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1. FREEMAN'S YARDS PER ATTEMPT Since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Kansas State quarterback in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft there has been a lot of debate whether the team should have taken Freeman to be their franchise quarterback. Judging by Pewter Reports poll and the feedback on the message boards, it appears about 45 percent of the fans support the pick, 45 percent are against it, and 10 percent are undecided.
There have been a number of criticisms made against Freeman, and a number of reasons given for his production, or lack thereof at the college level.
First I will give you some background on yards per attempt and why it is significant. A big asset on this background information is Pewter Report's President Hugh MacArthur.
To help analyze the effectiveness of a quarterback a great stat is yards per attempt. Yards per attempt, YPA, can help compensate for the differences in offensive systems and playing on better or worse teams (bad teams have to throw more, and more downfield due to playing from behind). YPA is a great stat because when you crunch the numbers it is a great predictor of who is going to win a football game.
YPA has stayed constant over time at about 6.7 in the NFL. Passer ratings have gotten very inflated because of West Coast offenses that have increased completions on short passes but don't necessarily translate to more wins. If you compare the passer rating of earlier eras they are nothing in comparison to many average quarterbacks during the past two decades. Of the top 15 YPA quarterbacks in NFL history 12 of them are in the Hall-of-Fame, and they won about 30 championships. Otto Graham is number one all-time.
Over the past 13 years (the duration of Monte Kiffin as Bucs defensive coordinator) a team that finishes a game with a higher YPA on offense wins the game 70 percent of the time. The defense produces a lower YPA in a given contest wins the game 70 percent of the time. A team that does both of those wins a game 88 percent of the time.
Over that 13-year time span the team that has had the best YPA on offense is the Colts. The team with the best defense against YPA is the Bucs, not surprisingly the most consistent offense and defense beyond the last decade. Of active quarterbacks in the NFL the two highest active YPA quarterbacks played in the Super Bowl last season: Pittsburgh Ben Roethlisberger and Arizona's Kurt Warner.
With the selection of Freeman I thought it would be interesting to see how he compares with the elite quarterbacks in college football last year. The following is a list of the YPAs for the pro quarterbacks in this year's class, and the standouts in next year's draft class. The players are listed by career YPA. Their YPA for last season is the second number, and their draft status is defined after the numbers.
Sam Bradford, Oklahoma – 9.52 career, 9.77 last year, still in college Tim Tebow, Florida – 9.38 career, 9.21 last year, still in college Jevan Snead, Mississippi – 8.33 career, 8.45 last year, still in college Colt McCoy, Texas – 8.28 career, 8.91 last year, still in college Nate Davis, Ball State – 8.21 career, 8.96 last year, fifth-round pick, 49ers Mark Sanchez, USC – 8.14 career, 8.76 last year, fifth overall pick, Jets Graham Harrell, Texas Tech – 7.86 career, 8.16 last year, undrafted Matthew Stafford, Georgia – 7.83 career, 9.03 last year, first overall, Lions Chase Daniel, Missouri – 7.78 career, 8.21 last year, undrafted Pat White, West Virginia – 7.73 career, 6.72 last year, second round Dolphins Rhett Bomar, Sam Houston – 7.37 career, 7.81 last year, fifth round, Giants Josh Freeman, Kansas State – 7.02 career, 7.71 last year, 17TH overall, BUCS
As evident by that list, YPA's significance translates to the wins at the college game as the top two quarterbacks played for the national championship last season. Freeman's YPA last season was second to last, only better than White. It is alarming to see his YPA behind late-round picks like Davis and Bomar, and undrafted free agents like Harrell and Daniel. At the same time, it is not surprising that his YPA is bad considering he played on losing teams the past two seasons.
It is undeniable that Freeman had a weak supporting cast. After watching tape of him leading up to the draft, I remember thinking that his offensive line looked like they grabbed it off a high school field. His running backs were not anything to write home about, and the Wildcats had a nonexistent rushing offense. All of those hurt Freeman's YPA.
Yes, Freeman had a bad supporting cast. For two seasons he threw passes to Jordy Nelson, who was drafted at the top of the second round in 2008 (36th overall by the Green Bay Packers). His first year he also had a future third-round pick in Yamon Figurs to catch passes. Nelson going in the second round was a higher receiver drafted than most of the quarterbacks on the list had to throw to. That group is comprised of Davis, Sanchez, Stafford, White, and Bomar. That list could have McCoy and Snead added to it if they don't have one of their receivers selected in the top 36 of next year's draft.
The bottom line is the YPA is just another red flag about Freeman. First-round quarterbacks have about 40 percent success rate of working out. Early-entry quarterbacks have an even lower success rate, as do quarterbacks who threw for under 60 percent completion percentage (Freeman had 59 percent in college). Thus, Freeman working out would be bucking the odds in a few ways. Hopefully for the sake of Bucs fans and the organization, Freeman is the anomaly and not the norm.
