Lewin Career Forecast 2012
by Aaron Schatz
Six years ago, Football Outsiders unveiled the college quarterback
projection system known as the Lewin Career Forecast. Originally, the
LCF projected the success of first- and second-round quarterbacks
using just college games started and college completion percentage.
Going back -- including when looking at quarterbacks from the years
before the data set used to create it -- it had a strong record. After
2006, the record was not so strong. So last year, we debuted an updated
version of the forecast, LCF v2.0.
The new version of the Lewin Career Forecast is built to apply only
to quarterbacks chosen in the first three rounds of the draft. After
success and failure becomes too difficult to predict. Part of the
concept of the system is that scouts will do a good enough job
identifying "system quarterbacks" so that those quarterbacks whose
college stats are much better than their pro potential will naturally
fall to the third day of the draft.
There are seven variables involved in LCF v2.0:
- Career college games started, with a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 48.
- Career completion rate; however, this is now a logrithmic variable.
As a quarterback's completion percentage goes down, the penalty for low
completion percentage gets gradually larger. As a result, the bonus for
exceedingly accurate quarterbacks such as Tim Couch and Brian Brohm is smaller than the penalty for inaccurate quarterbacks such as Kyle Boller and Tarvaris Jackson.
- Difference between the quarterback's BMI and 28.0. This creates a
small penalty for quarterbacks who don't exactly conform to the "ideal
- For quarterbacks who come out as seniors, the difference in NCAA
passer rating between their junior and senior seasons. (For quarterbacks
who come out as juniors or redshirt sophomores, this variable is always
5.0, which is the average increase for the seniors in our data set.)
- A binary variable that penalizes quarterbacks who don't play for a team in a BCS-qualifying conference.
- Run-pass ratio in the quarterback's final college season, with a maximum of 0.5.
- Total rushing yards in the quarterback's final college season, with a minimum of 0 and a maximum of 600.
These last two variables work together to penalize both quarterbacks
who scramble too often and quarterbacks who take a lot of sacks (since
sacks are negative runs in college), while pocket quarterbacks who are
successful when they do run get a bonus.
The biggest question about LCF continues to be the importance of
games started. This is still the most important variable in the
equation. As I explained in last year's article,
any quarterback projection system based on past performance is going to
highly value collegiate games started. From 1990 to 2005, it was far
and away the most important variable in determining the success of
highly-drafted quarterbacks. However, there are questions about whether
the rise of the spread offense is leading to number of quarterbacks who
come into the NFL with a lot of collegiate experience yet still
unprepared for the NFL-style game. Other quarterbacks have come into the
NFL with less experience and done very well. The best example of this
would be Cam Newton,
who seems like the kind of guy who is built to break this system. He
started only one year of Division I ball and looked like a huge risk,
then put together one of the best rookie quarterback seasons in NFL
history. Aaron Rodgers
is another player who was underrated by the system; given the success
of Newton and Rodgers, perhaps we need to consider adding junior college
experience to the variable for collegiate games started.
Newton demonstrates where the system can go wrong, while Andy Dalton
demonstrates where the system can go right. Dalton was the
highest-rated prospect in last year's draft according to LCF and while
his numbers (and his potential) don't match Newton's, his rookie
performance surprised a number of observers who felt his arm wasn't
strong enough to be a good NFL starting quarterback.
It's important to understand that LCF is meant to be a tool used
alongside the scouting reports, not instead of the scouting reports.
What matters is not which quarterback is ahead of which other
quarterback by 100 points. Instead, what's important is who has an
overall good or bad projection. Scouts still come first and foremost,
but this method is valuable as a crosscheck device and should be part of
the conversation about quarterback draft prospects.
With that in mind, let's look at the projections for this year's
quarterbacks. These numbers represent an estimate for passing DYAR in
years 3-5 of a player's career. The top prospects will be above 1,200
DYAR, and you should avoid quarterbacks below zero. Let's start with the
top two guys, two of the highest-rated quarterbacks in LCF history who
will also be the first two picks in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Robert Griffin, Baylor: 2,530 DYAR
Important stats: 40 games started, 67.0% completion rate, senior passer rating rose 45.3 points, 161 carries for 644 yards.
