Pass Distribution Comparison – Rookies vs. Veterans

| June 23, 2011

For whatever reason, the theory that rookie quarterbacks throw to the tight end more often than veterans has popped up quite often recently. Most of the theorizing seems to surround folks trying to figure out what kind of impact Tennessee’s Jake Locker will have on Jared Cook. The same kind of thinking could also be applied in Carolina (Cam Newton – Jeremy Shockey), Minnesota (Christian Ponder – Visanthe Shiancoe), and Cincinnati (Andy Dalton – Jermaine Gresham).
 
Nonetheless, the theorizing got me thinking: do rookies really favor some positions more than veterans? Taking it a step further, do rookies throw down field less often than veterans? Also, how much less effective are rookies than veterans, if at all?
 
To answer these questions, I studied all the QB-relevant data PFF has to offer and went to work.
 

Sample Size

My sample size for this exercise was simple: Any rookie quarterback who attempted a pass during the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons. This left me with 22 quarterbacks and 3,355 aimed passes (Pass Attempts – Throw Aways – Batted Balls – Hits – Spikes), which makes for a solid sample.
 

Pass Location by Distance

I started off by taking a look at the location of passes by distance. We split the throws into four zones: 20+ yards, 10-19 yards, 0-9 yards, and behind the line of scrimmage.
 
Our first chart shows the sample of quarterbacks, including their total rookie season stats and zone-by-zone breakdown. Although you’re more than welcome to scan over and compare the rookies, I’ll be focusing on the two lines at the bottom: Rookie Total and Veteran Total.
 



Total
%
Yr QB Aim Com Yds TD INT
20+ 10-19 0-9 Neg
10+ Neg-9
2010 Sam Bradford 535 354 3521 18 15 8% 21% 54% 17% 28% 72%
2008 Matt Ryan 402 265 3442 16 11 14% 24% 52% 9% 39% 61%
2008 Joe Flacco 396 257 2971 15 12 13% 24% 46% 17% 37% 63%
2009 Matthew Stafford 350 201 2271 13 20 12% 21% 52% 15% 33% 67%
2009 Mark Sanchez 338 196 2444 12 20 13% 26% 50% 11% 39% 61%
2009 Josh Freeman 271 159 1855 10 18 13% 30% 51% 6% 43% 57%
2010 Jimmy Clausen 260 157 1556 3 9 10% 18% 52% 20% 28% 72%
2010 Colt McCoy 207 135 1578 6 9 15% 21% 50% 14% 37% 63%
2010 John Skelton 118 60 667 4 2 13% 27% 45% 15% 40% 60%
2009 Keith Null 114 73 571 4 9 9% 14% 59% 18% 23% 77%
2010 Joe Webb 86 54 480 0 3 12% 21% 53% 14% 33% 67%
2010 Tim Tebow 74 41 660 5 3 19% 38% 18% 26% 57% 43%
2010 Max Hall 74 39 370 1 6 12% 23% 59% 5% 35% 65%
2010 Rusty Smith 39 20 200 0 4 13% 31% 41% 15% 44% 56%
2009 Brian Hoyer 27 19 142 0 0 0% 15% 56% 30% 15% 85%
2009 Curtis Painter 26 8 83 0 2 15% 19% 65% 0% 35% 65%
2008 Chad Henne 11 7 67 0 0 0% 27% 64% 9% 27% 73%
2010 Tony Pike 10 6 47 0 0 10% 10% 50% 30% 20% 80%
2008 Kevin O’Connell 6 4 23 0 0 0% 17% 67% 17% 17% 83%
2008 Matt Flynn 5 2 6 0 0 0% 20% 60% 20% 20% 80%
2009 Pat White 5 0 0 0 0 20% 20% 40% 20% 40% 60%
2008 Dennis Dixon 1 1 3 0 0 0% 0% 0% 100% 0% 100%
Rookie Total 3355 2058 22957 107 143 12% 23% 51% 14% 35% 65%
Veteran Total 43833 28868 331520 1995 1344 13% 23% 50% 14% 36% 64%

 

Interestingly, our findings tell us that the pass locations of rookie quarterbacks are just about the same as the locations of passes by veterans. The only difference we really see is that veterans trust the 20+ yard pass a little bit more, while rookies focus more on the 0-9 yard zone. There is nothing here that tells us to expect shorter (or longer) pass attempts by a rookie.
 

Pass Effectiveness by Distance

While we’re at it, we might as well check in and see how much less effective rookie quarterbacks are than veterans in each zone.
 


20+ yards
10-19 yards
Player Aim Com Yds TD INT
Aim Com Yds TD INT
Veterans 5510 1881 63639 534 449 10102 5567 94305 575 422
Rookies 402 118 3935 32 43 771 396 6785 30 56
C% YPC TD% INT%
C% YPC TD% INT%
Veterans 34.1% 33.8 28.4% 8.1% 55.1% 16.9 10.3% 4.2%
Rookies 29.4% 33.3 27.1% 10.7% 51.4% 17.1 7.6% 7.3%

 

On passes of longer than 10 yards, we see that rookies complete 3-4% fewer of their attempts than veterans. Yards-Per-Completion is basically a wash, but veterans show a pretty strong advantage in both the touchdown and interception department.
 


