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Second-Year Quarterbacks: By The Numbers

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What can we expect from Carson Wentz, statistically, this season?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Please read the tagline again. Statistically.

Thank goodness the regular season is finally here. If I had to watch another harmless “Wentz will probably improve in 2017” take spiral into Dak v. Wentz pandemonium and absurd potshots fired from the two firmly-entrenched camps of Wentz’s footwork and air yards, I was going to recommend the Eagles draft a quarterback in 2018 just to put this godforsaken narrative to bed.

As an evaluator, I was tepid on Wentz coming out—and to be frank, I’m still tepid on Wentz from that perspective. He takes too many risks with the football, his mechanics crumble when his hallway isn’t clean, and he doesn’t have ideal deep accuracy. From the perspective of a fan, however, I freakin’ love Carson Wentz. I identify with his personality a lot, and I love the fact that’s he’s leading my favorite team. I’m okay with that internal split, too. I have very real concerns about his game, but I’m still a fan of him, and I’m rooting for his success.

That split, however, appears irreconcilable for the fanbase/analyst communities at large. As such, instead of writing yet another post that, hosted on a Philadelphia site, predicts improvement from Carson Wentz, I decided to write a post about what to expect from a second-year quarterback. A faceless, nameless second-year quarterback.

Once we strip this quarterback of his name and his narratives, he becomes a data point, that should fit into the trends of data points before him. In this case: all quarterbacks who have played their first and second seasons in the last 20 years.

The Faceless QB started all sixteen games of his rookie season, so that provides a quick filter. In my opinion, there’s a distinct difference in demeanor and preparation between a second-year starter and second-year player, first-year starter at the QB position. If you disagree, cool—I’m trying to spend this entire post avoiding arguments, so, if you please, find a dark, quiet corner and air your grievances there.

Only 13 QBs from 1996-2015 started all 16 games of their rookie season. (2 more did so in 2016, but we’re avoiding those names—*cough* Dak and Wentz—in this post.) Of those 13 QBs, 2 (Geno Smith and David Carr) came into their second seasons as starters, but were benched mid-season. Another 2 (Matt Ryan and Eagle-great Sam Bradford) were injured. That leaves 9 remaining, to complete all 16 games: Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Joe Flacco, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, and Ryan Tannehill.

On the eye test, that’s not too shabby of company in which to be.

But this post endeavors to circumvent the eye test for a reason: it’s not perfect. I’m sure Manning, who went 3-13 in his rookie season with 26 TDs and 28 INTs, had plenty of eye test detractors, and eye test supporters. And on the flip side, David Carr’s record-setting 76 sacks and 52.5% completion percentage were likely scrutinized heavily and discordantly as well.

We know the end of the story: Manning got better, and Carr—well, Carr actually got better too, but not enough to be worthy of note. Statistical analysis is, just like the eye test, far from perfect—but it provides us with a different light. The eye test angle has been beaten into submission by every pundit imaginable. The nice thing about the statistical angle? You can’t argue with numbers.

You know, there’s definitely some guy in the back who thinks he can argue with numbers. You can, sir. Yep, only you. Live your dreams.

I calculated the percent change of 17 different QB stats, from wins (yes, I did QB wins) to Adjusted Net Yards per Passing Attempt, for each first- to second-year season. The numbers for those injured/benched quarterbacks were adjusted to reflect those games they played.

For each stat, then, were 13 different percent changes, for the 13 different quarterbacks. These percent changes were averaged, to provide a rough expectation for the percent change we will see in Carson Wen—oop! I mean, in the faceless, nameless QB’s numbers in 2017.

Table time? Table time.

Carson Wentz Projected 2017 Stats

Category Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int TD% Int% Rate Sk Yds2 Y/A AY/A ANY/A Y/G W L T
Category Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int TD% Int% Rate Sk Yds2 Y/A AY/A ANY/A Y/G W L T
Wentz 379 607 62.4 3782 16 14 2.6 2.3 52.8 33 213 6.2 5.7 5.58 236.5 7 9 0
% increase 4.687655189 1.681835907 3.117684217 5.106578785 24.82683983 -4.45403451 21.73412078 -7.045084748 7.992257334 15.72539387 11.97853508 4.064132305 9.32909321 11.18850665 5.103385983 33.74847375 -1.539656924
2017 Stats 397.6399917 617.3833753 64.40803928 3985.523919 21.28419234 13.40302466 3.322009573 2.14862738 57.38647474 39.15770303 241.9864293 6.462650674 6.286470712 6.282970582 249.2185864 10.56579432 8.863532016 0

What stands out? A couple of things, to me.

Firstly, I expected a far greater uptick for attempted passes in Year 2—however, only a 1.68% increase tacks on a measly 10 attempts to Wentz’s 2016 totals. That’s less than an attempt added per game—and, given the concern around his arm, I’d expect that number to actually drop in 2017.

Secondly, how about a 25% increase in touchdown in Year 2—and a 4% decrease in interceptions? Second-year QBs are better than the credit I gave them, man. On the most recent Locked On Eagles podcast, I predicted Wentz would throw at least 18 interceptions, assuming that another year of confidence would embolden him to even riskier throws this season, and thus more INTs.

And for second-year QBs Derek Carr, Andy Dalton, and Matt Ryan, it did: they all had positive percent changes for INTs, indicating more thrown in Year 2 than in Year 1. But each of those QBs saw at least a 35% increase in TDs, with Ryan and Carr seeing over a 50%—does it get bolder than this?!—50% increase in TDs. It’s a smaller sample size, but if Wentz throws more than 14 INTs this year, chances are he’s thrown for around 24 TDs. That’s roughly the same TD:INT ratio as he’s currently predicted. Good deal.

There’s a nice little climb in efficient stats (Y/A, AY/A, ANY/A). I’m not going to pretend to really understand too much about these stats, because I don’t—if you do, please comment and let the good readers know what’s up. But I do know that more efficient throws could allay the high volume passing attack that wore on Wentz’s arm last season, and I’m down for that.

Finally, take a look at the win/loss column. Obviously, being projected 10.5 wins and 9 losses makes no sense—but, if we’re projecting Philly’s record this year, I think 10-6 is about as high of a ceiling as you’ll hit, and I think 7-9 is a decently low floor. So those numbers reflect an accurate range, in my opinion.

Chalk these stats down as my official predictions for Carson Wentz’s 2017 season. As a second-year, we can expect better numbers from him—and those numbers have historically translated into improved records, as well. Of course, when you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other. These numbers, applied to the other 2016 QB who started all 16 games, give Dak Prescott a QB rating of 114.01, 30 TDs, 4 INTs, a 70% completion percentage, and 19 wins—more than enough to take home a Lombardi Trophy.

Admittedly, Dak’s rookie season is on the outer bound of these stats from the jump, so applying the average to him inflates his projection. The point remains: for both of these second-year quarterbacks, the cards are stacked in their respective favors. And their teams should benefit handsomely from it.

Though we will still argue about it next year nonetheless.