Just over three months from now, Super Bowl XLVI will be in the books and a new NFL champion decided. Almost immediately thereafter, draftniks, NFL pundits, analysts and the like will start dissecting the next wave of rookies to enter the league. Leading the way will be the Class of 2012 QB's, guys like Andrew Luck, Landry Jones, Matt Barkley, Nick Foles, Robert Griffin III and a few others. College gametape will be broken down endlessly, results from the scouting combine will be analyzed and re-analyzed and college stats will be thrown around as fodder for discussion (and perhaps used at the the basis of some lazy scouting reports). What, if anything, can we learn about these young quarterbacks' chances of NFL success from looking at their college stats?
Before we take a closer look at stats, it should be noted that football is a very difficult game to quantify. There are a number of variables which aren't represented in stats that only game tape (or live scouting) can tell you. Quality of competition, quality of a QB's receivers (bad receivers could drop more passes, leading to more incompletions, etc), weather conditions, offensive scheme and a lot of other things all should be considered. For that reason, stats aren't particularly useful to make specific predictions. Stats are much more useful in football as a basis for broad generalities. So, with that caveat, let's take a look at some numbers.
Below (and you'll have to click the picture to make it bigger), I've listed a group of 40 QB's, along with both their college (on the left) and pro (on the right) stats. All 40 fit the following criteria:
1. They were active in 2010 and at least somewhat relevant in 2011
2. I could find their college stats (Sorry Jon Kitna)
3. They have attempted at least 500 NFL passes
Additionally, I've calculated each QB's college passer rating using the NFL formula (which differs from the NCAA formula). The college stats are updated through last weekend, the pro stats are current through October 23rd.
The QB's are then sorted by NFL passer rating.
A number of things stand out:
1. Only one of the top 10 active QB's in terms of passer rating had a college completion % less than 61.5% (Carson Palmer).
2. Nine of the top 15 had at least 1,000 pass attempts in college, whereas 6 of the bottom 15 did
3. College QB's with completion percentages less than 60% are bunched up in the middle. In other words, high completion percentage in college isn't predictive of NFL success but is almost always a trait top end NFL QB's have. I have come to think of this as the "Gaudy Stats Principle" - college QB's with especially good college stats tend to either flop (e.g. Matt Leinart, David Carr) or hit it big (e.g. Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger). There aren't many "middle tier" QB's in the NFL who had especially impressive college numbers.
Breaking down the QB's college stats into 4 tiers we can see this a bit more clearly:
What's really interesting here is that the second tier is worse than the first tier across the board, but the third tier is slightly better than the 2nd and the bottom group is better than either middle group.
How do the 2012 prospects look? Surprisingly good, minus one:
Russell Wilson is the only guy who has a completion % below 60. Weeden, Griffin and Foles all are completing >66% of their passes. Of the 40 NFL QB's listed, only Sam Bradford, Matt Schaub and Alex Smith had a college completion % that high. One thing to consider here is that completion % has become inflated over time, so if guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning played in today's NCAA, their numbers might be even better than they appear. That said, take a look at the Class of 2011:
In general, the class of 2011 pales statistically to the 2012 group - except for Cam Newton whose small sample size should be taken into account, although the early signs look very good for him in the NFL.
In the end, almost all the top QB prospects in 2012 have stats which indicate they could have elite NFL upside based on the broad observations we can make from the currently active NFL QB's. So, come April, when some talking head on TV is telling you that QB Prospect X will be better than QB Prospect Y because of his college stats, remember that all of these guys (except Wilson) have college stats similar to - or better than - Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning et al. That they all seem to fit in the "Gaudy Stats Principle" suggests that the class of 2012 will have a few future superstars and a few huge busts.
Hopefully this exercise has shown that while stats can be fun to play with and provide us more things to (over)analyze in the otherwise slow months leading up to the draft, they are no substitute for real scouting and analysis.
Read more of my work at http://pick256.wordpress.com/