Can an old formula still predict QB success in the NFL?


Sports Illustrated made the 26-27-60 rule in 2010 to help predict if quarterbacks would succeed or fail in the NFL draft. How has it done over the past three years?

In July of 2010, John Lopez of Sports Illustrated proposed a rule to predict the success of future NFL quarterbacks, the Rule of 26-27-60. The rule predicted that if a NFL prospect scored at least a 26 on the Wonderlic test, started at least 27 games in college, and completed at least 60 percent of his passes, he would succeed in the NFL, if he did not meet all three criteria, he would fail.

At the time of the article the rule was a fairly accurate at dividing successful NFL quarterbacks from disappointments. The rule predicted success for Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub and Matt Ryan. Meanwhile it predicted failure for Ryan Leaf, Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, Tim Couch, David Carr, Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell.

Has the rule continued to serve as a good predictive tool in the three years since it was made? Reddit user Hyperdrunk took a look at the quarterback classes of 2010-12 and determined who was predicted as a success and a failure according to the Rule of 26-27-60.

Class of 2010
Player Wonderlic Starts Completion % Pass/Fail
Sam Bradford 36 31 67 Pass
Tim Tebow 22 42 67 Fail
Jimmy Clausen 23 35 63 Fail
Colt McCoy 25 53 70 Fail

Bradford was the only player the rule predicted to be a success in 2010. Bradford is also the only one of these four quarterbacks to still have a starting job, so the rule seemed to be accurate in 2010.

Class of 2011
Player Wonderlic Starts Completion % Pass/Fail
Cam Newton 21 16 65 Fail
Jake Locker 20 59 54 Fail
Blaine Gabbert 42 26 61 Fail
Christian Ponder 35 34 62 Pass
Andy Dalton 29 49 62 Pass
Colin Kaepernick 37 49 58 Fail
Ryan Mallett 26 29 58 Fail

It is a bit harder to judge the success of the rule in this draft class. The jury is still out on most of these quarterbacks. Obviously Kaepernick and Newton appear to be on track to succeed in the NFL despite not meeting the requirements of the rule, but Newton has yet to lead his team to a winning record and Kaepernick has only started half a season. Ponder struggled for much of the 2012 season, but he did lead his team to the playoffs (to be fair Adrian Peterson led Ponder's team to the playoffs, but all the same, he was the QB of a playoff team).

Class of 2012
Player Wonderlic Starts Completion % Pass/Fail
Andrew Luck 37 38 67 Pass
Robert Griffin III 24 29 67 Fail
Ryan Tannehill 34 25 62 Fail
Brandon Weeden 27 27 70 Pass
Brock Osweiler 25 24 60 Fail
Russell Wilson 28 47 61 Pass
Nick Foles 29 35 67 Pass
Kirk Cousins 33 39 64 Pass

Obviously it is too early to deem anyone from this class a complete success or failure quite yet. But, with one season of data, it would appear the rule might have missed when calling RGIII a failure (although only by two points on the Wonderlic).

In total, while it is still early to comment on if the Rule of 26-27-60 was a good predictive model for the last three quarterback classes, some value can be seen. The rule predicted the struggles of Tebow, Clausen and McCoy; predicted Ponder and Dalton would succeed while Locker and Gabbert would fail; and predicted Russell Wilson as a success.

The predictions of Newton, Kaepernick, and RG3 as failure show that no rule is perfect. Of course the rule had its failures prior to these last three QB classes as well. Much like RG3 and Kaepernick; Ben Roethlisberger (wonderlic), Joe Flacco (starts) and Jay Cutler (completion percentage) all fell just short of the requirements in one of three categories but all three have achieved success in the NFL.

Looking forward at the class of 2013, none of the prospects have taken the Wonderlic test yet, but some quarterbacks have already failed to meet the requirements of the rule. N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon and Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson both failed by virtue of only starting 26 games at the college level as opposed to the minimum of 27 games specified in the rule. Mocking the Draft predicts the Arizona Cardinals will select Wilson with the seventh pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Evaluating a player should never come down to a simple rule with strict guidelines, but the Rule of 26-27-60 still proves to be a fairly accurate predictor of success.

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