BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
What will the Buffalo Bills get out of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel this season? That is the biggest question surrounding the team heading into the offseason. Although Manuel has been called a project and a likely candidate for a redshirt year, the Bills seem content to let him vie for the starting job.
Since everybody acknowledges that the success of the Bills’ 2013 NFL draft will depend on what they get out of Manuel, let’s take a look at what the realistic expectations are of what Manuel could give. By looking at the results of rookie starting quarterbacks in the new millennium, we can determine what would be a realistic successful season for Manuel or any other rookie quarterback.
In order to set the parameters, I decided that a rookie “starting” quarterback would be one who threw 224 pass attempts in their rookie year, since that is the necessary amount to qualify for the league’s passing efficiency rating. Since 2000, 32 rookie quarterbacks have met those guidelines. Some of the stats were already laid out in an interesting article by Football Perspective, so I’ll just try and put them in a context that’s more geared towards this discussion.
Submitting to the fact that yards per attempt, touchdowns, and interceptions are a solid barometer for quarterback success (I’ve added completion percentage in as well), let’s see just how rookie quarterbacks have fared since the turn of the century and what the average performance would be for Manuel and the rest of the class of 2013.
Yards Per Attempt
Last season’s league average among NFL starting quarterbacks was 7.10 yards per attempt. Of the fifteen quarterbacks that finished above the league average, you find most of the elite quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning), and two rookies (Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson). The four other rookie starters (Andrew Luck, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill, and Nick Foles) were all below the league average.
That one-to-two ratio is actually a vast improvement on the results from the past twelve seasons. Since 2000, seven of 32 rookie starting quarterbacks have finished above the league average in yards per pass — less than 22 percent. If we assume that the league average will remain the same next season then Manuel, or any other rookie who starts, would be among the minority if they better the 7.10 mark in yards per attempt.
A similarly low number of rookie starting quarterbacks have registered a touchdown total above the league average. Since 2000, only four of 32 rookie quarterbacks threw more touchdowns than the league average — less than 13 percent.
Last season’s league average rounds to 22 touchdown passes, a number both Wilson (26) and Luck (23) bettered. From 2000-2011, only two of 26 rookie quarterbacks surpassed the league average in touchdowns.
Another area rookie quarterbacks have struggled in is completion percentage. Only five rookie starting quarterbacks since 2000 have completed a higher percentage of passes than the league average.
Last year, that number was 60.7 percent; Griffin (65.6 percent), Wilson (64.1 percent) and Nick Foles (60.8 percent) had better completion rates, so last year’s rookies more than doubled the effectiveness of the previous 12 seasons.
Rookie quarterbacks have done relatively well when compared to the league average in interceptions thrown. Since 2000, 10 rookies have thrown fewer than the league average interceptions.
That said, that number is just over 31 percent and some of those quarterbacks did not start for a full season, including Trent Edwards, who only threw eight interceptions in 269 passing attempts in 2007.
Last season’s league average was 14 interceptions, a number that Wilson, Griffin and surprisingly Tannehill threw fewer than.