The Rule of 59
Evaluating quarterbacks in the NFL is anything but a complete science. Decisions like Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf and Tim Couch over Donovan McNabb have changed franchises' fortunes and proved that GMs could still learn a thing or two about evaluating the most important position on the field, without even mentioning a skinny kid from Michigan who proved 31 teams wrong.
After extensive research, I am not claiming to be able to find guys like Tom Brady and Tony Romo in the later rounds, but I do have a simple rule that seems extremely obvious, yet very effective.
NEVER, EVER draft a quarterback to be your future starter if he does not complete at least 59 percent of his passes in college. I know, I know; this does not seem like a difficult rule to follow since 59 percent is such a low number.
However, this has not stopped GMs from selecting inaccurate college quarterbacks year in and year out, with the expectation of “coaching them up” to turn them into productive passers.
For years, general managers in the NFL have looked at hundreds of factors when grading out quarterbacks, but through my research and knowledge, one quality seems to stand out as overrated, and another as underrated.
Is there a more overrated quality in a quarterback than their throwing power/velocity? It seems as though every year, some college quarterback moves up draft boards after wowing scouts by throwing a football from his knees.
If anyone can explain to me how this is applicable in an NFL game, I would be more than willing to listen. This scenario has played out for years with similar results. From Jeff George to Todd Marinovich to Akili Smith and Kyle Boller, big arms do not necessarily translate to NFL success.
The reasons for this are complicated and diverse, but as these players move from college to the pro ranks, the margin allowed for error shrinks dramatically. Their rocket arms no longer can save them from bad reads and other risky throws. As every NFL expert has said, the speed of the game and the defenders changes dramatically.
This is not to say that arm strength is unimportant, but most people would have a more difficult time finding busts that have failed because of insufficient arm strength. In reality, you could make a very strong argument that throwing accuracy is the best indicator of NFL success, and I plan to prove that theory.
In the past nine Super Bowls, the average completion percentage of the two competing teams has been 62.18, while the league average has been 59.36 during that same span. It may seem obvious that Super Bowl teams will have good quarterbacks, but that is a huge statistical gap over a large sample of years.
In fact, the only team to win a Super Bowl in my sample with a quarterback whose completion percentage is below the league average is our most recent champions, the New York Giants. So, simply by using completion percentage and omitting defensive, rushing, and other important stats, we can be fairly certain that in the modern NFL scene, an extremely accurate quarterback is a must for Super Bowl contenders.
The Ravens seem like a perfect devil’s advocate to this theory, since they started a quarterback that many consider to be the worst Super Bowl winner of all time. But after breaking them down, that argument is not very telling.
Common knowledge knows that this was a team featuring one of the best defenses the game has ever seen and a running back that totaled 1,364 yards; Trent Dilfer was simply a benefactor of this otherwise great time.
While all will admit Dilfer is no Joe Montana, his completion percentage was over a point higher than the league average during the regular season. He also managed to throw three touchdowns in the postseason, while only throwing one interception. Dilfer wasn’t a star, but he was no slouch either.
This brings me to the title of the article, "The Rule of 59". After looking at every draft from 1999 to 2005, I analyzed the statistics of the quarterbacks’ college completion-percentages for their careers.
I only used quarterbacks selected in the first three rounds of the draft because most teams do not look for potential starting quarterbacks any lower than the third round. I also have not included the drafts from 2006-present, since the jury is still out on many of those players. Here is a breakdown of every quarterback who had a completion percentage of 58 percent or lower.
College Comp %
NFL Comp %
Not such an impressive list, is it? When we consider that three of these quarterbacks were top-five selections, and six were first rounders, the results are downright scary.
Each of these quarterbacks has had a starting job in the NFL at some point, but not one of these players has a career completion percentage of 60 or higher, a number that so many coaches use as a landmark.
The only one who could possibly be viewed as the type of quarterback who could lead a Super Bowl contending team is Michael Vick, and many NFL fans, including myself, would quickly dismiss that notion.
The fact is, none of the quarterbacks developed into efficient NFL passers and the reason is obvious: they were never efficient college passers.
On the other hand, this theory does not guarantee that having a gaudy completion percentage will lead to NFL success, but the other side of 59 in this sample size gave us elite players like Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and even starters like Chad Pennington, Daunte Culpepper, and Byron Leftwich.
Being a quarterback in the NFL requires skill sets that average fans can only dream about, and plenty of intangible factors play a role in being successful, but if we can learn one thing from the past, it’s this: You can’t select an inaccurate college passer and expect him to become an efficient NFL quarterback.
If you don’t have one of these elite passers, kiss the Super Bowl goodbye and say hello to NFL mediocrity.
Beware the Rule of 59.