by Cameron Dowd
The wave of the young signal callers is upon us. This year there are five rookies and five second-year quarterbacks starting from opening day. Over the past ten seasons there has never been a year in which this many first and second-year quarterbacks started the majority of games for their respective teams. The high number of inexperienced starting quarterbacks got us thinking: is the league in a flux with so many teams looking to rebuild, or does experience not matter to quarterback play?
To answer this question, we wanted to determine how experience affects quarterback performance. If season of experience is not a significant predictor of quarterback play, then perhaps even teams in contention for a playoff spot are justified in starting an inexperienced quarterback.
To measure performance, I collected data on expected points added per play (EPA/P) from the past ten seasons for quarterbacks who started a majority of their team’s games. In addition to EPA/P, I recorded the players’ years of experience, age, and if and where the player was drafted as well.
After collecting the data, I ran a regression using a 95% confidence level to determine if experience, quarterback age, and when and if the player was drafted was a significant predictor of quarterback performance as measured by EPA/P.
Here are the results:
Experience, age, and if the player was drafted all had a significant effect on player performance. Controlling for the included variables, an additional year of experience increased EPA/P by about 0.02. The inclusion of age is especially important, as we are focusing on the effect of experience on production. Having age in our regression allows us to compare how much better we would expect a 7-year veteran and 28-year-old quarterback, like Aaron Rodgers or Alex Smith, compared to a rookie 28-year-old quarterback, like Brandon Weeden.
Surprisingly when the player was drafted did not have a significant effect on performance. There are two potential explanations as to why draft position did not have a significant impact on player performance. One reason is the high bust rate at the quarterback position. Players such as JaMarcus Russell and Tim Couch, both taken with the first overall pick in their respective drafts, are classic examples of players failing to perform to the level of their draft position. The second reason is the play of quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Marc Bulger, who consistently performed at a top level despite being taken with 6th round picks.
As the data shows, experience does have a significant effect on quarterback performance, suggesting the league is indeed in a flux with a high number of teams looking to rebuild. These teams are inserting inexperienced quarterbacks even though more experienced quarterbacks perform significantly better. Perhaps we will see these young signal callers take the league by storm and thrive despite their lack of experience; however based on the past ten seasons though such expectations should be tempered. Almost a third of league is starting quarterbacks with a year or less of experience while these teams may be rebuilding now, we might see their rise to prominence in a few years behind their more experienced quarterbacks.