Young QB Similarities: Josh Freeman Might Be Pretty Good; Jury Still Out on Sanchez & Bradford

Young QB Similarities: Josh Freeman Might Be Pretty Good; Jury Still Out on Sanchez & Bradford

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Young QB Similarities: Josh Freeman Might Be Pretty Good; Jury Still Out on Sanchez & Bradford

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Last year, Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders created a stir when he compared Mark Sanchez to JaMarcus Russell just prior to the conference championship game. Our site’s fearless leader disagreed. My opinion was that I would not have compared a true rookie to a player with a year of experience in the league, and when I do comparisons, I try to keep rookies separate from second-year players.

I’m going to jump in and do some comparisons based on past seasons of the young quarterbacks who threw at least 150 passes and were in their first two seasons in the league: second year quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Mark Sanchez, and rookies Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, and Jimmy Clausen. I’m not telling you that my methodology is perfect. Whatever inputs and weights you put into the formula determines what you get out. I will tell you that I did not design this to achieve any particular result in regard to a specific player. I wanted to look at not only the overall result for other quarterbacks, but also the style. Last year, I wrote about passer personality types, where I compared the statistical performance in the passer categories, to see if a player tended to do better at completing passes than throwing for lots of yards, or avoid sacks at the expense of risking interceptions and completion percentage.

Feel free to skip down a few paragraphs to where I start talking about the particular players if you don’t want to see the nuts and bolts of how I got there; it’s okay. For the rest that want to see behind the curtain, here you go. To come up with my similar players, I used the YPA+, COMP+, TD+, INT+, and SACK+ rating available for each player at pro-football-reference.com, which is explained here, and is based on the same principal as OPS+ or ERA+ in baseball. Basically, the player’s raw rate stats are converted to a number to compare to league average, with a score of “100” in a category representing league average.  The overall similarity score was determined by subtracting:

  1. the difference in number of pass attempts between the subject player and other seasons;
  2. the difference in those five rate categories (YPA+, COMP+, TD+, INT+, and SACK+), by dividing the difference by 2, then squaring that number. My purpose in squaring a number was to destroy similarity when players were vastly dissimilar in a particular category;
  3. the difference in the four personality category types (Bomber/Completer, Fun/Safe, Yard Eater/Vulture, Gambler/Holder), by dividing the difference by 2, then squaring that number;
  4. the difference in overall Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt (ANYA+), divided by 2, then squared. I then multiplied this number by 10 so that the overall quality was weighted far heavily than any other specific category. I didn’t want a highly efficient checkdown guy who was well above league average to be compared to Charlie Frye;
  5. the age difference in years, multiplied by 100.

I list the similarity score for you for the ten most similar players, as well as the advanced score in each basic category, so you can see where there were similarities and differences. I only compared true rookies like Bradford to other rookies, and Freeman and Sanchez to second year players.

JOSH FREEMAN, AGE 22, 2nd year in league

Sim Score Player Year Age Passes ANYA+ COMP+ YPA+ TD+ INT+ SACK+
1000 Josh Freeman 2010 22 474 114 102 105 112 122 104
574 Michael Vick 2002 22 421 110 85 106 98 122 94
465 Jay Cutler 2007 24 467 110 110 112 103 100 104
436 Brett Favre 1992 23 471 106 121 101 102 111 102
427 Kerry Collins 1996 24 364 109 95 101 99 111 112
423 Joe Flacco 2009 24 499 105 107 105 101 108 95
289 Boomer Esiason 1985 24 431 124 109 120 125 117 107
270 Peyton Manning 1999 23 533 120 118 116 109 107 126
263 Byron Leftwich 2004 24 441 104 104 97 92 116 109
249 Bernie Kosar 1986 23 531 115 112 106 89 130 106
146 John Elway 1984 24 380 104 101 94 106 103 113

The only players to be above average in every passing component in their second year in league, age 23 or younger: Dan Marino, Steve McNair, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre . . . and Josh Freeman. Freeman is the only one that was 22.

What’s there to say? Well, he’s younger than Sam Bradford, and has already put up a well above average season. The comparables aren’t all that comparable because they were all older. The fact that he is similar but better than Collins, Flacco, Leftwich and Elway while being two years younger is a positive. Bucs fans may have thought I was negative about their team this year, because they were winning close games against bad teams, but that doesn’t mean I’m not excited about the future. All aboard the Freeman train.

MARK SANCHEZ, AGE 24, 2nd year in league

Sim Score Player Year Age Passes ANYA+ COMP+ YPA+ TD+ INT+ SACK+
1000 Mark Sanchez 2010 24 507 96 80 91 90 106 108
794 Tony Banks 1997 24 487 97 81 99 88 108 93
699 Tyler Thigpen 2008 24 420 94 79 86 102 102 101
698 Brian Griese 1999 24 452 100 101 99 91 103 108
689 John Friesz 1991 24 487 90 88 79 83 108 107
680 Eli Manning 2005 24 557 102 77 97 103 102 112
633 David Woodley 1981 23 366 101 88 94 89 111 106
617 Jim Everett 1987 24 302 97 96 97 91 95 112
607 Gus Frerotte 1995 24 396 100 74 105 92 98 104
585 Chad Henne 2009 24 451 90 99 89 82 98 104
577 Billy Joe Tolliver 1990 24 410 93 86 84 99 96 116

These numbers don’t include the playoffs, where Sanchez has seen his yards per attempt and completion percentage rise relative to his regular season numbers. I don’t want to discount that, as he has shown flashes of playing well. The issue for Sanchez and his long term prognosis is completion percentage. He is prone to streakiness where he misses plays that need to be made. The top comp, Banks, was very similar statistically except for one key category-sack avoidance. That’s a positive for Sanchez. The two best players on this list, Eli Manning and Jim Everett, were also good at avoiding sacks at a young age.

