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Appreciating Oregon's Vernon Adams, who had one of the best QB seasons of the last decade

All of this from an FCS transfer.

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon's 2015 season ended in San Antonio at the Alamo Bowl, with quarterback Vernon Adams wearing a headset on the sidelines, as Adams watched his team blow a 31-0 halftime lead that he built against TCU. That was a perhaps a fitting way for a strange, up-and-down Ducks season to end, but it was not a fitting finish for Adams, who left the game after a big hit late in the second half.

Adams came to Oregon as a graduate transfer from FCS Eastern Washington. The fact that an FCS quarterback made waves at a top-tier FBS program is unusual, but Adams' year has been crazy even beyond his decision. He was banned from Eastern Washington's facilities, then didn't actually graduate until he passed a math test in mid-August. He arrived at Oregon with two weeks to prepare and learn the Ducks' playbook, but he still earned the starting quarterback job. Then, in his first game, he broke his pinky, causing him to miss three games and barely play in another.

Despite all of that, Adams still surpassed all expectations with the Ducks.

Adams was the most efficient quarterback in the country.

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook and former walk-on Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield are regarded as good stories, but they had FBS offers and were considered three-star recruits in high school. Adams wasn't even rated coming out of high school, and he was playing a full division lower than those two players just last year. This year, he was arguably better than them.

His efficiency stats were unmatched this season, and his 10.2 yards per attempt were better than any quarterback in the past two years, including former Oregon quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

Metric Stat National rank
Yards per attempt 10.2 1
Passer rating 179.09 1
Completion percentage 64.9% 20

Adams got even better as the year went on, and as he got healthier. He finished with an astounding 10.7 yards per attempt and a 191.72 quarterback rating in conference play. Over a full season, the yards per attempt number would tie Robert Griffin III for the best since 2002, and the quarterback rating would be the best since Russell Wilson in 2011.

Only 11 quarterbacks in the past decade have passed for over 10 yards per attempt, and efficiency-wise, Adams holds his own.

Player Year Yards per attempt Pass attempts Rating Completion percentage
Vernon Adams 2015 10.2 259 179.1 64.90%
Marcus Mariota 2014 10 445 181.7 68.30%
Jameis Winston 2013 10.6 384 184.8 66.90%
Bryce Petty 2013 10.4 403 174.3 62%
Zach Mettenberger 2013 10.4 296 171.4 64.90%
Aaron Murray 2012 10.1 386 174.8 64.50%
Robert Griffin III 2011 10.7 402 189.5 72.40%
Russell Wilson 2011 10.3 309 191.8 72.80%
Cam Newton 2010 10.2 280 182 66.10%
Kellen Moore 2010 10 383 182.6 71.30%
David Johnson 2008 10.1 400 178.7 64.50%

Statistically, Adams was a Heisman contender if he was healthy all year, says Bill Connelly:

During the five games after his injury, the Ducks went 2-3, held back a little by QB struggles and a lot by shaky defense. But despite the defense, Oregon was 7-0 when Adams was full-strength or close to it. And a full-strength Adams might have had a chance to post Mariota-like numbers. That probably would have gotten him an invitation to New York.

He was electric and captivating on the field when healthy.

Adams seemingly got more comfortable the more a play broke down. Take this pass against USC. Adams should be sacked a few times on this play, but he avoids it to make an incredibly accurate throw for a first down.

And it isn't just shorter throws that make Adams so special. In a win against Stanford, he evaded a sack and stepped way up into the pocket to deliver a perfect 47-yard touchdown strike right before halftime.

Thanks to Adams' success, the FCS-to-FBS path has opened for graduated quarterbacks, as Oregon just beat Alabama, Michigan and Texas to sign Montana State's Dakota Prukop for next season. Here's hoping he's half as fun to watch.


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