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Which QB is Likely to be Best in 2011?

Posted by Neil Paine on February 10, 2011

File this under Chase's "Insane Ideas/Rants/Almost deleted before hitting Publish" category...

In light of the research Chase & JKL have done about the consistency of passing stats between seasons, I was wondering which quarterbacks were likely to be best in 2011 -- assuming there is a 2011 season -- if we take their 2010 numbers and strip away the factors that were heavily influenced by luck or other elements beyond a player's control.

To that end, I (surprise!) ran a regression. I wanted to predict each QB's performance the following season from his current-season numbers, but first I had to decide what "performance" meant. I settled on what I'm calling "Ultimate Adjusted Yards per Attempt" (uAYA):

uAYA = (Pass Yds - Sk Yds + Rush Yds + 20 * Pass TD + 18 * Rush TD - 45 * INT - 25 * Fum) / (Pass Att + Sacks + Rush Att)

This is a way of combining our Adjusted Net YPA formula with a QB's rushing stats and fumbles. The 18-yard bonus for rushing TDs comes from Chase's post on the value of TDs, and the -25 for fumbles comes from the Hidden Game of Football's 50-yard penalty for fumbles lost + the fact that a fumble is 50-50 whether it will be recovered by the QB's team or the opponent.

Here were the 2010 leaders in uAYA, minimum 200 attempts:

player year team pos g gs cmp att yds td int sk skyds rush ryds rtd fum uAYA
Tom Brady 2010 nwe qb 16 16 324 492 3900 36 4 25 175 31 30 1 3 7.73
Aaron Rodgers 2010 gnb qb 15 15 312 475 3922 28 11 31 193 64 356 4 4 7.23
Philip Rivers 2010 sdg qb 16 16 357 541 4710 30 13 38 227 29 52 0 7 7.20
Michael Vick 2010 phi qb 12 12 233 372 3018 21 6 34 210 100 676 9 11 6.96
Ben Roethlisberger 2010 pit qb 12 12 240 389 3200 17 5 32 220 33 176 2 6 6.95
Tony Romo 2010 dal qb 6 6 148 213 1605 11 7 7 41 6 38 0 0 6.67
Josh Freeman 2010 tam qb 16 16 291 474 3451 25 6 28 195 68 364 0 7 6.45
Matt Cassel 2010 kan qb 15 15 262 450 3116 27 7 26 182 33 125 0 3 6.30
Peyton Manning 2010 clt qb 16 16 450 679 4700 33 17 16 91 18 18 0 3 6.24
Matt Schaub 2010 htx qb 16 16 365 574 4370 24 12 32 226 22 28 0 9 6.19
Kyle Orton 2010 den qb 13 13 293 498 3653 20 9 34 243 22 98 0 4 6.14
Matt Ryan 2010 atl qb 16 16 357 571 3705 28 9 23 158 46 122 0 4 5.82
Joe Flacco 2010 rav qb 16 16 306 489 3622 25 10 40 294 43 84 1 9 5.69
Eli Manning 2010 nyg qb 16 16 339 539 4002 31 25 16 117 32 70 0 7 5.58
Jon Kitna 2010 dal qb 10 9 209 318 2365 16 12 21 100 31 147 1 6 5.57
Drew Brees 2010 nor qb 16 16 448 658 4620 33 22 25 185 18 -3 0 9 5.53
Ryan Fitzpatrick 2010 buf qb 13 13 255 441 3000 23 15 24 145 40 269 0 8 5.36
Shaun Hill 2010 det qb 11 10 257 416 2686 16 12 17 113 22 123 0 3 5.28
Alex Smith 2010 sfo qb 11 10 204 342 2370 14 10 25 140 18 60 0 4 5.25
Jason Campbell 2010 rai qb 13 12 194 329 2387 13 8 33 208 47 222 1 9 5.12
Kerry Collins 2010 oti qb 9 7 160 278 1823 14 8 13 91 10 1 0 5 5.08
David Garrard 2010 jax qb 14 14 236 366 2734 23 15 33 253 66 279 5 11 5.08
Carson Palmer 2010 cin qb 16 16 362 586 3970 26 20 26 201 32 50 0 7 5.07
Jay Cutler 2010 chi qb 15 15 261 432 3274 23 16 52 352 50 232 1 10 4.99
Mark Sanchez 2010 nyj qb 16 16 278 507 3291 17 13 27 171 30 105 3 9 4.98
Donovan McNabb 2010 was qb 13 13 275 472 3377 14 15 37 271 29 151 0 10 4.86
Colt McCoy 2010 cle qb 8 8 135 222 1576 6 9 23 132 28 136 1 1 4.72
Matt Hasselbeck 2010 sea qb 14 14 266 444 3001 12 17 29 175 23 60 3 7 4.52
Chad Henne 2010 mia qb 15 14 301 490 3301 15 19 30 178 35 52 0 5 4.50
Sam Bradford 2010 ram qb 16 16 354 590 3512 18 15 34 244 27 63 1 7 4.39
Derek Anderson 2010 crd qb 12 9 169 327 2065 7 10 25 176 5 25 0 6 4.07
Brett Favre 2010 min qb 13 13 217 358 2509 11 19 22 139 17 8 0 7 3.95
Jimmy Clausen 2010 car qb 13 10 157 299 1558 3 9 33 223 23 57 0 9 2.32

