Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells famously had a list of rules for evaluating college quarterbacks. Among them:
Be a three-year starter; be a college senior and graduate; start 30 games and win at least 23; complete 60 percent of passes; and throw at least twice as many touchdowns as interceptions.
His rules were not inviolable — Drew Bledsoe was a college junior who didn’t have the wins or the touchdowns when Parcells drafted him No. 1 overall in 1993. And the rules weren’t infallible — they led to Parcells passing on Matt Ryan in the 2008 draft and instead taking Chad Henne for the Dolphins in the second round.
But the rules are worth revisiting in wake of the Patriots drafting Mac Jones in the first round this year. Jones, competing with Cam Newton for the Patriots’ starting job, started only 17 games during his college career at Alabama. It makes Jones one of the least-experienced quarterback prospects of the last decade.
Which leads to an obvious question: Does experience matter?
To answer this question, I looked at the 54 quarterbacks drafted in the top three rounds from 2011-20, plus four other late-round prospects (Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, Gardner Minshew, and, for comparison’s sake, Jarrett Stidham). I created a table for these 58 quarterbacks that included the number of college starts, number of NFL starts, Pro Bowl appearances, and playoff wins. I also included the eight QBs from this year’s class to see where they fit.
Here are some of the findings:
▪ Of the 58 QBs, only five came into the NFL with fewer than 20 college starts: Kyler Murray (17), Brock Osweiler (15), Newton (14*), Dwayne Haskins (14), and Mitchell Trubisky (13).
Newton, who has three Pro Bowls, three playoff wins, and an MVP, has an asterisk because he also started 12 games in junior college.
Otherwise, it’s not the most inspiring list. Murray has a Pro Bowl appearance already and may be primed for a big jump in Year 3, but seeing Osweiler, Haskins, and Trubisky on this list is troubling.
▪ Increasing the parameters to QBs with 25 or fewer college starts adds the following players: Ryan Tannehill (20), DeShone Kizer (23), Carson Wentz (23), Sam Darnold (24), Tua Tagovailoa (24), Davis Webb (25), and Minshew (25).
Yikes. Tannehill has one Pro Bowl and two playoff wins, but it took him eight years and a trade for him to finally blossom. Wentz had success early in his career but has fallen off badly and is looking to resurrect his career in Indianapolis. The others range from question marks to backups to busts.
▪ In summary: Of the quarterbacks with 25 or fewer college starts, only one out of 12 made multiple Pro Bowls (Newton), only three won a playoff game (Newton, Osweiler, Tannehill), and realistically, only Newton, Tannehill, and Murray turned into solid players. All three also happen to be great runners, which is not Jones’s forte.
Meanwhile, five of the 12 were busts (Osweiler, Haskins, Trubisky, Kizer, and Webb), and Tagovailoa and Darnold are still to be determined.
▪ Also, some of the draft’s bigger busts had fewer than 30 college starts: Blake Bortles (27), Jameis Winston (26), Blaine Gabbert (26), Brandon Weeden (26), and Johnny Manziel (26), all first-round picks.
Josh Allen (26 starts) was heading toward bust territory but now is rocketing to superstardom.
▪ Jones was far from the only inexperienced quarterback in this year’s draft, however. Trey Lance only started 17 games in college, Justin Fields and Kyle Trask only started 22 each, and Davis Mills started just 11. The experienced QBs were Zach Wilson (28), Trevor Lawrence (36), and Kellen Mond (44).
▪ On the other side, 33 of the 58 drafted quarterbacks started at least 30 games in college. Eight of 33 have made multiple Pro Bowls, and 12 of 33 have won a playoff game. Just outside this list is Patrick Mahomes, who started 29 games at Texas Tech and has three Pro Bowls and six playoff wins.
▪ Of course, starting a lot of games in college does not portend success in and of itself. Drew Lock has struggled despite 46 starts. Sean Mannion was a bust despite 43. Marcus Mariota, Cody Kessler, Mason Rudolph, and Jake Locker also started at least 40 games in college, and Christian Hackenberg started 38.
▪ But it’s undeniable that most of the quarterbacks that succeeded in the NFL had significant starting experience in college.
