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Is Johnny Manziel One of the Best QB Prospects Ever?
image via wikimedia commons
image via wikimedia commons

Guildenstern: Syllogism the second: One, probability is a factor that operates within natural forces. Two, probability is not operating as a factor. Three, we are now within un-, sub-, or supernatural forces. Discuss. Not too heatedly.
Rosencrantz: I’m sorry I—What’s the matter with you?
Guildenstern: The scientific approach to the examination of phenomena is a defence against the pure emotion of fear. Now—counter to the previous syllogism: follow me carefully, it may prove a comfort. If we postulate, and we just have, that within un-, sub-, or supernatural forces, the probability is that the law of probability will not operate as factor, then we accept that the probability of the first part will not operate as a factor, in which case the law of probability will operate as a factor within un-, sub-, or supernatural forces. And since it obviously hasn’t been doing so, we can take it that we are not held within un-, sub-, or supernatural forces after all; in all probability that is. Which is a great relief to me personally.   – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard

While analysts don’t necessarily agree on the nuts and bolts of running back and wide receiver projection, they agree the positions are relatively predictable if you’re thinking in probabilistic terms. These positions can be projected with impressive accuracy by simply looking at athleticism and on-field production and then adjusting for age. To be sure, you need to know which athletic measures are most important, and you need to know how to adjust production for context. In the case of running backs, efficiency levels tend to be less important than touches, especially passing game touches. In the case of receivers, market share tends to be a blunt but ultimately successful tool for placing everybody on an even playing field.

The same cannot be said for quarterbacks.

Football Outsiders recently published their Lewin Career Forecast (LCF) numbers in an article entitled, “The Year It Means Nothing,” which is perhaps more than a little weird. Aaron Murray came in first, and a lot of people think Murray is this year’s Tyler Wilson, but it’s odd to throw your own formula under the bus without at least waiting to see if it fails.

If we assume that success at the quarterback position is based on skill and that as a result it cannot be completely random, the best way to evaluate the position is through an evidence-based approach which employs as many screens as possible.

1. Efficiency

While there are numerous exceptions, it’s still the case that being statistically good in college is better than being statistically poor in college. This would seem fairly obvious, but many believe that both a) statistics don’t actually tell you what happened on the field and b) projectability is more important than current skill.

This is not exactly the case. Current professional quarterbacks averaged approximately 8.7 adjusted yards per attempt in college. And over the last 15 years, first round hits hold a 0.5 AYA advantage over first round misses. I recently checked to see if the average AYA of first round picks was on the steady ascent over that time period – assuming it was – but that does not appear to be the case.

So, if being efficient is better than being inefficient, we should prioritize those quarterbacks who were efficient and avoid those who were not. (This post works in tandem with the 2014 RotoViz Consensus Quarterback Rankings, and the exact efficiency numbers can be found there.)

Prioritize: Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, A.J. McCarron, Blake Bortles

Avoid: Logan Thomas, Tom Savage

The Winner: Zach Mettenberger

When you watch Mettenberger highlights, you’re basically treated to an endless loop of Jarvis Landry circus catches in traffic. Maybe it’s not a stretch to consider him a leading contender to be 2014’s Keenan Allen.

2. Multiple Productive Seasons

One of the most important factors in the LCF is games played. There’s a problem with this that will become obvious in a moment but an extended track record of success is certainly a positive. It helps to avoid sample size issues and cuts through what might be a very favorable single-season context.

Prioritize: Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, A.J. McCarron, Tajh Boyd

Avoid: Zach Mettenberger

The Winner: Aaron Murray


3. Accuracy 

For this, I like to go to the game charters and look at verifiable, large sample information.

Employing the charting results from Greg Peshek and Darren Page for 2013 and the Football Study Hall crew led by Bill Connelly for 2012, I’m going to share some generalized conclusions.

  • Teddy Bridgewater is the most accurate quarterback from this class. He’s accurate at all levels. He’s accurate both inside and outside the hashes. He’s accurate when pressured and against the blitz.
  • Johnny Manziel isn’t quite as consistently accurate – he’s less successful in the intermediate area inside the hashes and against the blitz – but his numbers are still very strong. He’s an excellent deep thrower and has a tremendous touchdown percentage.
  • Blake Bortles numbers are solid but not extraordinary. There are no red flags other than a slightly disappointing TD/INT ratio.
  • Zach Mettenberger was strong in almost every category – as his overall stats would suggest – but wasn’t great on passes in the 0-9 yard range and against pressure.
  • Derek Carr and A.J. McCarron struggle badly when asked to throw deep down the field or outside the hashes.
  • Tajh Boyd struggled on short passes and when asked to throw down the center of the field.
  • Aaron Murray, Logan Thomas, and Tom Savage struggled just about everywhere.

Prioritize: Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, Zach Mettenberger

Avoid: You can make a case to avoid everyone else. The big concern here is for Derek Carr. He’s made a big point during the draft process to emphasize his tape, but those who’ve actually charted his individual throws have turned up myriad red flags. The other player who jumps out with negative marks is Tajh Boyd. The Clemson quarterback put up strong overall numbers but generates consistently poor scouting reports.

