Drafting a QB in the 2011 NFL Draft

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So, get ready!  This is a rather long one – mostly with a lot of info in tables for your digestion!  If you want to see the tables better, just click on them to enlarge.

My first table compares combine and background information to include projected draft position.  As you can see they are all roughly the same age — either 22 or 23 years old.  Mallett and Kaepernick stand out from the group in terms of their height.  But, I was surprised to note that other four are the same height – 6’ 2”.  Mallett stands out in weight, arm length and hand size – he is truly a beast at QB.  But, I thought it was important to note that Kaepernick has particularly small hands which may make him susceptible to fumbling.  Lastly, it is important to note that Dalton and Kaepernick stand out in terms of experience – they are both 4 year starters.

Next, I took a look at their 2010 college passing statistics.  These are particularly interesting. The items in red are where I’d like to focus.  First, Mallet, Kaepernick, and Dalton had completion percentages in the mid 60’s.  McElroy had an amazing 70.9% (like Chad Pennington), Ponder was is in the low 60’s (like Chad Henne), and Locker was in the mid 50’s (like Mark Sanchez).  Not surprisingly, Ponder’s and Locker’s TD/INT ratios are also low.  If your completion percentage and TD/INT ratio are low in college, it is not likely to rise in the pros.  Therefore, I am not a fan of Ponder and Locker for this reason.  The relatively low TD/INT ratios for Mallett and Kaepernick are also of concern, whereas the ratios for McElroy and particularly Dalton are impressive.

Second, I really like to look at a QB’s yards per pass attempt (YPA).  This is a real indication of the success of a QB to move the ball down the field.  To put things into perspective, Phillip Rivers had the highest YPA of all starting NFL QBs in 2010 at 8.7.  Tom Brady had 7.9 and Chad Henne had 6.7.  To further put things into perspective, Jamaal Charles (RB) had 6.4 yards per rushing attempt.  Anyway, I digressed for a moment. McElroy, Dalton, and Mallett all had YPA over 9 with Kaepernick slightly lower.  Locker and Ponder were in the Chad Henne range.  Again, YPA is not likely to go up in the pros.  Therefore, I am not a fan of Ponder and Locker for this reason.

Third, I think it is also important to point out the number of sacks taken by each QB.  This is an indication of the QBs ability to avoid negative plays – and, we know how Tony Sparano feels about these.  To put things into perpective, Jay Cutler was the most sacked starting QB in the NFL this past year at 52.  Eli and Peyton Manning were the least at 16. In college, whereas McElroy had good completion percentage, TD/INT ratio, and YPA numbers, he took the most number of sacks at 30 – which happened to be the same number as Chad Henne took.  Dalton and Kaepernick took the least at 8 and 10, respectively.  Mallett, Ponder, and Locker were just about or in the 20’s.

Next, I took a look at the performance of each QB in their 2010 Bowl appearance.  This gives you an idea how well they played in a big game.  The table also notes the opponent of each. Locker had a horrible performance.  Ponder got injured.  Mallett and Kaepernick were relatively average and below their season stats.  McElroy had an outstanding game against Michigan State posting numbers well above his already high season stats.  And, Dalton had a great game in the grand daddy of them all, the Rose Bowl, against a very tough opponent, Wisconsin.  He had numbers that were very consistent with his season stats.

Finally, I took a look at their career stats for completeness.  The career yardage numbers for Dalton and Kaepernick at over 10,000 are truly impressive.  This is reflective of them both being four year starters.  They both showed steady improvement to their senior years in completion percentage, YPA, TD/INT ratio, and the number of sacks taken.  One likes to see this kind of experience and improvement in young players.

In conclusion, after seeing and comparing what these players did in college … one can hardly argue with game performance … I will give you my thoughts about draft value of six 2nd tier players in the 2011 NFL Draft.  First, I am not impressed with Ponder and Locker at all based on their low completion percentage, TD/INT ratio, and YPA numbers from college.  The accuracy of these two QBs bring into question whether they will make good pro QBs — sorry FSU fans.  Honestly, I really do not see what all the hype is about with these two guys – especially, Locker in the first round.  They could not put up even good stats in two conferences not known for their defenses.  I don’t think the Dolphins should draft either of them in the first, second, or third rounds.

