Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ranking the Heisman-Winning QBs

With the fantasy baseball season, regular baseball season and horse racing season all behind us, and nothing particularly interesting going on in soccer (except for a star player coming down with malaria), we were wondering what to post about. Then the best sportswriter in America made this tweet during Monday night's snooze-worthy Bengals-Steelers tilt:

I don't think Carson Palmer has been same since injury. But, depending on rookies, he's best Heisman QB in more than 30 years. he right? Let's count down from worst to best the pro careers of the QBs that have won the Heisman during our lifetimes (from the mid-70's on). This gives us a fourteen signal callers dissect and remember. Who's ready for some brilliance? (El Angelo)

15. Jason White, Oklahoma, 2003.

I completely forgot this guy even existed, let alone won the Heisman. Undrafted by the NFL, he was brought into the Chiefs' preseason camp in '04, who cut him, deciding to go with the ancient Todd Collins to back up the fragile Trent Green. He never played a down in the NFL, retiring quickly thereafter citing "bad knees." Ouch. (El Angelo)

Ditto on the forgetting. Upon doing some research, I remembered that he won the Heisman (beating out cyborg NFL death-dealer Larry Fitzgerald) despite having Joe Namath’s post-retirement knees. Not only did he never play a down, he never hit a regular season NFL roster. (Teddy)

14. Eric Crouch, Nebraska, 2001.

I always get this guy confused with the late Brook Berringer, who took over as signal caller for the Cornhuskers in the mid-90s when Tommie Frazier got hurt. My only memory of this guy was going to the college football Hall of Fame with Teddy and the Commish in 2002, and while going by the Heisman exhibit, asking "who won the Heisman last year?" None of us could remember. (El Angelo)

Here begins the mini-run of Heisman-winning QBs drafted to do something other than play QB. Crouch was drafted as a WR and ended up playing safety in NFL Europe. Which is a "pro" career of sorts, I guess, so he gets the nod over White. (Teddy)

13. Charles Ward, Florida State, 1993.

The only known Anti-Semite
on this list, he wasn't drafted at all because he was going to play hoops. The Knicks took him and Monty Williams--who, like Eddy Curry, had a heart problem--in the first round of the '94 NBA Draft. In other news, Monty Williams is currently the head coach of the New Orleans Hornets, making me feel ancient. (El Angelo)

"Charles"? Come on. (Teddy)

12. Gino Torretta, The U, 1992.

Finally, someone who took an NFL snap! He played half a game for Seattle at the end of 1996, where he had 5 completions and was sacked 3 times. Is now the chairman of something called So we've now gone through 4 players, who have attempted a grand total of 13 NFL passes. (El Angelo)

There’s a bit of an authorial schism with respect to the Miami Hurricanes; Angelo is pro-U, while I still have a Catholics v. Convicts t-shirt in a closet somewhere. I’d take the position that Torretta was the dumb-luckiest QB on Earth in college, clinging tight to the coattails of his more highly recruited and no doubt more highly paid teammates. Torretta picked up his Heisman just before Miami were crushed were by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl (a game in which the right-thinking neutral was rooting neither for the ‘Canes nor the Tide, but for everyone associated with both schools to pick up food poisoning the night before the game). Torretta got into a total of 2 NFL games in 4 years; the highlight of his career was likely a 13-yard scramble against the Raiders in 1996. (Teddy)

11. Andre Ware, Houston, 1989.

For those of you who are young enough to think shitty drafting by the Lions is only a Matt Millen phenomenon, we present to you the 7th pick of the 1990 draft. Ware's career--when he couldn't beat out the terrible Rodney Peete for a starting spot--consisted of 161 passes, 83 completions, 5 TDs, 8 picks, and 1100 yards gained. That's roughly what Phillip Rivers did in his last two games. (El Angelo)

One of the core principles of sports analysis revealed to us by the sabremetric revolution (and adapted to football by the Football Outsiders folks) is that context matters. Batters can’t get as many RBIs with the bases always empty, and running backs can’t get yards if their teams always pass. You have to adjust raw stats to take into account the number and quality of opportunities a player had to amass those stats.

