Now that football season is over, many pundits have turned to next year. Among questions such as, “Will it be cold at next year’s Super Bowl” (yes), “Can Chip Kelly make it work with Michael Vick” (maybe), and “Will the Bills finally have a winning season” (no), there is one that really irks me. It’s a question that shouldn’t even be asked, because the premise of it is simply not true.
“Will Andrew Luck/Russell Wilson/RG3 avoid the sophomore slump that Cam Newton experienced?”
Asking this question assumes two things, both of which are incorrect:
- Cam Newton suffered a sophomore slump in 2012
- The rookie seasons of Luck, Wilson, & RG3 were comparable to Newton’s
Let me address the first assumption, that Newton’s second season was somehow worse than his rookie year. Football experts making this claim rely on Newton’s rookie record for passing yardage (4,051) that he failed to match the following year, and his dip in rushing touchdowns from fourteen to eight. They also (knowingly or unknowingly) seem to place more value on stretches of the season that back up their claims; Cam Newton finished strong in 2011 and started slow in 2012, further solidifying the “slump” in their minds.
What they don’t mention is that he got pretty darn close to those 4,000 passing yards in 2012, and that his stats were similar year-to-year overall. In the chart below, you’ll see that by the measure of traditional quarterback stats, Newton’s second season was only marginally worse that his first. I’ve also added ESPN’s QBR (which measures a QB’s impact on his team’s chances of winning, from 0-100), and a really great stat I like to call “wins”.
So which season was better? I give a slight edge to 2011, but not enough of an advantage to label 2012 a slump. Cam Newton was pretty much the same quarterback in 2012 that he was in 2011.
Now, for the second assumption – this year’s crop of rookies had seasons similar to Newton’s rookie campaign. Here again, I think some are blinded by Newton’s record-setting passing yards. In the chart below, you’ll see how only Luck’s yardage compares favorably with Newton’s.
By this measure, Newton still has the second best rookie season ever. But another look using those advanced stats of QBR (which takes into account running ability) and Wins, tells another story.
When I look at these stats, I see three quarterbacks that led their team to the playoffs with above-average play in their rookie seasons, and one that put up gaudy numbers without really helping his team win (Newton). In fact, Newton’s rookie season was more similar to Ryan Tannehill’s than those of the big three. Following in Newton’s year-over-year footsteps would mean maintaining their current level of play, and if the trio of Luck/Wilson/RG3 do that, their teams will all enjoy another trip to the post-season in 2013-14.
What do you think? Will last year’s rookie QBs repeat their success in 2013?