SAM BRADFORD, AGE 23, rookie

Sim Score Player Year Age Passes ANYA+ COMP+ YPA+ TD+ INT+ SACK+
1000 Sam Bradford 2010 23 590 89 97 81 86 106 105
651 Rick Mirer 1993 23 486 83 95 82 83 98 87
398 Joe Flacco 2008 23 428 96 97 100 91 103 93
395 Jim Zorn 1976 23 439 91 87 88 87 91 118
390 Trent Edwards 2007 24 269 89 84 83 84 101 112
383 Kelly Stouffer 1988 24 173 89 105 87 80 106 101
325 Mike Pagel 1982 22 221 87 82 75 78 115 104
258 Steve Walsh 1989 23 219 88 82 84 79 95 115
250 Matt Leinart 2006 23 377 97 88 98 88 99 107
205 Bruce Gradkowski 2006 23 328 78 79 65 86 106 96
108 Chris Chandler 1988 23 233 90 101 99 92 83 100

Only 2 guys threw 500 passes as a rookie, Peyton Manning and Bradford. Manning did it differently, though, with a much better yards per attempt, touchdown rate, and sack rate, and significantly worse interception rate (which is why he doesn’t show anywhere on this list). Mirer is third in attempts for a rookie, and shows up most similar to Bradford, in fact, as the only one with a score over 500.

I know that the national dialogue has been universally in praise of Bradford. I also know that his supporting cast at receiver stunk (in fact, I’m adding to my to do list examining how his group may compare to other rookie starters). I wouldn’t look at this list and say he is going to be a bust, because we truly have very few really similar seasons. His sack rate was much better than Mirer (and improved as the season progressed), and I’m the guy who says you have to look at sack rate in evaluating quarterbacks. I think it shows ability to process information quickly and recognize what the defense is bringing at you.

No, instead, I would look at this list and say let’s not get ahead of ourselves, build this guy up, only to break him down if he is decent, but doesn’t meet our most lofty of expectations. Let’s see what he does when the receivers do improve before we anoint him.

COLT MCCOY, Age 23, rookie

Sim Score Player Year Age Passes ANYA+ COMP+ YPA+ TD+ INT+ SACK+
1000 Colt McCoy 2010 23 222 89 100 102 82 86 75
756 Rodney Peete 1989 23 195 92 91 112 82 89 66
708 John Reaves 1972 22 224 89 90 101 89 101 67
580 Dennis Shaw 1970 23 321 97 112 118 87 92 81
543 Chris Chandler 1988 23 233 90 101 99 92 83 100
418 Joe Flacco 2008 23 428 96 97 100 91 103 93
388 Ken O’Brien 1984 24 203 96 103 96 86 110 91
320 Tony Banks 1996 23 368 88 80 105 102 85 69
319 Charlie Frye 2005 24 164 82 100 86 81 102 67
302 Tim Couch 1999 22 399 86 94 89 97 100 69
297 Tom Hodson 1990 23 156 81 93 82 84 106 73

Remember how I talked about sack rate? Well, Colt McCoy’s sack rate is a concern despite his impressive performance in yards per attempt for a rookie. The three guys who also had a good YPA and a bad sack rate as rookies aren’t exactly a riveting bunch, with Peete being the best of the group. I think the Browns should start McCoy over the other QB’s currently on the roster, but I wouldn’t hesitate to create additional competition at the position.

JIMMY CLAUSEN, Age 23, rookie

Sim Score Player Year Age Passes ANYA+ COMP+ YPA+ TD+ INT+ SACK+
1000 Jimmy Clausen 2010 23 299 70 73 68 62 100 70
551 Akili Smith 1999 24 153 72 81 75 72 91 77
373 David Carr 2002 23 444 69 76 81 72 97 44
367 Steve Fuller 1979 22 270 69 98 70 76 95 69
286 Neil Lomax 1981 22 236 79 82 93 69 102 70
200 Andrew Walter 2006 24 276 68 76 85 67 75 50
179 Kyle Orton 2005 23 368 74 73 69 81 93 95
159 Tom Hodson 1990 23 156 81 93 82 84 106 73
140 Richard Todd 1976 23 162 68 66 80 79 79 64
94 Bruce Gradkowski 2006 23 328 78 79 65 86 106 96
43 Jeff Komlo 1979 23 368 73 84 83 85 82 84

Not much went well for Clausen as a rookie, as the only thing he did reasonably well was avoid interceptions, which is not the most predictive thing for future success. He held the ball and took sacks at a very high rate, didn’t make plays downfield, and had difficulty even handling snaps at times. I know the conventional wisdom is that rookies get a pass, but I don’t think that’s actually always true. Lomax is a notable name, but he was much, much better at yards per attempt as a rookie. Orton was much better at avoiding sacks. Richard Todd, he was bad across the board, and became a solid starter in the middle of his career.

Clausen’s case isn’t hopeless, but I also wouldn’t rely on him without creating competition next season if I were in charge in Carolina. You would have to convince me that the offensive unit around him was historically bad, for me to believe that he is the solution rather than part of the problem as to why they are selecting first overall in the upcoming draft.

[photo via Getty]

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