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When a rookie quarterback produces like a star during a down year for his team, fantasy owners tend to assume that he’s a budding superstar. Back in 2010, Cam Newton shocked the NFL with his electric passing and rushing skills. He was a consensus top-10 pick the following year, even though he was still filling out his body and learning a pro-style offense. That was a mistake. There’s no need to rush your rookie QB if he’s starting for a bad team, since the resulting numbers will look better than they really are. Blog

Often, we look at rookie QB’s through rose-colored glasses. And like all rookies, they have to learn on the job. But the question is, how much time do we give them to learn before we pull the plug? After looking at the most recent rookie QB’s to take the field, I found that there is a sweet spot, in which their stats and win loss record were inversely proportional to the number of games they started.

Is it too early to work with a beginner? That’s the question on everyone’s mind as Bears fans look forward to seeing Justin Fields in a dark orange uniform. I looked at the numbers to see if we could learn anything from the past.

Photo: Mfa1O52/Twitter

Methodology

I collected data on college starts, college pass attempts, ANY/A+ NFL, and EPA/Play NFL for every QB drafted in the first round between 2004 and 2018. I limited myself to the years 2004 and 2018, because the data on college games after 2000 gets fuzzy, making it difficult to get a complete picture of QB records and games started before 2000. So a QB who started all four years in college and was drafted in 2003 can’t provide reliable statistics because I didn’t have access to the data from the 1999 season.

I then looked at the number of games each QB played off the bench in his starting year and created graphs showing how well each QB did over the course of his career compared to how quickly he started games for his team.

If you would like to read the previous report on Justin Fields’ resume and career, you can find the full report here.

ALL/A+

For those who are not familiar with ANY/A+: it is essentially the era-adjusted version of ANY/A. An ANY/A+ value of 100 means that the setter was average in the league compared to all setters in the years he played. Anything above 100 means above average and anything below 100 means below average. ANY/A stands for Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt and is calculated as follows.

(Pass Yards + Pass TD*20 – INT*45 – Sack Yards) / (Pass Attempt + Sack).

EPA/game

For those not familiar with EPA/Play : EPA (Expected Added Points) is a football statistic that attempts to measure the value of individual plays in points. This is done by calculating the expected points (EP) based on the drop, distance and field position at the beginning of the game and comparing it to the situation at the end of the game. A three-yard gain on a first-and-ten is different than a three-yard gain on a third-and-ten, which is not counted in normal statistics. The expected points system translates gross income into value.

Methodological shortcomings

  • Of course, every QB is a different story mechanically, mentally and athletically. Patrick Mahome’s first week could be very different from his Week 16 performance. Game of the season.
  • It is a perfectly valid opinion that QBs who are willing to start in Week 1 are more likely to succeed in the NFL because they are better prepared and are generally more skilled players.
  • I tried to correct some of these errors by looking at the QBs most similar to Justin Fields in the last section.

All first round QBs from 2004 to 2018

Here are all the QBs who were drafted in the first round since 2004. The x-axis of the graph shows the number of games they spent on the bench before making their first start. The y-axis shows their career EPA/game values.

Overall, the difference between QBs who started a game early in their rookie season and those who started later is small, with a slight downward trend for those who started their first game later in their rookie season. However, I want to highlight a few data points and take a closer look at some possible outliers.

In the next section, we’ll look at the QBs who are closer to Justin Fields in terms of pass attempts and games started in college.

QB with 1,000 or fewer pass attempts in college

In the table below, we have narrowed the list of QBs to those who have completed fewer than 1,000 pass attempts in their college careers. That number includes 23 QBs who average 785 pass attempts in college. In college, Justin Fields had 618 pass attempts, tied with Aaron Rodgers (665), Josh Allen (649), Carson Wentz (612), Alex Smith (587) and Mitchell Trubisky (572).

