Pat Sullivan (@_PatSullivan_)
The football world entered last weekend’s NFL Combine looking for one answer; will the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pick Florida State’s Jameis Winston or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota with the first overall selection in June’s draft. Even though a clear-cut answer was not provided, we did learn some insight towards the last two Heisman Trophy Winner’s chances of becoming the face of that franchise. Mariota exceled both on the field and in interviews as expected, and Winston was great on the field and did well enough in the sit down portion with the teams to give them the feeling he is taking this process serious.
The Combine is full of media reports on fast times in the 40-yard dash, hercules like bench pressing numbers and verticals that make you believe people can fly, that take over twitter and the rest of social media for five days or so. While the events are exciting to watch and discuss, is it really a good measure of the athlete and how they will transition into the professional ranks? Let’s take a deeper look using statistics to compare the former Seminole and Duck to see if history can paint a better picture than the results of working out in shorts and t shirts at the Combine.
Both quarterbacks are members of the illustrious Heisman Trophy club with Winston winning by a landslide in 2013 and Mariota winning in equal fashion a year later. It’s important to note that Winston was not invited to this past year’s presentation, as he was not one of the three finalists.
Since 1990 there have been 15 Quarterbacks who have won the award with seven of them drafted in the first round. Of them, only three were taken with the first overall pick; Cam Newton, Sam Bradford and Carson Palmer. While these quarterbacks have all made plenty of money, their results on the field have been less than desirable. Combined this trio of Heisman winners taken first overall are 1-4 in the playoffs. Heisman quarterbacks as a whole are 2-8, with nine of them never making it to the post season.
Quarterbacks taken first overall whom did not win the Heisman award have done much better. This group includes Peyton and Eli Manning, Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Michael Vick who have made it to 31 pro bowls and won five super bowls combined. All of these signal callers were great in college, yet didn’t win the Heisman Trophy. Winston and Mariota have both won the award, so this isn’t to say they won’t be great, but it’s interesting to see how much success the quarterbacks taken first have had than that of the trophy winners.
While touchdowns are the sexy stats for quarterbacks and interceptions are seen as a weakness, one of the truest measures of a player’s effectiveness on the field is their Quarterback Rating, or QBR. This is a statistical measure that combines each throw made by the player and what it meant towards the outcome of the game. Credit is given to the number depending on what happened on every down and how much of the play quarterback contributed.
This statistical figure has been a good guideline to predict whether a quarterback does well as a professional the following year. Consider the following:
· In 2008 Sam Bradford led the NCAA with a 91.6 QBR. His first year as a pro he started all 16 games and threw for 3,512 yards with the team improving from 1-15 before Bradford to 7-9, and a 2nd place finish in the NFC West, with him.
· The next year Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick had the highest QBR in college with an 81.9 rating. He then went on to lead the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance and 3 straight NFC Championship games.
· Andrew Luck topped the list the following year at Stanford with a 93.2 QBR. He then turned professional and has made it to the Pro Bowl every year since. The Indianapolis Colts went 2-14, drafted Luck and finished 11-5 in his rookie season. They have advanced one round further in the playoffs each year he has been under center.
· Russell Wilson is a Super Bowl champion and has made it to the final game in two of his three seasons. Before that he was the NCAA’s leader with a 93.9 QBR.
That is a significant trend, even more so then what pick a player is drafted at or if he won the Heisman Trophy or not. Only Sam Bradford led college football in QBR, won a the trophy and was selected #1 overall. In 2012 another Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, led all of college football with a 90.3 QBR. The following season he dropped to seventh in the nation with an 85.5 rating. That was the year Jameis Winston won the Heisman and was first overall with a 89.4 rating and Marcus Mariota was second with a 88.0. This past season Mariota was the only quarterback with a QBR over 90. Winston dropped all the way down to 18th with a 74.5 QBR.
Touchdowns are a fun stat to keep, interceptions are a good line to avoid and trophies make the mantel look great, however what proves a quarterbacks immediate future when transitioning from college to the professional ranks is their Quarterback rating. In their rookie seasons, the Quarterbacks mentioned above who led the NCAA in QBR went a combined 35-21-1 (61% win percentage) and to this point in their careers are a combined 123-67-2 (64%). They have made the playoffs 9 out of 16 combined seasons with Bradford missing all three years and Manziel’s lone two starts weighing down these figures.
While Mariota and Winston still need to put on the helmet and cleats to compete, using the QBR method, Mariota may be the safer bet. He finished second in the country in both 2012 and 2013 to each season’s Heisman Trophy winner and then surpased them the following year. His ratings have grown every year from 86.2 to 88.0 to 90.9. Winston on the other hand had a significant drop in his rating going not only first to eighteenth in the nation, but 89.4 to 74.5. For a stat that shows the significance of each pass and what it means to the eventual outcome, the Buccaneers, and the rest of the league, want a leader whose numbers improve, not decline drastically.
Using the complicated metrics of the Quarterback Rating system, Marcus Mariota may be a safer bet. Of all the quarterbacks listed in this article, only Andrew Luck has been in the top five QBR ratings in the NCAA for three straight seasons like Mariota. Luck however went from being ranked third to first, then back down to third. His numbers changed from 78.4 to 93.2 before dropping to 82.9 in his final collegiate season. Even Luck, who many think will be this era’s next greatest quarterback, did not show the improvement that Mariota did at Oregon. His rating is unprecedented and his NFL play might just be as well.
We live in a world where stats consume the media. As a quarterback it doesn’t matter how fast you run or how far you jump, it’s about wins and how many you can rack up. Both Winston and Marriota did it better than anyone in college, but what separates the two is how well they played while winning. Marriota won often and played great doing it. Stats don’t lie, and neither will his win total as a starting quarterback at the next level. The Buccaneers might still go with Winston come this summer’s draft and no one will be surprised. Just don’t be shocked when Mariota leads whatever team lands his services to the playoffs in the immediate future.
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