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How to Beat the House: QB Edition

Third in an ongoing series of how to outsmart the NFL draft. Here are parts one and two.


Looking good Magnum.

In part two, we figured out the best value of the NFL draft. But now we needed to dig deeper. Are we risking missing out on the next Philip Rivers by getting out of the top 15? Should we draft a QB late and give him years to develop? Should we just sign a Free Agent and cross our fingers? What we found was very interesting.

What if I told you we found out a place in the NFL draft where your chances at getting a great QB are the same as the top of the draft, for less than 20% of the price? Wouldn't you poop your pants? Grab your depends and come along!

First, in order for me to find out where great QB's are drafted, I needed to first get a good, accurate definition of what a good QB is. It can be different from person to person. A player I may think is good, you may think is a bum. We needed something that drew the line.

We sat down and described what factors we wanted most out of our QB's. Before it is asked, if something has no way of being measured (thinking, grasp of offense, "being a winner") were not included because it is foolish and there is no possible way of quantifying those qualities. We needed something that we could point to and say, this is what we want out of a QB.

As a group we decided that the three best factors that are almost 100% in the QB's hands are the following (in no particular order):

  • Completion percentage (CMP%): What good is a QB that doesn't complete passes? Over the past ten seasons we have seen completion percentage become a much more important number. Offenses use short passes as de facto running plays and a QB who lacks touch on short passes can kill a short passing game (think DA).
  • Yards Per Attempt (YPA): The flip side of the previous point. What good is a QB that can't throw the ball down the field? Completing 3 passes of three yards each, is still a 3 and out. A great QB can stretch the field accurately.
  • Touchdown to Interception Ratio (TD-INT): What is the point of having a QB that doesn't protect the football? TD is a team stat, but a QB that protects the ball should always have a good ratio. Ball security is so important in todays NFL. Defenses are all about turnovers. Having a QB that protects the ball is huge.
  • Stability as a Starter (SAS): Yep, we made a stat up. This is longevity. After all, a QB that is great for 15 years is more valuable than a QB that is great for a season or two. Simple right? We wanted to reward a QB for being able to stick around with a team. (This one becomes important later on, so just store it away right now).

Of course there are more aspects of a great QB, but we tagged these as the four most important ones. If you have a QB that throws the ball downfield accurately and protects the ball, you have a damn fine QB. This sounds so foreign to us Browns fans because we have never had a QB that has done this things on a consistent basis. So now we had the qualities, but now we had to break down what levels we were looking for.

We didn't want to go off of carer level numbers. After all a player should who has a great season is valuable, just not as much as a consistent one. So we did the following. We went back for the past ten seasons and broke down every QB. We looked at every single season that a QB started more than 8 games. Every season by a QB was filed into one of four categories and assessed the point values:

Level 1. Elite (5 Points) 63% CMP 7.3 YPA 2-1 TD-INT Ratio

This is the big boy level of being a QB. This is your All-Pro level. Over the past 11 seasons, this level has been reached 36 times. Sounds like a lot, but that is out of 352 possible seasons. This is the top 10% percent. The scary thing is that this level seems like it is being reached easier with every passing season. Here is a break down. Bold indicates the first time:

1999: Kurt Warner

2000: Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese

2001: None

2002: Rich Gannon, Chad Pennington

2003: Trent Green, Daunte Cullpepper, Peyton Manning

2004: Donovan McNabb, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Daunte Cullpepper

2005: Matt Hasselbeck, Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer

2006: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees

2007: Jeff Garcia, David Garrard, Ben Rosthlisberger, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady

2008: Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Kurt Warner, Chad Pennington

2009: Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees

Level 2. Orton Line (3 points) 60% CMP 7.0 YPA 1.75-1 TD-INT

The reason we call this the Orton line is that these numbers are pretty close to what Kyle Orton put up in Denver this season. I don't think Kyle Orton is a great QB, I do think he had a very nice season though. Anyone who puts up these stats on a regular basis is a damn fine QB and shouldn't be ashamed in any sort of fashion. But the difference between Orton and Elite is dramatic even though it may not look like much in plain numbers.

Level 3. Tavaris Jackson Line (1 point) 59% CMP 6.7 YPA Positive TD-INT

Looking at these numbers you think, those look really low. They are, but you would be shocked to see how many QB's failed to hit all three of these markers in a season. McNabb has done it only five times in his career.

Anything below these three levels, in todays NFL, are not counted. Many players will play an entire career and not hit these levels. That doesn't mean that they aren't any good, it just means that going forward we doubt they will ever have the chance at being a great QB. After all Derek Anderson had a wonderful 2007, but he didn't hit the level 3 markers. This is our thinking on the QB position. We need all three factors from a QB.

Remember when we discussed SAS (Stability as Starter)? If a QB is the starting QB for five seasons for a team, the QB received 5 points. They didn't have to be good seasons, they just needed to be that teams starting QB for five seasons. If they were the starting QB for 10 seasons, they get 10 points. If they were the starting QB for 7 years, they still only get 5 points. It is cut and dry. Longevity counts, just not as much as an impact season. Sound good to everyone?

