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18 Nov 2006

Will Jason Campbell Save the Redskins?

Young Quarterbacks Midseason Review

Guest Column by David Lewin

With Jason Campbell set to start this week I'm sure many FO readers have gone scrambling for their copy of PFP 2006 to see what the college to pros quarterback projection system said about him. If you haven't looked it up yet let me save you the time: Jason Campbell is going to be good.

To refresh everyone's memory, the system is based primarily on games started and completion percentage. It gives a career value for a player which, using the typical career progression of quarterbacks, can be used to estimate performance in any given year. So, in honor of Jason Campbell's first start let's recap how the system has done so far this year and what we can expect the rest of the way.

Remember that the system is based on first- and second-round quarterbacks, which is why you won't see anything about Bruce Gradkowski or other late-round picks. Also, while the article in the book focused on peak projections, the system does project each player's early years, and those projections are referenced here.

Philip Rivers

Also known as the poster boy for the projection system. I actually suggested putting Rivers on the cover of PFP 2006, but instead they went with two New York players on the cover to promote the book in the biggest market.

(Ed. Note: Last time I make that mistake. Rivers will be on the cover of next year's book.)

Although Rivers had the highest projection of any player even I wasn't sure he would be this good this fast. The projection for Rivers this year was 5.8 DPAR per game, which would have been good for fourth in the league last year. He has exceeded even his lofty projection, averaging 7.4 DPAR per game. I personally haven't had the opportunity to see Rivers play very much this year, so I don't know how he has done this, but I would not be surprised to see him continue this remarkable level of success and become the best quarterback of the vaunted 2004 class (Eli Manning, Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and J.P. Losman).

Rex Grossman

Grossman has been up and down this year. He has played brilliantly at times, and stunk it up mightily at other times. He has shown the ability to throw one of the prettiest deep balls in the game, but he seems unable to throw to the sidelines especially on out patterns. Many people have mentioned Grossman's erratic mechanics, and that is probably part of the problem. In order to throw the ball to the sidelines effectively a quarterback has to open his hips and point his front foot to his target. Grossman has been inconsistent with doing this, and has often thrown off his back foot or across his body. When throwing downfield your feet are usually already more or less lined up, so stepping towards your target is less of an issue. If Grossman can develop into more than just a great deep ball thrower he might become a very good player in this league. As it is he is playing right along with his projection to develop into “a quality NFL starter,� (quoting myself in PFP 2006) and is virtually matching his projection of 2.5 DPAR per game for this year.

Alex Smith

After a rookie year in which Smith was worse than even Ryan Leaf, I can't say that I really expected Smith to bounce back to his above-average projection. He hasn't bounced all the way back to it yet (he was projected slightly above 2.0 DPAR per game this year and he's right around 1.5) but he has shown significant promise. One improvement I am working on making to the projection system for next year is the inclusion of age as a variable. Right now, only number of years in NFL is included. In the age of redshirts (and holding kids back in grade school for athletic reasons; I'm looking at you Clausen family) most quarterbacks enter the league at age 23 or 24. Smith, however, was 21 as a rookie, probably a disadvantage when it comes to his early performance.

Matt Leinart

Like Grossman, Leinart has had an up and down season. He has shown flashes of brilliance, like the first half of the Chicago game, but also surprisingly lengthy periods of ineptitude. The Cardinals have some offensive weapons, but an inability to run the ball is clearly hindering the team. It seems they might have a good idea to have taken some of the 20 million plus they have left under the cap and make a run at Steve Hutchinson, but these are the Arizona Cardinals, so they didn't. I still think that in the long run Matt Leinart will be star, and he is not that far off his projection right now (he's averaging 1.0 DPAR per game, he was projected to be at 2.4). A lot will depend on whether the Cardinals choose to put a competent offensive line up in front of him.

Vince Young

One of the biggest surprises of the season in my mind has been the play of Vince Young. He is much farther along as a passer than anyone could have been anticipated (although his DPAR per game of 0.0 is actually below his projection of 0.4), but his running has been much less of a factor than I would have thought. In fact, his running has been worth -5.8 DPAR this season. This cannot continue to be true for a runner as talented as Young. He has clearly demonstrated talent as a passer, but the most important thing to his development will be whether he can effectively learn when to utilize his running ability to complement his passing.

J.P. Losman

As I wrote in PFP 2006, "The Bills are really going to regret passing on Matt Leinart." Thus far this has been true, but more because Losman, who continues to underperform his less than optimistic projection, has been that bad than because Leinart has been good. I don't see Losman having much of a future in the league past this year, so maybe the Bills will be in the market for a real prospect like Brady Quinn come April.

