Young QB Similarities: Josh Freeman Might Be Pretty Good; Jury Still Out on Sanchez & Bradford

By Jason Lisk
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I’m going to jump in and do some comparisons based on past seasons of the young quarterbacks who threw at least 150 passes and were in their first two seasons in the league: second year quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Mark Sanchez, and rookies Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, and Jimmy Clausen. I’m not telling you that my methodology is perfect. Whatever inputs and weights you put into the formula determines what you get out. I will tell you that I did not design this to achieve any particular result in regard to a specific player. I wanted to look at not only the overall result for other quarterbacks, but also the style. Last year, I wrote about passer personality types, where I compared the statistical performance in the passer categories, to see if a player tended to do better at completing passes than throwing for lots of yards, or avoid sacks at the expense of risking interceptions and completion percentage.

Feel free to skip down a few paragraphs to where I start talking about the particular players if you don’t want to see the nuts and bolts of how I got there; it’s okay. For the rest that want to see behind the curtain, here you go. To come up with my similar players, I used the YPA+, COMP+, TD+, INT+, and SACK+ rating available for each player at pro-football-reference.com, which is explained here, and is based on the same principal as OPS+ or ERA+ in baseball. Basically, the player’s raw rate stats are converted to a number to compare to league average, with a score of “100” in a category representing league average.  The overall similarity score was determined by subtracting:

  1. the difference in number of pass attempts between the subject player and other seasons;
  2. the difference in those five rate categories (YPA+, COMP+, TD+, INT+, and SACK+), by dividing the difference by 2, then squaring that number. My purpose in squaring a number was to destroy similarity when players were vastly dissimilar in a particular category;
  3. the difference in the four personality category types (Bomber/Completer, Fun/Safe, Yard Eater/Vulture, Gambler/Holder), by dividing the difference by 2, then squaring that number;
  4. the difference in overall Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt (ANYA+), divided by 2, then squared. I then multiplied this number by 10 so that the overall quality was weighted far heavily than any other specific category. I didn’t want a highly efficient checkdown guy who was well above league average to be compared to Charlie Frye;
  5. the age difference in years, multiplied by 100.

I list the similarity score for you for the ten most similar players, as well as the advanced score in each basic category, so you can see where there were similarities and differences. I only compared true rookies like Bradford to other rookies, and Freeman and Sanchez to second year players.

JOSH FREEMAN, AGE 22, 2nd year in league

The only players to be above average in every passing component in their second year in league, age 23 or younger: Dan Marino, Steve McNair, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre . . . and Josh Freeman. Freeman is the only one that was 22.

What’s there to say? Well, he’s younger than Sam Bradford, and has already put up a well above average season. The comparables aren’t all that comparable because they were all older. The fact that he is similar but better than Collins, Flacco, Leftwich and Elway while being two years younger is a positive. Bucs fans may have thought I was negative about their team this year, because they were winning close games against bad teams, but that doesn’t mean I’m not excited about the future. All aboard the Freeman train.

MARK SANCHEZ, AGE 24, 2nd year in league

These numbers don’t include the playoffs, where Sanchez has seen his yards per attempt and completion percentage rise relative to his regular season numbers. I don’t want to discount that, as he has shown flashes of playing well. The issue for Sanchez and his long term prognosis is completion percentage. He is prone to streakiness where he misses plays that need to be made. The top comp, Banks, was very similar statistically except for one key category-sack avoidance. That’s a positive for Sanchez. The two best players on this list, Eli Manning and Jim Everett, were also good at avoiding sacks at a young age.

SAM BRADFORD, AGE 23, rookie

Only 2 guys threw 500 passes as a rookie, Peyton Manning and Bradford. Manning did it differently, though, with a much better yards per attempt, touchdown rate, and sack rate, and significantly worse interception rate (which is why he doesn’t show anywhere on this list). Mirer is third in attempts for a rookie, and shows up most similar to Bradford, in fact, as the only one with a score over 500.

I know that the national dialogue has been universally in praise of Bradford. I also know that his supporting cast at receiver stunk (in fact, I’m adding to my to do list examining how his group may compare to other rookie starters). I wouldn’t look at this list and say he is going to be a bust, because we truly have very few really similar seasons. His sack rate was much better than Mirer (and improved as the season progressed), and I’m the guy who says you have to look at sack rate in evaluating quarterbacks. I think it shows ability to process information quickly and recognize what the defense is bringing at you.

No, instead, I would look at this list and say let’s not get ahead of ourselves, build this guy up, only to break him down if he is decent, but doesn’t meet our most lofty of expectations. Let’s see what he does when the receivers do improve before we anoint him.

COLT MCCOY, Age 23, rookie

Remember how I talked about sack rate? Well, Colt McCoy’s sack rate is a concern despite his impressive performance in yards per attempt for a rookie. The three guys who also had a good YPA and a bad sack rate as rookies aren’t exactly a riveting bunch, with Peete being the best of the group. I think the Browns should start McCoy over the other QB’s currently on the roster, but I wouldn’t hesitate to create additional competition at the position.

JIMMY CLAUSEN, Age 23, rookie

Not much went well for Clausen as a rookie, as the only thing he did reasonably well was avoid interceptions, which is not the most predictive thing for future success. He held the ball and took sacks at a very high rate, didn’t make plays downfield, and had difficulty even handling snaps at times. I know the conventional wisdom is that rookies get a pass, but I don’t think that’s actually always true. Lomax is a notable name, but he was much, much better at yards per attempt as a rookie. Orton was much better at avoiding sacks. Richard Todd, he was bad across the board, and became a solid starter in the middle of his career.

Clausen’s case isn’t hopeless, but I also wouldn’t rely on him without creating competition next season if I were in charge in Carolina. You would have to convince me that the offensive unit around him was historically bad, for me to believe that he is the solution rather than part of the problem as to why they are selecting first overall in the upcoming draft.

[photo via Getty]

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