2016 was the best of times and the worst of times for rookie quarterbacks. On the one hand, Dak Prescott exploded in Dallas, leading them to a 13-3 record and supplanting Tony Romo as the starter, something that you would not have predicted pre-draft.
On the other hand, the top two picks largely underwhelmed. Carson Wentz got off to a hot start, but struggled down the stretch. He largely got a pass because of the bad receiving group he was playing with, and that he wasn’t expected to start right away. Jared Goff, meanwhile, was supposed to be more polished coming into the draft, but looked completely lost when he finally took the field for the Rams.
Here, I’m going to compare the rookies of 2016, from Wentz to Paxton Lynch (who started only two games), by looking at historically comparable players. Here’s a quick explanation of the method, feel free to skip down to the players if you don’t feel like reading the details behind it.
The following categories were used on a league-adjusted basis: completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate, interception rate, sack rate, and overall adjusted net yards per attempt. The league adjustment is done at pro-football-reference.com, with a score based on the relation to the league average. A score of 100 in a category means the player is league average that year. Below 100 is bad. Above 100 is good. Every 15 points above or below is one standard deviation. Thus, Jared Goff’s 5.3 yards per attempt had a score of “55,” which is pretty dreadful and nearly two yards below league average.
In addition, I also looked at the following factors: age, draft position, number of attempts, and rushing yards per game.
All of those categories were then weighted based on predictiveness. For example, of all those categories, rushing yards per game is the “stickiest,” followed by completion percentage and sack rate. Interception rate, meanwhile, is almost random and has little predictive ability. Thus, rushing numbers, completion rate and sack rate were given heavier weights than interceptions.
The similarity score used to generate the list took the differences in each of the above categories, once weights were applied.
Here’s why including draft position is important–Jared Goff may turn out to be a complete bust. It’s certainly very much in play. But knowing that he was drafted highly means we can’t rule him out yet. Compare that to the non-first rounders who made his comparable list. Bad draft position + bad performance = confirmation. Good draft position + bad, awful performance as a rookie = conflicting info.
Goff’s comparables were similar, except for his league-adjusted yards per attempt. However, that group averaged 5.45 yards per attempt, had a 5 to 11 TD to INT ratio, and lost most of their starts, so the raw numbers were in line with how bad Goff was.
Half of the guys on this list ended up starting 5 or more years. I don’t think that Goff is a future all-pro, but next year–where he gets a full offseason to work with Sean McVay–will show us whether he can be a starter in this league.
Chance of Starting 5+ Years: 50%
Chances of Being a Star: 16%
I think it’s fair to say that conventional wisdom on Wentz is that he is going to be pretty good, and that there is a large chasm in the view of him versus Goff. History would suggest the gap in their fortunes may not be so larger. Wentz may be a slightly better bet to be a starter in five years, but not to be a star.
Derek Carr’s season last year and Andy Dalton’s two years ago are the two best seasons turned in by anyone on this list.
Wentz was fairly average at the avoiding of bad things categories. He was not good at all at the creating of big things (yards per attempt, touchdowns). On the positive side, I don’t think it’s a secret that his receiving group struggled, especially when Jordan Matthews was out injured. He also is transitioning from FCS play (like Flacco on this list), and has less experience as a QB (like Tannehill).
On the other hand, he’s not young when it comes to rookies. He’ll be 25 next year. He’ll need to show more consistency and the jury is still out on whether he’ll be a starter like many guys on this list (Dalton, Bradford, Tannehill, Flacco), or something more.
Chance of Starting 5+ Years: 43%
Chances of Being a Star: 16%
Prescott’s comparables aren’t really that comparable, and he really is a unique story. Most rookies aren’t as good as he is, and that’s particularly true of rookies who are not drafted early (Russell Wilson being the other recent exception.)
Going forward, as the league adjusts to him, we’ll see how much it was the talent around him, and how much Prescott can grow as a passer to continue what he started in 2016.
Chance of Starting 5+ Years: 58%
Chances of Being a Star: 33%
Cody Kessler is an interesting one. He did just enough in 2016 to not rule him out from ever becoming a starter, but certainly not enough for Cleveland to have confidence in him.
His poor sack rate is a concern going forward, and is the one impediment to him turning in a Chris Chandler or Steve Beuerlein type career.
Chance of Starting 5+ Years: 25%
Chances of Being a Star: <5%
Paxton Lynch really didn’t get much of an opportunity to show what he can become. Then again, that’s because he wasn’t ready to supplant Trevor Siemian, hardly a household name himself.
Ultimately, Denver has a lot more information on whether they believe Lynch can make the leap and become a starter next year. The historic comps (caveats: very small sample size of passes) show that playing as poorly as Lynch did at everything but avoiding interceptions is not a recipe for success, even in limited action.
If we limited it to guys drafted in only the first and second round, then McNair and Esiason would sneak in, though they were better in their limited play as rookies. The sack rate is of particular concern, especially given that he didn’t rush for as many yards as you would have expected based on his pre-draft expectations as a raw athlete.
Chance of Starting 5+ Years: 25%
Chances of Being a Star: 10%