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Are Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz & Jared Goff the best QB draft class since 1983?

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Are the three sophomores the best QB draft class since 1983?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The 1983 quarterback draft class is widely regarded as the best in modern NFL history. Three Hall of Famers were chosen in the first 27 picks and a fourth enjoyed a long, successful career. Some (me) are already proclaiming the 2016 quarterback class to be the best trio of quarterbacks drafted since that famed class.

A quick look at the 1983 group; “AV” represents Approximate Value as calculated by Football Reference and is designed to measure a player’s overall contribution:

Everyone is familiar with Hall of Famers John Elway and Dan Marino; their stories have been well-chronicled. Less known is the fact Jim Kelly, also in the Hall, was chosen by Buffalo in 1983, though he played three seasons in the USFL before joining the Bills in 1986. Ken O’Brien was a quality QB for the Jets for a number of years; Tony Eason had a promising start to his career but quickly faded while Todd Blackledge was a bust.

Note, however, that with the exception of Dan Marino (10 AV) none of this group enjoyed success their rookie year. All but Blackledge, however, enjoyed success in their second season (Elway, Eason, O’Brien and Marino averaged 14 AV between them).

We’re seeing a similar story in today’s NFL with the trio of second-year quarterbacks playing in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Dallas. Were the season to end today all three quarterbacks would lead their teams into the NFC playoffs. As we’ll see, each also ranks high in most major quarterback measures. Most MVP handicappers would include Goff and Wentz among the favorites while I would argue Rayne Dak Prescott also deserves consideration.

In short, the three have rejuvenated their franchises, excited their respective fan bases and look to be the future of the NFL. Let’s look at what they’ve accomplished and how they compare to each other and the league’s 29 other quarterbacks.

The three have combined to win 19 of 25 games this season for an impressive 76% win percentage. Wentz and the Eagles currently have the league’s best overall record while Goff and the Rams are a surprise divsion leader in the NFC West with a 6-2 record.

Prescott, meanwhile, has compiled 18 wins in his first 24 starts. That’s just the highest number of wins of any quarterback since the beginning of the 2016 season:

In fact, in the Super Bowl era, only Dan Marino won more of his first 24 starts (20) than Prescott.

All three teams also have turned around teams that were coming off losing seasons. The Eagles were coming off a 7-9 finish when they made Wentz the second pick in the 2016 draft. After starting his career with three straight wins with five touchdowns and no interceptions the Eagles lost nine of their next 13 while Wentz threw only 11 TDs against 14 INTs. In 2017, however, Wentz and the Eagles have already surpassed their 2016 and 2015 win totals with seven games remaining.

Jared Goff’s emergence in 2017 is even more surprising. Many were ready to write Goff as a bust following a disastrous 2016 season. Goff completed less than 54% of his passes and compiled an ugly 63.6 quarterback rating his rookie season as the Rams stumbled to a 4-12 record. I can’t help but think Goff’s 2016 performance says a lot more about his then-coach Jeff Fisher and his dysfuntional, losing ways than Goff.

Dak Prescott, unlike Goff and Wentz, enjoyed immediate success despite being only a fourth-round compensatory draft pick. Since starting from day one of his rookie season Prescott has compiled a dizzying array of early-career accomplishments:

Summarizing:

  • 2nd in wins
  • 1st in completion percentage
  • 4th in touchdowns
  • 1st in interceptions
  • 2nd in quarterback rating
  • 1st in rushing touchdowns

Prescott started off with an historic rookie season, but now all three quarterbacks look like long-term fixtures for their respective teams. Here’s a look at their standard passing statistics for 2017:

It’s striking how similar the numbers are. Each are throwing about 32 times per game, which is an average number. And while the yardage numbers are good for each they’re not astronomical. All three are completing less than 64% of passes, which is around the league average. The positive touchdown/interception numbers, however, separate the three from many young quarterbacks who are often able to post big yardage numbers but also tend to make lots of mistakes.

