Couple ways I'm going to come at this here.
First, I'm going to take a look at the passing offense these rookies were asked to run this year, in comparison to the passing offenses run by the league's best quarterbacks.
Second -- and this will be relegated to "Part II" of this thread (this is Part I) -- I'm going to look at how the "successful" rookie quarterbacks -- Luck, Griffin, and Wilson -- performed, in comparison to the "unsuccessful" ones -- Tannehill and Weeden. I put "successful" and "unsuccessful" in quotes because you may disagree with those appraisals, and so those labels are being used for the sake of comparison only.
So let's take a look first at the kinds of passing offenses these rookies were asked to run this year, in comparison to the passing offenses run by the league's best QBs. Since we're comparing five rookie QBs to each other, I've decided to use the five best veteran QBs to provide a frame of reference. Those QBs are, in no particular order:
1) Aaron Rodgers
2) Tom Brady
3) Drew Brees
4) Matt Ryan
5) Peyton Manning
I think the first way we can look at the kinds of passing offenses the rookie QBs were asked to run is by asking ourselves, how much passing were they in fact asked to do? Of course an offense can lean predominantly on the run game, lean predominantly on the passing game, or try to achieve a balance between the two.
Here are the data in that regard, in terms of number of overall pass attempts per game this year:
QB Pass Attempts Per Game Tannehill 32.27 Luck 39.19 Wilson 24.56 RGIII 26.2 Weeden 34.47 Brady 39.81 Manning 36.44 Ryan 38.44 Rodgers 34.5 Brees 41.88
I've run some statistical tests with these data (and the others to follow below), and what they show is that Andrew Luck was asked to pass significantly more than the average of the rookie QBs in the sample, while passing non-significantly less than the average of the veteran QBs in the sample. In other words, in terms of the overall amount of passing Andrew Luck was asked to do this year, he functioned not unlike the league's best veteran QBs, and very much unlike his fellow rookie QBs.
By contrast, every other rookie QB, even Brandon Weeden, with nearly 34.5 attempts per game, was asked to pass significantly less overall than the average of the veteran QBs in the sample. So by that, Andrew Luck is distinguished from his fellow rookie QBs even further.
Also by contrast, RGIII and Russell Wilson were asked not only to pass the ball significantly less than the veteran QBs in the sample, but they were also asked to pass nearly (statistically) significantly less than their fellow rookies. Ryan Tannehill, although asked to pass the ball significantly less than the veteran QBs in the sample, was not asked to pass it less than his fellow rookies. Nor was Brandon Weeden.
Now, not only can teams have their quarterbacks throw the ball more, as did Andrew Luck's, but of course they can vary the types of passes they ask their quarterbacks to throw. Some NFL offenses feature a short passing game, while of course others go downfield more often.
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at this aspect of these rookie QBs' performance this year, so I dug up the numbers of passing attempts each of them had as a function of how far they threw the ball in the air, figuring that would be a sufficient indicator of the kinds of passing offenses they were asked to run.
Here are the data -- once again, these are yards the ball was thrown in the air:
QB Attempts Per Game of 20 or Fewer Yards Attempts Per Game of 21 or More Yards Tannehill 25.47 2.8 Luck 30 5.19 Wilson 19.88 3.5 RGIII 22.73 2.2 Weeden 30.93 3.47 Brady 30.94 3.94 Manning 30.81 3.75 Ryan 32.56 3.13 Rodgers 26.63 3 Brees 34.75 4.44
Now this needs no statstical analysis. You can eyeball it. Obviously Andrew Luck was asked to pass downfield at far greater a frequency than his fellow rookie QBs. In fact, he was even asked to pass downfield at a significantly greater frequency than the average of the five veteran QBs in the sample!
And who was asked to throw the ball downfield the least? That's right: the rookie QB with the highest QB rating of them all, and the second highest QB rating in the league at 102.4, none other than RGIII (a preview of "Part II" of this thread).
Ryan Tannehill was similarly asked to run a conservative offense in terms of downfield passing, in comparison to the veteran QBs in the sample. His number of attempts of 21 or more yards per game was significantly less than that of the average of the veteran QBs in the sample. On the other hand, neither Russell Wilson nor Brandon Weeden passed downfield significantly less frequently than the veteran QBs in the sample.
So what we see here overall is that, of the rookie QBs this year, Andrew Luck was asked by far to run both the most emphasized passing game, as well as the most aggressive (i.e., downfield) passing game. RGIII on the other hand ran what you could call perhaps a "dumbed down" passing offense, in that his number of attempts overall, as well as his number of attempts downfield, were much fewer. Ditto for Russell Wilson with regard to passing attempts, although he did go downfield much more often than RGIII, but nowhere near as often as Luck.
Ryan Tannehill was a middle-of-the-road guy in terms of overall passing attempts in comparison to his fellow rookies, though his passing offense was conservative in comparison to the veteran QBs in the sample. And poor Brandon Weeden. Not only was the guy asked to pass the ball quite a bit overall, but he was also asked to pass downfield quite a bit in comparison to not only his fellow rookie QBs, but also to the veteran QBs in the sample.
Part II, coming soon.
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