Older quarterbacks

Eli Manning will never be Peyton, but he's pretty good; Byron Leftwich deserves to be a starting quarterback somewhere; David Carr is not terrible; and Ben Roethlisberger should bounce back eventually as long as he avoids sky-diving without a parachute and similar activities.

And now on to the alleged subject of this column...

Jason Campbell

I don't know a single Redskins fan not excited for the Jason Campbell era to start. According to FO's advanced metrics, Brunell was not playing exceptionally poorly (ninth in DVOA), but anyone watching the Redskins play this year could see that even if the end is not here yet for Brunell, it is definitely in sight. A distinct inability to throw the ball downfield to gamebreaking receivers like Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El has really limited the Redskins offense. With Campbell at the helm, expect that to change in a hurry.

If there is one way to describe Campbell as a quarterback it would be prototypical. He is 6'4", 230 pounds with good mobility and the cannon arm that everyone loves. His college stats profile of 39 starts and 64.6% completion rate is quite favorable as well.

However, the devil is in the details. Campbell has played in six offensive systems in the past six years. I have seen him described a slow learner, but this is probably related to him having to learn a new system every year. I have to imagine that Al Saunders would not have given Campbell the keys to this offense and its 700-page manual (playbook) if he wasn't comfortable with it.

Campbell's college stats also have on major red flag, his number of attempts. In general I don't use attempts in the projection formula because number of attempts tends to be highly collinear with games started. In the case of Campbell, because he played with Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, and Brandon Jacobs at Auburn, he was not asked to throw the ball very often. If I used attempts instead of games started the formula is, in general, almost as accurate, but would give a much lower projection for Campbell.

I suspect this means that Campbell will slightly underperform his projection, which for this year is about 4.0 DPAR per game. Still, I expect Campbell to be an immediate improvement over Brunell, despite a decent number of rookie mistakes. By the end of the year, Redskins should be looking forward to a bright future, at least at the quarterback position.

David J. Lewin is a 19 year old sophomore at Macalester College where he plays football. He is currently trying to round up job offers for the summer, some of which will hopefully involve his alleged "skills" as a sports statistics analyst. He can be reached at dlew33-at-yahoo.com. To read more about the quarterback projection system, read this article from FO or check out the article on page 433 of Pro Football Prospectus 2006. Look for his column evaluating the quarterback prospects for the 2007 NFL draft sometime this off-season.

Posted by: Guest on 18 Nov 2006

48 comments, Last at 29 Nov 2006, 10:27pm by David Lewin


by BillWallace (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 12:55am

I approve of this article as a skins fan.

The rumblings that I'm hearing are that Brunell is not really accepting the idea that he's done for the season and neither is Gibbs. I could see a bunch of scenarios where Brunell gets put back in.

by Mike W (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 1:21am

Joe Gibbs has lost his mind. Is Brunell going to be a part of the next excellent Redskins team? Can he play at a level that will help get them there, or is Gibbs thinking that they can be an 11-5-type team with Brunell just not getting in the way (managing the game, to use everyone's favorite new cliche)? I gave Gibbs every benefit of the doubt, but I think it's time to admit he's lost it.

by Marko (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 1:45am

"Will Jason Campbell Save the Redskins?"

Unless he can convince Dan Snyder to sell the team to a competent owner who either knows how to build a team or hires someone who knows and stays out of the way, I don't think so.

by SJM (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 2:23am

The only thing Campbell will save, perhaps, is my waning interest in this team. It's so hard to be a fan of a team that consistently makes dumb moves over and over, and then manages to not even play up to my lowered standards.

Note that the Skins will be without their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round picks next year, and may be forced to swap their #1 with Denver. Campbell is walking into a situation much like Matt Leinart, only with less WR talent, fewer draft picks next year, and much less cap space.

But hey, the Skins have the best coaching staff in the NFL!

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 2:34am

To be fair, Campbell doesn't have to rely on Leonard Davis to block for him, which is a plus.

by BD (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 3:45am


Great stuff here and in PFP. Question for you or others on here: does win-loss record have any predictive power beyond the big 2 listed here. Bear in mind we are talking about 1st and 2nd round QB's only. I wonder if it should have been seen as significant that JP Losman was only 13-12 as a starter at Tulane.

by David Lewin (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 3:57am


I'm not really sure, I have only looked at it anecdotally as that data can be hard to come by. Thinking about it the good QBs (Manning, Palmer, Pennington, Brees, etc) did win in college, but so did most of the bad ones (Carr, Leaf, Vick, etc). I would have to say that winning is definitely better than losing, but too many other factors outside of a QB's control go into whether the team wins and loses for win-loss record to be very predictive.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 5:45am

But hey, the Skins have the best coaching staff in the NFL!

Or at least the richest.

by sam_acw (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 5:53am

I think the prediction will probably be accurate and we'll see the Redskins back as a 9-7 team soon.
Looking at the other QBs is a good idea particularly to track Carr vs Linehart. Both have good recievers, poor blocking and no run game.

by BigBodyBens (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 6:56am

Good job Dave, I think the skins are sweet. J-Campbell is the ticket to Gibbs' 4th superbowl victory, although i dont know how i feel about Gibbs as a coach anymore, as blasphemous as that sounds. catch you later homes

by Israel (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 7:14am

Eli Manning ...Byron Leftwich...David Carr...Ben Roethlisberger

If Leftwich, what about Kyle Boller?

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 12:38pm

How is Eli pretty good and Losman isn't when Eli and Losman have had comparable numbers through the same points of their careers?

by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 1:01pm

Great piece. I'm not looking forward to the Jason Campbell era in D.C. Thought he would be the best QB to come out of last year's draft, and have been happy to have him staying on the sidelines so far.

by MFurtek (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 1:07pm

I'm a loyal fan no matter what. If we endured the dreadful Norv Turner, Gus Ferotte, Heath Shuler, Michael Westbrook era... how bad can things get when an owner actually is *trying* to win and learn.

Williams and Gibbs asked for the players. At least he didn't go out and get the Pro Bowl team from 1995 again...

It seems like people hate Snyder because he's rich and they like to see him fail.

by TBW (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 1:24pm

We hate him because he's rich and either stupid or insane, maybe both. What else can you call it when you do the same thing over and over yet expect different results. Although as an Eagles fan I have to admit a certain fondness for Snyder.

by Jesus Christ (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 1:44pm

"how bad can things get when an owner actually is *trying* to win and learn."

When the Redskins descend into salary cap hell over the next few years, the big money FA's are either exposed as frauds (Archuleta, Carter) or are injured and have no legitimate backup (Springs), and there are no picks to build a young team with.. I guess we will find out.

by MFurtek (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 1:49pm

I think he's trying. Gibbs and the coaches basically were the ones who went out and recruited all their free agents, and the Portis deal. I can't fathom any front office operating outside of coaching inputs.

His mistake in 2000 was to bring in the 1995 Pro Bowlers. At least with the 2005 group of Free Agents, they actually won't be old and washed up players and could possible bounce back or improve (B. Lloud).

Hiring Spurrier was another huge mistake. I hope once Gibbs retires he gives Saunders a chance at coaching. I don't know if it is a poster here or elsewhere who has been saying Gregg Williams' defenses do horrible after 2 years.

Right now the ship is being run by Gibbs...

by MFurtek (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 2:06pm

I think there are other teams that do worse out there, and get a free pass for some reason. It's because they never attract attention by signing a bunch of high profile free agents. But look at what all their draft picks have yielded.
1) Houston
2) Arizona
3) Oakland
4) Tennesee
5) Buffalo
6) Miami

In fact, by NFL standards only New England, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay have been successful franchises. Although teams like Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Denver, Seattle, Chicago and San Diego have increased their chances for success.

Those top 8 teams (New England, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Denver, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Chicago and San Diego) are the franchises that look like they'll consistently go to the playoffs. Everyone else is trying to catch up to that level and stay there.

by David Lewin (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 3:24pm

Boller does not deserve to be starting QB

Manning and Losman were drafted in the same year, so they are at the same point in their careers. Manning has a DPAR of 29.8 this year which is pretty good, while Losman has a DPAR of -3.9 which is not.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 3:25pm

Re 18:
As a Chicago fan, I wouldn't count the Bears as perennial contenders yet. They still have a GM that thought Grossman, Hutchinson, and Orton and Grossman, Quinn, Hutchinson, and Krenzel were good QB cadres. After 2001 and last year it's going to take a lot to convince me that the Bears can sustain this.

by Ben (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 4:09pm

Well the bears today seem to be treating Rex like they did Orton last year. How does not letting him do anything help his confidence?

by tunesmith (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 8:19pm

I wonder how good Cutler has been projected to be.

