Quarterbacks. Everyone wants to draft a young great one, but nobody’s really sure who to take, or even what can be taught and what’s inherent in the player. Dave “Archie” Archibald sorts through the most heralded QBs of the 2014 draft to see who was worth the investment.
Johnny Manziel continues to draw headlines for his off-the-field antics, but when it comes to play on the field, his three quarterbacking peers in the 2014 QB draft class boast far more interesting prospects. Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars (chosen third overall), Teddy Bridgewater of the Minnesota Vikings (32nd overall), and Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders (36th) have combined to start 89 of 96 regular season games for their respective teams over their first two seasons. Each quarterback’s squad improved significantly in 2015, giving hope that the future is bright for their franchises.
While each quarterback has enjoyed some success early in his NFL career, the shape of that success has differed. Beginning in year one where Carr beat out veteran Matt Schaub for the starting job in Oakland, while Bridgewater and Bortles were thrust into action after sitting a handful of games. All showed flashes of competence, but ultimately posted below-average seasons:
As with most rookies, the three struggled in their debut seasons. Among 34 qualifiers, Bridgewater, Carr, and Bortles ranked 27th, 32nd, and 34th, respectively, in Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt, and similarly poor in most other statistics. There were a handful of bright spots – Bridgewater’s completion percentage ranked 11th in the NFL, while Carr had the seventh-best interception rate and fifth-best sack rate.
Things improved significantly in year two:
Bridgewater dropped a spot in ANY/A, going from 27th to 28th, but Carr and Bortles took big leaps, improving to 19th and 23rd, respectively. Each had positives and negatives to his season. Bridgewater had a fine completion percentage of 65.3% (10th in the NFL), but his touchdown rate (3.1%) and sack rate (9.0%) both ranked in the bottom five league-wide. Bortles threw for 35 touchdowns, just one off the NFL lead, but led the league with 18 interceptions and posted a poor 58.3% completion rate. Carr had a stellar 32 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions, but his 7.0 yards per pass attempt ranked 26th. There is reason for optimism and reason for concern with each member of the trio.
The trajectory of their progress makes for an interesting comparison between the three quarterbacks. On one hand, Bridgewater had arguably the best combined statistics for his first two seasons:
On the other hand, Bridgewater showed the least statistical improvement from year one to year two:
The overall performances of Bridgewater and Carr (both with ANY/A of 5.6) through two seasons puts them in the range of successful NFL players like Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (5.7) and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton (5.7) but also washouts such as Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman (5.6), Byron Leftwich (5.5) of Jacksonville, Washington’s Jason Campbell (5.4), and Trent Edwards (5.4) of Buffalo. Bortles’ (5.1) closest comps are a less-promising group: Tampa Bay’s Mike Glennon (5.2), Miami’s Ryan Tannehill (5.1), EJ Manuel (5.1) of Buffalo, and Washington’s Patrick Ramsey (5.0), with Eli Manning (5.0) of the New York Giants the only real bright spot:
The universe of players since 2005 with big jumps from year one to year two performance, surprisingly, doesn’t necessarily portend big things. Bortles (2.3) and Carr (1.5) have among the biggest improvements in their sophomore seasons, but the peer group is a bit weak. Manning shows up here again (2.4 improvement in ANY/A), but so do Freeman (3.3), Carr’s brother David (1.7), Mark Sanchez (1.3) with the Jets, Edwards (1.2), and Blaine Gabbert (1.0) on the Jaguars. Bridgewater’s more modest gains (0.2) is a better peer group, with successes like Chicago’s Jay Cutler (0.5), Carolina’s Cam Newton (0.4), Andrew Luck (0.4) with the Colts, Seattle’s Russell Wilson (0.1), and Dalton (0.0):
The Shape I’m In
The three quarterbacks differ in trajectory, and they also differ in style. Bridgewater is a high-percentage thrower but throws short, ranking 26th in yards per completion in 2015. He avoids interceptions (2.0% of passes, 11th-best), but takes a lot of sacks (on 9.0% of pass plays, third-worst in the NFL), and doesn’t throw many touchdowns (3.1% of passes, 31st in the NFL). Bridgewater’s statistical comparables include solid veterans Flacco and Cutler – both of whom have much more of a gunslinger reputation than the youngster – but also some washouts:
Bridgewater’s pedestrian touchdown total limited his fantasy value in 2015, but there is reason for optimism in 2016 and beyond. The Vikings offense was reasonably effective on the season, but they tended to run the ball near the goal line – 72% of the time inside the five, versus a league average of 49%. As a consequence, Bridgewater threw just 14 touchdown passes, but the Vikings added 18 touchdowns on the ground, including three by the quarterback himself. Since 2002, 26 teams have tallied 15 or more rushing touchdowns and 16 or fewer passing touchdowns. In the year following, they averaged five more passing touchdowns and five fewer rushing touchdowns. It seems likely that Teddy will see a similar bump in 2016.
Like Bridgewater, Carr tends to throw short (21st in yards per completion in 2015) and he avoids picks (2.1% in his two seasons), but he completes fewer passes (61.1%, 21st in the NFL). He makes up for this by throwing more touchdowns and avoiding sacks (only 4.5% of pass plays in his career – roughly half of Bridgewater). Carr overlaps with Bridgewater in similarity to Flacco and Cutler and also boasts Dalton as a comparison, but also compares to some players whose careers took worse turns:
Carr presents the inverse situation from Bridgewater. He threw 32 passing touchdowns in 2015, but the Raiders only added seven scores on the ground. On the face of it, he seems a candidate for regression, but historical precedent is unclear. From 2002 to 2010 only one team posted 30 touchdown passes and eight or fewer rushing TDs, but 10 teams have done it since, including six in 2015 alone. Carr’s touchdown total might take a step back in 2016, but this kind of performance might be just a consequence of the league-wide trend towards more passing.
Bortles is much more boom-and-bust than Bridgewater or Carr. In 2015, he ranked 31st in completion percentage and led the league in both interceptions and sacks. When he connected on passes, however, he was highly effective, finishing fifth in the league in yards per completion and throwing 35 touchdowns, second in the league. Bortles’ peer group is largely impressive, with Christian Ponder the only total washout.
When it comes to evaluating the young trio, the data, frankly, is inconclusive. These sorts of comparisons don’t have a large enough sample size to make strong inferences, and trying to build a larger set by adding older players or those with fewer attempts would serve only to add uncertainty.
Different fantasy players will interpret that uncertainty differently. If there’s no clear reason to prefer one over the others, Bridgewater (23rd among quarterbacks in Average Draft Position) might be a bargain compared to Bortles (seventh) or Carr (tenth). Maybe you like Carr’s offensive line, Bortles’ receivers, or Minnesota’s draft additions. Perhaps you had strong feelings about one or more of the signal-callers in the pre-draft process. If so, nothing you’ve seen so far statistically should change your mind. For my money, I think Bridgewater’s fantasy prospects are being underrated and Bortles’ and Carr’s a bit oversold, but I see all three as QB2 options in a ten-team redraft league with standard scoring.
All statistics from pro-football-reference.com.