Posted by Jason Lisk on June 18, 2009
Over the dog days of summer, I’m trying to revive a concept that Doug used back before the 2002 season, when he wrote 75 mini-articles about individual quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers—basically writing something related to a player that came to mind. There is no way that I (or collectively “we” if Chase and Doug join in) get anywhere close to that number, but hopefully there will be at least a handful of interesting player comments sprinkled in among other posts.
Here’s how Doug described his concept, borrowed from Bill James, back in 2002:
“So for every player, I wrote about whatever popped into my head when I thought about that player. A lot of times, as with Bill James' comments, I think about something that morphs into something else that is only vaguely related to the player himself. . . . Some of these comments were written two months ago and some of them were written yesterday, and I'd like them to be timeless. I want them to be as interesting and as relevant in one or two or five years as they are now. . . . What you will find in these comments are my opinions, some interesting trivia, and hopefully more than anything else, some historical perspective. . . . You'll also get your fair share of completely stat-free ramblings and opinions. As with all opinions, take them for what they're worth.”
That is sort of the framework I am shooting for. As this is not a fantasy site, the player articles are going to have less of a specific fantasy focus compared to Doug’s original series, though if you want to find fantasy relevance, by all means, feel free. The Ben Roethlisberger post last month was actually my first stab at the concept, but I promise that going forward, I will not focus entirely on quarterbacks or other fantasy football positions—I plan on writing some things on offensive linemen and defensive players as well. The goal is to also be relatively short and sweet.
Now, let’s actually get to Marc Bulger.
Marc Bulger put up pretty good numbers through age 29. Over the last two years, though, he has not only had injury issues (something that isn’t entirely new), he has also struggled when he did play (something that is new). According to Chase’s 2009 Rearview QB article, that poor performance came against an easy schedule, and Bulger was statistically at the bottom of the list for quarterbacks in 2008. I thought I’d take a historical look to see how many quarterbacks have had roughly similar declines at ages 30 and 31, and then look at what happened after that.
I searched all quarterbacks going back to 1960 who, between ages 26 and 29, threw at least 1200 passes and averaged at least 7.0 yards per pass attempt. Bulger is squarely above both of these endpoints, and I’m basically trying to find guys that were good (or better than good) for multiple seasons as they approach age 30. 34 names appear on that list. Two of them don’t really fit, as they were already backups by age 30 but met the minimum requirements—Bubby Brister and Brian Griese. Most of the quarterbacks on this list, though, kept playing, and playing pretty well, as they entered their early 30’s.
Three quarterbacks on the list (like Bulger) started and had two consecutive years of sub-7.0 yards per attempt at age 30 and 31. Another one missed an entire season at age 30 and then posted a poor yards per attempt the next season. We’ll set them aside and get to them further down. Four other guys had one pretty bad season at either age 30 or 31 and can be considered at least reasonable comparables for Bulger, though he has had two bad seasons in a row. Let’s take a look at them first, in alphabetical order:
Boomer Esiason became a full-time starter at age 24, and for the next 6 seasons, averaged over 8.0 yards per pass attempt, and never threw for less than 3,000 yards. The lowest yards per attempt he posted during that span was 7.54. At age 30, he declined a bit to a still respectable 7.0 YPA, and then at age 31, his numbers fell off a cliff—in 12 games, he threw for only 1407 yards. That was his final season in Cincinnati, as he signed with the Jets. He would make the pro bowl that first season in New York, then start parts of four more seasons with Jets, Cardinals, and Bengals.
Jim Everett is the answer to a trivia question involving Philip Rivers in 2008, so let’s see who can guess the question. Anyway, Everett put up pretty decent numbers from ages 26-29, even as the Rams stopped winning. At age 31, not only did the Rams continue to lose, but his yards per attempt dropped to 6.0 in only 9 starts. The next year, he signed with the Saints and put up back to back 3500 passing yard seasons, and two more top 10 fantasy QB seasons.
Bill Kenney put up decent numbers in his late 20’s, even though he was only the clear-cut starter for a short period, have split time with Todd Blackledge during the prime of his career. He continued to play well at age 30, but then dropped off to 8 starts and a sub-7.0 yards per attempt in 1986 at age 31. He had a bounce back year of sorts in the strike shortened 1987 season, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt in 8 starts. He played one more season after that, starting 5 games in 1988.
