There is a fascinating article over on advancednflstats.com written by Brian Burke that tries to determine whether it is better to start a rookie quarterback immediately or let him sit on the sideline for the first year or two.
The piece uses reams of data that, frankly, I just have to take on faith since I pretty much slept through Statistics in college. However, his conclusion is one that is at the center of the most interesting question facing Lions coaches this year: starting a rookie quarterback right away does not seem to affect his overall chance for success.
Burke’s article has to be taken with a grain of salt since, as he himself admits, it is very difficult to analyze statistics for a question like this. First of all, it is difficult to choose what stats represent a successful quarterback. Some would say only wins/losses matter, though that hardly is a measure of individual ability.
Burke chose the Adjusted Yards Per Attempt stat as an overall gauge of a quarterback’s ability (Passing yards minus 45 yards for every interception per pass attempt). I might have chosen completion percentage or the more generic QB Rating, but he is the mathematician.
Burke then tried to determine the overall potential for each quarterback – another admittedly difficult task. He finally settled on draft position as a crude way of determining potential, analyzing 1st and 2nd round QB draft picks chosen between 1980 and 2004. If nothing else, he designed a method for ranking the best steals and busts at the quarterback position over that time.
His findings showed that there is no statistical evidence to suggest that quarterbacks do worse in the long run if they start as rookies. For every Boller, Couch and (cough) Harrington, there is a Marino, Elway or Manning (two Mannings, actually…three if you go back far enough).
Burke concludes that, based on this analysis, if a coach feels that a rookie quarterback is his best chance to win, there is no reason to “incubate him under a ballcap on the sidelines.” Conversely, there is also no evidence to support the idea that throwing a rookie into the fray early will automatically make him better.
For Lions fans, the study is very pertinent. Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz has stated that he will start Stafford when two criteria are met:
1. When Stafford is the best quarterback on the team; and
2. When Stafford is ready to start. Based on past experience, it is understandable that any Detroit coach would be overly cautious with a young quarterback.
However, if Burke’s conclusion is correct, one could argue that only criterion number one is relevant.