2014 NFL Draft Predictions: Quarterbacks

Categories: NCAA FBS, NFL Draft, Statistics
Comments: No Comments
Published on: February 12, 2014

Welcome back everyone.  I took a couple weeks off to recharge and enjoy the Super Bowl.  Now it’s time to get to the heart of the matter.

This post marks my predictions for the 2014 NFL Draft Quarterback class.  On the Draft Numbers page you will see predictions for both NFL Passer Rating and ANY/A for every draft eligible prospect.  This class is a very interesting one.  It’s very similar to the 2011 class in its number of potential starters, one.  Unlike the 2011 class, though, the one player that has the potential to start in the NFL isn’t getting very much buzz, is unlikely to be drafted highly, and probably won’t be a first year starter.  That player is Keith Price from Washington.  Many of the other potential prospects will get playing time, some have potential to be career backups in the league, but this class will be very short on quality starters.  All the numbers are available here.

Prediction Model Details

These predictions are generated using Bayesian analysis procedures.  If you would like details on the priors, you can ask in the comments.  The data set used to generate the equation includes all quarterbacks that played FBS football for at least one season from 2007-2012 and threw at least one pass in the NFL during the 2008-2013 seasons.

First off, the analysis finds that Career Completions Away from Average effectively predicts both 4-year passer rating and 4-year ANY/A.

When we make predictions like this, it’s important to evaluate the model to see how precise it is.  When I tell you that Aaron Murray is predicted to have a Passer Rating of 77.5 after four years in the NFL, how much uncertainty is there in that prediction?  Below you will see a plot showing how much we can reasonably expect the predictions to be off.

The plot gives you an indication of how much the predictions based on CAA can be expected to be off.  The circles represent one quarterback in the data set that was used to generate the prediction model.  The vertical blue lines represent the region that is 95% likely that the prediction will fall into.  You might look at that plot and rightly say that there is a lot of uncertainty in these predictions.  And you would be right.  There is a lot that isn’t accounted for by this single number.  However, let’s make a comparison.  One of the best ways to gauge the general league’s opinion of a prospect’s chances of being successful is using relative draft rank broken down by position.  In other words, was this quarterback the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. quarterback selected.  The plot below uses the same data set that was used to generate the CAA plot, but uses positional draft rank to generate the regions.

The direction of the effect is reversed, so it might be difficult to see, but the length of those blue lines is almost exactly the same as with CAA.  Which I like to see.  It tells me I’m on the right track with this thing.  For completeness sake, here is the same plot predicting ANY/A.

Ruh Roh

Categories: NCAA FBS, NFL Draft
Comments: No Comments
Published on: November 15, 2013

I just found a data aggregation bug that will effect my evaluation of Keith Price.

According to the corrected data, he only had an exceptional season in 2012 instead of an historic one.  Interestingly, the change puts a more positive light on his 2013 season as he is no longer being compared to a radiant angel of quarterbacking.  Remember that the model takes into account historical data.  The old, incorrect, outlandishly awesome data from 2012 was weighing down the evaluation of 2013.

As for draft status, the bug does not affect the relative positioning.  Keith Price is still my #1 pick for a quarterback in this draft class.  The only change that will need to be made is that I will have to tamp down my enthusiasm for him just a little bit.

The change will be updated on the Season Numbers – 2012 page sometime this evening or tomorrow morning.

2014 NCAA Quarterbacks: Who to Watch

(Editor’s Note:  This post refers to members of the 2014 NFL Draft class.  For information on NCAA quarterbacks participating in the 2014 season, click here)

Welcome back everyone.  After a hiatus from writing, I’m ready talk football and football analytics once again.  I’m going to start with the obligatory “NCAA Quarterbacks in 2014:  Who to Watch” article.  We’ll wander over the NFL at some point, but we’ll start in the NCAA.

If you’re new the site, you may find something a little weird about how I write about football. My wheelhouse is taking a statistical approach to the game.  I take an almost exclusively analytic approach to evaluating football players.  I don’t know the ins and outs of arm angles and footwork and all that.  What I can tell you which quarterbacks and receivers are getting the outcomes that will make them successful at the NFL level.

My primary evaluation tool is to use a statistic I call “Completions Away from Average” or CAA.  This statistic captures the number of completions a theoretically average quarterback would be expected to have given the receivers and offensive system of Team X.  It then compares this theoretical number to the number of completions the actual quarterback of Team X has.  Positive numbers are above average, 0 is perfectly average, and negative numbers are below average.

So let’s talk about who I’m looking at this season in the NCAA.

