Anyone who has been trying to follow the Broncos during this slow period has no doubt heard the Siemian hype, with many fans talking about how he might have a chance to win the starting QB job over Sanchez and Lynch. Being a numbers guy, I thought I’d take a look at how previous QBs from the late rounds have fared, and start to think about whether Siemian is more or less likely than these odds would suggest. Using Pro Football Reference’s draft finder and player season finder, it is possible to quickly get a feel for the success rate of QBs drafted at various spots in the draft.
Note that I did not reproduce the tables in this article, I only linked to them on PFR’s website. I strongly encourage you to click through and view them, and adjust, sort and tinker with the tables as you read through. It’s a pretty simple interface, but if you have questions or trouble, let me know.
For what it’s worth, the Broncos have had a bit of a fetish with drafting QBs in the 7th round lately. Of the 33 7th round QBs drafted since 2000, 5 have been drafted by the Broncos. I remember some hype surrounding other late round Broncos QBs such as Dyesrt, Ball, Weber, and Brandstater, but I never remember it being as strong as it is now. (Likely due to more hype around the team in general, and more of a QB controversy than we’ve been accustomed).
7th Round QBs
Since 1980, there have been 60 QBs drafted in the seventh round. Only three, Fitzpatrick, Cassel, and Frerotte have been able to emerge as a team’s primary starter for more than 1 season. I think most have a good idea what type of players they were, but none were able to string together multiple consistent seasons of success, and only Cassel was able to have a strong season before he was well into his late 20’s. Expanding the time frame to 1970 increases the number of 7th Round QBs to 68, but only adds one success story in Pat Haden, who played 6 relatively successful seasons for the Rams before retiring. I am fairly certain Haden was the only 7th round QB to start and win a playoff game.
If you look at the player season finder tool, you can look at how 7th rounders did when they played in their first two years in the league. Since 1970, Pat Harden is the only QB who won more than 3 games. And of those who threw more than 40 passes, none posted a comp% greater than 58%. Additionally, only Harden and Paul Justin (who started 2 games for the Colts in 96) were able to post QB Ratings greater than 76. Expanding to look at 7th rounders entire careers, no QB besides Fitzpatrick, Harden, Cassel or Frerotte has ever won more than 4 games in a season, and in addition to those names already mentioned, only Matt Flynn and Tim Rattay ever posted comp% greater than 58%. Simply put, there have not been many good or even marginal QBs to come out of the 7th round.
Looking at other rounds
You might think I’m cherry picking stats looking only at 7th rounders. It’s true that there have been numerous late round or undrafted QBs who have had sustained success including Mark Brunell (5th) Brady (6th), Hasselbeck (6th), Marc Bulger (6th), Brad Johnson (9th), Warner (UDFA), Delhomme (UDFA), and Tony Romo (UDFA), among others. However, looking at all late round QBs greatly expands the number of players drafted, and the percentage who are successful stays quite small. Since 1990 there have been 166 QBs drafted in the 5th round or later. Only 3 (1.8%) won more than 6 games in their first or second year, and only 9 (5.4%) were able to win more than 3. Only 10 (6%) put up completion percentages greater than 58%.
Even expanding to look at the first 4 years of late round QBs, only 10 (6%) were able to achieve a season with more than 6 wins, and only 18 (10.8%) were able to achieve a season with more than 3 wins. Looking more broadly at their entire careers, only 12 (7.2%) were a teams primary starter for more than 2 seasons. Only 46 (28%) have even started more than 4 games.
What it means for Siemian
If Siemian earns the starting job, the Broncos will either have a season much worse than any of us are predicting, or Siemian will be putting up one of the best seasons of all time by a young, 7th round QB. Even if Siemian is only able to win 4 games for us in a backup role, he will be ahead of 90-95% of all “late round QBs.”
I want to make clear, these long odds by no means imply that Siemian has no chance of winning the job, or that he is destined to be a failure, or that the coaches won’t give him a fair chance based on his draft slot. And even though the odds are long, there has be someone who beats them from time to time. More importantly, past performance is not a perfect indicator of future results. The league is constantly changing, and none of those guys are in the same situation as Siemian is, or are the same player. There are reasons to believe Siemian will be more likely to succeed than others, such as the possibility his draft stock would have been higher had he not blown out his ACL, the strong and stable team he currently plays on, more familiarity with the offense than his competition, and playing in a system that has traditionally made some marginal QBs look pretty good.
However, working against Siemian is the fact that he only started 14 games at a school that has historically not been strong at football, and his team did not have a winning record in either his Jr. or Sr. year. Additionally, in his Sr year he threw more INTs (11) than TDs (7), and only ranked 9th & 13th in passer rating in the Big Ten his Jr. and Sr. years. See more of his college stats here
Also working against Siemian, is that his pre-draft scouting reports were not very flattering. NFLDraftscout.com rated him as only the 22nd best QB in the draft class, and only 7 QBs ended up being drafted that year. The only substantial predraft scouting report I could find for him came from the NU SportsNation blog (which should be biased in his favor) and listed his strengths as:
- Great Size
- Experience in the shotgun and up tempo offenses
- Not fast but mobile
- Ability to check down effectively
- Accurate on short passes
- Some zip on passes over ten yards
(I’m not cherry picking from the article here, that is literally all the strengths they listed, if someone has something better, post it).
- Decision making
- Underthrowing wide open receivers
- Struggles throwing deep, to the outside, and into tight windows.
I’ll admit I didn’t realize just how bad Siemian’s college numbers and reports were until I sat down to write this article. In my mind, the frequent shortcomings of previous late round draft picks was enough to make me temper any expectations I had. Actually looking at his stats and reports has only made me want to lower expectations further. I’ve tried to tell myself Elway had to like something he saw, but that excuse just isn’t cutting it for me in this situation. Or maybe Siemian has improved and developed drastically from college days. But I’m now worried the praise for him is more a sign the coaches are concerned with the development of Lynch or Sanchez, or are trying to light a fire under their asses.
Share your thoughts in the comments, and feel free to provide any criticism on my writing/analysis.