Mallett is an impressive physical specimen with a cannon for an arm.  As a senior, he had an impressive completion percentage (66.7%) and YPA (9.41). However, he had a low TD/INT ratio (2.67) and he took a lot of sacks (25 – almost 2 per game).  This bothers me because it reminds me too much of Chad Henne, who has trouble finding receivers and getting the ball to them.  Pro defenses will only exacerbate these numbers.  When I watched Mallett closely at the NFL Combine, his foot work left a lot to be desired.  Quite frankly, many will be impressed by his arm, but I think he is too high a bust risk as a first or second round pick.  I don’t see the Dolphins sticking out their necks for Mallett until maybe the third round, if he is still on the board.

McElroy has a lot of attractive numbers.  As a senior, he had an outrageous completion percentage (70.9%), high YPA (9.54), and very good TD/INT ratio (4.0) – all these in a tough SEC.  However, he took a lot of sacks (30 – more than 2 per game).  This bothers me because it indicates that he has trouble reading defenses and shows a reluctance to throw the ball away (which would reduce his completion percentage) – Tony Sparano will not like this.  This could be corrected over time with proper coaching.  I must admit that I did not watch him closely at the combine.  I think that McElroy would be a good pick in the fourth or later rounds and then handed the clipboard to watch a seasoned vet for a few years – he reminds me of Matt Cassell.  However, I don’t think this is a good fit for the Dolphins.

Kaepernick is another impressive physical specimen – although his small hand size gives me pause.  His height allows for him to see over the OL, but his low release point negates some of the height advantage.  As a senior, he had a very good completion percentage (64.9%) and YPA (8.42). But, he had a low TD/INT ratio (2.63).  He took a very low number of sacks (10).  What does not show in my stats is his ability to run the football.  But, I am not that high on QBs running the ball because pro defenses are bigger, stronger, and faster than college ones.  So, unless your Michael Vick type quick and agile, a QB running the football in the NFL can be downright dangerous – and, Kaepernick is not Vick.  I think that pro coaching could correct his release problem along with his poor foot work I saw at the combine – but, this will take time.  I struggle understanding his low TD/INT ratio – especially in the same conference where Kellen Moore had a whopping ratio of 5.83.  I do not think Kaepernick is worthy of a first or second round pick.  He might be worth a third round pick, but he will probably take a few years to develop.  I question whether he is a good fit for the Dolphins.

Finally, that brings me to Andy Dalton.  As a senior, he had a very high completion percentage (66.1%), high YPA (9.04), and outstanding TD/INT ratio (4.5) — solid numbers.  He only took a mere 8 sacks (0.61 per game) in the entire 2010 season.  He played in a big Rose Bowl game with a lot of pressure against a good Wisconsin defense and maintained his impressive season stats leading TCU to a big victory.  He is a four year starter showing statistical improvement each year.  He was a team captain and graduated last December from TCU with a degree in Marketing.  He is intelligent, humble and a leader.  I watched him at the combine and his foot work and release were pro quality indicating that despite playing in a spread offense he can easily pick up a pro style offense under center.  Besides, it is important to point out that Manning and Brady took more than 60% of their passing attempts from the shotgun – unlike Henne who is scared of it.  I think Dalton is much like Chad Pennington in accuracy and ball security, only he can move his feet and throw better plus he has not been susceptible to injury.  I think this guy is the most pro ready QB in the draft – he just doesn’t have a “media” cannon for an arm – although, I believe his arm strength is very underrated.  I think he would be a good third round draft choice for the Dolphins and be a steal in the fourth round.  I say the Dolphins should pick him in the third round and hand him over to Chad Pennington to teach him how to be a pro – by the way, doing this while the players are locked out by the owners.

Okay!  There you have it.  This is my thoughts on the QBs in the 2011 NFL Draft.

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Tags: Andy Dalton Blaine Gabbert Cam Newton Chad Henne Chad Pennington Christian Ponder Colin Kaepernick Greg McElroy Jake Locker Jeff Ireland Miami Dolphins NFL NFL Draft Ryan Mallett Tony Sparano

  • thomas loy

    That was a great article. I especially liked the analysis.
    You make a great case for drafting andy dalton, especially since he will likely be available in the 3rd round.