  • For the group as a whole, the mean ANY/A+ was 92.7 and EPA/Play 0.029.
  • Ten of those QBs started in the first week of their rookie season. Over the course of their NFL careers, they averaged an ANY/A+ of 94.4 and an EPA/Play of 0.05, meaning that QBs who started on the first day of the week played better on average than QBs who did not play their entire rookie season.
  • Seven of those quarterbacks started after Week 1, but in the first eight games of the season. During their NFL careers, they had an ANY/A+ of 90.6 and an EPA/Play of .026. So QBs who started between the team’s second and eighth games were worse on average than QBs who started in Week 1. It should be noted that with the exception of Josh Allen, who played in the 2nd half. At baseline, the average APE per game in this group was 0.007.
  • Four of these QBs made their first start of their rookie season after the eighth game of the season. They had an average ANY/A+ 87 and EPA/Play -0.043 during their NFL careers. So, the QBs made their first start of their rookie season but didn’t perform well after the eighth game, but that’s a small sample size. Despite the small sample size, the results are consistent, with Jason Campbell, Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel and JaMarcus Russell as QBs.
  • Two of those QBs haven’t started once in their first season. The two QBs have had very different careers. The first is J.P. Losman, who sat out his entire rookie season and started in the first week of his sophomore season. His career ANY/A+ was 87 and his career EPA/Play was -0.082. The other QB here is Aaron Rodgers, who didn’t play the first three years of his NFL career. Rogers has an ANY/A+ of 118 and an EPA/Play career of .234.
  • Rodgers seems to be an exception in this case, as he could be three years behind Favre.
  • Of the top eight QBs in this group in terms of EPA/game, only one remained on the bench after Week 1 – Aaron Rodgers. It’s worth mentioning here Josh Allen, who started the second week of his rookie season.

QB with 30 or fewer starts in college

In the chart below, we removed the filter on pass attempts and replaced it with a filter on the number of college games started. The following QBs have made 30 or fewer starts in their college careers. That number includes 23 QBs who average 24.4 starts in college. Justin Fields started 22 games in college, which puts him on par with Aaron Rodgers (22), Josh Allen (23), Carson Wentz (23), Joe Flacco (22) and Alex Smith (21).

  • For the whole group, the mean ANY/A+ was 92.4 and EPA/Play 0.025.
  • Ten of those QBs started in the first week of their rookie season. Over the course of their NFL careers, they recorded an ANY/A+ of 92.7 and an EPA/Play of .039, meaning that QBs who started on the first day of the week played better on average than QBs who did not play their entire rookie season.
  • Seven of those quarterbacks started after Week 1, but in the first eight games of the season. During their NFL careers, they had an average ANY/A+ of 87.6 and an EPA/Play of -0.010. So the QBs who started between the team’s second and eighth games were worse on average than those who started in Week 1. Interestingly, with the exception of Josh Allen, who started in Week 2, the average EPA/play for this group was -0.034.
  • Three of those QBs made their first start of their rookie season after the eighth game of the season. Over the course of their NFL careers, they have an ANY/A+ average of 96 and an EPA/Play of .025. So the QBs made their first start of their rookie season, but after the eighth game they had a decent average performance, but that’s a small sample size. QBs like Patrick Mahomes, Johnny Manziel and JaMarcus Russell are represented here. Therefore, there is a great variability in this group.
  • Two of those QBs did not start a single game in their rookie season, as the previous chart shows: J.P. Losman and Aaron Rodgers.
  • Of the top eight QBs in this group in terms of EPA/game, the top two sat out after their 15th game. Season’s game on the bench. Aaron Rodgers (three years) and Patrick Mahomes (15 games). Every other QB in the top 8 started for their team’s second game.

CB Time of first start

Now let’s look at all the QBs, ranked by when they started their NFL careers.

  • Interestingly, less experienced QBs are starting earlier in their careers. I think it’s because the best QBs leave college at younger ages as draft prospects.
  • QBs who started in the first week of their rookie season and those who started in the second half of their rookie season seem to have the best overall performance.
  • The difference here is negligible, which begs the question: Why wait?
  • We discuss these groups in more detail below.

KB started immediately

Here’s a list of all the QBs who started in week 1 of their rookie season. That number includes 15 QBs averaging 28 college starts and 897 pass attempts. Justin Fields has made 22 collegiate starts and 618 pass attempts. I think it’s fair to ask if the number of games started versus seasons started matters. Although Fields only started 22 games, he played two full seasons, with his second season being cut short due to COVID-19, a circumstance we’ve never had to deal with.

  • In this group, the mean ANY/A+ was 96 and EPA/Play was 0.066.
  • Six of the 15 (40%) QBs listed here had an ANY/A+ of 100 or higher (league average or better).
  • Six of the 15 (40%) QBs listed here had an EPA/play of 0.10 or higher.
  • Eight of the 15 (53%) QBs listed here had an EPA/play of .075 or higher.
  • Ten of the 15 (67%) QBs listed here had an EPA/play of .050 or higher. EPA/Play of .050 is the average of all QBs drafted from 2004-2018.
  • That group includes QBs like Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Carson Wentz, Ryan Tannehill, Joe Flacco, Robert Griffin III, Sam Bradford, Brandon Weeden, Mark Sanchez and EJ Manuel.

