FanPost

Ceilings and Floors - Which Vikings Quarterback is the Best Option?

When I heard the news that the Vikings had signed Josh Freeman (I've always liked to say "Jash Freeman" in my best Mid-western voice, and will here-to-fore refer to him as Jash), my initial reaction was a simple shoulder shrug. Unlike many here who seem polarized that Freeman either is a major upgrade with low-risk upside, or that he's just another inconsistent QB option who we are throwing at the wall to see if he sticks...I really had no strong feelings either way. Signing Jash is not necessarily a bad move for the Vikings, especially considering we got him for $3 Million on a 1-year contract. If he works out, great; if not, we're not out much as this 1-3 start of a season was probably all but lost anyway.

So, this got me thinking, what can we expect out of Jash Freeman? And how does he compare with our current quarterbacks Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel? Which one of these three quarterbacks is really our best option? Well right out of the gate, it's a tough comparison given that all three quarterbacks have played on different teams, with different players and with different offensive coordinators. It's sort of an apples to oranges comparison. All three have different experience levels in the NFL, with one being a 9-year veteran on his third team, and another just starting his third season. But darn it I'm gonna try anyway, because this is the Daily Norsemen where we throw around wildly irresponsible prognostications like it's nobody's business.

First, let's compare the most generic elements we can: career statistics. This should give us at least a cursory glance at what kind of QB they are:

Games Played

Comp.

Att.

Comp. %

Yards

TDs

INTs

Rat.

Win/Loss

Christian Ponder

30

517

874

59.2

5,479

33

30

75.8

12-17-0

Josh Freeman

60

1,144

1,967

58.2

13,534

80

66

78.8

24-35-0

Matt Cassel

79

1,219

2,069

58.9

13,743

84

76

80.9

30-33-0

So, the first take-away here is that in these larger scale, generic career stats, these three quarterbacks look awfully similar. Their completion percentage is nearly identical, quarterback ratings are all in the same ballpark and their level of success in the NFL is virtually the same with similar win/loss records. That said, I acknowledge that some of these statistics are not very predictive of future success, and it may not tell us much about what we can expect out of Jash Freeman in purple or how he compares to our current Viking QBs.

According to Brian Burke over at Advanced NFL Stats, the most predictive statistic related to winning is a team's offensive passing efficiency, or sometimes called "Net Yards Per Attempt". Chase Stuart of Football Perspective likes "Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt" even more as a predictor of future wins. So if we're trying to determine if Jash Freeman can lead the Vikings to the Promised Land, we should consider both stats and compare them to Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. After all, not one of the three has a positive career win/loss record to date.

Vikings QBs

Career Net Yards Per Attempt

Career Adjusted Net Yards/Att.

Christian Ponder

5.38

4.65

Josh Freeman

6.19

5.53

Matt Cassel

5.77

5.37

So, if Mr. Burke and Mr. Stuart are to be believed, then Jash Freeman looks to be the best option of the three to produce wins for the Minnesota Vikings. That said, are his numbers any good compared to other QBs in the league? After all...this is Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel we're talking about. Well, here are the current "Top 5" QBs (as I see them) in career numbers of that same statistic, along with their current win/loss records:

Top 5 QBs

Career Net Yards/Att.

Career Adj. Net Yards/Att.

Career Win/Loss

Drew Brees

6.95

6.82

104-70-0

Aaron Rodgers

7.11

7.57

54-28-0

Tom Brady

6.81

6.99

140-40-0

Peyton Manning

7.24

7.2

159-70-0

Tony Romo

7.19

7.08

57-41-0

Compared against this list of elite quarterbacks, it puts Jash Freeman's numbers into perspective a little bit. Peyton Mannings 7.24 NY/A is the best career average of any QB in the history of the NFL, so any quarterback that can put up numbers above 6.5 is in elite company. Similarly, Rodger's 7.57 career ANY/A is the best ever with anything above 6 being truly elite. So, it's fair to say that Freeman's career numbers up to this point haven't lit the world on the fire and while he may be an upgrade in predictive wins over Ponder and Cassel, it's merely a slight upgrade.

