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Quarterback Breakout Seasons
David M. Dorey
1998
Those glamour boys of the NFL with the big salaries and the television specials (why is there no "Offensive Guard Challenge"?) are at best a mixed breed in forecasting breakout seasons. Considering a breakout season to be the first season with at least 20 TD's passed or rushed , the following tables slice and dice the 30 best scoring Quarterbacks of 1997. What we are looking for is a historical perspective. When did the great ones reach the 20 mark? In what season of their career? Is there any correlation to the round in which they were drafted? Of the top 30 scoring Quarterbacks of 1997:
NFL Player Round Drafted Years Played Breakout in Year FF Pts
PIT Stewart, Kordell 2 3 3 234
GB Favre, Brett 2 7 3 233
DEN Elway, John 1 15 3 198
OAK George, Jeff 1 8 5 197
TEN McNair, Steve 1 3 3 191
NE Bledsoe, Drew 1 5 2 189
SEA Moon, Warren fa 14 3 182
SF Young, Steve 1 13 7 164
JAC Brunell, Mark 5 4 3 162
DET Mitchell, Scott 4 7 5 156
MIN Johnson, Brad 9 4 4 148
TB Dilfer, Trent 1 4 4 146
DAL Aikman, Troy 1 9 4 146
ATL Chandler, Chris 3 10 N/A 142
MIA Marino, Dan 1 15 1 139
BAL Testeverde, Vinny 1 11 3 138
STL Banks, Tony 2 2 N/A 137
WAS Frerotte, Gus 7 4 N/A 136
CHI Kramer, Erik fa 11 9 132
NYJ O'Donnell, Neil 3 7 N/A 132
ARI Plummer, Jake 2 1 N/A 127
CIN Blake, Jeff 6 6 4 104
BUF Collins, Todd 3 6 N/A 99
KC Grbac, Elvis 8 4 N/A 97
CAR Collins, Kerry 1 3 N/A 95
IND Harbaugh, Jim 1 11 N/A 92
CIN Esiason, Boomer 2 14 2 82
PHI Hoying, Bobby 3 2 N/A 79
NYG Kanell, Danny 4 2 N/A 79
PHI Detmer, Ty 9 5 N/A 68

Round Drafted : Only a third of the top 30 QB's were drafted in the first round, though half of the top ten were. Slightly more than half (16) were taken in the first two rounds of their drafts. Given the amount of time some QB's take to reach breakout seasons, paying attention to the round drafted not only would be correct only half the time but could take the better part of a decade to accomplish for some. Basically, first rounders make up a fair share of the top QB's, but far too many first rounders never make it all to rely on this characteristic.

Years Played : Like no other FF skill position, older age is an acceptable factor for Quarterbacks. The average experience for the top ten QB’s was 8 years of playing time and only Stewart and McNair had less than four years. Along with Brunell, those rate so highly due to rushing yards and scores, not passing. Even in the "only now counts" NFL, Quarterbacks are the one position that are given time to develop. And what will prove to be interesting is that three of the top eight Quarterbacks may be in their final season. Elway is a lock while Marino and Young could hang up the cleats at any time (giving way, assumedly, to Lewis or Griese, Erickson and Druckenmiller). Bottom line is that there seems to be no real trend in terms of years of experience compared to breakout seasons. It would be a possibility that five years from now the numbers could change, creating two classes of Quarterbacks - the old veterans and the younger guys who deliver early and often. At the price a Quarterback commands, there will not be a luxury of keeping talent on the bench for many years.

Hmmm...there has to be some trend to consider. I know, let's try resorting the tables!

NFL Player Breakout Year
MIA Marino, Dan 1
NE Bledsoe, Drew 2
CIN Esiason, Boomer 2
PIT Stewart, Kordell 3
GB Favre, Brett 3
DEN Elway, John 3
TEN McNair, Steve 3
SEA Moon, Warren 3
JAC Brunell, Mark 3
BAL Testeverde, Vinny 3
MIN Johnson, Brad 4
TB Dilfer, Trent 4
DAL Aikman, Troy 4
CIN Blake, Jeff 4
OAK George, Jeff 5
DET Mitchell, Scott 5
SF Young, Steve 7
CHI Kramer, Erik 9

Season of First 20+ Touchdowns

Okay, here's something a bit more consistent. Of the top 30 scoring Quarterbacks from 1997 who have ever scored 20 or more touchdowns in their career, take a look at what year each experienced their initial breakout season. It is obvious that:

A.) Dan Marino was not informed that rookie Quarterbacks are not allowed 20 TD's in their initial season (he only started 9 games too).

B.) Discounting Bledsoe as pass happy and Esaison being from another era, the most common year in which a Quarterback first scored 20 or more touchdowns was their third or fourth year.

Of the top 30 Quarterbacks from 1997, only 18 of them have ever scored 20 or more touchdowns in a season. Of those eleven, (62%) did so in their third or fourth year. No other year had more than 2 players breaking out.

If you are looking for a Quarterback, especially in a keeper league, that will more likely turn it up and cross the magic 20 scores line, history says your best chance is with someone in their third or fourth year. Who qualifies for this grouping?

Third Year Quarterbacks
Tony Banks (STL)
Danny Kanell (NYG)
Bobby Hoying (PHI)

Fourth Year Quarterbacks
Kerry Collins (CAR)

No Quarterback entering their third year in 1998 has managed 20 touchdowns, so at least statistically it is likely at least one will do so. Banks seems best poised of the three. As for the lone fourth year Quarterback Collins, it seems more of a stretch to see it happen (but remember how liked he was last year at this time). McNair and Stewart are the other two from the class of 1995.

Will this guarantee that one of the third or fourth year players will experience a breakout season? Of course not. But it is a fairly consistent indication of who would seem more likely to increase in value. Even McNair, Brunell and Grbac are all developing to form, considering the seasons they sat out waiting their turn. Fantasy football is about numbers and it is about probability.

This yields the probability - now go get the numbers!