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Two NFC teams were hit hardest by injuries last year. One already set the AGL record in 2016, while the other has a coach with the worst AGL since 2002. Also: the Rams' incredible bill of health in L.A., and Tampa Bay's questionable injury reporting.

15 Jun 2009

Wisdom of Crowds: Projecting 2009 QB, Part II

by Bill Barnwell

In last week's Wisdom of Crowds feature, we took a look at four quarterbacks and their projected 2009 performance as predicted by our followers on Twitter. (You can follow us by clicking here.)

This week, we've got five more quarterbacks to break down. We'll look at the average, maximum, and minimum projections for each quarterback, and give our thoughts on the player's 2009. We start in Dallas with Monday's player:

Monday: Tony Romo
Average Prediction: 3754 passing yards, 26 TD, 16 INT
Maximum Prediction: 4620 passing yards, 37 TD, 8 INT
Minimum Prediction: 3100 passing yards, 20 TD, 21 INT

This prediction seems a little low. Remember -- we're projecting each player to play all 16 games, so people shouldn't be adjusting for the possibility of injury. Over his career as a starter, Tony Romo has averaged 4333 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions per 16 games. It's true that the team's likely to run the ball more with their troika of running backs, but at the same time, projecting a drop-off of nearly 600 yards seems unlikely.

Tuesday: Jason Campbell
Average Prediction: 3220 passing yards, 20 TD, 12 INT
Maximum Prediction: 3800 passing yards, 27 TD, 6 INT
Minimum Prediction: 2500 passing yards, 12 TD, 21 INT

As I wrote about in our NFC Building Blocks article for ESPN Insider last week, this is a pivotal year for a player who has shown growth during each of his seasons as a starter -- comparing his career paths to Drew Brees or Byron Leftwich after this year isn't unreasonable, and the difference in their second contracts was $53 million.

This prediction, I think, reflects the uncertainty about Campbell's ability to grow beyond the somewhat limited (if effective) player he is now. His interception rate is going to rise after throwing picks on a league-low 1.2 percent of his passes last year, with 12 seeming like a fair figure for 16 games. I would figure fewer touchdowns, but more passing yards; something like 3450/18/12 seems more accurate to me.

We also enjoyed Chris Mottram's prediction of "Whatever [Jay] Cutler does times two".

Wednesday: Eli Manning
Average Prediction: 3418 passing yards, 22 TD, 15 INT
Maximum Prediction: 3900 passing yards, 31 TD, 7 INT
Minimum Prediction: 3000 passing yards, 17 TD, 20 INT

As we noted on Twitter, Manning's career averages per 16 games are 3295 passing yards with 22 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, so our followers' average prediction isn't very far off. I wrote a bunch in this year's book about Manning's third-down splits and how they're not representative of his career or likely to recur, even with the presence of Steve Smith in the lineup. With injuries likely to occur up front and question marks in his receiving corps, I think it's reasonable to project Manning to regress some from his banner 2008, and expecting a career-average season seems wholly reasonable.

Thursday: Jay Cutler
Average Prediction: 3766 passing yards, 24 TD, 16 INT
Maximum Prediction: 4600 passing yards, 35 TD, 11 INT
Minimum Prediction: 3200 passing yards, 17 TD, 23 INT

More than 20 percent of respondents predicted that Cutler would throw for over 4000 yards in 2009. This confounded me; who is he going to be throwing to in order to reach 4000 yards? Can he bring Brandon Marshall along?

I would suspect that this prediction is, realistically, a little high. While KUBIAK isn't finished yet, it doesn't see Cutler's totals at the average level predicted by our followers. Maybe the Bears will dramatically shift their offense with Cutler around -- it's hard to argue that they shouldn't -- but the team variables surrounding Cutler aren't very promising.

Friday: Ben Roethlisberger
Average Prediction: 3463 passing yards, 23 TD, 15 INT
Maximum Prediction: 4000 passing yards, 33 TD, 10 INT
Minimum Prediction: 2950 passing yards, 17 TD, 19 INT

I'd be downright shocked if Roethlisberger hit that 4000-yard mark; he's only come within 500 yards of it once. Furthermore, he's got a very strange statistical quirk on his record; outside of 2007, when he had 32 TD, he's had either 17 or 18 passing touchdowns every year as a pro. That doesn't preclude him from hitting his average, but I was surprised to see no one predict fewer than 17 touchdowns. I guess it's a function of the Steelers' struggles running the ball at the goal line.