Now, the fun part is predicting next year's uAYA from this season's rate stats. To get a group of QBs for whom aging wasn't going to catastrophically taint the results, I looked for all QBs since 1978 (the first season with modern passing-game rules in place) who were between the ages of 25 and 35, and threw at least 200 passes in back-to-back seasons. That left us 517 pairs of seasons to run the regression on, and as predictors I tried every possible combination of conventional rate stats, from completion % to rushing yards per play ("plays" being passes + sacks + rushes, the denominator of uAYA).

In the end, the only significant variables were: completions/play, TD passes/play, sack yds lost/play, & rush yds/play. This is actually pretty consistent with previous research that found QBs had the most control over metrics like completion % and sack rate.

uAYA_y+1 ~ 8.7679986 * cmp/play + 15.8060293 * td/play - 0.6723578 * skyd/play + 1.2431414 * ryds/play

That formula gives us the following prediction for next year's top uAYA performers (among qualified QBs):

player year age Predicted uAYA cmp/play td/play skyd/play ryds/play 2010_uAYA
Tony Romo 2011 31 6.60 0.655 0.049 0.181 0.168 6.67
Peyton Manning 2011 35 6.21 0.631 0.046 0.128 0.025 6.24
Drew Brees 2011 32 6.16 0.639 0.047 0.264 -0.004 5.53
Aaron Rodgers 2011 28 6.12 0.547 0.049 0.339 0.625 7.23
Tom Brady 2011 34 6.08 0.591 0.066 0.319 0.055 7.73
Michael Vick 2011 31 6.08 0.460 0.042 0.415 1.336 6.96
Eli Manning 2011 30 5.91 0.578 0.053 0.199 0.119 5.58
Philip Rivers 2011 30 5.78 0.587 0.049 0.373 0.086 7.20
Shaun Hill 2011 31 5.68 0.565 0.035 0.248 0.270 5.28
Matt Ryan 2011 26 5.65 0.558 0.044 0.247 0.191 5.82
Ryan Fitzpatrick 2011 29 5.62 0.505 0.046 0.287 0.533 5.36
David Garrard 2011 33 5.61 0.508 0.049 0.544 0.600 5.08
Matt Schaub 2011 30 5.51 0.581 0.038 0.360 0.045 6.19
Carson Palmer 2011 32 5.45 0.562 0.040 0.312 0.078 5.07
Matt Cassel 2011 29 5.42 0.515 0.053 0.358 0.246 6.30
Ben Roethlisberger 2011 29 5.38 0.529 0.037 0.485 0.388 6.95
Joe Flacco 2011 26 5.22 0.535 0.044 0.514 0.147 5.69
Alex Smith 2011 27 5.17 0.530 0.036 0.364 0.156 5.25
Kyle Orton 2011 29 5.13 0.529 0.036 0.439 0.177 6.14
Chad Henne 2011 26 5.08 0.542 0.027 0.321 0.094 4.50
Jay Cutler 2011 28 5.06 0.489 0.043 0.659 0.434 4.99
Jason Campbell 2011 29 4.99 0.474 0.032 0.509 0.543 5.12
Donovan McNabb 2011 35 4.90 0.511 0.026 0.504 0.281 4.86
Derek Anderson 2011 28 4.22 0.473 0.020 0.493 0.070 4.07

Ironically, after what many would call his worst season in years, Peyton Manning projects to be the 2nd-best of the group... It turns out that he still performed well in the categories that a QB has the most control over (avoiding sacks, completing passes, throwing for scores), while the areas in which he did not perform as well (Y/A, Int%) were the categories that are most prone to yearly variance. Compare that to Tom Brady, who rode an historically low -- but ultimately fluky -- Int% and a high Y/A to his league-leading uAYA in 2010, and it's not hard to see why the two great QBs might be on different trajectories if their luck evens out in 2011.

For good measure, I ran this on every qualified QB season since 1978; for the full table of historical projections (ranked by how well each QB was expected to do in a given season), click here.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 10th, 2011 at 10:19 am and is filed under Insane ideas, Quarterbacks, Rant, Statgeekery, Totally Useless. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.