Sunday, October 14, 2012

How Bad is Blaine Gabbert?

Can Gabbert salvage his career?
If you’ve spent any amount of time listening to our podcasts or reading our posts, you should be well aware of the very strong feelings we have towards Blaine Gabbert. Not a feeling of hatred, mind you, as it would seem almost immoral to actually hate someone like him. What would be the point? What good would it do to actually hate someone playing with such an obvious handicap? You wouldn’t hate an elderly person for forgetting where they parked, would you? So why hate Gabbert when he clearly doesn’t have the talent to be an NFL quarterback?

Nevertheless, Gabbert is an NFL quarterback – and a terrible one, at that. Handicap (lack of talent) or no, the heavy criticism and widespread mocking are completely warranted. His 19 career starts have been a complete disaster, begging the questions of a.) why he was ever drafted so high and b.) why in the world Jacksonville continually runs him out there. As to the first question…I have no earthly idea. Heading into the draft, I called Gabbert a “second or third round prospect, at best” and even that seems like a gross overvaluation given how things have turned out.  As to the second question…I once again have no earthly idea. Stupidity? Arrogance? Stupidity and arrogance? Who knows?

What we do know is that Gabbert has been bad, but given his age and inexperience, it’s worth wondering just how bad he’s actually been. Young starting QB’s typically struggle, after all. Maybe the Blaine Gabbert Experiment hasn’t gone as poorly as we all thought. 

Uh, no. Not even close. 

To get an idea of how bad Gabbert has been I compared his numbers through 19 starts to those of similarly young and inexperienced starting QB’s through their first 19 starts. Beginning in 2000, I collected statistics from QB’s who met the following criterion: 1.) Must have started a minimum of 10 games in their first and second seasons combined and 2.) Must have hit 19 starts by the end of their third season. This ensures the sample includes only players who were similarly thrown into the fire early on without the benefit of much development time, ruling out third year starters like Chad Pennington and Philip Rivers. Keep in mind; this is a straight 19 game to 19 game comparison. The results are, predictably, grim for Gabbert.

Be warned, the following will include an inordinate amount of data. Proceed with caution.

The Sample Group

Counting Gabbert, there were 33 quarterbacks since 2000 that met both criterions. For whatever reason, I was not expecting there to be that many, though I’m pretty happy it turned out that way since the sample size will make the results much more meaningful. Below is a complete listing, with stats, of all 33 players. I have broken them down into tiers based on how effective they were in those initial 19 starts. This will give us a much more accurate idea of where Gabbert stands within this group as opposed to simply ranking them 1-33. 

Please note that players are not ranked within the tiers. Also note that I am aware of the imperfections in judging Gabbert in this way. There is no one way to perfectly evaluate how good/bad Gabbert is, especially when it involves also evaluating others. Shy of watching every second of every game from every player I will list; comparing samples of their statistics is the best thing I have at my disposal. It won’t tell the whole story, but it will tell quite a bit of it.

 Tier 1 - Elite


ATT
COMP%
YDS
Y/A
TD
INT
QB Rating
Tom Brady
619
65.4%
4363
7.0
31
18
90.6
Carson Palmer
629
64.5%
4470
7.1
31
20
88.7
Ben Roethlisberger
405
64.9%
3628
9.0
26
11
103.6
Jay Cutler
535
63.2%
4097
7.7
27
17
90.2
Matt Ryan
525
61.9%
4088
7.8
21
12
89.9
Cam Newton
600
60.5%
4849
8.1
23
22
83.7

This group clearly separates themselves in their ability to immediately perform at a high level. They all completed a high percentage of their passes, they all maintained solid to very good Y/A averages, and with the exception of Roethlisberger, they were all trusted to carry a large load of their team’s offense very early in their careers. Disregarding Newton, since he’s in just his second season, everyone on this list has gone on to have excellent careers, with Brady and Roethlisberger winning multiple Super Bowls and making themselves mortal locks for the Hall of Fame. Palmer looked like he might join them until Kimo von Oelhoffen (and typical Bengals bad luck) intervened, while Ryan is currently having an MVP-type breakout season. Clearly, in the case of these guys, early success was a good predictor of future success.

Tier 2 – Solid


ATT
COMP%
YDS
Y/A
TD
INT
QB Rating
Joe Flacco
532
61.1%
3810
7.2
20
14
84.4
Andy Dalton
611
59.7%
4265
7.0
26
16
84.2

Just a notch below the Tier 1 guys, but not too far. Dalton’s performance is more impressive to me in that he was entrusted with a far larger role in the offense and was able to orchestrate some big plays throughout the season. Regardless, both were very impressive.

Tier 3 – Flashes of brilliance


ATT
COMP%
YDS
Y/A
TD
INT
QB Rating
Michael Vick
515
52.2%
3370
6.5
17
11
75.0
Derek Anderson
623
56.5%
4409
7.1
32
26
78.4
Matthew Stafford
710
57.0%
4531
6.4
34
25
77.5

As a group, these three were less accurate, less effective at getting the ball downfield, and less able to avoid turnovers than the guys above them. Anderson is clearly the ugly duckling of this group, having completely bombed thanks to his legendary inaccuracy. In retrospect, it's now weird that Anderson's first 19 starts almost identically mirrored Stafford's. However, while Anderson is the easy target from Tier 3, let's not totally let Vick and Stafford off the hook. They've been stellar in stretches, yes, but they've also been plagued continuously by many of the same issues they had in these first 19 starts. In Vick's case, it seems clear he'll never be anything more than he was as a young starter. Stafford seemed to take that next step last year, but has fallen back substantially in the early goings of 2012. We'll see how things turn out for him.

