QBs & College Statistics – Do They matter?

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The stats favored Andy Dalton (TCU) and Colin Kaepernick (Nevada).  The stats did not show Christian Ponder (FSU) and Jake Locker (Washington) in a very good light.  Fans of Ponder and Locker came to their rescue.  They basically stated that college stats can be very deceptive. Particularly, college stats do not reflect the difficulty level of the opponent’s defense – this is sort of like an RPI in college basketball.  For example, if I considered this premise from an overview standpoint, Greg McElroy would probably look even better because he played against LSU, Auburn, Arkansas, Penn State, Florida, and South Carolina plus he played against Michigan State in his bowl game.  Maybe, the level of the defenses he played against is the reason why he averaged 2.31 sacks per game – can anyone say Auburn and Nick Fairley.

This seems to be a reasonable premise. But, after thinking about it, I don’t buy it – at least not with the stats I focused on.  I believe that if a QB has a tendency to hang on to the ball too long, he is going to get sacked often.  If a QB is not accurate, his completion percentage is going to be lower.  And, if a QB does not read defenses well, he is going to throw more interceptions.  With the relative balance in college football now- a-days, at least found in FBS (Division I-A), a QB’s flaws are going to expose themselves regardless of the opponents.

So, I set out to prove this theory.  First, I took a look at Chad Henne of the Dolphins.  The table below shows his last two years in college at Michigan and his last two years as pro with the Dolphins.  I was surprised to see how similar his numbers were with the exception of TDs/INTs.  His completion percentage is relatively the same, YPA only slightly lower, and sacks/game only slightly higher.  I think the significant drop in his TDs/INTs is a reflection of the quality of CBs and safeties in the NFL combined with his poor accuracy and inability to read defenses which are reflected in his college completion percentage and relatively low TDs/INTs, respectively.

Looking at Henne, it seems that his college stats projected well to the NFL.  And, WHAT IN THE HECK WERE THE DOLPHINS THINKING WHEN THEY DRAFTED HENNE?  Did they think he was going to be MORE accurate than he was in college?  Did they think he was going to throw the ball FURTHER down the field in the NFL?  Did they think his decision-making was going to be BETTER and FASTER in the NFL increasing his TDs/INTs and decreasing his sacks per game? DUH!

Okay!  Maybe, Henne is an anomaly.  So, next I took a look at Joe Flacco.  You know, the guy that came out of Delaware in the FCS (Division I-AA) with the “lesser” quality defenses.  Quite frankly, I was shocked to see how consistent his completion percentage numbers were between college and the pros – this reflects his level of accuracy (and higher than Henne).  Also, his YPA and TDs/INTs were also fairly consistent (and higher than Henne).  His sacks per game went up significantly in the pros which may be reflective of the quality of secondaries in the pros and his inability to read defenses quickly.

Hmmm!  Things are getting interesting. 

Next, I took a look at Matt Ryan.  You know, this is the guy that many believe the Dolphins should have drafted in 2008 out of Boston College.  Again, I was shocked to see how consistent his YPA numbers were between college and the pros – this somewhat reflects his tendencies to throw shorter passes (like Chad Henne – boy, Dan Henning would have really loved this guy).  His completion percentages, sacks/game and TDs/INTs were also fairly consistent between college and the pros – however, he did have an extraordinary year in 2010 relative to TDs/INTs.

Hmmm!  Things are getting very interesting. 

Lastly, I took a look at Philip Rivers.  He had a very good college career at North Carolina State, especially in his senior year.  I compared his Junior and Senior years in college with his 2nd and 3rd years starting in the NFL (like Ryan and Flacco).  If you look at his Senior year in college and his 3rd year starting in the NFL, his NFL numbers are just slightly lower in completion percentage, YPA and TDs/INTs along with a slight rise in the number of sacks per game.  His numbers are also somewhat consistent – at least in their trends — although, slightly higher in college which may be reflective of the lesser balance of college football 8-9 years ago.  Rivers is one of the most accurate passers in the NFL who throws the ball downfield for high YPA with high TDs/INTs – he does not get sacked that often.  This was also the case in college.

So, in conclusion, I think pro scouts and so-called “NFL draft experts” tend to focus too much on height and arm strength of college QBs – the shock and awe factor.  I think character and intelligence in interviews are important.   But, performance in college should not be ignored, regardless of the RPI.  They indicate a QB’s trends that will likely project to the pros.

Look, I hate saying this.  But, I think Henne is going to be the Dolphins starting QB in 2011 – if there is a pro football season.  I don’t think that Sparano and Ireland can admit that they screwed up – or that their mentor Parcells did.  I think they will get a veteran to protect their butts just in case Henne struggles.  However, I pray that they try to draft either Dalton or McElroy in the third or fourth round — they are good values at those picks.  I don’t think they will use a first or second rounder on a QB — there is too much at stake with Henne and too many other needs on offense. 

Dalton has high character and intelligence with outstanding college stats.  McElroy has good character and intelligence with an outstanding completion percentage in college — but, his propensity to take sacks is of concern.  I think they could work with McElroy teaching him to trade off a lesser completion percentage for less sacks – in other words, sometimes throw the ball away.  Dalton or McElroy may become very good pro QBs – I believe their college number will project well to the pros.

BUT … I know!  You’re going to comment about that spread offense thing and that Dalton and McElroy were surrounded by tons of talent.

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Topics: Andy Dalton, Bill Parcells, Chad Henne, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick, College QBs, Dan Henning, Greg McElroy, Jake Locker, Jeff Ireland, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Miami Dolphins, NFL, NFL Draft, Philip Rivers, Ryan Mallett, Tony Sparano

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  • Rocktosr

    Do some real research for once in your life and watch the games. The stats you use to argue your point do not reflect circumstances that affect the QB at the time of each stat. Playing with a lead, from behind, number of times that type offense requires him to throw per game, quality of protection afforded on each play and how dire the circumstance to make a play…………. Stats can give you a theory but they cannot prove your point. A QB’s stats are so dependent on the players around him just as theirs is dependent upon him. If you only take the time to read stats, then, you completely miss the point that is made when you watch the games. Watching the games will answer why he threw short, how he handled the pressure, how well his team is at helping or hindering those stats. Stats may be the facts but still do not tell you the whole truth.

  • Patrik Nohe

    Why did you go two years deep on the NFL players and only one year deep on the college prospects? Once again, you mention Christian Ponder’s accuracy (in just his senior season with a bad arm) but he was a nearly 70% passer as a junior. Not to mention he had an 8.23 yard YPA as a junior, which is better than all but one of the season’s you just highlighted with your pro’s (second to Philip Rivers 9.3 YPA as a senior). Not to mention Ponder did all that in spite of a defense ranked in the 100′s. I only know one of the QB prospects really in depth at this point, but I can tell you that your research on that prospect is incomplete.

  • Patrik Nohe

    It’s also worth mentioning that with a bad arm (bursa sac injury that had to be lanced regularly and affected arm strength), without his best receiver (Jarmon Fortson who was thrown off the team) and with more than his share of drops, Ponder still improved his touchdown to interception ratio as a senior.

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