Photo Credit: Keith Allison via Flickr Creative Commons
In my previous post, I developed a methodology that generated a list of player comparables for Cleveland QB Cody Kessler. This approach, however, can similarly produce player comps for any quarterback based on their characteristics and season statistics. As such, I thought I would apply this tool to generate a list of comparables for the three other rookie quarterbacks this past season who surpassed 150 pass attempts: Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff.
The methodology used in this study compares a player’s season statistics and height against the NFL average in their respective seasons to produce a set of z-scores across seven dimensions. Calculating the Euclidean distance across all seven z-scores, this approach allows for the calculation of a single “distance” score. The outcome allows one to generate a list of closest comparables, as ranked by distance; lower distance scores mean better matches. For a full breakdown of the methodology, see the discussion here.
Prescott’s terrific rookie season ranks as one of the finest in NFL history. This makes it difficult to find close comparables to the Dallas quarterback among rookie signal-callers. The list of rookie comparables in the top half of Table 1 (below) is certainly respectable, including two Super Bowl winners (Jim McMahon, Russell Wilson) and a league MVP (Matt Ryan). However, the distance scores are quite high indicating that these are not terribly close matches; this is not terribly surprising given the uniqueness of Prescott’s initial campaign.
In contrast, the bottom of Table 1 compares Prescott to other quarterbacks in their age-23 season regardless of rookie status. The closest comparison to Prescott is Matthew Stafford’s third season with Detroit in 2011. The second closest? Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre’s first year with Green Bay in 1992. Both Stafford and Favre feature distance scores under 2.0, indicating rather strong matches. Beyond those two, the next closest comparison was Marcus Mariota’s second season in Tennessee this past year.
While finding close comparables to Prescott proved challenging, there were no such issues when looking for similar quarterbacks, statistically speaking, to Carson Wentz. As reflected in the top half of Table 2 (below), Sam Bradford’s rookie year with St. Louis in 2010 featured a distance score of less than 1.0; a rare occurrence in my QB analyses that indicates a ridiculously close match. The Philadelphia flavor continued with Nick Foles in second place with a distance score of 1.31. In all, there were 10 rookie QBs who posted a distance score less than 2.0 when compared to Wentz’s 2016 season. The best of these QBs include Bradford (1st), Ryan Tannehill (9th) and Chris Chandler (10th); most of the remaining signal-callers settled in as backups (e.g., Kyle Orton, Brandon Weeden).
As Wentz was 24 years old in his rookie season, the bottom half of Table 2 reflects his comparables with other QBs in their age-24 season regardless of rookie status. Again, finding close comparisons to Wentz was not a problem: there were 17 quarterbacks with distance scores less than 2.0. Of those 17 comparables, Troy Aikman’s second season with Dallas in 1990 clearly stands out as Wentz’s top-end comparison. Beyond Aikman, however, the list of age-24 comparables is largely populated with good—but not elite—starting quarterbacks, highlighted by Trent Dilfer (1st), Ken O’Brien (7th), Jim Everett (9th), Tommy Kramer (12th) and Dan Pastorini (13th). The list also features numerous long-term backups such as John Friesz (4th), Byron Leftwich (6th) and Chad Henne (10th). While Aikman’s appearance on this list offers hope of Wentz’s ultimate ceiling, the volatility on this list demonstrates that it is far too early to predict how Wentz’s career will turn out.
While the list of comparisons for Prescott and Wentz offer considerable hope, it should not be surprising that the list of comparables for Jared Goff is not as promising. As reflected in the top half of Table 3 (below), the best rookie-season comparison for Goff is Jimmy Clausen, who has started just four games in the last six years after going 1-9 as a starter for the Panthers in 2010. While Clausen was the only rookie QB with a distance score under 2.0, the next four on the list are equally concerning. Looking at distance scores between 2.0 and 3.0, the only rays of light would be Richard Todd (8th, distance=2.56), Neil Lomax (12th, 2.80) and Jeff George (14th, 2.89). Excluding the yet-to-be determined Blake Bortles (13th, 2.81), the rest of the list largely represents quarterbacks that had nondescript professional careers.
Turning to Goff’s age-22 comparables, the rankings are not much kinder. Only one quarterback—Blaine Gabbert—had a distance score within 2.6, suggesting that there were few age-22 seasons that were similar to what Goff posted in 2016. This is not terribly surprising given that only 33 quarterbacks attempted 150 or more passes in their age-22 year. Among the five quarterbacks who had a distance score under 3.0, only Lomax and potentially Bortles represent positive outcomes. Lurking just outside the top five include three other first-round busts: Steve Fuller (6th), Ryan Leaf (7th) and Tim Couch (8th). Goff checked into the league with a lot of promise and he’s still incredibly young, but early returns are obviously of concern.
The volatility of the historical comparisons to the rookie quarterback class of 2016 reflects that it is way too soon to know with any certainty how the careers of Prescott, Wentz and Goff will evolve. But this exercise hopefully adds some historical context to how we evaluate the potential of these three signal-callers moving forward. Will Prescott have a Favre-like career? Will Wentz be more like Aikman or Dilfer? Will Goff shake the comparisons to Clausen and Gabbert to become a viable starting NFL quarterback?
We shall see.