    • Rob

      While we’re at it, let’s add my son in pee-wee to the table. Last season he was 23-31 for 14 TDs with no interceptions and threw a killer shuffle-pass. He QBed an undefeated season. I think he tops the list and therefore should be drafted by the Dolphins with their first round pick. He probably wouldn’t compare so well on hand size though… You have me there.

  • Luke

    This article blew my mind. I like it alot gave me alot of perspective on Ponder and Kapernaki who I was voting for the fins to draft. I think we should continue the trend and take a QB in the Second round after going Oline in the first. I will keep saying it like a broken record. Can Dalton Make all the NFL throws is the biggest question.

  • Rob

    Completely disagree. Read this article on Locker: http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/nfl/2011/03/scout-locker-better-newton-gabbert

    Makes a pretty good case for disproving most of the common hyped doubt about Jake Locker. You’re statistically comparing quarterbacks in drastically different offensive systems, across a number of leagues of varying difficulty. Of course a winner like Andy Dalton is going to come out on top, but the base point is talent-wise Dalton is projected as a 3rd-4th rounder for a reason.

    I’m sorry, but I’m not impressed by stats, or even by the stats you are picking out. Over-analysis, showing little football know-how you’d find outside a textbook.

    My top 5:
    1. Gabbert
    2. Locker
    3. Ponder
    4. Newton
    5. Mallett

    But Locker will be the most successful in the NFL.

    • onole1

      Rob, I do think Locker has the most upside of any QB in the draft. He has the best physical tools of any of them. My problem is his accuracy. He is a lifetime 54% completion percentage in college. I may be wrong but there are many if any QB that all of the sudden wasn’t an accurate passer in colleg and became one in the NFL when the talent level is better and speed is faster.

      • Rob

        Warren Moon was sub-50% in college and is remembered as one of the greatest throwers to have graced the league (particularly on the long ball).

        • Rob

          Also, spread QBs have a poor record in the NFL. And they’re largely projecting 2 spread QBs (Locker, Kaepernick) at the top of the draft, with another spread QB (Kaepernick) in the 4-7 area.

          Consider this, if Locker had worked with a spread offense would his completion pct be better? I say probably.

          I think, personally, that he’s a victim of being in a pro system for the first time (and for only 2 years). A system that I think is more ‘mrs right’ rather than ‘miss right now’ – to use an old adage – for UW. Sarkisian brought in the right system going forward, but forced it onto a team that didn’t really suit it as a system — and was largely recruited for a run-first system (i.e. great RB depth, poor receiving corps and o-line). Jake Locker was a QB made to run (because of his physical talent)in High School, and for the first three years of his college career he was exactly the same thing. He had two years to transform into a pocket passer, and I think all that considered he’s made huge strides. He’s got a heck of an arm, and some of the throws he makes you get the feeling no other QB in this class could make.

          But all that said, I think his falling stock is good for him – being drafted into a good team lower in the 1st round is a blessing in disguise and will increase his longevity in the NFL. I think he is a rare talent – this is devoid of bias, I am a lifelong Stanford fan.

          I also rate Ponder very highly. Andrew Luck?… well, he doesn’t enter into the discussion this year… But he’s a monster, monster talent.

          • Rob

            Sorry, the spread QBs were Newton and Gabbert, not Locker and Gabbert.

            Locker is a pro-style QB, obviously.

  • Rob

    Furthermore!

    Locker had to compete against the No. 1 and 2 pass defences in the nation.

    Look at the types of throws these QBs are checking down for their high numbers. McElroy and Dalton have no arm strength to speak of, they make lots of short throws within very polished offensive systems amongst and abundance of talent.

    I may have been too harsh in my previous post, but football is not a game of statistical absolutes. This is an easy way to brain-wash fans with so-called ‘evidence’.

    • massanuttenref

      I agree that stats are stats. But, they are an objective way of comparison. You do need to know what you are talking about though.

