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Sam vs The Record Books: Week 16

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Green Bay Packers v New York Jets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Sam Darnold’s second straight outstanding game last week means things are looking up in our season long tracking of Darnold’s progress.

A few things to keep in mind. All rankings herein (other than the comparisons among the five 2018 first round rookie quarterbacks) are limited to rookie quarterbacks with at least 250 passing attempts in their rookie seasons. Prior to the 2018 season there have been 72 rookie quarterbacks with 250 or more passing attempts in the post merger era. Rate stats (like completion %) reflect actual current numbers for Darnold. Counting stats (like touchdowns or yards) reflect prorated numbers for Darnold assuming he continues to perform at the same level all season.

Let’s get to it. Below are a bunch of quarterback metrics, listing the all time rookie leaders for each and showing where Sam Darnold fits assuming he plays at the same level all season.

Yards

  1. Andrew Luck 4374
  2. Cam Newton 4051
  3. Jameis Winston 4042
  4. Carson Wentz 3782
  5. Peyton Manning 3739

...

21. Sam Darnold 2923

Touchdowns

  1. Peyton Manning 26
  2. Russell Wilson 26 (Tie 1)
  3. Andrew Luck 23
  4. Dak Prescott 23 (Tie 3)
  5. Jameis Winston 22 (Tie 5)
  6. Jim Kelly 22 (Tie 5)

...

16. Sam Darnold 18 (Tie 16)

Interceptions

  1. Peyton Manning 28
  2. Jim Zorn 27
  3. Terry Bradshaw 24
  4. Jeff Komlo 23
  5. Deshone Kizer 22
  6. Steve Deberg 22 (Tie 5)

...

25. Sam Darnold 16 (Tie 25)

Passer Rating

  1. Dak Prescott 104.9
  2. Robert Griffin III 102.4
  3. Russell Wilson 100
  4. Ben Roethlisberger 98.1
  5. Dan Marino 96

...

22. Sam Darnold 77.8

Yards/Attempt

  1. Ben Roethlisberger 8.88
  2. Robert Griffin III 8.14
  3. Dak Prescott 7.99
  4. Russell Wilson 7.93
  5. Matt Ryan 7.93

...

19. Sam Darnold 6.99

Completion Percentage

  1. Dak Prescott 67.8
  2. Ben Roethlisberger 66.4
  3. Robert Griffin III 65.7
  4. Teddy Bridgewater 64.4
  5. Russell Wilson 64.1

...

27. Sam Darnold 57.8

Touchdown Percentage

  1. Dan Marino 6.8
  2. Russell Wilson 6.6
  3. Jim Plunkett 5.8
  4. Ben Roethlisberger 5.8 (Tie 3)
  5. Steve Bartkowski 5.1
  6. Robert Griffin III 5.1 (Tie 5)
  7. Marcus Mariota 5.1 (Tie 5)
  8. Jake Plummer 5.1 (Tie 5)

...

18. Sam Darnold 4.4

Interception Percentage

  1. Dak Prescott 0.9
  2. Robert Griffin III 1.3
  3. Nick Foles 1.9
  4. Charlie Batch 2.0
  5. Derek Carr 2.0 (Tie 4)

...

47. Sam Darnold 3.9

To provide additional context, we’ll see how Sam stacks up against the 42 qualifying rookie quarterbacks of the past 15 years. The game and its rules have changed so much that comparisons of quarterbacks from 50 years ago to quarterbacks of today are of limited value. Quarterbacks of the last 15 years make for a comparison much closer to apples to apples so to speak. Here is how Sam stacks up against rookie quarterbacks of the last 15 years:

Yards

  1. Andrew Luck 4374
  2. Cam Newton 4051
  3. Jameis Winston 4042
  4. Carson Wentz 3782
  5. Dak Prescott 3667

...

17. Sam Darnold 2923

Touchdowns

  1. Russell Wilson 26
  2. Andrew Luck 23
  3. Dak Prescott 23 (Tie 2)
  4. Jameis Winston 22
  5. Cam Newton 21

...

12. Sam Darnold 18

Interceptions

  1. Deshone Kizer 22
  2. Geno Smith 21
  3. Matthew Stafford 20 (Tie 3)
  4. Mark Sanchez 20 (Tie 3)
  5. Andrew Luck 18 (Tie 5)
  6. Carson Palmer 18 (Tie 5)
  7. Josh Freeman 18 (Tie 5)

...

11. Sam Darnold 16

...

Passer Rating

  1. Dak Prescott 104.9
  2. Robert Griffin III 102.4
  3. Russell Wilson 100
  4. Ben Roethlisberger 98.1
  5. Marcus Mariota 91.5

...

16. Sam Darnold 77.8

Yards/Attempt

  1. Ben Roethlisberger 8.88
  2. Robert Griffin III 8.14
  3. Dak Prescott 7.99
  4. Russell Wilson 7.93
  5. Matt Ryan 7.93

...

11. Sam Darnold 6.99

Completion Percentage

  1. Dak Prescott 67.8
  2. Ben Roethlisberger 66.4
  3. Robert Griffin III 65.7
  4. Teddy Bridgewater 64.4
  5. Russell Wilson 64.1

...

23. Sam Darnold 57.8

Touchdown Percentage

  1. Russell Wilson 6.6
  2. Ben Roethlisberger 5.8
  3. Robert Griffin III 5.1 (Tie 3)
  4. Marcus Mariota 5.1 (Tie 3)
  5. Dak Prescott 5.0

...

