Quarterbacks in Minnesota

Categories: Fantasy, NFL, Statistics
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Published on: October 16, 2013

The Vikings recently announced that Josh Freeman was going to be their starting quarterback.  This move really shouldn’t surprise anyone given the problems the Vikings have in the passing game.  However, is Josh Freeman “the answer” in Minnesota?  What can we expect from Josh Freeman now that he is the man of the hour on this endless carousel of starting quarterbacks in Minnesota? 

First, you’ve probably seen that Josh Freeman has an NFL low 45.7% completion percentage this year.  We care about completion percentage because it’s one of the few quarterback stats that travels reasonably well.  However, I am confident that Freeman’s completion percentage will go up as a member of the Vikings.  When that happens, people will tell you that it is because of the toxic relationship between Freeman and his coach in Tampa.  They will tell you that sometimes a change is scenery is necessary for a quarterback to get better.  These story lines are all nonsense of course, but people will tell them to you because so many are willing to believe them.  What’s actually going to happen is a much less interesting story called regression to the mean.  Extreme scores tend to be followed up by less extreme scores and performance tends to move toward the averages.  Josh Freeman has a career completion percentage of 58.2% and we would expect his completion percentage this season to move towards that number (This will be important later).    

We can also expect that Freeman’s completion percentage will go up because he moved from Tampa to Minnesota, but not by much.  Given the data we have, we can expect an increase in his completion percentage of about 1%.  This effect is statistically reliable, but not particularly meaningful because it’s going to be swamped by the change due to regression to the mean.

Let’s get to the heart of the question.  Are we going to see more production out of the Viking’s passing game now that Freeman is the starter compared to Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder?  We can actually answer that question better in this specific case than most times.  At one point or another last year, all three of these quarterbacks had starting jobs.  That means we have reasonably good data on production levels for each one.  This really good data gives us some idea of how well each would do in a starting role this year. 

The short answer is no, the Vikings are not better off with Josh Freeman starting.  In fact, I am projecting we will see much much less out the Viking’s already anemic passing attack now that Freeman has been placed in the starting role. 

Here are the numbers.  Pre-season passing yard projections are based on a regression equation that uses statistics in Year A to predict production in Year A+1.  It accounts for 33.5% of the variance in passing yards and has a standard error of the estimate of 314.9 yards.  This model assumes similar production and usage from 2012 to 2013.  Be aware that this model tends to underestimate yardage totals because yardage totals are not normally distributed.   

Some take away points from that table

·         I would not have recommended signing Greg Jennings.  At one time he was a productive wide receiver, but that production has faded with age.

·         Where has Jarius Wright been this season?  He had some good times in 2012.

·         Of the three quarterbacks currently on the Vikings roster, Ponder was the best choice preseason.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Ponder is not the problem.  The problem for Minnesota’s passing game for the last three years has been and continues to be a wide-receivers-not-named-Percy-Harvin problem.

The decision to sign Freeman is not looking particularly good here.  However, the previous projections come from 2012 data.  We also have data from 2013 on all three quarterbacks.  Admittedly, at most it’s two or three games for each quarterback and five games for each receiver, but it’s at least something.  Let’s take what we know about each quarterback and receiver’s production and usage for 2013 and input that into our model instead of the 2012 numbers.  Here are the projections showing what I would expect with each of these quarterbacks throwing to these five receivers for a full season.

* Because Freeman’s completion percentage is so abysmal this year, the prediction of Freeman to Wright actually comes out negative. Freeman’s line has been changed to assume he will increase his 2013 completion percentage by 10% as a member of the Vikings, which would be more in line with his historical average.

Here are those same projections pro-rated for the 11 games the Vikings have remaining on their schedule. 

* See note in previous table

So there you go.  According to these projections, the Vikings paid $3 million to lose more than 1,000 yards of production through the air compared to what we would expect if Cassel or Ponder were still the starter.  Go Vikes.

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