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A Historical Perspective on the Dreaded QB "Regression"


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#1 teeray

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 11:49 AM

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There has been some hand wringing amongst some in our fan base about Cam Newton's sophomore season. It has gotten so bad that some have suggested that if the opportunity presents itself we should even consider drafting Geno Smith in next year's draft. So out of curiosity I decided to go back and look at 10 HOF QBs to find some perspective of their first few years as starters in the NFL. The QBs I chose were: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, and Terry Bradshaw.

I will just summarize what I learned and I can talk a little bit more specifically about each QB if someone wants to know about it.

With one lone exception every QB had at least one season of significant regression in their first few years as a starter. When it happened vary from QB to QB. Some it was their 2nd season as a starter while others it was season 3 or 4 as a starter. But with the exception of Tom Brady, every QB had a significant dip in production at some point in the first few years of their careers. This leads me to believe that with the QB position it isn’t so much a matter of “progression” or “regression”, but more of a typical variance of young QBs learning what it takes to be consistent in the NFL.

I also found that no QB had a steady “progression” to QB prominence. In other words I could find no example of a QB steadily getting statistically better every year until they reached their highest levels. Instead what I found was statistical volatility until eventually the numbers would even out or significantly spike and then become fairly stable on a year to year basis. The magic number varied some but as far as the “game slowing down” for QBs, statistically it appears to happen between years 4 and 7 of a QB’s career. That is typically when you would see a QB’s season to season statistics somewhat stabilize (there is always spikes and lulls but they just aren’t as dramatic as their first few years). John Elway was the only one that didn’t really follow this pattern as his numbers were very volatile all the way through his 10th season as a starter but then they became incredibly consistent his last 6 years as a starter (when he also happened to win his 2 Super Bowls).

I guess my main point is that with Cam Newton or any young QB the idea that a QB progresses consistently year to year is just not historically accurate. However, as with these 10 QBs there comes a point where the volatility year to year will end and we will have a consistently good QB. It is a matter of when, not if.

So now I will list all 10 QBs and mark their season of “regression” and their turning points and which season as a starter those things happened. I you want me to expound on why a certain season is a “regression” or “turning point” just ask and I will explain why I think that. I was going to summarize each of them but it just would have made this post too long and I didn’t want to overload the fragile minds of most Huddlers.

Tom Brady: Regressive year: 2003 3rd year as starter (admittedly a huge stretch here). Turning point: 2007 7th year as starter

Peyton Manning: Regressive year: 2001 4th years as starter. Turning point: 2003 6th year as starter

Eli Manning: Regressive year: 2007 4th year as starter Turning point: 2008 5th year as starter (although you could make a case that actual turning point was in 2007 during the playoffs)

Drew Brees: Regressive year: 2003 2nd year as starter. Turning point: 2004 3rd year as starter and had another turning point to HOF status in 2009 his 7th year as a starter

Ben Roethlisberger: Regressive year: 2006 3rd year as starter Turning point: 2009 6th year as starter

Joe Montana: Regressive year: 1982 2nd year as full time starter Turning point: 1983 3rd year as full time starter

Brett Favre: Regressive year: 1993 2nd year as starter Turning point: 1994 3rd year as starter

Dan Marino: Regressive year: 1985 3rd year as starter Turning point: 1986 4th year as starter although I could argue it was actually 1990 9th year as starter.

John Elway: Regressive year: 1985 3rd year as starter and even worse in1992 10th year as starter Turning point: 1993 11th year as starter

Terry Bradshaw: Regressive year: 1973 4th years as starter Turning point: 1975 6th year as starter (he was also terrible in 1974 but the Steelers still won the Super Bowl)
  • A few notes and then I will stop
- I had to choose a “regressive year” for Tom Brady, but it should be noted that in 2003 he went 14-2 and won a Super Bowl so it is a big time stretch to call it regressive, but there was a statistical dip for him that year and they had the best defense in the NFL that year. There is however, a distinct “turning point” for Brady where he took his game from really, really good to ridiculous and historically good.

- Eli Manning also won a Super Bowl in his “regressive year” but if people recall earlier that very same year some of his own teammates questioned him and the NY media was wondering if Eli was the long term answer in NY.

- Dan Marino’s “regressive year” was actually pretty good. The main reason is because his 2nd year as a starter was record breaking and he had no where to go but down. However, he did throw 18 less TDs, 4 more INTs, and his completion percentage dipped by 4% so I would consider that a significant statistical regression

- Some people might note that some of the QBs had really good seasons before their “turning point”. The “turning point” is more about when a QB became statistically consistent more so than when they had their best years. For instance John Elway had several good years before his 11th season but his year to year statistics were very volatile. His last 6 seasons however were extremely consistent and very good every year. That is why I deemed that his “turning point”

- Aaron Rodgers was not a part of this because he didn't start until his 4th year in the league which is consistent with around the time QBs start to "get it" so he didn't seem to be a good comparative sample to these QBs and Cam Newton.

#2 natty

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 12:07 PM

Good stuff. Also to note, Cam isn't having that 'down' of a year. He's more or less continuing where he left off last year, the only difference being he doesn't have that rookie label to fall back on.

