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The History of the Black QB: Part III

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 15, 2008

In Part I of this series I chronicled the emergence of the black quarterback, from Fritz Pollard to JaMarcus Russell. In Part II, I looked at some of the greatest seasons by a black QB in NFL history, with Daunte Culpepper's 2004 season topping the list.

There have been twelve black quarterbacks to start over 60 games in the NFL in their career, and Charlie Batch (49) and Byron Leftwich (44) might join them one day. David Garrard, Vince Young, Jason Campbell and JaMarcus Russell are young QBs that should stick around for awhile, too. Here's a list of the twelve:

	                passyd	rushyd	 gs
Warren Moon	        49325	1736	203
Steve McNair	        31304	3590	147
Randall Cunningham	29979	4928	135
Donovan McNabb	        25404	2962	 98
Daunte Culpepper	22422	2540	 84
Jeff Blake	        21711	2027	100
Aaron Brooks	        20261	1534	 90
Doug Williams	        16998	 884	 81
Rodney Peete	        16338	1139	 87
Tony Banks	        15315	 881	 78
Kordell Stewart	        14746	2851	 87
Michael Vick	        11505	3859	 67

Moon started his career in the Canadian Football League (and didn't enter the NFL until age 28), but the other 11 QBs all started in the NFL in their early or mid-20s. Listed alphabetically, here's how many rushing yards each QB had in his first season with at least eight games started:

age team year rshyd gs att
Tony Banks 23 ram 1996 212 13 368
Jeff Blake 24 cin 1994 204 9 306
Aaron Brooks 25 nor 2001 358 16 558
Daunte Culpepper 23 min 2000 470 16 474
Randall Cunningham 24 phi 1987 505 12 406
Donovan McNabb 24 phi 2000 629 16 569
Steve McNair 24 oti 1997 674 16 415
Rodney Peete 23 det 1989 148 8 195
Kordell Stewart 25 pit 1997 476 16 440
Michael Vick 22 atl 2002 777 15 421
Doug Williams 23 tam 1978 23 10 194
Avg 23.6 407 13.4 395

And then in the QBs' 4th year starting:

age team year rshyd gs att
Tony Banks 26 rav 1999 93 10 320
Jeff Blake 27 cin 1997 234 11 317
Aaron Brooks 28 nor 2004 173 16 542
Daunte Culpepper 26 min 2003 422 14 454
Randall Cunningham 27 phi 1990 942 16 465
Donovan McNabb 27 phi 2003 355 16 478
Steve McNair 27 oti 2000 403 15 396
Rodney Peete 26 det 1992 83 10 213
Kordell Stewart 28 pit 2000 436 11 289
Michael Vick 26 atl 2006 1039 16 388
Doug Williams 26 tam 1981 209 16 471
Avg 26.7 399 13.7 394

Those numbers are pretty close. Vick's huge year boosts things for sure, but it appears as though rushing doesn't decline too much just yet.

But after six years of starting (a year of starting is considered a season with at least eight games started), the black QBs stop running. This comes at around age 30, which has long been touted as the year when players start to lose their athleticism. (Curiously, the top 18 rushing seasons by all QBs age 30 or older from 1970-2007 were by white QBs; only two of the top 17 rushing seasons by all QBs of any age were by white QBs.) Here's a look at the rushing numbers for all QBs in their sixth year of starting or later:

yrstart          		age	team    year    rshyd   gs      att
7	Donovan McNabb		30	phi	2006	212	10	316
7	Steve McNair		30	oti	2003	138	14	400
7	Randall Cunningham	35	min	1998	132	14	425
7	Jeff Blake		32	rav	2002	106	10	295
7	Rodney Peete		36	car	2002	 14	14	381
8	Jeff Blake		33	crd	2003	177	13	367
8	Steve McNair		31	oti	2004	128	 8	215
9	Steve McNair		32	oti	2005	139	14	476
10	Steve McNair		33	rav	2006	119	16	468
                                32.4                    129     12.6    371

While we should be a bit concerned about a Simpson's paradox problem -- especially since Vick isn't on this list -- note how the games started and attempts dropped slightly, while rushing yardage crashed. The QBs averaged about 30 rushing yards per game in their first and fourth years starting, but just 10 yards per game by the end of their careers. Rushing yards and pass attempts were practically even in their early years, but by the last seasons their careers the QBs had nearly three times as many pass attempts as rushing yards. McNabb, McNair and Cunningham transformed themselves from running to passing quarterbacks. Kordell Stewart never stopped running, and was entirely ineffective once he hit thirty-one years of age. Who knows what would have/will happen to Vick, although I think a pretty honest debate could take place as to whether he was a better passing QB than Stewart. Kordell actually improved a bit as a passer, after starting off pretty poorly. Vick started off as a great QB and a pretty good passing QB, but actually regressed as a passer each season; his adjusted net yards per attempt dropped each of his four years as a starter.