2. IF THEY ALL CAME OUT If all of the top junior quarterbacks from last season had entered the NFL Draft this is how I would rank them. Again, this is just my opinion after watching and studying a lot of games by all seven quarterbacks.
1. Tim Tebow, Florida – Winner. Extremely accurate, especially when throwing deep. Doesn't throw interceptions, mobility/running is off the charts, and maybe the best intangibles ever. Can't think of a better leader for a football team.
2. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma – Great passer that is very accurate and can tear a defense apart when given time. Due to his coaches signaling in his audibles, there are concerns about the mental transition for him. He should get it, but it may take a little longer.
3. Colt McCoy, Texas – Really developed well last season. Should be even better with another year in college. Tough to defend, underrated athletic ability. Some question his arm strength. Very experienced and battle tested.
4. Jevan Snead, Mississippi – Did what Bradford and Stafford couldn't last year, beat Florida. Really came on strong in the last half of the season. He was dominant against LSU. Snead has great natural touch on his passes with nice arm strength. Big upside.
5. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets – Has some great tape and some terrible tape. Great footwork and set up in the pocket. Inexperienced. Should not be forced to play early in his career.
6. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions – Has all the physical tools, but does not have the "it" factor. Should have won more with the offensive talent around him at Georgia, but offensive line injuries last season did hurt his production.
7. Josh Freeman, Bucs – Raw, great physical tools. Big upside. Received terrible preparation for the pros with bad coaching and a lack of a talent around him. That stunted his production and development. Freeman has the physical tools be a top-notch NFL quarterback.
The NFL will re-shuffle the deck. The order of the top four quarterbacks in next year's draft will be changed by how they perform next season. Bradford could also return to college for another season. Considering that Sanchez, Stafford, and Freeman all went in the first round it was a great move on their part to come out early and not be in the same draft as the other quarterback prospects.
For the Tebow critics, here are a few things to consider. Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden knows the quarterback position as well anybody in football, and he thinks Tebow is a first-round quarterback prospect that can make all the throws at the pro level. Patriots head coach Bill Bellichek also thinks extremely highly of Tebow, saying that Tebow is so unique he could change professional football forever with how he could play the quarterback position at the next level.
3. PISCITELLI ON SAFETY RESPONIBILITIES Much has been made about the changing in the Bucs defense from Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 system to new defensive coordinator Jim Bates 4-3 scheme. Bates has stated that his defense is cornerback driven, with the corners playing man-to-man coverage and lining up on the line of scrimmage against the receivers. While the cornerback's role has been written about often, this reporter was wondering how the new defense changes the assignments for the safeties. To get an answer to this, we caught up with starting strong safety Sabby Piscitelli, who described how things were different for the safeties in the new defense.
"I think the new scheme puts the safeties in a little more aggressive position against the pass and make more plays," said Piscitelli. "It definitely feels like the coverages are deeper. With this coverage we are a little more aggressive with the safety play. I think we will be able to make a lot more plays on the balls. Hopefully we will be in a position to change the game and help the team win."
For Piscitelli the system is not completely foreign. He indicated his background in it when asked about how he was handling the change while breaking into the starting lineup.
"I think it is good. All of us are on the same page right now because we are all learning a new defense, new adjustments, and a new scheme," said Piscitelli. "The new terminology. I think all of us are at the same point just trying to learn a defense. I feel good. I feel confident. I really like the scheme. I like the old scheme also. I played similar to this scheme in college. I'm excited to go out and play this defense."
4. POINT OF REFERENCE- McCOWN'S YPA With YPA on my mind, I went back to check out Bucs projected starting quarterback Luke McCown's YPA in his first 10 games. It was right about at the league average of 6.7. McCown's YPA in his first 10 games was better than the ones produced by quarterbacks Brett Favre and Peyton Manning in their first 10 games. McCown leads the YPA with 6.8. Favre and Manning follow with 6.3 and 6.1 respectively. Thus, McCown was making more of his attempts than Favre and Manning. McCown also had a terrible offensive line in Cleveland, and logged a lot of his snaps with backups around him while playing for Tampa Bay.
5. SEVENTH-ROUNDERS ARE THIS YEAR'S UFA'S Last year the Bucs struck gold with the undrafted free agent signings of returner Clifton Smith, and cornerback Elbert Mack. This year this reporter believes the team did that again with their two seventh-round picks: wide receiver Sammie Stroughter cornerback E.J. Biggers. It would not surprise me to see Stroughter as the third receiver during the 2009 season, and Biggers standing out on special teams while rotating in at cornerback with Mack, and veteran Ronde Barber. If the Buccaneers continue to find a lot of talent at the end of the draft, and in the undrafted ranks it will greatly fortify their roster with depth and allow them to be more aggressive in trading up early in the draft.