Over the course of his 1989 season, Andre Ware did the quarterbacking equivalent of coming to bat with the bases loaded every single time. Playing out of the then-revolutionary Run & Shoot, Ware threw for almost 4,700 yards and 46 TDs, but took a staggering 578 attempts (about 52 attempts per game) to run up those figures. Contrast that with what fellow ‘80s Heisman QBs Doug Flutie (386 attempts) and Vinny Testaverde (276, for Christ’s sake) did in their winning years.

Despite the obvious need to factor in deflation, Ware went #7 overall to the Lions. He started all of 6 games over 4 years, and had more INT (8) AND more FUM (7) than TDs (5). He should send Ryan Leaf a bouquet of flowers every year for keeping him off of the top of the all-time bust list. (Teddy)

10. Tim Tebow, Florida, 2007.

This is probably cheating a little bit, because unlike Ware, Tebow hasn't thrown a pass yet and has been used more of a decoy for Wildcat plays. Still he has two rushing touchdowns this year and hasn't turned the ball over. (El Angelo)

This list is bad enough that doing no harm as a rookie puts you safely in the middle of the pack. (Teddy)

9. Danny Wuerffel, Florida, 1996.

My best memory of this guy was when he was named the starting quarterback for The Ol' Ballcoach in Washington in 2002, fantasy savant Peter King issued this piece of advice

Number two, I said if you couldn't get one of the stud quarterbacks -- Warner, Manning, Garcia, Favre, Gannon -- then solve your running back and receiver needs in the first two or three rounds, then pick Danny Wuerffel. You'd think I'd have recommended they pick the Pope. One guy piped up from the audience, and I quote: "You're smoking crack!" I realize most of you have just vomited on your PCs, so let me explain. I can't swear Wuerffel will be the starting quarterback for the Redskins, though it would shock me if he were not. I can't swear that he'll be the starter for 16 weeks even if Steve Spurrier anoints him the starter on opening day.

I do know, however, that Spurrier is going to enjoy proving the NFL wrong on Wuerffel, and that he will throw the ball early and often, and that by sheer force of will he will find a way to make the Washington passing game one of the league's best. It is conceivable that Wuerffel could throw for 3,600 yards and 26 touchdowns. Big fantasy numbers.

Wuerffel's line for that year: 92 attempts, 58 completions, 719 yards, 3 TD's, 6 INTs, 2 fumbles. He was out of the league after that run. Oops. (El Angelo)

Wuerffel's arm must be made of coffee beans for King to like him that much. (Teddy)

8. Troy Smith, Ohio State, 2006.

If we had written this synopsis two weeks ago, Smith would be down there amongst the Gino Torrettas of the world. He was drafted cautiously late (by Baltimore in Round 5), meaning he would likely have a very small window to demonstrate his worth before the talent evaluators cut him to confirm their own first opinions of him. Then, after a couple of promising starts at the end of a lost 2007 Ravens season, the team drafted Joe Flacco in the ’08 draft, further narrowing Smith’s window. When he came down with some weird, mutant version of tonsillitis in ’08 training camp (and Flacco played well), it looked for all the world like he had been Wally Pipp-ed and consigned to the dustbin of history. But then just last week, he popped up in a 49ers uniform, filling in for the injured (and eminently Pipp-able) Alex Smith, and played acceptably in a win. So it looks like that window cold be back open a crack. If he makes it though, given the weakness of this list, he could be in the Top 5 by this time next year. (Teddy)

And we finally have a guy with a positive TD/INT ratio. I had completely forgotten that this guy was still in the NFL until it was announced a week ago that he'd see time for the hapless 49ers. Still, he started the year third on the depth chart behind Alex Smith and David Carr, which says all you need to know. (El Angelo)

7. Matt Leinart, USC, 2004.

The 2006 NFL Draft contained a doozy of a QB crop. It had Jay Cutler, the modern day Jeff George. It had Vince Young, who's going to be the focus of an ESPN 40 for 40 in ten years. Crappy players like Kellen Clemens and Tavaris Jackson were prominently feature. Hell, Marcus Vick was eligible.

