Quarterback Comparison


With all the quarterback discussions here and at other popular sports cites, I decided to do some research to understand the performances of all the young quarterbacks starting for their team. For this study, all of them were drafted from 2008 to 2011.

This isn't a quarterback bashing or Tim Tebow obsession article. Instead, I wanted to know how good all of these quarterbacks had been over their careers to this point.

Before I dive into the numbers, let me first define "good". Most fans view football through the lens of visuals, meaning, by what they see.

If they see a defensive end rush the passer and force the quarterback into bad throws all day long, but only registers 1 QB hit and 0 sacks, then these fans will claim the eyes saw a great performance that did not show up in the stat sheet.

In this case, they would be absolutely correct.

However, that was only one game. In statistics, there is a rule that when given a sample of any size, 15 truly random data points are enough to give an accurate generalization of the whole sample.

For example, if there are 100 students in a classroom, and 15 of them are picked at random, then the percentages for race, sex, height, weight and anything else will closely resemble the actual percentages. As the number of truly random data points in the sample increases towards the sample size, it becomes increasingly more accurate.

For the purpose of this study, 1 data point equals 1 quarter of play. In other words, a quarterback will need to play almost four full games (15 quarters) to generate an accurate quarterback rating.

In the case of the defensive end above, there are only 4 data points in that game. It is much more likely that a defensive end who is that effective will indeed register sacks and quarterback hits in future games. Instead of looking at each game as a unique and separate event, it is often times better to look at it as it relates to all of the related events, or games, in this instance.

With this in mind, I have studied 11 quarterbacks drafted since 2008 that are starting for their teams.

Here are the quarterbacks, by year:

  1. Matt Ryan - 2008
  2. Joe Flacco - 2008
  3. Matthew Stafford - 2009
  4. Mark Sanchez - 2009
  5. Josh Freeman - 2009
  6. Sam Bradford - 2010
  7. Tim Tebow - 2010
  8. Colt McCoy - 2010
  9. Cam Newton - 2011
  10. Blaine Gabbert - 2011
  11. Andy Dalton - 2011

For quarterbacks drafted in 2008-2009, more is expected of them since they have more experience than the quarterbacks drafted in the last two years.

The other interesting note is Andy Dalton and Colt McCoy are the only quarterbacks not drafted in the first round.

Of all of these quarterbacks, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford and Cam Newton have all been expected to start immediately and perform at a high level.

Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, Blaine Gabbert and Andy Dalton had less expectations before the draft that heightened during training camp and preseason.

Of the group, the expectations for Tebow and McCoy have been the lowest, considering Tebow's mechanics and McCoy's draft status.

In the end, whether right or wrong, each of them is a starter and has been asked to play as effectively as possible. I am not going to compare wins and losses because while Ryan and Flacco have won at a higher rate than the rest, much of that does have to do with the talent around them.

With this in mind, I created a quarterback rating that does two things:

  • Measures efficiency through percentages instead of volume numbers
  • Measures crucial elements that can quantify a quarterback's effectiveness

The key part of this is "effectiveness". This means while a quarterback might be perceived as "good" or "talented", he may not be as effective. Quarterbacks that are effective for a sustained period of time are viewed as good.

Here are the 5 key elements to the rating and the reasoning behind it:

