No more than 31 percent of rookie quarterbacks finished better than the league average in any of the four categories. Despite the high expectations set by last year’s class of Luck, Griffin and Wilson, the vast majority of rookie quarterbacks are subpar during their first season. This includes players who are currently considered to be successful quarterbacks around the league: Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Cam Newton, etc.
Thus, if Manuel were to perform better than the league average in any of these categories, he would actually be performing better than the majority of rookie quarterbacks over the past twelve seasons. So, for possible expectations, let’s assume the league averages stay similar, an above average season for Manuel would be to register numbers at that level, which would be: 3,367 yards, 60.7 completion percentage, 22 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 7.09 yards per attempt
Success in Comparison to Team Performance
Since judging solely by league averages doesn’t take into account the talent level of the team, another way to evaluate the success of starting quarterbacks is to look at how they improved their team from the season before. This is where rookie quarterbacks, not surprisingly, fare a little bit better since many of them get drafted by teams whose quarterbacks performed poorly. Since 2000, 13 rookie quarterbacks improved on the team’s yards per attempt from the year before, while 12 improved on the team’s touchdown and interception numbers.
Notice that, although this is a better percentage than before, it’s only between 37.5 to 42 percent. That means that more than 50 percent of rookie starting quarterbacks since 2000 have actually failed to improve their team’s numbers. So, if Manuel were to improve upon Ryan Fitzpatrick’s numbers from last year, he would have had a better season, in terms of the team performance, than more than 50 percent of rookie starting quarterbacks since 2000.
Looking at Fitzpatrick’s numbers that means that the goal marks for Manuel would be: 3,400 yards, 60.6 completion percentage, 24 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 6.73 yards per attempt.
The best way to project a successful season for Manuel is to combine these two statistical seasons. If we take our two sets of landmarks, and take the average, the numbers that would mark a successful season for Manuel would be 3,384 yards, 60.7 completion percentage, 23 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 6.91 yards per attempt.
If he, or any rookie starting quarterback, is able to achieve numbers close to this, they would do what close to 60 percent of rookie quarterbacks have been unable to do since 2000, and be slightly better than the league average. It’s not a high bar, but it’s the reality of the NFL and something all Bills fans need to keep in mind as the 2013 season unfolds.