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

Matt Leinart, Tommy Kramer and Mike Phipps

Posted by Chase Stuart on December 21, 2008

We've been keeping an eye on Matt Leinart ever since this blog began. Leinart, along with Young and Jay Cutler, was a first round pick selected in the 2006 draft. There were 70 quarterbacks selected in the first round of the regular NFL draft from 1970 to 2005. With three years in the books for the class of '06, I thought this might be a good time to see how those first 70 QBs did after three years. JKL examined Joey Harrington and other young QBs back in September, although he only focused on bad QBs and ignored draft status.

Among the 73 QBs, thirteen made a Pro Bowl (including Young and Cutler) and five of them earned some sort of All Pro honors within their first three seasons. 21 of them were their team's main starter for all three seasons, fourteen were the main starter for two of the three, another 21 had been the starter for one year and the remaining seventeen were not their teams main starter in any of their first three seasons. Those 70 QBs are listed below, along with the three QBs in the '06 draft:

Name			draft	pick	pbs	aps	main
Dan Marino		1983	27	3	3	3
Peyton Manning		1998	 1	2	2	3
Donovan McNabb		1999	 2	2	0	2
Drew Bledsoe		1993	 1	1	1	3
Kerry Collins		1995	 5	1	0	3
Troy Aikman		1989	 1	1	0	3
Jay Cutler		2006	11	1	0	2
Daunte Culpepper	1999	11	1	1	2
Vince Young		2006	 3	1	0	2
Carson Palmer		2003	 1	1	0	2
Philip Rivers		2004	 4	1	0	1
Michael Vick		2001	 1	1	0	1
Ken O'Brien		1983	24	1	0	1
Alex Smith		2005	 1	0	0	3
Ben Roethlisberger	2004	11	0	0	3
Byron Leftwich		2003	 7	0	0	3
Kyle Boller		2003	19	0	0	3
David Carr		2002	 1	0	0	3
Joey Harrington		2002	 3	0	0	3
Rick Mirer		1993	 2	0	0	3
Jeff George		1990	 1	0	0	3
John Elway		1983	 1	0	0	3
Jim McMahon		1982	 5	0	0	3
Phil Simms		1979	 7	0	0	3
Doug Williams		1978	17	0	0	3
Archie Manning		1971	 2	0	0	3
Jim Plunkett		1971	 1	0	0	3
Dan Pastorini		1971	 3	0	0	3
Terry Bradshaw		1970	 1	0	0	3
Eli Manning		2004	 1	0	0	2
Tim Couch		1999	 1	0	0	2
Trent Dilfer		1994	 6	0	0	2
Chris Miller		1987	13	0	0	2
Vinny Testaverde	1987	 1	0	0	2
Jim Everett		1986	 3	0	1	2
Tony Eason		1983	15	0	0	2
Steve Fuller		1979	23	0	0	2
Steve Bartkowski	1975	 1	0	0	2
Bert Jones		1973	 2	0	0	2
Matt Leinart		2006	10	0	0	1
Jason Campbell		2005	25	0	0	1
J.P. Losman		2004	22	0	0	1
Patrick Ramsey		2002	32	0	0	1
Chad Pennington		2000	18	0	0	1
Cade McNown		1999	12	0	0	1
Akili Smith		1999	 3	0	0	1
Ryan Leaf		1998	 2	0	0	1
Steve McNair		1995	 3	0	0	1
Heath Shuler		1994	 3	0	0	1
David Klingler		1992	 6	0	0	1
Chuck Long		1986	12	0	0	1
Marc Wilson		1980	15	0	0	1
Tommy Kramer		1977	27	0	0	1
Richard Todd		1976	 6	0	0	1
Jerry Tagge		1972	11	0	0	1
Mike Phipps		1970	 3	0	0	1
Aaron Rodgers		2005	24	0	0	0
Rex Grossman		2003	22	0	0	0
Jim Druckenmiller	1997	26	0	0	0
Tommy Maddox		1992	25	0	0	0
Todd Marinovich		1991	24	0	0	0
Dan McGwire		1991	16	0	0	0
Andre Ware		1990	 7	0	0	0
Jim Harbaugh		1987	26	0	0	0
Kelly Stouffer		1987	 6	0	0	0
Todd Blackledge		1983	 7	0	0	0
Jim Kelly		1983	14	0	0	0
Art Schlichter		1982	 4	0	0	0
Rich Campbell		1981	 6	0	0	0
Mark Malone		1980	28	0	0	0
Jack Thompson		1979	 3	0	0	0
Steve Pisarkiewicz	1977	19	0	0	0
John Reaves		1972	14	0	0	0

Let's take a more precise look at the QBs, using the system described in the Greatest QB Ever post. In the following tables, I've listed the raw totals of value above league average and value above three-fourths of league average (considered replacement level) for all QBs through their first three seasons. I then listed their career totals in those categories. Two caveats to keep in mind. For the through-three-years totals, I simply added their values from each season; in the career value column, a drop-off rate is used (100% of their best season, 95% of their second best, etc.). Also, the career numbers do not include the 2008 season. Finally, the number of games started through three years is shown in the final column.

