Age and Longevity of NFL All Pros by Position

In a post on the message board, a user made the comment that elite DBs have a shelf life comparable to those of running backs.  The context of the claim was in a discussion of the well-known trope that NFL running backs peak early and then are often disposed of relatively quickly.

Naturally I had to find out of this claim had any basis in reality.

Using as a source for player ages and the Wikipedia pages for the list of NFL All-Pro selections, I set out to find the following for a large enough sample of players:

  • Age the player made his 1st All-Pro team
  • Age the player made his last All-Pro team
  • Age the player began to no longer be the clear cut starter on his team
  • Age the player retired or was out of football.

The range of players ended up being All-Pro team selections from 1999-2008. I would have liked to use more recent data, however even with players making their first All-Pro teams in 2008, there began to emerge players who were still playing and some such as Tom Brady who are in fact still making All Pro teams.  This would have begun skewing the data younger and younger.


The average age of each of the above properties was lower for running backs than every other position, and it was not particularly close. On average, running backs who make at least one All Pro team are out of football at the age of 32.4, a full 1.3 years younger than the closest other position. The range of players’ peak seasons was also the shortest for running backs. These players on average made their first All Pro team at age 24.7, and their last All Pro team at age 27.1, for a peak duration of elite play averaging only 2.3 years. By contrast, the All Pro quarterbacks during this stretch made their first All Pro team at 27.5 years old, and their last All Pro team at nearly 33.9, for a duration of elite performance lasting an average of 6.4 years.

The claim that defensive backs “fall off a cliff” relatively quick was not really borne out in the data at all.  The positions of linebacker and defensive tackle both skew slightly younger than cornerback, and safeties have the longest longevity of any position outside of quarterback.

One interesting note is that all of the defensive positions showed earlier overall ages of decline than all of the offensive positions besides running back.


Drafted Quarterbacks – Success vs. Draft Slot

This is the first in a series of posts linking to semi-interactive scatter charts made in an attempt to illustrate the value of players selected in the NFL draft, vs. the slot in which the player was drafted.  Here is a screenshot of the chart, with a special line drawn on it: the Cutler Line.

QB Success by Draft Slot

You don’t want to be below the Cutler line. Here is the full chart.

Player Tiers

Cutler joking aside, it is nice how some convenient quarterback tiers emerge from this chart. Here’s how I break them down:

Elite (20+)

There are only three quarterbacks above the 20 line. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees. This seems about right to me.

Franchise (15-20)

The next tier is generally guys you’re quite happy to have as your quarterback. Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Russell Westbrook are at the top of this tier, and Eli Manning and Andrew Luck are at the bottom. Dak Prescott’s rookie year places him solidly at the bottom end of this tier.

“This is Our Guy….Right?” (10-15)

Jay Cutler resides near the bottom of this tier. If your quarterback is down there with him, you’re not a happy camper. You’ve got the kind of quarterback who needs a superior supporting cast to go particuarly far in the playoffs. So below Cutler are guys like Marc Bulger and Ryan Tannehill. Near Cutler we see Joe Flacco, who’s been the beneficiary of some great Ravens teams, Alex Smith, and Ryan Tannehill. Higher up in this tier are some young quarterbacks getting acclimated to the NFL, and guys that really fit the bill like Matt Stafford and Andy Dalton.

Suspects Who Played (5-10)

Players below 10 on this chart are mostly journeymen, or flashes in the pan. There may be some ascendant quarterbacks down here, like Kirk Cousins or perhaps Tyrod Taylor, but this is mostly full of Kyle Ortons and Ryan Fitzpatricks.

Here Be Scrubs (0-5)

This is the graveyard where most quarterbacks, even 1st round picks (a plurality of them anyway), end up. It’s first overall flameouts, late rounders who never took a snap, and assorted 22nd overall quarterbacks drafted by the Cleveland Browns.

How Player Value is Calculated

Player Value primarily uses’s Approximate Value metric. The value of a player is the player’s career AV, divided by the number of seasons he’s played, plus a little special sauce added in to reward player longevity and league honors. This metric is not perfect, but it gives a good idea of relative player value. It underrates quarterbacks who do not spend their entire career as starters, or suffer season-long injuries. For example, Kirk Cousins, who spent 3 years largely as a backup, is rated rather poorly by this metric due to those three seasons.


NFL Combine Throwing Velocity

This chart displays the NFL Draft Combine throwing velocity of drafted quarterbacks from 2008-2016. I have placed the 2017 prospects at the right of the chart. Data is sourced from Ourlads.

