The Definition of an Average Quarterback

Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

We often talk about "average" quarterback play, but what exactly does that mean?

The past few weeks Browns fans have talked an awful lot about the quality of our quarterback play.  When having these discussion, people tend to say thing like "If only we had an average quarterback..." or "I think Brian Hoyer could be an above average QB," but I've realized that everyone has a different opinion of what that means.  This subject will only become more important as we consider what direction this team should take in the offseason.  Decisions like whether or not to draft a quarterback or where in the draft that should take place hinge on one's opinion of the guys currently on the roster.  Many people think we could be a contender with even an "average" quarterback.  I'm here to find out if maybe, just maybe, that guy is already on the roster.

First we have to decide what stats we want to look at here and what kind of sample we should use.  I'm actually going to use two different samples here in an attempt to answer two similar but different questions.  First I'm going to look at all quarterbacks, including guys like Brock Osweiler and his three pass attempts this season.  This sample will determine what the average quarterback is, without any other qualifiers.  After that, I'm going to look at the top 32 quarterbacks in the league according to QB rating (minimum 50 attempts).  By doing this, I hope to take a look at what the average starting quarterback should be.  The reason I'm not just looking at starters team by team is that ideally the league's starting QBs would be the best 32.  Some may quibble with cutting the sample this way, but I do not think the difference between the two approaches is drastically different.  As far as what stats we're going to look at, I've chosen all rate stats.  We'll be looking at completion percentage, yards per attempt (YPA), QB rating, and percentage of passes thrown for touchdowns and interceptions (TD%, INT%).  Due to my samples including a wide range of total attempts across passers, I felt it was necessary to look at stats that do not depend greatly on volume.  To start, let's take a peak at what the average NFL quarterback looks like, and how the Browns QBs compare.


CMP% YPA QB Rating TD% INT%
Average 60.3% 7.0 81.5 3.7% 3.45
Brandon Weeden 52.8% 5.8 66.2 2.5% 3.0%
Brian Hoyer 59.4% 6.4 82.6 5.2% 3.1%
Jason Campbell 61.3% 7.5 106.6 6.7% 0%

So a couple of things jump out at us here.  First, wow, is Brandon Weeden bad.  The only thing he does better than the average QB is protect the football.  It's especially troubling that his TD% is so low, but I'll come back to that in a second.  The second thing that jumps out at me is how completely mediocre Brian Hoyer was.  He was about as close to average as you can get.  The reason this jumped out at me is that listening to some Browns fans you would think Hoyer obviously played great when clearly that wasn't the case.  If not for his game-winning drive I doubt anyone would seriously be considering him as a candidate to start next year.  Obviously that drive counts for something, but how much stock you put into it will likely be a personal preference and isn't a topic I really want to discuss here.  The final Browns quarterback to start this season, Jason Campbell, has clearly been the best of the bunch.  He is well above average in every category.  Small sample size qualifiers apply for all of these guys, and it would be absolutely shocking if Campbell keeps up this level of play, but so far he's been playing great.  Before moving on I do want to make a couple of notes about the averages.  I did not weight them at all, Matt Hasselbeck's 66% completion percentage on three attempts counted just as much as Aaron Rogers' over 251 attempts.  This means the averages are extremely susceptible to outliers, especially those resulting from a small sample.  Thankfully outliers are not really a problem with two exceptions: TD% and INT%.  TD% is depressed quite a bit by quarterbacks who come in and throw three passes and never play again.  They're extremely unlikely to throw a TD, so I ended up with a lot of guys with a TD% of zero.  Note that this means Weeden's TD% is even worse than this comparison makes it look.  Conversely, it turns out that low-volume QBs bring up the INT% quite a bit, due in no small part to Kirk Cousins and his 22.2 INT% on just nine attempts.  These are the numbers that will see the biggest correction when viewing just the top 32 quarterbacks.  So with that in mind, let's see those averages.

CMP% YPA QB Rating TD% INT%
Average Starter 62.3% 7.5 94.0 5.1% 2.0%
Brandon Weeden 52.8% 5.8 66.2 2.5% 3.0%
Brian Hoyer 59.4% 6.4 82.6 5.2% 3.1%
Jason Campbell 61.3% 7.5 106.6 6.7% 0%

Now the standard is a little higher, and we can start using this to make decisions on the future of this group.  Obviously, since Weeden was worse than the average quarterback, he's going to be worse than the average starter.  No need to waste time here, he should be gone next season.  Hoyer is a more interesting case.  He does not compare favorably to the average starter in any category except TD%.  To his credit, he is better in that area than the average shows.  The median TD% is actually 4.8% with the average being pulled up by Nick Foles who throws TDs on 11% of his passes.  Still though, Hoyer's well below average YPA along with a well above average INT% leads me to believe he simply is not an average starter in the NFL.  His best case scenario is being a game manager, and in this case I'm including the negative connotation that goes along with that phrase.  That leaves us with Jason Campbell, who compares quite favorably.  His completion percentage and YPA fall right in line with the starter averages, while his TD% and INT% are much better than average.  Once again, Campbell is clearly the best of the Browns quarterback group.

What does all of this mean for the future?  In the case of Campbell and Weeden, probably not much.  Weeden is gone next year and I don't think many people will have a problem with that.  Campbell has played an outstanding two games, but his career averages are not quite as good, in particular his TD% and YPA are well below average.  Campbell is one of the better backups in the league, and I would love for the Browns to keep him in that capacity.  I wouldn't even mind letting him start next season while a rookie sits for a few games.  It also wouldn't shock me if Campbell gets another shot at a starting gig for a team that thinks it's a QB away from the playoffs with a closing window (looking at you, Minnesota, AD can't play forever).  At this point though, it's pretty clear that Campbell isn't a long term answer.

Hoyer is a much more interesting case.  His numbers are below average, but not so far below average that he's a liability.  Some may think he would improve with more playing time, but Hoyer is 28 years old and has been in the league for a long time.  I think he probably is what he is at this point.  Hoyer would be a valuable backup, but is that worth the QB controversy, especially when we could just as easily hang onto Campbell?  At this point, any argument for Hoyer as a starter hinges on hope for improvement or an "intangibles" argument.  Given that Campbell put up better numbers against better defenses, if we're going to keep one of our current QBs for next season, I think he's got to be the guy.

By this point you have probably noted that I am more or less assuming that the Browns are going to bring in a new QB next year, and it's most likely going to be through the draft.  The reason for that has to do with one average that I haven't shown you yet, and that's the average age of NFL quarterbacks.  The average quarterback is 28 years old, and the average starter is 28.3 years old.  That means that every QB currently on our roster is old by NFL standards.  We need an infusion of young talent at the position, and we need it soon.  Whether that happens by trading for a guy like Ryan Mallet or through the more traditional and obvious path of drafting a quarterback, I don't know.  I wouldn't even be shocked if the Browns draft two rookie signal callers in 2014.  I would be shocked if we entered next season with 2/3 of our current quarterbacks still on the roster.  What I've learned through this exercise is that the Browns are unlikely to get even average quarterback play out of Weeden, Hoyer, or Campbell, and we're never going to compete for a super bowl without it.
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