Thursday, September 4, 2008

Matt Ryan: The Right Guy, Next Year

You've read some good reasons for Matt Ryan to be the opening day starter for the Atlanta Falcons and most of them are listed here. However, I'm of the strong opinion that the best way to handle a rookie quarterback is to get him very familiar with a headset and a clipboard.

The quarterback position is by far the most difficult transition from the college game to the pros. While all position players have to adjust to the unbelievable speed and intensity of the NFL, a quarterback has the added responsibility of learning thousands of additional plays (including knowing where all 10 of his teammates need to be on each play) and adjusting to much more complex defenses. Additionally, but not the least of a rookie quarterback's responsibilities, is earning the respect and trust of his teammates. While that might sound ridiculous, imagine if a 23 year old kid came into your office, fresh off signing a contract that paid him between 2 and 20 times more than you, and started bossing you around. Might be a problem.

Ok, those are the things that are tough to quantify, but here at Joe and Joe Sports we love numbers, so let's break it down. Since 1998, 28 quarterbacks have been taken in the first round, but I'm going to throw out Patrick Ramsey, who was selected 32nd overall in 2002. Of the other 27 first round QBs, I looked at guys that started more than 9 games in their rookie season versus those that waited until season two to become the starter (note: 9 games was chosen since it represents more than half the regular season).

Ten first-round QBs started more than 9 games in their rookie season and they are (draft number in parenthesis): Vince Young (3), Matt Leinart (10), Ben Roethlisberger (11), Byron Leftwich (7), Kyle Boller (9), David Carr (1), Joey Harrington (3), Tim Couch (1), Payton Manning (1) and Ryan Leaf (2). Of those ten, only three are currently starting NFL quarterbacks. Of the three starters, two can be described as a "franchise quarterback". Of the remaining seven non-starters, five are colossal failures (Boller, Carr, Harrington, Couch and Leaf) and the other two (Leinart and Leftwich) have had their opportunities and have been replaced by their respective teams. Over the last ten years, the success rate of first round quarterbacks that started in their first season is, at best, 30%. Not good.

Now let's look at the guys that waited until year two to reach the 9 start mark: Jay Cutler (11), Alex Smith (1), Eli Manning (1), Carson Palmer (1), Michael Vick (1), Cade McNown (12), Daunte Culpepper (11), Akili Smith (3) and Donovan McNabb (2). While there are still some failures on that list (McNown, Akili Smith and possibly Alex Smith), four of the nine are still starters (Cutler, Manning, Palmer and McNabb) and a fifth would be starting if he weren't, let's just say, in jail. Also, while Daunte Culpepper is currently out of the league, he was a three time Pro Bowler. So of these 9 QBs, six can be considered successful NFL quarterbacks, a ratio that won't have GMs rushing to nab the best available play-caller with their first round pick next May, but certainly better than the 30% success rate we saw out of the guys that started in year 1.

For completeness, the guys that had to wait more than one season to take over as the starter is mostly a mixed bag of success or don't really have a track record yet. They are: Chad Pennington (18), Rex Grossman (22), Philip Rivers (4), JP Losman (22), Aaron Rogers (24), Jason Campbell (25) and Brady Quinn (22). The success or failure of this group lies in with Rivers, Rogers, Campbell and Quinn, so check back in a few years to get my feelings on whether it's a good idea to keep your stud QB in the stable for more than one season.

So what does it all mean? The success rate of "franchise quarterbacks" that were rushed onto the field only months after leaving college indicates that, for whatever reason, rookie starting quarterbacks have less chance of becoming a long-term solution for their team than a guy that spends a year learning in a less stressful back-up role. So why would a team start a rookie when the past indicates that they double their player's chance to be successful by simply playing someone else for a year? The answer is "I don't know". If you are looking for someone to be the "face of your franchise", isn't it best if the fans are still seeing that face five or ten years down the line rather than lamenting the lost years of Joey Harrington or David Carr or Tim Couch or Kyle Boller? I think so and I think most Lions, Texans, Browns and Ravens fans will agree with me.

1 comment:

GoodPointJoe said...


First off, removing Patrick Ramsey is a blatantly self-serving move. He was a 5-game starter in his rookie season who ended up being a pretty pronounced failure. We have a pretty definite way of determining who was a first round pick and who wasn't. It's called the beginning of the second round. Also, Kyle Boller was 19th, not 9th. And it's Peyton Manning, not Payton Manning.

Now to your arguments. You can like Jay Cutler, but one good season does not make a "successful NFL quarterback." If it did, you'd have to mark Byron Leftwich, Joey Harrington, and even David Carr as "successful NFL quarterbacks." And don't hesitate to put "colossal" in front of "failures" when you're talking about Cade McNown and Akili and Alex Smith.

You're not necessarily wrong to think that quarterbacks should always be allowed to ride the pine in year one to learn the ropes. You're just also not necessarily right. The fact that Super Bowl and Pro Bowl QBs like P. Manning and Roethlisberger were first-year starters is enough evidence to say that. Also, it's worth mentioning that, historically, QBs have not been thrown into the fire at anywhere near the rate of players at other positions. The starting rookie QB is a relatively new concept.

You talk about the "lost years of Joey Harrington," and I don't know what you mean. The years that Harrington lost because he was put into a bad situation (poor Lions fans)? Or the years that Detroit lost because they played Harrington early? Because my guess is that Harrington would've probably lasted through the 2005 season either way, so no time was lost. god...are you saying that Joey Harrington, if given that first year to sit on the sidelines and learn, would today be a solid starting quarterback?

My last point is this: Ryan was a productive passer in the ACC, an unimpressive football conference. I don't expect him to be a great quarterback, but if he's the real deal, he'll be good, regardless of this decision. And with how important it is for Atlanta to have another story besides Michael Vick, you take a chance. It's not like you're going to win any less games with him than with Chris Redman or the aforementioned Harrington.

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