Home > Draft, NFL > Top Comparables for 2012 NFL Draft QB Prospects

Top Comparables for 2012 NFL Draft QB Prospects

One of the benefits of creating a database for football operations is that I can use the active quarterback pool to attempt to project quarterbacks.  Though a lot of my research is still in the development stage, I was able to create QB comparables based on a prospects age, experience, player type, and college passing statistics.  Age and athleticism (measured by career college YPC) are more heavily weighted.

There’s a couple of later round prospects who do shockingly well in terms of draft comparability, which was a nice reward to me for putting in the work to do this exercise.

Andrew Luck

1. Chad Pennington, Marshall (2000)
2. Josh Johnson, San Diego (2008)
3. Aaron Rodgers, Cal (2005)
4. Drew Brees, Purdue (2001)
5. Cam Newton, Auburn (2011)

Newton is a pretty shocking output on Luck, but the quality of Newton’s one season at Auburn makes him look a lot like Luck in terms of passing ability.  But what really puts Newton in Luck’s league as a draft comparable is that Luck rushed for 5.9 yards per carry in college.  It’s not great rushing ability with Luck, but that when he runs, he gets so many yards.  Kind of like Newton in the NFL.  Josh Johnson had a spectacular college career (there is no adjustment for competition in my spreadsheet), and played for the same college coach as Luck, so it’s validation for the methodology more than anything that he ranks so high.

Luck is one of two players in this draft class who drew Chad Pennington as their top comparable.

One last note: Tim Couch is not in my database.  If he was, he almost certainly would have been on the short list of similar prospects to Andrew Luck.

Robert Griffin III

1. Aaron Rodgers, Cal (2005)
2. Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (OH) (2004)
3. Alex Smith, Utah (2005)
4. Donovan McNabb, Syracuse (1999)
5. Kellen Clemens, Oregon (2006)
6. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (2010)
7. Kevin Kolb, Houston (2007)
8. Matthew Stafford, Ge0rgia (2009)

These are overwhelmingly positive comparables as you would expect from someone like Griffin, but unlike Luck’s — when you look really closely — you see that while Luck’s comps almost universally outperformed their draft status, a number of the Griffin comps (Smith, Clemens, Bradford, and Kolb in particular) were overdrafted.  The McNabb one stands out for any number of reasons, and although McNabb never had a season in college like Griffin’s Heisman campaign, McNabb represents the median return from someone on this list.  He was also the second overall pick.  Whether McNabb was overdrafted at 2nd overall is in the eye of the beholder.  As it is with Robert Griffin III.

The reason that Griffin comps showed a tendency to be overdrafted has little to do with their talent, and more to do with the fact that guys with this draft profile (Rodgers notwithstanding) almost never fall in the draft.  Which is why the Alex Smith comp is so jarring to this Redskins fan.

Ryan Tannehill

1. Christian Ponder, Florida State (2011)
2. Drew Stanton, Michigan State (2006)
3. Stephen McGee, Texas A&M (2009)
4. Mike Kafka, Northwestern (2010)
5. Dennis Dixon, Oregon (2008)
6. Troy Smith, Ohio State (2007)
7. Jarrett Brown, West Virginia (2010)

The big deal with the Tannehill comps is that none of the guys on this list ever really got on the field.  It does not mean that these guys are bad quarterbacks, or would have failed if they had gotten the chance that Tannehill is going to get to lead a franchise.  There is no evidence (beyond simple College Games Started) in the statistical record that Tannehill will struggle in the NFL.  The film on him is in my estimation more good than bad, highly conservative, and generally gets talked up for being a lot better that it really is.

Greg Cosell calls Tannehill “a better prospect than Christian Ponder last year” which seems particularly relevant with this draw.  But after Ponder and Stanton, the next closest comp is a predecessor at Texas A&M who hasn’t played much in the NFL.  After that, the returns start bringing back athlete QBs with a short college (and pro) resume.  Kafka is the most interesting though.  He doesn’t show up a whole bunch through this exercise.  He’s simply the closest thing to Tannehill we have seen in a number of drafts.  In a far weaker class two years ago.  He went in the fourth round.  Tannehill might not make it to the fourth pick.

The lesson here is that there’s no value to be had in picking Tannehill.  If you select him high in the first round, you just have to be right.