I’m Sold

Keith Price – Washington

Career CAA – 82.904

I’m waiting for the moment when someone on Twitter says, “I’m evaluating Austin Seferian-Jenkins and can’t help but notice the quarterback.”  But maybe that will never happen.  Maybe Price doesn’t quite look the part or something, I don’t really know.  The numbers sure like him though.  .

My numbers say that Price is scary good.  Terrifyingly good.  This guy is so good he is literally breaking my scale.  I have data going back to 2007, and only three players; Zac Dysert (91.74), Andew Luck (86.12), and Ryan Aplin (85.40) have more Career Completions Away From Average than Keith Price (82.90) does right now.  And Price has a whole season ahead of him to add to his numbers.

All Keith Price has to do is keep doing what he has done the last two years and he will be my #1 quarterback going into the 2014 draft.

Rakeem Cato – Marshall

Career CAA – 59.486

Another quarterback flying under the radar, Cato has been spectacular in his two seasons at Marshall.  I’ve seen a little more buzz about Cato than I have about Price, and we’ll see where this season goes.  With a current Career CAA of 59.49, he sits head and shoulders above the rest of the NCAA with the exception of Price.

Did it once, let’s see it again

These quarterbacks all have one very good season at the FBS level under their belts.  Before I’m sold on these guys, I need to see a little more evidence that they can sustain their current level of productivity.

Brett Hundley – UCLA

Career CAA – 37.180


Hundley had the second highest CAA during the 2013 season in FBS football.  Very nice for a freshman in the PAC-12.  The only question for his success at the next level is whether or not he can do it again this year.  I’m very interested to see if he can keep it going.

David Fales – San Jose State

Career CAA – 36.020

SJSU quarterback David Fales drops back for a pass during the Spartans' 20-14 victory over the BYU Cougars on Saturday. Fales went 25 for 34 with 305 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Lots of people like David Fales.  Add me to that list.  Just like Hundley, I’d like to see that he can string to successful seasons together in college.

Bo Wallace – Ole Miss

Career CAA – 22.739

Bo Wallace has bounced around a bit looking for an opportunity to play major college football.  Last year, all that bouncing around seems to have paid off as he was the only other first year starter to have more than 20 CAA for the 2013 season.  It will be good to see him in the field again this year, especially with the high expectations for Ole Miss going into this season.

Tricky Business

My final group of quarterbacks presents guys I like, but also question.  There are positives and negatives associated with the numbers each has put up during their careers.

Nathan Scheelhaase – University of Illinois

Career CAA – 35.54

Scheelhaase is an interesting case.  He’s had to share playing time throughout his career, which makes it difficult to rack up an excessive number of completions.  His numbers could be suppressed because he was never a fully featured member of the offense.  A second problem is that two thirds of his CAA come from the 2011 season when he had 24.183.  That’s a red flag for me because it makes me think that there might be some statistical fluke in the data driving up his numbers.  Much like Ryan Nassib, I want the real Nate Scheelhaase to please stand up.

Cody Fajardo – Nevada

Career CAA – 34.554

This is a case where we have a little bit of some depressed numbers compared to the other quarterbacks on my list, but still puts him in the category of intriguing.  I’m interested in seeing what this guy can do in a more featured leadership role now that he is becoming an upper-classman.

Aaron Murray – Georgia

Career CAA – 33.499

Murray’s numbers have always been positive, but they are even more depressed than Cody Fajardo.  He’s accumulated just one fewer CAA, but has had three full seasons whereas Fajardo has only had two.  However, he’s also improved each of his three years at Georgia.  I don’t know what to think of him other than I want to see more.  I currently have him as my #7 quarterback, but let’s see what he does this season before going out of our way to recommend him.

The Concept

Now that I’ve thrown down my top NCAA FBS quarterbacks, it would probably help to give some context of how exactly I’m arriving at these player rankings.  For the moment, I will hold back on giving away the entire mathematical formula.  However, an understanding of the assumptions and methods would probably help you interpret everything.  This is especially true since I’m telling you that the Colby Cameron from Louisiana Tech is the best senior quarterback in FBS football, Keith Price from Washington is the best franchise quarterback prospect, and Matt Barkley is going to bust quicker than cheap plastic on Christmas morning.

Let’s begin with an assumption.  The primary job of a quarterback is to complete passes.  Where those passes are thrown, who they are thrown to, and what route the receiver is running are not important.  I realize that this assumption is enough to spark controversy on its own.  Regardless, this is the primary assumption of these analyses.  (Note:  The “who they are thrown to” assumption will be relaxed in future work.  Specifically, it’s probably important if a pass is thrown to a running back or a not-a-running-back as passes to running backs are typically shorter and the target is usually not moving).