Good or established as kind of decent quarterbacks are identified by red dots. The key takeaway is that quarterbacks with velocity below 54 mph have not encountered much success. Tyrod Taylor is marked as a possible outlier, but his success in the league has been limited and he is not considered anywhere near a top tier quarterback.

QB Combine Velocity Chart

Note that many highly-regarded quarterbacks do not throw at the combine, and so are not among the 82 quarterbacks plotted on this chart. I count seven quarterbacks who would be red dots on this chart but are left off because they did not throw:

  • Teddy Bridgewater
  • Derek Carr
  • Andrew Luck
  • Ryan Tannehill
  • Sam Bradford
  • Matt Stafford
  • Matt Ryan

Of these I would guess that Bridgewater and Bradford would be the only two likely to have thrown below 54mph. 33 drafted quarterbacks did not throw or were not at the combine.

There have been several quarterbacks with high recorded velocities at the combine, and we can see that teams to not always fall in love with big arms, or those with adequate velocities are correctly identified as flawed prospects and drafted in later rounds. However, the cluster of quarterbacks in the top left of the chart shows that the top-ranked quarterbacks generally have been ones with high throwing velocities. In fact, Christian Ponder is the only quarterback taken in the first round who did not throw at least 54 mph at the combine. Deshaun Watson would be the next.


Find Your Franchise Quarterback, Part 2 (2009-2011)

This is Part 2 of a series of rambling posts intended to answer the question, “What happens when an NFL team tries to find its franchise quarterback?”  For background, read the introduction. Part 1 is here.


Cam Newton, 1st overall – Carolina

The Panthers went 2-14 with Jimmy Clausen running the show to earn the right to tab their franchise quarterback in the 2011 draft. They appeared to do so, although Newton had a pretty dreadful 2016 season, one year removed after leading the Panthers to the NFL Championship Game. Newton was entering the strata of “elite” quarterback until last season’s debacle. Nevertheless, he’s the ninth quarterback we’ve looked at so far, and only the second who you can realistically imagine leading a team to a title.

Result: 6 seasons as starter, 3 playoff appearances (3-3)

Jake Locker, 7th overall – Tennessee

Locker is the first quarterback we’ve looked at who did not start as a rookie. The Titans started Matt Hasselbeck and won 9 games in 2011, but Locker won the starting job the next season. Tennessee went 4-7 in Locker’s starts, and his season was interrupted by a shoulder injury. In 2013, injuries kept Locker to only 7 starts.  The Titans changed head coaches in 2014, and Locker was benched early in the season in favor of Zach Mettenberger. He was reinstated as the starter in Week 12, but suffered a dislocated shoulder 3 weeks later that ended his season. Locker decided to retire after 4 frustrating seasons in which he posted a 57.5% career completion percentage with 27 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

Result: 1 seasons as starter, 0 playoff appearances

Blaine Gabbert, 9th overall – Jacksonville

Blaine Gabbert was pressed into service as a rookie starter after Luke McCown proved to be ineffective to start the 2011 season. I know, hard to believe that Luke McCown would be ineffective. Gabbert started 14 games, went 4-10 and finished dead last in QBR. 2012 was an injury plagued season which saw Gabbert go 1-9 in his starts and finish 27th in QBR. In 2014, Gabbert threw 1 touchdown and 7 interceptions in 3 games, and in the offseason he was traded to San Francisco for a 6th round pick. He replaced Colin Kaepernick as the 49ers starter midway through 2015 and was pretty bad. He was even worse last year, with head coach Chip Kelly, who is a genius, going back to Kaepernick after going 1-5 to start the season with Gabbert.

Result: 2 seasons as starter (for 2 different teams), 0 playoff appearances

Christian Ponder, 11th overall – Minnesota

After Brett Favre finally retired for good the Vikings need to find The Guy to replace him, so they drafted Ponder, then signed another old timer, Donovan McNabb, presumably to mentor Ponder as he made the transition to the NFL. Unfortunately, McNabb and the Vikings were so ineffective that they made Ponder the starter after 5 games. The Vikings ended the season with just 3 wins and Ponder near the bottom of the quarterback rankings. They turned things around dramatically in 2012, and while Ponder himself had an inconsistent season, the Vikings made the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Ponder was injured in the final game of the regular season, and did not play in the playoff game vs. Green Bay. He could not continue his upward trajectory in 2013, as he played poorly early in the season, and was injured in Week 3. After experimenting with Matt Cassell and Josh Freeman, the Vikings went back to Ponder midway through the season, but saw little success and was knocked out of a December game with a concussion. Ponder’s inconsistent play and a regime change in Minnesota led the Vikings to draft Teddy Bridgewater the next offseason. Ponder backed up Bridgewater for the 2014 season, and has since bounced from the Raiders, Broncos, and 49ers, primarily as a 3rd string quarterback.