Here is an unscientific list of what I consider “quarterbacks who were good right away” — players who established themselves early in the NFL. Listed by number of college starts: Russell Wilson (47), Justin Herbert (42), Derek Carr (39), Andrew Luck (38), Andy Dalton (37), Deshaun Watson (35), Lamar Jackson (34), Prescott (33), Mahomes (29), Wentz (23), Murray (17), Newton (14).
Others who started strong but faded: Robert Griffin III (40), Colin Kaepernick (40).
The takeaway from this list: It is not common for quarterbacks to have immediate success without significant starting experience in college. And athleticism/running ability appears to be an important factor.
▪ It should be noted that Herbert, the reigning offensive rookie of the year, was the only prospect among Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow last year who satisfied all of Parcells’s requirements.
▪ College starts by the Patriots’ draft picks: Jimmy Garoppolo (45), Stidham (30), Jacoby Brissett (29), Ryan Mallett (29). Garoppolo, with the most starts, has been the best player by far.
▪ Ten of the 58 quarterbacks have been named to multiple Pro Bowls. Listed by college starts: Wilson (47), Cousins (40), Carr (39), Luck (38), Dalton (37), Jared Goff (36), Watson (35), Prescott (33), Mahomes (29), Newton (14).
Eight of the 10 QBs on this list started at least 30 games, and Mahomes started 29.
▪ Finally, the 11 quarterbacks with multiple playoff wins, listed by college starts: Wilson (47), Garoppolo (45), Kaepernick (40), Luck (38), Goff (36), Nick Foles (33), Mahomes (29), Bortles (27), Allen (26), Tannehill (20), Newton (14).
Average college starts: 32.3, though there is more success here from players on the under-30 list.
▪ The bottom line: The data is clear that college experience matters when it comes to NFL success. There are notable exceptions, including Newton, Tannehill, Allen, and potentially Murray. And Jones has several factors working in his favor: great accuracy and intelligence, and some of the best coaching ever from Nick Saban and Bill Belichick.
But considering Jones started just 17 games in college, expectations should perhaps be tempered for him in 2021.
BACK WITH PACK
Rodgers lost this squabble
The Packers won’t be playing any games until mid-August, but Aaron Rodgers took a big “L” this past week.
He blinked first in his showdown with the Packers, arriving to training camp on time in order to avoid paying $50,000 a day in fines. Rodgers also hurt his image with his performance at his news conference on Wednesday.
In publicly airing his gripes and grievances with the front office, Rodgers came off as bitter, petty, entitled, and out of touch. He may have a point that he should have some input in roster decisions, but he seems to forget that the Packers have built one of the best teams in the NFL around him and were one win away from the Super Bowl last season. My biggest takeaway from his news conference was that Rodgers never would have survived with Bill Belichick as his coach.
Rodgers also took a third “L” — he didn’t really get anything from the Packers. The only concessions Rodgers got: The Packers agreed to delete the 2023 season from his contract (making him a free agent a year earlier), they agreed not to franchise tag him, and they reportedly agreed to not pursue $11.5 million in signing bonus money if Rodgers retires in 2022. Even then, that clause is not in the contract, and is just a verbal promise from the Packers.
Oh, and the Packers agreed to trade back for Rodgers’s buddy, Randall Cobb, giving up a sixth-round pick for a 31-year-old receiver who costs $5.625 million and had just 441 yards and three touchdowns last year.
That’s it. Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP, didn’t get any extra money, though he said it wasn’t about the money. He’s still not going to be a free agent for two more years. And clearly none of the issues between him and the front office have been resolved.
Take this to the bank: 2021 will be Rodgers’s last season in Green Bay, as the Packers will trade him next offseason (the Broncos look like a good landing spot). But that was probably the Packers’ plan all along after drafting Jordan Love in 2020. Rodgers’s holdout didn’t change anything.
The big challenge now will be whether the Packers can manage the dysfunction for long enough to make one more Super Bowl run. It won’t be easy.
Watson’s status still in question
With Aaron Rodgers back in Green Bay, the last unresolved quarterback situation is in Houston, where Deshaun Watson’s status remains in question as the 22 lawsuits against him slowly wind their way through the legal system. Watson still wants out of Houston, and the Texans seem inclined to trade Watson, but he reported to training camp this past week and participated in practice. Watson’s participation was light, however, as he sat out of team drills and even stood in as a scout team safety at one point.
