Colin Kaepernick, Tactlenecks, and QB Predictiveness























When not showing off the Christian tattoos, Colin Kaepernick is probably rocking the tactleneck.


In an unusual detour from our normal practice, this is a choose your own adventure post where you can read the more esoteric parts of an overly long RotoViz article here but need to go over there to read the rest. Let me know what you think in the comments, or just throw in some bizarre links to stuff I don’t understand. The spam filter won’t catch all of them.

Drafting well is about risk management. . .

Of course, it is also about reward management. One of the debates this offseason has centered on the question: Can you wait to draft a quarterback? A parallel question might be: Is that really the risk-averse strategy if you have a high rating on a QB?

The value the Seahawks and 49ers accrued by selecting Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson far outweighs concerns about risk. It appears they both have franchise superstars to build around for a decade. If they’d had any sense of what types of quarterbacks they were drafting, it would have been insane to incur the risk inherent in waiting to select them. Any number of teams could have picked their guy before they had the chance.

Of course, it’s only a risk if the amazing performance was actually predictable. Psychological overconfidence tends to create the impression that we can isolate these types of players much more often than we really can. One of the key points in the battle between scouts and analysts is that analysts tend to be less confident even though the numbers suggest we’re also more accurate. Even if we weren’t more accurate, having less confidence would probably lead to a better allocation of draft resources.

Anyway, that’s a long way of introducing the concept we’re hearing a lot about this year: waiting until the second or third round to take a flyer on your franchise quarterback.

Is NFL Success Predictable at the QB Position?

While simple WR projection algorithms can be shown to dominate scouting-generated rankings, the QB position is not quite so simple. (That said, Jon Moore does an excellent job breaking down Ryan Nassib and explaining how analysts would have pulled the trigger much earlier on Tom Brady.)

Many analyst-generated models for quarterback projection haven’t held up particularly well. For those of us who like stats there’s the temptation to make things complicated, but that’s often a questionable instinct. Karl Popper’s interpretation of Occam’s Razor suggests the simpler the model, the greater the empirical content and the easier to falsify. Many current statistical projection models probably describe noise instead of underlying principles. (Others assign ridiculous leverage to stats that amount to nothing more than historical artifact – Total QBR, please stand up.)

One of the issues that I have with scouting-oriented draft pundits is lack of understanding for what type of prospect has actually excelled in the NFL. Unless your scouting report emphasizes profiles and traits that demonstrably result in wins at the pro level, then your reports are more about aesthetics than victories. For example, Blaine Gabbert has been bandied about in the pundit mill this week because a pretty sharp scout ranked him No. 1 in the 2011 draft and offered up an interesting hypothesis for this miss: he didn’t know Gabbert had problems with work ethic that would prevent him from making the necessary adjustments to the NFL.

This is certainly possible. All players are going to have an adjustment to the NFL and lacking work ethic is going to be problematic in making the leap. But is this the most likely explanation?

To answer that, I thought it would be useful to find out what current NFL starters were like the season before they were drafted.

Adjusted Yards Per Attempt – Final Year Before Drafted


RG3 11.8 6.2 5.91
Russell Wilson 11.8 8.3 0.68
Cam Newton 11.2 4.3 5.95
Sam Bradford 11.1 6.3 6.72
Alex Smith 10.8 8 0.43
Philip Rivers 10.1 4.9 4.48
Andy Dalton 9.9 4.5 -1.73
Ben Roethlisberger 9.6 3.7 -3.29
Andrew Luck 9.4 3.7 3.08
Mark Sanchez 9.4 3.4 3.86
Matthew Stafford 9.2 2.5 4.52
Brandon Weeden 8.7 2.8 7.67
Colin Kaepernick 8.6 2.6 -3.54
Aaron Rodgers 8.5 3 6.17
Peyton Manning 8.5 3.3 10.56
Carson Palmer 8.5 3.3 9.49
Eli Manning 8.5 2.9 2.53
Tom Brady 8 3.3 7.86
Josh Freeman 7.8 2.5 0.78
Matt Schaub 7.1 1.8 4.46
Drew Brees 7 2 2.93
Michael Vick 7 1.3 4
Christian Ponder 7 2.5 5.06
Ryan Tannehill 6.9 1.9 7.29
Jay Cutler 6.7 2.3 0.7
Jake Locker 6.6 1.9 8.24
Matt Ryan 6.5 1.6 1.54
Blaine Gabbert 6.5 1.8 3.29

* This does not include Tony Romo or Joe Flacco, who didn’t play at FBS schools, nor does it include Drew Stanton or Tarvaris Jackson who don’t really seem like legitimate candidates to start in Buffalo and Arizona.

An alternative explanation for Gabbert’s struggles

In his final season before being drafted, Gabbert posted the worst adjusted yards per attempt number of any current NFL starter. The simplest explanation is that he just isn’t any good. (Probably because he lacks the ability to quickly process the information in front of him and make the kind of accurate, instantaneous decisions that lead to successful NFL throws.)

What does the chart tell us about Colin Kaepernick?

Colin Kaepernick was pretty awesome in college. He averaged more adjusted yards per attempt than Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning. He also ran for about a billion yards (4112). Sure, the quarterback position has a lot of exceptions. Matt Ryan is pretty good. Matt Leinart was terrible.

Unnamed scout: So what you’re saying is there’s a chance Gabbert could have been better than Kaepernick.

Shawn Siegele has finished in the Top 10 of the NFFC’s Main Event Classic for two consecutive seasons and is one of only a handful of players to own three or more Main Event league titles. He also contributes to Rotoviz and works as the Lead Redraft Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.


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