Given our pending quarterback situation, a common topic that continues to surface is whether we should start or sit our rookie quarterback. Like everything, each individual example has it's own context. Still, I was interested if there was any correlation between NFL success and starting as a rookie quarterback.
Luckily for us, Pro Football reference has a fancy new player search tool. I used to the tool to produce a couple of searches, one for former players and another for current players.
As it relates to former players, I was really only interested in the elite of the elite. In that instance, I searched for all QB's that began their career in 1969 or later that have entered the Hall of Fame:
The chart above shows these ten Hall of Fame Quarterbacks and the number of games started their rookie years. It's intended to be sorted from Most to Least amount of games started, but for whatever reason Marino's number acts like it's 16 GS (maybe it's meant to compensate for a lack of Super Bowl rings). Anyhow, you can see that there's very little correlation between a meaningful number of starts (Bradshaw and above) and career success.
While I find that information interesting, it's hardly conclusive as teams can obviously be very successful with a QB that isn't quite HOF level, and it also doesn't account for current HOF level quarterbacks. So, I decided to take a look at data from the last 15 years. The first data set I examined was QB's since 1996 that started 8 or more games their rookie seasons:
Again, nothing mind blowing here. In my opinion, there aren't any meaningful conclusions that can be drawn from this table. Really, the only correlations I can see from this search is that high QB draft picks start early and often. Beyond that, there's a hodge podge of excellent, mediocre, and awful QB's littered throughout this list.
Up to this point of the research, I'll admit, I was a little biased with the information. I had run the two searches above, both of which I found interesting, and used them as the premise for this post. In fact, the original title was "No Correlational Data between Starting of Sitting a Rookie QB." So, like many of you, I found the next little tidbit to be quite surprising.
A cool thing about the PFR Search tool is that you can use the cumulative data across seasons. So, my search criteria was for combined seasons from 2006-2010, with at least 32 games started over that period, sorted by passer rating. Put another way, this ranks the most efficient (as ranked by QB rating) passers over the last 5 years provided they've played a meaningful number of games:
So, as compared to the previous list, only two of the top ten NFL Quarterbacks over the past 5 years were thrown into the fire their rookie years (Big Ben and Peyton Manning), and only four of the top fifteen (Flacco and Ryan being the other two).
But, wait, it gets worse. I did another search. This time for combined seasons from 2001-2010, first round draft QB draft picks, at least 10 games started, and ascending by QB Rating.
Yikes! Among top 15 on this list, nine of fifteen started a meaningful number of games their rookie year (8 or more). Even two of Palmer's very own protege's appear on this list (Couch and Carr).
I've generally sided with the "let him sit" crowd, but I expected the data to be much more balanced. Surprisingly, recent data doesn't appear that way. While every situation should be examined individually, I'd argue that there is pretty compelling evidence that sitting your highly drafted quarterback for the majority of the first year is the superior strategy if it can be tolerated. Fans and front offices alike want to see an early return on their high draft picks, but from a "big picture" perspective that may not be the best option. As it relates to the Titans, I think they'd be wise to target a high profile free agent quarterback with the idea to let Locker sit for at least one, and maybe two years.