  1. Completion Percentage: # of completions / number of thrown passes * 100. Go and look at the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL any given year and count have many complete less than 62-63 percent of their passes. Regardless of their mechanics, good quarterbacks are accurate.
  2. Touchdown Percentage: ( # of passing touchdowns + # rushing touchdowns ) / ( # of thrown passes + # of rushing attempts) * 600. This simply takes the percentage of touchdowns and gives it a weighted value to make the formula work. Good quarterback play results in touchdowns. Yards are overrated. Teams that throw for over 300 yards barely win more than half of their games.
  3. Turnover Percentage: the same as touchdown percentage. Teams that lose the turnover battle lose over 80 percent of the time.
  4. Sack Percentage: # of sacks / (number of passes thrown + rushing attempts + sacks) * 100. This is actually a true percentage. Regardless of whether a sack is the QB's fault or the offensive line's fault, it still happened and it had a negative effect on the play of the quarterback. While sacks are a good way to measure the success of an offensive line, they are also a good way to measure the performance of a quarterback.
  5. Yards Per Attempt: gross passing yards / passes thrown. Since sacks are already measured, there is no point in measuring it twice by using net passing yards (this subtracts the yards lost by a sack from the gross passing yard total). Teams that struggle to pass over 7 yards per throw tend to struggle mightily on offense.

Is this formula perfect? No, not really. However, it takes into account every major aspect of quarterback play, and for this study, I will use it to analyze each quarterback.

To understand this rating better, here is a breakdown of how quarterbacks of varying levels of talent and effectiveness fair:

  • 100 and Above: Hall Of Fame
  • 90-99.9: Elite Level
  • 80-89.9: Pro-Bowl Worthy
  • 70-79.9: Decent Starter
  • 69.9 and Below: Not Starter Material

Here is a chart that details the career ratings for each quarterback

 

Player Year Games Acc Tds Tos Sck YPA Rating
Tim Tebow* 2 5 48.3 11 3 13 7.6 77.8
Cam Newton 1 7 60.3 15 9 14 8.3 75.9
Andy Dalton 1 6 62.4 8 5 10 6.9 73.6
Matt Ryan 4 53 60.8 79 51 77 6.9 72.8
Joe Flacco 4 54 60.7 72 50 121 7.1 68.9
Matt Stafford 3 20 56.6 38 27 42 6.4 66.4
Josh Freeman 3 33 59.5 44 39 57 6.8 64.2
Colt McCoy 2 14 58.2 15 14 36 6.2 59.1
Sam Bradford 2 21 58.3 22 23 55 6.0 57.3
Mark Sanchez 3 38 54.7 49 47 69 6.6 56.8
Blaine Gabbert 1 6 48.3 4 4 18 5.7 44.1

 

*Tebow's numbers come from the 4 games he started last year and this year, as well as the entire second half against San Diego.

A few observations:

  • Only Andy Dalton can be considered an accurate quarterback. This is the biggest criticism for Tebow and Gabbert in their young careers. However, Sanchez has struggled mightily and would like be benched if it wasn't for two AFC Championship game appearances.
  • The top 4 quarterbacks have a ratio of TDs:TOs greater than 1.5:1. For those of you who believe Matt Ryan is better than Flacco, this supports you theory the best, where he has 7 more touchdowns and only 1 more turnover.
  • Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman are the only ones that get sacked under 5% of their passing plays. Even with an all-pro offensive line for most of his career, Sanchez has been sacked 5.5 percent of the time. That number should be lower. In Tebow's first 3.5 games, he was sacked only 6 times, making this past week's performance an outlier.
  • Only Newton, Tebow and Flacco have a YPA over 7. Good quarterbacks can stretch the field and hit the big play, which these three have done routinely in their very brief careers. The biggest knock on Bradford is he simply struggles to stretch the field. In both seasons, he has averaged 6 yards per pass. If he is going to justify his draft position and contract he needs to improve in this are the most.

Outlook:

None of the quarterbacks above have been effective for a sustained period of time. I would go as far to say Bradford and Sanchez have done very little to justify being top 5 picks.

