Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stats show Nelson was clearly a better passer than Heaps

By John Ahlander, 

Quick -- name some of the top 10 college quarterbacks this season.  You'd be right if you said any of the following: Robert Griffin III (Baylor),  Russell Wilson (Wisconsin), Case Keenum (Houston), Kellen Moore (Boise St.), Andrew Luck (Stanford), or Matt Barkley (USC).

Wait, you missed one.  Riley Nelson (BYU).  Yep, you heard right.  Riley Nelson had the 7th best pass efficiency of all QBs in college football this season.  Unfortunately, he didn't show in the official rankings, since he didn't play in 75% of the games.  However, his 163.6 puts him in the top 10.  Right where a BYU quarterback should be.

What about Heaps?  His 111.0 rating ranks him 106th in the nation, just above the QBs from Idaho and Idaho St.

That's just this season.  Let's take the last couple seasons put together, to get the whole picture.  Here are their BYU career passing stats:

Heaps: 363-635, 3768 yds, 24 TDs, 17 Ints
Nelson: 126-212, 1771 yds, 19 TDs, 6 Ints

Looking at the total yards, it appears Heaps clearly was a better passer...until you look at the averages.

QB ratingComp. %Yds/AttTDs/Att ratioINTs/Att ratio

Heaps only has more games and more attempts, but Nelson is vastly more efficient in yards and TDs.

Well, Nelson may have been more consistent, but Heaps had more highs, showing his potential...right?

Actually, Nelson had the best single game passing performance among the two.  His 363 yards vs. Hawaii bested Heaps' 305 yards vs. Utah.

Here's how their pass efficiency ratings game totals break down:

QB ratingHeapsNelson
Great: 175+23
Good: 140-17534
Average: 100-14081
Awful: < 10071

Nelson performed good to great in 78% of his games.  Heaps in 25% in his.

Could this be a true reflection?  Didn't Heaps play better competition?  Heaps clearly is the better passer, so this can't be right, can it?

Here are the combined winning percentages of the opponents that each has played against in the last two years:

Heaps' opponents: 50%
Nelson's opponents: 49%

So, how is this possible?  How could Nelson actually be a better passer than Jake Heaps?  Three reasons:
  1. Using the middle of the field

    How many times did you see Jake Heaps throw a 5 yard out pattern (many times on 3rd and 6)?  Did you wonder why the tight ends did almost nothing last year and the beginning of this year?  Jake Heaps can't see the middle of the field.  His default throw was always the out pattern.  Once Riley took over this year, all of a sudden BYU was getting passes to tight ends and slot receivers in the middle of the field.
  2. Athletic ability and toughness

    Nelson's ability to extend a play, and his willingness to take a hit gives receivers an extra second to get open.  This has led to more completions and bigger plays. I probably don't need to remind you about Heaps lack of prowess in these areas.
  3. Leadership

    When you trust your leader will do anything to succeed, you follow his lead.  Running backs fight for extra yards.  Receivers make hard catches.  Offensive lineman block longer.  Leadership is the most important skill of a QB.  Just look at Tim Tebow.
The most telling statistic is 3rd down pass efficiency.

Heaps: 91.3
Nelson: 166.8

The three reasons above are all critical on 3rd downs.  Nelson had it, Heaps didn't.

When you watch the two, it's impossible not to be impressed with Heaps throwing potential, but when you look at the results (stats), we've all learned a lesson.  Beautiful rocket spirals on 5-yard out patterns don't make a great QB.

12/7 Follow-up:

Some of the comments below have contended that Heaps played much more difficult defenses or the change in offensive coordinators or running game explains the statistical differences. Since it's very difficult to guess how a player would perform against a team he hasn't played, there will always be room for dispute.

So, let's compare the performances in the 5 games that both QBs played in together in the last two seasons. Same teams, same defenses, same offensive coordinators, same running backs. Here you have it:

Heaps: 56-105, 552 yds, 3 TDs, 2 Ints, 103.1 rating
Nelson: 34-61, 405 yds, 5 TDs, 1 Int, 135.3 rating

You decide.

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