Analytics Breakdown: Is Collegiate Career Completion Percentage a Good Indicator of NFL Success?

matt stafford
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is a rare exception to the 60% rule (photo credit: Mike Morbeck — flickr.com)

Below is a list I’ve compiled of collegiate career completion percentages from each of the NFL’s 32 starting quarterbacks (neglecting injury replacements). I’ve arranged the quarterbacks into different tiers for better organizational structure.

*All stats used in this article were pulled from https://www.sports-reference.com with the exception of Joe Flacco whose stats I obtained from totalfootballstats.com.


TIER 1 – TOP SHELF


Aaron Rodgers — 424/665 (63.8%)

Tom Brady — 395/638 (61.9%)

Drew Brees — 1026/1678 (61.1%)

Matt Ryan — 807/1347 (59.9%)


TIER 2 – NEXT LEVEL


Ben Roethlisberger — 854/1304 (65.5%)

Andrew Luck — 713/1064 (67.0%)

Russell Wilson — 907/1489 (60.9%)

Derek Carr — 1087/1630 (66.7%)

Matthew Stafford — 564/987 (57.1%)

Philip Rivers — 1087/1710 (63.6%)

Marcus Mariota — 779/1167 (66.8%)


TIER 3 – MIDDLE-OF-THE-PACK ESTABLISHED STARTERS/RISING YOUNG PLAYERS


Dak Prescott — 734/1169 (62.8%)

Kirk Cousins — 723/1168 (64.1%)

Alex Smith — 389/587 (66.3%)

Sam Bradford — 604/893 (67.6%)

Jameis Winston — 562/851 (66.0%)

Carson Wentz — 392/612 (64.1%)

Cam Newton — 191/292 (65.4%)

Andy Dalton — 812/1317 (61.7%)

Ryan Tannehill — 484/774 (62.5%)

Tyrod Taylor — 495/865 (57.2%)

Jared Goff — 977/1568 (62.3%)


TIER 4 – BELOW AVERAGE STARTERS/UNPROVEN ROOKIES


Eli Manning — 829/1363 (60.8%)

Trevor Siemian — 550/934 (58.9%)

Carson Palmer — 927/1569 (59.1%)

Joe Flacco — 596/942 (63.3%)

Blake Bortles — 585/891 (65.7%)

Mike Glennon — 646/1069 (60.4%)

Josh McCown — 340/664 (51.2%)

Deshaun Watson — 814/1207 (67.4%)

DeShone Kizer — 422/695 (60.7%)

Brian Hoyer — 500/986 (55.8%)


TAKEAWAYS


7 out of 32 starting NFL quarterbacks completed less than 60% of attempted passes over the entirety of their collegiate careers. 4 of those 7 quarterbacks never finished a season (min. 200 attempts) with a completion percentage above 60%. Those quarterbacks are: Tyrod Taylor, Trevor Siemian, Brian Hoyer, and Josh McCown. The other three: Matthew Stafford, Carson Palmer, and Matt Ryan each had at least one season with a completion percentage above 60%.

Though a few outliers exist on this list — most notably Matthew Stafford with an unimpressive 57.1% career completion percentage — it’s worth noting that Stafford exceeded the threshold in his final season as a collegiate starter with a 61.4% completion percentage. Similarly, Carson Palmer fell short of the threshold with a 59.1% completion percentage for his collegiate career, but surpassed the 60% mark in his final year as a starter (63.2%). Matt Ryan also narrowly missed the cut with a career completion percentage of 59.9%, although it should be noted that he eclipsed the 60% completion mark in two of his three seasons as a full-time starter.

  • 25 of 32 (78.1%) starting quarterbacks in the NFL today completed at least 60% of the passes they threw over the course of their collegiate careers.
  • 28 of 32 (87.5%) had at least one collegiate season in which they completed over 60% of their passes (min. 200 attempts).

A 60% or better career completion percentage in college doesn’t guarantee success at the pro level, but the vast majority of successful NFL quarterbacks achieved this mark in college. Based on this statistical model it would seem that the 60% collegiate career completion percentage threshold is a pretty good measuring stick for determining whether or not a quarterback prospect merits early-round consideration as well as whether or not that prospect has a significant chance at long-term success as a starter.

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