QBs who started in the first half of their rookie season, not in week

Below are all the QBs who did not start in Week 1, but did start for the first time in the first eight games of their rookie season. That number includes 15 quarterbacks averaging 31 college starts and 1,016 pass attempts. Justin Fields has 22 college starts and 618 pass attempts.

  • In this group, the mean ANY/A+ was 91.6 and EPA/Play 0.026.
  • Four of the 15 (27%) QBs listed here had an ANY/A+ score of 100 or higher (league average or better).
  • The same four QBs of the 15 (27%) listed here were the only QBs to record an EPA/play of .10 or .075.
  • Six of the 15 (40%) QBs listed here had an EPA/play of .050 or higher. EPA/Play of .050 is the average of all QBs drafted from 2004-2018.
  • This group includes QBs like Deshaun Watson, Ben Roethlisberger, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Teddy Bridgewater, Mitchell Trubisky, Alex Smith, Vince Young, Josh Freeman, Blake Bortles, Christian Ponder, Matt Leinart, Paxton Lynch, Blaine Gabbert and Josh Rosen.

QBs who started in the second half of the rookie season

Below are all the QBs who didn’t start in Week 1 but did for the first time in the final eight games of their rookie season. That’s not including QBs who didn’t start once in their rookie season. That number includes nine quarterbacks averaging 34 college starts and 1,124 pass attempts. Justin Fields has 22 college starts and 618 pass attempts.

  • In this group, the mean ANY/A+ was 99.3 and EPA/Play was 0.069.
  • Four of the nine (44%) QBs listed here had an ANY/A+ score of 100 or higher (league average or better).
  • Three of the nine (33%) QBs listed here had an EPA/play of 0.10 or higher.
  • Four of the nine (44%) QBs listed here had an EPA/play of .075 or higher.
  • Five of the nine QBs listed here (56%) had an EPA/play of .050 or better. EPA/Play of .050 is the average of all QBs drafted from 2004-2018.
  • That group includes Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Jared Goff, Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Jason Campbell, Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel and JaMarcus Russell.

QBs who started after their rookie season

Here are all the QBs who didn’t start a single game in their rookie season. That number includes five quarterbacks averaging 37 college starts and 1,222 pass attempts. Justin Fields has 22 college starts and 618 pass attempts.

  • In this group, the mean ANY/A+ was 97.4 and EPA/Play 0.043.
  • Two of the five (40%) QBs listed here had an ANY/A+ score of 100 or higher (league average or better).
  • Those same two of five QBs (40%) were the only ones to record an EPA/play of 0.10, 0.075 or 0.050. The group average is 0.050.
  • Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers are two QBs who can be considered successes in this group. Both players were multiple year Pro Bowl starters. The other QBs in attendance are Jake Locker, J.P. Losman and Brady Quinn.

Synopsis:

Justin Fields Comparative data:

Below are the first round QBs that I think are most similar to Justin Fields:

Each category of statistics highlighted in light green is closely similar to Fields’ statistics, and those highlighted in yellow are somewhat similar to Fields’ statistics, ranked in order from most to least similar. I’m working on 30% of the list. These comparisons take into account experience, performance as a passer and as a runner, academic performance and speed.

Using these similar QBs, here’s how they differ in the number of games they’ve been on the bench and their success on an EPA/play basis.

  • There were 17 similar QBs in total. They start college on average 24 times and make 776 pass attempts.
  • Seven of those QBs started in Week 1. Their mean ANY/A+ was 96.9 and EPA/Play was 0.089.
  • Nine of these QBs started either in Week 1 or Week 2. Their average ANY/A+ was 99 and EPA/Play was 0.106.
  • Three of those QBs started for the first time in Week 3 or 4. Their mean ANY/A+ was 93 and EPA/Play was 0.05.
  • Four of those QBs were starting for the first time since Week 8, but still in their rookie year. Their mean ANY/A+ was 100 and EPA/Play was 0.071. This group is very diverse, with QBs like Mahomes, Jackson, Manziel and Russell.
  • Aaron Rodgers is the only comparable QB who didn’t start a single game in his rookie year.

Let me know what you think on Twitter @ButkusStats. Personally, I think if Justin Fields shows he can handle what the Bears will ask of him in training camp, he should be a day 1 starter, and I think these stats support that opinion. But I’m curious what other fans think.

This source has been very much helpful in doing our research. Read more about bears first-round picks 2020 and let us know what you think.

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