The folks at Football Outsiders have developed something called a similarity score, which they use to compare different players. They detail what constitutes sim scores here, but essentially you take 1,000 points, subtract for various differences between two players, and eventually come up with a number. The closer to 1,000, the more similar the players are in this system.
It is important to note there are weaknesses in these comparisons. It is far from perfect, but it is something that I think is at least worth using for discussion purposes. The self-identified weaknesses include:
1. The method compares standard statistics like yards and attempts, which are of course subject to all kinds of biases from strength of schedule to quality of receiver corps.
2. The database for player comparison begins in 1978, the year the 16-game season began and passing rules were liberalized (a reasonable starting point to measure the "modern" NFL).
3. We also project statistics for 1982 and 1987 as if the strikes did not happen, although we cannot correct for players who crossed the 1987 picket line to play more than 12 games.
Earlier this week, Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders was throwing out some interesting tidbits he discovered in sim scores, and that got me poking around some 49ers sim scores. You need to be a premium member to view extensive sim scores, but I thought I would pull out a few interesting ones. We'll look at different ones over the course of the offseason, but in the meantime, I thought I would start with one that is effectively tossing a grenade into the comments!
Naturally, the first person I pulled up was Colin Kaepernick. The quarterback position always draws extensive discussion, and we know 49ers quarterbacks will always face significant scrutiny thanks to the franchise's history at the position. That history comes into play in these sim scores.
FO provides the top ten most similar players for last season, the last two seasons combined, and the last three seasons combined. In looking over Colin Kaepernick's comparisons, there are plenty of interesting names. For 2014, the top five include Gary Danielson (1980), Jim Zorn (1978), Donovan McNabb (2001), Mark Brunell (1997), Vince Ferragamo (1980). The next guy? Russell Wilson's 2012 season.
It is when we move to 2- and 3-year comparisons where the biggest name drops. For 2013-2014, the top five includes Dave Krieg (83-84), Ben Roethlisberger (05-06), Mark Rypien (88-89), Joe Montana (80-81), and David Carr (03-04). For 2012-2014, Dave Krieg remains at the top with the addition of 1982. Joe Montana moves up to No. 2 with the addition of 1979. The rest of the top five includes Matt Schaub (06-08), Brad Johnson (95-97) and Steve McNair (95-97).
I was talking with Aaron about the scores, and he wanted to emphasize that the comps between Kap and these other quarterbacks are low compared to many of the other sim scores. Here is a look at the 2013-2014 sim scores for Kap:
For comparison, here is FO's table of Eli Manning's 2013-2014 sim scores:
Again the closer to 1,000 the more similar. As Aaron said to me, Kap's scores are low enough to suggest how unique he is from a historic perspective. His rise since arriving in San Francisco is probably not entirely unprecedented, but his unique skillset makes it somewhat difficult to make sufficient comparisons.
It is a little bit interesting to consider that Joe Montana's early years are somewhat similar, but obviously it is not a particularly great comparison. Kap is entering the 2015 season with a lot to prove. He has done some big things, but finding consistency across the board with his new throwing mechanics will be a big deal.
Speaking of which, Cian Fahey broke down some film over at Bleacher Report, and it is worth a read. I don't completely agree with every conclusion, as I think improved offensive line play, and better contributions from the tight ends and wide receivers (beyond just Anquan Boldin) could help him take a step forward. That being said, I do think this could qualify as a make-or-break season for Kap. He seemingly has improved his mechanics, but as Fahey pointed out, it is way too early to say whether this adjustment will take when the season gets started. It is one of many aspects of Kap's game we'll be keeping an eye on as the season approaches.
I still don't think we know what Kap's ceiling is as a quarterback. It can be frustrating because it could be so high, but that is also what keeps some of us coming back for more. The potential to be something special. He has shown flashes, now we just need consistency. It will likely remain a roller coaster the rest of the way.