Posted by Jason Lisk on May 11, 2009
In March, Chase did a study evaluating the most valuable quarterbacks looking forward. One of the more interesting results was Jamarcus Russell ending up one spot ahead of Ben Roethlisberger. I'm going to set aside that specific result, and focus on one specific issue affecting Roethlisberger's value going forward--whether his career path may look different than we expect because of his propensity to take sacks. I was also reminded of this recently when Chase mentioned Ken O'Brien peaking early in last week's podcast.
Do quarterbacks who take alot of sacks early in their career have shorter primes and careers than those who avoid them, all other things being equal? The "all other things being equal" is a tricky one, as avoiding sacks is one component of what makes a QB good and keeps him getting a chance to start. This quick study is not meant as a definitive look at the topic, only a starting spot for further investigation.
I pulled all quarterbacks debuting since 1970 who threw at least 1,000 passes by age 26, and had a career yards per pass attempt of 6.0 or higher through age 26, and then looked at their sack rates. Some of those quarterbacks are still active, so I excluded any that were age 36 or younger and still playing last year.
That left a nice, even forty quarterbacks. The correlation coefficient between sack percentage through age 26, and the player's age in their last season in the NFL, is -0.335. This negative correlation means that the quarterbacks who took a higher percentage of sacks at a young age did tend to retire at an earlier age.
Let's put some of those results in chart form.
Here I divided the 40 quarterbacks into 4 equal groups of 10 quarterbacks. To show how each group did passing, I also included their average ypa through age 26. The "age" represents the average age for the final season for the qb's in that group. "GS" is the average games started after age 26 for that group. "age 33" represents the number of qb's who were retired before age 33 from that group of 10.
Group ypa age GS before age 33 ================================================================ low 6.94 36.6 101.8 0 below 6.94 34.2 78.1 1 above 6.79 33.8 65.9 5 high 6.72 32.8 56.0 6 ================================================================
The low sack guys did pass for a slightly higher yards per attempt than the high sack guys, but it wasn't a huge difference. The youngest low sack guy was Jay Schroeder, who retired after age 33. Over half of the above average and high sack guys, on the other hand, were out of football before age 33. Some of these high sack guys may not have been good enough to continue starting or making a roster well into their 30's anyway. However, there are a few cautionary tales for Roethlisberger's future. Neil Lomax, the aforementioned Ken O'Brien, and Bert Jones were all very good quarterbacks at age 26, all had a sack percentage of 8.9% or higher, and all were done starting full-time before they turned 32 years old. Jake Plummer had enough and retired before turning 33, as did the one-time phenom Don Majkowski. Randall Cunningham had the highest sack rate of any QB on the list. He did play until he was 38 and had the one magical season in 1998, but was not consistently starting into his 30's.
Among players still active, the evidence is similar. How much longer do we expect David Carr and his 212 sacks through age 26 to be in the league? People may forget that he put up decent passing numbers in 2004 before falling apart. Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper were two of the best young quarterbacks of all-time, but were on different ends of the sack percentage. Who do we suspect will play into his late 30's?
Finally, I'll leave you with the list of quarterbacks who took the most raw number of sacks through age 26:
Player Sacks ============================================ randall cunningham 248 neil lomax 216 david carr 212 ben roethlisberger 192 tim couch 166 tony banks 165 drew bledsoe 157 daunte culpepper 151 jake plummer 150 jeff george 146 ============================================