Looking at Last Year's Rookie QB Class
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Looking at Last Year's Rookie QB Class

There have been 46 QBs to start at least 8 games during their rookie season in the NFL since 1990. Five of those 46 were rookies last season: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, and Brandon Weeden. Add four more from the previous season (Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, and Blaine Gabbert) and nine of the 46 rookie seasons were in the last two NFL seasons. That is quite an influx of youth at the most pivotal position on the field, so I thought it would be worth analyzing this group QBs to see if there are any insights to be found about the future of this youth movement.

In order to compare their performances, I pulled their rookie performance stats from Pro-Football Reference and started sifting through the data to see what there was to be seen. Finally, I settled on a process called cluster analysis which finds similar clusters or groups based on their similarities in the statistics that were used. What comes out of the analysis are groups of players that had similar performances during their rookie seasons. Examining these groupings of players may give us some insight into the future of the 9 young QBs.

The analysis focussed on four statistics: Completion Percentage, Interception Percentage (percentage of pass attempts that were interceptions), Touchdown Percentage (percentage of pass attempts that were touchdowns), and Yards per Attempt. Other statistics such as sack rate were also explored, but were not found to useful in creating the groupings of similar players.

Three groups were identified based on these statistics and in each statistic (as shown below) the average performance in Group 1 was the best, followed by Group 2, and with Group 3 being the lowest performing group.

Placing each QB in their proper group helps to give some insight into how important the rookie performance is in indicating future performance. Group 1 was smallest group and was highlighted by Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan. Group 2 contained mostly serviceable QBs though some high end names such as Joe Flacco and Carson Palmer also appeared in this group. Group 3 was the largest group and had easily the biggest range of post rookie performance. Group 3 contained mostly failed QBs such as Ryan Leaf, Kyle Boller and Jimmy Clausen, but did have some bright spots in Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford. The table below lists each QB in their similarity group.

Group 1, including 3 of the 9 young QBs, appears to be the most consistently high performing group in the bunch. With Newton, RGIII and Wilson in this group, it appears  that there are three young big time QBs in the league. Four of the 9 are in Group 2, suggesting Tannehill, Weeden, Luck and Dalton are in line for some potentially productive years in their future. The last two - Ponder and Gabbert - however are slated in Group 3 suggesting that (unless you believe one of them to be the next Peyton Manning) they are not destined for long productive careers.

The biggest surprise of the analysis is the placement of RGIII and Russell Wilson in Group 1 while Andrew Luck is in Group 2. Luck was the top pick in the draft last year and was productive as a rookie. The analysis suggests however, that while Luck did perform well, he did not perform at the same level as RGIII or WIlson and, historically, that may mean that he will not perform at their level in the future.


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