As much as I dislike Cam Newton (almost on the same level as Phillip Rivers), he has been much more effective that anticipated. However, unlike Tebow, he has great mechanics and yet has performed far worse with 8 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions and fumbles. Tebow currently has 7 passing touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

 

To compare with the career chart, here is a chart that details the 2011 ratings for each quarterback

 

Player Year Games Acc Tds Tos Sck YPA Rating
Matt Stafford 2011 7 60.2 16 4 14 7.1 88.6
Tim Tebow 2010-2011 5 48.3 11 3 13 7.6 77.8
Cam Newton 2011 7 60.3 15 9 14 8.3 75.9
Andy Dalton 2011 6 62.4 8 5 10 6.9 73.6
Mark Sanchez 2011 7 55.8 14 10 16 6.7 66.2
Colt McCoy 2011 6 56.0 8 5 13 5.5 63.5
Josh Freeman 2011 7 61.5 9 10 9 6.4 63.0
Matt Ryan 2011 7 61.1 11 11 18 6.7 61.6
Joe Flacco 2011 6 52.1 9 8 13 6.7 56.0
Blaine Gabbert 2011 6 48.3 4 4 18 5.7 44.1
Sam Bradford 2011 5 53.1 3 6 21 6.0 41.0

 

A Few Observations

The purpose of this chart is to see if any of these quarterbacks are showing improvement this season.

  • 5 Quarterbacks are completing over 60 percent of their passes (a must), but only Dalton is in the 62-63 range. Again, veterans Bradford, Flacco, and Sanchez are truly struggling and are running out of excuses.
  • Stafford has finally lived up to the hype that surround him when he was drafted. He has outperformed every quarterback on this list, and his touchdowns to turnovers ratio is a big reason why. Even with all the criticism for Sanchez, he has definitely shown improvement this year, with a 1.4:1 ratio.
  • Only Dalton and Freeman are on pace to have fewer than 30 sacks for the season. For the most part, these quarterbacks are being sacked way too often. Yes, the offensive line plays a part, but the best quarterbacks in the league are capable of avoiding sacks with good decisions.
  • While Stafford isn't overwhelming defenses with down the field passes, his 7.1 YPA is much improved over his average during his first 2 years. Cam Newton has attempted the 2nd most down-field passes and has definitely benefited from Steve Smith. Still, he has an excellent average of 8.3, which is on par with the best quarterbacks in the NFL. For Tebow, this number would be so much higher if he could complete more of his passes. Still, he has demonstrated the ability to stretch the field.
  • They deserve to have a bullet all for themselves. Flacco and Ryan and simply been terrible this season. they have both regressed, and have only demonstrated at times why there are starting material.

Outlook:

The reality is only Stafford is playing well. The biggest question mark for him has always been health. This season, he has shown he is more than capable of playing at a high level.

Despite all the hype and emotion behind Tebow and Newton, they both have a long way to go. Tebow is a more efficient quarterback than Newton because he makes fewer mistakes, but Newton is more consistent. The reality is Tebow is much worse than Newton at times, but is also outperforms him tremendously almost as often.

There is hope for Sanchez who is finally putting together at least a respectable season.

I am most impressed with Andy Dalton, and not because I followed him more than any other college quarterback when he was at TCU, but because he has shown great maturation for a rookie. While he is overshadowed by Newton, Dalton is a much superior passer and if not for the rushing ability of Newton, would be the runaway rookie of the year in many voters' eyes.

Summary

I know this was a long review, but I felt it was necessary to put these quarterbacks performances into perspective. There is a different between being "good for a rookie" and simply being "good". To show how far these quarterbacks have to go here are the ratings for some of the top QB's in the NFL.

If you take out the first game by Ben Roethlisberger, where he and the Pittsburgh offense simply played the worst game this season, he has been extremely effective. Peyton Manning is also not playing this season and normally has a rating over 90.

This just goes to show that there are many quarterbacks each year that play at a high level, and the young quarterbacks in the charts above (except Stafford in 2011) have a long way to go before they can been considered effective quarterbacks.

This is not to criticize some of the younger quarterbacks, but simply to put it into the proper context.

Here is hoping Tebow can begin to put it all together in the coming weeks. He will be facing the team with the most effective, young quarterback. I believe he will be up to the challenge.

Go Broncos!

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