Result: 2 seasons as starter, 1 playoff appearance


Sam Bradford, 1st overall – St. Louis

The Marc Bulger era in St. Louis finally came to an end in 2010, as after totaling just six wins in the last three season, the Rams finally had the #1 overall pick, and drafted their Franchise Quarterback. Bradford was given the keys to the offense as a rookie, and while his numbers were mediocre, the Rams went 7-9, and had high expectations for 2011. But Bradford was bothered by a high ankle sprain all season, finished 31st in QBR and the Rams won just 2 games. With the #2 pick in the 2012 draft, the Rams had an opportunity to draft Franchise Quarterback Robert Griffin the III, but instead swung the mega-deal with Washington. Bradford and the team bounced back, winning 7 games. But as has been the case with many quarterbacks, injury blotted out any hope for long term success for Sam Bradford. He tore his ACL midway through the 2013 season, ending that campaign, and again in a 2014 preseason game. In a surprising move, the Rams and Eagles swapped quarterbacks the next offseason, with Bradford joining Chip Kelly, who is a genius, in Philadelphia. Bradford managed to not tear his ACL, and the Eagles went 7-7 with him under center in 2015. Kelly was then fired, but the new Philadelphia regime signed Bradford to a two-year extension. However the Eagles also signed Chase Daniel and then made the big trade with the Browns to draft Franchise Quarterback Carson Wentz number two overall. Bradford pouted for a bit, and was eventually traded to the desperate Minnesota Vikings, who had just lost Franchise Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, to a horrific injury. The Vikings went 7-8 under Bradford, who completed an NFL-record high 71.6% of his passes, but finished in the middle of the pack in QBR. Bradford is not as incompetent as many of the quarterbacks we’ve seen, but is an injury risk, and no team has had a winning record with him as the starter.

Result: 5 seasons as starter (3 different teams), 0 playoff appearances

Tim Tebow, 25th overall – Denver

After a wild stint as the starter for the Denver Broncos in 2011, where he went 7-4 and actually won a playoff game, the Broncos signed Peyton Manning the next offseason. They subsequently traded Tebow to the New York Jets for a 4th round draft pick. He threw eight passes for the Jets and is currently a professional baseball player.

Result: 1 season as starter, 1 playoff appearance (1-1)


Matthew Stafford, 1st overall – Detroit

After the Lions’ historic 0-16 season in 2008, they earned the right to take their Franchise Quarterback. They got Matthew Stafford. Unlike most of the other names on this list (which is telling in and of itself), Stafford has had a pretty stable career as the starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions. The actual results, however, have been anything but stable. Their first three seasons under Stafford saw them improve from “piss-poor”, to “starting to come around”, to “look, the Lions are in the playoffs!” After which they reverted to “piss-poor” again and started the same three-year cycle. They have settled into the area of “decidedly average” the last two years, and backed into the playoffs in 2016. For Stafford’s part, he has largely stayed healthy, and usually puts up pretty good numbers. He’s made a Pro Bowl but hasn’t been able to get his team out of the wild card round of the playoffs. He’s at the bottom tier of quarterbacks you can call competent.

Result: 7 seasons as starter, 3 playoff appearances (0-3)

Mark Sanchez, 5th overall – New York Jets

The Jets gave the Browns their first and second round picks in this draft to move to this slot and take Sanchez. The Jets had gone 9-7 with Brett Favre at the helm, but Favre decided to fake retire. Sanchez beat Kellen Clemens for the starting job as a rookie, and the Jets had two solid seasons, making the AFC Conference title game both years. Few were under the impression that Sanchez had much to do with this success, however, and as the team surrounding him fell apart, he was exposed as a pretty bad quarterback. By Sanchez’ fourth year as a starter (2012), he was executing plays so memorably laughable that they have their own Wikipedia page. He missed the entire 2013 season to injury, allowing the Jets to try out Geno Smith to see how that might work out. It didn’t. The Jets released Sanchez the following year. The Eagles signed him to back up Nick Foles, and Sanchez came into service when Foles broke his collarbone in Week 9. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, who is a genius, called Sanchez a ‘hell of a quarterback.’ Sanchez played backup during the Eagles’ short-lived Sam Bradford experiment, then was traded to Denver the next offseason. The Broncos released him, after which he signed with the Cowboys as clipboard-holder for Dak Prescott.

