Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Matt Stafford, by the Numbers

ESPN has their own measure for predicting the success of college quarterbacks in the NFL and it looks amazingly similar to the measure that Football Outsiders created. FO's measure, which is based on testing quarterbacks from years past to determine which stats correlate to NFL success, looks at completion percentage and starts. ESPN's measure looks at the same two stats and then adds in TD/INT ratio for good measure. When run on the top three quarterback prospects in this year's Draft, Matt Stafford does not come off well. In fact, he would be wedged between Akili Smith and Cade McNown, which is not a place that a quarterback prospect wants to be.

The article does acknowledge that Stafford lags because of a freshman year in which he threw seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions. I suspect that most Georgia fans are willing to cut Stafford some slack for 2006 because Stafford was a true freshman starting on a team with a mediocre running game and receivers who dropped everything that was thrown their way. If Stafford didn't start in 2006, then his numbers would be better, although he would then suffer in the games started category.

Not surprisingly, Bill Barnwell of FO runs its test on Stafford and finds him wanting. He makes an interesting point in comparing Stafford to Greene:

One of the arguments against a statistical-based system for projecting college quarterbacks is that a system quarterback such as former Hawaii star Colt Brennan would put up inflated numbers that weren't true indicators of his NFL ability. Although scouts should sniff that stuff out and encourage teams to avoid taking such players in the first two rounds (something Lewin built into his system), another easy way to control for system quarterbacks is to compare the quarterback to the previous starter at his school.

Stafford was directly preceded at Georgia by the recently retired David Greene; both spent their entire college careers under head coach Mark Richt in similar offensive systems. Stafford's college numbers are actually worse than Greene's, with the latter completing 59 percent of his passes and averaging 8.01 yards per attempt to Stafford's 7.83. If Stafford was really a star in the making, wouldn't he have put up better numbers, in the same system, than a guy who washed out of the NFL without taking a professional snap? If it was our $25 million guaranteed, the answer would need to be yes.

Personally, I wouldn't spend a pick in the top half of the first round on Stafford, not because of the "maturity" concerns that are nebulously asserted about him. Rather, his technique is inconsistent, which causes him to have accuracy problems. The ESPN article nails the issue:

College quarterbacks don't typically improve their accuracy in the NFL. If his decisions were at all suspect against SEC opponents, then it's reasonable to wonder how he will react to professional defenses.

If Stafford didn't have consistent footwork as a junior in the SEC with two seasons of experience under his belt, then one has to wonder whether he's really driven like a great athlete. In other words, he might be like you, me, and the vast majority of humanity in that he isn't obsessed with mastering his craft to a microscopic level of detail. Wouldn't it be fair to say that the reaction of most Georgia fans to Stafford at the end of his career was "he was good, but there was always something missing?"

If Football Outsiders is right about Knowshon Moreno being a suspect prospect because of his speed score and FO and ESPN are right about Stafford being overrated because of his accuracy issues, then isn't the corollary that Georgia's 2008 season wasn't really that disappointing? We were excited all summer in large part because the Dawgs had bona fide stars at the offensive skill positions. What if we were just wrong about that strength? Isn't the implication positive for UGA in 2009? And does this mean that my conclusion from the season that Richt is behind Saban and Meyer is faulty?

Speaking of the Gators, I'll be interested to see how Tim Tebow is evaluated before the Draft next year. On the one hand, you're going to have scouts bagging on him as having a slow release and being a product of a great college scheme that cannot be duplicated in the NFL. On the other hand, Tebow will come into the Draft as a three-year starter. He's currently a 65% passer with 67 career touchdowns against 11 picks. If his numbers hold steady, he should be off the charts in terms of ESPN's three measures. Then again, so would Graham Harrell. As Barnwell notes above, the FO test for quarterbacks only applies to the first two rounds, thus relying on scouts to screen out system quarterbacks. If Tebow goes in the fourth round despite sterling numbers, then the scouts will have done their work.


peacedog said...

Yes mostly.

Anonymous said...

First of all Stafford did not immediately follow Greene. DJ Shockley started and won an SEC championship. Joe T III was slated to start for Stafford's freshman year. If you compare Greene's senior year to Stafford's junior year, Stafford's numbers are better. Also, compare Matt Ryan's senior year to Stafford's true junior season.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who has watched SEC football for the last two years knows exactly why Matt Stafford will be a bust.... he may put it off longer then you expect, but he is eventually going to throw that crippling interception. The guy has all the talent in the world, but he makes 3-5 completely retarded decisions a game and that will cost him in the NFL