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How will Freeman fare in the future? Part I

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With all the hoopla surrounding Josh Freeman and the back and forth of his season, as well as the attempts to place him historically against other quarterbacks, I figured a look at other quarterbacks in similar situations may help us get a better idea of where Freeman is as a player and where he may be headed. (To view all graphs, you can set your viewing to "Wide" as opposed to "Narrow" or you can click on links at bottom)

In the 2009 NFL draft, the Bucs hand selected the quarterback that they hoped would take them back to the NFL promised land.  Josh Freeman was taken with the 17th pick of the draft and instantly become seen as the franchise QB for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  But the 2009 season was not flawless for Josh Freeman and featured mistakes, mishaps, and road bumps along the way.  We have his rookie year numbers and have dissected those to the point of exhaustion here on Buc 'Em.  This begs the question, "What's next for Freeman?"

Rather than just throw out some arbitrary projections and numbers that attempt to evaluate and predict how he will do in the next few years, we'll take a look at some other quarterbacks that have items in common with the young Bucs QB.  The goal here isn't to nail down Josh's future, or pigeonhole him as a one trick pony, but to perhaps give us an idea of what we can expect. 

The toughest part is a willful admission;  predicting future performance is not an exact science.  There are far too many variables, unknowns, and parts to the equation that can either exist or differ from our assumed path for anyone to have a reasonable chance to predict the future of an NFL player.  There have been "sure things" like Ryan Leaf and Todd Marinovich that have fizzled out.  There have been unknowns like Kurt Warner and Tony Romo that have ascended the charts of NFL quarterbacks.  And then there are the "late bloomers" like Matt Cassel, Jeff Garcia and Tom Brady who have become solid if not spectacular. 

The toughest part to quantify is how surrounding talent and a system affects each quarterback.  A good or bad system can improve or de-value a quarterback.  If you took the relatively immobile Peyton Manningandput him behindthe 2002 Houston Texans offensive line or 2009 Green Bay Packers line, how would he have done?  Conversely, how would David Carr have done with a running game like Ben Roethlisberger enjoyed his rookie year? 

The determinations are left to opinion only with no ability to project or determine how each piece of the puzzle impacts the quarterback.  There is no magic switch or set of figures that allows soemone to predict future performance, but that doesn't mean we won't try.  We're going to look at quite a few quarterbacks, and over several articles, we'll look at how those quarterbacks fared their first year of starting, what improvement or movement we saw in the next few years, the total career arc of these quarterbacks (to date) and ultimately try to project a path for Freeman.  Hit the jump to take a look into the future of Freeman and a comparison to the early years of several quarterbacks.

Historic comparisons are not my cup of team, mainly due to either the lack of data available, the variance among teams and personnel, and the evolution of the game.  For the next few articles, we will be looking at a selection of 17 quarterbacks.  In trying to look at Freeman and his potential career arc, I wanted to look at a few items.  I wanted to look at his performance in his rookie year as compared to other quarterbacks in their first starting year and then look at how those quarterbacks progressed or regressed during their career. 

In order to draw any believable comparisons, I had to determine some filters and criteria on which to select a sampling of NFL quarterbacks.  I looked only at those quarterbacks who started for their NFL team in either their rookie year or second year with the team.  I looked for non-scramblers that could pick up a first down if needed, but were largely content to stay in the pocket.  I also tried to focus on quarterbacks who were 6'3 or taller.  And, in large, I settled on quarterbacks who were taken in the first few rounds of the draft.  The last, and least important piece of information I used was their length of career in the NFL.  I omitted recent picks as there is no real data on hand to use as a predictive tool.  I looked at those quarterbacks who had at least 4 years in the NFL in an attempt to strengthen the sample size.  There may be other quarterbacks who fit the criteria that I did not choose, nor do I think this is an all-inclusive list of players.  My goal was to determine quarterbacks with a similar make up amongst Freeman's contemporaries to give us an idea of where Freeman stands in year 1 and project outwards from there.

The group I came up with consisted of these players, in no particular order:  Kyle Boller, David Carr, Ben Roethlisberger, Alex Smith, Charlie Batch, Kerry Collins, Daunte Culpepper, Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Bledsoe, Gus Frerotte, Brian Griese, Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb.  A lot of players, but my intent was to findenough data from a wide range of years, teams, and offenses to hopeful minimize any sampling issues.  Please note that there are not definite conclusions or comparisons, nor are they intended to exactly peg Freeman's talent level. 

Now that all of the selection and disclaimers are out of the way, lets dig into the first part of our analysis.  The rookie year.  Please note that in this context, I am using "rookie year" to mean the first year where a quarterback starts.  To look at these quarterbacks, lets refer to the chart below, which gives the common statistics for a quarterback.

