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Just The Sports: 2006-09-24

Just The Sports

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Smith and Leak

In order to be fair to the other senior college quarterbacks across the country, I decided to do for Troy Smith and Chris Leak what I did for Drew Stanton, Brady Quinn, and Drew Tate, namely to take a look at how their careers have panned out to this point. The criteria for selecting the games I looked at were the same and again I did not count sacks against rushing success rates.

For the 21 games falling under my criteria, Troy Smith has a 61.9% completion percentage, 31:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 4,033 passing yards, averages 8.8 yards per pass attempt, 4.2 yards per carry, and has a 48.4% success rate on his passes. His completion percentage ranks him third among the five quarterbacks I looked at and his success rate ranks him fourth among the same group. His completion percentage and success rate woes have a lot to do with his first season of significant playing time where he struggled mightily throwing the ball, with his passes only garnering successful yardage 40.1% of the time. The fact his yards per pass attempt is so high is mostly a result of his successful passes usually going for big yardage.

As far as improvement from year to year goes, Smith's increase from his sophomore season to his junior season in success rate (40.1% to 52.9%) trumps even Brady Quinn's, although Quinn's completion percentage jump is still greater. Like Quinn, Smith has seen some regression to the mean in his first four games of this season.

Even though Smith has won a high percentage of games he started or played in, there are still two concerns I have about his college career. The first is his dubious decision to not run the ball as much and instead concentrate on his passing. Smith should won not because he is not an accurate passer (he is), but because when he runs he helps Ohio State more. In 2005, when he was running at a 61.1% success rate clip, he was contributing an average of 263 yards per game, 207.5 via the pass and 55.5 via the ground. So far in 2006, he is averaging 222 yards per game, 221 yards throwing and 1 yard running. Smith runs much too well to have given it up entirely.

The second concern I have about how good Smith might be in the NFL is the low number of pass attempts he has thrown over his career, 457 pass attempts to be exact. Drew Stanton has appeared in only two more games (under my criteria) than Smith, but has attempted 204 more passes, a fairly wide margin. This is not to say Smith will be a bad pro, but it would be nice if he had thrown more passes to see if his completion percentage would remain high.

Secondly, there is Chris Leak with a 60.6% completion percentage, 7.8 yards per pass attempt, 75:32 touchdown-to-intercpetion ratio, 9.071 passing yards, and a 47.1% success rate, whose college career closely mirrors that of Brady Quinn's, at least on the outside. Leak has also qualified for 38 games and like Quinn, spent two years playing for an incompetent coach who was fired and replaced with a coach who had a track record of making quarterbacks better.

That is where a lot of the similarities end between these two quarterbacks end because unlike Brady Quinn, Chris Leak actually saw his success rate decrease from his sophomore to junior year, although his completion percentage rose. This means that while Leak was completing more passes, they were not garnering the required yardage. His yards per pass attempt and yards per reception also decreased during that period.

In this, his senior year, Leak is seeing his success rate go up along with his completion percentage, yards per passing attempt, and yards per reception, which means that he is behaving no differently than every other Urban Meyer quarterback who also flourished in the second year of running Meyer's offense.

Note: Smith's success rates do not include the 2005 game against Michigan St.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Minnesota Vikings Rushing Game

The off-season acquisition of Steve Hutchinson by the Minnesota Vikings was not without its share of notoriety. The first bit of notoriety came from the contract making Hutchinson the highest paid guard in NFL history and the second bit had to do with the Vikings injecting a poison pill into the contract to make it financially unattractive for the Seahawks to match the contract and retain the services of the left guard. Seattle countered later in the off-season by signing Nate Burleson away from the Vikings and putting in a poison pill of their own, but who really wanted Nate Burleson anyway?

Of course, in handing an offensive lineman a seven-year, $49 million contract (at least on the surface), the Vikings no doubt expected it to pay immediate dividends for the team, most notably in the rushing game. Since that was the case, I can think of no better time to glance at Minnesota's rushing totals and see if Hutchinson has made a difference.

With Hutchinson playing guard, the first place I wanted to look was to compare the Vikings' yards per rush up the middle and off-guard to what they had last year. Doing so revealed that they have improved. Last year, the Vikings averaged 3.11 yards per middle-guard rush and this year the number has increased to 3.74 yards per rush. This is still below the 2005 league-average of 4.13 yards per rush, but it is an improvement.

