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For more from Chase and Jason, check out their work at Football Perspective and The Big Lead.

Matt Ryan, rookie extraordinaire

Posted by Chase Stuart on December 9, 2008

It seems just about everyone has noticed the great seasons that Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco are having.

Best Rookie QB Ever?
Ryan Playing Like No Rookie
Ryan vs. Flacco
Legendary 2008
Learning Curve

With a vast database and a good way to rank the quarterbacks, I think we can answer the question of where Matt Ryan stands in NFL history. Remember, this past summer I ranked every season by every quarterback in NFL history. Using that same methodology, we can compare Ryan (and Flacco) to all rookies that have come before them.

Here's a quick refresher. I start with a quarterback's adjusted net yards per attempt ratio. That formula is calculated by looking at a QB's number of passing yards, adding 10 points for all touchdown passes, subtracting 45 yards for all interceptions, subtracting one yard for every sack yard lost, and then dividing that number by the QB's total number of sacks plus pass attempts. Regular PFR readers know that I recently decided to up the TD bonus to 20 yards per score, but updating the old QB list with that new metric is a job best saved for the off-season. We'll stick with 10 yards for all TD passes for now.

After figuring out the ANY/A metric for each QB, you have to compare that number to the ANY/A number for all other quarterbacks in the NFL. Then to figure out "QB value added", you take the difference between the QB's ratio and the league average ratio, and multiply it by the number of pass attempts (including sacks) the QB had. Quarterbacks also additional bonus yards for all rushing yards over 4.0 yards per carry. If that sounds a bit complicated, let's use Dan Marino's 1983 season as an example.

Marino had 2,210 passing yards, 20 TDs (200 adjusted yards), 6 INTs (-270 adjusted yards) and only 80 sack yards lost (-80 adjusted yards) on 296 passes and 10 sacks (306 total attempts). That means Marino averaged 6.73 adjusted net yards per pass, which is very good now and was even better in 1983. Outside of Marino, NFL QBs in 1983 averaged 4.53 ANY/A, meaning Marino averaged a full 2.20 more adjusted yards per passing play. Multiplied by his 306 passing plays, and Marino gets credit for being 674 yards above average in 1983.

How does that rank all time? Here's a list of all rookie QBs that added over 250 adjusted yards over average as rookies (note: for years where the NFL season was fewer than 16 games, every QB's value was prorated as if they played a season length between what they actually did and 16 games; so Charlie Conerly's season was pro-rated to a 14 game season). Because of the somewhat nebulous nature of how to define a rookie, I'm going to be overinclusive by counting the first season in which a player recorded a stat as his rookie year; however, for guys whose rookie seasons were not their draft year or if the player spent time in another professional football league first, I put two asterisks by their name.

Score				        year    att	pyd	ptd	pint	any/a
674	Dan Marino	        mia	1983	296	2210	20	 6	 6.73
581	Greg Cook	        cin	1969	197	1854	15	11	 5.81
513	Charlie Conerly**	nyg	1948	299	2175	22	13	 6.05
476	Marc Bulger**	        ram	2002	214	1826	14	 6	 7.05
392	Sid Luckman	        chi	1939	 51	 636	 5	 4	 9.92
392	Johnny Unitas**	        clt	1956	198	1498	 9	10	 5.75
392	Ben Roethlisberger	pit	2004	295	2621	17	11	 6.41
384	Norm Van Brocklin	ram	1949	 58	 601	 6	 2	 9.84
367	Jim Kelly**	        buf	1986	480	3593	22	17	 5.20
343	Billy Wade**	        ram	1954	 59	 509	 2	 1	 8.20
323	Pat Haden**	        ram	1976	105	 896	 8	 4	 6.02
320	Johnny Lujack**	        chi	1948	 66	 611	 6	 3	 8.12
319	Joe Namath	        nyj	1965	340	2220	18	15	 5.07
312	Butch Songin**	        nwe	1960	392	2476	22	15	 5.16
298	Jacky Lee	        oti	1960	 77	 842	 5	 6	 8.08
296	Ed Rubbert	        was	1987	 49	 532	 4	 1	10.36
287	Bob Celeri**	        nyy	1951	238	1797	12	15	 5.22
286	Tom Flores**	        rai	1960	252	1738	12	12	 5.23
262	Dick Jamieson**	        nyj	1960	 70	 586	 6	 2	 7.94
256	Aaron Brooks**	        nor	2000	194	1514	 9	 6	 5.93
254	Jeff Garcia**	        sfo	1999	375	2544	11	11	 5.27

