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Return on Your Investment: Quarterbacks

One of the biggest keys to a successful dynasty team is making sure you acquire young prospects, either through the draft or through trades, and watch them mature into fantasy starters. In order to accomplish this, a savvy owner needs to be able to decide if a breakout season is coming or if it is time to move on from a player. This is the truly difficult part. How long do you wait on a quarterback before deciding that they aren’t worth it anymore? What about a running back or one of the other positions?

This is the first in a four part series that will help to shed a bit more light on this subject. In this article, we will examine the beginnings of the careers of several current and former quarterbacks. We will look at how many years it took for them to earn the starting role and how long it subsequently took before they reached the production level of a QB1. This gives us another tool we can use to help decide when we should be expecting a breakout or be moving on from young quarterbacks like Jake Locker and Christian Ponder as well as the bumper crop of rookies available this year.

For this study, the benchmark of QB1 level of production was determined by looking at the points for the 12th best quarterback over the last few years using the following scoring: 4 points for passing touchdown, 1 point for 25 yards passing, 6 points for rushing touchdowns, 1 point for 10 rushing yards, and -2 points for turnovers.

Tom Brady

Rookie Season: 2000
First Season Starting Games: Middle of the 2001 season
First Year with QB1 Production: 2002
Notes: Brady has produced QB1 numbers every year since then with the exception of the year he tore his ACL.

Matt Schaub

Rookie Season: 2004
First Season Starting Games: Start of the 2007 season
First Year with QB1 Production: 2009
Notes: Injuries have been the key for Schaub. He would have hit QB1 numbers before 2009 and more often since then if he was able to play 16 games more often. He has hit QB1 numbers when he manages to stay healthy.

Brett Favre

Rookie Season: 1991
First Season Starting Games: Middle of the 1992 season
First Year with QB1 Production: 1994
Notes: There were a select few years where Favre’s touchdown to interception rate would put him at high end QB2 numbers, but he was largely at QB1 level production until his 40s.

Peyton Manning

Rookie Season: 1998
First Season Starting Games: Started week 1 as a rookie.
First Year with QB1 Production: 1999
Notes: Manning was a high end QB2 during his rookie season and has been a QB1 ever since.

Drew Brees

Rookie Season: 2001
First Season Starting Games: Start of the 2002 season
First Year with QB1 Production: 2004
Notes: Brees produced QB2 numbers in 2002, was injured in 2003, then produced at a QB1 level almost every year since 2004. He jumped up to elite territory when he signed with the Saints in 2006.

Ben Roethlisberger

Rookie Season: 2004
First Season Starting Games: Started early in his rookie season.
First Year with QB1 Production: 2007
Notes: Missed multiple games during the 2005 season. He then had too many turnovers in 2006 resulting in high end QB2 numbers.

Philip Rivers

Rookie Season: 2004
First Season Starting Games: Start of the 2006 season
First Year with QB1 Production: 2008
Notes: He backed up Brees for two years and then posted two years of high end QB2 numbers.

Eli Manning

Rookie Season: 2004
First Season Starting Games: Started in the middle of the 2004 season.
First Year with QB1 Production: 2005
Notes: Fluctuated between low end QB1 and high end QB2 numbers until 2009 when he started producing solid QB1 numbers.

Carson Palmer

Rookie Season: 2003
First Season Starting Games: Start of the 2004 season
First Year with QB1 Production: 2005
Notes: Produced solid QB1 numbers until he missed 2008 with a major knee injury. Only produced QB2 numbers in 2009, but has since produced QB1 numbers when playing a full season.

Michael Vick

Rookie Season: 2001
First Season Starting Games: Started in the middle of the 2001 season.
First Year with QB1 Production: 2002
Notes: Only reaches QB1 level of production due to rushing yardage and scores. As a pure passer, he is at a QB2 level at best. Injuries have caused him not to make QB1 level a few years even with rushing numbers.

Aaron Rodgers

Rookie Season: 2005
First Season Starting Games: Start of the 2008 season.
First Year with QB1 Production: 2008
Notes: Sat behind Favre for a few years, but was instantly a QB1 when he began starting.

Cam Newton

Rookie Season: 2011
First Season Starting Games: Started week 1 as a rookie.
First Year with QB1 Production: 2011
Notes: One of the best years for a rookie quarterback ever. With his rushing numbers he produced elite numbers. Without the rushing numbers he was still a low end QB1.

Matthew Stafford

Rookie Season: 2009
First Season Starting Games: Started week 1 as a rookie.
First Year with QB1 Production: 2011
Notes: Injuries cut short his first two years, but he was a very solid if not elite QB1 option during his first full season.

Matt Ryan

Rookie Season: 2008
First Season Starting Games: Started week 1 as a rookie.
First Year with QB1 Production: 2010
Notes: Ryan produced solid QB2 numbers for the first 2 years before stepping up into the mid-QB1 levels for the last few years.