0-9 yards
Behind LOS
Player Aim Com Yds TD INT
Aim Com Yds TD INT
Veterans 22032 16103 138437 737 402 6189 5317 35139 149 71
Rookies 1701 1137 9629 35 38 481 407 2608 10 6
C% YPC TD% INT% C% YPC TD% INT%
Veterans 73.1% 8.6 4.6% 1.8% 85.9% 6.6 2.8% 1.1%
Rookies 66.8% 8.5 3.1% 2.2% 84.6% 6.4 2.5% 1.2%

 

The area where veterans are most superior to rookies is completion percentage on 0-9 yard passes. The difference is a whopping 6.3%. Veterans also hold a strong edge in TD rate, but YPC and INT% are basically a wash.
 
On throws behind the line of scrimmage, the two groups are basically even. Veterans still manage a slight edge in all four categories, but it’s safe to say that rookies can manage short passes behind the line just as well as veterans.
 


Total
Player Aim Com Yds TD INT
Veterans 43833 28868 331520 1995 1344
Rookies 3355 2058 22957 107 143
C% YPC TD% INT%
Veterans 65.9% 11.5 6.9% 3.1%
Rookies 61.3% 11.2 5.2% 4.3%

 

Finally, we have some totals. Not surprisingly, veterans prove to be more effective across the board. This is something to consider when evaluating rookie starters.
 

Pass Location by Position





Group 1
Group 2
Yr QB Total
Back Wide Slot Line
HB FB WR TE
2010 Sam Bradford 534 16% 40% 31% 12% 15% 2% 66% 17%
2008 Matt Ryan 413 16% 49% 27% 7% 15% 4% 74% 8%
2008 Joe Flacco 462 27% 44% 20% 9% 19% 8% 57% 15%
2009 Matthew Stafford 346 22% 38% 20% 20% 20% 3% 51% 25%
2009 Mark Sanchez 396 13% 43% 30% 13% 13% 2% 61% 24%
2009 Josh Freeman 267 18% 37% 32% 14% 14% 4% 50% 32%
2010 Jimmy Clausen 258 24% 48% 17% 10% 23% 2% 55% 20%
2010 Colt McCoy 206 18% 40% 24% 18% 17% 1% 48% 33%
2010 John Skelton 118 16% 39% 37% 8% 17% 1% 72% 10%
2009 Keith Null 113 22% 43% 21% 13% 19% 4% 63% 15%
2010 Joe Webb 86 15% 38% 29% 17% 15% 2% 60% 22%
2010 Tim Tebow 73 29% 37% 30% 4% 19% 10% 67% 4%
2010 Max Hall 74 14% 46% 27% 14% 12% 5% 66% 16%
2010 Rusty Smith 39 18% 38% 44% 0% 15% 3% 54% 28%
2009 Brian Hoyer 27 15% 52% 30% 4% 15% 0% 74% 11%
2009 Curtis Painter 26 15% 38% 23% 23% 12% 4% 50% 35%
2008 Chad Henne 11 36% 55% 9% 0% 27% 9% 64% 0%
2010 Tony Pike 10 20% 30% 50% 0% 20% 0% 50% 30%
2008 Kevin O’Connell 5 0% 60% 40% 0% 0% 0% 60% 40%
2008 Matt Flynn 5 20% 60% 20% 0% 20% 0% 80% 0%
2009 Pat White 5 0% 80% 20% 0% 20% 0% 80% 0%
2008 Dennis Dixon 1 0% 100% 0% 0% 0% 0% 100% 0%
Rookies 3475 19% 42% 26% 12% 17% 4% 60% 19%
Veterans 45177 19% 42% 26% 13% 18% 3% 60% 20%

Key: Back (Any player lined up in the backfield). Wide (Any player lined up out wide, not including the slot). Slot (Only players lined up in the slot). Line (Players lined up on the line. This usually will only include tight ends).
 

Next, we bring back our sample of rookie quarterbacks to see which positions they throw to the most/least often. Because some teams line their tight end and/or tailback out wide more often than others, I split the targets into two categories. The first group of four splits them up by the location the player lined up, completely ignoring the player’s “default” position. The second group of four ignores where the player lined up and focuses only on that player’s regular position. For example, if Reggie Bush, a halfback, were to lineup in the slot, he’d fall under ‘Slot’ in Group 1, but ‘HB’ in Group 2.
 
Now that you understand what I did here and why I did it, we can focus on the data. Again, take a look at the two rows at the bottom: ‘Rookies’ and ‘Veterans’. Based on our discoveries from earlier, it shouldn’t be shocking to see that the two rows are about the same. In Group 1, we see that veterans actually favor the in-line tight end slightly more than rookies, but only by a few tenths of a percent.
 
The results are similar in Group 2. Rookies lean heavier on the fullback and wide receiver, while veterans focus more on the tailback and tight end positions.
 

Conclusion

Similar to veteran quarterbacks, the player-by-player splits we saw here today were all over the place. Once you add them up, however, we see a significant amount of consistency. When evaluating the impact a rookie quarterback will have on an offense, do not expect a change in target distribution and location. Instead, you should simply be expecting less production from the passing game across the board.
 
 
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeClay … and our official Twitter feed: @ProFootbalFocus
 
 
[Editor's note: this article was previously published in our fantasy section.]
 

  • kth134

    Great article. This is the kind of stuff that keeps me coming back to PFF.

  • coltsfan88

    I think this disregards or at least understates the development of each player over time. Perhaps you should look at existing quarterbacks’ rookie seasons and most recent seasons to try to determine the difference between rookies and veterans. Then, you can look at the change in pass distributions on a per quarterback basis. Then the average change between rookie season and veteran season can be found. This could account for the differences in the scheme each quarterback was drafted into. Just a thought.

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Mike Clay

      There’s certainly some validity to that, but the sample size here is sufficient enough to allow us to draw some conclusions. The consistency of the data is not coincidental.