More than a Game: quarterbacks and regression analysis

Brian Billick's new book, More than a Game, explains the difficulty of finding good quarterbacks, even with regression analysis.

Chuck Burton/AP/File
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees warmed up before the start of the NFL Super Bowl XLIV football game, which the Saints won on Feb. 7.

I am reading More than a Game, written by Brian Billick, former head coach of the Baltimore Ravens and current analyst for Fox and the NFL Network. It is an interesting book on several levels.

Two points I want to bring up here I found interesting. The first is that Billick is quite forceful in arguing that finding a quarterback is very difficult, saying that nobody knows anything. People who have been very successful at picking/finding quarterbacks have all indicated that they were high on some of the bigger quarterback busts in draft history (think Ryan Leaf). Billick mentions in passing that scouting and player evaluation uses regression models. I would love to see those equations. The implication is that evaluation of other players is more successful. I wonder if pro football evaluators feel they are doing a good job in picking wide receivers.

The second point I wanted to bring to people's attention is that Billick mentions the research by David Romer on fourth down. He points out that after the appearance of that paper, the share of fourth downs on which the teams go for it rose each year until 2008. Economists may not get politicians to understand that subsidies are not the best use of public funds for job creation but at least one economist may have successfully convinced head football coaches to go for it a bit more often. Billick also points out that Romer's model does not account for things like media criticism. That is an interesting perspective. Better to do the conventional, if wrong thing, to avoid media criticism, than to give your team a better chance to win the game.

Billick's perspective is interesting and worth a read.

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