Josh Freeman and Matt Ryan Both Legitimately Improved to Varying Degrees

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Josh Freeman and Matt Ryan Both Legitimately Improved to Varying Degrees
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Although I am on record as doubting that the complete National Football League careers of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will justify the first round draft picks used on them, there is no denying that each quarterback improved their play in the 2010 season.

For Freeman, the improvement took place between his rookie year in 2009 and his sophomore campaign in 2010.  Freeman's NFL career got off to a pretty rocky start in 2009 in his first nine games as Tampa Bay's primary quarterback, games in which he either attempted the most passes or threw for the most yards for the team.

In those nine games, Freeman was ineffective, completing 54.5 percent of his passes. He managed only 6.4 yards per pass attempt, 4.3 adjusted yards per pass attempt, 5.8 net yards per pass attempt and had 3.8 adjusted net yards per pass attempt. 

He gained 11.8 yards per completion, throwing 10 touchdowns (3.5 touchdown percentage) to 18 interceptions (6.3 interception percentage) and was sacked 18 times (5.9 sack percentage).

As a rookie, Freeman struggled with his accuracy, value per pass attempt and his touchdown to interception ratio, the three most important aspects of a quarterback's play.

Freeman turned all that around during this past season, however, and improved by leaps and bounds over his rookie season.

As Tampa Bay's primary quarterback for 16 games in the 2010 season, Freeman completed 61.4 percent of his passes, gained 7.3 yards per pass attempt, 7.8 adjusted yards per pass attempt, 6.5 net yards per pass attempt, 6.9 adjusted net yards per pass attempt and had 11.9 yards per completion. 

He threw for 25 touchdowns (5.3 touchdown percentage) to six interceptions (1.3 interception percentage), and was sacked 28 times (5.6 sack percentage).

Compared to his rookie season, in his second year as a starting quarterback, Freeman experienced a 12.7 percent increase in completion percentage, a 14.1 percent increase in yards per pass attempt and an 81.4 percent increase in adjusted yards per pass attempt.

He also saw a 12.1 percent increase in net yards per pass attempt, an 81.6 percent increase in adjusted net yards per pass attempt and a .8 percent increase in yards per completion.  His second season showed a 51.4 percent increase in touchdown percentage, a 79.4 percent decrease in interception percentage, and a 5.1 percent decrease in sack percentage.

Freeman's largest improvement came in elevating his touchdown to interception ratio to elite levels, which was then reflected in his adjusted yards per pass attempt and adjusted net yards per pass attempt statistics.  He also did a good job of becoming a more accurate passer, and that, in turn, gave him more value per pass.

When faced with an improvement of such proportions, it is always worth seeing how legitimate it was and whether the new level of play will continue into the future without undergoing too much regression.

One way in which to measure the legitimacy of a quarterback's improvement is to compare his statistics to all other primary quarterbacks who faced the same defenses. In the rare cases where one quarterback threw the most pass attempts and another quarterback threw for the most yards, I combined their statistics.

During his rookie season, Freeman was 7.9 percent less effective in completion percentage (54.5 percent to 59.2 percent). He was 8.6 percent worse in yards per pass attempt (6.4 to 7.0), 30.6 percent lower in adjusted yards per pass attempt (4.3 to 6.2), and 6.5 percent worse in net yards per pass attempt (5.8 to 6.2).

His 29.6 percent was less in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (3.8 to 5.4), and 7.9 percent worse in touchdown percentage (3.5 percent to 3.8 percent) than his primary quarterback contemporaries.

Freeman also threw 80.0 percent more interceptions per pass attempt (6.3 interception percentage to 3.5 interception percentage) and was sacked 1.7 percent more times per pass attempt (5.9 sack percentage to 5.8 sack percentage).  There was no difference in yards per completion between Freeman and the other primary quarterbacks.

His rookie year looks even worse when you see how much better other primary quarterbacks played when facing the same opponents.