Andrew Luck, Stanford: 1,749 DYAR
Important stats: 37 games started, 66.4% completion rate, senior passer rating dropped -0.5 points, 47 carries for 150 yards.
Robert Griffin comes out with the strongest LCF projection of any
quarterback we've measured. Here are the top ten quarterbacks by LCF
projection since 1998:
Player Year LCF Robert Griffin 2012 2530 Philip Rivers 2004 2476 Drew Brees 2001 2190 Colt McCoy 2010 2092 Carson Palmer 2003 1973 Peyton Manning 1998 1784 Andrew Luck 2012 1749 Chad Pennington 2000 1678 Brady Quinn 2007 1518 Jason Campbell 2005 1506
Griffin and Luck are basically LCF's dream candidates. They're both
longtime starters with tons of college experience. Both have strong
completion rates. Both get good yardage when scrambling. The biggest
difference between the two according to LCF is what happened in their
senior year. Luck, who was stellar as a junior, saw his passer rating
stay constant. Griffin, on the other hand, improved significantly. The
45.3-point rise in his passer rating as a senior is largest senior
improvement in our database (surpassing Jason Campbell,
who rose 40.3 points) and the second-largest senior change in our
database (behind only Rex Grossman, whose passer rating as a senior
dropped 49.3 points). Statistically, Griffin's senior year was better
than Luck's, his junior year not as good. This could indicate that
Griffin is still improving, still learning, and still getting better,
with more room to grow in the pros. Of course, it also could indicate
that Griffin's 2011 season was a little fluky, and one of the arguments
I've read against Griffin as a can't-miss prospect is that most scouts
didn't have him as a first-round pick before his senior season. With all
due respect to those scouts, it was pretty obvious within the first two
or three games of the year that they were wrong. And even if Griffin's
passer rating as a senior had stayed the same as his passer rating as a
junior, Griffin would still have this year's highest LCF projection at
Again, this little statistical exercise is not definitive proof that
the Colts should draft Griffin over Luck. What's important here is that
both quarterbacks come out as top prospects, and unlike with Colt McCoy, the scouting reports match the statistical projection.
One last note: The argument against "Luck and Griffin are about as
close to can't miss as quarterback prospects can be" is not "well,
people said the same thing about Peyton Manning
and Ryan Leaf." We know more now than we did then. Leaf started only 24
games and completed just 55.4 percent of his passes in college. His LCF
projection is at -407. If Football Outsiders had been around in 1998,
we would have been arguing that Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf weren't even in the same universe as prospects.
Nick Foles, Arizona: 1,391 DYAR
Important stats: 33 games started, 66.9% completion rate, 43 carries for -103 yards.
Foles is this year's version of Ricky Stanzi, a guy whose strong LCF
forecast will probably end up moot because scouts will determine that
he's not worth of a pick in the first three rounds. His film from 2011
has apparently dropped him on a lot of draft boards, and he had a poor
combine performance. Greg Cosell calls him a "major projection"
based on slow arm speed and an inability to drive intermediate-lenth
passes. He also has an elongated delivery. I'm not a scouting expert by
any means, and I haven't seen Foles play, but the scouting reports on
Foles remind me a lot of the scouting reports on Andy Dalton, except that Dalton didn't have a problem with a slow delivery.
Kirk Cousins, Michigan State: 1,362 DYAR
Important stats: 38 games started, 64.6% completion rate.
One interesting note about Cousins is his fluctuating size. He's
6-foot-3 and weighed in at the combine at 214 pounds, which leads to a
26.7 BMI. That's lower than usual for quarterbacks, but not extremely
low. However, he played the 2011 season at 202 pounds and 25.2 BMI. The
data set used to create LCF v2.0 doesn't have a single quarterback
listed below 205 pounds or 25.8 BMI. The team drafting Cousins needs to
make sure he keeps up an intensive strength program so he's sturdy
enough to take the hits he's going to take in the NFL. The ESPN Scouts Inc. profile of Cousins (note: Insider) lists him with "below average" durability.
Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State: 1,011 DYAR
Important stats: 25 games started, 69.5% completion rate, 26.8 BMI
Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M: 730 DYAR
Important stats: 19 games started, 62.3% completion rate, 55 carries for 296 yards.
Given the way they are discussed, you would never know that Ryan Tannehill had almost as many college starts as Brandon Weeden.
Sure, Tannehill spent his first two years as a wide receiver before
spending a year and a half as the Aggies' starting quarterback. But
Weeden spent all those years as a baseball player,
then was redshirted, and ended up only starting two full seasons. So
while Tannehill may be a more raw talent than Weeden, and he wasn't as
accurate as Weeden in college, he has far more potential. The LCF
doesn't know that Weeden will turn 29 in the middle of his rookie
season. When John Beck came into the league as an overaged prospect, he
had 12 more games of starting experience than Weeden has and was three years younger.
Brock Osweiler, Arizona State: 248 DYAR
Important stats: 14 games started, 60.3% completion rate.
The LCF likes this year's quarterback prospects, with one exception: Brock Osweiler.
Osweiler is built for LCF to hate. He has a low completion rate and
only started one season in college (along with a single game in each of
his first two seasons) before coming out for the draft early. LCF
doesn't ding him for this, but there also need to be concerns about his
height. He was listed at 6-foot-8 during the season, although he
measured 6-foot-7 at the combine. Either way, he's taller than any
quarterback in the LCF data set. The FO master database lists only two
quarterbacks since 1992 who were at least 6-foot-7: Ryan Mallett and Dan McGwire. Dan McGwire also had very few games started (23) and a low completion rate (59.1 percent). You don't want to be compared to Dan McGwire.
Russell Wilson, Wisconsin: 2,650 DYAR
Important stats: 48 games started, 60.7% completion rate, senior passer rating rose 64.1 points.
I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the ridiculous projection that the Lewin Career Forecast spits out for Russell Wilson. Yes, that projection is even higher than the one for Robert Griffin.
No, it doesn't particularly mean that Wilson is a sleeper prospect.
There are a few things going on here that the LCF is just not designed
to account for.
First and foremost, the change in Wilson's passer rating between his
junior and senior years is insane. Remember that earlier I noted that
Griffin had a larger senior year passer rating increase than any
quarterback in our data set? Well, Wilson's senior year passer rating
increase is 40 percent larger than Griffin's. But does it matter when
the quarterback is playing in a completely different offense for a
completely different school in his last year of college eligibility? At
Wisconsin, Wilson got to pick apart defenses that were concentrating on
stopping Montee Ball. At North Carolina State, I doubt opponents were
quaking in their boots at the thought of Mustafa Greene and Dean Haynes.
It goes without saying that there isn't another quarterback in the LCF
data set who transferred between his junior and senior years.
There's also the issue of height, another data point where there's
nobody in our data set that can be compared to Wilson. At first, it
seems strange that LCF doesn't include a variable to discount short
quarterbacks, but when you look at the data set that went into creating
LCF the reasons are pretty clear. There's no penalty for being
5-foot-11, like Wilson is, because there are no quarterbacks in the data
set who are shorter than 6-foot-0. There's no penalty for being only
6-foot-0 because the two quarterbacks who are 6-foot-0 are Drew Brees and Michael Vick.
Quarterbacks who are Wilson's height simply don't get drafted in the
first three rounds of the draft, period. The FO master database only
includes three quarterbacks who are below six feet tall: Seneca Wallace,
Joe Hamilton, and Flutie. That's a fourth-round pick, a seventh-round
pick, and an 11th round pick from 25 years ago. Even if we go all the way back
to 1991, the only quarterbacks taken in the first six rounds at
6-foot-0 or shorter were Vick, Brees, Wallace, Joe Germaine (fourth
round, 1999), and Troy Smith (fifth round, 2007).
Wilson too will probably be drafted on the third day of the draft,
round four or later, which would render his absurdly high LCF moot.
Edited by Villain The Foe, 08 May 2013 - 10:19 PM.