David Lewin wrote an article in 2006 for Football Outsiders titled "College Quarterbacks Through the Prism of Statistics". The goal of the research done for the article was to find meaningful indicators of success as a quarterback made the leap from college to the NFL. Here's what Lewin found:
College statistics are accumulated in widely different offensive systems against a wide variety of competition, but they are not meaningless when it comes to predicting NFL success. Based on my research, the two most predictive college statistics are completion percentage and games started. Some people have previously looked at college completion percentages, but adding games started to the analysis improves the results significantly. Without games started, for example, statistical analysis would not identify Brett
Favre and Dan Marino as top prospects. (There are other factors that help predict quarterback success, of course, like the quality of the NFL team drafting each player.)
This projection system has been very accurate for quarterbacks drafted over the past ten years. As of now, the projection system only considers quarterbacks drafted in the first two rounds. Quarterbacks taken later in the draft are much less likely to have the talent needed to succeed as an NFL starter, and they are much less likely to get an opportunity to prove themselves. For all the NCAA records that Kliff Kingsbury set at Texas Tech, he has completed just one NFL pass. His numbers were inflated by Texas Tech's system, and he lacks the talent to be an NFL starter. That is why he was drafted in the sixth round, and that is why we have scouts.
How do the current draft prospects stack up? Jump to find out.
Cam Newton 14 Starts 64% Completion Percentage
Ryan Mallett 28 Starts 58% Completion Percentage
Jake Locker 40 Starts 54% Completion Percentage
Blaine Gabbert 26 Starts 61% Completion Percentage
Andy Dalton 50 Starts 62% Completion Percentage
Christian Ponder 34 starts 62% Completion Percentage
Colin Kaepernick 49 Starts 58% Completion Percentage
Ricky Stanzi 35 Starts 60% Completion Percentage
*Pat Devlin - Could not find stats
**Some of these guys may not be drafted in the first two rounds, which is one of the prerequisites of the study.
***This info is taken from ESPN.com . I've added up starts, and calculated career completion percentage on my own, so there could be some slight user error.
It's worth noting that for our purposes this information should not necessarily be used to identify the future quarterback, but rather to help eliminate potential busts. It's a minor distinction, but an important one. Having a bunch of starts and a great completion percentage should be used more as a pre requisite, not as a definitive indicator of future success. Once those pre requisites are met, we can begin to look at things like arm strength, footwork, etc. Obviously no regression analysis is going to be a fool proof predictor, but backward looking research can, and should, be used for evaluating future prospects. With that said, what can we make of the data above?
Let's start by eliminating some of the prospects. Quarterbacks with under 30 starts are ruled out. That removes Newton, Mallett, and Gabbert. Next, we move on to completion percentage. You'd like it to be at least 60%+, but Kaepernick's 58% is close enough to 60 that it can slide. Locker's 54% is way too low, which eliminates him from the list. So, how to the remaining prospects stack up?
1. Andy Dalton 50 Starts 62% Completion Percentage
2. Christian Ponder 34 starts 62% Completion Percentage
3. Colin Kaepernick 49 Starts 58% Completion Percentage
4. Ricky Stanzi 35 Starts 60% Completion Percentage
Dalton is clearly at the top of the list, and the rest of the order is up for debate. I gave Ponder the nod for 2 because of his high completion percentage, Kaepernick at 3 due to his large number of starts, and Stanzi at 4 since he's middle of the road in both. And, really, of all the QB prospects listed above, only Dalton fits into the category of QB's that were never a bust from 1996-2005 which is at least 37 starts and a completion percentage of 60% or higher.
This even furthers the opinion that I've had heading into the draft that Dalton is the best quarterback for the Titans to draft. Does that mean that he's a sure fire pick? Of course not. However, the data above does indicate that he may carry the least risk of any of the available quarterbacks in the first two rounds.