2011 NFL Draft Results: Projecting QB Colin Kaepernick’s Performance

A week ago, I unveiled a statistical model that best predicts the career performance of QBs selected during the first 4 rounds of the NFL draft. As expected, the 49ers used one of their top picks to draft a QB. Therefore, it seems like a good idea to see what the model has to say about Colin Kaepernick; and the rest of the highly drafted QBs for that matter.

To refresh your memory, here was the equation for the 4-round QB prediction model:

FFPts/G = 7.10 - 0.05*Pick + 0.08*GS

As you can see, the model relies on the pick at which the QB was taken (Pick) and the number of games he started in college (GS). This simple model explained the past performance of QBs reasonably well (R-squared = .359), and accurately predicted future QB performance within about 3 fantasy points per game (FFPts/G).

This past week/weekend, 6 QBs were taken in the first 4 rounds of the draft: Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, and Ryan Mallett. If we plug these QBs' pick and GS stats into the above equation, we get the following career FFPts/G projections (ranked from highest to lowest):

Rk

QB

Pick

GS

Projection

1

Jake Locker

8

40

9.81

2

Christian Ponder

12

34

9.13

3

Andy Dalton

35

49

9.10

4

Colin Kaepernick

36

48

8.97

5

Blaine Gabbert

10

26

8.61

6

Cam Newton

1

14

8.14

7

Ryan Mallett

74

29

5.48

After the jump, I'll discuss these projections, relay some thoughts about their potential accuracy, and offer an alternative set of projections based on one of the other models I tested last week...

First things first. Despite being the 6th QB selected, the Niners' newest QBOTF projects to have the 4th-best career performance according to the model. This, of course, is because of the insane number of games he started during his college career, which dwarfs those of the 2 QBs who, despite being drafted higher, are projected to have worse careers.

To put the above numbers into perspective, Locker projects to have a fantasy career something like that of Byron Leftwich (9.66 FFPts/G) or David Gerrard's (10.33), Cam Newton's fantasy career might look something like Quincy Carter's (8.09), and Kaepernick's projects to be somewhere around Rex Grossman's (8.86) or Matt Schaub (9.20).

Now, obviously, these are underwhelming comparisons. That's because of the error inherent in the model's prediction. We can see this if we look at the 84 QBs I used to create the model, and graph their model-based predictions vs. their actual careers (click to enlarge):

Qb_residuals_medium

For the purposes of this discussion, I've highlighted several QBs whose predicted careers were considerably different from their actual careers; basically the ones that are farthest away from the trend line. What you'll notice is that, aside from Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, who are both off the charts in terms of their actual careers, the fates of the other poorly predicted QBs were basically determined by what kind of opportunity they had to start. Aaron Brooks and Kyle Orton were both 4th-round picks who were handed a starting job, which is something highly uncharacteristic of 4th-round picks. Jim Druckenmiller was a 1st-round pick who never got that opportunity, which is also highly uncharacteristic given where he was picked. So, the point here is that the model is pretty accurate to the extent that it accurately gauges opportunity. When it gauges the opportunity part inaccurately, it's probably going to get the prediction part very wrong.

As this regards Kaepernick, it would be highly unusual for him to not get the opportunity to start for the 49ers. This is because, as I commented in Fooch's draft-grade post yesterday, QBs taken in the first 2 rounds become the full-time starter by Week 1 of their 2nd season 75% of the time, and only 5% never get a starting opportunity. Furthermore, almost every time, the only reason a highly drafted QB waits any longer than 16 games to become the starter is because there's a productive and/or winning QB keeping them from ascending to the starting lineup (e.g., Rodgers sitting behind Brett Favre). Kaepernick isn't in competition with such a QB on the 49ers, so I think that, insofar as we can accurately gauge his opportunity to start, the model's prediction should be pretty accurate.

Nevertheless, if you're still unsatisfied, here's an alternative prediction based on the 2-round modified version of the Lewin Career Forecast, which I labeled as "LCF3Rev." This model was much better at explaining the past performance of QBs taken in the first 2 rounds from 1993-2006 (R-squared = .431), but was pretty bad at predicting future performance for similar QBs drafted after 2006 (Mean Absolute Error = 3.81). Nevertheless, it's Kaepernick-friendly, and this is supposed to be an uber-optimistic time on Niners Nation. So, here are the 2-round-only projections based on pick number, GS, and college completion percentage (Comp%):

Rk

QB

Pick

GS

Comp%

Predicted FFPts/G

1

Andy Dalton

35

49

0.617

11.68

2

Colin Kaepernick

36

48

0.582

10.62

3

Christian Ponder

12

34

0.618

9.95

4

Jake Locker

8

40

0.540

9.47

5

Blaine Gabbert

10

26

0.609

8.30

6

Cam Newton

1

14

0.654

7.50

Sweeeeeeeeeeeet! Now we're talking about a McNair-esque career. I'll take that.

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