Friday, April 18, 2014

How quickly can the Vikings' new quarterback get the job done?

(* Note: Jason Winter has submitted another guest post or this blog. This time, the creator of the dearly departed Defensive Indifference Vikings blog wonders how quickly the Vikes should start the young quarterback the team is surely going to draft.

The Minnesota Vikings will draft a quarterback this year. It might be with the #8 pick. It might be with a higher pick, if they trade up, as some say they will do. It might be in the second round. It might be Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Zach Mettenberger – hell, I think even Paul Crewe and Shane Falco have worked out for the team.

But they will get a quarterback. And, given that the other options for the team are Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder, that quarterback will see the field sooner, rather than later. But how realistic is it to expect a young QB to take his team to the promised land early in his career, or even to be successful? Adrian Peterson's not getting any younger, so the window is short, and Vikings fans would love to see him experience the ultimate level of success while he's still wearing purple.

There have been 48 Super Bowls and 96 starting quarterbacks in those games. Here is the list of every QB who threw at least five passes in a Super Bowl during his first through third season in the league. (PFR doesn't include starts in its Play Index.) I'm pretty sure the last three names (Beathard, Eason, and Weese) didn't start their respective games, so that gives us 12 starters out of 96, an even 1/8. Those 12 were an even 6-6 in their contests.

What if we narrow the search to two years? That gives us this list. Subtracting Weese again, that's only six quarterbacks. Kurt Warner is an odd case (on both lists), being 29 years old despite being technically a second-year quarterback. The only rookie quarterback to even throw a pass in a Super Bowl was Elvis Grbac, who threw one in mop-up time in Super Bowl XXIX.

In any event, it's a short list. The chances that a second- or third-year quarterback will lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl is pretty small, and there's no point of even thinking about him doing it in his rookie season. But take another look at that second list. Apart from Marino, every QB on that list is fairly recent. Is this a trend that's become more common in recent years? Could our new QB at least become a solid starter in a relatively short period of time?

I decided to look at the six-year span from 2008 to 2013. That's a little arbitrary of a span, chosen because of the success of 2008 draftees Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, who basically started from day one (though it has another convenience, as you'll see later). More recently, quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and others have stepped into their starting jobs essentially right out of the draft. Could the new Vikings QB pull off a similar feat?

27 rookie QBs threw at least 100 passes in their first season from 2008-2013. Nine of them started every one of their team's games as a rookie. 12 started 15 or 16 games. 18 started at least 10 games, which would qualify the guy as “starter,” in my book.

So, is this a recent trend? Here's the same data from the previous six years, 2002-2007. Only one – David Carr – started all 16 of his team's games during his rookie year. Nine QBs started 10 or more.

The previous six years, 1996-2001, again gives us just one 16-game starter, Peyton Manning, and only six who started 10+ games. And Rick Mirer was the only 16-game starter from 1990-1995, an era where only four rookie quarterbacks started 10+ games.

To sum it all up, taking the data in six-year chunks since the inception of the 16-game season (which helpfully started 36 years ago in 1978):

2008-2013: 16 starts - 9 QBs; 13+ starts - 14 QBs; 10+ starts - 18 QBs
2002-2007: 16 starts - 1 QB; 13+ starts - 6 QBs; 10+ starts - 9 QBs
1996-2001: 16 starts - 1 QB; 13+ starts - 4 QBs; 10+ starts - 6 QBs
1990-1995: 16 starts - 1 QB; 13+ starts - 2 QBs; 10+ starts - 4 QBs
1984-1989: 16 starts - 2 QBs; 13+ starts - 4 QBs; 10+ starts - 7 QBs
1978-1983: 16 starts - 0 QBs; 13+ starts - 1 QB; 10+ starts - 7 QBs

Yeah, young quarterbacks starting early is definitely a recent trend. And the way guys like Ryan, Flacco, Luck, and Wilson have performed, it's been proven to show it can work.

Here's another way to look at it. Over the past six years, nine rookie QBs started all 16 of their team's games. In the previous 30 years of the 16-game schedule, only five rookie QBs managed this. 14 managed 13+ starts over the last six years, and only 17 did that over the previous 30 years. Wow.

All of which brings us back to the Vikings. With this data in hand, I'm actually a little more unhappy about the re-signing of Cassel. Sure, on the one hand, giving our new guy time to get adjusted can't hurt, but it seems that it wouldn't be unusual for him to be able to come right in and perform at a suitably high level, especially with Adrian Peterson to hand the ball off to. And the sooner we get a new QB up to speed, the more time that gives us on AP's ticking career.


  1. So what you're telling me is, that the quarterback who has one Pro Bowl to his record and can play at that level or swing in a bipolar fassion to play abysmally has a better statistical chance of reaching the promised land, than does any rookie?

    Take that anonymous rookie and the veteran QB that tends to cycle between very good and very bad games, put them under the same coaching staff [one that is notorious for getting the most out of quarterbacks], then which of them [barring injury] has the best chance statistically to be successful in the short term?

    I very much like your statistical argument that it takes at least two or three years before that rookie has a chance at being successful in getting a team to the Super Bowl. To me, that would support the age-old argument, that rookie quarterbacks should sit and learn first, to maximize their chance for success later. The three prime examples for that philosophic success were Montana and Young, Bledsoe and Brady, and Favre and Rodgers.

    With this in mind, as well as yours to statistical proof, the answer for this upcoming season should be that; give coach Turner and his staff a chance to work with Matt Cassel optimizing his play and consistency, while at the same time letting rookie QB X learn and get mentored through his transition to the pro game. That would give the Vikings the best statistical chance at reaching the Super Bowl this year, and consistently thereafter once the transition to a learned drafted quarterback that did not start, nor needed to start his rookie year.

    1. Luft:

      I have no preference in this matter. But if you draft a QB high, at least go into training camp with an open mind, let the QBs compete and may the best man win. Letting a young guy sit is fine with me, unless the young guy shows during training camp and the exhibition games that he's clearly better than the vets you already have (i.e. - Russell Wilson in 2012).

    2. Darren,

      I don't disagree with you. I am just saying that based on the statistical argument in the post above, the answer would be to go with Cassel and redshirt whoever's drafted. As we all know, statistics can be wrong and even if they are not, there is always the aberration that defies them. Plus we all know, with a little bit of luck and good fortune, there is always a first time for everything, to include the possibility of a rookie quarterback, who happens to be surrounded by a boatload of talent, to take the Vikings to the promised land.