Obviously it's not easy to compare Sid Luckman's 1939 season to Ed Rubbert's 1987 season to Jim Kelly's 1986 year. The above list doesn't give enough credit to the guys who played the most (a good indicator that the rookie was playing well), so we should drop the baseline to three-quarters of league average, instead of league average. Here's what I think is the best list for measuring the greatest rookie QB seasons of all time:

Score				        year    att	pyd	ptd	pint	any/a
1020	Dan Marino	        mia	1983	296	2210	20	 6	6.7
 964	Jim Kelly**	        buf	1986	480	3593	22	17	5.2
 916	Charlie Conerly**	nyg	1948	299	2175	22	13	6.1
 814	Ben Roethlisberger	pit	2004	295	2621	17	11	6.4
 801	Greg Cook	        cin	1969	197	1854	15	11	5.8
 777	Butch Songin**	        nwe	1960	392	2476	22	15	5.2
 756	Marc Bulger**	        ram	2002	214	1826	14	 6	7.1
 743	Warren Moon**	        oti	1984	450	3338	12	14	4.9
 722	Jeff Garcia**	        sfo	1999	375	2544	11	11	5.3
 699	Joe Namath	        nyj	1965	340	2220	18	15	5.1
 634	Johnny Unitas**	        clt	1956	198	1498	 9	10	5.7
 620	Charlie Batch	        det	1998	303	2178	11	 6	5.3
 595	Byron Leftwich	        jax	2003	418	2819	14	16	4.9
 586	Tom Flores**	        rai	1960	252	1738	12	12	5.2
 570	Bob Celeri**	        nyy	1951	238	1797	12	15	5.2
 509	Aaron Brooks**	        nor	2000	194	1514	 9	 6	5.9
 482	Dieter Brock**	        ram	1985	365	2658	16	13	4.5
 472	Fran Tarkenton	        min	1961	280	1997	18	17	5.0
 460	Matt Leinart	        crd	2006	377	2547	11	12	4.9
 457	Paul Governali**	byk	1946	192	1293	13	10	5.1
 452	Vince Young	        oti	2006	357	2199	12	13	4.2
 451	Norm Van Brocklin	ram	1949	 58	 601	 6	 2	9.8
 444	Sid Luckman	        chi	1939	 51	 636	 5	 4	9.9
 441	Mark Rypien**	        was	1988	208	1730	18	13	5.5
 438	M.C. Reynolds	        crd	1958	195	1422	11	11	5.3

That list is a pretty solid ordering of the best rookie seasons ever. Conventional wisdom puts Marino and Roethlisberger at the top, along with Greg Cook if the author has heard of him. Depending on whether you want to count Kelly as a rookie in 1986 -- he previously had played two excellent seasons in the USFL -- he is at the top of the list, as well.

So where do Ryan and Flacco rank? Through 13 games, Ryan has 2940 passing yards, 14 TD (140 adjusted yards), 7 INT (-315 adjusted yards), and 80 sack yards lost (-80 adjusted yards) on 366 pass attempts and 13 sacks. That's an average of 7.08 adjusted net yards per pass attempt.

Flacco has 2410 passing yards, 13 TD (130), 10 INT (-450), and 208 sack yards lost (-208) on 352 pass attempts and 23 sacks. That's an average of 5.02 adjusted net yards per pass attempt.

The NFL average for all passers is 5.32 ANY/A through 13 weeks. Last year the average was 5.11 but we can expect the league average to go down as some more December games are played. To calculate a QB's "value added", you simply compare each QB to the other QBs in the league. Ryan's averaged 7.08 ANY/A while all other QBs have averaged 5.27 ANY/A. So Ryan's been averaging 1.81 more adjusted net yards per pass attempt than other QBs in the NFL, over the course of 379 passing plays. That gives him a value added of 686 yards over average. Flacco's averaged 5.02 ANY/A while all other NFL QBs have averaged 5.33 ANY/A -- that obviously puts Flacco at slightly below the league average. While Flacco's posted impressive numbers this season, he's hurt by his high number of sacks and sack yards lost.