The most useful NFL player who was drafted in 2006 as a "quarterback" has probably been Brad Smith, who's been a jack-of-all trades for the Jets. Young is probably 2nd. And 3rd is Deadspin's favorite workout freak, who's most notable contribution to the NFL was being on the losing end of the infamous Bears-Cardinals game:

(El Angelo)

FO continues to think that this guy could be functional if installed as a starter and left alone. But realistically, it looks like that's not going to happen any time soon, which limits his upside here. (Teddy)

6. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma, 2008.

Let's take a second to ponder this ranking. A rookie this year who has played a total of 8 NFL games for a team that went 1-15 last year has had the 6th best NFL career of all Heisman winning quarterbacks since 1972.

Wow. (El Angelo)

Again, the bar here is so low that anyone who is even threatening not to fail will score high. If the Rams can keep him healthy, there's no reason he couldn't be a solid starter. (Teddy)

5. Chris Weinke, Florida State, 2000.

We've actually reached the point when the QBs remaining at least had mildly productive points in their career. First up is Weinke, who in his rookie year, started 15 games and threw for 2900 yards with 11 TDs and 19 INTs. Two problems: the team was a 1-15 Carolina Panthers, and he was already 29 years old. (El Angelo)

I have a moderate objection to this ranking; I'd actually put Bradford above Weinke. Bradford has ALREADY won more games as an NFL starter than Weinke did. The mere fact that Weinke got more time to rack up more counting stats shouldn't change that fairly mind-blowing datum. (Teddy)

4. Ty Detmer, BYU, 1990.

I'm going to leave the praise/excoriation of Mr. Detmer to Teddy. As am aside, in consecutive years, the Heisman trophy was won by quarterbacks for Houston and BYU. Could that even happen today? Pundits say that it's near impossible for Kellen Moore to win the Heisman this year, and Boise State has had 5 times the national coverage that these teams had in the early 80's. Can you imagine the heads exploding on Around the Horn if Moore won this year and a running back for Nevada won next year? (El Angelo)

The NFL caught on early to Detmer’s lack of pro prospects, as he wasn’t drafted until the 9th round of the 1992 Draft. (Bear in mind that the draft currently has only 7 rounds.) After strengthening his clipboard arm for a few years in Green Bay, Detmer ended up part of a mid’90s QB logjam in Philly that included legends such as Rodney Peete (who was apparently a bit of a Heisman-kiler) and Bobby Hoying.

For a brief shining moment in 1996, Detmer rose to the head of that august assemblage and led the Eagles to 7 wins in 11 starts. Teddy lived in Philly at the time, and can testify that the Egglz faithful were touchingly optimistic about Ty that year. Of course, that optimism pretty much evaporated during Philly’s 14-zip loss to the 49ers in the 1996 playoffs. Detmer started only 14 more games over the next 4 years, and finished his career below .500 in both WIN% (.407) and TD/INT (34/35). (Teddy)

3. Doug Flutie, BC, 1984.

He'd be #1 if we counted Grey Cups. Teddy, I turn the floor over to you for your favorite Boston QB not named Brady. (El Angelo)

The Pride of Natick, MA (which has named a road “Flutie Pass” in his honor*) had one of the more controversial careers in pro football history. Note that we didn’t say “NFL” history, because in many ways his NFL years were the least interesting. Flutie arguably played in four different pro leagues, starting out in the USFL, briefly playing for the Bears in the NFL, playing a couple of games as a replacement player in the fake, strike-bound NFL, then putting together a Hall of Fame career in the CFL. After all that, he fetched up back in the NFL, where he was benched by Buffalo three times in three years, despite having a 21-9 record as a starter.

*Don’t get too excited; the road connects two shopping mall parking lots.

Given his late-career success, it’s tough to argue that Flutie wouldn’t have been at least a league-average NFL starter in the ‘90s if someone had given him a chance. As you can see by the rest of this list, that puts you near the top of the Heisman QB class. For all that, what exactly are the memorable moments of Flutie’s NFL career? We can think of three candidates: (1) Flutie getting foghorned on camera during Bears game by a customarily irate Mike Ditka; (2) Flutie running a naked bootleg for a TD in a replacement game seen on TV only by a young Teddy and literally tens of dozing Foxboro-area pets; and (3) Flutie getting benched in Buffalo. Remember that those are the career highlights of the third-BEST Heisman QB of our lifetime. (Teddy)

