NFL Draft 2013: Predicting quarterback success


The best quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft is ... Landry Jones?

A reliable predictor of future quarterback success would revolutionize the NFL. Many have tried to create systems that separate the Peyton Manning's from the Ryan Leaf's before contracts are signed and snaps are taken. Taking the guesswork out of predicting quarterback success is impossible, but there are methods for gauging a player's ability to succeed in the pros.

We have already taken a look at Sports Illustrated's Rule of 26-27-60, which says that any player who scores at least a 26 on his Wonderlic exam, starts at least 27 games in college, and completes at least 60 percent of his passes is likely to have success in the NFL. As you probably expect, any model that favors smart, experienced, and productive quarterbacks holds up relatively well.

There are a few notable exceptions to the Rule of 26-27-60. Cam Newton, for example, should be a failure because he scored a 21 on his Wonderlic and started just 16 games in college. He appears to be on his way to a long NFL career. Ditto Robert Griffin III, who, reportedly, misses the mark by two points on his Wonderlic.

Enter the 2013 Lewin Career Forecast, courtesy of Aaron Schatz at Football Outsiders and Dave Lewin, who gets credited for inventing the system a number of years ago. The LCF passes the sniff test a little better than the Rule of 26-27-60. It is also exceedingly more complicated. Here's Schatz to explain the rules:

There are seven variables involved in the Lewin Career Forecast:

  • Career college games started
  • Career completion rate. Because of recent rises in completion rate across college football, this is a logarithmic variable, so that as a quarterback's completion percentage goes down, the penalty for low completion percentage gets gradually larger.
  • Difference between the quarterback's BMI and 28.0. This creates a small penalty for quarterbacks who don't exactly conform to the "ideal quarterback size."
  • For quarterbacks who come out as seniors, the difference in NCAA passer rating between their junior and senior seasons. (For quarterbacks who come out as juniors or redshirt sophomores, this variable is always 5.0, which is the average increase for the seniors in our data set.)
  • A binary variable that penalizes quarterbacks who don't play for a team in a BCS-qualifying conference.
  • Run-pass ratio in the quarterback's final college season.
  • Total rushing yards in the quarterback's final college season.

Also very important to note: The model is designed to apply only to quarterbacks taken in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. While advanced statistics are used, there is something to be said for scouting. If a quarterback drops past Day 2, there is probably a good reason why NFL teams are avoiding him despite what numbers may say.

So who is the top quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft? Landry Jones.

All seven factors of the LCF are used to estimate what a quarterback's Defensive-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement (essentially, how much better a player will be than an average-level replacement at the same position) will be three to five years into his professional career.

Lost? Just know that the LCF seems to do a better job than SI's pass-fail model. Newton's 175 DYAR doesn't jump off the page, but at least he was predicted to be above average in 2011. The model was more effective on Griffin, who had the second highest DYAR in 2012. No, Andrew Luck wasn't first. Top honors went to a diminutive Wisconsin quarterback named Russell Wilson, who was drafted in the third round and went on to throw 26 touchdowns as a rookie.

So who is the top quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft? Why, Landry Jones of course. Huh?

Here's why that note I made about quarterbacks being drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft is important. Jones, by most indications, probably won't be selected during the first two days of the 2013 NFL Draft. He isn't far off, currently ranking as the No. 11 prospect available at his position. But despite his prototypical build, the Oklahoma product is painfully unathletic, as evidenced by the awkward video of him running the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. As Schatz notes, the same passing system that allowed Jones to put up gaudy numbers may have also hidden problems with mechanics and footwork behind the solace of quick screen passes.

Beyond Jones, the names make a little more sense:

Geno Smith, West Virginia: 2,064 DYAR

Matt Barkley, USC: 1,812 DYAR

Ryan Nassib, Syracuse: 1,506 DYAR

E.J. Manuel, Florida State: 1,270 DYAR

Tyler Wilson, Arkansas: 425 DYAR

Tyler Bray, Tennessee: (-)201 DYAR

Mike Glennon, NC State: (-)379 DYAR

Yes, Bray and Glennon are both in the negative, meaning they should produce at a lower level than the average replacement when they are three to five years deep into their NFL careers. Interestingly, Glennon gets docked for being too skinny at 6'7, 220 pounds due to the BMI component of the LCF.

Looking back at SB Nation's own quarterback rankings, the order of the names varies a bit, but that's true of any sort of ranking. On its face, the LCF appears to have figured out a pretty good, be it a bit imperfect, predictor of NFL success. The numbers are fun to think about, at the very least. They don't have to replace what we see with our own eyes. Schatz again:

Perhaps some team will figure out a way to solve Jones' problems, grab him in the third round, and turn him into a quality NFL starter. Or he may drop to the fifth and be forgotten as just another college system quarterback-turned-NFL flop. It's just another example how, when it comes to picking future talent, even the most stat-oriented of us know that numbers compliment scouting. They don't replace scouting.

Please check out the' full study over at Football Outsiders.

More in the NFL:

NFL Mock Draft: Post-Combine and trade edition

Trade rumors: Where's Darrelle Revis headed?

10 takeaways from the NFL Combine

The hardest thing to do in sports

NFL Combine's biggest winners and losers

The best (and we mean worst) quotes from the Combine

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