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Career Arcs: Quarterbacks

A historical look at the career arc of a quarterback and what it may mean for quarterbacks in 2013.

Age doesn't matter for quarterbacks, isn't that what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have proven the last couple of years? I don't know if that is necessarily true, but I do think that changes in rules and the evolution of medicine have done more to extend the career arc of the quarterback than any other position. For that reason I didn't include as many past players in the quarterbacks study.

All in all I included 64 quarterbacks in the study and found a much choppier arc than what we'd previously seen with running backs and receivers. Part of this can be attributed to having less players in the study but the end of the arc is effected greatly by the last few seasons of Manning, Brady, and even Brett Favre. None of those players have had a natural progression towards the end of their career, and quarterbacks often don't. Before I go any further, here's the arc:

Like I said, long and choppy. Still, there is a defined peak from years 4-10 where the average season stays within a 5% of 248 fantasy points. If you've read the first two parts of this series you won't be surprised that this is where we also find the highest prevalence of stud seasons (year eight) and the lowest prevalence of dud seasons (year seven). For quarterbacks, I defined a stud season as 380+ fantasy points and a dud season as less than 220 fantasy points.

Stud seasons are much harder to make sense of amongst the quarterbacks, and I'll get to that later, but there was a very defined line when it came to duds. In the first three seasons of a quarterbacks career duds occur at a rate of just over 59%, after ten years in the league that number is even higher at just over 63%, but in the sweetspot, from years 4-10? 30%. Now there's a fine crop of quarterbacks with more than ten years experience and it's unlikely that almost 2/3 of them fall on their face in 2013. In fact, four of the five best late career performances have come from this group. That doesn't change the fact that most quarterbacks do not ride off into the sunset with a QB1 performance. A majority suffer a dud in their last season due to either injury or ineffectiveness. Here are the four quarterbacks at the most likely point in their career for that to happen:

As I mentioned before, the stud seasons are all over the board. Year eight is not surprising as the best season, but it's followed by year twelve and year five. What's worse is those three years don't really stand head and shoulders about a handful of other years in terms of stud prevalence. Instead I decided to look for the most likely seasons to produce solid QB1 production, and here we found an outlier. While several seasons came in around 25%, year six stood out with over 41% of those quarterbacks posting solid QB1 production. It was also the only season that produced more QB1 seasons than duds. Let's stop here to take a look at the starting quarterbacks heading into their sixth season in the league:

As I did in the previous articles, I'd like to spend a minute on the young pups. Last year's quarterback class was historic, producing three of the top four fantasy seasons ever by a rookie quarterback. Of the previous 19 rookie quarterbacks to score at least 200 fantasy poinst in a season, only five of them earned at least 20% of their fantasy points on the ground (Russell Wilson was at 22% last season, Robert Griffin III at 33%). All five of those quarterbacks saw a drop in production in year two and on average dropped 30% from the previous year. Out of that group, only Cam Newton produced QB1 numbers in his second season. For the record, Colin Kaepernick scored 34.5% of his fantasy points in the running game last season.

Speaking of Newton, he now holds the record for the most fantasy points scored by a quarterback in his first two seasons in the league. Number two and three on that list are Dan Marino and Peyton Manning, but it isn't really very close.

Since we needed a little more data for the quarterbacks, I've included an additional column below. Here are the stud, dud, and QB1 percentages by year for those included in the study:

Year
Stud
Dud
QB1
Year
Stud
Dud
QB1
1
1.6%
79.7%
6.3%
10
3.3%
23.3%
26.7%
2
5.3%
50.9%
17.5%
11
3.5%
62.1%
20.7%
3
1.9%
43.1%
25.5%
12
7.4%
48.2%
22.2%
4
2.0%
38.8%
26.5%
13
0.0%
58.3%
12.5%
5
6.5%
34.8%
19.6%
14
4.6%
77.3%
13.6%
6
0.0%
24.4%
41.5%
15
5.3%
63.2%
10.5%
7
5.0%
22.5%
20.0%
16
0.0%
57.1%
7.1%
8
7.9%
34.2%
26.3%
17
0.0%
91.7%
8.3%
9
5.6%
27.8%
16.7%
       

Follow Heath Cummings on Twitter @heathcummingssr


More from Heath Cummings:

Player Spotlight: Alex Smith - July 28
Player Spotlight: Torrey Smith - July 16
Player Spotlight: Julian Edelman - July 10
Player Spotlight: Martellus Bennett - July 10
Player Spotlight: Colin Kaepernick - July 2
What Went Wrong With C.J. Spiller - April 19
What Went Wrong With Marques Colston? - April 17
Lessons From NBA DFS - April 5
What Went Wrong With Eli Manning? - March 26
What Went Wrong With Dwayne Bowe? - March 18