New QB ratings may sack old stereotypes about black players

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There have been plenty of unflattering labels used to describe the African-American quarterback.

NFL pundits and sports writers have described them as inaccurate (see Donovan McNabb), run-first (see Michael Vick), lazy (see JaMarcus Russell) and not driven (see Vince Young).

Mostly, many believe that African-American quarterbacks would rather freelance and try to pick up first downs with their feet than with their arms.

Last Friday, ESPN debuted a show that rates quarterbacks differently, and may ultimately change the way we rate African-American quarterbacks and quarterbacks as a whole. Typically, the standard for ranking a quarterback is the passer rating — a complicated system that takes into account passing yards, completion percentage, touchdowns and interceptions.

ESPN’s new system, dubbed simply “Quarterback Rating (QBR)” takes into account how much the quarterback contributes to a win, factors in over and under throws and yards after catch, and how clutch a quarterback is when it matters. The max a quarterback can be rated is 100.

Most of the beneficiaries of this new rating aren’t surprising; players like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are still in the upper echelon of signal callers.

But this system also probably rates guys like Vick, who last season was one of the best and most important players on the field. Vick was ranked No. 5 in QBR last year with a 66.6. His performance against the Washington Redskins on November 15, 2010 resulted in the highest QBR ever (the system only accounts for the last three years).

He torched the Redskins, completing 20 of 28 passes (with most of the incompletions being wide receiver drops), 333 passing yards, 80 rushing yards, four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. He had a QBR of 99.8 that day.

He wasn’t the only African-American quarterback that did well under the new system, as Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman had the eighth best QBR last season at 63.5, which put him ahead of established quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.Also interesting with the new system is Young — who couldn’t even get a starting job this year and will be backing up Vick in Philadelphia — had the 12th highest QBR in the last three years, posting a 69.2 in 2009 with the Tennessee Titans.

These numbers prove that the current evaluation systems we are using to evaluate quarterbacks — and especially black quarterbacks — are probably inadequate at best and completely misguided at worst.

Passer rating doesn’t account for times when the play breaks down and the quarterback has to earn first downs by improvising, which often times means running for yards. Passer rating also doesn’t put more value on performing when it matters; in the fourth quarter and in game-deciding situations (something Young, who is 30-17 as a starter, excels at).

Another test that we often use in evaluating quarterbacks is the Wonderlic test. The 50-question aptitude test is used to assess a quarterback who is declaring for the NFL Draft. Young famously scored a 16 on the test (after it was first reported that he scored a six) and many questioned whether Young would be able to succeed in the NFL if he couldn’t succeed on a simple test.

What that test doesn’t account for of course is pass rush, or finding receivers down field, or making plays when it counts. All of those qualities Young has shown in his short career thus far.

The QBR certainly isn’t perfect (it doesn’t account for things like how much true time a quarterback has in the pocket) but it definitely seems to be a more accurate way to judge just how effective a quarterback is.

Under this new system, the old adage of “he’s just a run-first quarterback” gets thrown out the window. Being able to create with your legs is a vital attribute to have with QBR.

It also may effect how we evaluate new prospects. We may not be quick to say Cam Newton will be a bust since he’s a great runner and not much else. We may say that his running ability makes him a more dangerous player based on QBR.

And it gives credit to a player like Vick. He was already a great player based on passer rating, but this system just validates that he is one of the best quarterbacks and players in the league.

Hopefully with this new system, some new labels to describe African-American quarterbacks may be clutch (see Vince Young), dangerous (see Michael Vick) and winner (see Donovan McNabb).