Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

16 Nov 2006

Would you like Charlie Frye with that?

Earlier this week, in my column Any Given Sunday, I wrote that Cleveland's blind faith in Charlie Frye is troubling. I hinted that if he does not play well through the rest of the year, the Browns should go after another quarterback. Over in the discussion thread on Football Outsiders, multiple Cleveland fans posted that Frye exudes leadership, has little offensive help, and can still develop.

If Frye does not improve the rest of this season, but nonetheless goes on to have a successful career, it would make him absolutely unique among quarterbacks drafted over the past decade.

Football Outsiders has a stat, DPAR, that measures performance compared to a replacement player. (You may know this stat from the Monday Quick Reads column.) A replacement player would contribute 0 points. Frye had a DPAR his rookie year of -9.3, and to date he is again below replacement level with -11.9 DPAR in 2006.

I went back and looked at every quarterback drafted between 1995 and 2004 to find those who threw 100 passes in a season in either his rookie or second season. 36 quarterbacks met that standard. Of those 36, 15 did not have a positive DPAR during one of those two seasons.

That list of 15 quarterbacks is not a group you want to associate with:

• Cade McNown
• Brock Huard
• Danny Kanell
• Ryan Leaf
• Akili Smith
• Spergeon Wynn
• J.P. Losman
• Danny Wuerffel
• Chris Weinke
• Joey Harrington
• Tim Couch
• Ken Dorsey
• Quincy Carter
• Josh McCown
• Mike McMahon

Not one of these players has had a successful career. When Joey Harrington and Quincy Carter are the best of the bunch, this is not a career path you really want. The important thing here is struggles in both the rookie and sophomore year. Struggles in your rookie year alone have no such predictive ability. Donovan McNabb had a DPAR of -41.6 his rookie season. Eli Manning had a DPAR of -13.3.

The converse of this phenomenon is definitely not true. One positive DPAR season does not guarantee success. Shaun King, Bobby Hoying, and A.J. Feeley did not exactly develop into elite quarterbacks. For those reasons, fans in San Francisco should not get too excited about Alex Smith.

What does this all mean for Frye? Just because nobody in the last ten years has developed into a quality quarterback after such a poor start does not make it impossible. After all, almost all the quarterbacks with horrible rookie DPARs were total busts, but Donovan McNabb developed into a star. Perhaps Frye is a similar exception.

Still, enthusiasm for Frye should be tempered. The upside appears to be Carter or maybe David Carr, who only had a DPAR of 2.3 in his second season. Cleveland fans who like Frye should hope he puts it together down the stretch because quarterbacks who cannot play at a replacement level in their first two years are quarterbacks who will not be in the league for long.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 16 Nov 2006