9. Sam Darnold 4.4

Interception Percentage

  1. Dak Prescott 0.9
  2. Robert Griffin III 1.3
  3. Nick Foles 1.9
  4. Derek Carr 2.0
  5. Mitchell Trubisky 2.1

...

33. Sam Darnold 3.9

The past few weeks have done wonders for Darnold in comparison to his contemporary peers. While his interceptions are still high and his completion percentage is average, in the rest of the categories Sam is now well above average. With his late season surge Darnold is shaping up to be a better than average rookie quarterback.

Next up: how Darnold stacks up against his fellow rookie first round quarterbacks. The counting numbers here are raw numbers, not pro-rated.

Yards

  1. Baker Mayfield 3349
  2. Sam Darnold 2698
  3. Josh Rosen 2129
  4. Josh Allen 1850
  5. Lamar Jackson 1022

Touchdowns

  1. Baker Mayfield 24
  2. Sam Darnold 17
  3. Josh Rosen 10
  4. Josh Allen 7
  5. Lamar Jackson 6

Interceptions

  1. Sam Darnold 15
  2. Josh Rosen 14
  3. Baker Mayfield 11
  4. Josh Allen 11 (tie 3)
  5. Lamar Jackson 3

Passer Rating

  1. Baker Mayfield 95.1
  2. Lamar Jackson 84.9
  3. Sam Darnold 77.8
  4. Josh Rosen 66.0
  5. Josh Allen 63.7

Yards/Attempt

  1. Baker Mayfield 7.54
  2. Lamar Jackson 7.00
  3. Sam Darnold 6.99
  4. Josh Allen 6.29
  5. Josh Rosen 5.93

Completion Percentage

  1. Baker Mayfield 63.9
  2. Lamar Jackson 58.2
  3. Sam Darnold 57.8
  4. Josh Rosen 55.4
  5. Josh Allen 51.7

Touchdown Percentage

  1. Baker Mayfield 5.2
  2. Sam Darnold 4.4
  3. Lamar Jackson 4.1
  4. Josh Rosen 2.8
  5. Josh Allen 2.4

Interception Percentage

  1. Lamar Jackson 2.1
  2. Baker Mayfield 2.5
  3. Josh Allen 3.7
  4. Josh Rosen 3.9
  5. Sam Darnold 3.9 (Tie 4)

The numbers here show Baker Mayfield to be by far the best of the rookie first round quarterbacks thus far, with Sam Darnold moving up, now number two in several categories. Sam’s late season surge has him on the rise versus his fellow first round quarterbacks.

Finally let’s take a look at the numbers from the perspective of where Darnold ranks with respect to league averages compared to the post-merger rookie quarterbacks. We’re only going to be looking at rates here, not counting stats. Including this year’s qualifying rookies there have been 76 post-merger rookie quarterbacks with at least 250 passing attempts in their rookie year. The number listed next to the names corresponds to the percentage of league average for that player in his rookie year. So, for example, if a QB had a 60 passer rating in a year the league average was 80, his passer rating number here would be 60/80, or 75%. In this way we can compare quarterbacks across the eras on a level playing field, noting how they performed compared to the league in their time.

Passer Rating

  1. Dan Marino 125
  2. Dak Prescott 123
  3. Ben Roethlisberger 122
  4. Robert Griffin III 121
  5. Russell Wilson 118

...

44. Sam Darnold 84

Yards/Attempt

  1. Ben Roethlisberger 136
  2. Robert Griffin III 121
  3. Dak Prescott 119
  4. Matt Ryan 119
  5. Dennis Shaw 118

...

29. Sam Darnold 96

Completion Percentage

  1. Ben Roethlisberger 123
  2. Dak Prescott 120
  3. Robert Griffin III 117
  4. Jim Kelly 116
  5. Dieter Brock 115

...

52. Sam Darnold 79

Touchdown Percentage

  1. Dan Marino 127
  2. Russell Wilson 125
  3. Ben Roethlisberger 120
  4. Jim Plunkett 115
  5. Jake Plummer 111

...

24. Sam Darnold 99

Interception Percentage

  1. Dan Marino 128
  2. Dak Prescott 127
  3. Robert Griffin III 124
  4. Neil O’Donnell 117
  5. Charlie Batch 117

...

65. Sam Darnold 75

Here we see that Sam Darnold has raised his game considerably in the past few weeks. Before Darnold was injured he had been among the worst rookie quarterbacks in many categories; now he is roughly average, with touchdown percentage and yards per attempt rating him above average among his fellow rookies throughout the years.

One thing that I have been emphasizing all year is the importance of getting to league average in at least one category. Rookies often struggle in various areas, but those who struggle in every area, with well below league average marks in every major metric, rarely go on to have much success in the NFL. It happens, but it is rare, so ending a rookie season well below league average in all major metrics would have been an ominous portent for Darnold’s future. However, with his recent outstanding play Sam has raised his touchdown percentage to 99% of league average and his yards per attempt to 95% of league average. With two major metrics now grading out very close to league average, doubts about Sam’s future based on historical precedent now appear to be much less concerning. All in all it has been a mixed bag for Sam’s rookie year compared to rookies since the merger, but the arrow is pointing decidedly up.

With the year winding down Darnold has only one game remaining to tweak his numbers. His rising performances the last few weeks have begun to push him up the ranks a bit and spark some optimism in the Jets fan base. It would be nice to see him finish the year with another great game against the Patriots.