Kirk Cousins

1. Tony Romo, Eastern Illinois (2003)
2. Rex Grossman, Florida (2003)
3. Chris Redman, Louisville (2000)
4. Matt Leinart, USC (2006)
5. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame (2010)
6. Jason Campbell, Auburn (2005)
7. Max Hall, BYU, (2010)

There’s no obvious trend from Kirk Cousins comparables.  Both Tony Romo (undrafted) and Jason Campbell (1st round) were successful NFL quarterbacks.  The one thing the top six guys on this list all have in common is that they had remarkable staying power.  They might have been overdrafted (Leinart, Clausen, Grossman), but they’ve been in the league longer than you would have expected.

It’s difficult to say that the late first round or early second round is too early for Kirk Cousins, but the list of comps for him are not as impressive as I would have liked.  There’s a lot of starter skill sets here that ended up being backups.  Cousins doesn’t play the game that similarly to Tony Romo, but in terms of what he can do, he offers a lot of the same skills, and if you had a chance to re-draft the 2003 rookie class, Romo would go in the first round, so there’s clearly some upside here.  But there’s also a lot of disappointment.

Brandon Weeden

1. Sean Canfield, Oregon State (2010)
2. Todd Collins, Michigan (1995)
3. Billy Volek, Fresno State (2000)
4. John Beck, BYU (2007)
5. Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin (2011)
6. Colt Brennan, Hawaii (2008)
7. Ben Chappell, Indiana (2011)

Finding comps for Weeden is a futile exercise, but the comps that this spreadsheet spit out tell a story that’s actually kind of useful.  The actual names up there are useless.  Here’s the point: Brandon Weeden is in every draft.  Every single draft.  He never ever gets picked.  Todd Collins was picked in the second round in 1995.  Twelve years later, John Beck went in the second round in 2007.  But every year someone with sparkling numbers but questions about mobility and arm strength to the edge of the field goes undrafted despite having the mental makeup to play QB in the NFL.

Kellen Moore is the guy getting that rap this year, but as we’ll see when we get to the Moore comps, that label belongs on Weeden.  Moore looks like he should be part of the group above, but he actually belongs in a very different group.

Brandon Weeden would unequivocally be the worst first round pick in the NFL in almost six seasons.

Brock Osweiler

1. Shaun Hill, Maryland (2002)
2. Matt Flynn, LSU (2008)
3. Mark Brunell, Washington (1993)
4. Caleb Hanie, Colorado State (2008)
5. Josh Freeman, Kansas State (2009)
6. J.P. Losman, Tulane (2004)
7. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri (2011)
8. Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M (2011)

The comps list on Brock Osweiler aren’t good, but with the exception of two incredibly young first round selections (Freeman & Gabbert) who frankly made this list more on age similarity than performance similarity, the list is FULL of backups whose second stop was far more productive than their first.  I mean, Brock Osweiler’s lot in life is that he will likely be the crown jewel of the free agent class of 2016, and he’ll get his first full time starting job at that point.  Osweiler isn’t just going to drift into the NFL abyss.  He’ll be one of the more intriguing trade options at the QB position for years to come.

There’s far less evidence on the stat sheet that he’ll be successful, even down the road.

Keep in mind that there’s a significant selection bias at work here.  Hill and Flynn might bring up visions of a project quarterback who just needs his shot, but if that’s the route Osweiler takes, consider that there are a hundred or so QBs who washed out of the league and didn’t make my database over the last 20 years.

Russell Wilson

1. David Garrard, East Carolina (2002)
2. Jon Kitna, Central Washington (1996)
3. Jake Locker, Washington (2011)
4. Kyle Orton, Purdue (2005)
5. Tarvaris Jackson, Alabama State (2006)

One thing that this comps list shows is that Russell Wilson is going to unavoidably spend a ton of time as an NFL backup quarterback.  He will never, ever leave the realm of backup QBs in the NFL.  He’s going to hit his head on that ceiling hard at some point.

But Russell Wilson is going to start a game in this league.  Probably more than just a game.  The top two guys on this list (and arguably the top five) all rose up from the realm of the backup to become a starting QB in the NFL, if only for a limited time on a QB-needy team.

Wilson isn’t going to be a particularly good NFL quarterback.  But he’s going to be around for 8 to 10 years.  Think about a guy like Seneca Wallace, even though Wallace failed to make Wilson’s comp list.

