Over the past two weeks (part 1 and part 2), my good friend and colleague Rick has posted updates on some historic NFL records being accomplished by the current trio of rookies on the Browns offense: QB Brandon Weeden, RB Trent Richardson and WR Josh Gordon.
In his initial post, I helped to provide some of the backbone research. Yes, I never gave enough credit to Rick for his research and his writing as well, but I did help a little bit. This week, since we haven’t provided an update yet, I thought I’d swing back into the picture to provide the latest update and give some more historical context to Weeden’s rookie season.
Of course, this hasn’t been a perfect season for the much-maligned 29-year-old rookie from Oklahoma State (by way of the New York Yankees). He’s been highly criticized in many ways and certainly didn’t have a good performance against the Redskins in the home finale on Sunday. But, based on my research, he’s still OK compared to other QBs that have started every game of their first NFL season.
Entering the 2012 season, I found just 10 QBs that had ever started all 16 games during their rookie NFL seasons. This information is via www.pro-football-reference.com. And yes, the 16-game NFL schedule began in only 1978, but oh well:
Warren Moon, 1984, Houston
Jim Kelly, 1986, Buffalo
Rick Mirer, 1993, Seattle
Peyton Manning, 1998, Indianapolis
David Carr, 2002, Houston
Matt Ryan, 2008, Atlanta
Joe Flacco, 2008, Baltimore
Sam Bradford, 2010, St. Louis
Cam Newton, 2011, Carolina
Andy Dalton, 2011, Cincinnati
The average QB rating among these 10 QBs — who certainly have had a mixed bag of continued success — was a 77.1. None did better than a 87.7 during their 16-game rookie season. And only three players posted better than 81 — Ryan (87.7), Newton (84.5) and Kelly (83.3).
Their overall average stats during their rookie years: 286-492 (58.2%), 3,347 yards, 17 TD, 16 INT, 6.8 yards/attempt, 11.7 yards/completion, 38 sacks. The most attempts were 590 by Bradford (although, for the record, Andrew Luck is likely to break that mark this season, as he’s on pace for 644.6). The most yards were 4,051 by Newton last season (again, Luck will set the new mark in 2012, as he’s on pace for 4,546.3). The most TDs were 26 by Manning. The most yards/attempt were 7.93 for Ryan. The fewest sacks was 17 for Ryan and the most was 76 (!!) for Carr.
Now, back to the Browns current starting quarterback. Brandon Weeden currently has a 72.4 QB rating this year in 14 games. That’s only better than three guys on this list — Carr (62.8), Mirer (67.0) and Manning (71.2). So overall, compared to this list, not great, and certainly nothing to speak that highly of. But at least OK. And better than one future Hall of Famer, so an argument could be made there.
Weeden’s 16-game adjusted stats based on his season so far turn out to be the following: 326-569 (57.2%), 3,750 yards, 16 TD, 19 INT, 6.6 yards/attempt, 11.5 yards/completion, 30 sacks. When you look at it in that form, when especially looking at completion percentage, yards, TD/INT, yards/attempt and sacks, he’s again doing an smashing OK in his rookie season.
The big elephant in the room: Weeden is 29 years old. And, of course, that means he’ll turn 30 years old during October of his second year in the NFL. So his ability to improve steadily and consistently over the next 3-5 years is diminished, since well, only a select few of QBs have been that successful that late into their lives.
To be exact, I only found 27 QBs that have ever started more than 48 games at age 34 or older in their NFL careers, according to www.pro-football-reference.com again. Of course, if Weeden could last that many years as the starting QB of the Browns he’d be the most successful QB since the franchise returned in ’99, but there just hasn’t been that much success at that age level. That’s the big elephant in the room.
So yes, many people — like AP writer Tom Withers did yesterday on Twitter — can make the argument that Weeden’s rookie season ain’t that bad overall in the context of NFL rookies. That’s true. And he’s certainly passed the 3,000-yard mark that Rick had cited in previous weeks in relation to the 3,000-1,000-1,000 record that Browns rookies were chasing. But my opinion is still wavering, as I mentioned in our WFNY post-Redskins QB roundtable the other day. The jury is still out and I’m certainly open to a QB debate heading into 2013.
On Dec. 4, after the Browns victory over the Oakland Raiders, Rick wrote the following about the odds of both Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon eclipsing the magic 1K mark by the end of the season:
Weeden and Richardson will hit their marks as long as they stay healthy. Josh Gordon needs to average 88.5 yards a game to reach 1,000 yards. Certainly that is possible.
The Browns play the Chiefs, Redskins, Broncos and then the Steelers. The Steelers lead the league in pass defense. (Gordon had 60 yards receiving in the first meeting.) The Chiefs are ninth in yards allowed per game passing. Denver is sixth and Washington is thirty-first.
With two games left in the 2012 season for Cleveland, the two final opponents are Denver and Pittsburgh. Both games are on the road. The outlook is now murky at best for Gordon, while Richardson should still be able to hit the mark, assuming health and a regular dose of carries.
As of right now, Trent Richardson has 897 yards on 258 carries in 14 games. He’s averaging 3.5 yards per carry and 64.1 yards per game. So assuming his current pace for yards per game, he should finish with 1,025.1 yards. Just barely over the mark. Assuming his current pace of yards per carry, he’ll need just about 30 carries to reach the 1,000-yard mark. Again, this seems logical and plausible considering the final two games.
But of course, Trent has only gained 70 yards on 29 carries (2.4 yards per carry) in his past two games. So I wouldn’t rule it out. For now, I’d estimate that he has a 65% chance to break the mark. I would assume that the Browns have some success running the football, especially against Pittsburgh as compared to Denver. They’ll want to get Richardson in a groove heading into 2013 and the offensive guards are likely fighting for future roster spots based on the running game’s success.
Now, over to the passing game. Currently, Josh Gordon has 759 yards on 45 catches in 14 games. He’s averaging 16.9 yards per catch and 54.2 yards per game. Now, it seems highly unlikely that Gordon will be able to become the first rookie in Browns franchise history to have 1,000 receiving yards in a season. In order to reach that mark, he’d need to averaging 120.5 yards per game over the final two games. So I’d give Gordon a 5% chance of eclipsing 1,000 yards.
The current rookie record holder for receiving yards in franchise history is Kevin Johnson with 986 in 1999. Again, this seems like a long-shot for Gordon. Right now, he’s at fifth. Most likely, he’ll finish somewhere between No. 1 Johnson. No. 2 Paul Warfield (1964, 920 yards) and No. 3 Dante Lavelli (1946, 823 yards). The 21-year-old Gordon already has broken the record for most receiving yards by someone his age in franchise history, and still will likely finish in the top 15 of best seasons, as Lavelli’s rookie season ranked No. 14 in the Cleveland record books.
In terms of the specific week 16 matchup, the Broncos currently rank No. 8 at allowing just 216.1 passing yards per game and No. 2 at allowing only 91.0 rushing yards per game. They’ve been especially good recently, and it’s no surprise the Browns are currently 13-point underdogs. Richardson and Gordon could have rough games again like they did against Washington, but still, they’ll go down in the record books along with Weeden as one of the most successful rookie QB-RB-WR trios of all-time even if they don’t break the 3,000-1,000-1,000 mark.
(Photo by Joshua Gunter, The Plain Dealer)