Quarterback Busts

Categories: NCAA FCS, NFL Draft
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Published on: November 4, 2012

Will we ever see a quarterback bust the like of JaMarcus Russell ever again?

I recall Todd McShay was asked this question during last draft season. Todd answered that he didn’t think we would due to the large amount of data that is now available on all NCAA quarterbacks. He said there is so much tape on each and every college quarterback that it is difficult to imagine problems wouldn’t be spotted before the draft.

I don’t want to beat up on Todd for something he said more than six months ago, but I want to address the sentiment in that answer. The biggest problem with evaluating quarterbacks is not a lack of tape. There is a tremendous amount of data available on college quarterbacks. Not only that, the NFL spends large sums of money to put on the combine, where we gather even more data on players we may have not taken a close look at up to that point.

The problem with evaluating quarterbacks is the human brain. It is simply impossible to look at someone else’s tape and separate good quarterback play from good receiver play from luck.

Let me illustrate what I mean with an example. Imagine that a wide receiver is supposed to run an in-route on a particular pass play. However, this wide receiver is slightly confused and thinks they are supposed to run an out-route. On a standard play, if the quarterback simply throws to the spot that the receiver is supposed to be, this confusion is likely to result in an incompletion at best or an interception at worst. Now let’s imagine that a linebacker has blown up the play by blitzing through the line and the quarterback has to scramble toward the side of our confused wide receiver. Suddenly, the wide receiver’s mistake is the perfect solution. A pass can be completed and everyone’s happy. In the film room, the coach that called the play knows what was supposed to happen. The coach knows that they were lucky the receiver got confused on the play. An outsider watching that play doesn’t know that. To the outsider, it looks like a brilliant play call.

So, is it possible that we will ever see a quarterback bust like JaMarcus Russel again? Of course it’s possible. Not only is it possible, but it is likely. Why? Because, as Dan Pink says in a very good TED talk, the solution is not more of the wrong thing. We don’t need to watch more tape because we’ve proven we cannot effectively use other people’s tape to make accurate predictions. Instead, we need numbers that truly predict performance.

Why do I bring this up now? Well, because I’ve run my first projections using 2012 NCAA FBS data. This model is still in its “toddler” phase, so I’m not ready to start throwing out names just yet. I have days upon days of work to do before I’m solid on the numbers. That being said, I don’t anticipate the numbers changing outlandishly.

Prepare yourself. Some tremendous quarterback busts are coming.

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