And that leads me to the next big topic to consider here: what is the ceiling and floor of these three QBs? If these QBs are playing at their best, what can we expect? Similarly, if they're playing at their worst, what can we expect? Again, we'll use the past to help us inform the future. Generally speaking, passer rating does an ok job at describing a player's raw abilities as a pure passer, but effectively ignores most in-game context and is an incomplete rating since it doesn't account for rushing, fumbles, wins and the like. So, take this next section with a grain of salt. But, since we're using the same measure on all three QBs, it will be equally unfair to all of them. Since Freeman and Cassel have nearly twice the number of starts as Christian Ponder, I've decided to take the 5 worst games of Freeman and Cassel's careers and the 3 Worst games of Ponder's career (effectively the same percentage of worst games to total career games), and I'm also considering only complete games with at least 15 attempts (thus the incomplete game Ponder had against Chicago his rookie year with only 10 attempts has been thrown out). Note: if you want to skip the meat of the stats, just check out the 4th Table, Average Floor Comparison.

Josh Freeman's 5 Worst Complete Games As Starter - Floor

Games

Comp.

Att.

Cmp. %

Yards

TDs

INTs

Y/A

AY/A

Rating

2009 vs NYJ

14

33

0.424

93

0

3

2.82

-1.27

12.1

2009 vs NO

17

33

0.512

126

1

3

3.82

0.33

33.1

2011 vs HOU

15

33

0.455

170

1

3

5.15

1.67

33.6

2012 vs NO

26

47

0.553

279

0

4

5.94

2.11

37.5

2011 vs SF

17

33

0.515

187

0

2

5.67

2.94

43.4

Average

17.8

35.8

0.497

171

0.4

3

4.78

2.63

32.2

Matt Cassel's 5 Worst Complete Games As Starter - Floor

Games

Comp.

Att.

Cmp. %

Yards

TDs

INTs

Y/A

AY/A

Rating

2009 vs DEN

10

29

0.345

84

0

2

2.9

-0.21

14.6

2011 vs OAK

11

33

0.333

115

0

2

3.48

0.76

19.1

2009 vs SD

10

25

0.400

97

1

3

3.88

-0.72

25.3

2009 vs BUF

26

43

0.605

224

0

4

5.21

1.02

35.4

2012 vs BAL

9

15

0.600

92

0

2

6.13

0.13

38.1

Average

13.2

29

0.455

122.4

0.2

2.6

4.22

-1.48

22.5

Christian Ponder's 3 Worst Complete Games As Starter - Floor

Games

Comp.

Att.

Cmp. %

Yards

TDs

INTs

Y/A

AY/A

Rating

2012 vs ARI

8

17

0.471

58

1

2

3.41

-0.71

35.5

2012 vs SEA

11

22

0.500

63

0

1

2.86

0.82

37.3

2012 vs GB

12

25

0.480

119

1

2

4.76

1.96

41.9

Average

10.3

21.3

0.484

80

0.67

1.67

3.76

1.72

35.84

Average Floor Comparisons

Games

Comp.

Att.

Cmp. %

Yards

TDs

INTs

Y/A

AY/A

Rating

Freeman

17.8

35.8

0.497

171

0.4

3

4.78

2.63

32.2

Cassel

13.2

29

0.455

122.4

0.2

2.6

4.22

-1.48

22.5

Ponder

10.3

21.3

0.484

80

0.67

1.67

3.76

1.72

35.84

Looking at these three quarterback floors paints a pretty bleak picture. In short, they've all been very, very bad in their worst games. Who has been worst? Matt Cassel...without a doubt. Any way you slice it, Matt Cassel's worst games are worse than Ponder or Freeman in every significant stat. So, we can unequivocally state that Cassel has the lowest floor of the three QBs, and therefore carries the greatest risk for failure. When comparing Ponder to Freeman however, it depends on which stat you care the most about: passer rating or Adjusted Yards per Attempt. Ponder edges out Freeman in pure passer rating (just barely), but Freeman edges him out in yards per attempt and adjusted yards per attempt, plus his completion percentage is higher too (although that all comes with a higher interception rate). It's a mixed bag, but I'd probably call their worst games on par with each other, and claiming one is better than the other is probably splitting hairs, because their worst games are terrible any way you slice it. Also, it's worth pointing out that Josh Freeman really shouldn't ever throw for exactly 33 attempts...it rarely ends well for him.

This next part is where it gets very interesting, and is a lot more enjoyable to look at! What is the player's ceiling? When these quarterbacks are at their best, just how good are they? Same as before, we'll look at Freeman and Cassel's five best career games and Ponder's 3 best career games, as that represents roughly the same percentage of best games relative to their career totals. Again, these are the best games from a pure passer rating perspective, and if you want to skip the meat of the stats, jump down to the 4th table, Average Ceiling Comparison.

Josh Freeman's 5 Best Complete Games As Starter - Ceiling

Games

Comp.

Att.

