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How Well Do Rookie Quarterbacks Adjust To The NFL?

A statistical look at how rookie quarterbacks have adjusted to the NFL from college over the last five years.


Ah yes, the rookie quarterback. Starting with the fateful 2008 NFL Draft, which produced instant starters Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, the NFL has been witness to an upswing of quarterbacks drafted by teams with hopes of replicating the Ravens' and Falcons' magic. Over the course of the previous five NFL Drafts (not including the most recent 2013 NFL Draft) exactly 60 quarterbacks have been drafted. Of these 60 quarterbacks, 12 went on to start at least 12 games (75%) of their rookie year. In this article I will analyze the changes in statistical production experienced by these 12 quarterbacks in their transition to the NFL in an attempt to provide a possible idea of what we can expect from the NFL class of 2013's group of rookie quarterbacks.

Here's how it will work; let’s say John Smith passed for 3,500 passing yards his senior year and John Williams threw for 3,000 passing yards, I would combine these two numbers (6,500 passing yards) and divide them by two (the amount of quarterbacks) to get a combined average of 3,250 passing yards between the two of them.

Now let’s say John Smith went on to throw for 3,000 passing yards his rookie season and John Williams went on to throw for 2,500, I would combine those two numbers (5,500 passing yards) and divide them by two to get a combined rookie average of 2,750 passing yards between the two of them.

At that point I would take the combined averages (3,250 passing yards and 2,750 passing yards) and determine the percentage of change between their combined senior average and their combined rookie average and then I could say that between the two of them they experienced, on average, a 15.385% decrease in passing yards.

One difference is that instead of doing this with my two made up quarterbacks I will be doing this with the 12 quarterbacks who fit my criteria of starting at least 12 games as a rookie. The other difference is that I will be doing this with the "big-six" of quarterback statistics (completions, attempts, completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns, and interceptions) instead of just passing yards.

Below I have provided a table of these 12 quarterbacks' combined senior years, combined rookie averages, and percent change.

*All statistics have been rounded to nearest whole number with the exception of completion percentage which has been rounded to the nearest tenth.

**I used Sam Bradford's junior year as he was injured for the majority of his senior year.

Senior Year/Rookie Year
Pass Completions: Pass Attempts: Completion Percentage: Passing Yards: Passing Touchdowns: Interceptions:
Senior Year 294 442 66.9% 3754 32 9
Rookie year 277 473 58.6 3283 17 14
% Change -5.8% +7.0% -8.3% -12.5% -46.9% +55.6%

As you can see, the statistical transition to the NFL has been less-than-friendly to even the best of rookie quarterbacks in the last five years compared to the numbers they are used to putting up in college. While most quarterbacks end up improving with time, however, these numbers just confirm what has been said for years; rookie quarterbacks generally struggle their first year in the league. This leaves me with one thing to say to the upcoming class of rookie quarterbacks: good luck.