Blaine Gabbert: an exercise in statistical gymnastics

Sometimes stats tell the whole story, and sometimes they don't. A smart writer can use statistics to tell whatever story he or she wants, depending on the way the statistics are framed. I've seen story after story about the Jaguars' young quarterback Blaine Gabbert and how terrible he was, and as a fan of the team it gets on my nerves. I hate thinking the worst; it takes all the fun out of sports.

I wanted to take a look at Gabbert's stats from a historical perspective and see what I could find from both a positive and negative perspective and show just how incomplete a picture statistics can paint without proper context. Warning: these sets of data will have extremely arbitrary endpoints...for a reason. An arbitrary endpoint means cutting off a set of data at a point that has no actual relevance; it's simply a randomly-chosen endpoint. They are usually meant to be avoided in stats, but that doesn't mean that's a rule that is always followed.

Bad news should always precede good news, so let's start with the negative slant. A reminder, these are ALL statistical facts, but that doesn't mean they have any relevance:

  • Blaine Gabbert is the only rookie quarterback in NFL history to play 15 games and have ten or more interceptions, a completion percentage below 51%, and a per-attempt average of under six yards.
  • Gabbert is one of only six quarterbacks in NFL history with a completion percentage under 51% in 14 or more starts his rookie year.
  • Gabbert is one of only eight quarterbacks to throw 12 or less TD in over 400 pass attempts his rookie year.
  • Gabbert is one of only three quarterbacks to throw for 2300 or less yards in over 400 pass attempts his rookie year.

Paints a pretty grim picture, doesn't it? Gabbert looks like a historically bad rookie quarterback when you look at it that way. The thing is, though, that I can use stats to make Gabbert look pretty darn solid as well. Take a look:

  • Only four quarterbacks in NFL history that were 22 or younger their rookie year threw for both 12 or more touchdowns and 11 or less interceptions.
  • Only three rookie quarterbacks in NFL history started 14 or more games their rookie year and were intercepted 11 times or less.
  • Gabbert is one of four quarterbacks in NFL history to start 14 or more games his rookie year at the age of 22 or younger and throw for 12 or more touchdowns.
  • Blaine is one of three rookie quarterbacks in NFL history to start 14 or more games his rookie year and end the season with 14 or less fumbles and 11 or less interceptions.
  • Gabbert is one of two quarterbacks in NFL history to throw over 400 passes his rookie year and throw 11 or less interceptions.

Basically, the point is you can use statistics to say just about whatever you want. You can use them to point out just how bad Gabbert's rookie season was, or you can use them to show that he honestly wasn't all that bad, and that the upside that led Gene Smith to trade up for him is still there in full force.

Don't let the "experts" get you down. Don't let the suggestions that Gabbert is a lost cause faze you. We just don't know right now. What we do know, though, is that THEY don't know either.

I've seen Sigmund Bloom of Footballguys suggest that Gabbert is a lost cause. Evan Silva of Rotoworld said the Jaguars should trade their second-round pick for Ryan Mallett. These are smart guys; they have credibility, and I usually trust them, but not about Gabbert. They have let the negative statistics and small sample-size visual evaluations cloud their judgment.

Gabbert is far from a finished product, and there's nothing statistically that suggests he can't become the franchise quarterback he was drafted to become. He's not a lost cause; he's a precious stone covered in years of silt and sediment. The Jaguars must polish the stone before they determine whether it's a diamond, emerald, or some other precious stone, or simply an old Mancala bead. What will Gabbert be? Patience, my friends...patience.

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