      In terms of pass defense, the number one team in nearly all statistical categories was TCU. University of Miami was #2 and Nebraska was #3 (remember how well Locker played against them). The only two PAC 10 teams in any of the statistical categories was Oregon at #10 in Completion Percentage and Stanford at #20 in YPG and total passing yards.

      In terms of whether a QB is doing a lot of check down, one can look at the yards per completion. Now, I understand that some of this could be a check down and a long run. But, it does give an indication. For the six QBs:

      1). Mallett – 14.55
      2). Dalton – 13.67
      3). McElroy – 13.45
      4). Locker – 12.31
      5). Ponder – 11.11

      I can tell you that I watched a few TCU games and I did not see Dalton throwing a lot of check downs.

      • Rob

        Poor use of language (check-down) and statistics pulled from my nether regions on the pass defences – but he certainly played against the two best corners in the draft in Peterson and Amakamura.

        Please don’t take me as insulting your football know-how, I just see this particular article as a largely statistical comparison and I think with a guy like Jake Locker you’re going to run into issues trying to value him from a statistical perspective. The scout put it perfectly – you can’t just take his 55% career rating and go “there’s an inaccurate quarterback” without looking at A) the types of throws he was being asked to make versus everyone else (and the spread is much more friendly in this regard) and B) drops. Looking abroad at his career at UW, I think it’s a bit harsh to think he isn’t a talented passer. Some of the throws he made were unbelievable, he did suffer a lot of drops (many of which weren’t his fault) and he was running a complicated pro-style offense with a really poor receiving corps (Jermaine Kearse is their only decent receiver) against some very good pass defences.

        I think it is hard to look at UW’s season, statistically and otherwise, and claim they underachieved. Jake Locker did some great things with that team. I don’t really feel I need to make any more excuses for him – but don’t forget he played a large chunk of the season with a rib injury, which, as anyone who has played quarterback will know, is debilitating.

        Also, which you may find interesting, I read a very complex mathematical analysis which pretty conclusively established that statistically Ricky Stanzi is far and above the best quarterback in this draft.

        Finally, there are a number of QBs who have come out of college and improved their completion percentages, and a large number of QBs who were passing rockstars coming out of college that have gone nowhere in the NFL.

        But, all that aside, I do fundamentally agree with you. Andy Dalton is a very good QB and I think he is a steal in the 3rd round. I would be overjoyed if we select any of Locker, Ponder or Dalton as I think they all will have good NFL careers. I am skeptical of Newton, Gabbert and Kaepernick as spread-to-pro is a huge jump, especially because we’re talking about an running an NFL pro offense which, with the physicality, speed and talent levels etc, is a college pro offense on steroids.

        • Rob

          Convoluted as Dalton ran a spread I know, but he’s much cheaper. I do think he’s probably worth a 3rd round pick, because he’s the sort of QB who will just get it done without setting the world on fire. And if we pick him in the 3rd it means we’ve picked Ingram at 15, which means there are enough weapons around him to keep him in his comfort zone.

  • Rob

    Because I’ve already trolled this article’s comment section with my Locker scouting report, I may as well balance it out with negatives. I disagree with Mike Mayock that Locker’s footwork is the problem. His mechanics are prototypical, all of them, including his drops and footwork, as well as the most compact throwing motion, giving the quickest release, of any QB in this draft. In terms of arm strength, I rank the class as follows:

    1. Mallett (80+)
    2. Locker (70+)
    3. Kaepernick
    4. Newton
    5. Gabbert

    NB: Kaepernick is not one of my top 5 QB prospects.

    What Locker’s issue is instead is his ‘pocket presence’ so to speak. He learned the pro-style behind a porous O-line, and only has two years worth of experience with it. This has left him jittery in the pocket – all of his mechanics are fine when he has time, and he generally makes the throws from this situation. However, when the line begins to break in on him, he tends to panic and unload the ball as quickly as he can – or, the better alternative for a long-time running quarterback, he rolls out. When he’s rushing to unload the ball his footwork tightens up, giving the balls trajectory a lift. I think this is where we see the issues and I think it’s a tell-tale sign of both inexperience and ‘flawed experience’ in that he learnt to be a pocket passer within a continually collapsing pocket.