Peyton Manning and Dan Marino looked like superstars after three years and had really unparalleled success (although Marino looked even better than Manning). As long as he doesn't significantly regress, Matt Ryan will join them in two years. And while there's some ambiguity, for the most part, the other 68 QBs can be broken into six groups.

Star potential through three years:

                 	3yrVal  3yr.75  CarVal  Car.75  3yr GS
Daunte Culpepper	1355	2444	3224	6619	27
Chad Pennington		 905	1456	1058	3332	12
Ken O'Brien		 885	1754	1013	4811	21
Michael Vick		 773	1630	1025	3201	21
Ben Roethlisberger	 762	2192	1153	2992	40
Jim Everett		 711	1888	2452	7281	32
Steve McNair		 672	1496	3515	7907	22
Carson Palmer		 604	1853	1666	4160	29
Jim McMahon		 598	1420	1359	3849	29
Philip Rivers		 563	1212	 633	1860	16
Byron Leftwich		 500	2039	 349	2075	38

Those eleven QBs all had 500 or more yards of career value after three seasons. Career success for this group is a mixed bag; Culpepper, O'Brien and Vick all peaked early. Everett had a huge season his fourth year and then played like an average QB the rest of his career; McMahon suffered injury problems while the book on Leftwich is still open. Palmer and Roethlisberger look good, and Pennington's put together a solid career. Obviously McNair had a great career, and we're ignoring Manning and Marino because they were "too good". Jay Cutler falls into this group, and should fall between Pennington and Culpepper when the 2008 season ends.

Starter potential through three years:

                 	3yrVal  3yr.75  CarVal  Car.75  3yr GS
Doug Williams		311	 1523	1892	4439	42	
Donovan McNabb	       -180	 1503	2903	6928	38	
Tony Eason	       - 18	 1039	 430	2199	27	
Bert Jones		156	  877	2965	5287	27	
Jason Campbell		 36	  864	  35	 850	20	

These five QBs all were around the league average (+/- 200) after three years but had accumulated a lot of above-replacement-level value (over 800). Jones' career was cut short by injury and Campbell's career is still in the early stages. McNabb turned out to be great, Williams very good and Eason was about average.

Uneven performance through three years:

                 	3yrVal  3yr.75  CarVal  Car.75  3yr GS
Archie Manning	        - 261	 664	 569	 3514	37
John Elway	        - 356	1162	4123	10064	40
Jim Plunkett		- 417	 650	 273	 3251	42
Chris Miller		- 468	 773	  20	 3086	30
J.P. Losman		- 527	 396	-522	  575	24
Patrick Ramsey		- 565	 570	-409	  677	23
Eli Manning		- 595	1095	-875	 1382	39
Steve Fuller		- 661	 251	-372	  793	28
Chuck Long		- 681	  64	-543	  103	21
Troy Aikman		- 768	 631	2919	 7299	38
Terry Bradshaw		- 798	 120	2799	 5924	35
David Carr		- 872	 828   -1804	  925	43
Tim Couch		- 994	 443   -1208	  810	37
Drew Bledsoe		- 996	1270	 460	 6632	43
Phil Simms		-1033	 190	1810	 6071	34
Kerry Collins		-1092	 435	 578	 5533	38
Rick Mirer		-1381	 325   -2081	  169	42
Vinny Testaverde	-1387	  49	2169	 6899	33
Jeff George		-1414	  81	1081	 5106	38
Joey Harrington		-1556	 364   -2129	  801	44

These QBs all had significant negative career value (-250 or worse), started over 20 games, but still looked above replacement level after three years. Despite that lukewarm description, this is how John Elway, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Vinny Testaverde, Phil Simms, Jeff George, Kerry Collins, Drew Bledsoe, Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning and Eli Manning all started their careers. Three of those guys became HOFers, most appeared in a Super Bowl, and all had some stellar seasons. Elway, Bradshaw, Testaverde, George, Collins and Bledsoe were all famous for their arm strength, and that might help to explain their career curves; they were reckless in their early days but were able to wisely use their cannon arms as they matured. On the other hand, you've got Couch, Carr, Mirer and Harrington.

