8 7
Navarre, John 2003 23 Michigan 89.2 7
Detmer, Koy 1996 23 Colorado 83.5 7
Mauck, Matt 2003 24 LSU 76.9 7
Kilian, James 2004 23 Tulsa 66.6 7
Pickett, Cody 2003 23 Washington 66.1 7
Robinson, Zac 2009 23 Oklahoma State 65.7 7
Keenum, Case 2011 23 Houston 109.5 UDFA
Harrell, Graham 2008 23 Texas Tech 108.4 UDFA
Hall, Max 2009 24 BYU 103.3 UDFA
Tolzien, Scott 2010 23 Wisconsin 102.3 UDFA
Volek, Billy 1999 23 Fresno State 90.3 UDFA
White, Jason 2004 24 Oklahoma 80.8 UDFA
Hoyer, Brian 2008 23 Michigan St 62 UDFA
Florence, Nick 2012 23 Baylor 102.2 ?
Doege, Seth 2012 23 Texas Tech 97.9 ?
Jones, Landry 2012 23 Oklahoma 96.5 ?
Klein, Collin 2012 23 Kansas State 92.2 ?
Rodgers, Jordan 2012 24 Vanderbilt 91.6 ?
Wilson, Tyler 2012 23 Arkansas 79.8 ?

**Harrington, Dalton, and Edwards were less than 15 days shy of their 23rd birthday at the cutoff, but I thought they were interesting enough to include.

Who on that list had the best NFL career?  Chad Pennington?  Besides him it looks like a bunch of fringe starters, doesn’t it?  Similar to Almonte, these guys were all older than their competition meaning they were more physically mature and had more football experience than their competition.  No wonder people thought they were high-end talents; they were…relative to their opponents.  The problem is that all those advantages went out the window when they went to the NFL.

(Check out the follow up to this article: Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers hate my old QB theory)

In baseball, a development schedule might look like this.  While nothing concrete exists in the football world, it seems like the most talented guys are in the NFL at 23, if not sooner.  For reference, guys like Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, and RG3 played their final college season at age 21.

So why does age matter?  Consider that Jordan Rodgers will be 25 for week one of the upcoming season.  By comparison, his brother Aaron Rodgers had four NFL seasons under his belt by age 25.  Those four years of premium coaching, dedicated training regiments, and practice against the best seem to make all the difference.

Looking ahead to the 2013 NFL draft, I would be wary of the highlighted bunch.  Landry Jones or Tyler Wilson might provide depth, but history would suggest that they won’t provide much more.  If that’s the case, why bother drafting someone who seems unlikely to ever contribute?

Oh, and so you don’t get sucked up in the whirlwind next year, A.J. McCarron, Tahj Boyd, David Fales, and Brynn Renner will all be 23+ this fall.  They’ll look great, but history won’t be on their side.

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