Next, we recognize that there is a massive amount of historical data regarding player performance.  We can look at how receiver performance changes when the quarterback changes.  NCAA football is an excellent test case for this as receivers and quarterbacks are forced to turn over at least every four years, if not sooner.  By looking at how performance changes when teams change quarterbacks, when quarterbacks throw to different receivers, etc. we can make a very important estimation.

To understand how the estimation works, let’s look at Colby Cameron of Louisiana Tech.  Given all the historical data regarding receiver performance and quarterback performance, we can make an accurate estimate of how many passes every single quarterback in FBS football would complete given Louisiana Tech’s offensive scheme and stable of receivers.  So, we can estimate how many passes Matt Barkley, Geno Smith or whoever would complete if we suddenly dropped them onto this year’s Louisiana Tech team.  We assume the same plays are run in the same order.  We then look at the distribution of all of these estimations.  We find the average of the estimated number of completions.  We then compare this number to the number of completions Colby Cameron actually has this year.  After all these calculations, we discover that Colby Cameron has completed 26.17 more passes than the average NCAA quarterback would complete given Louisiana Tech’s offensive system and stable of receivers.  This is tops among senior quarterbacks in NCAA FBS football.  It’s not, however, tops in college football.

The top of college football in this category is Keith Price.  He has completed 76.37 more passes this year than we would expect the average NCAA FBS quarterback to complete given Washington’s offensive system and stable of receivers.  This is why I say that Keith Price is the best franchise quarterback prospect available.  Keith Price has topped the NCAA two years running in this category.

What about Matt Barkley?  How can I say that Matt Barkley is going to bust in the NFL?  Given the estimations, Matt Barkley has completed 7.71 fewer passes than an average NCAA FBS quarterback would complete given USC’s offensive system and set of receivers.  According to this analysis, Matt Barkley is absolutely not the #2 quarterback prospect in the 2013 NFL draft.  He is, in fact, a below average NCAA quarterback.  How can we possibly expect that he would be an above average NFL player if he can’t even get above average at the college level?

Hopefully, this at least gives you some context regarding the statements I’m making.  I plan on posting a table with the actual numbers for every quarterback in the coming months so you can see exactly where each quarterback stacks up.  Until then, I have more data to collect and more analyses to run.

Quarterback Talent

I’ve talked before about how I think the draft class of 2012 will be regarded as one of the great classes.  The class has a strange combination of high talent and playing time that is likely to pay off in spades.

The 2013 draft class does not look to be panning out the same way.  There is not the same kind of talent at the top of FBS college football this year compared to 2012.  Not only that, but all the experts are looking in the wrong direction for talent.  We’re likely to see a lot of quarterback busts by players that play for schools in the BCS automatic qualifier conferences.  The really talented quarterbacks are in the smaller conferences this year.  I’ll talk about predicted busts another time, but let’s see who in the senior class is bubbling to the surface through 11 weeks.  Note that these ratings apply only to data from this season.

#1)  Colby Cameron – Louisiana Tech – Louisiana Tech has been a great surprise this year, in no small part due to their quarterback.  He’s put up gaudy numbers and led the Bulldogs (yes I did have to look the mascot up) to a 9-1 record.

#2)  Ryan Aplin – Arkansas State – Ryan has the most solid career data of anyone on this list.  He’s approaching 10,000 yards for his career and completes passes at high rates.  The primary reason people aren’t looking at him is that his team is not known as a high powered passing offense.

#3)  Kawaun Jakes – Western Kentucky – This was an interesting name to pop up.  The Western Kentucky system does not seem like the type of system to create an NFL caliber quarterback.  The only thing that worries me about this pick is that most of his passes are to running backs and tight ends.  These passes tend to be shorter passes to receivers that aren’t moving.  Regardless, the fact that Kawaun has the numbers he has in that offense with those receivers makes him worth a look.

#4)  Collin Klein – Kansas State – The senior quarterback at Kansas State has shown a tremendous ability at the quarterback position this year.  His running ability will likely attract some buyers as well.  The fact that he plays on the currently ranked #1 team in the country won’t hurt his draft prospects either.

Like I said, the quarterback prospects for this class aren’t fabulous, but there is talent there for those willing to look for it.  Of all the potential draftees out there, there is likely only one franchise quarterback among them.  If your team is really in the market for a franchise quarterback, hope and pray that Washington’s Keith Price declares for the draft.  He doesn’t play on a flashy team with a great win-loss record, but that guy is a beast.

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