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Is Sitting A Rookie Quarterback A Bad Thing?

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Eh, not really. But let's explore the idea!

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Howdy, BGN folks. My name’s Adam. If you recognize my name, I wrote for Birds 24/7 last season. I’ve also written words for the Daily News, the Inquirer, CSN Philly, and the Eagles’ team site itself. You should know by now to ignore my bylines, but if you decide to continue reading, I’ll be doing some things at this here website, which is fun. Hope you enjoy.


Thursday morning, before we learned Prince was dead and all other crowing ceased in lieu of one long guitar solo, a loud and potent tweet flew through my timeline.

An Eagles fan was yelling at a beat writer about how quarterbacks who sit during their respective rookie seasons have been proven to be "by far" better in the long run. The beat writer wisely questioned this source-less claim. (Because I follow over 600 people, and because Twitter deals in its own unique brand of ephemera, the tweet fluttered into the ether before I could track it down for this piece, so you’ll just have to believe me.)

The Eagles, of course, seem poised to select a quarterback at No. 2 overall in this year’s NFL Draft after Wednesday’s mammoth trade. It’s likely going to be North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, who will be expected to become the team’s quarterback of the future, not the present. He will sit out the first year, learning whatever it is you learn from Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel.

That stray tweet got me thinking: is sitting a theoretically premier quarterback for a year historically a good thing? Is it bad? Are the Eagles about to replicate J.P. Losman? Or are they going to enjoy Aaron Rodgers’ second coming?

I decided to look at the quarterbacks drafted in the first round, from 2000 to 2010, an 11-year window. I wanted to avoid more recent quarterbacks because, in theory, their careers are relatively young and still coming into shape.

There were 28 quarterbacks taken from 2000 to 2010. Ten were de facto "starters" during their first respective season, while the other 18 "sat."

My criteria for being a player being labeled "starter" was their starting at least 12 games during their rookie season.

To evaluate their respective performances, I looked at their career statistics using four measures: completion percentage, touchdown percentage, interception percentage, and yards per attempt. No volume statistics.

That was a long introduction. Let’s jump in.

(Green indicates a figure above the mean; red indicates a figure below the mean.)

(Green indicates a figure above the mean; red indicates a figure below the mean.)

These are the quarterbacks who started at least 75 percent of their rookie season games. Look who’s on top! It’s Sam Bradford! These names are listed in descending order by date; Bradford was drafted No. 1 overall in 2010, and started 16 games that year.

As you can see, there’s a *very* interesting collection of players here. In Ben Roethlisberger, we have a quarterback with two Super Bowl victories, one of the best passers of his era. Roethlisberger, like Wentz, went played football at a non-Power 5 school, but he turned starting 13 games during his rookie season into a potential Hall of Fame career.

We also have David Carr and Joey Harrington, two of the absolute first-round worst quarterback selections of all-time. Carr went to Fresno State (oh no, a state school!) while Harrington went to Oregon. They both were very bad, as you can see from all of that red in the table. Harrington’s completion percentage and yards per attempt were the worst figures from these players, while Carr’s touchdown percentage ranked dead last.

There’s essentially no way to draw conclusions from this data and lay them over Wentz. We’ve basically got a normal distribution of talent: Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco are both Super Bowl winners, Harrington and Carr are the worst of the worst, and the rest settle somewhere in between. As far as starting your first-round quarterback goes, it’s relatively hit or miss.

Moving on.

Hey, look, another former Eagles star at the top of a table!

(I’m sorry.)

Here, we have the 18 quarterbacks who didn’t start 12 games during their rookie seasons. A number of these players — Rodgers, Eli Manning, Alex Smith — hardly saw any playing time.

Since sitting behind Brett Favre for a few years, Rodgers has evolved into a tremendously well-rounded quarterback. Look at those numbers! Meanwhile, Manning has won two Super Bowls, and Smith, while most certainly not a desirable franchise quarterback, is serviceable when surrounded with talent.

However, we also have players Tim Tebow, who I don’t think I need to touch on, Brady Quinn, and Kyle Boller, who seriously went in the first round of an NFL draft, which is astounding.

In this table, a sort of pattern emerges, with waves of either green or red quarterbacks alternating. There is typically a glut of quarterbacks, followed by a dearth. And, just like the first table, there is almost no way to draw conclusions from this data and apply them to Wentz, or Jared Goff, or any draft class.

So, this was probably a lot of words to explain what I probably could have summed up with a brief introduction, an explanation of my methods, and one chart:

As you can see, there is very little difference between starting your rookie quarterback and sitting your rookie quarterback when it comes to career performance. It all depends — big surprise — on who the actual player is. If the draft unfolds as planned, the Eagles are going to sit Carson Wentz during his rookie season. Then, they will eventually play him. Their decision to sit him will not doom him, nor cause his great success.

I know there used to be a man trying to sell a similar plan in South Philadelphia who just lost his job, but basically: just wait, and then we’ll see.