This, in the end, is a thinly veiled "what might happen to Vince Young" post. The other young black QBs -- Campbell, Garrard and Russell -- are more passers than runners. Russell's not a runner, Garrard can run but looks to pass first, and Campbell has a strong arm and isn't very fast. But the young Vince Young resembles the young McNair/McNabb/Cunningham pretty well. On the other hand, he also fits the young Vick/Stewart model.

It's rarely wise to view the world in black and white, especially when it comes to race. But there aren't many white QBs in the modern era that have resembled what Young's done to start his career. Steve Young fits, but the rest of his career was pretty peculiar: after posting somewhat similar stats to Young through two seasons, he was on the bench for the next four, and then played with the greatest WR ever for the next eight.

Last week we looked the best value added seasons by a black QB. Value added is a very good way to encompass a QB's attempts, yards, rushing yards, TDs, INTs and league average into one stat. Let's use that again, but ignore the rushing compoment for a soon to be obvious reason.

So the formula will be the difference between QB adjusted net yards per attempt (with attempts defined as pass attempts plus sacks) and the league average adjusted net yards per attempt, multiplied by total attempts.

		age	team    year   	lgavg	nay/a	value	rshyd   gs

Ran. Cunningham	24	phi	1987	4.71	4.56	- 70	505	12
Ran. Cunningham	25	phi	1988	4.69	4.68	-  7	624	16
Ran. Cunningham	26	phi	1989	4.88	4.49	-225	621	16

Donovan McNabb	24	phi	2000	4.85	4.44	-247	629	16
Donovan McNabb	25	phi	2001	4.82	5.02	 103	482	16
Donovan McNabb	26	phi	2002	4.97	5.20	  88	460	10

Steve McNair	24	oti	1997	4.79	4.55	-108	674	16
Steve McNair	25	oti	1998	4.91	5.24	 172	559	16
Steve McNair	26	oti	1999	4.81	5.37	 197	337	11

Kordell Stewart	25	pit	1997	4.79	5.03	 108	476	16
Kordell Stewart	26	pit	1998	4.91	3.36	-764	406	16
Kordell Stewart	27	pit	1999	4.81	3.18	-484	258	12

Michael Vick	22	atl	2002	4.97	5.57	 272	777	15
Michael Vick	24	atl	2004	5.23	4.49	-271	902	15
Michael Vick	25	atl	2005	4.98	4.23	-314	597	15

Vince Young	23	oti	2006	5.02	4.20	-312	552	13
Vince Young	24	oti	2007	5.11	4.21	-365	395	15
Vince Young	25	oti	2008    ????    ????     ???    ???     ??	

McNabb and McNair had similar first two seasons: both were below average passers in year one, above average passers in year two, and improved their passing in year three (but both missed time due to injury). Both also had strong rushing numbers each season. Each went on to have very good careers, and won a conference championship game.

Stewart and Vick regressed as passers each season, although Stewart would revive his career in 2001. Both were well below league average passers in their second seasons. Cunningham was pretty consistent all three seasons, although the NFL average improved by his third year. He actually finished with a below average net adjusted yards per attempt ratio in all but one of his seasons as an Eagle. Here's something interesting about Cunningham: in six of his seven seasons as starting QB of the Eagles, he led the NFL in sack yards lost. I think most would consider Cunningham a superior QB to McNair. While they have almost identical QB Ratings, yards per attempt and adjusted yards per attempt, Cunningham gets destroyed when you factor sacks into the equation. He's got four of the worst ten seasons in sack yards lost, including the worst ever. McNair is 59th all time in sack yards lost, and 23rd all time in attempts -- he was difficult to sack. As a result, McNair averaged 0.7 more net yards per pass than Cunningham, and that's why Cunningham was almost always under the league average.

Young has had some awful WRs. I understand that completely; they might be the worst in the league. But most of the other QBs on this list have had similar complaints at some point during their career. He also started right away, unlike McNair or McNabb, and age plays a huge part in QB success. But he wasn't playing his college games at Alcorn State, either, so he was probably a bit more NFL-ready than McNair was. His well-below league average numbers last season have to be worrisome.

Two bad comparisons is far from the death knell for Vince Young. I've been a big fan of him since the National Championship Game, and he was my favorite of the Big Three Qbs coming out of college. I think he has the ability to improve his passing game, and reinvent himself as a passer. Giving him some good WRs could make a huge impact on his passing numbers.

For me, it's easy to get excited about an athletic QB who posts a winning record at age 23 and age 24, especially on a team without much offensive talent. Studies like this help me to reign in my enthusiasm quite a bit.

One other, pro-Young note. Vick and Stewart are 6'0 and 6'1, respectively. McNair and McNabb are both 6'2, Cunningham is 6'4, and Young is 6'5. Lots of people think height matters (myself included), especially if you've got a funky delivery.

This entry was posted on Friday, February 15th, 2008 at 10:51 am and is filed under History, Statgeekery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.