Tag:Developing Talent
Posted on: July 19, 2008 12:50 am

QB's Drafted high. Will they Boom or Bust?

    Most seasons, when the NFL draft rolls around teams that have endured utter disappointments for seasons often to look to the Quarterback position to turn their fortunes around.  Almost every year a quarterback or two will create a buzz amongst the media and fans.  In the last 13 seasons, at least one quarterback has been taken in the top five 10 times.  The position had a player picked first overall six times in that span.  

    Conventional wisdom tells us that the Quarterback is the most important position on the team and if a team can grab a hot young talent as their field general for the future, they should do so.  Being a Quarterback drafted in the first two rounds usually indicates that the team that drafted you intends to try to make you their QB of the future.  They are going to invest time and money to develop you.

   I am wondering if that is such a good idea.  I've always thought that what happens in the first two seasons as the starting QB will dictate how that player turns out in the long run. Poor performance early can affect a player psychologically...having nobody to throw to ball to, having to win the game without the benefit of a running back to help shoulder the load, and having a porous line that leaves you flat on your back are all ways to shatter confidence.  

   From 1995 to 2006 (Arbitrary years selected by me), 35 Quarterbacks were drafted in the first two rounds.  Of those 35, 19 have been busts while 15 have had adequate to outstanding careers (I will refer to those players as "Booms" for the rest of this discussion).  Aaron Rodgers is to be determined. All of these players showed some flash of talent in college that made scouts believe they could succeed at the Professional level.    The purpose of this article is to determine if there is a reason other than their own talents that charted the path of these players.

   Let me take the time to say that for some of these players, boom or bust is subjective.  Some of you may not agree with me on some of my placements.  Some players may be too early to say.  Examples: Alex Smith is a Bust.  Jason Campbell is a boom.  Kordell Stewart...also a boom.  I did not apply specific criteria to my labels...mostly if a players talents managed to keep him on the field for any length of time AND that player led a team to some degree of success they were not a bust.  Here are the complete lists.

   Bust: Alex Smith, J.P. Losman, Byron Leftwich, Rex Grossman, Kyle Bollar, David Carr, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, Quincy Carter, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Cade Mcnown, Shaun King, Ryan Leaf, Charlie Batch, Tony Banks, Todd Collins, Marques Tuiosisopo, and Jim Druckenmiller.

   Boom: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethilisberger, Jason Campbell, Carson Palmer, Michael Vick, Drew Brees, Chad Pennington, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Peyton Manning, Jake Plummer, Steve Mcnair, Kerry Collins, and Kordell Stewart.

   I decided to try to dig up some indicators that could give us reasons for success or failure.  Here are the factors and why I chose them.

1.  Number of wins for the team in the two years prior to the player taking over.  I chose this to see if I could get an idea what kind of teams these players were walking onto.  Personell can turnover a lot in two years, but I wanted some way to measure the overall talent of the team.

2.  Number of years from when the QB was drafted until the reins were handed over to him.  I always have felt that a QB sitting for an entire year is a good idea.

3.  Number of players on the QB's inaugural season lineup that have had 1050 yards recieving at least once in the last two years.  This gives an idea of the talent of the pass catchers the player has to work with when they take the field.  I use prior years because a WR/TE/RB recieving numbers are directly related to the performance of the QB.

4. Number of times in the QB's first two years that he had a 1000 yard rusher in the backfield with him.  This tells us if the QB has to carry the load by himself or if he has a stud back to lean on.  I felt it better to use the numbers from when the QB takes the field because the performance of a RB is less directly related to the QB.

5. Average Number of times a QB was sacked per game in his first two seasons starting.  Granted, some of this is the fault of the QB, but I thought this was a good indicator of what types of offensive lines they are playing behind.

The average number of wins the previous two seasons is 6.5 for busts, and 7.25 for booms.  This difference is not enormous and suggests the players are put, for the most part, onto losing teams.  (Note: Kerry Collins, Tim Couch, and David Carr do not get factored in as they were on expansion teams.)

The amount of time the busts got to spend learning from someone behind them is significantly lower.  The average bust had .3 seasons before hitting the field while the average boom had 1.2 seasons as an understudy.  To widen the gap, I have Rex Grossman down for 3 seasons before starting a significant number of games but that is more due to injury than anything else.  14/17 of the busts were thrown into the starting role in their first years.  Of the 15 "Booms", only 4 were thrown right into the starting role (The Manning brothers, Kerry Collins, and Big Ben).  

The number of competent pass catchers for the busts is on average 0.87.  For the Booms the number sharply rises to 2.13.  Some of the players that had 1050 yards recieving were aging by the time the new QB's took over, but the difference in the quality of talent that surrounded the booms is huge.

The number of 1000 yard rushers QB's enjoyed their first two seasons shows us a similar trend. The average bust could expect 0.71 years with a 1000 yard rusher while the average boom had 1.46 years with a good back.  If we compared the numbers further, the "Booms" had some backs with Huge huge years while most of the busts had backs just squeaking by the century mark.  

Finally, we have the sacks.  The Average bust was sacked 2.5 times per game while the average boom was sacked 1.75 times per game in their first two seasons....and this is with Joey Harrington being sacked only .56 times per game...the only player not to be sacked at least once per start his first two seasons out of both categories.

I decided that team wins wasn't really statistically signficant so I came up with a formula.  Number of years on the bench + Number of 1050 receivers + number of 1000 yard rushers - sacks per game.  The average outcome for busts was a -0.5.  The average for booms is 2.75.  
   What this tells me is that a player allowed to spend some time on the bench, having some decent pass catchers, having a RB to lean on, and having a line that protects them early on in their careers tends to make them far better QB's over the course of their careers.

With this in mind, I would think that rebuilding teams may want to consider putting some pieces in place before putting that Franchise QB in the mix.  When making a cake you mix a bunch of crap together and let it bake while carefully planning how you want the icing to look and taste.  When the cake is finished baking, you apply the icing...which completes the cake.  History warns to treat the QB as the icing, and not part of the mix.  Rebuilding teams like the Falcons and Dolphins should give this some thought if they want Matt Ryan and Chad Henne to turn into stars of the future instead of broken, skiddish, multi-million dollar busts.

Note: Tuiosisopo, Druckenmiller, Rodgers, and Todd Collins did not have a large enough body of work for me to use them for any significant numbers so they are not part of the statistical analysis.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com