Game of throws

Here's how to tell which QBs will be elite in the NFL

Originally Published: April 19, 2013
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine
Keating IlloMark Weaver for ESPNFootball Outsiders' stats predict which draft QBs will be the next Ryan Leaf.

AS WE APPROACH the NFL draft on April 25, here's the headline from the analytics desk: We can now estimate how college QBs will do in the pros far better than when Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf seemed like a toss-up.

The best system for projecting college quarterbacks is the Lewin Career Forecast by Football Outsiders. Launched in 2006, the LCF is named after David Lewin, a former Outsiders writer who is now scouting coordinator for the Boston Celtics. The key insight? The best college stats for predicting NFL performance are games started, which indicates successful experience, and completion percentage, which translates better than other metrics from one level of play to the next. (Manning completed 62.5 percent of passes and made 45 college starts; Leaf completed 53.8 percent and started 24 games.) The latest version of LCF, which looks at quarterbacks drafted in the first three rounds, also credits QBs who improve from their junior to senior seasons, penalizes those who play in minor conferences and distinguishes between pocket passers who run successfully (good) and scramblers who get sacked (bad). Last year the system loved Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck but actually rated Russell Wilson over both of them, seeing value in his accuracy and huge improvement as a senior.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.