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Drew Lock was the best 2019 rookie QB by DVOA

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By DVOA Drew Lock had the best season of the 2019 rookie QBs, but how does his performance compare to other rookie QBs this century?

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

For those who aren’t familiar with DVOA, here is the quick version of what it is. DVOA is Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. This number represents value, per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations. The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player’s performance. Negative DVOA represents below-average offense. This stat not only adjusts for era, but also for the strength or weaknesses of the defenses that a given quarterback faced.

So in 2019 the range of DVOA values for quarterbacks was from 39.8% (Drew Brees) to -73.8% (Colt McCoy). In other words Drew Brees did 40% better than the average NFL quarterback would if they were to face the exact same defenses in the exact same game situations while Colt McCoy did 74%. Drew Lock was only 2.2% better than average, but that was good enough to rank him first among rookie quarterbacks in 2019 and 21st among all passers in 2019 (out of 59).

Data from FootballOutsiders.com. Note that Lock did not have the minimum 200 required passing attempts to qualify for the main list (he was on the less than 200 attempts list) so I had to merge the two lists that you will find on the FO site.

You’ll note that Lock had a VOA of 7.4% but a DVOA of 2.2%. That is because he faced some fairly weak defenses in his five starts.

How did that compare to other rookie QBs this century with a minimum of five starts as rookies? See below.

So for this study, I looked at every rookie QB who started five or more games this century using pro-footballreference.com and found there DVOA as rookies on FO. There have been 77 QBs who have made five or more starts this century.

Here is the data - again with 2019 rookies highlighted.

14th out of 77 is pretty good, but is there any predictive value here? In other words, are there QBs near the bottom who went on to have really good NFL careers and or guys near the top who didn’t?

So let’s start with the guys at the top. Of the 10 on the chart, only Robert Griffin failed to have a decent career. I had forgotten that Aaron Brooks started almost every game for the Saints from 2001 through 2005. Some might forget that Marc Bulger was a two time Pro-Bowl QB who started 95 games during his NFL career. Baker Mayfield most likely won’t fizzle out, but you could say that he is still a question mark. The rest of the top ten all had (or is still having) at least decent NFL careers.

It’s when you get into guys ranked 11-20 that you start to find some players where a good DVOA as a rookie was not a good indicator of future NFL success. Byron Leftwich was never able to start more than 14 games in a season and retired having only started 50 games over his nine year career. Nick Mullens started eight games for the 49ers as a rookie in 2018 out of necessity and then didn’t throw a single pass in 2019. McCoy was a victim of the QB-black hole that is the Cleveland Browns. He has now been in the NFL for 10 season and has only started 28 games.

So let’s move to the guys at the bottom of the chart. Are there QBs on there who went on to have decent or good NFL careers? Why yes, yes there are. Jared Goff was atrocious as a rookie. Sean McVay supposedly fixed him. Alex Smith was terrible as rookie. He went on to become a Pro-Bowl QB (3x) despite that. Matthew Stafford is similar in that he has had a very good career (despite only being selected to the Pro-Bowl once). We can debate the merit of David Carr’s career if you wish. I would say he had a decent career given the terrible situation he had in Houston. Josh Allen is still defining his career. He could turn things around like Alex Smith did, or he could flame out like Robert Griffin and Josh Freeman did. Eli Manning also had a very good career.

Did you notice how many of those QBs listed in the paragraph above were taken with the #1 overall pick? Smith, Goff, Carr, Stafford and Manning. Generally QBs drafted in the top 5 are going to be given many many chances to fail before the league finally gives up on them. Fans of the team in Washington should probably worry and Dwayne Haskins though. There are far more first round QB busts on the bottom of this list than there are first round QB successes.

But we need only look to Josh Allen to find a QB that was able to show dramatic improvement year over year in DVOA. Josh Allen had a DVOA of -11.8% in 2019 - up from his terrible -35.9% as a rookie. That being said not every rookie QB who played like crap as a rookie gets better in DVOA in their second season. Josh Rosen actually got worse going from a DVOA of -53.7% in 2018 to a value of -63.0% in 2019.

Going back to the guys who “balled out” as rookies, how many of them came crashing back to earth in their second season? Marc Bulger went from 34.7% to 1.3% while Ben Roethlisberger got better going from 31.7% to 35.8%. The Steelers won the Super Bowl in Ben’s second season (2005). Dak Prescott went from 31.6% to -0.2% so how regressed to the mean similar to Bulger. Matt Ryan went from 25.3% to 12.4% or from 4th as rookie to 13th as a second year QB (13th is still good - minimum 200 passing attempts). DeShaun Watson went from 23.1% down to 9.5%, that was a move from 7th in 2017 down to 11th in 2018. He was still very good. Russell Wilson essentially stayed the same going from 15.0% to 15.6%.

So the trend seems to be that almost everyone regresses to the mean if given the chance. QBs who were terrible as rookies almost always get better if they are allowed to start full-time in their second season while QBs who tear up the league as rookies generally play worse (at least by DVOA) in their second season. The average change over all of those who played in their second season is +3.8%, but the range is pretty dramatic. You go from T.J. Yates who went from bad to unbelievably terrible (admittedly in a very small sample in his second season - he threw ten passes and turned the ball over five times) to Jared Goff who went from terrible to top tier.

Here is the full table of how each of them 77 performed in their rookie and second season, note that some of the 77 did not start any games in their second NFL season. Former Bronco, Kyle Orton, is one of those who did not get a single start in his second NFL season.