“We don’t want him to do something he’s not ready to do,” said coach David Culley, which is really code for, “We don’t want him to get hurt and then we won’t be able to trade him.”
But a trade probably won’t happen until the Texans and the other 31 teams get more clarity on what’s going to happen to Watson. If he loses his lawsuits or settles, Watson is likely looking at a suspension — but no one knows if it will be six games, two games, or something else. However, the NFL’s history is to not rule on a punishment until the legal process is completed, which may not be until after this season.
Which brings us to the second hold-up — whether Watson will go on the commissioner’s exempt list, which is the equivalent of paid leave. An acquiring team (such as the Eagles) probably won’t want to trade for Watson until knowing whether it will have to pay Watson not to play in 2021.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported this past week that the Texans want a combination of five high draft picks and quality players in any trade for Watson. It’s hard to see any team giving up a haul of draft picks and players for Watson right now given the uncertainty of his situation.
But Texans GM Nick Caserio can afford to be patient and wait for the right price. Watson’s salary this year is only $10.54 million, which is fairly cheap for a quarterback. If they have to put him on paid leave all season, that’s a small price to pay to ensure they get the right trade compensation for him next offseason.
Thomas did Saints no favors
Michael Thomas has been everything the Saints could have asked for out of a receiver. He has made three Pro Bowls in five seasons, has had at least 90 catches and 1,100 yards in four seasons, and set the NFL record for catches in a season with 149 in 2019.
But, boy, do the Saints seem upset with Thomas for the way he handled his ankle injury. Thomas, who battled a high ankle sprain all last season, didn’t get surgery until June. With a recovery time of 4-6 months, Thomas will likely start the season on the physically unable to perform list and miss at least the first six games.
Had Thomas gotten surgery immediately after the season, he would have been ready in time for the start of this season. Instead, the Saints are shorthanded and had to sign Chris Hogan this past week.
“It’s disappointing,” coach Sean Payton said. “The surgery took place and, obviously, we would have liked that to have happened earlier than later and, quite honestly, it should have.”
As of Friday, 88.5 percent of all NFL players had received at least one vaccine shot, with 20 teams standing at more than 90 percent and eight teams at 95 percent. But vaccination rates will likely drop at the end of training camp when rosters are pared to 53 players (plus 16 practice squad). The bottom-of-the-roster players who will be released are almost 100 percent vaccinated. The ones declining to get the shot are the star players who are not in danger of being cut … But the NFL’s goal of making life as miserable as possible for unvaccinated players seems to be working. “I wouldn’t have gotten the vaccine if not for the protocols they’re enforcing on us,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “I want to be able to compete and do the things I think are important to build chemistry and win football games. Ultimately that forced my hand into getting the vaccine.” … Browns center and NFL Players Association president JC Tretter is upset that some teams are making unvaccinated players wear different-colored wristbands to identify themselves at team facilities. The NFL requires some sort of identifier, and the Browns use different markings on their lanyards. “We all know who’s vaccinated, who’s not, and it doesn’t need to be a scarlet marking on peoples’ helmets or wrists,” Tretter said Thursday … Since the NFL is still isolating anyone with a positive COVID-19 test, the virus continues to wreak havoc on rosters despite the high vaccination rates. Between Tuesday and Thursday, 49 players went on COVID-IR, including Lamar Jackson, Bud Dupree, and eight players on the Cardinals. The Colts also lost coach Frank Reich for a few days, and the Rams lost their offensive line coach … Former Lions GM Bob Quinn, a Norwood native and longtime Patriots scout and executive, has landed in Cleveland as a senior consultant to football operations. The Browns now have two former GMs on staff in Quinn and Ryan Grigson, formerly of the Colts … Interesting study by The 33rdTeam in analyzing which variables most closely correlate to victories. The top ones: winning the turnover battle by 3, winning the turnover battle by 2, having a better passer rating (which is heavily affected by interceptions), and winning the turnover battle. The least significant: having more passing yards, winning the opening coin toss, and having a higher rushing average … You’ll never guess where the Patriots found Ross Douglas, who has their coaching fellowship for this season and is helping out on defense: Yep, he was a coach at Rutgers the last three seasons under Greg Schiano, one of Bill Belichick’s close friends. Douglas, a former running back for the Scarlet Knights, was going to be the cornerbacks coach at Richmond before getting the Patriots job.