As far as his average prediction goes, I would suspect that he'll hit that interception total, but probably with fewer passing yards and touchdowns.

We'll be back next Monday with another wrapup of this week's predictions; we're starting to forecast running backs this week, starting today with Knowshon Moreno. To join in, simply follow us on Twitter, where we spend our off-days needling Drew Rosenhaus.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 15 Jun 2009

34 comments, Last at 26 Jun 2009, 8:41pm by Barney


by Jimmy :: Mon, 06/15/2009 - 3:06pm

Cutler is unlikely to throw for 4500 yards this season as he is not going to be throwing 600+ passes. That would also imply that unless he becomes dramatically worse at reading defenses he is not going to throw as many interceptions.

His interception percentage last season doubled when the Broncos were down by 9 points or more (from 2.1% to 4.2%). The Broncos also had the worst starting field position on offense despite their offense leading the league in yards per drive (which may be something to do with the defense simply letting the opposition score). By contrast the Bears defense was seventh in the league in DVOA and their offense enjoyed the best starting field postion on the NFL.

by ThunderThumbs (not verified) :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 6:31pm

The Broncos also had the worst starting field position on offense despite their offense leading the league in yards per drive

Don't those two go hand-in-hand?

My view is that Cutler's positive and negative stats were both inflated last season due to circumstance. I think over time that Cutler will prove to be an efficient, get-the-job-done kind of QB that people won't have much cause to complain about, but that also won't be a superstar. You put the pressure on him and he'll be just as likely to make a lousy decision as a great one. He won't ever hit elite level. Maybe Eli Manning level, which ain't bad. With a good defense and some reasonably competent offensive tools, the Bears will be hard-pressed to say he wasn't worth it, although they may privately believe they overpaid.

He was too much of a diva for Denver, though - when there are coaching changes, the players need to make an extra effort to fall in line and show support, or else they negatively impact the building of a new team. So even though Cutler (and Marshall) might be a bargain for other teams, they're toxic for the atmosphere that Denver is currently in. The guys need to pull together, and distractions need to be dealt with quickly and efficiently.

by Eddo :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 7:06pm

Don't those two go hand-in-hand?

Not necessarily. Sure, if the Broncos' offense had gotten league-average starting field position, they wouldn't have led the league in yards per drive. However, they also would have scored more points (their scoring offense was middle-of-the-pack, remember). So it's quite possible Cutler would have had more touchdowns and fewer opportunities to throw interceptions (better field position leads to fewer plays per drive) if the Broncos' defense and special teams had been just a little better.

He won't ever hit elite level. Maybe Eli Manning level, which ain't bad.

He did finish 5th in DYAR and 7th DVOA in 2008, after finishing 8th and 11th in 2007; both years, he ranked higher than Eli Manning in each category.

He was too much of a diva for Denver, though - when there are coaching changes, the players need to make an extra effort to fall in line and show support, or else they negatively impact the building of a new team.

You're right, but I'd also say that the coach is extremely more vital to the success of the transition than the players. Look at how notorious malcontents like Randy Moss and Corey Dillon behaved in New England; they were more influenced by the system around them than the system was influenced by them.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 06/17/2009 - 8:54am

Field position and yards per drive might be intrinsically linked if average NFL yards per drive was 60 yards or so instead of 30 or so. Obviously maximum drive length will have an impact on the average but how far the team can move the ball will have a much bigger effect.

by tuluse :: Wed, 06/17/2009 - 1:42pm

To add on to what you're saying.

New England has the 4th best yards per drive, and the 2nd best starting field position. Denver averaged about 3 yards more per drive than New England (38.38 to 35.57), there was about an 8 yard difference in starting field position (25.85 to 33.14).

An interesting side fact, since Lovie Smith has arrived in Chicago they have been top 6 in starting field position every year, going 6th, 3rd, 5th, 1st, 1st.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 06/15/2009 - 3:11pm

I can offer a lower estimate for Romo, he might have averaged 4300 yards per season but he's stunk without Owens. He'll stink without Owens, the likes of Austin will find that defenses try to cover them this year. I'd say he's likely to get benched but he's got noone behind him so there's every chance he'll break the single season interceptions record. He makes awful throws, lots of them. Why do people think he'll throw less than his average number of interceptions? Just because they're running more? Running will be harder without Owens drawing the double team.

by Staubach12 :: Mon, 06/15/2009 - 4:38pm

Owens almost never drew double coverage last year. His skills had diminished to the point that teams could just leave one guy on him (that was not the case in 2007) So I don't know how much losing Owens will hurt Romo. Owens actually had negative DVOA last season.

