The Averageness of Young and Leinart
ESPN the Magazine has listed the 2006 Rose Bowl as the top story of this past year. The game featured two quarterbacks – Vince Young and Matt Leinart — taken in the top 10 of the 2006 NFL draft. Young and Leinart are not just linked by this game. Both signal callers took over struggling teams from veteran quarterbacks soon after the 2006 NFL season began. And each quarterback proceeded to post very similar numbers.
After 15 games Young has participated in 422 plays, accumulated 2,386 yards with his arm and legs, and been charged with 13 turnovers. Leinart – whose season has now ended after being hurt last Sunday – participated in 420 plays, accumulated 2,438 yards with his arm and legs, and committed 14 turnovers.
Although the results are similar, how each player plays is a bit different. Young has rushed for 523 yards, a mark second in the league among NFL quarterbacks. Leinart only rushed for 49 yards, so he has accumulated more yards passing.
Because Young does more work with his legs, the NFL’s quarterback rating measure indicates that he is quite a bit below average as a quarterback. An average signal caller posts a rating that is close to 80. At this point in the season, though, Young’s rating is only 69.7. The NFL’s metric also rates Leinart as below average. His final rating was only 74.0, which is again below average.
As we note in The Wages of Wins, the NFL’s quarterback rating is not only immensely complicated, but also only considers what a quarterback does with his arm. Yards rushing, sacks, and fumbles are not part of the equation. QB Score includes actions with both the arms and legs, and when we consider rushing yards, sacks, and fumbles in our evaluation of Leinart and Young a different picture emerges. Both players have a QB Score per play of 1.1, which is right at the historical average we see from 1995 to 2005.
So Young and Leinart are just average. A few weeks ago Alan Schwartz wrote a Keeping Score column for the New York Times extolling the virtues of being average. In this column – which focused on baseball – was the following quote from Brian Cashman:
”Is it attractive? Oh yeah,” said Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ general manager. ”You have to have a great deal of talent to be an average major leaguer. We all like to have a roster of above-average major league players, but that’s not realistic. You’ll have a few above-average players, and you try to sprinkle the rest of the roster with as many average players as you possibly can. There’s value in their performance.”
Ned Colletti, Cashman’s counterpart with the Dodgers, echoed this sentiment: ”They may be average, but they look above average to me,” said Ned Colletti, the Dodgers’ general manager. ”They’re definitely closer to positive than negative. You try to make average your minimum, because average is pretty darned good.”
It is important to remember that average in professional sports is difficult. Half of the NFL’s quarterbacks this year have been below average. Andrew Walter has played 12 games for the Oakland Raiders this year and has not been average once. And the Detroit Lions have not had a quarterback finish the season above the average mark once this century.
Average may not be good. But it is also “not bad.” And sometimes “not bad” is pretty nice.
The Re-Birth of Jeff Garcia
Speaking of failed quarterbacks with the Lions, in 2005 the Lions employed two quarterbacks – Joey Harrington and Jeff Garcia. Harrington played in 12 games and posted a QB Score per play of 0.08 – which is a more than a bit below “not bad.” Garcia was not much better. In six games he posted a QB Score per play of 0.33.
Garcia, though, had an excuse. In the final pre-season game he broke his leg. Garcia did make it back into the Lions line-up by week seven of the 2005 campaign, but after two games once again returned to the bench to nurse his injury.
The Lions head coach, Steve Mariucci, had coached Garcia in San Francisco when Garcia was routinely going to the Pro Bowl. In the pre-season it looked like Mariucci was going to take the job from Harrington – a first round draft choice of general manager Matt Millen – and give it to Garcia. The broken leg, though, derailed this plan. Although the Lions started 4-5 – which is “not bad” relative to recent Lions history – two consecutive losses in November led Millen to fire Mariucci. In retrospect this is not looking like one of Millen’s smartest moves (insert joke here about the vast number of smart moves made by Millen). Since Mariucci departed the Lions have played 20 regular season games and only won three.
Yesterday at MLive.com, Tom Kowalski penned a column which argued events this year have vindicated Mariucci’s assessment of Garcia and Harrington. When Donovan McNabb went down it looked like the Philadelphia Eagles season was lost. But Garcia has stepped in a posted a QB Score per play of 2.22. If Garcia had enough attempts to qualify, he would currently rank 6th in the NFL.
Harrington does have enough attempts to qualify. His QB Score per play in Miami this year, though, is only 0.18. And if Cleo Lemon finishes what he starts this week, Harrington will finish the season among the five worst signal callers in the league.
If Jon Kitna, the Lions current quarterback, plays poorly against the Dallas Cowboys this week, he can join Harrington among the NFL’s very worst. Currently Kitna ranks 4th in yards gained by quarterbacks, but first in turnovers. That combination results in a QB Score per play well below average. In sum, Kitna joins the long list of Detroit signal callers that are far from “not bad.” Of course Kitna’s play has helped the Lions secure a very high pick in the 2007 NFL draft. With that pick the Lions could take another quarterback, whose career the Lions can proceed to destroy with that delightful combination of bad roster development and poor coaching.
Perhaps I should abandon my childhood team. I do live in California. Maybe I should start rooting for the Chargers. Of course that would be a new experience. How odd it would be to follow a team that has a chance to win a playoff game.
QB Score has been discussed previously in the following posts: