By Shawn Heintz
Who is the best rookie Quarterback this season? Let us know what you think! And read on to see what the stats tell me, and we’ll see if we agree.
Once again we have a season of NFL football where there have been rookie quarterbacks who have performed better than expected. Not too many years ago it was assumed that in this league a rookie couldn’t be successful, but players like Matthew Stafford (though slowed by injuries), Matt Ryan, and Sam Bradford have shown they can be productive quarterbacks straight out of college. Some would say Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez have been successful as well (though I would point more to their defenses than the quarterback play in those cases). But this year the critics were even more forceful in their preaching that a quarterback could not be successful being rushed into a system because of the lockout shortened camps and pre-season. This year, however, as in recent years, there have been a number of quarterbacks who have been given the keys to their franchises and some of them have proved the naysayers wrong and have put up quality numbers and given some of these teams reason to look to the future with high expectations.
The four players that come to mind that seem to be the look of the franchise for years to come are: Andy Dalton, Blaine Gabbert (maybe), Christian Ponder, and Cam Newton. Give me your feedback about who you think is the best of these quarterbacks (before you look at the numbers and then tell me if you feel the same after looking at the numbers), and I will do the same (before and after). I tend to gravitate toward Cam Newton out of these four players because of his big play potential, his versatility in being able to run well and also (the pleasant surprise) throw well, but the rookie mistakes may keep it close in the long run. I like Andy Dalton as a pure passer, and if Rushing Yards and Rushing TD’s weren’t being considered here, I would be all in for Dalton, but at this point in the article I am in anticipation as well because I haven’t tabulated the numbers yet and I don’t know for sure what they are going to tell me (us).
Here’s what I found from (and how I came up with) the numbers…
This will be my first look at the quarterback using a simplistic system for comparing each player on a level playing field that I call Equalized Statistical Analysis (ESA). The point behind this system is to look at each player with the same number of attempts (40) per game, by taking each players statistics, breaking those stats down per game, and then equalizing the information by multiplying or dividing that players average game statistics to what they would have looked like by the same average with 40 pass attempts per game. The formula is simple, you take their attempts so far this year (in Andy Dalton’s case 257) and divide that by the number of games he has played (8), which gives you a ‘multiplier’ (32), basically the average attempts the QB attempts each game. Next you take each total statistic and divide by the number of games again (1,696 Yards for Dalton in 8 games), divide that by the multiplier (32) and multiply by 40 (which comes to 265 yards/ game at 40 attempts per game). Finally, I score them in a rotisserie style, giving 4 points for the leader in each category on down to 1 point for the lowest ESA per category. It’s something simple that anyone could do, but I never see, stats that simply compare players apple to apple, because one player’s stats could balloon simply from the system he is in, a pass first offense, where another quarterback’s statistics may look inferior simply because they are in a run first offensive scheme that depends on field position and defense. If we equalize the attempts and the rest of the stats accordingly, then we can get a better viewpoint of who is doing what for their team, as well as their potential. Obviously this doesn’t take in all the variables and it is extremely limited as to what it shows for players with such a small body of work, and after the season is over, I plan on doing a similar article and analysis to break down the best of the best all time, purely by the numbers, and without prejudice, to see who the best QB was, all-time.
But getting back to the task at hand, here are this year’s statistics, as well as their ESA for these four rookie QBs:
According to ESA, the numbers say that Andy Dalton is the best rookie Quarterback in the NFL this season. Surprised? I was (a little), but I thought it would be close between Cam and Andy (which it was), so I’m not completely surprised either. I thought that the rushing statistics and total accumulation of yards would put Newton over the top, but as I mentioned in my original thoughts about these two, the things that made Dalton just a little better were the stats that aren’t so sexy, but just as important to win games, and those are the ones that show you aren’t making a lot of mistakes. Here is my take on each of these young stars:
Andy Dalton: To those who think that Tim Tebow is a good quarterback because he finds a way to win games, perhaps you should look at the prototype that you are trying to fit (force) Tim Tebow into, which is the QB who is playing for the Cincinatti Bengals, Andy Dalton. But Dalton will just be hitting his prime when Tebow will be long forgotten. He has shown in his numbers and in team wins that he knows how to get it done, at 6 – 2 this young season. He has led his team to victory by limiting mistakes, with the lowest Interception rate, Sacks per game, Fumbles per game and Fumbles Lost per game, as well as having the highest completion percentage and most touchdowns for all rookie quarterbacks. That coupled with his solid statistics across the board puts him at the top of the list, and with a young A.J. Green to throw to, expect Dalton to only get better because finding a rookie wide receiver that puts up the kind of numbers that Green has already is rare. Usually receiver mature in their third year, but Dalton and Green have already established a connection that looks like it will be very dangerous to opposing defenses for years to come. Add to that a good defense and running game, and it is a recipe for winning games.
