Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rating rookie quarterbacks

I had a spreadsheet on my laptop, with data from the wonderful wonderful Pro Football Reference site up thru 2004, which I had used a couple years ago in examining player performance by age. So I took a look at the passer rating of rookie QBs.

The NFL uses an attempts-per-game threshold to determine eligibility for the passer rating list, so I did the same thing. That column is on the far right, on the table below. But the NFL's threshold is 14 pass attempts per game, which I felt was restrictive. In the list below I've eliminated guys with 7 or fewer passes per game. Passes per game is an odd stat to use as a filter, because you get guys who played like 1 or 2 games and float to the top of this list. See Todd Marinovich, who played in 1 game in 1999, but attempted 40 passes. But it gives us a first look at the data.

I also weeded out some guys who were not rookies (like Marc Bulger 2001); and I threw out Dieter Brock for being ridiculous. Technically a rookie, the 34yo Dieter Brock made his NFL debut in 1985 after 11 yrs as a professional QB in the CFL. I was not consistent about this, I left in some guys who had pro ball careers before getting into the NFL. They are asterisked in the list below.

Here are the top 32 rookie seasons by passer rating from the data available at PFR.
If 32 seems like a weird number to you, realize that I had to include enough guys to get Joe Flacco on the list (he's #26), and the next few guys were interesting so I included them too.

Clint Longley197422dal2122120920122.910.5
Todd Blackledge198322kan4203425930112.38.5
Kevin Sweeney198724dal3142829141111.89.3
Norm VanBrocklin194923ram8325860162111.47.3
Todd Marinovich199122rai1234024330100.340.0
Jim Sorgi200424clt417291752099.17.3
Ben Roethlisbrgr200422pit141962952621171198.121.1
Johnny Lujack194823chi936666116397.57.3
Dan Marino198322mia11173296221020696.026.9
Galen Hall196222was319322742195.110.7
Drew Brees200122sdg115272211094.827.0
Pat Haden197623ram10601058968494.810.5
David Archer198422atl211181811190.39.0
Sam Wyche196823cin335554942289.518.3
Greg Cook196923cin111061971854151188.317.9
Matt Ryan200823atl162654343440161187.727.1
Erik Wilhelm198924cin630564254287.39.3
John Stofa196624mia729574254284.38.1
Edd Hargett196922nor631524030084.18.7
Charlie Conerly194827nyg121622992175221384.024.9
Charlie Batch199824det12173303217811683.525.3
Jim Kelly *198626buf162854803593221783.330.0
Jon Kitna199725sea331453711282.715.0
Shaun King199922tam6891468757482.424.3
Steve McNair199522oti641805693181.713.3
Joe Flacco200823bal162574282971141280.326.8
Doug Flutie *198624chi423463613280.111.5
Jim McMahon198223chi812021015019779.926.3
Mike Boryla197423phi4601025805378.925.5
Roman Gabriel196222ram6571016703278.416.8
Jeff Garcia *199929sfo132253752544111177.928.8

Put some kind of minimum floor on this data, like say 75 or 100 attempts or 6/7 games or both, and the 5 highest rookie passer ratings since Marino belong to Roethlisberger, Ryan, Batch, Jim Kelly*, & Flacco. By the way, I completely forgot about Charlie Batch's rookie season in Detroit. A fine performance. Here's the top list, after requiring 75 pass attempts and 7 games played:

Ben Roethlisbrgr200498.1
Dan Marino198396.0
Pat Haden197694.8
Greg Cook196988.3
Matt Ryan200887.7
Charlie Conerly194884.0
Charlie Batch199883.5
Jim Kelly *198683.3
Joe Flacco200880.3
Jim McMahon198279.9
Jeff Garcia *199977.9
Warren Moon *198476.9
Fran Tarkenton196174.7
Mike Kruczek197674.5
Johnny Unitas195674.0
Ken O'Brien198474.0

Here's another way to look at the rookie QBs: the "thrown to the wolves" list. This is all the rookie QBs over 25 passing attempts per game (min 75 attempts and 7 games played). Kinda gives me more respect for Chris Weinke and Drew Bledsoe and the Throwin' Samoan, Jack Trudeau.

