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How Accurate Are the Bill Parcells Rules for Drafting Quarterbacks?

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Over the next few weeks, you are likely to hear a number of theories pertaining to drafting players. One of them might be Bill Parcells' rule for drafting quarterbacks. Parcells is a Hall of Fame coach, and over the last few years his guidelines for drafting at the position have made the rounds.

  • He must be a senior, because you need time and maturity to develop into a good professional quarterback.
  • He must be a graduate, because you want someone who takes his responsibilities seriously.
  • He must be a three-year starter, because you need to make sure his success wasn’t ephemeral and that he has lived as "the guy" for some period of time.
  • He must have at least 23 wins, because the big passing numbers must come in the context of winning games.

Through the years, I have seen many analysts break down Draft prospects using these rules. I have, however, not seen anybody test these to see whether these are actually traits the top quarterbacks in the NFL had when they were college prospects.

With this in mind, I decided to try and dig into the past of the NFL's best as they were being drafted.

Last year David Wyatt ranked the NFL's starting quarterbacks on this site. They were ranked in seven tiers. The top three tiers had eleven quarterbacks. I think you would be hard-pressed to say any of them were not very successful quarterbacks in the NFL. From the fourth tier, I am also going to take three quarterbacks. Cam Newton won the MVP. That is good enough to put him in the top group for me. Eli Manning and Carson Palmer both were excellent in 2015 and have big-time track records so I'll add them to our group. That gives us fourteen quarterbacks.

How well will the Parcells rules hold up? I was kind of skeptical going in. Before any research, here were my thoughts.

What did I like?

I like that Parcells tried to focus on some of the intangible aspects of quarterback play. I am not sure I necessarily agree that graduating from college equates to taking responsibilities seriously or that not graduating is a mark against a quarterback. I do think the guy playing quarterback has to have inherent leadership qualities, though. He has to be a hard worker. He has to drive his teammates to be better. He has to show he can get through adversity. So frequently when I see quarterbacks evaluated, I hear about stats. I hear about physical tools. These matter, but there is so much more to the position. I am not sure the guidelines Parcells laid out about being the big man on campus for three years or graduating are perfect indicators, but I appreciate the attempt to dig deeper.

What didn't I like?

I think any study gets dicey when you take a team stat like wins and treat it as an individual stat. I have become sensitive to this issue after years of hearing the likes of Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow called "winners." Football is a team game. The quarterback might be the most important position on the field. In many instances there is a direct correlation between the quarterback's performance and the team's record. There also are instances where there is not. It seems like this gets even shakier when 23 wins is the standard across the board. Winning 23 games in two years is very different from winning 23 in three years. Winning 23 games in three years is very different from winning 23 in four years.

What did I find?

I did my best to figure out a quarterback's history. Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton both played a year of junior college. I counted those years for the purposes of this study.

Quarterbacks who hit all four pieces of criteria (7/14)

Peyton Manning

Drew Brees

Tony Romo

Russell Wilson

Philip Rivers

Eli Manning

Carson Palmer

Quarterbacks who hit three of the four pieces of criteria (2/14)

Andrew Luck

Matt Ryan

Quarterbacks who hit two of the four pieces of criteria (4/14)

Tom Brady

Joe Flacco

Aaron Rodgers

Ben Roethlisberger

Quarterback who hit one of the four pieces of criteria (1/4)

Cam Newton

...............................................

The evidence shows some connection but not an overwhelming one. Half the quarterbacks hit the Parcells test perfectly. A slight majority hit three of the four. The vast majority hit at least half of the Parcells rules. There seems to be some validity in the Parcells rules but not enough to make it worth following these rules religiously. How do these rules fare on their own?

Was a senior (10/14)

Peyton Manning

Drew Brees

Tony Romo

Russell Wilson

Philip Rivers

Eli Manning

Carson Palmer

Tom Brady

Matt Ryan

Joe Flacco

Was a three years starter (10/14)

Peyton Manning

Drew Brees

Tony Romo

Russell Wilson

Philip Rivers

Eli Manning

Carson Palmer

Andrew Luck

Aaron Rodgers

Ben Roethlisberger

Had at least 23 wins as a starter (12/14)

Peyton Manning

Drew Brees

Tony Romo

Russell Wilson

Philip Rivers

Eli Manning

Carson Palmer

Andrew Luck

Aaron Rodgers

Ben Roethlisberger

Matt Ryan

Cam Newton

Was a graduate (11/14)

Peyton Manning

Drew Brees

Tony Romo

Russell Wilson

Philip Rivers

Eli Manning

Carson Palmer

Andrew Luck

Matt Ryan

Tom Brady

Joe Flacco

..........................
On their own, these rules seem to be fairly good guideposts. For all of them, more than two of three top good quarterbacks hit each one of them.

Does this mean you automatically hit the jackpot if you find a quarterback who hits these pieces of criteria?

Of course not. If finding a quarterback was that simple, why do you think so many teams struggle to do it? When the Parcells rules first became public, it was shortly after he had drafted Chad Henne while running the Dolphins. There are plenty of quarterbacks who hit all four of these checkmarks and fail in the NFL. These seem like decent broad guideposts to help a team make a decision, but much greater in-depth work must be done examining the on-field talent, potential, and intangibles of these players.