Remember last year when I had this cautionary tale about how freshman quarterbacks are simply unprepared to do much of anything other than just be "okay" in terms of quarterbacking. There was this terrific article from MGoBlog that detailed freshman signal callers. The idea was that most true freshmen quarterbacks are simply not better than the average quarterback and the ones that were better than average ended up being significantly better, while the ones that were less than average, usually never quite lived up to the hype.
The answers aren't pretty so there isn't any point in sugar coating. I looked at true freshmen quarterbacks since the 2003 season that played at least 10 games and averaged at least 20 plays (passes+rushes). During that time only eight qualifying quarterbacks have had a positive PAN (Points Above Normal, Opponent Adjusted). Only three have been greater than +1. For reference, last year there were 58 quarterbacks who had positive PAN with at 20 plays per game. There obviously aren't a ton of true freshman playing most of the snaps in a given year, but eight players in eleven seasons to be above average is a tiny number.
Quite simply, true freshmen quarterbacks are rarely perform above just an average quarterback in the NCAA in terms of quarterback production. And before you go any further, I couldn't really figure out what Points Above Normal was, which was the metric utilized, so I went with the NCAA QB Rating (defined below). It's all I had and it's the only number that combines yards, touchdowns and interceptions.
We've thought about Davis Webb's freshman performance, and truthfully, I'm one of the guys that really preferred Baker Mayfield because I thought he would be less prone to the wild-ass pass for an interception, but eventually, this turned out to be not very true at all.
Anyway, back to this whole idea about what is average, I thought the best thing to do was to take a look at what was the average quarterback rating for the top 100 quarterbacks of all of last year and see where Davis Webb stacks up to his competition. Again, this is the top 100 quarterbacks according to the wonderful site, CFB Stats.
And just to clarify, the NCAA passing efficiency rating is different than the NFL rating and is expressed as (8.4 x yards) + (330 x touchdowns) + (100 x completions) - (200 x interceptions) / attempts. Pretty easy, huh?
So, the average of those top 100 quarterbacks was 137.96. If you just want to include freshmen, then the average rating is 128.87, and this figure includes Davis Webb. CFB Stats does not distinguish between freshmen and redshirt freshmen. The one player that makes this average a bit crazy is Jameis Winston, who had a QB rating of 184.85 and he was also a redshirt freshmen. If you take Winston out of the equation the freshman average is 123.78. The other player that was higher than Webb was a guy named P.J. Walker from Temple, who I think actually was a true freshman, like Webb and Mayfield.
The question that we've been waiting to figure out all offseason was whether or not Webb actually outperformed the average and would this then mean that he might be tipping towards being a better than average player rather than just another guy that isn't going to improve.
The simple answer is yes. Webb was better than the average NCAA Division I quarterback and was one of only two true freshmen quarterbacks that did this. Webb was at 139.61, which is 1.65 better than the average QB rating of the top 100 quarterbacks. And to emphasize that Kingsbury made the right decision between Webb and Mayfield, well, Mayfield was at 126.68, a good 10 points below average. And just in case you want to kick some things around, Webb was better than highly rated Jared Goff out of California by 17 points and freshman phenom Christian Hackenberg out of Penn St. by 6 points
And if you were curious if 2013 was some sort of aberration, then 2012 says otherwise as the top 100 quarterbacks averaged 137.01. And there were some big names in that freshmen group that all did well, including Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel and J.W. Walsh, but they were all redshirt freshmen. Every one of them. Quite simply, Webb beat the average for two years and was the best true freshman quarterback for two straight years.
Granted, Webb had an offense that had a first round pick on it in Jace Amaro and a sure-handed receiver that caught everything headed his way in Eric Ward. That's going to count for something and that means that Webb is going to have to be a bit more dynamic in making plays, but on the other side of the coin Webb also had a somewhat shaky offensive line and virtually zero running game. Still, the big takeaway here is that Webb had a better than average quarterback rating as a true freshman quarterback and was statistically better than any other freshman quarterback, redshirt or otherwise, than Jameis Winston and P.J. Walker. To be honest, heading into the year, I was all but certain that Webb's year was going to be below average because the statistics said that this was more likely than not.
But that didn't happen, and I'm happy to be wrong about that.
And you bet your bottom dollar that the last game against Arizona St. helped quite a bit. Four touchdowns, four hundred yards and zero interceptions helps the overall numbers, but we don't get to take out those bad games and Arizona St. was, by far, his best game.
Projecting forward, Webb should be significantly better as a sophomore because he outperformed history and that's something that hasn't happened all that often. One more lingering thought is that head coach Kliff Kingsbury helped Webb perform at this level as a true freshman and in the very first year that he was a head coach and in the fourth year as an offensive coordinator. If you ever needed empirical evidence to show that Kingsbury knows what he's doing, this is it.