Steve McNair actually shared an MVP at age 30, before falling apart due to injury at age 31 in 2004. He rebounded slightly in 2005 and played in 14 games, then the Titans drafted Vince Young, and McNair was famously locked out of the training facility before he was traded to the Ravens. He managed one more solid season at age 33, leading the Ravens to a 13-3 regular season record in 2006.
Now, to the guys who had two consecutive sub-par seasons at ages 30 and 31. The first guy, honestly, doesn’t belong on this list and isn’t a real good comp for Bulger, but I’ll mention him since he showed up.
After three MVP awards and six straight playoff appearances, Brett Favre’s performance dipped a little at ages 30 and 31, posting sub-7.0 yards per attempt in consecutive years as the Packers missed the playoffs in 1999 and 2000 (He still finished as the 10th ranked QB in 2000). Of course, he rebounded to have some pretty good seasons at ages 32-35, and to retire five times.
As for the other three guys, the guys you could say are probably the most similar to Bulger, well, they run the range of outcomes after age 31.
Bobby Hebert missed all of 1990 at age 30. The next year, he managed only 1676 passing yards in 9 starts. He bounced back at age 32 to average 7.8 YPA in his final season in New Orleans. He then signed with Atlanta and made his only pro bowl at age 33 playing in Glanville’s run-n-shoot, and then played in parts of three more seasons for Atlanta.
Mark Rypien was on top of the world after winning the Super Bowl in 1991 at age 29. His incredible year in 1991 was followed by a decline at age 30, and then an absolute collapse in 1993, when he averaged 4.7 yards per attempt and posted a 56.3 passer rating. He never started full-time again.
Which brings us to the last guy that has a lot of things seemingly in common with Bulger (or at least the Rams should hope it turns out that way). This quarterback also played for an innovative offensive coordinator, and after that coordinator left, saw his play take a downward turn. He also went through a rebuilding effort as the team around him went from playoff contender to bottom of the league. Bulger was temporarily benched in favor of Trent Green by head coach Scott Linehan right before he was fired. This other quarterback, on the other hand, saw his team spend a high first round pick on a quarterback right before he turned 30, and wasn’t even the opening day starter at age 31, though he did end up being the team’s leading passer. Of course, I’m talking about Ken Anderson. At age 31, Anderson’s career was on a downhill slide. Prior to the 1980 season, though, the Bengals used a high first round pick on a left tackle, Anthony Munoz, and the next season, Cris Collinsworth was drafted to replace Isaac Curtis. Anderson’s career took another sudden turn, and in 1981 he was one of the best quarterbacks in the league and led the Bengals to the Super Bowl, and he posted another stellar season in 1982 at age 33.
You may notice that most of these guys with some proven performance track record bounced back to some extent after their declines at ages 30-31. Most of them, though, did so with other teams. Only Hebert and Anderson had their bounce back year at age 32 with the same team for whom they had played previously. I’ll close with a list of all the guys mentioned above (except Favre), listing their QB fantasy point ranking in Year D (for Decline), which is age 31 for everyone on the list except for Everett, who was 30. Following that is the QB fantasy point rank in Year D+1.
Yr D Yr D+1 Rypien 35 40 McNair 32 15 Anderson 30 2 Everett 30 7 Esiason 28 6 Hebert 28 9 Bulger 27 ???? Kenney 22 16
My impression of Bulger has been that he is a solid quarterback, but not necessarily the kind that will elevate those around him and carry a team that is lacking. When he had a great supporting cast at the skill positions and a healthy Orlando Pace, he was among the league leaders. When Pace missed most of the last two seasons, the receiving corp declined, and Linehan was coaching, he struggled mightily. I don’t think Bulger is as bad as he showed last season, and I think he is a bounce back candidate—I’m just not sure if it is more likely this year in Saint Louis or next year on a different team. After looking this list over, I think he is more of a value play this year, with a new left tackle (who is not replacing Pace, but rather Pace’s backups), a new head coach, and a second year receiver who showed promise as a rookie to step in for the perceived loss of Torry Holt.