Slim Pickings on Franchise Quarterbacks

By Max Partlo

Early last week, Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden made the decision to Bench Robert Griffin III in favor of Colt McCoy, turning what could have been billed as a showdown between the top two picks in the 2012 draft[1], into just another blowout for Andrew Luck and his Colts team that has had very little trouble scoring on inferior opponents. So while Andrew luck added to his league leading totals in passing yards and touchdown passes, Griffin’s most notable action came when he drew criticism for eating a large pregame meal in the locker room. Needless to say, the colts made the right decision in picking between the two highest billed quarterbacks in a draft, an area the gained some experience in back in 1998. Then, they made the franchise altering decision to draft Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf, a move that worked out well to say the least.

But it’s not always the Colts who sit at the top of the draft, and have to pick between two promising young signal callers. And what about the teams who pick second, or close behind the top selections? The reality of it is, franchise quarterbacks are among the rarest breeds on the planet, and the odds of there being two such players in a draft are resultantly very slim.[2] If we look back at all of the years where a quarterback went first overall and at least one other quarterback taken in the top eight picks, we can see that it is uncommon for more than one to be above league average, and that is putting it in a positive light. To judge these quarterback’s performances, we will use Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, or ANY/A, a metric used by which accurately accounts for a players role in throwing touchdowns and interceptions, while also avoiding and taking sacks. The formula for ANY/A is (pass yards + 20*(pass TD) - 45*(interceptions thrown) - sack yards) / (passing attempts + sacks). We will also avoid using any rookie stats in evaluating a player, as studies have shown that there is little correlation between a passer’s efficiency as a rookie and further into their career. As such, the modified career stats and the resultant ANY/A of the specified quarterbacks is as follows:

2012 A. Luck 1 7833 57 20 343 1061 53 6.938959
2012 RGIII 2 4072 18 15 404 575 58 5.296998
2012 R Tannehill 8 6495 44 25 575 977 84 5.348728
2011 C Newton 1 9639 55 35 848 1291 111 5.931526
2011 J Locker 8 4287 23 21 303 621 51 5.206845
2009 M. Stafford 1 18523 111 63 911 2580 127 6.278907
2009 M Sanchez 5 11052 64 55 684 1678 109 5.133184
2004 E Manning 1 37135 244 176 1846 5217 261 5.887003
2004 P Rivers 4 35171 242 113 1633 4463 270 7.034228
2003 C Palmer 1 32468 206 137 1604 4474 228 6.129094
2003 B Leftwich 7 7723 44 26 362 1187 73 5.611905
1999 T Couch 1 8684 49 54 760 1315 110 4.543158
1999 D McNabb 2 36328 226 110 2422 5158 382 6.042599
1999 Ak Smith 3 1407 3 7 217 308 40 2.686782
1998 P Manning 1 64783 499 200 1723 8319 260 7.464739
1998 R Leaf 2 2377 12 21 237 410 43 3.16777

For reference, the league average for ANY/A over the years has hovered around 5.35. Aaron Rodgers is the career leader at 7.74, while Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers follow at 7.29 and 7.03 respectively.[3] Only two draft classes since the Famed Manning/Leaf class have managed to produce more than one passer above league average out of the top 8 picks, and that is giving Byron Leftwich credit as above average despite the fact that he had less non-rookie TD passes than Tim Couch. Furthermore, in only two of these draft classes has the second quarterback picked outperformed the higher drafted player, and one such class comes with a huge asterisk. Due to the weird circumstances of the 2004 draft, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers never played for the teams that drafted them, so their actual draft position is a bit irrelevant. Also, while Rivers has been a better player than Manning on the whole, Eli’s two super bowls would make most Giants fans more than comfortable were they asked to make that draft day trade again. The other case in which this holds true is largely due to Tim Couch doing Tim Couch like things[4] So barring weird refusals to play for a certain team, and looking past Byron Leftwich’s moderately efficient yet unspectacular days in Jacksonville, it seems pretty safe to say that, If you are lucky, there might be one franchise QB in a draft, but he probably is going with the first overall pick.

So how do these trends inform decision making into this year’s draft? According to Todd McShay’s top 32, both Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston are top 6 level prospects. Based on what we have seen over the past 16 years, it is highly unlikely that both find success at the next level, so it will be important for teams to find out which passer will do well in the NFL, and avoid spending a high draft pick on the other one. And I’m not making any guarantees here, but I’d probably go with the guy who’s thrown 36 TD’s and 2 picks over the guy with off the field issues to go with just 21 TD’s and a whopping 17 picks. And Washington, if Mariota is gone and Jacksonville calls offering their number two pick for your next three first rounders, hang up the phone.

[1] And the third overall pick as well, if Trent Richardson’ dwindling performance hasn’t led you to block that failed trade out of your mind.

[2] There is an argument to be made that franchise QB’s can be drafted outside the first round, such as Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, but the majority of starting caliber players come from the front half of the first round, and the vast majority of late round QB’s fail to make any impact on their teams whatsoever.

[3] Note that these numbers are different than those listed above because they contain data from rookie seasons.

[4] But Akili Smith being drafted two picks later really helps to hammer my point home.

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