Result: 5 seasons as starter (2 teams), 2 playoff appearances (4-2)

Josh Freeman, 17th overall – Tampa Bay

The Browns were actually in this draft slot as well, and Tampa gave up a 6th round pick to move up two picks to take Josh Freeman, who is no longer in the league. The 2008 Bucs had collapsed down the stretch, losing four straight games resulting in their eliminaton from the playoffs and ultimately the firing of head coach Jon Gruden. Jeff Garcia was allowed to depart for free agency, leaving the team without a quarterback. Enter Josh Freeman, who took over as the starter in game 7. 2010 was a promising year for the team and quarterback, as they bounced back from a 3-13 record to go 10-6, just missing the playoffs. The optimism was short-lived as Freeman struggled horribly in 2011, throwing 22 interceptions and just 16 touchdowns. While the team showed slight improvement in 2012, by 2013 the end was looming for Freeman as a Buccaneer, and, as it turns out, an NFL quarterback. He was benched in favor of Mike Glennon after three games, and released after the team could not find a taker in a trade. He joined the Vikings, made a lousy spot start for them. He knocked around a couple of teams and played his most recent NFL game for the Colts in the final game of the 2016 season.

Result: 4 seasons as starter, 0 playoff appearances

Final Results from ’09-’11:

9 quarterbacks taken in the first round. 2.5 legitimate NFL starters (Newton, Stafford, half of Bradford). 2 (Locker, Tebow) no longer in the league and 1 on his way out (Freeman)

Find Your Franchise Quarterback, Part 1 (2012-2014)

This is Part 1 of a series of rambling posts intended to answer the question, “What happens when an NFL team tries to find its franchise quarterback?”  For background, read the introduction.


Blake Bortles, 3rd overall – Jacksonville

Poor Blake Bortles is the guy that triggered this whole thing. In response to Eric’s (@illustr8r‘s) tweet that “If he’s the guy, he’s the guy regardless of draft position.” I wrote,

There isn’t much more to say about it other than MAYBE you want to give Bortles a 4th year. I guess the Jaguars have to, but they must be thinking by now that they’ve made a huge mistake. Bortles was dead last in QBR as a rookie, improved to 24th in his second year, but was 28th in 2016. He may yet figure it all out, but the investment of the third overall pick has netted the Jaguars no gains in the win column.

Result: 3 seasons as starter, 0 playoff appearances

Johnny Manziel, 22nd overall – Cleveland

Manziel is no longer in the National Football League.

Result: 0 seasons as starter, 0 playoff appearances

Teddy Bridgewater, 32nd overall – Minnesota

As a 32nd overall pick and the third quarterback chosen in this draft, it’s somewhat of a stretch to call his situation one of “finding your quarterback”. But the Vikings did trade up into this slot to get him, so I do count this as a case of identifying your potential franchise quarterback and making sure you get him. Bridgewater by the numbers was playing passably well in his second year and led the Vikings to the playoffs in 2015. His grade is incomplete due to the injury he suffered prior to the 2016 season.

Result: 2 seasons as starter, 1 playoff appearance (0-1)


E.J. Manuel, 16th overall – Buffalo

2013 was a terrible draft for quarterbacks. Buffalo traded down and took Manuel. He started for the Bills as a rookie but by the next season he was benched for Kyle Orton. He has been pretty much mothballed ever since, making spot starts here and there that have served to only remind everyone that he’s not even backup material.

Result: 1 seasons as starter, 0 playoff appearances.


Andrew Luck, 1st overall – Indianapolis

There was an Andrew Luck in this draft! The Colts took him, and he took what remained of the Peyton Manning-era Colts to the playoffs in his first three seasons. However, since then they’ve gone 8-8 in the last two years. So: memo to all the crappy teams out there. Even if there IS an Andrew Luck in a draft class, your team will still suck if you don’t surround him with talent.

Result: 5 seasons as starter, 3 playoff appearances (3-3)

Robert Griffin III, 2nd overall – Washington

The Redskins gave up an absolute load to take Griffin at number two. They certainly identified their Franchise Quarterback and did what it took to get him. The Maizeball brother lit the league on fire as a rookie but got injured, fell out of favor in Washington, tried to resurrect his career with the Browns, suffered another injury, &c &c.  By the way, if you’re keeping track, this is the second guy on this list who’s started at quarterback for the Browns that they’ve needed to replace.

