Should Gabbert start week one? Citing Precedent not Opinion.

My article concerning the "love affair" developing between the city of Jacksonville and Blaine Gabbert a few days ago seems to have sparked some controversy. Less over the article itself and more over my insistence in the comments that I do not want to see Blaine Gabbert start for the Jaguars in week one. I made the mistake of stating my points rashly rather than articulating them fully, which Brad Hill (@CaliforniaJag) took me to task for in an article on Jaguarsblog. I'll admit that I fully deserved it, and I consider this incident a lesson learned. It's never a good idea to defend your views with opinions, especially on the internet where everything you say is saved forever to be used against you. This time, allow me instead to cite precedent.

I think reports from training camp can confirm that what the Jaguars think they have in Blaine Gabbert is a young, but talented, rookie first-round quarterback. I am perfectly willing to agree with this assessment.

In one of the comments Brad quoted, he argued against my claim that "Statistically, starting a rookie quarterback does not win you more games than starting a proven veteran like DG." I did some research on the perfomance of first round rookies, and came up with this article from twominutewarning.com, which breaks down the statistics concerning all of the first round QBs drafted between 1990 and 2002 who played in their rookie year. This included 25 of the 28 QBs drafted in this time period (3 didn't play in their rookie years at all). The average number of wins for all of the teams the year before drafting a first round QB was 6 wins. The "net wins" with the rookie QB (meaning the difference in wins between the previous year and the QBs rookie year) was 0. That includes several players who improved their team win totals from 2 to 4 (or in David Carr's case from 0 wins to 4 wins). That means that on average, teams that started rookies won as many games as they did the year before.

Said differently, in the players rookie years, their teams averaged 6.16 wins.

I said in the same comment "The goal is to build for the future but win as many games as we can now." According to the above information, the Jaguars stand a good statistical chance of winning 6 games with Gabbert in 2011. Even if we judge by the "net wins" statistic, the Jaguars could only be expected to have another 8-8 season. Here I'll side with the majority of fans who would rather not see the Jaguars mired in mediocrity.

Obviously, this does not make a complete argument. These statistics are from a long time ago, and the claim can be made that the teams doing the drafting were all different. Well, to cite more recent precedent, let's look at the rookie class the 2010 QB class has been linked to by many fans and analysts: the 2004 rookie QB class. I'll start with Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger threw for over 10,000 yards in his college career despite starting for only three seasons. He averaged 8.3 yards per attempt for his entire college career and was though to be a lock as a top ten pick before his surprising draft slide to the Steelers. One could easily make the claim that Roethlisberger was a young, but talented, rookie first-round quarterback, much like Blaine Gabbert is now. Roethlisberger was in competition with Tommy Maddox, an inconsistent player but a known starter around the league. When Roethlisberger was drafted in 2004, Tommy Maddox, though ten years Big Ben's senior and arguably less talented, earned the nod as the Steelers' starter. So in this case, the inconsistent, older veteran quarterback was given the starting nod over the young, talented rookie. Why? Because the Steelers coaches deemed it prudent to allow Big Ben to sit and develop into a more complete NFL quarterback before becoming the team's starter. Roethlisberger was drafted 11th overall.

Sure, that is an eerily similar situation, but one instance of an aging veteran earning a starting job over a more talented rookie does not make a compelling argument. Let's look at another case from 2004: Eli Manning.

Manning was drafted #1 overall by the Chargers before being subsequently traded to the Giants. He was considered to be a rare and talented player (he was a Manning after all) and the Giants gave up Phillip Rivers (#4 overall pick) as well as two other draft picks to add Eli to their team. Again, the young, talented first round quarterback battled in camp with a veteran QB. In Manning's case, that QB was Kurt Warner. For those who don't remember, in 2004 Kurt Warner was not the Kurt Warner we all see him as now, a game-changing, team-resurrecting wonder. Warner had just come off a 2003 season in which he had trouble holding onto the ball. He struggled terribly with turnovers and played in only two games. In his lone 2003 start, he fumbled the ball six times. Coincidentally, Warner was also ten years older than Manning. Still, Warner earned the starting role in camp, because coach Tom Caughlin wanted to bring Eli around slowly. Warner started nine games that season, leading the team to a 5-4 start. In week ten, it was decided that Eli was ready to start. The Giants finished the season by earning a 1-6 record under Manning's leadership, falling from an above-.500 team to a disappointing 6-10 record.

I've written 900 words so far, and I know that's a lot, so allow me to boil this all down to a few little tidbits. To sum up: statistically, starting a rookie quarterback does not win you more games than starting a proven veteran like DG.

Sound familiar?

I've also shown that it is not uncommon for a young, talented first-round QB to sit behind a proven veteran in his rookie year, even if the veteran player is inconsistent or deemed to have less talent.

I give Brad credit for being open-minded, because he does allow me one point I made in my comments in a post he made on twitter.

made a good point in comments I picked apart on : once DG is no longer the starter, he'll never start in JAX again

I ask you, is it so urgent that we see Gabbert play week one that we are willing to forever say goodbye to a five-year starter without his even seeing the field in 2011? I think such a judgement would be harsh and premature, whether Garrard is a better QB than Gabbert or not.

It is for these reasons, among others, that I will restate the contested comment: I don't want to see Gabbert starting week one. It's not unreasonable. Deal with it.

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