Tony Romo

Rookie Season: 2003
First Season Starting Games: Started in the middle of the 2006 season.
First Year with QB1 Production: 2007
Notes: Romo took the longest of all of the quarterbacks in the study to earn the starting role. This is due in large part to him going undrafted out of college and needing to work his way up through the ranks behind guys like Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe When he has played a full season, he has produced very solid QB1 numbers.

Jay Cutler

Rookie Season: 2006
First Season Starting Games: Started in the middle of the 2006 season.
First Year with QB1 Production: 2008
Notes: He was a high end QB2 in 2007 before stepping into the QB1 level in the 2008 season. He has fluctuated a little between QB1 and QB2 numbers as a result of being traded and injuries.

Summary

If we put all of this together, we start to notice a few general trends that we saw in all of these current or former QB1s and that we should expect to see from the current crop of young quarterbacks if they are going to develop into QB1s down the road. With the exception of Romo, all of the quarterbacks started within one year of being on their current team (Favre and Schaub were both traded before they became QB1s) unless they were behind guys who were already producing at a QB1 level, such as Rodgers behind Favre or Rivers behind Brees.

Once they earned the starting role, all of the quarterbacks other than Roethlisberger, who struggled with injuries early in his career, produced QB1 numbers within two years of starting and were QB2s in the years prior to that. For those who like numbers, the average number of years to earn the starting job was 1.1 years and the average once starting to become a QB1 was 1.3 years – that means we should expect a future QB1 to produce at that level within three seasons of being drafted.

How long do you wait for young quarterbacks to develop?

I would have guessed it was more along the lines of five years, basically giving them until their late 20s before making a call on them. However, this data definitely contradicts that – it shows that if a quarterback isn’t producing by their third season with a team, it is very likely that they will never be anything more than a backup fantasy quarterback. This means that guys like Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez, and Alex Smith aren’t likely going to ever be consistent QB1s for your team. It also means the clock is ticking on Ponder and Locker. This is year two for them, and if they don’t put up QB1 numbers by year three, it probably won’t happen.

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Zach Levitt
9 years ago

What are your thoughts on Nick Foles? Obvioulsy it partly depends on opportunity but how long do you think it will take for him to get a shot and is he good enough to put up QB1 numbers?

Josh Gans
9 years ago

I am curious how different OCs and surrounding cast might have affected players like Sanchez, Jason Campbell and Sam Bradford…ie are they just not performing up to snuff or is the lack of talent in their targets combined with multiple OCs that has basically ruined their value. One could easily argue both sides..Brady has rarely had quality targets and it can be said Brady made players like Welker and Branch…or take the flip side and Bradford’s best WR is Amendola..not exactly a top 10, 20…or even 50 wr.

Josh Gans
Reply to  Jacob Feldman
9 years ago

Thanks for the reply..and agreed! I guess I wish there was some sort of simulator..swap head coaches, ocs, wrs, tes, rbs, qbs, o-lines..etc..and see what gets churned out!

clayton westphal
9 years ago

There is a problem with the sample in this study as to the conclusion.

The sample consists of current QB1’s in the league and how they developed plus you threw in Brett Farve. The conclusion is that if you are not a QB1 by year 3, your never going to become one.

In order to draw such a conclusion you need to draw your sample from players who have completed their careers, not from the current stock of QBs

Example Troy Aikman’s year 3 stats are not better than Mark Sanchez’s Stats.
Archie Manning’s first year pro bowl was season 8 & season 9
Steve Young’s first year as a pro bowler was season 8 he spent his first season with the USFL and season 2 and 3 with the Tampa Bay Bucs and could not produce with a terrible team there.
Vinnie Testeverde was drafted #1 and took over for Steve Young and by the time he made his first pro bowl, Steve Young had been there 5 times and Vinnie was already on a new team.

From the Sample given it is safe to say that a QB who starts in a good environment have a better chance to become a QB1, some players can overcome being on a bad team and can help that team get better.

Eric MacKenzie
9 years ago

Ummm.. not sure what you were looking at, but Sanchez was low-end QB1 territory last year with the rushing TDs. Dismiss them if you like, but I’m sure other guys skated by with quirky stats here and there. I also think your data sample is too small to be relevant. I understand not wanting to include the old guys, but analyzing a total of 16 guys in one era isnt something to make conclusive statements off of in my view.

Robert Austin
9 years ago

I’m excited to see what Kaepernick could put together when given the shot. He flashes big plays everytime he gets on the field.

Jordan Andrews
9 years ago

No offense, but this is nothing more than a basic research project on 16 random quarterbacks. What I learned from this article (and, presumably, parts 2 thru 4 as well): There is zero correlation between any two players and it is a total crapshoot when attempting to predict a player’s breakout.

Duly noted.

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