Over the next month, I will project the quarterbacks who are likely to either be the starters on opening day or have a very good chance of substantial playing time. I will do so by looking at historically similar players, and then adapting to 2012 environment, likely job security, and teammate changes.
Today, we’ll start with the five players who were rookies last year and are likely to be starters, or in Jake Locker’s case, get a chance to start given his draft position depending on Matt Hasselbeck and the team’s standing as the year progresses.
To look at the historically similar players, I like to break it down by style and compare the players in various categories like completion percentage, yards per attempt, sack rate, touchdown rate, and interception rate, as well as rushing numbers, and also adjust for player age. Some players may put up similar overall numbers but achieve it in different ways that project differently in the future.
For example, interceptions are highly volatile, and I would put less weight in interception rates. Things like sack rate, yards per attempt, and completion percentage, on the other hand, tend to stay more consistent among quarterbacks.
Let’s get to last year’s rookies, in order they were drafted.
Newton is looking to build off a monster rookie year, where he was a pretty solid passer who also ran the ball all over the field and scored 14 touchdowns. Even though I found “similar” players, there really are no truly similar players to what Newton did last year running and passing. He is better than those similar players across the board, and I took that into account.
The notable thing is the rookies who had good starts didn’t necessarily take a big leap next year. The sky is the limit with Newton, but in making my projection, I’m going with some regression in the rushing touchdowns (we would expect any population of high touchdown scorers to regress), but slight improvement in completion percentage, touchdown rate, and interceptions, and holding steady in yards per attempt.
Newton’s most similar players: Steve Grogan, Joe Flacco, Charlie Batch, Vince Young, Dennis Shaw, Matt Ryan, Byron Leftwich, Peyton Manning, Jim Plunkett, Matt Leinart
Newton’s 2012 Projection:
15 Games Started, 317 of 520 (61.0%), 4,000 passing yards (7.7 YPA), 23 TD, 16 INT
27 Sacks Taken, 100 Rush Attempts, 600 Rushing Yards and 10 Touchdowns
Locker is hard to project since he didn’t play much last year, and is not guaranteed to start the season (Hasselbeck will likely start the year). For his comps, I found the most similar players, passing and rushing, among first rounders who threw less than 120 passes as a rookie. As it turns out, many of them also had veterans in front of them on the depth chart as the year began or were in platoon situations with quality veterans.
I think what we can expect from Locker is a better performance in yards per attempt than completion rate, as he hits deep routes but not necessarily consistent on shorter throws, and also some good rushing numbers from scrambling. His comps started an average of 7.5 games and that’s a good over/under on Locker. Tennessee fans will be happy to know his top comp was the last early pick at QB for the franchise: Steve McNair.
Locker’s most similar players (among other 1st rounders with between 30 and 120 passes as rookies): Steve McNair, Tim Tebow, Todd Blackledge, Rex Grossman, Tommy Kramer, Todd Marinovich, David Klingler, Mike Phipps, Mike Vick, Chuck Long
Locker’s 2012 Projection:
7 Games Started, 123 of 220 (55.9%), 1,540 passing yards (7.0 YPA), 7 TD, 6 INT
16 Sacks Taken, 40 Rush Attempts, 240 Rushing Yards and 2 Touchdowns
Blaine Gabbert was worse than his group of comps as a rookie. The first four on the list were replaced as starters before year two. The last six were all higher picks who were again installed as starters in year two. All played all or most of the season, and that’s my guess for Gabbert. He gets this year, and if he hasn’t shown improvement by the end of the season, then may get benched, but not any earlier.
His comps did show improvement in year two, particularly those that panned out. If you want to know where Gabbert needs to be this year, look at his average projection for 2012 below. At or better than that, and it’s too early to write him off. Another year with numbers below that projection, and it would be pretty unlikely he ever turns into a decent starter in the league. This year’s projection sees a 7% increase in completion percentage, and a full yard increase in yards per attempt.
Gabbert’s most similar players: Kyle Orton, Bruce Gradkowski, Jeff Komlo, Jimmy Clausen, Kyle Boller, Donovan McNabb, Neil Lomax, Steve Fuller, John Elway, Jack Trudeau
14 Games Started, 249 of 430 (58.0%), 2,750 passing yards (6.4 YPA), 16 TD, 10 INT
40 Sacks Taken, 45 Rush Attempts, 180 Rushing Yards and 2 Touchdowns
Ponder, like Gabbert, wasn’t very good when thrust into the starting role in Minnesota on a team that lacked outside weapons. His projection is similar to Gabbert, slightly higher yards per attempt, and more usage as a runner.
Ponder’s most similar players: John Elway, Tony Banks, Mark Sanchez, Jeff Komlo, Oliver Luck, Jeff George, Kerry Collins, Kyle Boller, Jake Plummer, Bruce Gradkowski
14 Games Started, 252 of 430 (58.5%), 2,795 passing yards (6.5 YPA), 17 TD, 12 INT
31 Sacks Taken, 45 Rush Attempts, 280 Rushing Yards and 2 Touchdowns
Andy Dalton is an interesting one. He got a lot of praise last year because of the team wins. Compared to his comps though, he was right about average. The more encouraging indicator to me is his excellent sack rate, suggesting Dalton is able to make quick decisions.
His comps didn’t show as much improvement in year two, and plenty regressed, so it’s not a given that Dalton takes a big leap in going from age 24 to 25 (he was an older rookie in 2011). His yards per attempt should improve some, but I don’t see a huge leap in 2012. Long term, I do think he is a guy who will have a career like Chris Chandler, but hopefully not bounce around so much.
Dalton’s most similar players: Byron Leftwich, Matt Leinart, Jim Plunkett, Joe Flacco, Trent Edwards, Jim Zorn, Sam Bradford, Steve Bartkowski, Bernie Kosar, Charlie Batch
Dalton’s 2012 Projection:
14 Games Started, 280 of 470 (59.5%), 3,240 passing yards (6.9 YPA), 18 TD, 13 INT
25 Sacks Taken, 28 Rush Attempts, 95 Rushing Yards and 1 Touchdown
[photo via US Presswire]