A Different Way to Look at Quarterbacks (in Play Magazine)

Posted on September 13, 2008 by


Several months ago – when I was still working at Cal-State Bakersfield – I was contacted by Bryan Curtis.  Bryan works for the New York Times (as the media consultant for Play Magazine).  But when Bryan called me he was working on a story about Chris Paul for Men’s Vogue

Looking at Looking Good

As I recall (and I was being interviewed so I wasn’t taking notes), in the course of the conversation I brought up the difference between performance in basketball and football.  Performance in basketball is very predictable, which means we can expect Chris Paul to be an above average NBA player until he gets old (and/or hurt).  In contrast, quarterbacks in the NFL are unpredictable.  Which means a top quarterback in one year may not even be above average the next.

This observation led me to speculate that because performance was not a reliable predictor of the future, quarterbacks may be evaluated on factors beyond production on the field.  For example – and again I was speculating – perhaps better looking quarterbacks (as in, physically more attractive quarterbacks) get paid more in the NFL.

This comment led Bryan to ask if this speculation could be investigated empirically.  I replied that I thought it could, but at this point, I haven’t done the study.

A few months went by and Bryan got back in touch with me.  He asked if I could look at this issue for the New York Times Play Magazine fall football preview. 

At that point Rob Simmons and I had already completed research on the factors that determined a quarterback’s pay.  All we would have to do for Play Magazine is include a measure of attractiveness in our quarterback salary model. 

For this I contacted another co-author, Jennifer VanGilder.  Jennifer was able to find software that can measure a person’s facial symmetry.  And with this measure in hand, we could determine if a quarterback’s salary was related to his physical attractiveness.

We ran a number of regressions, with a number of different measures of player performance, and the results were always the same.  And what were those results?  For that you need to read my short article in the latest edition of Play Magazine (available on Sunday):

Football for Smarties: Dancing by the Stars and Pretty-Boy Quarterbacks

One can also read more in the following press release (from Play Magazine):

Hey, Good-Lookin’

Performance in Week One

Of course, physical attractiveness isn’t everything.  For those who still wish to consider performance on the field, here are the quarterback and running back rankings for Week One of the 2008 NFL season.

Table One: Quarterback Rankings for Week One

Table Two: Running Back Rankings for Week One

Quick storylines…

  • for Week One, Aaron Rodgers did more than Brett Favre.  Favre did more than Chad Pennington.
  • Peyton Manning played badly for Peyton Manning. He still played better than his brother.
  • Matt Ryan would have ranked 5th in the league in Net Points per play but he only attempted 13 passes against the woeful Lions. Of course that was by design.  Detroit plans on letting opposing quarterbacks do so well on their first 13 passes that a 14th pass won’t be necessary.  This way no quarterback will be eligible for the NFL’s QB Rating when playing Detroit (you need 14 pass attempts to qualify).
  • Michael Turner produced three times the points offered by former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson.  Of course, like Ryan, those points came against the Lions.  There should be a Detroit Discount factor to compare players who face Detroit and those who face other NFL teams.  I will work on computing what that discount factor should be as the season progresses.

Okay, those are my thoughts for Week One.  Next week I will have thoughts on Week Two.   Hopefully those will be better thoughts about the Lions.

– DJ

For more on the Wages of Wins football metrics see

The New QB Score

Consistent Inconsistency in Football

Football Outsiders and QB Score

The Value of Player Statistics in the NFL

Posted in: Football Stories