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Inside the Numbers: The Jets' 7 QB 'Aces,' All in Passing

From Namath to Wilson: How Rd. 1 Picks Threw in Their College Careers Before Joining the Green & White

Jets Chad Pennington at practice at Hofstra University on Friday September 21, 2007.  (Photo by Lee S. Weissman)

For this week's Inside the Numbers, we're taking a stroll down memory lane with a comparison of first-round draft pick Zach Wilson's passing statistics at Brigham Young, for his last year and for his career, with the passing lines of the other six quarterbacks taken in Round 1 in franchise history — not their pro stats but their numbers in their college programs before coming to the Jets.

On the surface, Wilson's career stacks up very favorably to those of Joe Namath, Richard Todd, Ken O'Brien, Chad Pennington, Mark Sanchez and Sam Darnold. That could be because Wilson is the uber passer of the group ... or because his best BYU season last year wasn't pounded down by any Power Five defenses due to COVID-19 ... or because college QBs and offenses have evolved from Namath's reign in the stodgy Sixties to Wilson's time in the wide-openTwenties.

Here is how Zach's 2020 season and his Cougars career numbers shaped up (*Rate is rating from the NCAA's passing efficiency formula, which computes similar to but generally much higher than the NFL's passer rating formula):

Table inside Article
Wilson Gms Atts Cmps Pct Yds TDs Ints Rate
2020 12 336 247 73.5 3692 33 3 196.4
Career 30 837 566 67.6 7652 56 15 162.9

Starting with Namath (2nd overall, 1965 AFL Draft) and Todd (6th, 1976 NFL Draft), it almost appears that a single season's worth of passing metrics have been misprinted over their career stats lines. That's because Namath played in 'Bama's run-heavy pro set (not to mention that he was suspended two games in '63 and missed time due to knee injuries in '64), while Todd was a part of the Tide's Wishbone era in the Seventies.

Here are Namath's numbers, bearing in mind that the popular career stats for Namath, Todd, O'Brien and Pennington don't include bowl or playoff games, so we've added them in here:

Table inside Article
Namath Gms Atts Cmps Pct Yds TDs Ints Rate
1964 10 137 82 59.9 1012 7 6 130.0
Career 30 428 230 53.7 3055 27 22 124.2

And here are Todd's numbers, including three bowl games. He threw it half as much as Namath but ran it not quite twice as much (304 times for 4.1 yards/carry compared to Namath's 192 carries for 3.0, although both ran for 16 TDs):

Table inside Article
Todd Gms Atts Cmps Pct Yds TDs Ints Rate
1976 12 101 57 56.4 871 7 3 145.8
Career 36 227 126 55.5 2060 17 9 148.5

The stats for O'Brien (24th overall, 1983) were a little harder to track down, since they were from Division II UC Davis in the early Eighties, not to mention his one season at Sacramento State in the late Seventies. But here they are, including his two playoff games in 1982:

Table inside Article
O'Brien Gms Atts Cmps Pct Yds TDs Ints Rate
1982 12 349 217 62.2 2976 23 8 151.0
Career 32 820 470 57.3 6637 44 25 136.9

Pennington (18th, 2000) at Marshall had the most prolific numbers, in part because he was the Jets' only Round 1 QB to play four full college varsity seasons and in part because he played in three Division I-AA playoff games in '95, then three Motor City Bowls from 1997-99:

Table inside Article
Pennington Gms Atts Cmps Pct Yds TDs Ints Rate
1999 13 433 292 67.9 4006 38 12 168.6
Career 54 1716 1084 63.2 14098 123 46 150.5

Sanchez (5th, 2009), played very little for Southern Cal as a redshirt freshman in 2006, then a little more the next year before taking the reins for his only full season at the Trojans' helm in '08:

Table inside Article
Sanchez Gms Atts Cmps Pct Yds TDs Ints Rate
2008 13 366 241 65.8 3207 34 10 164.6
Career 26 487 313 64.3 3965 41 16 153.9

Finally, Darnold (3rd, 2018) tweaked the Sanchez script, redshirting in 2015 before starting fulltime for USC for most of '16 and all of '17, then leaving as a 20-year-old after his redshirt sophomore season to join the Jets:

Table inside Article
Darnold Gms Atts Cmps Pct Yds TDs Ints Rate
2017 14 480 303 63.1 4143 26 13 148.1
Career 27 846 549 64.9 7229 57 22 153.7

So what can we say about the Jets' seven quarterback "aces"? Pennington led in most of the season and career totals, but Wilson in 2020 had the best rating (196.4) in any college season by any of the QBs, the best career rating (162.9), the best single-season (73.5%) and career (67.6%) passing accuracy, and the best single-season (33 TDs, 3 INTs, 11-to-1) and career (56-15, 3.7-to-1) TD-to-INT ratios.

And what does it mean? We hope it means Wilson's the best of the bunch. But determining that ... call us back in a few years.

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