FanPost

Matt Cassel's Two Rookie Seasons

 Matt Cassel.  That name is about as charged in this town as Barack Obama (just to make myself clear from the outset, I support and believe in both our quarterback and our President).  But I don’t want to start a political discussion, so let’s stick with Cassel.  One camp is characterized by mostly tentative support – he showed he can perform well when he played in New England, now let’s give him some time and see what he can do here.  The other camp seems mostly to vilify his every quality – he’s inaccurate, he doesn’t go through his reads, he doesn’t have good pocket presence, he can’t manipulate the defense with his eyes, etc.  The detractors especially love to point to his stats from last season and the start of this year as evidence that he is not a capable NFL quarterback.  OK, I am not going to try to prove that every negative thing said about him is wrong – there are some valid concerns, and he must show improvement.  Instead, I am going to attempt to show in a (perhaps somewhat superficial) statistical comparison study that it is simply too early to make a decision one way or another about Matt Cassel.

Cassel’s career to this point has been a very interesting case for several reasons, but it is not entirely irregular from most young QBs.  And make no mistake, Cassel is a young QB - in NFL terms, he is much younger than his age suggests because he did not start in college or during his first three NFL seasons.  There are two key points to examine when dissecting Cassel’s career to this point.  One, he did not start in college.  Two, he was traded to a worse team after his first season of starting in the NFL.  The first point is such a strange occurrence for an NFL QB that any conclusion as to how it could affect the trajectory of his career is merely speculative, but I believe that because he did not start in college, his career could take an extra season for him to really grow into the position. The second point, another strange occurrence for a young player vying to be a franchise quarterback, leads me to approach an analysis of Cassel in a twofold manner.  Essentially, I believe Cassel had two rookie seasons, one with the Patriots and one with the Chiefs.  After considering the following comparisons, perhaps you will agree with me…

Cassel’s time with the Patriots follows a similar pattern to a team that drafts a QB for the future but wants him to sit and learn behind a veteran before taking over as the starter.  In his case, he sat for three seasons before getting his opportunity.  Here are some comparable players for this situation: Aaron Rodgers (sat first three years), Matt Schaub (sat first three years – note: though he too was traded, he was traded to a team with similar skill level and never had a season as the starter for the Falcons anyway), Philip Rivers (sat first two seasons), Drew Brees (sat first season), Tom Brady (sat first season).  For the most part, these players, after their year(s) of sitting, stepped into a team that was pretty solid and offered a lot of support for a young QB.  Here are their numbers from their rookie seasons:           

Player

G

GS

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Avg

TD

Int

Sk

Sky

Rtg

Rodgers

16

16

341

536

63.6

4,038

7.5

28

13

34

231

93.8

Schaub

11

11

192

289

66.4

2,241

7.8

9

9

16

126

87.2

Rivers

16

16

284

460

61.7

3,388

7.4

22

9

27

144

92.0

Brees

16

16

320

526

60.8

3,284

6.2

17

16

24

180

76.9

Brady

15

14

264

413

63.9

2,843

6.9

18

12

41

216

86.5

Cassel

16

15

327

516

63.4

3,693

7.2

21

11

47

219

89.4

 

Cassel’s numbers were right in line with the other quarterbacks who sat for at least one season, with stats most similar to those of Philip Rivers.  Yes, he had a good team around him, but so did the other players on this list – most notably, Rivers (the Chargers went 14-2 before losing to the Patriots in the playoffs – this was Tomlinson’s best season of his career and one of the great season’s of all time for a running back).  While Cassel had a great supporting cast on the offensive line and at WR, the Patriots lacked a running game, and so Cassel shouldered more responsibility (a tough thing to ask of a young QB) and lead them to a good but not great 11-5 record (very respectable for a rookie QB, no matter how good the team he plays on).  OK, now on to rookie season number two…

