Suck For What? 1st Overall QB’s Remarkably Average
If the pundits and (most) scouts are to believed, Stanford QB Andrew Luck is the next big thing. Often trumpeted as “the best QB prospect since Peyton Manning”, Luck has NFL fans and personnel men drooling. Watching him play, it’s easy to see why. He has prototype size (listed at 6’4 235 lbs), a strong arm, good accuracy and a terrific release. On top of that, he is very smart, comes from a pro-style offense and has enough mobility to extend plays (a la Ben Roethlisberger). There’s very little to dislike about Luck. Sure, his mechanics need work (so did Aaron Rodgers’) and he needs to get less air under his intermediate passes but those are problems which are fixable with good coaching. So it’s not surprising that the “Suck For Luck” mantra has caught on. The NFL is very much a QB-oriented league and true franchise QB prospects come along very rarely. That said, QB’s who are selected 1st overall rarely live up to the hype.
Since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970, there have been 18 QB’s selected 1st overall:
If you want evidence that that NFL is a QB-centric league, look no further than the fact that a QB has gone 1st overall in 8 of the last 10 drafts. Anyone who follows football can probably tell you that the list of #1 pick QB’s is more hit than miss. While Luck may be thought (now) to be a better prospect than Tim Couch, David Carr and Carson Palmer (etc), those guys also came out of school with much fanfare. Most were thought to be “can’t miss” and “franchise QB” worthy (a somewhat obvious point, since they probably wouldn’t have gone #1 overall were they not so highly regarded). Sure, there were the “Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf?” debates in 1998 and “Drew Bledose vs. Rick Mirer” in 1993. But, for the most part, these guys were regarded as high draft picks throughout their last season in school and in the run-up to the draft (Russell is the most obvious exception).
Earlier, I discussed the concept of Rate+ (Passer Rating compared to league average) as a way to measure a QB’s performance from year to year. Here’s a list of the 1st overall QB’s, the number of seasons where they had 150+ passing attempts, their average Rate+ over those seasons, the number of seasons with a Rate+ of 100 or better and the percentage of 150+ attempt seasons which were 100+ Rate+ (in other words, the percentage of seasons where they were better than league average):
And here is the data in graph form:
The X-axis is the QB’s season # with 150+ attempts and the Y-axis is the average Rate+. So, 1st overall QB’s average a Rate+ of 85 in their first 150+ attempt season. They see a pretty consistent increase, peaking at Rate+ of 117 in year 7 (if they survive that long in the league) and then decline. For their careers, 1st overall QB’s average a Rate+ is 103 – or 3% better than league average (in qualifying seasons). “Elite” QB’s (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees) typically end up around 115+.
This isn’t to suggest that Luck will be below average for his first few years, or that he will bust, but he will need to be as exceptional as the hype makes him out to be in order to be a great QB from Day 1.