The Unpredictability of Quarterbacks


Ta-Nehisi Coates did a post yesterday where he says “I thought Vince Young was done. While we’re at it, I thought Brett Favre was done too–but for other reasons.” Then today he writes:

In keeping with our discussion of Vince yesterday, it’s really amazing to see the career Drew Brees is putting together. I don’t know if people thought Brees was “done,” but there was definitely some talk of him being a bust when the Chargers drafted Phillip Rivers. It looks like Rivers is doing just fine, but again, I think this serves as an admonishment to people (like me) who think they can prognosticate. It’s a complicated game. We just don’t know what’s going to happen.

I think the lesson here is that people just tend to overrate the extent to which variation in the success of an NFL passing game is driven by variation in the skill of the quarterback. I think you can especially see this with Favre, who appears to be putting together the best season of his career at age 40. Common sense says that he can’t be actually reaching the peak of his abilities as an athlete at this age. Fans who (like me) watch the games but don’t have experience playing football have a very hard time distinguishing slightly below average offensive line play from exceptional offensive line play, but obviously that makes a huge difference. What we see are quarterbacks throwing passes and running backs carrying the ball. But there’s no real reason to assume that their skills are really what’s making the difference between great offenses and bad offenses.