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Can We Really Trust the Numbers on Rookie Quarterbacks?

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Football Outsiders has developed a respected formula to evaluate rookie quarterbacks selected in the first two rounds based on the number of games started and completion percentage. It's acclaimed and has been relatively accurate. Game reps do matter and completion percentage indicates accuracy, an important point of effective quarterbacking. Can we really trust the formula? SNY's Michael Salfino argues no.

But FO and Barnwell disagree. They maintain we can predict a college quarterback's professional future by simply looking at the number of starts and completion percentage in college. Oh, wait. The caveat is that the quarterback has to be selected in the first two rounds of the actual NFL draft.

Clemens had 32 starts and a 61-percent completion percentage. Sanchez's was 64 percent, but he only started 16 games so Clemens wins. But if Clemens had been selected about 10 picks later when he was drafted, and thus slid past the second round into the third, the FO system wouldn't have an opinion on him.

It seems pretty squirrelly to me to have a picking system that so completely relies on where NFL general managers actually pick their quarterback. I understand why FO did it -- if they didn't have the second-round caveat the vast majority of qualifiers would be proven NFL zeros. In stat parlance, this is called multiple endpoints; you just pick the arbitrary cutoff that best supports your theory.

It's a good point. For a model that strives for purely objective statistical analysis, it depends a lot on totally subjective measures. I do think Football Outsiders is onto something. As I mentioned above, these are decent indicators, but there are others.

Playing in a pro system is a big edge. It's less of a learning curve than moving into a pro system from a spread offense. How about caliber of teammates? Matt Ryan never had a supporting cast in college. Not one of his skill players will be an NFL contributor. There were a lot of cases where Ryan's reveivers dropped passes or didn't get open to the detriment of his statistics. There's caliber of coaching. Some coaches better prepare their players than others. There's situation. Ben Roethlisberger was able to develop because the Steelers had a team around him to let him develop at his own pace. Maybe he wouldn't have turned out as good if he had to do it all like David Carr with the Texans. There's maturity. Some quarterbacks like Ryan Leaf have all the physical ability in the world but lack the leadership skills and work ethic to be a franchise quarterback.

I could go on. The point is that I believe the Football Outsiders method has value, but it should be a starting point for our discussion. We should continue to evaluate it and improve upon it like all models. We shouldn't worship at its altar. I think Salfino's onto something.