by David Lewin (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 9:42pm

Cutler was discussed in both my previous articles on this topic, so see them if you want in depth analysis. The short version is that he has a good but not great projection, about Drew Brees level. This year he's expected to be about replacement level, maybe slightly better, so the Broncos are probably better off sticking with Plummer this year.

by SJM (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 11:37pm


I too am a loyal fan. I root for the team to win. However, it's becoming increasingly painful, especially when the team has no future. I'm not going to stop being a fan of the Skins, but my fandom will consist of demanding that the team hire a GM, that Danny not have any contact with players, free agents and anyone who makes personnel evaluations, and that they stop trading away draft picks and overpaying free agents for the love of God! Continuity among the coaching staff (and not having almost as many coaches as starters) would help too. Until these things happen, I just can't put myself through caring deeply about this team. You know, if they were $20 million under the cap and coached by Dick Jauron, and had a bunch of nobodies on D, I think this wouldn't be so painful.

Anyway, how do other FO devotees feel about rooting for teams that consistently do the opposite of what FO recommends? It drives me up a wall. At least I have the Capitals, who have turned into a decent moneypuck team.


There's a Simpsons quote that comes to mind. "Implied, Lisa? Or implode?"

by vincent (not verified) :: Sun, 11/19/2006 - 11:39pm

Hey David Lewin,

What did you think of JC's performance today? He seemed pretty composed. Reminded me of another #17 that your projection system likes. As a Redskins fan, I hope you're on to something here. Now can you find some math to justify the $10mm signing bonus given to Adam Archuletta?

by David Lewin (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 1:33am

Although I didn't get to see the Skins game today, Campbell's stat line looked pretty good. However, this one game probably doesn't tell us too much.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 12:19pm

#18 - When have Houston, Arizona, Oakland, Buffalo, and Miami have gotten free passes? Tennessee has, to an extent, because it's accepted that they're now paying the cap price from being a contender for so many years; nevertheless, I don't believe anyone thinks the McNair soap opera of last year reflects well on management.

But Houston, Arizona, and Oakland have been consistently ripped as having some of the worst front offices in the NFL. Al Davis has gotten a heck of a lot more bad press than Snyder has, with a much longer resume of accomplishment.

by Lance S (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 12:24pm

If attempts in collinear why not use attempts per game? That should solve that problem.

by joel in providence (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 12:34pm

But hey, the Skins have the best coaching staff in the NFL!
do fans in washington actually believe this? scary.

by Carlos (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 1:35pm


I think that's a rueful swipe at FO, which ranked the skins coaching staff tops in the preseason. Oops.

by Justanothersteve (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 2:17pm

Since we also got over a half a game from Aaron Rodgers yesterday - and he was picked right before Campbell - how does AR compare?

by Tampa Bay Mike (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 3:12pm

#31 - If Campbell's projection holds, he'll be a top-ten QB. If Rodgers' projection holds he'll be "a solid but unspectacular NFL player" (from PFP 2006). In his prime he'd perform somewhere between how Charlie Batch and Eli Manning have performed up to now.

by David Lewin (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 4:16pm


I've looked at attempts per game. There is not a clear relationship because the reasons for why quarterbacks have high or low attempts per game vary. The guys with high attempts per game are often spread offense guys who have inflated completion percentages due because they substitute short high percentage passes for for runs. The low attempts per game guys are usually running quarterbacks. The best place to be seems to be in the middle in a pro-style offense, but the trend is far from definitive.

by Justanothersteve (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 4:35pm

#32 - Thanks.

by Lance S (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 4:53pm


You could maybe try crossing it w/an "offense type" blocking variable, but that kind of leads into subjective judgement territory about offense type.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 5:44pm

SJM, I feel for you.

It's really hard to support an organization that one feels makes consistent blunders. It means the franchise can never really improve, it can only count on getting lucky, like the Pats did in 1985. The Pats owners back then were stupid wannabes with not enough money, like those two idiot brothers from what I think was the original Slapshot: "Daddy says we can't be sports moguls no more."

Snyder's at least got money, so there's a much greater chance of getting lucky than the Sullivans had. But it's still problematic if he can't figure out how to spend it effectively. And I won't be convinced that Snyder's learning until, as you say, he hires a real GM and stays out of the talent acquisition process.

