Young Quarterback Similarity Comparisons: Mitchell Trubisky Still Has Plenty of Upside, But Next Year is Make-or-Break

By Jason Lisk

After each season, I like to look back at some individual quarterback statistics and try to put them into some historical perspective. Last year, I said that we should not give up on Jared Goff after his disastrous rookie season, as plenty of highly drafted quarterbacks struggled on bad teams as rookies. We’ll take a look at Goff and other young quarterbacks who had already started before 2017 in part 2 of this series, but for today, we’ll focus on the guys that were under the age of 26 and had never before thrown 200 passes in a NFL season.

That list leaves us with four rookies who played in 2017, and two other guys who were pressed into action because of notable injuries to franchise quarterbacks.

I list for each the ten most similar players within one year of age. For rookies, I only compared them to other rookies (well, with one exception). Using the info and data at, here are the categories I used to create the similarity scores:

Pass attempts, draft position, rush yards per game; plus League-adjusted scores in completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate, interception rate, sack rate, and overall adjusted net yards per attempt.

The nitty-gritty details of what went into creating the similarity scores is at the bottom if you wish to examine. A score of 2000 would represent exact identical stats to our player. The higher the score, the more similarities across the nine categories.*


Deshone Kizer is very young, and the conventional wisdom was that he needed to sit and learn in the NFL. That’s pretty much the opposite of what happened with Kizer being the best of several bad options in Cleveland. The die isn’t fully cast on Kizer because of his age (Matthew Stafford was on a bad team and very young as a rookie), but it may have to happen elsewhere.



Take heart, Bears fans. Despite the bad numbers in a bad offense, Mitchell Trubisky still has plenty of hope, and 2018 will be the make-or-break year, just like it was with Goff and Wentz this year. The coaching hire, and getting him some weapons to see if he is the real deal, are vital. Trubisky avoided interceptions but was otherwise well below average across the board, but plenty of top picks have emerged from rookie seasons.



Jacoby Brissett was pressed into action all year as the Colts starter with the Andrew Luck injury, and was much better than Scott Tolzien (damning with faint praise). The primary problem with Brissett is that he holds the ball, takes too many sacks, and is risk averse. He probably earned himself some opportunities as a high end backup with his play this year–he’d be ideal as a backup on a team with a good defense and running game, so not the Colts–but I also don’t think he should be a starter that a team is going to rely on long term.



If Brissett at least showed some promise, Brett Hundley flopped big time in his audition with Aaron Rodgers out. Most of you probably don’t remember David Archer, Jeff Komlo, and Charlie Frye. Considering that Hundley was playing with an offense where Aaron Rodgers puts up MVP numbers, his dreadful numbers are even worse. Of the 109 quarterbacks at age 24 to throw 200 passes since 1978, only two were less productive than Hundley (John Skelton and JaMarcus Russell) by league-adjusted ANYA (adjusted net yards per attempt).

A Packer does show up further down the list, the year before he became the Magic Man, so at least there’s that.



The 49ers were widely thought to have reached for C.J. Beathard. He didn’t do much to dispel that view, is older than every other rookie on this list, and is firmly cast in backup territory as he got Wally Pipp’d by the trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. (Elway’s inclusion on this list is an oddity and a reminder that he struggled in a part-time role as a rookie once upon a time).



Deshaun Watson was a true unicorn, as no player is even close to similar to the wacky numbers he put up this year: throwing for 19 touchdowns in 6 starts, throwing interceptions at a greater than league average rate, running for almost 40 yards a game. He suffered a knee injury cutting his season short, or those extreme splits might have normalized. Now, we get to see if he comes back from the knee injury to reclaim some of this year’s magic.



Starting with 2000 points, 100 points was subtracted for each of the following:

  • every 100 pass attempts difference between the two players;
  • every 10 points in draft value between the two players (using Chase Stuart’s draft value by draft position);
  • every 10 rush yards per game difference between two players;
  • every 15 point difference (one standard deviation) in the six passing categories between the two players.

Fractional points were deducted. So if our player had a score of 88 in completion percentage, and another player had a score of 93, that would result in a 33.3 point difference subtracted for that category. If a player was within half a standard deviation in all nine categories, then the similarity score would be 1550, representing a reasonably similar season.

For contrast, using the same methodology, but ignoring age differences, the most similar 2017 seasons to Case Keenum were Tom Brady (similar across board but Brady higher in yards per attempt and overall efficiency, neither ran the ball) and Kirk Cousins (Keenum better at avoiding interceptions and sacks). The similarity scores were 1498 (Brady) and 1429 (Cousins) for Keenum. The next 3 most similar to Keenum were Josh McCown, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan, ranging from 1350 to 1400.