It will come as no surprise that the NFL quarterbacks who are selected at the top of the draft improve in their second seasons. It just stands to reason, after all. This doesn’t guarantee that the Eagles’ Carson Wentz, or any quarterback, is guaranteed some kind of big leap in Year 2. It’s just that the percentages are on his side.
With that, here is a look at the history of quarterbacks drafted either No. 1 or No. 2 since 1994, when the NFL instituted its salary cap.
This is a chart describing the first-year effectiveness of 18 of the 19 quarterbacks selected either first or second since 1994. Poor Alex Smith is not included in this chart or any of the other charts because he didn’t get on the field in either his first or second seasons.
The stat being used to measure overall effectiveness is Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (ANY/A). No stat is perfect, but this one is about as good as it gets for quarterbacks. You get a bonus for touchdowns and you get penalized for sacks and interceptions, all of which makes sense. Here is the formula, from pro-football-reference.com: (Passing Yards – Sack Yards + (20 x Passing TDs) – (45 x Interceptions)) / (Pass Attempts + Times Sacked).
But enough of the math. The point here is to note two things: that Wentz was a solid sixth on the list overall, and that all of the top six players were drafted in 2011 or later. It just speaks to where the game is today, and how much of the college style that the NFL has adopted, and how much better prepared college quarterbacks are than they used to be.
Completion percentage can be an overlooked stat in the NFL. Accuracy matters, and the good news for the Eagles is that Wentz was the second-most accurate rookie passer among our group at 62.4 percent. There is no guarantee that number will go up, but it seems obvious, based on the history, that even if it goes down, it will be by only a hiccup.
The other two, touchdowns and interceptions, probably tell you less as standalone numbers.
But touchdown/interception ratio is more interesting. It is a shorthand measure of the never-ending tug-of-war in every quarterback’s mind, the balance between gunslinging and sobriety. Wentz had above-average but unspectacular numbers in Year 1. His partisans would suggest that he had no outside weapons, and they would be accurate. Again, no stat can possibly be perfect. But this one is instructive — and, again, it is loaded at the top with more recent draftees.
Finally, here are the numbers for second-year effectiveness. When you look at them, you realize again that there are no guarantees. But you do see improvement from the first to the second seasons, and you do see somone like Peyton Manning firmly establish his excellence, and, well, put it this way when you are thinking about Carson Wentz and 2027: While an improvement will not necessarily predict greatness, a significant drop that isn’t related to an injury or some other calamity would be beyond worrisome. It also isn’t likely.