So, now that we know the levels of what we were looking for, what did we find? Looking back at the NFL draft from '99 to '08 (I didn't count the rookies from this season, because none of them hit the marks and it would have skewed the numbers, so I kept them out. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco are the anomalies, not the norm.), here is how the first round QB's stacked up (In order of points and * stand for how many times they reached elite status).

  1. Donvan McNabb* 23 PTS (Was killed by his low CMP early on in his career)
  2. Chad Pennington** 20 PTS (Considering he was the "starter" for only 6 seasons, this is nuts)
  3. Ben Roethlisberger** 20 PTS (I have already touched on this. Barf.)
  4. Daunte Cullpepper** 19 PTS (So good for a short amount of time. Randy Moss effect?)
  5. Phillip Rivers** 14 PTS (This is only 4 seasons. He is a douche, but damn he is good.)
  6. Carson Palmer* 14 PTS (He has to be hurt right? He was good, but has turned into "meh" quick.)
  7. Aaron Rodgers** 10 PTS (This is in two seasons. They should have gone with Favre earlier.)
  8. Eli Manning 9 PTS (He was killed by low YPA and CMP%. Rivers trade looks worse everyday.)
  9. Jay Cutler 7 PTS (His INT's hurt.)
  10. David Carr 6 PTS (The rare case of a QB getting points for just sticking around.)
  11. Mike Vick 5 PTS (Again, points for sticking around. Vick was not a QB.)
  12. Joe Flacco 4 PTS (Very efficient, had a level 2 and 3 year his first two years.)
  13. Byron Leftwich 1 PT (Low CMP)
  14. JP Losman 1 PT (Seriously)
  15. Jason Campbell 1 PT (Dude just never threw it downfield enough)
  16. Matt Ryan 1 PT (Thought he would be higher but his CMP is lower than I thought)
  17. Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, Patrick Ramsey, Joey Harrington, Rex Grossman, Kyle Boller, Alex Smith, Matt Leinhart, Vince Young, Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell All had 0 points.

That is right, 17 players didn't have one season of 59% CMP, 6.7 YPA, and a plus TD-INT ratio. 17 out of 28. I don't know if you would want to call them "busts" but that number is scary high to me. So what QB's outside pick 32 scored off the charts? (I did pick 32 for one reason. It is the length of todays first round. This raised an issue because as we know, Drew Brees was the 32nd pick in the draft. He was a second rounder, but his pick now rests in the first round. If there is a hug objection to this, I could change it. So speak up if this bothers you).

Since the '99 draft, here are the QB's outside the first 32 picks that scored points in our scoring system:

'99- Aaron Brooks 6 PTS 4th Round (Holmgren bitches!)

'00- Tom Brady** 22 PTS 6th Round

Marc Bulger 10 PTS 6th Round

'01- None

'02- David Garrard* 8 PTS 4th Round

'03- None

'04- Matt Schuab 4 PTS 3rd Round

'05- Matt Cassel 3 PTS 7th Round

Kyle Orton 3 PTS 4th Round

'06- Tavaris Jackson 1 PT 2nd Round

'07- None

'08- None

I was shocked to see how few QB's mattered. There were 103 QB's drafted from pick 33 on since '99. Out of those 103, only 8 of them had seasons that we cared about. That is just under 8% on a hit percentage (obviously giving us a 92% miss). The first round gave us 40% miss percentage. Neither of those numbers are pretty, but 40 is a whole lot prettier than 92.

What does this tell us?

I was not happy. I was firmly in the camp of draft a QB later on and let him develop then watch him become awesome. The numbers have shown, that this is a bad idea. For every Tom Brady there are 9 Ken Dorsey's. It is a nice idea to get a QB late in the draft, but for a team to count on that player being a good QB is a horrible idea.

A team HAS to draft a Quarterback in the first round. You have no idea how much this bothered me. I really wanted this to show me how a QB could be found anywhere in the draft. Alas, I went in with an open mind, and I am now a believer, it has to be done.

We go deeper:

This wasn't good enough for us. We wanted to know if we could still take a QB in the value zone that we discussed in the value part of this on going series. Can we stick with the plan when taking a QB or are we taking a drastic step down in terms of talent?

Since '99 there have been 29 QB's selected in the top 32 picks, 3 a year on average.

Let us break that down even further.

Since '99 there have been 19 QB's taken from picks 1-14, the danger zone in our value piece. Remember, we want to avoid this area like the plague.

Since '99 there have been 10 QB's taken from picks 15-32, the value portion of the first round.

This is the breakdown:

Picks 1-14: On average these players scored 6.3 per player. They had a miss rate (a player not earning a single point in our study) of 42%. The high scorer was McNabb.

Picks 15-32: On average these players scored 6.3 per player. They had a miss rate of 40%. The high score was Brees.

Yep, you read that right. The players taken from picks 15-32 scored the same as the danger zone QB's. The miss rate was still the same. In other words, you could still find a QB in the second half of the draft just as easily, and with the same miss rate, as you would early on in the draft! It doesn't matter where you pick a QB in the first round, it just has to be inside of the first 32 picks.

