Right now, I am sitting here watching men in spandex, many of whom should not be in spandex, run the 40-yard dash. The offensive linemen, tight ends, and specialists are on the field in Indianapolis throughout the day. Tomorrow, the offensive skill positions will take the field and run the shuttle, cone and 40-yard dash, among other drills. Today, the quarterbacks are going through interviews that we can not see, but which are just as important in the process.
You often hear debate about the merits of the combine, the tales of the workout warriors who can look good in tights but not in pads. However, one of the biggest issues for scouts is separating out the team performance from the individual. Is the middle linebacker a player, or do the players in front of and around him mask individual deficiencies that allow him to shine? I think the combine has its place as long as teams use it as a tool, and not a prime determinant. The notable things are when a player is significantly better or worse than expected in a drill. It’s more about fitting within minimum acceptable ranges at the respective positions, and living up to expectations on an individual athletic ability level.
One of the hardest things for teams evaluating quarterbacks is determining how much achievement belongs to the quarterback versus the other parts of his offense. I’ve talked before how a decent chunk of the stats we attribute to a quarterback in the NFL are really just as much an indicator of teammate contribution.
One of the random things that popped into my head was to check how NFL teams do when drafting first round quarterbacks from different quality of teams. I used the team records available at college football reference for the last year of each first round draft pick from a Division I-A school, from 1977-2006. The average final college season for a first round pick: 0.712 winning percentage, roughly a 9-4 record today. I then looked at how many above league average passing seasons those quarterbacks had in the first 5 years of their careers.
As it turns out, the correlation between college team win percentage and NFL success in the first five years is +0.05. Basically no relationship, so it doesn’t appear as if teams are unduly influenced by college team success in general. The quarterbacks at the extremes of either side, losing teams on one end and teams with 0 or 1 loss at the other, have not had the frequency of success as those in the middle, from solid bowl teams with between 2 and 5 losses.
Cam Newton is likely to be the sixth quarterback drafted in the first round who played on an undefeated team his final year in college since 1977. The others were Vince Young, Jason Campbell, Alex Smith, Chad Pennington, and Kerry Collins. First round quarterbacks in the last 35 years who played on teams with only one loss: Tebow, Sanchez, Leinart, Roethlisberger, Harrington, Vick, Mirer, Walsh, Testaverde, Blackledge, Marc Wilson, and Steve Fuller. Cam Newton is an interesting case, because he carried an Auburn team in his one season as a starter to a championship. If he lives up to the hype, he will be one of the more successful quarterbacks to come from a team with one or fewer losses.
[photo via Getty]