    All of this lead to the Senior Bowl, where the talent around him was better, but he clearly went in with the mentality that he had to defy his instincts and throw from the pocket. This worked against him as whenever the pocket leaked he either unloaded the ball ASAP or tried to run (at Von Miller, as it would be) – which lead to two fumbles. A note here – of the North QBs Locker was the best, I feel. Stanzi threw easy routes, Kaepernick was less productive and Locker, though making glaring mistakes, also made the best throws and finished with a 60% competion % for the game.

    The second issue is half-mechanics and half the same problem of being nervous in the pocket. He stands awfully low in the pocket and I wonder about his ability to see the field – my take on this is that you see alot of this in his tape because he was hunkering down to protect his injured ribs. Again, when he stands tall in the pocket and keeps his eyes downfield, he generally seems good on his reads and makes right decisions.

    I think these two ‘flaws’ largely explain his questions, and both appear very fixable to the reader.

    I don’t think Locker is the project QB everyone tips him as, however, and think that the teams likely to pick him (I have him going somewhere between 7 and 16, depending on the stock available) will be the ones looking to start him towards the end of the season. If Peterson and Von Miller go in the top 6, I believe SF will take a QB and Locker certainly has a shot at what will probably be second QB off the board. This is the system where I see him flourishing the most, where there will probably be enough options to keep him on the bench for the first half of the season.

    DREAM SITUATION FOR MIA:
    Trade down, regain a second round pick for a good value RB and select Jake Locker. New England may trade up, seeing as they have 2 first round picks, to get Mark Ingram if they believe Miami will take him and select Jake Locker at 17 or 28 (Although, in all honesty, there’s little chance Jake Locker will slip below Seattle at 25 in a QB-needy draft.)

  • Matt

    The problem with these types of “statistical analysis” at the college level is that it doesn’t at all acount for what type of system these guys played in which has a HUGE impact on stats. You can also look at the surrounding talent as well as the opponents faced. We are not talking about the NFL in which systems are similar as is the competition. For this reason, I think it’s dangerous to rely on stats as the indicator of who will succeed and who won’t.

    For example, Andy Dalton is simply a dink and dunk QB with an extremely low ceiling/skill set. Sure, his numbers look pretty, but he played against poor competition and outside of 1 game, was always on the superior team. You can say completion percentage was high as was YPA, but when you play in a system that emphasizes easy completions and YAC, that can greatly skew the aforementioned stats. His YPA is no indication of his skill set regarding completing “difficult/pro level passes.”

    With goofy college offenses, nowadays, it’s really dangerous to rely on stats as a form of “projecting” or “scouting” a player. There are too many systems that inflate numbers and mask real deficiencies of a player. A guy like Andy Dalton is really a trap pick for a lot of teams because he is a “winner with intangibles” and has “great numbers,” but if you actually dig deeper, you will see a nice/limited player, who played on a dominating team in a very easy offensive system. I wouldn’t touch him in the top 100 picks.

    Just a different perspective on this whole QB thing.

    • Rob

      More eloquently and briefly what I was attempting to get at.

      • Rob

        Matt, I’m interested in your take on the QB class, and how you think Miami should draft this year.

  • Patrik Nohe

    Not to fault your research, but this is not a good example of thorough scouting. For instance you never once mentioned Christian Ponder’s injury history. That’s both a considerable knock but also a major factor on his 2010 statistics. Ponder played with an injured elbow (bursa sac) that had to have fluid drained from it regularly. That tends to affect your ability to throw. The fact no mention or acknowledgement of this exists is a major oversight. Going back to Ponder’s 2009 stats when he had a healthy arm you will see a much different passer. His completion percentage was a robust 68.8% (highest on the list), his YPA was 8.23 and he threw for 2,717 in just nine games.

    Not to mention unlike a lot of these guys, Ponder was a three year starter. If you take out a rough sophomore season, he has a TD/INT ration of 34:15 his last two seasons, even with a bum arm his senior year. I’m not saying Ponder is the best of the bunch. But I am saying scouting players requires you to look deeper than just their senior seasons. You need the whole picture and this is only a snapshot. A really good snapshot. But there’s a lot more to consider.

