NFL projection models love RG3, Luck, less enthusiastic about Tannehill

Luck and RG3 are the indisputable top two QBs in the draft but Tannehill isn't No. 3.  (Getty Images/US PRESSWIRE)

For all the scouting, interviews, workouts, analysis and, well, praying, the NFL Draft is still as much art as science. In the last 20 years, the list of first-round busts is as long and varied as the list of late-round afterthoughts and undrafted players who went on to have great careers. But every team is looking for an edge and following baseball's lead, statistical analysis is becoming a bigger part of the NFL scouting process.

(The most glaring problem: baseball is a series of discrete, easily quantifiable actions; football, meanwhile, is one interrelated play after another. While a pitcher strking out a batter is relatively straightforward, a running back gaining four yards is dependent on the skill of his offensive line, the skill of the defensive line, the offensive play call, the defensive play call, etc…)

To mitigate some of this uncertainty, statistics has taken on a more prominent role in both the game-planning and evaluation process. Find those players most likely to succeed, get them at a reasonable price, and build a roster. It's the holy grail of scouting and analysis and as it stands, football is light years behind baseball in that regard. But sites like PredictionMachine.com are doing their part to add to the research.

Using a complex mode, PredictionMachine.com has released their 2012 NFL Quarterback Pass Projections. The model was applied to last year's draft and, according to the site, "these projections have highlighted the likely success of Andy Dalton (#1 overall last year), A.J. Green, Von Miller, Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt, and DeMarco Murray … while suggesting that Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Delone Carter and Jonathan Baldwin … were overrated."

So what does the model say about the 2012 draft class?

Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck are ranked first and second, which isn't surprising (that comes momentarily), but the model also provides estimates of the numbers each player put up as rookies:

RG3: 305.3 of 510.8 (59.8 percent) for 3,951.5 passing yards (7.7 YPA), 25.2 TDs, 18.1 INTs;
Luck: 306.5 of 510.8 (60 percent) for 3,785.1 passing yards (7.4 YPA), 26.9 TDs, 20.7 INTs.

Now things get interesting: Ryan Tannehlill, widely considered the third-best quarterback in the draft, ranks ninth in the QB pass projections behind Brandon Weeden, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, Kellen Moore, Nick Foles and Case Keenum.

Last week, CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman wrote about the Tannehill phenomenon:

"Tannehill vaulting upward (on draft boards) like Carl Lewis is more a sign of teams desperate for a quarterback and wishful thinking. There are two great throwers in this draft: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. After that, it's more of a hodgepodge. After that, for the most part, it's a cluster of second-tier guys, and you're fooling yourself if you believe Tannehill's drastically superior than some of the other quarterbacks."

It's the hodgepodge of everybody else that PredictionMachine.com is trying to sort through. Football Outsiders has their own model, the Lewin Career Forecast (LCF), that they've been using for several years to predict the success of first- and second-round picks. RG3 and Luck are Nos. 1 and 2 in their model, too.

Griffin: Important stats: 40 games started, 67.0% completion rate, senior passer rating rose 45.3 points, 161 carries for 644 yards.

Luck: Important stats: 37 games started, 66.4% completion rate, senior passer rating dropped -0.5 points, 47 carries for 150 yards.

FO adds that "Griffin comes out with the strongest LCF projection of any quarterback we've measured." Since 1998, that puts him ahead of the LCF projections of Philip Rivers, Colt McCoy, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Chad Pennington, Brady Quinn and Jason Campbell.

As for the rest of the 2012 draft class: FO rates Foles third, followed by Cousins, Weeden, Tannehill, Brock Osweiler and an asterisked Russell Wilson.

What does this all mean? For starters, maybe the Redskins finally got their quarterback of the future. We wrote last month that Kevin Meers of the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective found that "for the Redskins to get the equivalent value from RG3 as they spent acquiring him, he must produce at least as much as Tom Brady."  And while that eventuality is still remote, Griffin's LCF projection puts him in heady company.

It also means that teams desperate for a quarterback might want to reconsider taking Tannehill early in Round 1.

Ultimately, statistical models aren't meant to replace what years of scouting might reveal to a personnel evaluator but to complement the process. These models also filter out the human element.

"Common sense is replaced by hope," Freeman noted last week when writing about Tannehill. "Words like 'potential' become fruitful and multiply."

Which reminded us of Brian Billick, the former Ravens' head coach who never could find a franchise quarterback (and it wasn't from lack of trying). He's now an analyst for Fox Sports and NFL Network. When discussing Tannehill recently he offered this: “He is an intriguing prospect, he has great potential, but let’s remember the old saying – ‘Son, your potential is going to get me fired,’” Billick said according to the Palm Beach Post's Ben Volin. “‘Need’ is an absolute terrible evaluator.”

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.
CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories