As the Cleveland Browns place their stake in DeShone Kizer it becomes more difficult to distinguish “starting quarterback,” from “sacrificial lamb.”
Now, Cleveland attempts to overhaul a system that’s 38-106 since 2007. The team has finished bottom-10 in offense each of those years.
But the vision of Paul DePodesta and Sashi Brown improved the team this offseason. Starting on the offensive line to protect 21-year-old Kizer. And they started in the right place: the offensive line.
As teams run more plays and throw more often, the quarterback exposes himself to more hits. Protecting those assets, especially the young quarterbacks, proves critical.
— FOX Sports Knoxville (@FOXSportsKnox) August 24, 2017
Accept the principle that older quarterbacks perform better. Of all 102 starting Super Bowl passers, the average age is 30 and median age 30.
Naturally, quarterbacking has changed over the last 20 years. Guys like Cam Newton and Jameis Winston have been allowed to succeed with designed runs. But quarterbacks who move is nothing new. Steve Young ran. The difference is, he learned to pass first. And mitigated the hits he incurred.
Last season the League’s ten most consistent passers came from teams that won 64% of their games, a little better than a 10-6 season.
Young led the League in passing five times and never rushed more than 76 times in a season. Then take a player like Randall Cunningham who got sacked more than any other quarterback three out of his first four years in the league. By the time he was done with his 25th year, Cunningham had been sacked 203 times in the NFL. Perhaps that’s why he played in 80 games in the last 11 years of his season.
Cam has never reached better than 62% passing and hasn’t cracked 60% in three years. So yes, Cam runs effectively. But he’s taken almost 900 hits through six seasons.
Second, there’s increased emphasis on effective passing in this NFL. Last season the League’s ten most consistent passers came from Minnesota, New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas, New Engalnd, Kansas City, Miami, Washington, Green Bay and Detroit. Those teams won 64% of their games, a little better than a 10-6 season.
Ten years ago, the League’s highest completion percentage came from Houston, Dallas Indianapolis, New York Jets, New Orleans, Cleveland, Baltimore, St. Louis (RIP,) Buffalo and Detroit. Those 2006 teams won 51% of their games. Better passing leads to more winning now than a decade ago.
In 2006, the League enjoyed five 4,000-yard passers. Last season, 13 quarterbacks completed more than 4,000 yards. Drew Brees finished with 5,208. The youngest was 27-years-old.
It’s not unheard of to have a young quarterback crack the top-10 in passing. What’s rare is to have him remain as a top-10 passer. Regardless of his talent, his longevity becomes a function of his offensive line.
Tennessee fans are familiar with Peyton Manning’s rookie season where he led the league with 28 interceptions. He only completed 56.7% of his throws, 19th in the NFL. Peyton himself reflects on that season as a learning experience. And he’s right.
But Manning only got sacked 36 times in his first two years. He was allowed to grow and stay healthy. Compare that to Andrew Luck who was sacked 44 times his rookie season and 36 the next.
Three quarterbacks have cracked the top-10 before age 25 and remained: Peyton, Ben Roethlisburger and Matt Stafford. Stafford, who just became the highest paid player in the NFL, was only moderately protected with 174 hits ages 21-24.
Other quarterbacks who enjoyed top-level success early… Culpepper led the league in passing at age 27. By that point he’d been tackled 634 times. He never played more than half a season after that. Clearly we know Jay Cutler as a mediocre quarterback. But after leading the league in sacks with 52, a dubious honor at best, he missed six games in 2011. Tough to tell what effect contact has had on a career 68-71 quarterback.
Luck took 205 hits before age 25 and this will be his third straight season with injuries. Most notably, David Carr got sacked 208 times in his first four seasons and only played 18 games in his final five years. Tim Couch took 56 sacks his rookie season, played seven games the next year, still got hit 207 times before age 25. He was out of the league by age 27. Culpepper took 234 before 25 and never played more than half a season after age 27. Freeman got tackled 295 times and took up baseball. Poor Blake Bortles turned 25 in April and has already been tackled 306 times in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers got tackled 20 times before age 25 and hasn’t missed a game in three years. Tom Brady wore 88 tackles before age 25 and hasn’t missed non-suspension a start since he tore his ACL in 2008. Brees sets the pace almost every season, including the last three. He took 108 knocks before turning 25. Peyton Manning: 148 hits before age 25 and, with the exception of one missed season due to neck surgery, got benched for the first time in his final year. Russell Wilson’s first year was at age 24. He took 149 hits that season but has never missed an NFL start. Matt Ryan: 153 hits before 25 and hasn’t missed a start since 2010.
Say what you will about Kirk Cousins, he started his NFL lifespan at age 24. Teams keep fawning over him because of the tread left on the tires. He’s passed for more than 4,000 yards two years straight and hasn’t sat since he took over for RGIII. Philip Rivers, once traded for the No. 1 overall pick, played in four games before age 25. Guy’s led the League in significant passing stats four separate years and has made 185 of his last 185 starts.
This is not revelatory information. General Managers and coaches learned that running backs only had so many hits their bodies could suffer. But running backs don’t call the play and take every snap.
The takeaway is relatively simple. While a kid might prove me wrong and have the wherewithal to take snaps as a 22-year-old, you better make sure he’s got solid airbags.
Reach Boomer at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him @boomerdangel.