  • Bob

    Numbers can be meaningless at times. Ponder, when he was firing on all cylinders (not hurt physically or by the team’s coaching issues), was brilliant. Strong arm. Good decision making. Smart as hell.

    Compiling the good times and the bad times is what makes his numbers look only so-so. Over his career he had at times absolutely no offensive line to speak of. blocking stunk, the amount of time to throw was absolutely minimal. When he finally got an O-line there were only so-so receivers and then his injuries.

    Of all the QB’s listed… I think Ponder will make the switch to pros the quickest because of his brain and experience with zero time situations. Give him a couple of good wide receivers and an O-line and watch out. I’d rather him on our team than the opponents team any day.

  • massanuttenref

    Hey guys, I just wanted to say, as the author, that I think the discussion is great. I did a statistical analysis to invoke discussion about these 2nd tier QBs. I gave my opinion based on the stats. There are a lot of differing opinions on the matter. And, no one seems to have figured out how to draft successful NFL QBs.

    I would like to add to the discussion the following:

    1). If you look at the quality of opponents, I suggest that McElroy played against maybe the best defenses. Think about it … he played against LSU (Peterson), Auburn (Fairley), Arkansas, Penn State, Florida, and South Carolina plus he played against Michigan State in the bowl game.

    2). If you look at the quality of opponents, I would also suggest that Matt Ryan (ACC) and especially Joe Flacco (Division 1B) played against inferior opponents. Flacco played in a spread offense.

    3). In Dalton’s defense, the best he played against was Oregon State, Baylor, and BYU during the season. But, as I pointed out in the article, he played against one of the hottest teams in the country in the Rose Bowl and lead his team to a victory in a pressure game. If you watched the game, he did not throw dinks and dunks. I was impressed by his ability to throw slants … which I wish Henne would do to Marshall.

    4). All teams in the NFL do NOT play the same offensive scheme. Green Bay and Indy and possibly even New England largely play a one back offense often in a spread formation. I wish the Dolphins would play such an exciting offense.

  • onole1

    I like Ponder a lot. Since I am a Nole most people think it’s just beacause of that, but I don’t try and pimp my Noles that much because of that reason. IMO Ponder is the best NFL ready QB in the draft and his off-season work outs have put him on the rise. I don’t think he makes it out of the first 10 picks in round 2 and I actually think someone will trade back into round one or down in round one (are you listening Ireland?)

    The Stats are nice but I think you should have taken more than one year. Mallet is a career 58% completion guy with questionable work ethic and off the feidl rumors. Newton played 14 games. Locker is a 55% career completion guy as well as Kapernick is 58%.

    The QB’s I personally like the best are;
    1. Gabbert
    2. Ponder
    3. Delvin
    4. Yates
    5. McElroy

  • DolphFan Rick

    What a heck of work! Impressive.

    I agree with you in everything!

    For me draft shold go this way:

    trade down and adquire late 1st round pick and a 2nd round pick–>this is a must!

    in first round get the better OG that you can (Pouncey)
    in 2nd round get Andy Dalton QB
    in 3rd round get either a RB o a great Center.

    Let’s hope Dolphins act wise for first time in years (except by the great hire of Jake Long of course).

  • http://www.bleepthatithink.blogspot.com Michael Rosenbloom

    Definitely a well written article and it shows you took your time and wrote a well-researched, well thought-out article.

    You do make a good case for Andy Dalton. But as its been clearly pointed out already, stats are not the whole story. And Dalton was on a superior team against less than superior defenses (minus the Wisconsin game).

    My issues with both Dalton and McElroy go back to the fact that they both came from teams with ridiculous talent around them. They performed well in the big games, but kind of just sunk into the background during the season (Mark Sanchez, anybody?)

    The Dolphins need a quarterback who is going to lead them to the playoffs, not a quarterback who is just there for most of the season, and then shows up come playoff time. Mallett, Kaepernick, and Locker look to me like they have the better chance of being that guy.

    But hey, I can seriously appreciate the amount of time and trouble you went through to write this. Good job, man.

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