Cam Newton: Already breaking rookie records in his first game, Cam has proven may doubters wrong by putting up a lot more passing statistics and a lot less rushing statistics than most expected. I didn’t think he would be this good! Unlike many of his predecessors in the mold of a ‘running quarterback’, he has conceded almost instantly that to be successful in this league, you need to learn how to throw in the pocket. His humility, raw talent, and intelligence will serve him well as he continues to work hard at becoming a quality NFL quarterback, and perhaps eventually a superstar. I list humility first because all too often players who were successful in college have been playing so long and heard and used so many different offensive schemes that they think they know what they are doing, they just want to do it ‘my way.’ Cam Newton came from an offense that resembles nothing you will find in the NFL. Even the play calling was a foreign language to what he was coming from at Auburn. His appearance to me was always, another Michael Vick or Vince Young who are in too much of a hurry to run, and don’t fully embrace the responsibility of their position… to throw the ball. Cam Newton has made adjustments, changed completely, and is on pace for well over 4,500 yards in his first season. Does that sound like a rookie quarterback to you? Does that sound like a running quarterback to you? It doesn’t to me. And that’s why he has impressed me so much. Changing so effortlessly to be a different QB than I was familiar with, Newton is making his team relevant, competitive, and fun to watch, something Carolina fans missed all last season. My only problem I have with Cam (which probably has more to do with coaching than his playing) is that it seems since he came to town that the explosive Panthers running backs have declined considerably, but I’m sure in time they will figure out the balance they need to get all their skill position players involved in the offense.
Christian Ponder: I wasn’t sure that Ponder was going to start this season with the off-season acquisition of Donovan McNabb, but without the spark the Vikings were hoping his veteran leadership would bring, Minnesota opted to go with the rookie over McNabb a few weeks ago. Statistically the improvement looks minimal, if at all, but they like his arm and feel that he can give them a better down field attack and use weapons like Percy Harvin with more efficiency and create bigger plays. It always helps to have a running back like Adrian Peterson on your team to keep the defense honest, because you always need to account for where Peterson is at on the field. Ponder seems comfortable in the pocket and will probably only get better as he learns the Vikings’ playbook. I don’t think he will develop into an elite quarterback, but he should be solid and above average in comparison to the rest of the league. And as long as Minnesota continues to put a solid run game and defense on the field, Ponder’s largest concern will be to minimalize turnovers and manage the game.
Blaine Gabbert: The Jacksonville Jaguars let David Garrard go to start the season, paving the way for Gabbert to show what he has to offer. I think they made a mistake, and the statistics do too. Though Garrard isn’t overly impressive to me either, Blaine Gabbert makes Tim Tebow’s numbers look normal. Garrard’s career ESA is 25/40 completions, 281 yards, 1.562 TD, 0.948 INT, and 3.142 Sacks, all together being slightly better than Ponder overall, but head and shoulders above Gabbert. Blaine could use some time on he bench learning the system, and it doesn’t help that this team lacks weapons. They have MJD, but after that… not too much. In a year when the AFC South was wide open, it was not the year to experiment with a rookie quarterback that needs a lot of seasoning. With Garrard they may have been competitive (don’t get me wrong, I still don’t think they had a chance), but now they look like a team lost and will struggle to find more than 5 wins in a division where they play the 0 – 9 Colts twice.
Don’t forget to comment on your favorite rookie QB. Let us know what you think and if you agree with the analysis. We always like seeing what our readers think!