The Winner: Teddy Bridgewater


4. Age

In looking at other positions, we’ve found that players who succeed at the NFL level are on average younger when drafted than those who fail. A player’s age at first breakout also seems to matter quite a bit. Last season, Jon Moore discovered a similar phenomenon for quarterbacks and the Fantasy Douche followed up by demonstrating that younger quarterbacks tend to outperform their draft positions while older players underperform. That also fits in with my recent piece looking at the combination of final season college and rookie year pro numbers.

In what’s becoming a trend, the guys to target here are Manziel and Bridgewater, both of whom will be a young 22. Miami quarterback Stephen Morris also makes an appearance. Ages for all of the quarterback prospects can be found in the Rookie Age Project or the QB Composite Rankings.

Target: Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Stephen Morris

Avoid: Derek Carr, Aaron Murray, Tajh Boyd, A.J. McCarron, Tom Savage

5. Prototypical Height, Weight, Arm

While actual performance and age definitely matter, it’s not clear that possessing “prototypical quarterback size and arm strength” makes any difference. For example, I was messing around the other day and separated the current NFL starters into groups of strong, neutral, and weak arms and found the following results for 2014 QB rating. Strong: 84.7, Neutral 89.1, and Weak 91.6. Of course, that doesn’t prove anything – there are multiple reasons why that could be the case without really saying anything about the question at hand – but it’s interesting.

A better way to look at it might be to ask whether or not there are any tall, strong-armed quarterbacks who struggled in college (statistically) but emerged as quality NFL starters. Over the last 15 years, ten quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round who fit the archetype of an NFL quarterback despite averaging 8.0 AYA or less in college. Of those players, two have emerged as viable starters (Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler), two are entering make-or-break seasons (Ryan Tannehill and Jake Locker), and six were busts (Tim Couch, J.P. Losman, Josh Freeman, Blaine Gabbert, Patrick Ramsey, and Kyle Boller).

What about this idea of drafting a “project” because of his tools? There are four current NFL starters who were non-first round picks and averaged 8.0 AYA or less in college. Those four players are Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Nick Foles, and Matt Schaub. All four rely on decision-making and anticipation.

I’m sure if you go back through the NFL record books, you’ll find evidence of a player who struggled in college despite an impressive arm and then emerged in the NFL. But there is no current precedent for the idea of drafting and developing a player like Tom Savage or Logan Thomas.

Regardless, everything else being equal, you would certainly prefer the size/arm strength phenom.

Target: Zach Mettenberger, Tom Savage, Logan Thomas

Avoid: Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Aaron Murray

The Winner: Blake Bortles


6. Rushing ability

Whereas size and arm strength may be factoring too heavily into quarterback evaluations, a signal caller’s ability to run with the ball appears to make a huge difference. The recent success of quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, and RG3 doesn’t leave a lot of room for doubt. Moreover, pocket passers with situational scrambling ability – playoff QBs like Aaron RodgersAndrew Luck and Alex Smith – are also delivering value in key moments. This shouldn’t be a surprise. You can trace the value of scrambling ability back through Jeff Garcia, Rich Gannon, Steve Young, and all the way back to Fran Tarkenton.

Target: Brett Smith, Logan Thomas, Tajh Boyd

The Winner: Johnny Manziel


Final Board

I think it’s helpful to go through as many of these screens as possible and see who starts popping up on a lot of them. But here’s the problem. If you don’t know how to weight the variables, then you may not know anything at all. The way the attributes combine is frequently more important than the existence of the attribute in the first place. But based on this exercise, I believe we can draw some tentative conclusions.

For the No. 3 through No. 15 quarterbacks, please check out the comments in the Composite RotoViz QB Rankings.

1. Johnny Manziel – Johnny Football won the Heisman as a freshman with better adjusted QBR numbers than Andrew Luck posted in his same age season or his final season. (Luck’s 2010 season was better.) He then improved significantly as a passer as a sophomore. Everything we know about him suggests he’s Drew Brees with rushing ability, a Steve Young who’s ready to play right away, a modern day Tarkenton. He’ll be a fantasy QB1 in 2014, and it’s not hyperbole to consider him one of the best prospects of all time.

2. Teddy Bridgewater – Bridgewater would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He went back to school, played significantly better, and now, if you believe the rumors, could fall into the second round. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, So it goes. Very few college prospects have been as accurate or as productive at such a young age. Assuming a rational world in which Manziel goes No. 1 to the Texans, Bridgewater should be off the board no later than No. 3 to the Jaguars.

3. Blake Bortles
4. Zach Mettenberger
5. Aaron Murray
6. A.J. McCarron
7. Stephen Morris
8. Tajh Boyd
9. Brett Smith
10. Jimmy Garoppalo
11. Derek Carr
12. David Fales
13. Connor Shaw
14. Logan Thomas
15. Keith Wenning

If you liked this article, you’ll love the preseason and in-season content as well as the suite of league-destroying appsSubscribe to RotoViz.

Shawn Siegele is the creator of the contrarian sports website Money in the Banana Stand and Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.

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