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How Much Does Draft Age Matter for Quarterbacks? – The Wrong Read, No. 31

Welcome to the 31st installment of the “The Wrong Read,” an article series that reflects on recent podcast episodes, pushing the ideas discussed on the podcasts to their logical conclusions and offering some further thoughts on the topics broached by the guests and hosts. The article below is about quarterbacks. With the NFL Draft quickly approaching, perhaps you will be interesting in reading about one of the top QB prospects in the 2018 class.

Let’s call this the fourth article in a “Wrong Read” miniseries on draft age. Previous articles covered running backs, tight ends, and, a long time ago, wide receivers. What you’re currently reading will cover quarterbacks—how does draft age affect a QB’s career fantasy production? Are younger QBs at an advantage? At all other positions we’ve found that players who are 21 years old as rookies drastically outperform all other age groups throughout their careers. Is this the case at the QB position? Let’s get right to the charts.1

QB Draft Age and Career Production

This first chart shows average fantasy points per season by draft age.

As with all other positions, the top-performing cohort is the group of players who were 21-year-old rookies. However, the gap between the age-21 cohort and the age-22 cohort is considerably smaller than at other positions. While QBs who start their NFL careers at the age of 21 do have an advantage over their peers, it is not as great an advantage as we see at other positions.

This phenomenon is even more apparent if we look at the percentage of player-seasons that finish in the top 12.

In contradistinction to every other offensive skill position, QBs who were 22-year-old rookies have produced almost as many QB1 seasons as those who were 21, relative to the total number of seasons played by each cohort. To put that another way, when comparing the percentage of player seasons that finish in the top 12, QBs who were 21-year-old rookies have almost no advantage over those who were 22-year-old rookies. Both cohorts produce top-12-QB seasons at about a 30 percent rate.

Controlling for Outperformers

Interestingly, when we try to get at something like a success rate for QBs by counting each player only once, the age-21 advantage returns:

What this suggests is that there are just a few QBs who were 22-year-old rookies having an outsized influence on the percentage of player seasons that finish within the top 12. Indeed, included within that group we find Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers, who by themselves account for half of the age-22 cohort’s QB1 seasons since 2000. Even though about 30 percent of that group’s seasons have finished within the top 12, only about 35 percent of QBs who were 22-year-old rookies have ever produced a top-12 season.

On the other hand, the age-21 cohort has a similar QB1-season rate, but those QB1 seasons have been spread out much more evenly among group members. Unfortunately, we’re not dealing with a very large sample. There have been eight QBs to play at least one season since 2000 who were 21-year-old rookies. Of those eight, five have had at least one QB1 season. Of the remaining three, one (Jameis Winston) is only 24 and another (DeShone Kizer) is only 22.2

Despite the fact that QBs who were 22-year-old rookies have produced QB1 seasons at a similar rate, QBs in the age-21 cohort have a much higher likelihood of success. This is consistent with the results we’ve seen at all other offensive skill positions.

The 2018 Class

The current class of QB prospects is widely regarded as being among the strongest classes in recent years. Many draft experts agree that it’s possible there could be as many as four QBs drafted in the first five picks. Not only is the current class one of the strongest, but it’s also one of the youngest. Three of the top QBs in this class will still be 21 when their rookie seasons end, and a fourth will still be 22. Here are the top four QBs in the RotoViz Draft Age Database—in other words, the four youngest QBs in the upcoming draft:

QB

College

Birthdate

Rookie Age F Age

Notes

Sam Darnold

USC

6/5/1997

21.5 20.5

Early Declare

Josh Rosen

UCLA

2/10/1997

21.8 20.8

Early Declare

Lamar Jackson

Louisville

1/7/1997

21.9 20.9

Early Declare

Josh Allen

Wyoming

5/21/1996

22.6 21.6

Early Declare

Three of them are in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick, and all of them are potential first-round selections. It will be very interesting to see where each of them will begin their NFL careers.

  1. Read any of the previous articles for a discussion of the scope of the data and other methodological issues.  (back)
  2. Winston narrowly missed a top-12 season, finishing as the QB13 in 2015.  (back)
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