  Comp Att Pct Yds Avg TD Int Sck Rate
Smith 84 165 51 875 5.3 1 11 29 40.8
Carr 233 444 53 2592 5.8 9 15 76 62.8
McNabb 106 216 49 948 4.4 8 7 28 60.1
Batch 173 303 57 2178 7.2 11 6 37 83.5
Roethlisberger 196 295 66 2621 8.9 17 11 30 98.1
Brady 264 413 64 2843 6.9 18 12 41 86.5
Boller 116 224 52 1260 5.6 7 9 17 62.4
Culpepper 297 474 63 3937 8.3 33 16 34 98
Freeman 158 290 55 1,855 6.4 10 18 20 59.8
E. Manning 95 197 48 1043 5.3 6 9 13 55.4
Griese 261 452 58 3032 6.7 14 14 27 75.6
Frerotte 199 396 50 2751 6.9 13 13 23 70.2
Collins 214 433 49 2717 6.3 14 19 24 61.9
Leftwich 239 418 57 2819 6.7 14 16 19 73
P. Manning 326 575 57 3739 6.5 26 28 22 71.2
Bledsoe 214 429 50 2494 5.8 15 15 16 65
Harrington 215 429 50 2294 5.3 12 16 8 59.9

A lot of numbers to digest from that table.  Lets break it down stat by stat and see how Freeman stacked up when comparing rookie year to rookie year amongst his peers.  To further clarify and avoid situations where Player A started 16 games and Player B only played in 8, we will look at each figure in terms of Attempts Per Stat, or, in plain English, how many attempts did he average per touchdown, interception, sack etc.

The first number we'll look at is completion percentage.   This does not need to be adjusted for any other metric, but we of course realize that each offense highlights different passes, some easier, some harder than others.  Freeman comes in 8th out of the 17 quarterbacks we are looking at for this study with a completion percentage of 54.5%.  He is sandwiched between two number one picks, just ahead of David Carr and just behind Peyton Manning.

In the "Avg" column, which is Yards Per Attempt (YPA), Freeman checks in at 9th of 17 quarterbacks, with a YPA of 6.4.  Freeman once again checks in one spot lower than Peyton Manning.  Thus far, Roethlisberger and Brady have been at the head of the pack in each category.

Now, to look at the next few stats (touchdowns, interceptions, and sacks), we'll look at those in terms of number attempts per stat.  Touchdowns is where we'll start.

Within our list of 17 quarterbacks, Freeman averaged a touchdown pass every 29 attempts, which was good for 8th place on our list.  David Carr came in second to last with a touchdown pass approximately every 49 attempts, and the bottom of the barrel passer for this stat was Alex Smith who tallied a TD pass every 165 attempts.  Ouch!  The leaders were Culpepper with a touchdown every 14.36 attempts, followed up by Big Ben every 17.35 attempts.

An easier way of looking at this is provided by the graph below.  The lower right hand corner is the grouping we want to see.  This indicates a high number of TD passes at a low number of attempts for each TD pass.  The high left grouping occupiedby Alex Smith is the area to stay away from. 

 Attempts per TD with all QB Next, lets look at everyone's bugaboo, the interception.  Again, we'll look at this as the number of attempts per interception.  Here, Freeman struggled.  Now, we can point to his limited number of starts and say he never had the chance to get that 15th and 16th game under his belt, or we can call it what it is, a young QB who struggled to make the right reads.  This is not indicative (at this point) of career issues, but to dismiss it entirely would be foolish.  Freeman was second to last here with an interception thrown every 16.11 attempts.  Only Alex Smith was worse, with a pick thrown every 15 attempts.  On the flip side, Charlie Batch led the list with an interception thrown every 50 attempts.  Pretty impressive when you consider the next guy on the list was Brady at one pick per 34 attempts.


In graph form, we see that Freeman is in that grouping we don't want to be in.  Freeman was 3rd on that list in terms of interceptions and was tied for least amount of games played. 

Attempts per INT for all QB

When looking at sacks per attempt, we start to get to our fuzzy data, where drawing any conclusions is difficult to do.  We won't use this data or weight it too heavily when looking ahead, but for a one year data point, lets evaluate where Freeman stands.  He averaged getting sacked once every 14.5 dropbacks.  This was good enough for 9th place on our list.  Joey Harrington led the way, getting sacked once per 53 attempts, doubling the next two guys (Manning, Bledsoe) at 26 attempts per sack.  Ont he wrong end of the column is Alex Smith (I'm seeing a theme here) at one sack every 5.7 attempts and David Carr, who took a sack every 5.8 attempts in his record setting rookie season.

The last figure we will look at in Part I is quarterback rating.  For those who don't know, a passer rating takes into account completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns and picks.  If you want to look up the formula, I've included a link here, along with a calculator here

When comparing our list, Josh Freeman came in third to last sporting a passer rating of 59.8, only "trailing" Alex Smith with a rating of 40.8 and Eli Manning with a rating of 55.4.  Ben Roethlisberger and Daunte Culpepperwere at the head of the list with ratings of 98.1 and 98 respectively. 

To see a visual comparison, refer to the graph below. 

QB Rating all QB

 Now that we've looked at the first year of data, what conclusions can we draw?  We can determine where Freeman sits relative to these selected other quarterbacks for their rookie years, but no predictive results can be drawn, yet.  Freeman didn't drift towards the head of the pack in any categories, but unless we are set to ignore all future stats for any quarterback, it doesn't mean much, other than, this is who Freeman was Year 1.  He tended to settle in at the bottom of the pack in Attempts per INT and QB Rating, but without sufficient data (sample size issues), we can not infer that this trend will continue.

This concludes part I and the look at a sampling of rookie quarterbacks and their numbers.  When we pick up with part II, we will look at how each of these quarterbacks did in the next two years.  We will look at the same stats for those years and try to determine what progress was made, if any, and what this might mean for Freeman.  Thanks for taking a read through and feel free to discuss or post any questions in the comments section.

In case any of the graphs above were not viewable for you, here are direct links to photobucket to use.  Once you hit the link, the picture should show up.  For optimal viewing, click the "Zoom In" button on the top left of picture.

Attempts per TD,  Attempts per INT, QB Rating