Right now, the biggest debate among Tampa Bay faithful appears to concern Mike Glennon. How has he played? Is he a future starting quarterback? Do the Bucs need to pass on Jadeveon Clowney or Anthony Barr to take a quarterback? Should we give a rookie third-round pick more than 13 games to show his stuff before moving on?
Part of the answer revolves around standards. As I've argued before, the standard shouldn't be "for a third-round rookie" or "compared to Josh Freeman". The standard should be "compared to available quarterbacks in the offseason", which almost certainly will be in the draft. If a quarterback is available through the draft or free agency, he's not likely to be good -- otherwise why would he be available?
If we judge Glennon's performance by that standard, then I think we can only conclude one thing: Glennon has been okay, but not good enough to pass on someone like Teddy Bridgewater or Marcus Mariota next offseason. We can see that if we look at his film, as Gur Samuel has done for us systematically, but also if we look at his statistics -- despite some insistent claims that he has done well, statistically.
How has Mike Glennon done, statistically?
Those statistics, courtesy of the great Pro Football Reference, look okay at first glance. 60% is generally seen as an acceptable completion percentage, he has over twice as many touchdowns as interceptions and 233 yards per game sounds good. Even his passer rating is 83.1 -- perfectly respectable. It looks a little different when we compare it to league averages, though.
Everything above 100 is above average and a positive. Everything below 100 is bad. You can see that his completion percentage, touchdowns and interceptions are fine, as well as his sack percentage. But one thing should stick out like a sore thumb, and that's yards per attempt. Not only is that far below average, only one NFL starter is putting up worse numbers: Josh Freeman -- and that's mostly due to his time in Minnesota, as he was at 6.1 yards per attempt for the Bucs this year.
The biggest positive is his interception percentage, but there's an issue there too: we're talking about a very small sample size. 204 attempts is a decent amount, but interceptions are a very rare event. A little bit of random chance going one way or the other has a big effect on how many interceptions a quarterback throws. I can remember at least three dropped interceptions off the top of my head, and none of his three actual interceptions were particularly unlucky. With the exact same quality of play, he could easily have thrown 6 interceptions instead of three -- and then his statistics don't look that different from Blaine Gabbert's in 2012.
Going beyond the surface
Yards per attempt is one of the most useful statistics out there. It's simple, easy to use and easy to understand. More importantly, it's a decent indicator of quality of play and it's readily apparent why it's important: the amount of yards gained each time a quarterback throws the ball is quite obviously important. It's also a lot less easily influenced by scheme than completion percentage and interceptions.
It's easy to prop up interception percentage and completion percentage: just look at Alex Smith. If you don't give your quarterback difficult throws, he's not going to throw many interceptions. If you give him easy throws, he's going to complete a lot of passes. Especially so if he tends to take sacks rather than throw away the ball. The Bucs haven't necessarily done that with Glennon, but it's important to keep in mind that not every statistic is equally important.
That's why we have advanced statistics, which are a little split on Mike Glennon, oddly enough. Advanced stats try to look at every play in every game and see how each play compares to a baseline. While these aren't intuitively understandable, they do give a better view of how a quarterback's production contributed to a win or loss.
Advanced NFL Stats' Win Probability Added and Expected Points Added statistics don't like Glennon too much. In EPA per play, he's ranked 33rd. In WPA per game, 39th. ESPN's Total QBR, which tries to add in game charting to distribute blame between quarterback and supporting cast, has Mike Glennon ranked 26th. My favorite advanced statistic is Football Outsiders' DVOA, and that one's more interesting. They had Glennon as the fourth-best quarterback this week, behind Nick Foles, Tom Brady and Case Keenum. Although they haven't updated their season-long statistics yet, a quick guesstimate suggests he'd be ranked somewhere between 15th and 22nd depending on opponent adjustments.
Overall, the advanced stats don't support the conclusion that Glennon is having a good year statistically, either. At least not when compared to the NFL at large.
Scouting over statistics
Ultimately, nothing beats watching the player to determine how good he is -- and nothing beats all-22 coaching tape for that purpose.
If you have NFL Game Rewind, give it a shot. Watch Mike Glennon on each of his throws over the season -- it won't take that long. Pay attention to how he reacts to pressure, to when the ball is out versus when the player first breaks open and most importantly, pay attention to where he places the ball. Can the receiver keep running or does he need to reach behind him? Was the ball where only the receiver could catch it? Did the defender break it up because he just made a great play, or because the quarterback put the ball in the wrong spot? This is why we have Gur Samuel break down each of Glennon's play every week.
Those are the traits that will determine whether Mike Glennon can be a franchise quarterback going forward. Those same traits will determine whether a college quarterback is worth a top five draft pick. Can he handle pressure? Does he throw the ball before the receivers gets out of his break? Where does he place the ball on his passes? Don't get caught up in the narratives -- does he win games, is he clutch, what does his competition look like? Those questions are ultimately meaningless. What matters most is whether or not the quarterback displays the traits necessary to play the position. If he doesn't do that, nothing else matters.
Mike Glennon had a good game against Seattle, facing one of the toughest secondaries in the NFL. He remained calm under pressure, he bought some time when needed and his ball placement appeared to be good, a much-needed improvement over his previous games. If he can keep doing that going forward, there may be reason to believe the Bucs won't need to draft a first-round quarterback next year. But he does need to keep showing those traits -- this can't just be a one-game blip.
If it is just a blip, we're likely to see a new quarterback next year.
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