2. Carson Palmer, USC, 2002.

Unquestionably, Palmer's had the highest upside of any of the QBs on this list--at his peak, he was excellent. Sadly, Posnanski is right--since Kimo von Oelhoffen rolled onto his leg and blew out Carson Hilton Palmer's entire left leg, he hasn't been the same. In fact, he's morphed into late-career Bernie Kosar: still surviving because of the name, but is probably harmful to your team. Let's hope we get a drunk Palmer on some documentary on USC in 10 years. (El Angelo)

Among the various collegiate powers of the Aughts, USC seemed like the most obvious place to look for pro skill prospects. They ran a pro-style offense, under former pro coaches, with what looked like pro-caliber talent. But as a group, the dynasty-era USC skill guys have disappointed at the next level (see Mike Williams, Reggie Bush, and Matt Leinart, whom Angelo takes to task above).

As of Saturday, January 7, 2005, Palmer looked like an exception to both the USC and Heisman QB curses. He was coming off a regular season in which he’d led the league in TDs and COMP%, and was still only 26. It looked like he was a candidate to join the elite tier of NFL QBs, along with Manning, Brady, etc. Then von Oelhoffen went down, and Palmer’s never really been the same since. His accuracy dropped by 5% in his next season and he led the league in INT the year after that, despite piling up yards in both years. Then he got hurt again, and has again fallen back as Angelo notes.
Still, he’s made 89 starts and the Pro Bowl, is above .500 for his career, and has led a couple of teams into the playoffs. That success, plus the woulda-coulda-shoulda of the injury, puts him towards the top of the Heisman QB list. (Teddy)

1. Vinny Testaverde, The U, 1986.

As Angelo ceded me the floor to discuss Middlesex County's own Doug Flutie, I hereby yield to him on the subject of Vinny (the QZ QB) Testaverde. (Teddy)

The pride of Elmont, New York! Vinny Green Testicles was considered a titanic bust early in his career, and it's not hard to see why: after being the first overall pick by the hapless Tampa Bay Bucs--for those of you under 21, Tampa Bay was once to football what the Pittsburgh Pirates are to baseball--where in 6 years, he did absolutely nothing of note: 24 games under .500, a horrific 52% completion rate, and a 77/58 TD/INT ratio. But as Teddy noted, context is important: those Tampa teams contained absolutely no talent on offense. Poor Vinny had nobody to throw to.

So off to the Cleveland/Baltimore franchise he went, where his competition was decomposing fellow The U alum Bernie Kosar, Mark Rypien and the execrable Eric Zeier. Vincenzo didn't exactly turn into a house on fire for the Bravens, but he was a fairly steady hand at the tiller: 58% completion rate, a 98/71 TD/INT rate, and a 1996 Pro Bowl appearance. It was fair to say that he had morphed from bust to solid starter.

And then Bill Parcells, of all people, decided to take a roll of the dice with him because he had enough of the Neil O'Donnell Experience and Glenn Foley couldn't stand upright for two consecutive quarters. Paired with some legitimately good talent--a young Curtis Martin and Keyshawn Johson, Wayne Cherbet before his brain turned to scrambled eggs, and the underrated Leon Johnson--Testaverde had his breakout year in 1998, where he lead the Jets to the AFC Championship game. We'd like to note that he's the only QB on this list to have a playoff win.

After blowing out his knee and the Jets' chances at a Super Bowl in the first game of '99, Vinny returned for two more years of very good stewardship under the huddle, sadly under the tutelage of Al Groh and Herm Edwards. By 2000, he was 39 and relegated to backup duty.

At some level, Testaverde's career is a great "what if"--namely, what if he had played with good players or a good coach when he was younger. He didn't get the opportunity until about his 10th year, and only Parcells/Belicheck were able to put some pieces around him to actually make him a good QB. Had he landed with a good team 8 years earlier, who knows where he would have ended up. For now, he'll have to settle with the award of being the best QB to win the Heisman in the last 35 years. Congrats, sir. (El Angelo)

1 comment:

Corey said...

How have you completely ignored what may be the most cathartic moment in baseball blogging history: FJM's dram came true!

Also, shouldn't Charlie Ward move up? Given your reasoning of Tenow suggest that a player with 0 impact be placed above those with clearly negative impact?