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The Young Guns: A Look at Quarterbacks Under 25

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When the old guard retires, who is going to take their place? This column introduces a series looking into which new quarterbacks are going to become the mark by which others are judged.

NFL Pro Bowl Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Brady and Brees cannot play forever. At some point, the current old guard will move on. Who is going to take their places?

Overview

Over this season, I plan on tracking every quarterback born in 1994 or later. The cutoff might seem arbitrary, but “25” is a pretty good age to use as a boundary for players who are still maturing versus those who should have arrived already. I can’t convince myself that Blake Bortles (born in 1992) is an unknown quantity, and Marcus Mariota (who will be 26 by November) is just a little too long in the tooth.

I sort of want to fudge things to look at Carson Wentz (also born in 1992) or even Dak Prescott, but both of them are already 26. I want this to be a younger crowd, because I’m not looking at the “now” of the NFL. I’m instead curious as to who is going to carry the torch once the current generation is put out to pasture. Despite the age cutoff, I also ruled out Jameis Winston, who is about to head into his fifth professional season despite fitting the age range. I just can’t convince myself to categorize him as an up-and-coming quarterback.

Each young quarterback who has at least 10 starts and at least 300 pass attempts by January 1st, 2020 will be ranked based on four criteria, and those criteria are going to be public ahead of time. We will check in on our prospects periodically during this season, but for now the qualifying candidates are: Jared Goff, Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, and Josh Rosen. Lamar Jackson only has 7 starts under his belt, but it’s almost certain he’ll make the cut, too, by the end of the season. Obviously, the 2019 draft class could end up qualifying as well: Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones, and Dwayne Haskins might all qualify by the end of the season, even if Broncos fans are probably hoping Drew Lock gets nowhere close.

Here are the four categories I will be tracking the candidates in. For each, I’ll report the number itself and then also index that number to the average of the group.

Promise

What a fanbase wants in a shiny new quarterback is a reason to get excited. The player needs to show that he has what it takes, at least occasionally. Therefore, I will track each Young Gun’s adjusted net yards per attempt, but only across the best eight games of his career. There is no evidence to suggest that an eight game sample is more significant, and no reason to rationally think that this establishes an actual level of sustainable performance. Instead, this is purely a measure of the developing quarterback’s ability to at least promise fans that he will someday be elite.

So far, the seven qualifying quarterbacks have attempted almost 5,000 total passes (including sacks). Obviously, a player’s best eight games better land north of the average for the group, which at this point is 6.33 ANY/A.

Clutch

It is arguable whether or not such a thing as “clutch” really exists, but there is a persistent belief that some players are able to deliver when necessary. To that end, I will track each player’s career passer rating when trailing in the last four minutes of a game and in overtime.

There is a slight chance that this will allow a quarterback to put up so-called “garbage time” stats while trailing by multiple scores, but each quarterback will have access to such padding, and it should be more than possible to analyze the numbers once they come in.

So far, if the young guns in this series have a weakness, it’s in this category. Their composite passer rating when trailing in the last four minutes and in overtime is a mere 72.0. They have some work to do if they want to catch up with the legends.

Reliability

Bears fans know how painful it can be to leave the game resting on the foot of a kicker. Therefore, I want to know whether or not the quarterback gets the ball in the endzone. I will track each player’s rate or touchdowns scored per drive. I am not going to nitpick. If the quarterback puts together a drive that ends in a touchdown, it counts. Trubisky can run the ball in himself, or hand it off to Montgomery, or complete a shovel to Burton, or drop a long bomb to Robinson. If a QB gets six instead of three (or nothing), it counts.

I might exclude from all totals drives wherein the quarterback never attempts a pass (e.g. Patterson returns the ball to the 5 yard line and then Cohen runs it in), but I don’t want to split hairs. For a player like Trubisky, this also rewards him for keeping drives alive with his legs, but not if the drive stalls anyway.

The seven quarterbacks who already qualify for this project have (collectively) scored touchdowns on 22.5% of their drives. Mahomes has delivered on an amazing 37.4% of his drives, while Rosen has only delivered touchdown drives 13.3% of the time.

Let down

The sad trombone part of the series. I want to know how often a player defeats himself and his own team by looking at the number of fumbles committed, sacks taken, and interceptions thrown compared to the total number of snaps taken by the quarterback. Does the player get out of his own way? Is he keeping his team from winning? If so, then it puts a little tarnish on the shininess.

The young guns in the mix so far have a failure rate of 6.1%, with that number skewed pretty heavily by the brutal treatment given Josh Rosen (sacked on more than 10% of his pass attempts). Rosen probably isn’t going to see things improve, as he seems to specialize in getting picked up by teams that want to tank for the future.

Obviously, as a Bears fan, I know who I want to be in the top of each of these categories. The real question will be which quarterbacks really do distinguish themselves?