Just like the improvement between his rookie and second year, though, Freeman underwent a similar turnaround in relation to the other primary quarterbacks who faced the same opponents.

In comparison to the other primary quarterbacks for the 2010 season, Freeman was 4.3 percent better in yards per pass attempt (7.3 to 7.0) and 20.0 percent better in adjusted yards per pass attempt (7.8 to 6.5).  He was 4.8 percent better in net yards per pass attempt (6.5 to 6.2) and 21.1 percent better in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (6.9 to 5.7).

He was 4.4 percent better in yards per completion (11.9 to 11.4), 35.6 percent better at touchdown percentage (5.3 percent to 3.9 percent), 56.7 percent better at avoiding interceptions per pass attempt (1.3 percent to 3.0 percent) and 1.8 percent better at avoiding sacks per pass attempt (5.6 percent to 5.7 percent).

Identical to the advantage his sophomore season holds over his rookie season, Freeman was much better than the other primary quarterbacks in touchdown to interception ratio. The statistically significant differences between Freeman and the other primary quarterbacks in adjusted yards per pass attempt and adjusted net yards per pass attempt were a direct result of that ratio.

Freeman was not so much better than the other primary quarterbacks in all areas as his completion percentage was .8 percent worse than the other primary quarterbacks' (61.4 percent to 61.9 percent).  The other primary quarterbacks certainly benefited from throwing shorter passes as measured by yards per completion, but even taking that into account, Freeman simply hasn't shown any consistently great accuracy over his first two NFL seasons.  He is still very much ordinary in that category even with his improvement.

Just how important Freeman's improvement in his touchdown to interception ratio was to his 2010 season is further reflected by the fact that among the 31 qualifying quarterbacks, those who attempted at least 14 passes per their team's games, he ranked 17th in completion percentage, 13th in yards per pass attempt, and sixth in quarterback rating.

If he had not had so much success throwing touchdowns while avoiding interceptions, his quarterback rating would not be nearly so high.

Whether or not Freeman continues to be a productive quarterback seems to have everything to do with that one ratio. If he is unable to maintain it, then his effectiveness will decrease to average quarterback levels.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan also experienced improvements, but to a much lesser degree than Freeman.  In Ryan's case, his improvement came between his second season in 2009 and his third season in 2010.

Ryan's 2009 season was the very definition of sophomore slump.  After a surprisingly good rookie season, at least in terms of yards per pass attempt (7.9), in 2009 during his 13 games as Atlanta's primary quarterback, Ryan completed a measly 58.3 percent of his passes.  He gained 6.5 yards per pass attempt, 6.1 adjusted yards per pass attempt and 6.0 net yards per pass attempt.  He gained 5.6 adjusted net yards per pass attempt,  11.1 yards per completion, threw 22 touchdowns (4.9 touchdown percentage) to 14 interceptions (3.1 interception percentage), and was sacked 18 times (3.9 sack percentage).

During his 2010 season, Ryan completed 62.5 percent of his passes, gained 6.5 yards per pass attempt, 6.8 adjusted yards per pass attempt and 6.0 adjusted yards per pass attempt.  He gained 6.2 yards per pass attempt, 10.4 yards per pass attempt, threw 28 touchdowns (4.9 touchdown percentage) to nine interceptions (1.6 interception percentage) and was sacked 23 times (3.9 sack percentage).

Only in avoiding throwing interceptions did Ryan truly get better from 2009 to 2010 as he experienced a 48.4 percent decrease in his interception percentage.  Therefore, he also experienced an 11.5 percent increase in his adjusted yards per pass attempt and a 10.7 percent increase in his adjusted net yards per pass attempt.

His increase in completion percentage (7.2 percent increase) was made almost entirely illegitimate by the fact it came at the expense of his yards per completion average that decreased by 6.3 percent.  Even with the higher completion percentage, Ryan still did not have a higher yards per pass attempt.

Neither did Ryan improve in his net yards per pass attempt, touchdown percentage, or sack percentage. It was only a small improvement that Ryan underwent.