Result: 2 seasons as starter, 1 playoff appearance (0-1)

Ryan Tannehill, 8th overall – Miami 

After Bortles, Tannehill is my second go-to case study for the “Find your Quarterback” game so many NFL teams have to play. The Dolphins were coming off a couple of 7-win seasons of Chad Henne followed by a 6-win campaign with backup Matt Moore filling in after a season-ending injury to Henne. These and several seasons of mediocre quarterbacking prior to that stretch led the Dolphins to take Tannehill early in the first round. Both Tannehill and the Dolphins have been consistently below average since. In 2016 the Dolphins made their first playoff appearance with Tannehill as starter, although, he suffered a knee injury late in the season that kept him out of their wild card game against the Steelers. While he had career highs in completion percentage (67.1), yards per attempt (7.7), and passer rating (93.5), he found himself 24th out of 30 qualified players in QBR. I see Tannehill as occupying what I call the Alex Smith tier; you’d need to put together an absolute monster of a supporting cast around the guy, otherwise you may make some noise here and there, but will ultimately be exposed as fraudulent.

Result: 5 seasons as starter, 1 playoff appearance (0-1)

Brandon Weeden, 22nd overall – Cleveland

Weeden, otherwise known as “the key acquisition in the Julio Jones trade,” is now 33(!) years old. He is not long for this league.

Result: 1 seasons as starter, 0 playoff appearances

Final Results from ’12-’14:

8 quarterbacks taken in the first round. 1.5 legitimate NFL starters (Luck, half of Tannehill). 1 (Manziel) no longer in the league and 2 on their way out (Manuel, Weeden)

I’m a Browns Fan. So Let’s Talk about Quarterbacks

It’s March, and I’m a Browns fan. That means it’s time to talk about the NFL draft.  More specifically, it’s time to talk about quarterbacks.

I spotted my man @illustr8r echoing a line of thinking that I hear a lot from Cleveland sports pundits. The idea is “If you think Quarterback X is going to be good, be bold and take him.”  Identify The Guy, and do whatever it takes to get him.

Sorry, but I don’t buy “The Guy is The Guy.” Why? Because even The Guy is not The Guy.

The Guy

Who are we really talking about when we talk about The Guy? These days, the guy we’re most often imagining is Andrew Luck, because in every draft since the guy was taken (2012), we’ve heard this from the talking heads: There’s no Andrew Luck in this draft.

Maybe your team sucked last year. You got the #1 overall pick. Or you’ve traded down in seasons past, and have assets aplenty. Or both. You’re one of the 15 teams in the NFL who need a better quarterback, AND you’re one of the 6 that actually knows it.  You’re ready to go get your Franchise Quarterback. But then, a stark reality dawns upon you as expert upon expert reports in as the college football season wears on:

There’s no Andrew Luck in this draft.

Yes, incredible as it seems, the NFL does not actually allow Andrew Luck to declare himself eligible for multiple NFL entry drafts.

Kidding aside, Luck is the gold standard for The Guy. Of course every team wants the opportunity to draft a quarterback with his credentials. But as we’ve seen, players of his ilk don’t come around every season.

But what is Andrew Luck? Has anyone bothered to notice that the guy everyone laments isn’t in any of the recent drafts has actually missed the playoffs the last 2 seasons? I know the defense is, “Well the Colts franchise is a joke.”  He has no help.  Perhaps. But this goes back to my original point: Even The Guy that you think is The Guy is not The Guy. Luck has certainly kept them from being an embarrassment, but even the best quarterback prospect in the last decade of drafts hasn’t been enough to reliably take his team to the playoffs.

Find Your Franchise Quarterback

“Never mind that,” you say. “You’re not going to go anywhere until you find a quarterback.” Living in Cleveland, this is a mantra I know very well.

(Aside: There’s also the counterpart to this, which goes something like, “No quarterback will do anything unless we have a line to protect him.” The folks who like that one ignore that we’ve had a Hall of Fame left tackle, a now four-time pro bowl center, and a right tackle who our front office didn’t think was worth a damn, but the Chiefs thought was worth something on the order of 33 million damns over 5 years.)

But I’d like to address the Find Your Franchise Quarterback camp a bit more directly by asking (and answering) the question, “What happens to teams when they try to “find their quarterback”?

We’ll grant the 3-year rule on judging draft picks. So this is decidedly NOT going to be about Carson Wentz and whether or not the Browns should have drafted him, whether or not he’s any good, or aren’t we a little concerned that Hue Jackson seemed to think Goff was better, and Wentz was SO GOOD and Goff played like two pounds of stuffed cabbage.

And to be fair it also won’t be about Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. Although both teams today seem quite satisfied that they’ve “Found Their Quarterback,” if it’s too early to judge players as busts, it’s also too early to judge them as The Guy that will win them an NFL championship.

So let’s take a trip back in time and and see what happened to Guys that teams thought were The Guy.

Part 1 (2012-2014)