Every Monday, Football Outsiders' "Quick Reads" evaluates the performance of skill-position players in that Sunday's games. For more examples of the concept, please go here. For more information on the metrics that Football Outsiders use to evaluate the NFL, please go here.
It's hard for a starting NFL quarterback to be less conspicuous than debuting St. Louis Rams passer Keith Null was before Sunday; Null (a sixth-round pick) formerly served as the starting quarterback at Division II West Texas A&M, a school better known for producing pro wrestlers (Dusty Rhodes, "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase) than pro football players. There, Null took instruction from famed NFL bust Ryan Leaf, who served as the team's quarterbacks coach.
On Sunday, Null put on a performance reminiscent of Leaf at his worst. Against a middling Tennessee pass defense, Null went 27-of-43 for 157 yards, with only one touchdown against a whopping five interceptions. In what may be his first and last NFL start, Null accrued -188 passing DYAR. That's a total topped (well, bottomed) by only three other performances this year: Jake Delhomme's disaster start to the season against the Eagles (-234 passing DYAR), Mark Sanchez's five-interception game against the Bills in Week 6 (-216 passing DYAR), and Brady Quinn's advertisement for his house in Week 10 (-195 passing DYAR).
Where does it rank among the worst debuts of recent vintage, though? During the DVOA Era (1994-2009), from what we can tell, Null had the second-worst debut of any quarterback. The only quarterback he's behind is starting on Monday night: Alex Smith, who had a game to remember against Indianapolis in Week 5 of the 2005 season.
While Smith had 11 passes in relief of Tim Rattay over two games before getting his first start, he crossed a line of obscenity for his first start. Smith went 9-of-23 for 74 yards, yielding a completion percentage below 40 percent and a 3.2 yards per attempt figure that would make Tim Hightower blush. Of course, he couldn't make it to this list without giving the ball away -- Smith threw four picks. Factor in that the game came against an Indianapolis defense that only finished the year 18th in pass defense DVOA, at 6.5%, and the result was a staggering -266 passing DYAR. It's the sixth-lowest single game for any quarterback, regardless of experience level, going back to 1994.
Overall, 10 quarterbacks produced games that ranked below Null's performance as a rookie -- including Leaf, who netted -258 DYAR by going 1-of-15 for 4 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 of the 1998 season. Besides Smith and Leaf, these quarterbacks include David Carr, John Beck, Anthony Wright, Kyle Orton, Donovan McNabb, Chris Weinke, Craig Krenzel, Quincy Carter and Delhomme.
Interestingly, though, the two quarterbacks whose debuts fell just short of Null's total on Sunday have something in common. Both John Navarre (-181 DYAR in Week 13 of the 2004 season) and Jim Druckenmiller (-179 DYAR, Week 2 of the 1997 campaign) never started another NFL game. Null may very well end up being the next one-and-done quarterback of the DVOA Era.
Onto Week 14 Quick Reads: