Young quarterbacks are taking the NFL by storm in 2019. They're winning with big comebacks! They're coming off the bench to lead their teams to victory! They're growing insanely hip mustaches!
Let's take a look at the early returns on these quarterbacks, based on ESPN's advanced Total QBR metric. We'll also look back at how these quarterbacks fared in Football Outsiders' QBASE quarterback projection system, and what that might tell us about their performances going forward.
You'll notice a running theme in this analysis: given the limited sample size, we still don't really have an idea of how good these players will be as NFL starters. But we can at least look at where they've succeeded and struggled so far, and what we need to see to get a better sense of their value.
Since 2006, the average quarterback has a QBR of 43.3 in his first three starts. If we limit our sample to just players taken in the top 10 picks, the average is ... 43.3. Murray has a QBR of 47.0 through three games, so he's slightly better than average.
First-round picks with similar QBR in their first three starts include EJ Manuel (45.2) and Marcus Mariota (44.7), but also Matt Ryan (50.2) and Joe Flacco (48.3). And look who else had a similar QBR in his first three starts: the man Murray replaced, Josh Rosen, at 48.0.
Two things stand out about Murray after three starts. First, he is throwing the ball more than anyone else in the league. Right now, he leads the NFL with 137 pass attempts. Second, he is taking a lot of sacks: 16 of them so far. That's not just a lot of sacks because Murray has a lot of dropbacks. Arizona currently ranks 29th in adjusted sack rate on offense.
In other words, we really don't know who Murray is yet as an NFL player. Is he going to be throwing deep a lot, or mostly short? In Week 1, Murray's average depth of target of 10.6 yards was near the top of the league. By Week 3, his average depth of target of 5.7 yards was near the bottom. And how much will Murray be used as a runner? Murray had just six carries for 17 yards in his first two games, but eight carries for 69 yards against Carolina in Week 3.
Going back to our QBASE projections, we ran into a problem with Murray because historically there are so few top quarterback prospects who only started for one year in college the way Murray did. College experience is still a big part of our QBASE forecast, so no quarterback with only a year of experience is going to come out high even if his performance on the field is as impressive as Murray's was. And Murray was certainly impressive in that one year, setting a new all-time college record for adjusted net yards per attempt.
So Murray had a 595 QBASE, the highest for any quarterback in the 2019 draft class and the third highest for any quarterback in our database with only one or two years as a college starter. We're still expecting big things from Murray in the long run, but very little is settled after three weeks.