Rookie Quarterbacks and Yards per Attempt
It’s rare now for NFL teams to allow a young quarterback time on the sidelines to learn the position before being thrown in the fire. The need for immediate results coupled with the short career span of all NFL players means teams are more willing than ever to risk the lack of experience in a quarterback and players in general. Last year, three of the top four quarterbacks taken in the draft—Blake Bortles of the Jaguars and Teddy Bridgewater of the Vikings in the first round and Derek Carr of the Raiders in the second—started at least 12 games in their rookie seasons.
With the increasing frequency of rookie starters, we’re staring to see some first-year quarterbacks have a lot of success. For example, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III helped to improve their teams by a combined 14 wins from the previous year in their rookie seasons. However, it is still the norm for rookie signal callers to struggle, and that is not always an indicator of a career that will fail to live up to its potential.
Because of the steep learning curve, teams have to look past traditional statistics to decide whether or not they should continue to build around their young quarterbacks. Dynasty owners face the same challenge. Quarterbacks like Carr, Bortles, and Bridgewater were not starter-worthy in shallower leagues last season, and roster spots are valuable especially now in the rookie draft season.
I looked at a variety of different statistics to see if I could find a marker of future success in young quarterbacks, and I believe I found a viable one in yards per attempt (YPA). I reached that conclusion based on a test of the yards per attempt of the best fantasy quarterbacks in their first years with 10 or more starts. To qualify as a top fantasy quarterback, I required that he finished in the top 12 at the position two or more times in the last five years.
There were 14 quarterbacks who qualified. Look at their yards per attempt:
|QB||First Season YPA|
Out of the 14 players that qualified, 100 percent finished with a YPA of 6.0 or more. It didn’t matter if a quarterback passed for 3,000 or 4,000 yards or if they threw for more in interceptions than touchdowns. They all found a way to average six yards for each pass attempt.
Last year’s crop of rookie quarterbacks offers examples from both ends of the spectrum.
|QB||First Season YPA|
It’s fair to say Teddy Bridgewater blew his fellow rookies out of the water. In fact, his 7.3 YPA was not only the best among all rookie quarterbacks but good enough for 14th in the entire league. He definitely makes the cut as far as possible quarterbacks to become a top fantasy option in the future.
The other two rookie starters from 2014 are much closer to the boundary. Bortles just made the cut at 6.1 YPA. Fantasy success following such a season is precedented with Matthew Stafford, but it is rare. Carr’s disappointing 5.5 YPA is enough for me to label him a fantasy bust after one season. Some could argue that the lack of supporting talent around him contributed to his poor performance, but no recent successful fantasy quarterbacks have matched that poor performance despite many sharing challenging situations.
YPA is not an exact science, but I believe it can distinguish the potentially good from the bad. Early success in this metric seems to determine who your dynasty quarterback should, or more importantly, shouldn’t be.