Vince Young would fit in this group; through 2007 (not that his 2008 season changes much) he was at -350 in career value and +653 in value over replacement. It's not encouraging that the best season of Young's career was his rookie season, though.

Insignificant playing time:

                 	3yrVal  3yr.75   CarVal  Car.75  3yr GS
Jim Kelly		   0	   0	 3009	 7562	 0
Rex Grossman		- 16	 241	- 406	  696	 7
Andre Ware		- 63	  94	- 123	   84	 4
Aaron Rodgers		-115	- 30	- 102	-  20	 0
Mark Malone		-146	- 33	- 863	  722	 2
Todd Marinovich		-165	  93	- 153	   95	 8
Rich Campbell		-171	-134	- 342	- 267	 0
Jim Harbaugh		-202	 174	  837	 4505	 7
Jim Druckenmiller	-232	-165	- 221	- 157	 1
Steve Pisarkiewicz	-238	- 80	- 234	-  80	 4
Dan McGwire		-286	-229	- 411	- 235	 2
Tommy Maddox		-291	-117	- 426	  976	 4

These QBs all were within 300 points of zero career value, 300 points of zero career replacement value, and had started fewer than 10 games. Quite simply, we didn't know much about them. Kelly was over in the USFL and looked terrific there; we all know the story of Aaron Rodgers. This group had some moderate success, but if you're not playing much through three seasons that's usually a sign of things.

Little playing time but looking bad:

                 	3yrVal  3yr.75  CarVal  Car.75  3yr GS
Jerry Tagge		-308	- 43	- 296	- 29	12	
Cade McNown		-373	 306	- 363	 300	15	
Kelly Stouffer		-387	- 86	-1013	-493	 8	
Marc Wilson		-430	  37	- 714	1298	 9	
John Reaves		-482	-188	- 543	- 30	 7	
Art Schlichter		-535	-302	- 620	-366	 5	
Todd Blackledge		-536	  79	- 843	  63	14	
Heath Shuler		-574	- 51	- 984	-262	13	
Jack Thompson		-701	-251	- 969	- 36	 5	

This QBs all started under 16 games and had under -300 in career value. Things didn't get any better for this group.

Lots of playing time and looking bad:

                 	 3yrVal  3yr.75  CarVal  Car.75  3yr GS
Richard Todd		- 605	- 85	- 485	 2388	 22
Akili Smith		- 937	-349	- 939	- 384	 16
David Klingler		- 983	- 69	- 898	-  85	 24
Steve Bartkowski	-1015	-504	  706	 4019	 23
Dan Pastorini		-1279	-409	- 993	 1384	 35
Kyle Boller		-1372	- 28	-1292	  274	 34
Alex Smith		-1450	-337	-1353	- 277	 30
Trent Dilfer		-1465	-153	-1275	 1684	 34
Ryan Leaf		-1528	-765	-1607	- 778	 18

This QBs all started at least 16 games, had under -600 in career value and negative replacement value. No big surprises on their career results.

The above six groups (including Manning and Marino) hold 68 of the 70 QBs drafted from 1970-2005, and Vince Young and Jay Cutler fit into one of those groups as well. That leaves two other QBs and Matt Leinart, who don't really fit neatly into any group.

Here's a summary of the six groups, listed in order as Star, Starter, Uneven, Unclear, Bad and Ugly:

          3yrVal  3yr.75  CarVal  Car.75  3yr GS
Star        757	  1762	  1586	  4371	  26
Starter      61	  1161	  1645	  3941	  31
Uneven	   -841	   518	   343	  3481	  35
Unclear    -161	  - 15	    47	  1157	   3
Bad	   -481	  - 56	  -705	    49	  10
Ugly	  -1182	  -300	  -904	   914	  26

The Star group had lots of above average value; the starter group had lots of above replacement value and were about average; the uneven group were definitely below average but clearly above replacement. The unclear group had just three starts; the bad and ugly group were both bad and ugly but over a different number of starts.

And then there are these three QBs, with Leinart's through 2007 (not that his '08 had added much) numbers:

                 	 3yrVal  3yr.75  CarVal  Car.75  3yr GS
Tommy Kramer		 -239	 463	   733	 4214	 17	
Matt Leinart		 -169	 479			 16	
Mike Phipps		 - 97	 324	 -1299	   64	 15	

Those three QBs certainly don't belong in the bad or ugly group and they had too many starts to fit into the unclear group. Just as clear, they didn't have star or starter potential. That just leaves uneven, but those guys had a ton of negative value and an average of 35 starts. This mini-group should be labeled "limited playing time and showing potential." Not surprisingly it's a small group -- if you're a first round pick and you show potential, you should have at least 20 starts by your third season. It takes a set of unique circumstances for a first round pick to land in this boat.