I think all three benefit from playing on dynamic, balanced offenses. Each team’s rushing game ranks among the top six in the NFL, part of the reason none are being asked to sling the ball around 35+ times per game. All three teams also rank among the league’s top-5 in points scored as each quarterback is complimenting the running game with an effective passing attack.

Here’s how they rank in the standard statistics:

We see that in terms of completions, attempts, yards and completion percentage none of the three rank particularly high; only Goff manages a top-10 ranking in any of these metrics. But all three rank among the top 12 in both touchdowns and interceptions. In short, they’re all scoring points with their arms while minimizing mistakes.

The advanced quarterback metrics like each quarterback a bit more:

Three measures that I believe give the best evaluation of a quarterback’s performance are the traditional quarterback rating, ESPN’s proprietary Total QBR and the adjusted net yards per attempt statistic. All three rank among the league’s top ten in all three categories and frequently rank among the top five.

Similarly all three are among the league’s top seven in touchdown percentage and top 12 in interception percentage. For context, here’s the top 15 quarterbacks based upon traditional quarterback rating:

A key thing to mention is Prescott ranks eighth in quarterback rating but second in QBR. That’s because Prescott has proven to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league at using his legs. He’s run for more yards and more touchdowns while also being sacked less and for fewer yards that Wentz and Goff. In fact, since entering the league no NFL quarterback has more rushing touchdowns than Prescott’s 10. He’s on pace for nearly 400 yards and eight rushing touchdowns in 2017.

Also note how big-name, big-money players like Russel Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Derek Carr all lag behind in virtually every category. Not even showing up on this list are names like Roethlisberger, Rivers, Manning, Palmer and Newton.

The gang over at Football Outsiders has a number of advanced statistical algorithms they use to measure quarterback play. What do they think of the trio of sophomores?

Well, they like them very much, ranking each of them between 4th and 8th on their three primary measurements:

  • DYAR: the value of the quarterback 's performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage.
  • YAR: same as DYAR but not adjusted by opponent (note Wentz’s number declines 32 points while Prescott’s declines only two points, indicating Prescott has faced more difficult defenses thus far than Wentz).
  • DVOA: This number represents value, per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations

The simple version: DYAR means a quarterback with more total value. DVOA means a quarterback with more value per play.

Summary

What’s indisputable is all three are playing at elite, top-10 levels, leading their teams to winning records and providing both fanbases and the entire league with excitement and anticipation.

The value of this cannot be overstated. To understand how much a franchise-caliber quarterback means to a team look no further than the current edition of the Green Bay Packers. A few weeks ago they sported a 4-1 record and featured an exciting, dynamic offense that gave them a chance to win every game. They averaged 27 points per game and were virtually a shoo-in to make the playoffs in the NFC. As a fan there aren’t many teams other than the Cowboys I’m that interested in watching; the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers were one of those team.

Since Rodgers was injured all that has changed. They’ve lost three consecutive games as the offense has averaged less that 15 points per game. And the idea of watching Brett Hundley is about as exciting as contemplating dental appointments. Ugh.

Which is to say the Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys fanbases should rightfully be giddy over their respective quarterback’s performances. There’s nothing more exciting than a young, franchise caliber quarterback emerging to become an NFL star.

A review of history shows even with high draft picks, finding such a player is largely a crapshoot. Here’s every quarterback selected with a top-5 pick since 1970:

There’s a lot of great players on this list; Hall of Fame players like Aikman, Elway, Manning, Peyton and Bradshaw. But there’s also a lot of mediocre quarterbacks like Sam Bradford and Jeff George. And for every Elway, Manning and Aikman there’s players like JaMarcus Russell, Joey Harrington, Vince Young, Tim Couch and Ryan Leaf. Even with the first pick in the draft the odds of finding a franchise quarterback is no better than flipping a coin.

Thus, for three quarterbacks to emerge in only their second year as stars is a real miracle. The fact all three play in the same conference... and two in the same division... sets up what should be intriguing, exciting matchups for the next decade plus. As a fan of one of the teams lucky enough to acquire one of these players the future is full of hope and I look forward to seeing what each of the three will bring to the game.