Nick Foles

1. Chris Redman, Louisville (2000)
2. Sean Canfield, Oregon State (2010)
3. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (2010)
4. Matt Leinart, USC (2006)
5. Kerry Collins, Penn State (1995)
6. Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin (2011)
7. Eli Manning, Ole Miss (2004)
8. Tom Brady, Michigan (2000)
9. Rex Grossman, Florida (2003)

I kept listing Foles comparables, because the further you get away from ‘likelihood’ and the closer you get to ‘projection’, the more Foles comparable start to take on a HoF career flavor.  Let me put this another way: Tom Brady and Eli Manning couldn’t have had any more dissimilar college careers, stats-wise.  But they share a kind of a lovable clumsiness that you also see in Nick Foles, and Foles’ career at Arizona almost perfectly splits the gulf between Brady and Eli Manning.

Higher on the list, you see “high-floor”, ultra-conservative first round selections.  And at the very top, the highest likelihood, you see a couple of trustworthy organizational depth guys in Redman and Canfield.  Overall, this is a list of comps that only Brian Billick could love.

If Foles gets a shot in the NFL, he’s unlikely to screw it up, and there’s a longshot (see the bottom of the comps list) that he develops into the best player in this class.  You’re unlikely to get that from other mid-rounders like BJ Coleman and Russell Wilson.  A high floor guy with legitimate pro-bowl upside (however unlikely) shouldn’t be a late round pick in the NFL draft, even if he only profiles as a backup/spot starter.  Yet, that’s where we are with Foles, who couldn’t be more undervalued as we head into draft weekend.

B.J. Coleman

1. Brian Hoyer, Michigan State (2009)
2. Eli Manning, Ole Miss (2004)
3. Hunter Cantwell, Louisville (2009)
4. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (2011)
5. Rusty Smith, Florida Atlantic (2010)
6. Chad Henne, Michigan (2008)
7. Trevor Vittatoe, UTEP (2011)

Coleman’s comps are littered with interesting names, but headlined by guys who dropped on draft day and haven’t done all that much since.  His list of comps isn’t too different than that of Ryan Lindley’s because they are similar prospects.  Maybe the most interesting difference between Coleman and Lindley is that BOTH New England backup quarterbacks show up on his list.  A lot of Coleman’s NFL prospects simply will depend on where he is drafted and to whom he is drafted by.

Kellen Moore

1. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech (2009)
2. Peyton Manning, Tennessee (1998)
3. Eli Manning, Ole Miss (2004)
4. Chris Redman, Louisville (2000)
5. Matt Leinart, USC (2006)
6. Andy Dalton, TCU (2011)
7. Tony Romo, Eastern Illinois (2003)
8. Colt McCoy, Texas (2010)

Peyton Manning and Eli Manning had (predictably) similar college careers.  Yet, Kellen Moore was the only guy in this class who drew both of them as a comparable.

Moore is probably the only guy who could draw Graham Harrell, and the Manning brothers as his strongest comps, because he had a unique college career.  With regards to the top seven Moore comps, what we can conclude, is that the ones that received significant playing time were remarkably successful, and almost right from the start.  And the ones that weren’t successful were exposed very early on in their careers, and did not receive consistent playing time.

But that’s why the Harrell comp is so useful with Moore.  They are dissimilar because Moore had his career in two very different college passing offenses, while Harrell was strictly a Mike Leach/AirRaid guy throughout.  But Harrell didn’t even get signed in his first year out of college.  There’s a difference between being exposed (Chris Redman, Matt Leinart) and not even getting a chance.  Harrell is currently fighting with Nick Hill for the backup QB job in Green Bay.  It wouldn’t be at all shocking if the Pack added Kellen Moore to that mix.

Aaron Corp

1. Pat Devlin, Delaware (2011)
2. Matt Moore, Oregon State (2007)
3. Brett Ratliff, Utah (2007)
4. Matt Hasselbeck, Boston College (1998)
5. Charlie Batch, Eastern Michigan (1998)

The top three comps: all undrafted.  Matt Hasselbeck was a sixth rounder who expected to go undrafted.

Aaron Corp isn’t all that much different from most priority UDFAs in most draft classes: he’s got a number of college comparables who went on to make something of themselves in the pros, and a number of others who were preseason stars who never played.  Corp would seem to make a lot more sense based on his upside than Lindley or Coleman, two guys who scouts might believe have upside, but in fact offer only a long record of failures if we work off their college stats (though that’s overstating the negativity on Coleman, I suppose).