#3 teeray

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 10:18 PM

Yes, I am bumping my own thread because I put this out at the absolutely worst time. Right when Hurney got fired.

Also because of the other thread that had an anecdotal comparison to Cam (http://www.carolinah...to-past-greats/) and the great QBs of the past. These are actual tangible statistics and not empty platitudes that are impossible to prove or disprove like in the other thread.

#4 Nobody_Colts

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 10:44 PM

You wouldn't say Peyton had a turnaround when his team went from 3-13 to 13-3 the next year?

#5 fieryprophet

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 10:52 PM

You wouldn't say Peyton had a turnaround when his team went from 3-13 to 13-3 the next year?


Quarterback wins are the most fallacious stat in all of pro sports.

#6 CatMan72

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 10:55 PM

I recall Marty Schottenheimer on Hard Knocks saying that if you can get a QB to play as well his 2nd year as he did his first year, you've made progress...

#7 CatMan72

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 10:56 PM

Quarterback wins are the most fallacious stat in all of pro sports.


Example: Rex Grossman "beat" the Giants twice last year and RG3 lost, so Rex > RG3?

#8 teeray

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 11:42 PM

You wouldn't say Peyton had a turnaround when his team went from 3-13 to 13-3 the next year?

I was looking at "turning point" not individual turnaround seasons. As I said in my notes several of these guys had good seasons prior to what I labeled their "turning point"

The turning point is when you would see a starting QB's statistics start to stabilize and become consistent.

For instance, with Peyton Manning, his second year (the year you are referencing) he had a good year. He threw 26 TDs and 15 INTs and went 13-3. But then his 4th year he threw 26 TDs and had 23 INTs and his record was 6-10. At that point his stats were very volatile on a year to year basis.

However, in year 6 he threw 29 TDs and 10 INTs and his completion percentage jumped to 67% and then his numbers stabilized in that general area (especially INT% and completion %) for the next 9 seasons including this season (assuming he stays on his current pace this season).

The point of the exercise was that in every young QB's rise there is usually a great deal of volatility from season to season and one season they may play great and the next play very average. But eventually you see the stats solidify and become more consistent. My "turning point" was based on what season you would see that stability happen.

Cam Newton had such an exceptional year that the ONLY way he wouldn't "regress" was if he became a top 5 QB. That is an awful lot to expect from a second year QB. And part of the problem with the media and most fans is that you expect progression from season to season for a young QB. History shows that this isn't normally the case. You usually see progressions and regressions for 5-6 years until a QB hits that "turning point" and becomes a truly consistent and great QB. And I believe that is what the Panthers are going through with Cam. This is just part of the process and not something to freak out about yet.

#9 Marguide

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 12:01 AM

Good research. I think most of us who have watched football for more than 10 or 20 years realize the truth in what you have illustrated. Ironically, Cam's QB rating and completion % this year is almost identical to his rating at this time last year. Considering the cluster fug we have experienced with playcalling (imo), that is a miracle in itself.

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 03:50 AM

Quarterback wins are the most fallacious stat in all of pro sports.

wow, thanks for the picture!

#11 Guest_coltboy19_*

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 03:56 AM

very good post, well researched and thoughtful. but if this was an effort to say CAMERON is going to be ok because these accomplished QBS had a dip year, it dont wash. CAMERON doesnt compare favorably to any of the QBS you researched.

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 04:05 AM

Good stuff. Also to note, Cam isn't having that 'down' of a year. He's more or less continuing where he left off last year, the only difference being he doesn't have that rookie label to fall back on.

CAMERON aint havin a down year? good god man, have u seen a panthers game this year? get ur head out of the sand, u must face facts sooner or later.

#13 Keith Moons Liver

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 04:05 AM

If Cam doesn't get better coaching and guidance than he is getting right now, he isn't going to be anywhere close to the player he should be. Carolina is going to ruin him.

#14 teeray

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 09:14 AM

very good post, well researched and thoughtful. but if this was an effort to say CAMERON is going to be ok because these accomplished QBS had a dip year, it dont wash. CAMERON doesnt compare favorably to any of the QBS you researched.


Well, actually he compares very favorably to all of them. I don't know what your criteria is other than just general observation but he compares very favorably to many of these QBs and has a trajectory to be just as successful as many of these guys.

As a matter of fact the only three QBs that I looked at that I would put ahead of Cam to this point in their respective careers is Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Dan Marino.

What exactly were you expecting from a second year QB? He was so good as a rookie that he had no where to go but down or top 5. It is a stretch to think that Cam would suddenly morph into a top 5 QB in year 2.

I said long before the season started that expectations were way to high for this team and Cam in year 2. I said in reality it will likely be more of the same this year because, although people hate this phrase now, it really is a process. For the team. For the QB. For the coaching staff. What I have consistently said is that the real payoff with Cam will happen 3 or 4 years down the road. Until then expect volatility in his performances.

This coaching staff has made a lot of mistakes. But perhaps the biggest one was letting public expectations get too high. You want your team to privately have huge expectations but you are setting yourself up for a clusterfug when you allow expectations from the media and the fans to rise to unreasonable heights.

#15 logic1977

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 09:41 AM

You don't get it, Teeray, CAMERON is the debil and must be stopped at all costs!


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