Because of the unique situation of Cassel being traded to a struggling team after his official first season of starting for a good one, and because he had not started in college, I argue that Cassel’s 2009 season with the Chiefs should be viewed as a second rookie season, this time comparable to a player drafted with a high pick and immediately thrust into the starting lineup.  Essentially, Cassel showed enough in his 2008 season for the Chiefs to draft him, and we elected to start him immediately as a rookie.  (I know that this may not sit well with everyone, but given his strange career path, it makes the most sense to me to view it in this manner…you are free to disagree). So let’s compare him to QBs who faced similar circumstances (drafted and started as rookies):  Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez.  I will also include Eli Manning and Donovan McNabb in this list (they are somewhere in between the two examples, having started half of their rookie seasons).  Here are the first three seasons (if available) for those players and the 2009 and current seasons for Cassel:

Peyton Manning:

Year

G

GS

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Avg

TD

INT

Sk

Sky

Rtg

1998

16

16

326

575

56.7

3,739

6.5

26

28

22

109

71.2

1999

16

16

331

533

62.1

4,135

7.8

26

15

14

116

90.7

2000

16

16

357

571

62.5

4,413

7.7

33

15

20

131

94.7

 

Donovan McNabb:

Year

G

GS

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Avg

TD

INT

Sk

Sky

Rtg

1999

12

6

106

216

49.1

948

4.4

8

7

28

204

60.1

2000

16

16

330

569

58.0

3,365

5.9

21

13

45

262

77.8

2001

16

16

285

493

57.8

3,233

6.6

25

12

39

273

84.3

 

Ben Roethlisberger:

Year

G

GS

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Avg

TD

INT

Sk

Sky

Rtg

2004

14

13

196

295

66.4

2,621

8.9

17

11

30

213

98.1

2005

12

12

168

268

62.7

2,385

8.9

17

9

23

129

98.6

2006

15

15

280

469

59.7

3,513

7.5

18

23

46

280

75.4

 

Eli Manning:

Year

G

GS

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Avg

TD

INT

Sk

Sky

Rtg

2004

9

7

95

197

48.2

1,043

5.3

6

9

13

83

55.4

2005

16

16

294

557

52.8

3,762

6.8

24

17

28

184

75.9

2006

16

16

301

522

57.7

3,244

6.2

24

18

25

186

77.0

 

Joe Flacco:

Year

G

GS

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Avg

TD

INT

Sk

Sky

Rtg

2008

16

16

257

428

60.0

2,971

6.9

14

12

32

276

80.3

2009

16

16

315

499

63.1

3,613

7.2

21

12

36

218

88.9

2010

5

5

97

170

57.1

1,116

6.6

5

6

5

39

72.1

 

Matt Ryan:

Year

G

GS

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Avg

TD

INT

Sk

Sky

Rtg

2008

16

16

265

434

61.1

3,440

7.9

16

11

17

104

87.7

2009

14

14

263

451

58.3

2,916

6.5

22

14

19

92

80.9

2010

5

5

109

177

61.6

1,165

6.6

7

3

10

58

86.9

 

Mark Sanchez:

Year

G

GS

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Avg

TD

INT

Sk

Sky

Rtg

2009

15

15

196

364

53.8

2,444

6.7

12

20

26

195

63.0

2010

5

5

81

147

55.1

902

6.1

8

0

7

52

91.7

 

Matt Cassel:

Year

G

GS

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Avg

TD

INT

Sk

Sky

Rtg

2009

15

15

271

493

55.0

2,924

5.9

16

16

42

243

69.9

2010

4

4

58

106

54.7

650

6.1

4

3

3

18

74.0

 

First of all, I will point out that Roethlisberger is a bit of an outlier, as he is the only player in this list to have less than 300 attempts in either of his first two seasons (and in fact, only Sanchez joined him in having less than 400 in his first season)…so basically, Roethlisberger was asked to do very little and benefited greatly from a very strong team and a great rushing game (as did Sanchez).  In his 3rd season, however, when he was asked to be the focal point of the offense, he struggled and displayed numbers more typical of a rookie or second year man.  That said, Casselhas fairly similar first season numbers to the other players in this list.  His completion percentage is comparable to Sanchez, McNabb, and both Manning brothers in their rookie seasons.  Peyton is the only outlier in touchdowns, but nobody (including Peyton) has a TD/Int ratio that shames Cassel’s.  Cassel’s yards per attempt are a bit low but not unreasonable, and his QB rating is pretty much right in the middle.