If we use the 3/4 of league average mark, Ryan jumps to 1185 yards over replacement and Flacco at 386 yards over replacement (383 passing yards over replacement plus a three yard rushing bonus). Once again, that seems like a more proper way to measure Flacco's success, as he really has been one of the best rookies we've seen in awhile. Unfortunately, he's playing at the same time as maybe the best rookie we've ever seen. As long as Ryan doesn't implode the rest of the season, he will finish the 2008 season as the greatest rookie QB of all time.

Here are some other historical measures of rookie QB success.

  • The NFL began playing Pro Bowls after the 1938 season. Only Vince Young (2006), Dan Marino (1983), Bob Griese (1967), Joe Namath (1965) and Davey O'Brien (1939) made the Pro Bowl as rookies. Ryan's got some tough competition in the NFC this year -- Kurt Warner and Drew Brees both may throw for 5,000 yards while Eli Manning might be leading a 14-2 Giants team. But he's got a chance to become just the third rookie QB since the merger to make the Pro Bowl.
  • Since 1950, only one rookie QB has been named to an All Pro team -- Dan Marino. Prior to that year, the only QBs to make an All Pro team based on their accomplishments as quarterbacks were Bob Waterfield (1945), Davey O'Brien (1939) and Sammy Baugh (1937).

Of course, no post by me on QBs would be complete without a look at the least valuable rookie seasons of all time. Here's the list, using the league average as the baseline:

-1243	Bud Schwenk	        crd	1942	295	1360	 6	27	 0.69
- 942	David Carr	        htx	2002	444	2592	 9	15	 3.07
- 838	Stan Heath	        gnb	1949	106	 355	 1	14	-2.50
- 831	Ryan Leaf	        sdg	1998	245	1289	 2	15	 1.85
- 815	Kyle Orton	        chi	2005	368	1869	 9	13	 2.97
- 813	Dan Darragh	        buf	1968	215	 917	 3	14	 1.47
- 785	Jack Trudeau	        clt	1986	417	2225	 8	18	 2.87
- 784	Paul Christman**        crd	1945	219	1147	 5	12	 3.00
- 781	Jeff Komlo	        det	1979	368	2238	11	23	 2.33
- 769	Alex Smith	        sfo	2005	165	 875	 1	11	 1.06
- 764	Andrew Walter**        	rai	2006	276	1677	 3	13	 2.69
- 753	Lamar McHan	        crd	1954	255	1475	 6	22	 2.14
- 723	Randy Hedberg        	tam	1977	 90	 244	 0	10	-3.21
- 719	John McCarthy	        crd	1944	 67	 250	 0	13	-5.00
- 711	Terry Bradshaw	        pit	1970	218	1410	 6	24	 0.61
- 706	Chris Weinke	        car	2001	540	2931	11	19	 3.55
- 701	Tobin Rote	        gnb	1950	224	1231	 7	24	 0.99
- 681	Steve DeBerg**	        sfo	1978	302	1570	 8	22	 1.58
- 620	Richard Todd	        nyj	1976	162	 870	 3	12	 0.66
- 586	Norm Snead	        was	1961	375	2337	11	22	 3.89
- 583	Bruce Gradkowski	tam	2006	328	1661	 9	 9	 3.40
- 567	Joey Harrington	        det	2002	429	2294	12	16	 3.70
- 562	Steve Fuller	        kan	1979	270	1484	 6	14	 2.18
- 555	Tom Sherman	        nwe	1968	226	1199	12	16	 2.65
- 554	Bert Jones	        clt	1973	108	 539	 4	12	-0.71
- 549	Donovan McNabb	        phi	1999	216	 948	 8	 7	 2.09
- 547	Terry Hanratty	        pit	1969	126	 716	 8	13	 0.29
- 544	Gary Huff	        chi	1973	126	 525	 3	 8	 0.10
- 535	Kent Nix	        pit	1967	268	1587	 8	19	 3.03
- 528	Randy Johnson	        atl	1966	295	1795	12	21	 3.29
- 516	Rick Mirer	        sea	1993	486	2833	12	17	 3.66
- 508	Troy Aikman	        dal	1989	293	1749	 9	18	 2.80

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 9th, 2008 at 10:50 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.