DAY/AV: What to Expect from a First Round Rookie Quarterback

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DAY/AV: What to Expect from a First Round Rookie Quarterback

Setting the Edge has been working on a massive project where we opponent-adjust every post-merger pass in NFL history. We know that the value of a passing touchdown is roughly equal to 20 yards. The guesstimation of an interception being roughly equal to -45 yards is “supported by current data.” By adjusting a passer’s efficiency for the defense’s average, we can create a system that gauges a quarterback’s statistical value relative to the defense faced.

Adjusted Yards Per Attempt (AY/A) is how we’re going to measure passing efficiency, as single-game sacks weren’t measured all the way back to the merger. If they were, we would use Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt (ANY/A), which is AY/A with the perspective of sacks and sack yards included. ANY/A is the passing efficiency number most correlated to wins. AY/A is the next best thing.

Adjust Yards Per Attempt (AY/A): (Passing Yards + (Passing Touchdowns * 20) – (Interceptions * 45))/Pass Attempts

Defense-Adjusted Yards Per Attempt Value (DAY/AV): ((Quarterback AY/A) – (Defense AY/A)) * Pass Attempts

With DAY/AV, we can say exactly how much a quarterback was worth, in yards, in specific games against specific opponents. For example, the most valuable game for a quarterback last year was Philip Rivers’ effort (33 passes, 434 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, 14.97 AY/A) against the Dallas Cowboys (6.90 AY/A.) His passes were worth 266.36 yards above the average passer in that game, edging out Tom Brady’s +265.96 against the New Orleans Saints. Both were significantly higher than the third-highest result, Jared Goff’s +224.18 game against the New York Giants.

In contrast, Kevin Hogan’s game (37 passes, 140 passing yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, 0.68 AY/A) against the Houston Texans (8.19 AY/A) was the least-valuable effort in 2017. His passes cost the Cleveland Browns -278.09 yards relative to the Texans’ 2017 averages. Nathan Peterman’s game (14 passes, 66 passing yards, zero touchdowns and five interceptions, -11.36 AY/A) against the Los Angeles Chargers (5.62 AY/A) ranked 556th out of 559 games in 2017, despite him only throwing the ball 14 times.

Since we have this data through 1970, I decided to look at the rookie seasons of every first-round quarterback since the merger. By combining their game totals (only counting games in which they threw at least two passes), we can figure out how valuable they were in Year 1 of their careers. First-round rookie quarterbacks have never been more valuable. Eight of the last 11 first-round quarterbacks were acquired through picks that had been traded, with the exceptions being first overall pick Jameis Winston, second overall pick Marcus Mariota and third overall pick Blake Bortles.

The New York Jets already have swapped their sixth overall pick and three second-round picks for the third overall pick. They may end up with their third-ranked quarterback in the class. With teams violently trading up for rookie passers, we should at least know what to expect from them, right?

When I went season-by-season through the data, it was clear that the chances of turning around a passing game in just one season are slim to none. Here are all of the first-round rookie quarterback seasons since the merger from most valuable to most costly:

