The goal of football is to win games, just like any other competitive sport. QBs are the most important position in football. This has led to QBs being judged by their ability to ‘win games’ for their team. Different methods have been used to judge QBs in relation to winning:
Managing the game. Coaches will often want to see their QB go out and make smart plays. Managing a game requires strong leadership and football awareness, as well as playing ‘smart football’. Limiting turnovers and taking what the defense gives you is part of this aspect. QBs that do this are judged in a positive manner because they typically give their team a chance to win. Analysts will recognize QBs who successfully play with this style, and acknowledge how it contributes to winning.
Win-Loss Stats. Some analysts will look at a QBs win-loss ratio as a starter to determine how they have been affecting their team’s winning. Using this method recognizes that QBs who are winning games consistently are ‘doing something right,’ as well as either helping/not hurting their team.
Clutch-time performance. A QB may be judged in how well he performs when the game is in a tight, hectic situation. This may involve late game heroics, but it may encompass other aspects of playing football. How does the QB perform on third down (and long)? How well do they handle playing behind a subpar offensive line performance? Can they effectively move the chains and keep their defense fresh and energized on the sideline?
On the other side of the spectrum, QBs are also judged by their ‘every down’ play. Their actual traits (accuracy, pocket poise, footwork) are accounted for. Similarly, these plays can be charted to count for accuracy and poise. These are some methods of how QBs are analyzed in this manner:
Watching video (film). An experienced eye for talent can adequately observe the play of a QB and realize their talent. This is done by watching multiple games of the QB, and taking note of key traits that the observer must account for. An opinion of the QB is then formed based on the evaluation.
Using statistics. QBs may be judged based of their production. Statistics are the result of the play that happens on the field, and using statistics can show if a QB’s play is productive.
Film-based metrics. Sites like Pro Football Focus (PFF) have emerged as a popular source of football analysis. Grading every play, PFF is able to provide more advanced, and context based, statistics about the play that happens on the field.
These are the pros and cons of each method:
Judging By Wins:
- Winning is the ultimate component of playing a sport such as football. This type of analysis gets right to the point.
- Judging a QB by their effect on winning is very results based. That can remove any bias that somebody may have about the QBs observed talent.
- Football is still a team sport, and a player’s supporting cast can strongly affect their final results.
- Judging based on results makes it difficult to find context and separate the QB from his team.
Judging Every-Down Play:
- Directly observes the QB’s talent and ability. Focuses on the plays that the QB makes, as well as their production against his peers.
- Provides better context about the QB’s support and job that he is asked to do.
- At times it may cause analysts to focus too much on the QBs ‘talent.’
- Analysts may get too caught up in making sure context is provided and that all analysis is fair.
Scenario: QB x is entering his third year as a starting QB for team y. There has been little consensus about QB x’s play through his first two seasons. Many supporters of QB x will point to the good throws that he usually makes, and how his team has often let him down. Most of QB x’s critics have pointed to the fact that despite some talent-filled passes, he has not ‘stood out’ on a regular basis. These doubters believe that QB x has not contributed to winning, citing his team’s losing record with him as QB, and his inability to overcome much adversity (whether it’s his receivers dropping passes or his defense giving up points).
A lot of the ‘new age’ observation and analytics analysts would likely be a supporter of QB x. They would likely use examples of video or charted passes to represent his talent.
Groups of ‘old school’ analysts would likely be QB x’s critics, showing how he has not comeback in games, and has not played well in key moments.
These two different lines of analysis may cause controversy in the football community. The analytical side will point out how using ‘QB WINZ’ to judge QBs is plain ‘stupid’. The old school side may show spite to the different statistics, passing charts, and grades.
So, which side is correct?
The answer is: likely neither.
Blocking out additional information will only hurt your chances of being able to form the most accurate observations and opinions about football. Judging a QB solely by their win totals or comeback situations will lack context about their role and level of teammates. On the other hand, worrying too much about investigating for ‘context’ may leave an analyst ‘missing the forest for the trees’. In other words, analysts may get sucked into providing an analysis that is so ‘fair’, that they may miss the big picture to look for tiny details.
Whenever I see a disagreement between the analytical side and the old school side of analysis, I see two different questions being answered, then evidently debated. I often see one side discuss the QB’s results in terms of being an effective ‘franchise QB’. The other side typically discusses the QBs talent. Thus, the two things are debated, because there often is a disconnect between the two.
Personally, I don’t believe that evaluating a QB by their win-loss total is an effective method when used in an uncontextualized manner. However, evaluating a QB solely by talent will also lead to false conclusions. Per statista.com, the average career length of a QB is only 4.44 years. (Average of rookies at all positions that make their team’s opening day roster is an average career length of 6 years). Of course QBs that start early on will typically have a more favorable career-length curve. Think back to my earlier example about QB x. Many of QB x’s supporters will cite the small sample size when the QB is questioned about his ability to lead a team over adversity. If we go by the average career length of 6 years for a rookie that makes their opening day roster, then those two years are already one third of an average career. One third of a career is more than just a small sample. Will it always be a career of only six years? Of course not. However, when evaluating a QB over multiple seasons, it must be realized that the sample is probably more significant than initially thought.
In essence, the best method of evaluating QBs is to incorporate all facets of analysis. The more information will lead you to more accurate conclusions, and help remove biases that somebody may pick up along the way.
Being a member of the ‘serious’ football community that boasts about how a QB’s effect on winning is mostly narrative based, or using the term ‘QB WINZ’ will not lead to any progress. Instead, these analysts are openly accepting they will have a bias against certain QBs, despite trying to provide serious analysis.
A lot of current and former QBs will say that judging a QB by their win totals is absolutely valid an acceptable. For example:
Accountability in a nutshell when Manning stepped up and said : "When the quarterback stinks you're usually not going to win many games.’’
— Jeff Legwold (@Jeff_Legwold) November 3, 2014
Brady, on quarterback stats: "Wins and losses are the only things that matter."
— Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) October 23, 2013
However, it seems that the community has grown so hostile to this analysis. What does is say about our analytic-based analysis if a sizable group of the subjects would reject it?