Quarterbacks are always a hot topic during Draft Season. Chad Dinkins has put together scouting reports on a number of the top passers in this year’s class. Blake Murphy has a series going about how to scout QBs. Hell, Seth and I make it a year round conversation, starting nearly every episode of our podcast with quarterback talk. Last week on the show, we ran through our 2017 NFL Draft quarterback rankings, and if you haven’t listened to that episode yet, I encourage you to do so when you get a chance. Even with the combine and pro days still to come, I don’t anticipate my order changing. We got through about nine QBs on that show, so you can get a pretty good idea of where we stand and why.
When we look at quarterbacks, of course we know there is no substitute for watching their game film (read: draftbreakdown videos). Chad does a nice job in his reports giving us a comprehensive list of attributes to study when trying to project college passers to the pro game. These include accuracy, touch, arm strength, and poise to name a few - all critical elements to gauging potential success at the next level.
Over the past several years, I have begun to supplement my evaluations with some statistical analysis. I don’t know if it’s predictive (yet) - I certainly don’t claim it to be. Mainly, I’m just interested to see how these draft prospects performed in certain situations and categories during their college careers, and in particular during their final seasons before turning pro. I believe this information can help us fill in some gaps, or at least help us ask the right questions. I did something like this at draftbreakdown last season, but this year rather than compare the quarterbacks to each other, I thought it might be better to break them down individually. To complete this study, I looked at 28 draft-eligible FBS passers, and I’ll give you the details on at least those I consider draftable. (Spoiler: that won’t be all 28) I’ll kick things off this year with the top signal-caller in the 2017 class: Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer
3rd Down Completion Pct - 56.7%
1st Down Pct - 39.2%
3rd Down and Long (7+ yards) - 51.6%
1st Down Pct (7+ yards) - 33.9%
Kizer comes in right around the class averages in completion percentage and conversion rates for both total third downs and third and long. He’s on par there with last year’s class as well. In 2015, Kizer picked up a first down on 47.1% of his total pass attempts, and 39.2% of third and longs. So, he regressed this year on third down right? Not really.
As a freshman, Kizer threw five touchdowns and seven picks on 89 third down passes. In 2016, he threw nine TDs and just two INTs on 97 total third down pass attempts, and that TD-to-INT ratio is well above the class averages for each of the past two seasons. In addition, all of Kizer’s 2016 numbers are skewed by his team’s early October trip to play NC State during Hurricane Matthew. The driving rain and 50 MPH winds that day created some of the worst playing conditions I have ever seen, and yet Kizer was still asked to attempt 26 passes. Frankly, that game should have been postponed, as many others on the East Coast were that day. So what happens if we remove that game?
3rd Down Completion Pct - 59.6%
1st Down Pct - 41.6%
3rd Down and Long (7+ yards) - 56.1%
1st Down Pct (7+ yards) - 36.8%
Without the hurricane game, we see improvement across the board. These numbers are still below his 2015 percentages, but move him into the upper third of the class. We know Kizer was inconsistent this season, especially down the stretch, but he’s generally been an effective third down passer, and again, he significantly cut down on the turnovers in these situations.
Moving the Chains
15+ YD Gains/Pass Attempt - 20.8%
25+ YD Gains/Pass Attempt - 9.1%
Since these stats don’t take “air yards” into account, I won’t dwell on this too much. But these percentages still give us an idea of which QBs are padding completion percentages with short screens, slants and curls, and which ones are taking more shots down the field. Kizer falls into the latter category - his game tape backs it up - so these numbers provide us with some context for his overall completion percentage. More on that in a moment.
Red Zone Completion Pct - 52.6%
Red Zone TD Pct - 26.3%
Red Zone INT Pct - 3.5%
Again, these numbers are somewhat clouded by that hurricane, but Kizer had difficulties passing in the red zone as a freshman as well. Overall, his 2016 red zone stats are decidedly average among the 50 passers I’ve looked at over the past two seasons, but just as he did on third downs this year, he significantly improved on his red zone TD-to-INT ratio. This season he threw 15 TDs and two picks inside the 20 yard line, compared to 11-to-five in 2015.
I’m not sure what, if anything, to take away from these stats just yet. Last year’s top two rookies Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz were both very efficient red zone passers their final seasons of college, as was Jared Goff. Kizer’s red zone passing is middling by comparison. Still, I’m encouraged that he cut down on his turnovers, and he’s added 16 red zone rushing scores over the past two seasons. I was never really alarmed by anything I saw out of Kizer inside the 20-yard line this year.
INT Pct - 2.5%
Fumble Pct - 1.0%
Sack Pct - 5.1%
Kizer threw nine picks in 361 pass attempts, fumbled five times in 490 total touches, and took 25 sacks. These numbers are consistent with 2016-2017 draft class averages across the board, and represent very slight improvements over his freshman season. But I believe the real focus should be on the sacks here, because this is where a strength sometimes becomes a weakness. One of the things I love about Kizer is his ability to hang in and deliver a tough throw amid chaos as the walls close in around him. Of course, if he takes a tick too long to get the ball out, that leads to the sacks. Kizer has the frame to shake off some contact and keep plays alive, but I’d love to see him get the ball out a little more quickly. He’ll benefit early in his career if he’s given more quick-hitting throws than Notre Dame coaches gave him last season.
Completion Pct - 58.7%
Yard per Attempt - 8.1
TD-to-INT Ratio - 2.89
These are a few of the stats that pro scouts like to look at when evaluating quarterbacks. I’ve spoken with Blake about the emphasis placed on these stats, and sure enough, scout-turned-draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah brought up Kizer’s completion percentage on a podcast earlier this week.
This stat makes me bristle because if you take out that hurricane game - again, played in conditions he’s not likely to see again - Kizer completed 60.6% of his passes this season. He completed 62.9% as a freshman, and led his team to a 9-3 record in his starts.
We just saw a quarterback who completed fewer that 60% of his passes in his final college season win the MVP and lead his team to the Super Bowl. Matt Ryan also threw 19 interceptions his senior year at Boston College. But because his team won 11 games, none of that matters.
So what about the two starters Jeremiah referred to on the podcast? One is Trevor Siemian, who led Denver to an 8-6 record as a first-year starter, and the other is Jay Cutler, who has earned $112 million dollars during an 11 year career. If I didn’t know better than to use such arbitrary criteria to support an argument, I might think that completing fewer than 60% of your passes for a losing team during your final season of college was a path to NFL success.
The Bottom Line
Overall, I believe Kizer’s numbers mesh well with what I saw of him on tape. He’s a strong-armed downfield passer who doesn’t appear rattled regardless of down or distance. The inconsistencies in his game can be expected from a 20-year old, but he’s shown the ability to pick up first downs and punch the ball in through the air or on the ground. I do not share the accuracy concerns voiced by some analysts, and to anyone concerned with Kizer’s completion percentage, I would vehemently argue that the North Carolina State game should be thrown out the window, as it is an extreme outlier.