Football Outsiders

Innovative Statistics, Intelligent Analysis

LCF 2014: The Year It Means Nothing

by Aaron Schatz

Each year, Football Outsiders readers anxiously await the unveiling of our LCF projection numbers for quarterback draft prospects. LCF, of course, is the system formerly known as the Lewin Career Forecast. It's not going to be called that anymore, mostly because David Lewin is now the Director of Scouting for the Boston Celtics and General Manager of the D-League Maine Red Claws. He knows absolutely nothing about current NFL quarterback prospects and doesn't want to be asked about them anymore! So from now on, we'll call it the Long-Term Career Forecast.

The idea is the same, and it's still not a perfect system. It's far from a perfect system. It is famous for predicting that Russell Wilson was one of the strongest draft prospects ever, but last year it thought Mike Glennon was going to be a complete bust. As we often note, you always need to use common sense when analyzing a statistical projection system that doesn't incorporate everything that scouts can learn from watching film, but unexpected numbers may be telling you something.

This year, however, the LCF numbers are really telling you nothing of consequence.

There are seven elements in the FO Long-Term Career Forecast:

  • Career college games started
  • Career completion rate. Because of recent rises in completion rate across college football, this is a logarithmic variable, so that as a quarterback's completion percentage goes down, the penalty for low completion percentage gets gradually larger.
  • Difference between the quarterback's BMI and 28.0. This creates a small penalty for quarterbacks who don't exactly conform to the "ideal quarterback size."
  • For quarterbacks who come out as seniors, the difference in NCAA passer rating between their junior and senior seasons. (For quarterbacks who come out as juniors or redshirt sophomores, this variable is always 5.0, which is the average increase for the seniors in our data set.)
  • A binary variable that penalizes quarterbacks who don't play for a team in a BCS-qualifying conference.
  • Run-pass ratio in the quarterback's final college season.
  • Total rushing yards in the quarterback's final college season.

These last two variables work together to penalize both quarterbacks who scramble too often and quarterbacks who take a lot of sacks (since sacks are counted as negative runs in college), while pocket quarterbacks who are successful when they do run (Andrew Luck, for example) get a bonus. The projection number represents an estimate for passing DYAR in years 3-5 of a player's career. (DYAR, or Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement, is explained here.) The system is only supposed to be used on players chosen in the first three rounds. After that, the link between college performance and NFL performance becomes too tenuous to make any kind of predictions.

And with all that introduction out of the way, here are the LCF projections for nine quarterbacks who may be chosen in the first three rounds of this year's NFL Draft:

Player School LCF
Aaron Murray Georgia 2,009
A.J. McCarron Alabama 1,551
Jimmy Garoppolo E. Illinois 1,530
Tajh Boyd Clemson 1,418
Teddy Bridgewater Louisville 1,411
Derek Carr Fresno St. 1,223
Blake Bortles UCF 1,059
Johnny Manziel Texas A&M 983
Zach Mettenberger LSU 757

One of the problem that we often have at Football Outsiders is that readers tend to overstate the importance of small differences in our stats. With the kind of sample sizes we work with, it's big differences that matter, not small ones. The difference between being ranked fifth in DVOA and ranked seventh in DVOA doesn't really matter; the difference between being ranked seventh and being ranked 23rd does. Well, with the LCF this year, the differences between the best and worst prospects hardly matter. Eight of these nine prospects are packed together with ratings ranging from average to "above average but not spectacular." The ninth prospect has a higher rating but can be busted down with a little bit of common sense.

This table makes it look like Aaron Murray is this year's best quarterback prospect, but Murray is only No. 1 in the LCF because he is the only one of this year's top prospects who started for all four years of college. His passer rating declined in his senior year, which is not a good sign, and he completed only 62.3 percent of passes during his career. And all of this is likely moot anyway because he's probably not going to end up being chosen in the first three rounds.

Early on when I first ran this, it looked like Teddy Bridgewater was actually going to end up the lowest-rated of this year's prospects, because of the BMI component. He was listed during the season at 6-foot-3, 196 pounds. He measured in at the combine at 6-foot-2, 214 pounds. That's much closer to the system's quarterback "ideal" of 28 BMI.

Instead, the lowest-rated quarterback is Zach Mettenberger, but his rating isn't even particularly low. He gets penalized for a career completion rate of just 61.8 percent, but he also improved dramatically between his junior and senior seasons. 757 is not a particularly low rating for the LCF, and it's nothing that should scare off any team that wants to use a third-round (or even late second-round) pick on him.

One thing I should note is that the system has a penalty for non-BCS quarterbacks, and I wasn't quite sure what to do about the new American Big Bag of Donuts Conference, so Bridgewater and Bortles do not have the penalty. I thought about giving them each half the penalty, in which case each would drop by about 400, but there still wouldn't be that much difference between the second- and ninth-ranked prospects of 2014, and there especially wouldn't be a big difference between the three guys who are competing for the right to be the No. 1 pick and become the chip on Jadeveon Clowney's shoulder. What's important here is that none of these guys are getting red flags from the LCF. There are no Mark Sanchezes who are going to fool scouts because they lack college experience, and no Kyle Bollers who can't hit the broad side of a barn.

And so, the official position of Football Outsiders regarding the 2014 LCF is that this year the LCF doesn't mean anything. Figuring out the difference between Bridgewater, Manziel, and Bortles is all up to the scouts. Good luck in the NFL to all these kids, and otherwise we have nothing much to say.


53 comments, Last at 04 Mar 2014, 5:41am

43 Re: LCF 2014: The Year It Means Nothing

Let me quote a paragraph from the 2012 Lewin article:
'With that in mind, let's look at the projections for this year's quarterbacks. These numbers represent an estimate for passing DYAR in years 3-5 of a player's career. The top prospects will be above 1,200 DYAR, and you should avoid quarterbacks below zero.'

While everyone is claiming this year's totals mean little, take a look who scored above 1,200 DYAR in this years forecast, and compare that with earlier years. Aaron Murray, A.J. McCarron, Jimmy Garoppolo, Tahj Boyd, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr all score above the 1,200 mark. Here is a list of everyone who scored above that mark in the previous years I could find:

2013- Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, E.J. Manuel, Landry Jones
2012- RGII, Andrew Luck, Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson
2011- Andy Dalton, Ricky Stanzi
2009/2010- Colt McCoy, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford

By the way, Colin Kaepernick scored a 1044 in the 2011 LCF, getting dinged for a 58% completion rate. So the Lewin Forecast formula changed in 2011; the 2009/2010 results are from the 2011 article. That article also printed the revised top ten list using LCF 2.0, with scores ranging from Philip Rivers' 2476 to Matt Ryan's 1403. The list goes: Rivers, Brees, Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Chad Pennington, Brady Quinn, Jason Campbell, Jay Cutler, Chad Henne and Matt Ryan.
To sum up, more quarterbacks reached the 1,200 DYAR level this year than in any year since LCF started. The last two years have seen five prospects reach this level, but only five prospects reached this level for the total of the years 2009 to 2011. This is a pretty good year to draft a quarterback, especially since next year will probably be Marcus Mariota and that's it.