Tier 4 - Inconsistent


ATT
COMP%
YDS
Y/A
TD
INT
QB Rating
Drew Brees
645
59.8%
3938
6.1
20
22
73.5
Patrick Ramsey
591
54.7%
3707
6.3
24
17
75.3
Byron Leftwich
608
58.7%
4059
6.7
19
20
75.5
Eli Manning
604
50.7%
3793
6.3
26
21
70.3
Jason Campbell
608
57.6%
3897
6.4
22
17
77.2
Vince Young
461
54.9%
2811
6.1
14
18
67.1
Trent Edwards
520
61.7%
3526
6.8
15
17
77.8
Chad Henne
638
61.8%
4238
6.6
20
19
79.3
Mark Sanchez
467
54.8%
3155
6.8
20
20
72.3
Josh Freeman
576
57.8%
3938
6.8
24
23
76.0
Sam Bradford
698
58.6%
4197
6.0
20
16
76.0
Colt McCoy
615
59.3%
3908
6.4
19
17
76.8

Tier 4 is, by far, the largest tier as it encompasses the prototypical young QB, the inconsistent, up-and-down, mixed bag type of guy. Some, like Brees and Manning, fought past their early struggles and turned into superstars. Most did not, however. Currently, only five of the twelve are still starters and even that is a deceptive number. Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman could be nearing the end of their respective rope unless things turn around rather quickly, while Sam Bradford has yet to regain the form he displayed at the tail end of his rookie season.

Tier 5 – Total Disaster


ATT
COMP%
YDS
Y/A
TD
INT
QB Rating
Blaine Gabbert
553
51.5%
2958
5.3
17
14
67.0
Quincy Carter
523
54.7%
3568
6.8
16
19
71.1
David Carr
540
52.8%
3242
6.0
11
19
63.2
Joey Harrington
659
51.1%
3472
5.3
20
27
59.7
Kyle Boller
486
55.6%
2796
5.8
14
15
69.1
J.P. Losman
502
57.6%
3210
6.4
16
16
74.0
Alex Smith
481
57.0%
2984
6.2
13
23
64.5
Charlie Frye
555
62.7%
3432
6.2
14
21
72.7
Kyle Orton
469
52.5%
2497
5.3
12
15
63.2
JaMarcus Russell
474
53.2%
3025
6.4
15
13
72.1

Here’s our guy, residing in the bottom tier with the likes of Joey Harrington and Charlie Frye. Not a good sign for Jaguars fans since only Alex Smith made it out of this group alive, and even then it took him nearly a decade just to become an above-average game manager.

A few observations from the stats above:

1.  Joey Harrington very well might be the worst QB in recent history. I knew he was bad, but I didn’t know he was that bad.

2. Based on the numbers, Gabbert’s comps would be David Carr, Kyle Boller, and Kyle Orton. That’s…sobering.

3.  The guy currently backing up Gabbert, Chad Henne, absolutely crushes him in this comparison. In fact, Henne was fairly solid, though not spectacular by any means. 

4.  The following guys outplayed Gabbert in their first 19 starts; Patrick Ramsey, Byron Leftwich, Vince Young, Trent Edwards, J.P. Losman, JaMarcus Russell. JaMarcus Russell Freaking Russell for goodness sakes! Old ‘Purple Drank’ himself! 

The most important observation, however, is just how predictive early performance seems to be. Outside of Brees and Manning, there isn’t anyone who progressively developed into a star QB. Those players who started out slow tended to continue that level of performance with little to no improvement, while the Tom Brady’s and Ben Roethlisberger’s of the world tended to play at a high level from the get-go. That’s not to say they were fully formed All-Pro’s the moment they entered the league, but they were immediately able to handle plenty of responsibility and provide substantial value to their team. This has been the case for nearly every great QB, from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning all the way back to Dan Marino and John Elway.

Based on this, there can’t be much hope for Blaine Gabbert. This is a guy who, among these 33 players, is second to last in completion percentage, third to last in passing yardage and tied for last in Y/A. Jacksonville’s passing offense hasn’t just been struggling, it’s been sinking like the Titanic, and Blaine Gabbert has been the gaping hole allowing water to pour in the ship. 

Can he turn things around and be the next Drew Brees or Eli Manning? I guess, technically, there’s a chance. While the numbers are pretty overwhelming, there’s always the ‘unknown’ factor when it comes to young players. Guys develop at very different paces and there remains the chance that Gabbert will experience a renaissance at some point in his career. Just don’t expect it, because it probably isn’t happening. Out of the 22 players in the last two tiers, only three turned out to be productive NFL players (jury still out on Bradford, obviously), and Gabbert compares extremely unfavorably to two of them; Brees and Manning. Brees had an extremely positive rookie season (3284 YDS, 60.8%, 17 TD, 16 INT) before bombing in year two, while Manning's TD rate and arm talent marked him as a clearly un-Gabbert type of QB. 

There's an easy conclusion here, and it's that the Jaguars need to move on sooner rather than later. Too many NFL teams stubbornly stick with their young starters, hoping they'll suddenly "figure things out." In the vast majority of those scenarios, all those teams accomplished was wasting two or more seasons worth of starts on guys like Joey Harrington and JaMarcus Russell. Just because you're a young player does not mean you will automatically develop and get better. More often than not, if you can play, then you can play. Well, we're 19 games into Blaine Gabbert and one thing is clear, he cannot play. Time to move on.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post a Comment