Cmp. %

Yards

TDs

INTs

Y/A

AY/A

Rating

2010 vs SEA

21

26

0.808

237

5

0

9.12

12.96

144.2

2012 vs SD

14

20

0.700

210

2

0

10.50

12.50

137.5

2010 vs CAR

18

24

0.750

241

2

0

10.04

11.71

134.2

2010/11 vs NO

21

26

0.808

255

2

0

9.81

11.35

133.2

2012 vs KAN

15

26

0.577

328

3

1

12.62

13.19

124.7

Average

17.8

24.4

0.730

254.2

2.8

0.2

10.42

12.71

141.2

Matt Cassel's 5 Best Complete Games As Starter - Ceiling

Games

Comp.

Att.

Cmp. %

Yards

TDs

INTs

Y/A

AY/A

Rating

2010 vs JAX

13

18

0.722

193

3

0

10.72

12.94

144.0

2011 vs IND

21

29

0.724

257

4

0

8.86

11.62

138.9

2008 vs DEN

18

24

0.750

185

3

0

7.71

10.21

136.3

2010 vs SEA

22

32

0.688

233

4

0

7.28

9.78

129.3

2010 vs TEN

24

34

0.706

314

3

0

9.24

11.00

128.8

Average

19.6

27.4

0.715

236.4

3.4

0

8.63

11.11

137.2

Christian Ponder's 3 Best Complete Games As Starter - Ceiling

Games

Comp.

Att.

Cmp. %

Yards

TDs

INTs

Y/A

AY/A

Rating

2012 vs GB

16

28

0.571

234

3

0

8.36

10.5

120.2

2012 vs IND

27

35

0.771

245

2

0

7.00

8.14

114.6

2012 vs DET

24

32

0.750

221

2

0

6.91

8.16

114.2

Average

22.3

31.7

0.703

233.3

2.33

0

7.36

8.06

115.8

Average Ceiling Comparisons

Games

Comp.

Att.

Cmp. %

Yards

TDs

INTs

Y/A

AY/A

Rating

Freeman

17.8

24.4

0.730

254.2

2.8

0.2

10.42

12.71

141.2

Cassel

19.6

27.4

0.715

236.4

3.4

0

8.63

11.11

137.2

Ponder

22.3

31.7

0.703

233.3

2.33

0

7.36

8.06

115.8

Here the table shows pretty clearly that Jash Freeman has the highest ceiling of the three quarterbacks in pretty much every statistic that matters. Cassel has him beat in the TD/INT ratio, but otherwise, it's clear. This also shows that Ponder's ceiling is pretty limited by comparison. Sure, Ponder only has 30 starts (not even 2 full years' worth of games as a starter) and therefore his full potential might not have been reached yet, but he's nowhere close to Cassel or Freeman in terms of their ceilings to date.

Conclusion

A lot has been made of Jash Freeman's recent past and troubles with his new offensive coordinator and head coach. But, I don't think we can understate how much of an impact that can have on a player's performance. After going through this exercise, I'm cautiously optimistic that Jash Freeman represents an upgrade over Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. His career statistics paint him out to be essentially on par with Cassel and Ponder, but if you dig deeper and look at his best and worst games by comparison it looks very good. Also, the most predictive statistic related to winning in the NFL gives Freeman another edge over Cassel and Ponder. While Ponder has a decently high floor, Freeman edges him out with greater upside.

But I'm not sold that Freeman is the long-term answer at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. Comparing stats to Cassel and Ponder will make just about anyone look good. As the table above illustrates, when you compare his career ANY/A stat with the league's best quarterbacks, he leaves a lot to be desired. It's true, his 2010 season taken by itself was a stand-out year, ranked 6th best in passer rating and ANY/A that year. But, we have to remember that was 3 years ago. We may not have the 2010 Jash Freeman at our disposal. As far as what to expect? Well, Cassel's game against Pittsburgh last week would have ranked as his 6th best career game of all time based on passer rating, and that says a lot to me. I'm very interested to see how Cassel does against Carolina this Sunday, assuming he gets the start (and I think he will). If he continues to do well, I'd love to see Cassel continue to start, because his ceiling is appreciably high. But, because Cassel also carries the most risk with the lowest floor, as soon as he has a bad game, he's on the bench as far as I'm concerned. That would open the door for Jash Freeman. Such a scenario would also give Freeman time to learn the playbook and develop some chemistry with the team and receiving corp. I would hope that the risk of playing Freeman would be less than that of Cassel eventually, and the reward is potentially greater than either Cassel or Ponder. It would appear that Ted is right, and the Christian Ponder Era is over in Minnesota. But, alas, only time will tell. And I for one, am excited to see it all play out.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.

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