Since Romo has always had a low interception rate (lower than most HOFers), I don't see why his interceptions would suddenly increase.

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 06/15/2009 - 8:50pm

Most QBs today have a lower INT rate than most HoFers. Most QBs today also have a lower yards per pass attempt average. It's the nature of today's passing game. Of the top rated QBs in 2009, Romo was #8. You have to go down to #21 (aka the QB who shall not be named) to find a QB with a higher interception percentage in 2009. I didn't check previous years, but you'll need a better argument than HoF QB INT rate to convince me that Romo doesn't throw many INTs.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 10:46am

"Owens actually had negative DVOA last season."

So did Wes Welker for a good part of the season.

Individual Player DVOA (aside from the QB) is completely, and utterly useless, and misleading. It does not tell you anything near what you think it does.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 11:22am

"Owens actually had negative DVOA last season."

So did Wes Welker for a good part of the season.

Individual Player DVOA (aside from the QB) is completely, and utterly useless, and misleading. It does not tell you anything near what you think it does, especially in the case of WRs.

by Key19 :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 1:03am

No one behind him? They have Kitna now and drafted a QB. There are plenty of options if he fails. Regardless, he will not struggle enough to be benched.

I really think Romo (and the Cowboys offense as a whole) will be better without T.O. Word on the street is that they can actually run successful slant routes now! T.O. loved the drag, but would never do anything on a slant. The guy just doesn't like contact. I remember one play in particular (2nd Washington game I think) where he fell down backwards to avoid the hit and missed the first down by inches. If memory serves, that's ALSO the game where he dropped a slant pass for an INT (although, Romo did throw a lame duck on the other slant INT by Hall). The slant is a necessity in any offense, and the fact that Roy can run it and isn't afraid of contact bodes well for this season. I really have high expectations for Roy and can't wait to see what KUBIAK says (even if it's not as enthusiastic about him as I am).

Enjoy T.O., Buffalo. I won't miss him one bit. And Romo won't either.

by td (not verified) :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 1:11am

I don't know about Romo without Owens, but one thing is sure- TO stunk without Romo last year

by Anonimouse! (not verified) :: Mon, 06/15/2009 - 3:20pm

Roethlisberger's averaging a bit over 3400 yards and a bit over 23 TDs per 16 starts over the past 4 years. I think you guys said "assuming no injuries", yes? More than the goalline issue, projecting Roethlisberger for '09 needs to account for schedule. Ben's led the division in TD passes two straight years, assuming healthy he's probably your favorite. The '08 schedule was just stupid; it's hard to predict how next season will go, but I'll bet anyone that the Steelers won't face 11 top 12 Ds this season.

Rivers had never come within 500 yards of 4000 before last season.

(PS: my unhomered projection was 3400, 25 15)

by Drunkmonkey :: Mon, 06/15/2009 - 4:25pm

Seriously, I was just reading an article on PFT right before this, and the Cutler comment was kinda creepy. I mean, I would guess this was written before this article:


by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Mon, 06/15/2009 - 6:02pm

For what it's worth, I've (and I'm a Bronco fan in Colorado) been hearing rumors of Marshall wanting out of town since about a week after Cutler was traded. I'm wondering what on earth the Bears would trade for him, though--are they just going to give Denver their drafts for the foreseeable future?

by Thanos (not verified) :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 12:06am

If Shanahan(sp?) was still picking and developing the offensive talent for the organization I would say that is a good deal for the Bears. Especially when compared with how the Bears have drafted offense.

by Sophandros :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 11:59am

I take this as further evidence that McDaniel is in over his head.

Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

by Jimmy :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 3:28pm

I wonder if part of the reason for McDaniels' struggles is that he only 32 and looks even younger. Having recently played for a 2 time Superbowl winning head coach with a pretty strong track record (especially on offense) is it going to be easy for him to command respect from his players. I would expect the bigger problems to come from younger, more immature players and that seems to be right where they are coming from.

by John Walt :: Mon, 06/15/2009 - 4:39pm

A little off topic, but since Jason Campell and Ben Roethlisberger are two of today's "five". I would like some fantasy advice.

I am in a keeper league with standard scoring. We keep 15 players every year and have a roster of 25 players. My quarterbacks are Carson Palmer, Ben, Campbell, and Trent Edwards.

I need to drop at least one of them. Who should I drop?