Now, not all of that should be attributed to Steve Hutchinson's donning a Vikings uniform because the Vikings got center Matt Birk back from injury and rushes off the right guard are also factored into the equation so the increase is the result of a few factors and not just one.

In addition, so far this season, rushes up the middle and off-guard are where the Vikings have had the most success. I say that even though they have a higher yards per carry average running off the left tackle (5.91) because that average is inflated by one 33-yard run. Take that away and the Vikings are only averaging 3.20 yards per rush off left tackle. They are the worst when running around the left end. Overall the Vikings have only truly improved in middle-guard rushes over last year.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Stanton, Quinn, and Tate

Drew Stanton of Michigan State (5,416 passing yards), Brady Quinn of Notre Dame (9,386 passing yards), and Drew Tate of Iowa (6,244 passing yards) are three senior college quarterbacks who all look to be among the top quarterbacks taken in the next NFL draft so it is worth taking a look at their careers up to this point. When looking at their stats, I did not go exactly by how many games they appeared in or even how many games they started. Instead, I decided to only include games in which the quarterbacks either attempted the most passes or accumulated the most passing yards. After doing this, there were 23 such games for Stanton, 38 games for Quinn, and 26 games for Tate.

Of the three quarterbacks, Stanton has the highest completion percentage over his career (65.4%), the highest yards per passing attempt (8.1), the highest success rate of his passes (51.4% success rate) thanks in large part to his accuracy, and he has scored 11.7 points per game via passing and rushing touchdowns. If there is to be any indictment of Stanton, it is that his touchdown-to-interception ratio is only 37:22, which is not as high as one would expect from an elite quarterback, but his 12 rushing touchdowns do a good job of making up for that.

As I just alluded to, Stanton is not simply a pocket passer and is also a threat to tuck the ball and run with it as his 1,207 yards on 4.6 yards per carry with 59.9% success rate on rushes suggest. His rushing totals are even more impressive once you take into account that sacks in college count against a quarterback's rushing totals.

Most are already familiar with Brady Quinn's odyssey, but it is worth reviewing. He has the edge by far in games started, which is usually a good indicator of success on the NFL level. Since Quinn started as a freshman and went through a trial by fire period, his career completion percentage of 56.8% is not as high as the other two quarterbacks and neither is his 7.3 yards per passing attempt, but to Quinn's credit, he has improved in each of his three full seasons with the biggest overall improvement coming between his sophomore and junior seasons. His completion percentage jumped from 54.1% to 64.9%, his yards per passing attempt increased from 7.3 to 8.7, and his success rate on passes went from 44.0% to 53.1%, the largest improvement any of these three quarterbacks experienced from one year to the next. Quinn's career touchdown-to-interception ratio is 69:35, almost a 2:1 ratio.

This year, though, Quinn is struggling and has had a year so far that is between his sophomore and junior seasons, but it has only been one-third of the season so there is still time to match his junior totals.

One attribute of Quinn's that should not be understated is his durability. Since he took over the quarterbacking reins for Notre Dame, he has yet to miss a game due to injury of any kind.

Drew Tate has also been a successful starting college quarterback, amassing a 62.4% completion percentage with 7.7 yards per passing attempt. He has a 49.4% success rate on his passes, which again puts his career totals between Stanton and Quinn. Continuing with the theme of having a college career sandwiched between Stanton and Quinn, Tate has a 49:22 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Tate, or maybe it has been better play from the offensive line, has improved dramatically the rate at which he has been sacked. His first year as a starter he was sacked once every 10.4 pass attempts, in his second year he was sacked once only every 22.7 pass attempts, and so far this season he has been sacked once every 31 pass attempts so he has become more aware in the pocket.

All of these three quarterbacks have shown improvement over their playing careers and have had success, but it still remains to be seen how well they do once they get into the NFL and who ends up having the best NFL career.

Technical Note: The success rate for Drew Stanton does not include 2005 games against Ohio St. and Indiana. For Brady Quinn, the success rate does not include 2003 games against Navy and Brigham Young nor does it include 2005 games against Navy and Brigham Young. Lastly, the success rate for Drew Tate does not include the 2005 game against Indiana.