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NFL Stats Underrate Running Quarterbacks Like Dak Prescott

In Dak Prescott, Dallas has its best scrambling quarterback since Roger Staubach. That led me to wonder if NFL stats do justice to running quarterbacks. They don’t.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In our weekly pre-game thoughts column last week, my hope was that Dak Prescott would begin to stress defenses with his legs as well as his arm.

There's another way that Dak could stress defenses - by running the ball a bit more often. I'm not talking so much about designed read-option plays where he keeps the ball instead of handing off. It's the impromptu scramble that I think demoralizes defenses the most.

In the game, he rushed four times for 36 yards and a touchdown. Against Washington, he also rushed for a TD. These plays made a huge difference in the games, but were they properly accounted for on the stat sheets?

When you look at conventional NFL quarterback stats, the one cited most often is quarterback rating. It’s a factor of attempts, completions, yards, touchdown passes, and turnovers. As OCC has written many times, passer rating is important because passer rating differential — the difference between the passer rating of opponents — is a key predictor of who will win an NFL game, and the margin of the differential is also predictive of a team’s W-L record on the season.

But what if quarterback rating doesn’t take into account the true value of all quarterbacks?

For quarterbacks who regularly run the ball, it doesn’t. They may gain a lot of yards on the ground, they may rush for several touchdowns, their scrambles may keep many a drive alive on third down, but none of this shows up in the conventional passer rating.

To get at this question, I decided to look at the running quarterbacks who have appeared in the last four Super Bowls — Cam Newton (2015 season), Russell Wilson (2014 and 2013) and Colin Kaepernick (2012).

To start, let’s look at their conventional stats that go into the quarterback rating.

Year Player Pass Att Pass Cmp Pass Yds Pass TD INT Rating Rank
2012 Kaepernick 218 136 1,814 10 3 98.3 7
2013 Wilson 407 257 3,357 26 9 101.2 7
2014 Wilson 452 285 3,475 20 7 95.0 10
2015 Newton 495 296 3,837 35 10 99.4 7

As you can see, each of these quarterbacks had a good season as measured by passer rating, but not a great one. Three of them ranked seventh in the NFL, and one ranked tenth.

But what did they do on the ground?

Year Player Rush Att Rush Cmp Rush Yds Rush TD
2012 Kaepernick 63 63 415 5
2013 Wilson 96 96 539 1
2014 Wilson 118 118 849 6
2015 Newton 132 132 636 10

Each quarterback ran the ball extensively, and most scored a number of touchdowns on the ground. (Kaepernick’s numbers are smaller only because he started mid-season, taking over for Alex Smith.)

How should the NFL account for these numbers? This is for stats gurus to debate. What I did was add in the rushing totals to the passing numbers, figuring that each run was the equivalent of a passing attempt, and since every run was “completed,” I added the runs to that column as well. The yards per attempt are not likely to be as high as with a pass, but by increasing the “completion” percentage, and accounting for all the touchdowns, it seemed like a fair approximation of the value of those runs. The totals, when added, are here.

Year Player Att Cmp Yds TD INT Rating Rank
2012 Kaepernick 281 199 2,229 15 3 107.5 2
2013 Wilson 503 353 3,896 27 9 103.3 7
2014 Wilson 570 403 4,324 26 7 102.7 4
2015 Newton 627 428 4,473 45 10 105.9 2

When looked at this way, the running quarterbacks who led their teams into the Super Bowl recently suddenly look a lot better. Russell Wilson’s 2013 season notwithstanding, when you account for running prowess, the quarterback ratings and rankings of three of the four jump significantly.

QBR - ESPN’s proprietary quarterback ranking system - does account for running by quarterbacks. By those calculations, Kaepernick would have ranked 3rd if he qualified in 2012, Wilson ranked 6th in 2013, and 2014, while Newton ranked 9th last year. Since it’s a secret calculation, it’s hard to evaluate.

Where would Dak Prescott fit into this re-evaluation?

Since Dak started me down this path, let me end with his numbers.

Dak Prescott Att Cmp Yds TD INT Rating Rank
Passing 99 66 767 1 0 93.3 12
Rushing 7 7 54 2 - - - - - -
Combined 106 73 821 3 0 101.2 8

As you can see, Dak is off to a good start, with a QB rating of 93.3. That’s held down a lot by his first game, where he rated 69.4. In his last two games, his passer rating has been 103.7 and 123.6.

But if you add in his running game, where’s he scored two TDs, his overall passer rating under the adjustment suggested in this article would already be 101.2, enough to move him up to 8th in the NFL. Not bad for a rookie.

If you look at QBR, however, he’s second in the NFL this year.

What do you think? Should the NFL revise it’s passer rating formula to account for the value added by running quarterbacks?

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