Chandler Harnish

1. Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan (2010)
2. Bruce Gradkowski, Toledo (2006)
3. Drew Stanton, Michigan State (2007)
4. Zac Robinson, Oklahoma State (2010)
5. Andy Dalton, TCU (2011)
6. Tim Tebow, Florida (2010)
7. Colin Kaepernick, Nevada (2011)
8. Chase Daniel, Missouri (2009)
9. Nate Davis, Ball State (2009)

There’s a strong MAC flavor on this list, which I suppose makes sense.  MAC QBs with high college starts, high completion percentage, high sack rate, and advanced age can be (and are!) found in every draft.

What makes Harnish different than every other MAC QB ever is that Harnish was one of the all time great dual-threat QBs at any level.  By dual threat, I don’t mean a rusher who plays quarterback.  I mean a record setting passer and also a record setting runner.  This is why I allowed the Tebow comparable in this case when I manually pulled him off other lists as not to mislead.  If there’s a Tebow-type in this class, it’s Harnish.

Ryan Lindley

1. Rusty Smith, Florida Atlantic (2010)
2. Nathan Enderle, Idaho (2011)
3. Trevor Vittatoe, UTEP (2011)
4. Jake Delhomme, Louisiana-Lafayette (1997)
5. Rex Grossman, Florida (2003)
6. Kyle Boller, Cal (2003)
7. Matt Leinart, USC (2006)

Hey, Jake Delhomme overcame a stint in NFL Europe to make it as an NFL starter!

Case Keenum

1. Chad Pennington, Marshall (2000)
2. Colt Brennan, Hawaii (2008)
3. Jon Kitna, Central Washington (1996)
4. Colt McCoy, Texas (2010)
5. Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan (2010)
6. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech (2009)
7. Andy Dalton, TCU (2011)
8. Adam Weber, Minnesota (2011)
9. Chase Daniel, Missouri (2009)
10. Kevin Kolb, Houston (2007)

This one was the big shocker.  I haven’t been high on Case Keenum because I perceived him as older thoughout this process than he actually was (he’s the same age as the “raw” Ryan Tannehill).  But three of the four most comparable college quarterbacks to Case Keenum all overcame low draft position (exception, Pennington) to become a solid starter in the NFL.  When you look at the prototype for the modern NFL franchise quarterback, he’s got to be able to move (which is why prospects like Ryan Mallett and Nick Foles are being phased out of the game, why Coleman and Lindley are incredibly overvalued…and why Weeden won’t be successful).  He’s got to be able to throw.  And if Keenum learns to play out of the NFL pocket quicker than we might expect of him, he (instead of Tannehill) could easily be the sixth best quarterback in this draft.

Keenum’s skill set gives you anything and everything you’re getting in a high first rounder in this same class, but his injury that cost him the 2010 season is a very big deal (although RG3 missed most of 2009 with the same injury), and guys who have been around forever and thrown for a billion yards in college (both factors that have positive predictive value on the NFL draft process) get downgraded irrationally by teams who can’t tell the difference between Klingler and Keenum (it’s the vowels, stupid).

So while I’m still not high on Keenum, specifically, Keenum is precisely the kind of NFL prospect you’d expect to outplay his draft position.

Austin Davis

1. Nate Davis, Ball State (2009)
2. Jay Cutler, Vanderbilt (2006)
3. Drew Brees, Purdue (2001)
4. Chris Greisen, NW Missouri State (1999)
5. Kyle Orton, Purdue (2005)
6. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame (2007)
7. John Skelton, Fordham (2010)

Here’s why a long article on QB comps is actually useful: Austin Davis’s stats simply don’t jump off the page.  Keenum’s do.  Moore’s do.  Weeden’s do.  Luck’s do.  Griffin’s do.  Harnish’s do.  Davis’ look like this: 45 games started, 61% completion percentage, 4.6% sack rate, 3.0 YPC average.

The GS figure is high, but not unprecedented in this class or any other class.  What stands out about Davis is that he doesn’t have a weakness in his game.  He’s a strong athlete.  He throws the football accurately.  He gets the ball out of his hand and avoids sacks relatively well.  His arm is only mediocre, which outside of Davis, Cutler, and Skelton is something that every other player on his comps list had to deal with in the pros.

Austin Davis is a 23 year old former walk on who played a lot of football in the Sun-Belt.  And he can throw the football.  There isn’t one stat leaps out at you, but he’s not Charlie Frye or Andrew Walter.  He’s a far better prospect.  And a lot of Davis-style prospects have had great success in the NFL.  I would consider him as high as the second round.

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