Of all the 119 D-1 teams in the NCAA, ESPN lists 48 that run a form of spread offense (about 40%) as of 2009. It is a system that is undeniably effective, and has the after-effect of making a quarterback look very good. Ever since the days of Colt Brennan in Hawaii, the spread has made quarterbacks look like god-sends, whether they are or not. That's why it's strange that spread quarterbacks seem to rarely be good NFL prospects. Why? What does the spread offense do to teams to make the QBs less attractive?
In the top 20 NCAA, D-I teams in passing yardage, 10 (50%) are spread offense teams. 12 of the top 20 teams (60%) in total offense in the NCAA were spread teams. Impressive, huh? In terms of passing yards, it evens out to 12 of the top 30 (which is 40%) if you include the next ten teams down, but of the QBs on those top 30 teams, the only ones considered as legitimate prospects in the 2011 draft were Nick Foles of Arizona (who fizzled out pretty early in the season, 8th rated passing game) and... Blaine Gabbert (on the 29th rated team).
Other names within the top 20 include: B. Moniz, B. Weeden, Taylor Potts, Kyle Padron, and five others I haven't even heard of, including David Piland, a freshman who played only 8 games but threw for 2600+ yards with 24 TDs and 14 INTs. I'm not sure of years for all of these players, but I do know that none of them were drafted besides Gabbert.
The non-spread QBs in that top 20 list include: Landry Jones, Ryan Mallett, and Nate Enderle; two players drafted in 2011 and a potential high first rounder in 2012.
Now that's just yardage, not passer rating, so the list doesn't include lots of good QBs, including both spread guys (Cam Newton) and non-spread guys (Jake Locker, Andrew Luck). Basically, however, there was one spread guy among the top <em>30</em> passing teams who was drafted, and 3 from the top <em>20</em> and a potential 2012 first rounder from the non-spread teams.
So what am I actually getting at with this information? This means one of two things: Either spread teams are uniquely talented and therefore overachieve, or the system just naturally allows a team to gain more yardage. Last year, 4 of the top 5 teams in total yardage ran the spread, and 7 of the top 10. On average, successful spread passing QBs seem to gain around 3,400 yards per season with 65+% passing and a TD/INT ratio of around 3/1. For a thirteen game season, that's really good. Gabbert had 3100 yards his senior year and a low TD% relative to other spread QBs. That can be explained away by saying Gabbert didn't have a great year, and statistics aren't the best judge of talent anyway.
So now the question is, why isn't the NFL world overrun with spread QBs? Chase Daniels out of Mizzou has made it to the NFL, Vince Young and Colt McCoy from Texas have too. Alex Smith ran the spread at Utah and Tim Tebow ran it at Florida. Colt Brennan (Hawaii) managed to get drafted also, but he never really caught on in the NFL. The only success story I can think of is Kyle Orton out of Purdue, who was not very effective up until he was traded to Denver last year. Should we be happy to see the Jaguars add the name Blaine Gabbert to that inauspicious list? According to Orton, he came from a shotgun offense and "I went into a power running game, two-back, seven-step drop system in Chicago when I got to the NFL and it took a while to get accustomed to that." Hopefully, Gabbert can manage the transition without too much trouble.
Overall, I'm not a huge believer in statistics, but I do believe in patterns, and the pattern suggests that spread offenses consistently spit out passers with bloated numbers. Truthfully, there aren't many quarterbacks who have come from the spread into NFL success, and wins and stats aren't great indicators for a successful transition from the spread to the NFL. The only way to go is to have faith in the player that you drafted and train him to be the best he can. I'm sure the Jaguars will do just that as Blaine Gabbert.