Quarterback Tm Rookie DVOA 2nd Yr DVOA Change
Jared Goff LAR -74.8% 24.0% 98.8%
Alex Smith SFO -88.6% -16.0% 72.6%
Nick Foles PHI -20.4% 35.6% 56.0%
Josh Freeman TAM -31.1% 13.9% 45.0%
Lamar Jackson BAL -9.2% 34.9% 44.1%
David Carr HOU -47.4% -7.0% 40.4%
Matthew Stafford DET -36.6% 2.9% 39.5%
Eli Manning NYG -30.4% 6.0% 36.4%
Carson Wentz PHI -12.0% 23.8% 35.8%
Carson Palmer CIN 2.6% 33.4% 30.8%
Blake Bortles JAX -40.7% -9.9% 30.8%
Jay Cutler DEN -12.7% 16.0% 28.7%
Christian Ponder MIN -31.5% -6.1% 25.4%
Marcus Mariota TEN -13.2% 11.4% 24.6%
Josh Allen BUF -35.9% -11.8% 24.1%
Mark Sanchez NYJ -26.5% -4.3% 22.2%
Blaine Gabbert JAX -46.5% -25.3% 21.2%
Mitchell Trubisky CHI -16.8% 3.6% 20.4%
Derek Carr OAK -14.9% 4.1% 19.0%
Teddy Bridgewater MIN -16.9% -5.1% 11.8%
Kyle Boller BAL -26.0% -14.6% 11.4%
Joe Flacco BAL -3.0% 8.4% 11.4%
Geno Smith NYJ -23.6% -12.5% 11.1%
Andrew Luck IND -5.1% 4.6% 9.7%
Trent Edwards BUF -11.0% -5.8% 5.2%
Mike Glennon TAM -7.7% -3.1% 4.6%
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 31.7% 35.8% 4.1%
EJ Manuel BUF -19.9% -17.1% 2.8%
Joey Harrington DET -20.9% -18.2% 2.7%
Charlie Frye CLE -21.4% -18.9% 2.5%
Patrick Ramsey WAS -9.3% -7.0% 2.3%
Jameis Winston TAM 2.1% 3.6% 1.5%
Cam Newton CAR 0.8% 2.0% 1.2%
Russell Wilson SEA 15.0% 15.6% 0.6%
Jason Campbell WAS 0.2% 0.4% 0.2%
Ryan Tannehill MIA -9.9% -9.8% 0.1%
Byron Leftwich JAX 5.5% 5.1% -0.4%
Quincy Carter DAL -11.6% -12.3% -0.7%
C.J. Beathard SFO -23.1% -24.3% -1.2%
Bruce Gradkowski TAM -31.5% -33.7% -2.2%
Ken Dorsey SFO -26.4% -28.7% -2.3%
Sam Darnold NYJ -15.2% -20.4% -5.2%
Vince Young TEN -6.3% -12.3% -6.0%
Matt Leinart ARI 0.0% -6.3% -6.3%
Jeff Driskel CIN -16.4% -24.2% -7.8%
Sam Bradford STL -15.6% -24.0% -8.4%
Josh Rosen ARI -53.7% -63.0% -9.3%
Aaron Brooks NOR 5.6% -5.1% -10.7%
Andy Dalton CIN 5.6% -5.9% -11.5%
Matt Ryan ATL 25.3% 12.4% -12.9%
Colt McCoy CLE -1.8% -15.1% -13.3%
Deshaun Watson HOU 23.1% 9.5% -13.6%
Brandon Weeden CLE -19.4% -36.1% -16.7%
Zach Mettenberger TEN -28.7% -46.4% -17.7%
Baker Mayfield CLE 8.1% -9.8% -17.9%
Robert Griffin WAS 16.6% -13.1% -29.7%
Dak Prescott DAL 31.6% -0.2% -31.8%
Marc Bulger STL 34.7% 1.3% -33.4%
Matt McGloin OAK -11.9% -54.4% -42.5%
Chris Weinke CAR -25.5% -70.5% -45.0%
Cody Kessler CLE -7.6% -66.4% -58.8%
DeShone Kizer CLE -34.5% -102.7% -68.2%
T.J. Yates HOU -19.7% -128.3% -108.6%
Chad Hutchinson DAL -48.1% -
Craig Krenzel CHI -85.4% -
Kyle Orton CHI -33.5% -
Andrew Walter OAK -46.2% -
Jimmy Clausen CAR -48.0% -
Nick Mullens SFO 4.2% -
Drew Lock DEN 2.2% ?
Kyler Murray ARI -3.1% ?
Gardner Minshew JAX -5.0% ?
Daniel Jones NYG -19.2% ?
David Blough DET -19.5% ?
Devlin Hodges PIT -22.1% ?
Mason Rudolph PIT -23.0% ?
Dwayne Haskins WAS -42.0% ?

Of course Drew Lock’s 2.2% DVOA was still roughly in the middle of the range (or on the high end of the middle) so it might not be predictive at all for his DVOA in his second season. It should be noted that of the QBs who are at the top end of the range for rookie DVOA, those who either improved or only regressed slightly had an offense built around them. Big Ben, Watson, Wilson, Ryan - all of them had an offense built around their skills by the time they were starting in the their second year. So that bodes well for Bronco fans since the 2020 Denver offense will be built around Drew Lock’s skill set.

Poll

How will Drew Lock’s 2020 DVOA compare to his 2019 DVOA?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    much better (gonna be top 10)
    (343 votes)
  • 53%
    marginally better (gonna be in the top 15)
    (507 votes)
  • 7%
    stay the same (he’ll be about average again)
    (73 votes)
  • 2%
    worse (he won’t improve on his bad traits and defenses will catch up with him)
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    much worse (this answer is for delusional Faider fans)
    (6 votes)
950 votes total Vote Now