How Good Was Doug Flutie?

Doug Flutie has finally left the building. Flutie retired today, ending a twenty-one year career that took him from the USFL (is he the last survivor from that league?), the NFL, the CFL, and back to the NFL. He will be remembered most often for winning the 1984 Heisman Trophy, an award given at least partly for his Hail Mary completion that defeated the Miami Hurricanes that season.

After winning the Heisman Flutie spurned the NFL for the USFL. But in 1986 he finally came to the NFL, playing one season for the Bears and then three years for the Patriots. In those four seasons, though, he never attempted 224 passes in a season – which is the amount needed to qualify for the quarterback rating leaders.

After eight seasons out of the NFL, Flutie came back in 1998. Over the next four seasons Flutie did finally play enough to qualify for the quarterback rating leaders. So how good was Flutie?

As we note in our book, the NFL’s quarterback rating system is not a complete measure of productivity – since it leaves out fumbles and rushing performance – nor is it as accurate as it could be. In this forum we have mentioned a Net points per Play, which is both more complete and accurate. We also have an additional measure of performance called QB Score. Like Net Points per Play, QB Score is both accurate and complete. It is also very easy to calculate.

QB Score only uses three stats: Yards gained – either with arm or legs, Plays – which includes passing attempts, sacks, and rushing attempts, and Turnovers – which includes interceptions and fumbles. QB Score is calculated as follows:

QB Score = Yards – 3 X Plays – 50 X Turnovers

That’s all one needs to do to assess a quarterback’s performance in the NFL. The average quarterback will have a QB Score of 40 per game. In Flutie’s first full year as a starter – fourteen years removed from Boston College – he posted a per game QB Score of 83.8. So his performance doubled the average signal caller. In 1999 his per game measure dipped to 46.3, only to rise again to 64.7 in 2000. In his last year as a full-time starter in 2001 his per game performance dipped again to 43.2.

What do we see from these four seasons? Quarterbacks are generally inconsistent, and Flutie was no exception. Despites this inconsistency we see that Flutie was always above average, and in two seasons, well above average.

Would Flutie had performed at this level for twenty-one years had the NFL not engaged in size discrimination? We will never know. The data tells us, though, that he was an above average quarterback when given a chance. And perhaps this teaches a lesson the NFL should heed: Size isn’t always everything.

- DJ

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