The fact that Cassel’s numbers in 2008 mirror those of other rookie QBs who sat for at least a season and stepped into a solid team, and the fact that his 2009 season mirrors those of rookie QBs who were thrown into a bad situation, suggests (to me at least) that my characterization of Cassel having two rookie seasons is not totally baseless…it might be a unique way of perceiving his young career, but the circumstances he has encountered to this point seem unprecedented to me and so must require a new way of viewing them.

Let’s consider the scope of his career moving forward now.  In the second group of quarterbacks listed above, only Matt Ryan (and Roethlisberger in year 3) did not improve from year one to year two, but those year two averages are not astronomical:  480 attempts, 59 % completions, 3,300 yards, 7 yards per attempt, 22 TDs, 13 Ints, 85 QB rating. Now, through four games, Cassel’s numbers are a bit low to hit those averages, but four games into a quarterback’s (essentially) second season is far too early to start calling for his head.  Want proof?  Take the following examples of McNabb, Rivers, and Brees.  Here are the totals of the first four games of their second year as the starter: 

Player

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Avg

TD

Int

Rtg

McNabb

70

124

56.5

684

5.5

4

3

71.8

Rivers

89

139

64.0

886

6.4

5

6

77.1

Brees

87

150

58.0

841

5.6

4

7

64.8

 

Are there examples from some of the other quarterbacks listed in the above comparisons with better numbers in their first four games in the second season?  Yes, of course.  The point is that one and a quarter seasons is simply not enough to determine whether a quarterback will be successful or not.

Nearly everyone who knows football acknowledges that most players take time to develop before they reach the NFL level.  Some may never make it, and Cassel could be in this group.  But like most players, like almost all quarterbacks, he needs time to prove himself one way or another.  If you buy what I’m selling (that Cassel has had two rookie seasons, and this 2010 season is essentially year two in his development), then you should agree that even this season is not enough to make a final determination.  If you’re not buying it, you can continue to be unsatisfied and call for us to replace Cassel.  But it will take at least two years before the next QB is ready, and something tells me you won’t have the patience to wait that long.  My guess is that the people calling for Cassel’s head are the same who labeled Dorsey and Tyson Jackson busts as well (I’m not anointing either of them as great players yet, but I do have confidence that they will be in time).  The impatient fans are always the most vocal, but impatience is destructive when trying to build a team.  It takes time, and it takes the will to get better, the determination to succeed.

Whatever negative things might be said about Matt Cassel, his character is rarely, if ever, questioned.  He has the desire to improve and to win, which is perhaps the most important thing for any NFL player.  All those other things, his accuracy, his decision-making, his reads, his pocket presence will be known in time.  He has already shown some improvement in a couple of those areas (most notably his pocket presence, as he has only taken 3 sacks in 4 games).  If you can muster the patience for this season and maybe even for next year, I have a feeling we will see him improve in those other areas as well.  But for now, just know that his statistics thus far in his career are not enough to make a definitive argument.  Two rookie seasons and four games are not enough to convince me he won’t succeed, just as they aren’t enough to convince you that he will.

There’s one more player I’d like to show, and you can tell me if his first three seasons demonstrate the caliber of player he became:

Year

G

GS

Comp

Att

Pct

Yds

Avg

TD

INT

Sk

Sky

Rtg

1983

11

10

123

259

47.5

1,663

6.4

7

14

28

218

54.9

1984

15

14

214

380

56.3

2,598

6.8

18

15

24

158

76.8

1985

16

16

327

605

54.0

3,891

6.4

22

23

38

307

70.2

 

Those are the numbers for John Elway.  I think the Broncos are pretty glad they didn’t give up on him after his first few seasons.

One final note:  The thing I most want to see from Cassel is more confidence in his own ability.  Quarterbacks need to trust themselves implicitly so that they can just react rather than second guess.  I want to see him develop the kind of self-confidence that allows him to just see his receiver and throw on instinct.  If that happens for him, I think he’ll be the franchise quarterback we all want him to be.


This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.

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