Rejoice! It’s the season for debating 2014 Draft strategy in good cheer! Of course this year’s big question: should the Bills draft a QB with their top pick.
I want to challenge a basic assumption underlying the argument about EJ and the 2014 Draft, namely that because EJ is a "raw" rookie quarterback, he will improve with time. But, of last year’s 4 star rookie QBs, none have an obvious leap forward while two have clearly regressed. Cam Newton seems to have only recently regained (and perhaps surpassed?) his rookie form. Tannenhill looks the same. Some QBs like Sanchez only got worse. So . . .
I looked around for any analytics which put to the test our assumptions about QB development and found a few things. First, according to this Football Outsiders study, the only span in which young QBs improve is between Year 1 and Year 2. After that, young QBs are just as likely to go backwards as forwards, and no matter which direction they move, they don’t move much.
Okay, so what about that leap from Year 1 to Year 2. This excellent piece breaks down how exactly rookies progress. In summary, yes, QBs tend to be better as sophomores, but for the following reasons: 1) they throw fewer INTs 2) they don’t throw so many deep balls 3) they get better picking up the blitz 4) they scramble less 5) they don’t throw so many "no targets"
This lines up well with expectations. The reckless rookie gunners learn discipline and improve as a result. But, as any Bills fan knows, EJ isn’t a reckless gunner. He needs to throw more deep passes, not fewer. INTs aren't among his main problems. He does get sacked too often, so we can expect improvement there. But, generally, EJ would have to break the mold if he is to make a leap next year.
But maybe he will break the mold. After all, we drafted him knowing he was "raw." But why is he "raw?" he was starter for nearly 3 full years a top tier college, and a four year starter in high school. Perhaps "raw" is a euphemism for . . . something else.
I have my own theory about EJ, but for now I’ll just say that if he’s going to significantly improve, it’s more likely we’ll see that improvement in the next 4 games than across the upcoming off-season. I believe that when the year is up, the Bills should take his body of work as a whole, look at our draft position and the prospects, and then make a decision about drafting another QB. That is to say, they should *make* a decision, not defer it in hopes that EJ becomes a different player in Year 2 or Year 3. We were snake-bit this year; we may not have a draft position this advantageous again.