Against the other primary quarterbacks in 2009 that faced the same opponents, Ryan was 3.2 percent worse in completion percentage (58.3 percent to 60.2 percent). Ryan was 5.8 percent worse in yards per pass attempt (6.5 to 6.9), 1.6 percent worse in adjusted yards per pass attempt (6.1 to 6.2) and 1.6 percent worse in net yards per pass attempt (6.0 to 6.1).  

He was 3.7 percent better in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (5.6 to 5.4), 3.5 percent worse in yards per completion (11.1 to 11.5) and 28.9 percent better in touchdown percentage (4.9 percent to 3.8 percent). 

Ryan was 6.1 percent better at avoiding interceptions per pass attempt (3.1 interception percentage to 3.3 interception percentage) and 38.1 percent better at avoiding sacks per pass attempt (3.9 sack percentage to 6.3 sack percentage).

Ryan was superior to the other primary quarterbacks in only two aspects—his touchdown to interception ratio and his ability to keep from being sacked.  For a supposedly up and coming elite quarterback, Ryan certainly did not play like it in 2009.

He did not exactly play like it in 2010, either, in relation to the other primary quarterbacks.  In this past season, Ryan was 4.0 percent better in completion percentage (62.5 percent to 60.1 percent), 5.8 percent worse in yards per pass attempt (6.5 to 6.9), 7.9 percent better in adjusted yards per pass attempt (6.8 to 6.3) and 1.6 percent worse in net yards per pass attempt (6.0 to 6.1).

He was 12.7 percent better in adjusted net yards per pass attempt (6.2 to 5.5), 9.6 percent worse in yards per completion (10.4 to 11.5), 22.5 percent better in touchdown percentage (4.9 percent to 4.0 percent), 50.0 percent better at avoiding interceptions per pass attempt (1.6 interception percentage to 3.2 interception percentage) and 35.0 percent better at avoiding sacks per pass attempt (3.9 sack percentage to 6.0 sack percentage).

The 2010 season was definitely a mixed bag for Ryan.  Even though he increased his completion percentage, he paid for it with his dreadfully low yards per pass attempt and yards per completion, meaning he got ripped off in the transaction.

Ryan's yards per pass attempt was so poor that among the 31 qualified NFL quarterbacks, he ranked 27th in that category.  Once again, there is mounting evidence that the hype surrounding Ryan does not truly equal the production on the field.

What saved Ryan's season from his disappointing basic passing statistics were his touchdown to interception ratio and the lack of sacks he took.  Like Freeman, he will have to rely heavily upon that ratio to continue having success in the NFL.  If he is unable to keep it at the level he reached in 2010, he will be doomed to be a below average quarterback because he has nothing else in his repertoire to make up for it.

While Freeman and Ryan both improved in the 2010 season, they still have not improved enough to outperform their college statistics, which is the main reason why I never believed they would be star quarterbacks in the NFL.  It also reinforces just how important a quarterback's college statistics are to the play in the NFL.

While at Kansas State University, in games in which he was primary quarterback, Freeman completed 59.5 percent of his passes and gained 7.0 yards per pass attempt.  In the NFL in his time as Tampa Bay's primary quarterback, he has completed 58.8 percent of his passes and gained 7.0 yards per pass attempt. There is no statistically significant difference between the two data sets.

Ryan's statistics tell a similar story.  In his games as Boston College's primary quarterback, he completed 59.6 percent of his passes and gained 6.9 yards per pass attempt.  For the Atlanta Falcons, in his games as primary quarterback, he has completed 60.8 percent of his passes and gained 6.9 yards per pass attempt. Again, there is no statistically significant difference between the two data sets.

Going forward, we should all be keeping an eye on both Freeman's and Ryan's touchdown to interception ratios because it will be those ratios that provide the most information about how successful they are being in the NFL.  They are certainly not going to be able to rely on their completion percentages or yards per pass attempt averages as truly elite quarterbacks would.

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