Data Says NFL Teams Should Stop Drafting Great College QBs

10/09/2021

I am here to decree that NFL teams should stop drafting quarterbacks who were too successful in college. I'm talking about team success, not individual success. Stop drafting the quarterback whose team dominated college football; it's too difficult to gauge whether he was all that good or just a front-runner on a stacked roster. Recent history shows that teams are better off drafting quarterbacks who had moderate to little success at the college level.

Before I get to my reasoning, let me give you some data to back up my claims so you'll stop internally yelling at me.


Between the 2000 and 2017 NFL Drafts, here is a list of every first-round quarterback that started for more than one collegiate season and won at least 86% of their college games.

Jameis Winston (96%), Matt Leinart (95%), Michael Vick (95%), Vince Young (94%), Alex Smith (92%), Joey Harrington (89%), Branden Weeden (88%), Marcus Mariota (88%), Mark Sanchez (88%), Carson Wentz (87%), Chad Pennington (87%), Tim Tebow (87%), Deshaun Watson (87%), JaMarcus Russell (86%)

Not a single one of those is a hall of fame level quarterback. Combined, those 14 quarterbacks have a 48% win rate in the NFL and a touchdown to interception ratio of just 1.45.


However, when you look at the list of the 13 quarterbacks who won 70-85% of their college games, that NFL win rate jumps to 52% with a 1.79 touchdown to interception ratio. That list includes quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger (71%), Matt Ryan (78%), and Andrew Luck (82%).

That's strange enough, but you may not fully buy into the theory, so let me give you the data on quarterbacks who won less than 70% of their college games.


That list of 21 includes names like Aaron Rodgers (69%), Patrick Mahomes (41%), Eli Manning (65%), Phillip Rivers (67%), and Joe Flacco (62%). Those 21 have an NFL win rate of 51% and a touchdown to interception ratio of 1.72.

And you may think this was coincidental, with a few great names shifting the statistics, but that would be incorrect. Even when you eliminate the big-name quarterbacks with a career record over .500, what you still see is that the quarterbacks that won over 85% of their college games come in dead last in touchdown to interception ratio.

So statistically, I've shown you that over the last 20 years, quarterbacks who won 86% or more of their college games perform much worse in the NFL. So, why is that?


For one, it's much harder to accurately gauge the talent of a college quarterback who won that much. 

To win that much means that the quarterback has always had superior talent on the field. He had running backs who could hit the seam every time, wide receivers that can generate yards of separation, an offensive line that can create acres of space, and a coaching staff adept at winning games. So then, how do you gauge a quarterback with all those advantages against one whose team is less talented? I don't have the answer to that, and I don't think anyone else does, for that matter.


The second factor is that to win that many games, the player has faced relatively little adversity in the context of winning and losing. 

And there's something to be said for someone trained in the fire, battling in the trenches for every win. When you have the opposite, you have a quarterback who potentially doesn't know how to deal with losses and learn from them. For example, Trevor Lawrence's opening day loss with the Jacksonville Jaguars was the first regular-season loss of his football career. Yes, not just college at Clemson, but all of high school football too. No regular-season loss in 8 years . . . That means the Jaguars, the worst team in the NFL, drafted a quarterback who is just now knowing what it means to learn from losses.


The third and final factor is that college quarterbacks who won that much aren't usually guys with all that big of a chip on their shoulders. 

What you get with someone who has always won is someone who does not appreciate the fight and grind it takes to lose and fight back. That chip on your shoulder can only come from fighting for your life every game, that kind of toughness transitions well to the NFL. You only find it through harsh circumstances; there's no way to manufacture it.

This third factor is what I believe to be the ultimate reason. 

You want to draft a quarterback who is used to playing with even or less talent than his opponents; that's a quarterback that knows how to dig deep and pull out a win. Draft the kind of franchise quarterback that has a history of elevating everyone around them. That quarterback will take your franchise to new heights.

And maybe I'm wrong, but I believe there's a reason quarterbacks like: Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, and Patrick Mahomes all had moderate success collegiately but have become NFL superstars.


By the way, here's a list of every quarterback to win a Superbowl between 1989 to 2021 and their college win percentage. Tom Brady (80%), Patrick Mahomes (41%), Nick Foles (45%), Peyton Manning (87%), Russell Wilson (60%), Joe Flacco (62%), Eli Manning (65%), Aaron Rodgers (69%), Drew Brees (65%), Ben Roethlisberger (71%), Brad Johnson (71%), Trent Dilfer (70%), Kurt Warner (67%), John Elway (47%), Brett Favre (64%), Troy Aikman (82%), Steve Young (81%), Mark Rypien (40%), Jeff Hostetler (74%), Joe Montanna (86%)

That list shows that outside of Peyton Manning, the last quarterback to win at least 85% of their college games and a Super Bowl was Joe Montanna in 1989, 32 years ago. And, even then, Montanna wasn't a full starter until his fifth year at Notre Dame, and his 85.7% win rate only barely qualifies. Meanwhile, you have four different Superbowl-winning quarterbacks who won between 40 and 50% of their college games, seven between 60 and 70%, and four between 70 and 80%.

So next time your favorite team is up to draft a quarterback in the first round, pray they choose one that didn't win too much in college.


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