My thoughts are to drop Campbell, but with this write-up, I have second thoughts.

by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Mon, 06/15/2009 - 6:07pm

I would drop Campbell. You already have a rather dependable QB (albeit with a low ceiling) in Roethlisberger, so I would be looking more for upside and I feel that Edwards and Palmer provide that.

by matu_72 :: Mon, 06/15/2009 - 6:19pm

I would say drop Edwards. I personally see the Bills having a pretty bad season, and I think the other 3 QBs are more talented than Edwards.

by Joe T. :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 12:21pm

I'm a Skins fan, but I would argue to drop Campbell as well...after all, Trent Edwards has got TO now. I think Edwards would make a better flex QB with better chance to put up gaudy #s than Campbell.

by Justin Zeth :: Mon, 06/15/2009 - 4:59pm

If I was sure Campbell was going to start all year I'd definitely drop Edwards and keep Campbell, but the bat**** crazy Redskins make me skittish about keeping Campbell around. Palmer and Roethlisberger are definitely keepers because of their ludicrously easy schedule (especially Roethlisberger's)

by dbirtchnell (not verified) :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 8:23am

Just curious on the order in which these QBs are being selected. I'm guessing that team popularity and market size are fairly important, otherwise surely you'd have looked at Drew Brees & Peyton Manning by now.

Along with Brady, these are the top 3 QBs in the league, so I'm sure plenty of people would be interested in their figures. Next week maybe?

by MJK :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 10:25pm

They seem to be picking not the top QB's in the league, but the QB's that are perhaps the hardest to predict. Everyone knows that Manning will probably be really good this year (unless he finally gets to his inevitably approach decline...he has played for something lik 12 seaons now...although I personally feel that he probably has two or three good seasons left. But I digress). And Brees should be good too. He's a very good QB, easily the third best in the game right now, playing in a stable offensive environment for a team that neither added nor lost any amazing name players.

On the other hand, almost every QB they have done has one or more major question marks. How will Cutler play in Chicago? Will Brady's knee recover or hamper him? Etc.

by ROY VIOLA (not verified) :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 8:59am

This is why these projections are a joke. On one hand (Romo), you say there can be no projection for injuries, but a few lines down (Eli) that's exactly what you do for his offensive line, which is an injury projection. Consistency - not. It's a joke.

by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 10:23am

The idea is not to project injuries for the player in question. It still seems fair to project the possibility for some of the surrounding players. That's not inconsistent.

by Theo :: Tue, 06/16/2009 - 10:14pm

Ben will go to his average more and less from last year. He has Holmes getting better, Ward declining but Sweed increasing. The running backs an offensive line will be better, just as Ben will be.

The offense will be better than last year and the defense will drop a little due to age. Unless a rookie stands up and becomes a starter, which is rare.
Steelers will make it to the AFC Champ game...

by steelberger (not verified) :: Wed, 06/17/2009 - 9:40am

I think the D will be just as good, if not better. I think Timmons will be an upgrade over Foote, and McFadden will not be missed much as the D didnt miss a step last season when Gay took his place.

Plus the schedule is much easier than last year.

The Steelers have a realistic chance of having the #1 defense for 3 years in a row.

by Anonymous Coward (not verified) :: Wed, 06/17/2009 - 10:39am

...the defense will drop a little due to age. Unless a rookie stands up and becomes a starter, which is rare.

Yeah barring injury Ziggy isn't gonna start this year, and might not next year if Keisel is re-signed. I do think he will be used (effectively)in a 3 tech role in Nickel and Dime packages, which the Steelers usually end up playing a lot of snaps in. Hopefully this makes them better on 3rd and long plays

by TuckerF (not verified) :: Wed, 06/17/2009 - 4:59pm

Why is it always Eli is regressing? The guy has never thrown more interceptions than TDs since his rookie year and never less than 21 TD since his rookie year when he only started 7 games. He is playing behind one of the most consistent offensive lines and behind the best running game in the NFL and arguably with a defense much improved from 5th in the league last year. Yeah, he'll get worse, he's such a slacker.

by Whatev (not verified) :: Thu, 06/18/2009 - 6:22pm

Regressing relative to his ridiculously good 2008 season, not regressing relative to his career average.

by Barney (not verified) :: Fri, 06/26/2009 - 8:39pm

Roethlisberger will just win another Superbowl. That's really all that matters anyway.

by Barney (not verified) :: Fri, 06/26/2009 - 8:41pm


Eli averages 6.4 Yards per attempt for his career. Name me 2 NFL Quarterbacks who were really really good with Such a pathetic Yards per attempt average. Please.