Rookie QB Comparison: Calm in the Clutch

Part I: Performance vs. Top 10 Defenses
Part II: Trended Performance Over First Three Months
Part III: Home vs. Road Performance
Part IV: Performance on Deep Throws
Part V: Calm in the Clutch

Quarterbacks are measured at the combine by their height, weight, arm strength, and accuracy. It is their performance in clutch situations, however, that defines the measure of their careers in the NFL. Playing the best when it matters most is what separates great players from very good ones. Defining clutch play for rookie quarterbacks that have never received a snap in a playoff game yet requires a little projection. For the purposes of this article, we will look at 3rd downs, red zone, 4th quarter play, and game-winning drives.

Russell Wilson finishes first or second in every category except the last two minutes of a half, where he finishes third. His strengths are in the red zone, and in the fourth quarter. The red zone performance has been a work-in-progress that has seen Wilson make significant strides in the last five games. His third-down performance has also sky-rocketed from what was a mid-40s rating after four games, to his over-80 performance now. His fourth quarter play drops a bit if the game is close, which is not exactly clutch. Wilson plays reasonably well when trailing, albeit below his normal level of play (90.5 is his overall passer rating). He steps up when the game is tied, and already has two game-winning drives.

Brandon Weeden is the anti-Wilson as he finishes worst, or second-to-worst in every category. He is struggling in tie games and in the red zone, in particular. Ryan Tannehill is not a ton better. He is the only player without a game-winning drive to this point. It is more remarkable that all the others already have one, than that a rookie quarterback does not. What jumps out on Tannehill is his performance at the end of halves. That 8.0 rating is not a typo. He is 8-24 for 102 yds, no touchdowns and 4 interceptions in those situations. He is also struggling on third downs, where he is worst among the group.

Robert Griffin III finishes second or first in every category other than when the game is tied and in game-winning drives, where he finishes third. His red zone rating and play when trailing are the only two situations where he plays better than his overall rating (93.9). Part of clutch play is raising your play in important situations, but part of it is maintaining your performance no matter the situation. Griffin gets good scores for clutch play thus far.

Luck excels in what may be the two most important predictors of clutch play, the last two minutes of a half, and game-winning drives. He struggles in the red zone, on third downs and in the fourth quarter. His struggles in the fourth quarter would seem to indicate his clutch play in the last two minutes is generally happening at the end of the first half. Either that, or he struggles in the fourth until the last two minutes.

There are clearly three players, Luck, RG3 and Wilson that are showing signs of becoming clutch players. The other two are far off the pace.