Here is the big difference that we already talked about, but it is worth mentioning again. The rookie contracts. These are the ones that I found (If you find one of the few that I am missing, please post it with a link to where you found it and I will add it and adjust the figures, thanks). Sorry, this is going to be long:

Tim Couch: 7 years 48 million

Donovan McNabb ???

Akili Smith 7 years 56 million

Cade McNown 5 years 22 million

Mike Vick 6 years 62 million

Joey Harrington 6 years 43.5 million

David Carr 7 years 46.2 million

Byron Leftwich 5 years 30 million

Carson Palmer 7 years 49 million

Ben Roethlisberger 6 years 22 million

Phillip Rivers 6 years 40.5 million

Eli Manning 6 years 54 million

Alex Smith 6 years 49.5 million

Jay Cutler 6 years 48 million

Matt Leinhart 6 years 50.8 million

Vince Young 6 years 58 million

JaMarcus Russell 6 years 60 million

Matt Ryan 6 years 66 million

On average those contracts average out to be 5.76 years for 47.38 million.

What is the damage for the value area of the first round? Glad ya asked:

Patrick Ramsey 5 years 5.7 million

Drew Brees 4 years 6.2 million

Chad Pennington ???

Rex Grossman ???

Kyle Boller 5 years 8 million

J.P Losman 6 years 8.2 million

Jason Campbell 6 years 8 million

Aaron Rodgers 5 years 7.7 million

Brady Quinn 5 years 9.2 million (Remember most of his $$ is playing time based)

Joe Flacco 5 years 11.9 million

As of right now these contracts average out to be 5.28 years for 8.39 million. Damn near the same length for about about 18% of the price! It's not even close to be equal price!

So I ask you, why draft a QB early in the draft when he is going to cost you four times the price, and you have the same chance of drafting a good QB later on in the draft? It makes no sense to take a QB early in the danger zone. Again, we as a team need to get away from the top 15 like we are on fire, pick up extra picks and attack the second half of the first round.

Could some other factors play a role in this discovery? Yes a team drafting later on in the draft is a better team, so wouldn't a young QB do better on a good team? Damn straight he will. Yet we see teams building around QB's all the time. The numbers have shown that the QB should be one of the FINAL pieces. Drop a QB in a great situation and he has a much better chance of being a good pro. Look at the list above, only Quinn was really dropped into horrible situation.

So what have we learned throughout this whole ordeal?

  1. You have no idea how much it pains me to say this. After all, I wrote this article, but Ben Roethlisberger is a good QB. I am going to go puke all over everything.
  2. Jay Cutler is not as good as I thought. For those in which I fought with tooth and nail that I thought Jay Cutler was great, I apologize. I still think he will be good, but as of right now, he needs some work.
  3. Anyone who thinks that Tom Brady is in Peyton Manning's class needs to slow down. No active QB is even close according to our study. Manning has 53 points. That is double what Brady has. The only QB all-time that is close to him are Steve Young (36 points) and Joe Montana (40 points). Others were brought down by either CMP% or TD-INT ratio. If we switched Brady and Manning, I think that Brady would be ringless and Manning would have a fistful. Seriously. By the way, see the poll to settle a bet that I have. It has been changed because he is a weak ass, but I agreed to the new terms anyways.
  4. Chad Pennington is the best QB that no one ever talks about. I am guilty of this myself. Looking back on the guys career, his numbers were very, very good. He was exactly what we are looking for. Dude gets knocked a lot, but if he was able to stay healthy, he was going to be a great one.
  5. Daunte Cullpepper was as good as it got early on in his career. How did he fall as far as he did?
  6. As much as we might like Clausen or Bradford, we shouldn't take them with the 7th pick. In fact I haven't yet to find a position worth taking. That isn't saying much, I am only 4 or 5 positions in so far.
  7. As much as I have fallen for Colt McCoy, this study changed my mind, it is first round or bust for QB for me.
  8. I am sure you noticed, but this study killed running QB's. I know Vince Young wins and Mike Vick used to win games, but I was never a fan of a running QB (unless we are playing Madden) and this study only reinforced my thoughts. Yes, they may do some extra things, but they don't do what we wanted and expected out of a QB. I am willing to listen to any arguments for saving the running QB.
  9. I didn't include undrafted free agents because there is no way to count how many are signed every season. For every Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme, there are about eleventy billion Craig Krenzels.
  10. Again, I am in need of your help. Was I too rough or too easy? C'Mon people, help a brotha out!
  11. For running backs we are having a tough time trying to set levels. Any ideas would be helpful. We are thinking 5.2 YPT (Yards Per Touch from scrimmage) because we want a RB who can also catch the ball. A RB has to have 250 touches in a season. TD's are more of a team reward but we would like to give a RB some small bonus for being a goaline back also. Any ideas are welcomed and encouraged.
  12. I am sorry if some of this is hard to read, I really suck at formatting.

Once again, this is by far the only way to attack a NFL draft. But remember, we are thinking outside the box with no preconceived notions. So if you wanna add, by all means bring it.

Did I mention Go Browns?