QuarterbackRookie Season DAY/AV
Ben Roethlisberger672.5600265057
Robert Griffin594.813410971
Dan Marino521.0734899996
Matt Ryan474.25819180975
Deshaun Watson365.70586120122
Jim Plunkett188.64892250753
Cam Newton173.24054049238
Joe Flacco166.79252988826
Jake Locker149.19394107649
Archie Manning136.88588101653
Jim McMahon131.0497323482
Steve McNair124.24373544264
Patrick Ramsey123.06581182701
Todd Blackledge109.09277537718
Tommy Kramer94.169177235924
Michael Vick75.583033793213
Chad Pennington56.974489795918
Jay Cutler37.306623690183
Todd Marinovich31.492569002123
Rex Grossman20.912013405541
Jim Harbaugh17.104925053533
Mike Phipps13.224447586836
Jerry Tagge7.4843106683778
Jason Campbell0
Carson Palmer0
Daunte Culpepper0
Kelly Stouffer0
Jim Kelly0
Ken O'Brien0
Mark Malone0
Steve Pisarkiewicz0
Marc Wilson-0.48055584227911
Brady Quinn-10.484346224678
Patrick Mahomes-11.560081466395
Philip Rivers-16.088122605364
Marcus Mariota-25.994024635331
Doug Williams-34.715061207775
Chuck Long-36.004105185702
Jim Everett-45.710177244079
David Klingler-53.655161988701
J.P. Losman-53.770712784872
Art Schlichter-61.774584866262
Matt Leinart-62.834908658436
Dan McGwire-67.920103092784
Aaron Rodgers-68.371428571429
Andre Ware-69.758988717458
Steve Bartkowski-82.636498737426
Cade McNown-83.622031813271
Paxton Lynch-87.624311936022
Mitchell Trubisky-104.46548838862
Johnny Manziel-115.53365568901
John Reaves-118.84366370903
Tim Tebow-120.8399852594
JaMarcus Russell-124.61342955921
Byron Leftwich-124.63521731947
Rich Campbell-126.06654343808
Jameis Winston-134.1985992127
Jack Thompson-151.61785011268
Teddy Bridgewater-156.21626350328
Phil Simms-181.80730350311
Jeff George-196.06027776423
Tony Eason-219.0128290429
Andrew Luck-220.66749938784
Jim Druckenmiller-237.83823694357
Ryan Tannehill-241.76754399721
Tommy Maddox-242.23921518697
Vince Young-275.75388783603
Heath Shuler-282.93134701709
Trent Dilfer-285.72851349461
Sam Bradford-304.6644243204
Tim Couch-311.9618022059
EJ Manuel-312.68044695218
Peyton Manning-340.99062142749
Chris Miller-370.58713264035
Akili Smith-381.61185409325
Drew Bledsoe-385.53590187368
Kyle Boller-386.95298356994
Bert Jones-393.38385362749
Eli Manning-421.24778080072
Steve Fuller-456.60364816674
Donovan McNabb-462.00892923763
Josh Freeman-478.44313024597
Christian Ponder-487.02421865699
John Elway-499.9674123551
Richard Todd-517.73457280144
Vinny Testaverde-529.63652881541
Mark Sanchez-532.06647748068
Dan Pastorini-554.5703046667
Rick Mirer-578.99352035973
Kerry Collins-582.30027544464
Jared Goff-582.30092549423
Alex Smith-657.25877432236
David Carr-670.75872031397
Brandon Weeden-713.31086964549
Troy Aikman-730.26188627934
Carson Wentz-734.61281112381
Terry Bradshaw-786.24859183154
Blaine Gabbert-823.23523606703
Ryan Leaf-848.13992618469
Joey Harrington-860.93245929878
Matthew Stafford-906.08610566305
Blake Bortles-908.78329897889

The top five passing seasons by rookie first-rounders were Ben Roethlisberger (+672.56), Robert Griffin (+594.81), Dan Marino (+521.07), Matt Ryan (+474.26) and Deshaun Watson (+365.71.) Despite Watson starting and finishing just five games last season, he was nearly twice as valuable as a rookie as the sixth-most valuable rookie first-round quarterback, Jim Plunkett (+188.65.)

That Plunkett season would have ranked between 15th (Jimmy Garoppolo, +297.40) and 16th (Sam Bradford, +168.26) among 2017 passers. That means that out of the 102 first-round rookie quarterback taken since the merger, only five of them (4.9 percent) would be considered above-average starters immediately. When you map out what rookie seasons look like, there’s a very visible dropoff from the Watsons to the Plunketts and there’s also a very clear negative lean to rookie seasons.

In the end, the 102 rookie seasons composed of five seasons worth more than 2017’s QB15 (above average starter), 18 seasons that were positive graded but did not finish above 2017’s QB15, eight seasons when a passer didn’t throw two or more passes in a single game and 71 seasons when a passer was below average.

If you need a quarterback to “hit” as a rookie, you’re already playing a losing game. Very few quarterbacks are actually impactful as rookie passers. If you look at the worst seasons by first-round rookie passers, they include some future stars: Matthew Stafford (-906.09, 101st), Terry Bradshaw (-786.25, 97th), Carson Wentz (-734.61, 96th), Troy Aikman (-730.26, 95th), Jared Goff (-582.3, 91st) and John Elway (-499.97, 84th). There are plenty of examples of first-round quarterbacks who turned around from bad starts, but almost none have quick starts.