As a kid in DC from 66-72 (military family) I grew fond of the Skins and still have a soft spot for them, so I hope they do well. But I can't tell you how glad I am that Kraft owns the Pats and not Snyder.

by DWMyers (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 8:20pm

This is interesting and I enjoyed watching Jason Campbell play in the Senior Bowl, I thought he was promising. As a Dallas Cowboys fan, I'm a little disappointed the system is restricted to high draft choices. I'd be curious how Tony Romo ranked. But to my question, which is:

Has this been used historically to study quarterbacks? How would, say, Joe Montana, Joe Theisman, Steve Young, John Elway etc. extrapolate into the pros from their college campaigns?

Thanks in advance.

by Greg (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 8:21pm

Thanks Dave, really enjoy your work.

by David Lewin (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 8:45pm


My current project is expanding the system to lower drafted players. This is more difficult because many low drafted QBs never get a chance to play, or only get spot duty, so its tougher to know who would have been good if they played, or if only the ones who were good got to play etc. My preliminary findings indicate that for low drafted players a high completion percentage is still good, but that lower games started would be better because it means the scouts are more likely to be wrong in their evaluation, and if a scout says your a 7th rounder you want him to be wrong.

With undrafted guys like Romo, Delhomme, Kitna, etc games started is no longer relevant because they are not really scouted to any significant degree. It doesn't matter if there are 40 game films of them from college, because unlike for first rounders scouts are not watching all of them. High completion percentage is still good though, which Romo has albeit at the D1-AA level.

I've looked at some historical players, and the trend seems to hold to a degree, but the game has changed dramatically over the last 20 years in terms of passing offenses, especially at the college level as well as the scouting process so its tough to extrapolate back too far.

by The Mulgrew (not verified) :: Mon, 11/20/2006 - 11:12pm

It is too bad McNabb got injured. Now the Giants or Cowboys will win the division by default.

By the way, I turned out to be right about Alex Smith. He is good. So screw you, Kerwin Nagy!

by Ribminster (not verified) :: Tue, 11/21/2006 - 2:44pm

I believe if you start "projecting" lower-round quarterbacks, or in fact any quarterback that gets an NFL contract, you will end up with ratings in the same range as first- and second-rounders. Their stats are the same. They'll have the same number of starts (with exceptions -- see Matt Cassell) and similar efficiency. Let's face it, the bad college QB's don't make the NFL at all.

by Bob (not verified) :: Tue, 11/21/2006 - 7:23pm

Matt Schaub?

by Yaguar (not verified) :: Wed, 11/22/2006 - 4:09am

David Lewin,

You've mentioned that Campbell has relatively few attempts a couple of times. You also said that games started and attempts are both strong indicators of success, but you haven't used both because they're too collinear.

Have you tried using attempts per game?

by azibuck (not verified) :: Wed, 11/22/2006 - 11:14am

If you're still reading this David, I know the system is for high round picks, but what does it say about Charlie Frye?

by MFurtek (not verified) :: Wed, 11/22/2006 - 12:20pm

... back to Campbell. I was able to watch the game.
1) Hard to get a bead on his stats. Basically his last TD drive was nearly a garbage time drive. Still a lot of YAC from receivers.
2) He takes a 10 step drop. It's a little annoying. In the preseason it didn't seem like he was dropping this far back.
3) Looks like he can "make all the throws". On a lot of them the receivers were falling down or diving, but catching them. Is that because he is throwing it away from the defense? One time it looked like he hit Thrash in the numbers before he expected it.
4) Impressed by his arm. He can gun it but also showed good touch on deep balls. I contrast this with Ramsey who struggled to develop touch.
5) I look forward to watching him play the rest of the season. I hope the o-line doesn't get him killed.

by David Lewin (not verified) :: Wed, 11/22/2006 - 1:04pm

I answered that question previously in this thread.

#s 42 and 44
I am working on expanding my system to include lower round picks, I'll try to address Schaub and Frye later today, right now I don't have their stats in front of me.

by Riceloft (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 6:05pm

I'm interested in what it says about Schaub and Frye as well.. At this point however, I'm confident it wont have good things to say about Frye ;).

by David Lewin (not verified) :: Wed, 11/29/2006 - 10:27pm

Re: Frye

Frye started 40+ games in college which for a third round pick indicates that he had above average but not excellent talent. He posted a strong 63.6% completion percentage which indicates he should be better than he has been doing. I am thinking that I might need to put in some adjustment for the sharp increase college football has seen in completion percentages in the past decade. Either way, Frye's college numbers say he is better than he has played. The talent around him has been less than exceptional, so I would think it is possible for him to pull things together and become a decent but not spectacular quarterback. Unforunately I still need to work out the kinks in projecting lower round QBs, and even in the first and second round college stats can be wrong.