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When Do Quarterbacks Tend To Break Out?

Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Concluding my look at when players typically break out in the NFL we turn this week to look at the Quarterback position.

Deciding on a breakout threshold for the quarterback position was a little hardest then the others. IN the end after conclusion with the FFstatistics team Zeno James (@theDude_Z) suggested a dual part category. So as well as looking at a 4000 passing yards threshold and when players entered the top 12 for the position I including when quarterbacks had either a 4000 passing yard seasons OR a top 12 season. I’ve called this “Breakout by Zeno” mostly because I thought it sounded cool.

When do Quarterbacks typically break out?


The spread of breakouts for this position was a lot wider and more inconsistent than any other. Not only have players broken out by several or all thresholds up to year six they have done it in high numbers. 19% of quarterbacks broke out for 400 yards for the first time in year 4 for example. 26% waited until their third year to earn a top-five fantasy season in fantasy points (4 points per passing touchdown) but only 5% waited until year 4 only for it to jump back up to 15% in year five.

The Breakout by Zeno category does at least provide us some sort of consistency in terms of breakout spread. The height of the either-or category places the most common breakout seasons in year two. Where this could be or not be a “fantasy relevant” season, however, 9a top twelve finish) it’s worth remembering while it is hopeful for sophomore quarterbacks they may not become a regular week starter this early

How does draft round factor in?

As you may expect there is a heavy leaning towards the first round. More than any other position relevant players almost exclusively come from the first round of the NFL draft. When players like Brandon Weeden regularly going in the late stages of the initial round it’s hardly surprising most if not all potential talent and opportunity is spread this way.

If broken down by actually pick number there is also a heavy bias towards those drafted in the first half of the first round. However, this overview will do for now. Also noticed that even players take outside of the first round who breakout (all 11 of them) the majority breakout before their fifth year and in fact lean toward their first three. It’s only those with the least draft capital in the sixth and seventh rounds where breakouts ever really occur after that time.

UDFA quarterbacks don’t happen. Tony Romo is outside of our sample size (since 2000.) For this, and many other reasons, he was a shooting star we all probably should have appreciated more when he was in the league.

The fact two very unlikely and talent quarterbacks had fallen, in succession, to the Dallas Cowboys. Should be considered one of the biggest failures of talent evaluation the NFL has ever perpetrated. As well as, likely, one of the biggest wastes of said talent.

What kind of player breakouts out when?

Let’s take a close look at the player’s breakout out in year one to three. Here are all quarterbacks who broke out in their first year since 2000.

Obviously, with such a small number of actual player sit is tenuous to make too many conclusion but the rushing ability and draft capital is a very clear feature of this group.

I have included the stats of their first year while listing the players who broke out in year two:

Andy Dalton is the only quarterback to stand out as having over 3000 passing yards the year before he broke out by the “Zeno Threshold.” It’s also notable how few played more than 8 games in their first year before breakout out. Finally, there is a strong disparity in quality of player from year one to year two breakout players.

Year three breakouts with their year two numbers included:

Interestingly the Zeno threshold is mostly finding players to break out into the top 12 after the first year. In other words, players who broke out in years two and three were all top 12 players but some year one breakout made it into the threshold because of their overall passing yards.

Again, with such a small group, conclusions are hard to be certain about but I think it’s also notable that players who broke out in year three had over 3000 passing yards the year before their breakout. I think what we are seeing is that players who are playing in year two as the starter have a better chance of breaking out than those who are still benched or “learning.” Otherwise knows as the Paxton Lynch rule.

2018 breakouts potential

This is now a little late after Patrick Mahomes opened the season throwing for four touchdowns, but the fact he and Mitch Trubisky were underproductive/didn’t play much in year one no real concern for their potential in year two. Essentially most year two breakouts happen after a low amount of playing time or slime production in year one. As promising upper half of the first round prospects, they both have the potential for crossing the Seno threshold in 2018.

Since the sample sizes are so small it’s really not worth throwing to many numbers around for the potential of the rookie class to breakout. Needless to say, none other than Baker Mayfield come close to a similar profile of year one breakouts, and all will likely require more than one year to settle in and get a decent shot at breaking out.

In conclusion, trust the best rookie evaluation you think you know if, and wait to see how their first three years’ work out before trying to re-assess your opinion. Unless, of course, they are still not getting a decent number of starts by year two.


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