Translating College QB Rushing Stats to NFL

Eli Nachmany examines the impact on the fantasy landscape of recent influx of mobile quarterbacks into the NFL.

| 3 years ago

Eli Nachmany examines the impact on the fantasy landscape of recent influx of mobile quarterbacks into the NFL.

Translating College QB Rushing Stats to NFL


johnny-manziel-threw-his-first-touchdown-pass-and-then-did-the-show-me-the-money-celebrationConventional fantasy wisdom usually advises against projecting college quarterback rushing stats to the NFL, but conventional wisdom is changing.

The theory for a while was that, while quarterbacks may run the ball a lot in college, their rushing numbers are bound to decline in the NFL. Such was true for a while, as quarterbacks like Donovan McNabb, Alex Smith and Jay Cutler learned to stay in the pocket and make an impact with their arm instead of their legs.

That being said, in light of new research, quarterbacks’ college rushing stats are becoming more relevant.

Of the many quarterbacks drafted over the last three years, I evaluated the last 13 starting signal callers to enter the NFL. The list is populated with both stars and busts, but they all have one thing in common: These quarterbacks were willing and able to run with the football in college.

I purposely left three quarterbacks off of the list. Brandon Weeden and Mike Glennon didn’t run the ball nearly enough to contribute anything to the data and I also left Nick Foles off because the offense he runs in Philadelphia decidedly skewed the results.

Also, I factored out sacks from college rushing attempts, as they wouldn’t count against a quarterback’s rushing numbers in the NFL.

What I found was that college rushing attempts are the determinant factor in predicting how much a quarterback will run the ball at the next level.

The chart below shows my findings, with the “NCAA” column representing the player’s total rushing attempts in his final collegiate season and the “NFL” column representing the player’s total rushing attempts in his first NFL season.

Player NCAA NFL
Cam Newton 241 126
Jake Locker 95 26
Blaine Gabbert 89 51
Christian Ponder 77 41
Andy Dalton 78 37
Colin Kaepernick 163 78
Andrew Luck 36 62
Robert Griffin III 152 128
Ryan Tannehill 49 49
Russell Wilson 57 94
EJ Manuel 77 85
Geno Smith 47 72

As recently as 2011, this was an inexact science.

The quarterbacks I evaluated from the 2011 draft class (Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick) ran the ball a combined 743 times during their collective final year in college. The group then combined to run the ball 358 times during their first year in the NFL. As a disclaimer, I extrapolated a number of the quarterbacks’ rookie numbers over a 16-game season, as some of the signal callers in the study didn’t manage to play in all 16 games during their rookie year.

Statistically speaking, during their first NFL season, quarterbacks in the 2011 draft class ran the ball just over 48% as much on average as they did during their final collegiate season.

Of course, that group includes quarterbacks like Ponder and Dalton, who aren’t known to run the ball much. That said, the numbers still show that, as of 2011, rookie quarterbacks were being coached to more or less settle down and win games in the pocket.

The data from 2012 and 2013, however, is mind-blowing.

The quarterbacks I evaluated from 2012 were Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson. Of the four, only Griffin ran the ball less during his rookie season than his final year in college.

Luck, Griffin, Tannehill and Wilson combined for 294 rushes during their final collegiate season and tallied 333 rushes in a combined Year One of their NFL careers. The numbers indicate that, on average, the quarterbacks increased their rookie NFL rushing attempts to over 1.13 times their last college season’s rushing attempts.

The numbers become even more convincing when factoring in the two quarterbacks from the 2013 NFL draft that I looked at. E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith combined for 124 carries during their final year in college, but rushed a combined 157 times in their first NFL season. On average, they increased their carry totals over 1.26 times.

Granted, the sample size is small, but the data has to keep up with a rapidly changing NFL landscape that seems to now value quarterback rushing attempts much more than it has in the past.

Putting the data from the three years together, we find that (over the last three seasons of rookie quarterbacks) field generals, on average, carry over 95% of their rushing attempts over from their last college season to their first NFL season.

Consider that five of the top 10 quarterbacks in ESPN’s Standard Fantasy Scoring carried the ball at least 60 times. Assuming the data holds up, we could see 2014 rookie quarterbacks like Blake Bortles (64 carries in 2013) come close to 60 and other quarterbacks, like Johnny Manziel (125), shatter the number. Teddy Bridgewater (40) could also contribute on the ground.

Times are changing in the NFL, as the mobile quarterback finds himself dominating the fantasy world. Pay close attention to this year’s crop of signal callers; you just may find a fantasy star.

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