Kramer and Phipps basically sat their first two seasons. Unlike Chad Pennington and Philip Rivers, they weren't studs their first year starting. Bill Nelson was the Browns starter from '68 to '72, with declining results. He followed up a fantastic 1968 with a very good 1969; he played well above average in 1970, then was okay in '71 before slipping to below average in '72. The Browns may have waited a year too long, but it was understandable why Phipps couldn't get playing time earlier in his career.

Kramer had an even better reason -- he was drafted as the heir apparent to Frank Tarkenton, and sat on the bench for Tarkenton's last two seasons.

Leinart started eleven games as a rookie, then just five in '07 and none so far in '08. He lost his job to Kurt Warner, who has certainly played well and it's understandable that Warner's held on to the job. Leinart's unusual in that he started early and was benched late, but it's unusual for a 37 year old QB on his third team to play so well, too. Leinart's numbers are neither bad nor good; it's tough to say what his potential really is. It's obvious that he had a great supporting cast and performed much worse than Kurt Warner did.

Among first round picks, only Heath Shuler had a similar decrease in games started -- he started 8 games as a rookie, five his second year and none his third. He went to New Orleans his fourth season, started 10 games, and was never heard from again. Here's a look at the distribution of games started among all first round QBs who had between 10 and 20 starts through three seasons, sorted by their value over replacement level:

			Rook	2nd	3rd	Total	3 Yr Val  3 yr .75
Chad Pennington		 0	 0	12	12	  905	  1456
Philip Rivers		 0	 0	16	16	  563	  1212
Matt Leinart		11	 5	 0	16	- 169	   479
Tommy Kramer		 1	 0	16	17	- 239	   463
Mike Phipps		 1	 1	13	15	-  97	   324
Cade McNown		 6	 9	 0	15	- 373	   306
Todd Blackledge		 0	 8	 6	14	- 536	    79
Jerry Tagge		 0	 6	 6	12	- 308	  - 43
Heath Shuler		 8	 5	 0	13	- 574	  - 51
Akili Smith		 4	11	 1	16	- 937	  -349
Ryan Leaf		 9	 0	 9	18	-1528	  -765

Four guys had minimal playing time through two seasons; Pennington and Rivers were stars their third year while Kramer and Phipps were about average. Leaf and Smith were terrible, and McNown was out of the NFL after his second year. Blackledge, Tagge and Shuler all fall into the category of "saw some playing time and played badly". Looking at this list, you can tell that Leinart's an odd case.

Leinart's combination of draft status, quality and quantity of NFL play is relatively unheard of in NFL history. At this point, though, I'd guess he'd be lucky to turn into another Tommy Kramer. On the other hand, Leinart's numbers are probably misleading to the extent that QBs improve as they mature -- if he started 11 games his third year instead of his first, maybe he'd project as another Chad Pennington or Philip Rivers. At this point, history doesn't have a lot to say. But his odds of turning into a franchise QB seem significantly lower than they did two years ago.

I'll close with some qualitative analysis from PFR friend and draft guru Sigmund Bloom about whether or not Leinart is a bust:

Leinart seems to be missing dedication to the game and the ability to gain the confidence of his coaches and teammates - that's more important than any tool in my book.

He had some moments early in his career, but they dwindled last year. By all accounts, he was the Arizona starting QB this year unless he imploded in training camp/preseason. He did. Warner didn't beat him as much as Leinart beat himself. It looked like Leinart was still going to be the starter until he laid one of the biggest eggs of the preseason (4 for 12 with 3 INTs). Arizona really wanted Leinart to be the starter this year, it was only after he played so badly that he gave them no choice but to bench him that Warner was named the starter.

When the final story on Leinart and Young is written they will have made a lot of us look bad for backing them, not because they lacked the physical ability to hang in the NFL, but because they lacked the mental toughness, leadership, and willingness to dedicate themselves completely to the game. Could this year be a wake up call for Leinart? You would think last year was. He's had chances to ratchet up his game and preparation already. He's a bust. Could he be reincarnated as a decent QB elsewhere? If he has a "Road to Damascus" moment like Matt Jones, maybe, but I think it's clear he'll never be a franchise QB in the NFL, and as far as I'm concerned, that means he's a bust.

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 21st, 2008 at 10:41 pm 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.