PlayerSeasonAgeTeamGCOMP ATTYardsTD INTQBRatePassPG
Chris Weinke *200129car152935402931111962.036.0
Peyton Manning199822clt163265753739262871.235.9
Jack Trudeau198624clt12204417222581853.534.8
Drew Bledsoe199321nwe132144292494151565.033.0
Jim Zorn197623sea142084392571122749.531.4
Oliver Luck198323oti7124217137581363.431.0
Karl Sweetan196624det10157309180941454.330.9
Joey Harrington200224det142154292294121659.930.6
Rick Mirer199323sea162744862833121767.030.4
Jim Kelly *198626buf162854803593221783.330.0
Jake Plummer199723crd101572962203151573.129.6
Jeff Garcia *199929sfo132253752544111177.928.8
Kerry Collins199523car152144322717141962.028.8
Warren Moon *198428oti162594503338121476.928.1
Butch Songin *196036nwe141873922476221570.928.0
Byron Leftwich200323jax152394182819141673.027.9
Chad Hutchinson *200225dal912725015557866.327.8
David Carr200223htx16233444259291562.827.8
Bob Griese196722mia121663312005151861.627.6
Steve Walsh198923dal811021913715960.527.4
Matt Ryan200823atl162654343440161187.727.1
Dan Marino198322mia11173296221020696.026.9
Joe Flacco200823bal162574282971141280.326.8
Norm Snead196122was141723752337112251.626.8
Troy Aikman198923dal11155293174991855.726.6
Tim Couch199922cle152233992447151373.226.6
Tony Banks199623ram141923682544151571.026.3
Jim McMahon198223chi812021015019779.926.3
Y.A. Tittle195024bcl12161315188481952.926.3
Joe Namath196522nyj131643402220181568.826.2
Jeff George199023clt131813342152161373.825.7
Charlie Batch199824det12173303217811683.525.3
Steve Deberg197824sfo12137302157082240.025.2
David Woodley198022mia131763271850141763.125.2
Ken Dorsey200423sfo912322612316962.425.1

Here are the top 13 rookie yardage seasons. Passing yardage of course is heavily biased toward modern-day QBs, with the 16-game season and the liberalized passing rules.

Peyton Manning19983739
Jim Kelly *19863593
Matt Ryan20083440
Warren Moon *19843338
Joe Flacco20082971
Chris Weinke *20012931
Rick Mirer19932833
Byron Leftwich20032819
Kerry Collins19952717
Ben Roethlisbrgr20042621
David Carr20022592
Jim Zorn19762571
Jeff Garcia *19992544

Peyton Manning really was that far ahead of everyone else. Matt Ryan's season is hella impressive, the #2 "real rookie" season. Flacco heads up the next tier of guys. The one who stands out to me is Jim Zorn. What's a rookie in 1976 doing making this list? Well, he's #5 on our "thrown to the wolves" list, and he also threw 27 INTs that year, the record Manning broke.

Here's rookies with 10 or more TD passes since Marino's season:

Peyton Manning1998262871.2
Jim Kelly *1986221783.3
Dan Marino198320696.0
Ben Roethlisbrgr2004171198.1
Jeff George1990161373.8
Matt Ryan2008161187.7
Drew Bledsoe1993151565.0
Tony Banks1996151571.0
Jake Plummer1997151573.1
Tim Couch1999151373.2
Kerry Collins1995141962.0
Byron Leftwich2003141673.0
Joe Flacco2008141280.3
Warren Moon *1984121476.9
Rick Mirer1993121767.0
Joey Harrington2002121659.9
Charlie Batch199811683.5
Jeff Garcia *1999111177.9
Chris Weinke *2001111962.0
Heath Shuler1994101259.6

More of these than I would have thought. Weinke's asterisks in the above 2 lists are for playing 6 seasons of pro baseball before going back to college. So perhaps it doesn't belong.

The main point of these lists is of course to emphasize how wonderful Joe Flacco's season was. Matt Ryan's season was clearly better – astonishing might not be too strong a word – but Joe Cool's season ranks on the top 5 or 10 lists of best rookie statistical seasons ever, whether we're looking at wins or passer rating or yardage or TD passes.

[Edit: of course the Throwin' Samoan was Jack Thompson, not Jack Trudeau. Sorry, Jack.]


  1. lets just hope he's not a rick mirer

  2. Agree, nicely done. I was gonna do something like this, so you saved me a lot of work!

  3. you've come along way ravens fans


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