Using Text Analytics to Evaluate the 2024 NFL Draft Quarterback Class

by Ben Brown|April 17, 2024

Share

This article owes a special thanks to the hard work of Dane Brugler of The Athletic. Get your copy of his 2024 NFL Draft Guide, The Beast, here

Missing out on key characteristics and traits derived from film watching has long been a sticking point in league insiders embracing analytics. 

Initial approaches to marry film watching and analytics have focused on using play-by-play tracking data to tease out movements and abilities that match what scouts derive from film. But it continues to be an area worth exploring as player evaluation from the college to pro level is a fickle problem not yet solved or even fully understood. And the stakes are incredibly high, especially for a team picking at the top end of the first round hoping to land a marquee player that can help change the direction of their franchise. 

A different approach to blending analytics and film can be using those same scouting write-ups that are essentially notes on a piece of paper broken out by prospect for what scouts find valuable and informative about a player. These writeups can include key traits difficult to draw out from stat boxes, along with certain characteristics that pop up for a prospect that can point toward a successful transfer of skill from college football to the NFL.

Thanks to math and feature engineering, we can use natural language processing to compare prospects to their contemporaries and those from the past before tying in previously built advanced descriptive stats to gauge how well a prospect that fits within a certain mold performed in the NFL.

For this piece, we took prospect write-ups from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, one of the best football film analysts out there, over the past ten seasons (2015-2024) and used latent semantic analysis (LSA) to derive similarity scores between the text in prospects’ scouting reports.

After building our dataset to span ten seasons of write-ups, we can create a prospect’s score in a number of ways. We decided to use a weighted average of similar players’ Approximate Value (AV), using the similarity score derived above as the weights. For example, if a player has a similarity score of 0.60 with a player who has weighted average 83.0 AV across 117 games for a per game AV of .70 since being drafted, and a 0.1 similarity score with someone that has earned 38.0 AV across 69 games for a per game AV of .55, his overall score for these two player comparisons would be +.475. We take all player comparisons to find the exact composite score that a player has across our entire dataset.

Using the analyses above, we can look at 2024 prospects in a couple of ways. First, we can examine player comps of interest for notable prospects. Second, we can rank the players in each position group by the score derived above. These scores have correlated slightly with draft position and future AV generated at the NFL level, although a more robust analysis needs to be conducted.

We will begin this series at the quarterback position for the 2024 draft class, ranking prospects by the above calculated score, providing comparisons for each player and teasing out the specific phrases that have correctly corresponded to other players’ success at each position. 

  • J.J. McCarthy 

Composite Score 6.575

J.J. McCarthy checks in with the top composite score in this exercise, despite having few top end quarterback prospects in his closet comparisons. Locking into both Tua Tagovailoa and Baker Mayfield in his top 10 helps separate him from the other prospects in this exercise, but he also is the quarterback with the closest similarity to Patrick Mahomes in this year’s draft class based on the text. This is surprising but uses Mahomes write-ups at the time of the draft when he wasn’t thought of as the top quarterback in the NFL or even the best quarterback in his respective class.

McCarthy pops because of a few key traits written by Brugler, operating in a prostyle spread offense and having a quick to process ability are key characteristics that carry weight in this exercise. Passing skills, pocket athleticism, and mental makeup point toward a high ceiling capability with the only real concern being a lack of volume or need for McCarthy to constantly perform as a top-end quarterback at Michigan. 

  • Jayden Daniels 

Composite Score 6.145

One of the reasons this article is being written is the range of outcomes of Daniels’ comparisons. Forget about Sam Howell for a second, the high end range starts with Lamar Jackson and slides into Kyler Murray with the low-end being Matt Corral and D’eriq King –yet C.J. Stroud sits as the second closest comparison. The betting market continues to move in Jayden Daniels direction to be the second overall selection, and it’s the tantalizing upside case to Daniels in the right offensive structure that is pushing the market.

The question remains if Kliff Kingsbury builds off his prior NFL experience and unlocks a player with some similarities to Kyler Murray. If so, it could set up the Washington Commanders with one of the most exciting young quarterbacks on a rookie contract with plenty of wiggle room in future cap seasons to solidify a foundation around. The other path for the Commanders seems to get less likely by the day. 

  • Caleb Williams 

Composite Score 6.006

Often compared to Patrick Mahomes, Dane Brugler also suggests similar sentiment in his evaluation of Caleb Williams. The closest similarities are closer to players that were consensus first or second overall picks, with Joe Burrow being a potentially odd similarity at the top. This was driven heavily by the discussion on both college offensive schemes that each player was successful in, a RPO-heavy, spread scheme that makes the quarterback a point guard reading all options. 

  • Bo Nix 

Composite Score 5.738

Brugler finishes his summary with tools to become a middle of the road starter, which seems close to the Bo Nix upside case. Likely out of reach to end up next to Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa, but in the right offense Nix could be an effective quarterback on a rookie contract. His scramble ability and willingness to get the ball out quickly could turn him into a borderline NFL starter in a specific situation. StatsBomb College data further builds this argument with Bo Nix as the second-best quarterback in pressure to sack ratio from this draft class and having the quickest time to throw.

The betting market seems to suggest Nix as a borderline first round candidate, with Circa sports sitting at a 32.5 draft position number for Nix as of now. He is priced as one of two potential candidates to lock in the over 4.5 quarterbacks drafted in round one prop. 

  • Drake Maye 

Composite Score 5.617

The recently maligned Drake Maye doesn’t gain any footing overall as he slots in fifth in total composite score. His EDP continues to be stuck around 3, but he’s moved from a -200 favorite in early February to be the number two pick to a current +185 price. To put it lightly, he’s the top prospect that appears to be trending down the most. His top comparison offers quite a bit of upside but his range of outcomes swing dramatically in his top four. The concerning comparison to Drake Maye this entire draft cycle is that he is a slightly taller version of Sam Howell or Kyle Lauletta. Brock Purdy points toward an upside case, with C.J. Stroud being the ideal situation coming out of a player’s first season. 

The key link between the two is the phrasing in that both look like they can make all the throws an NFL defense would force you to make. Stroud proved in year one he can, and soon enough Drake Maye will be trying to answer that same question. 

  • Spencer Rattler 

Composite Score 5.51

Spencer Rattler’s composite score may not place him at the very top of the list, but his comparisons are intriguing. Similarities to Trevor Lawrence, the former Clemson standout and No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, hint at Rattler’s potential. Will Levis might be a more apt comparison and the question still remains what he is capable of at the NFL level. While his journey hasn’t been without its ups and downs, Rattler’s prospect profile underscores his potential to blossom into a formidable NFL quarterback, with glimpses of Jameis Winston’s deep passing adding to the excitement surrounding his future.

  • Michael Penix Jr. 

Composite Score 5.456

Michael Penix Jr’s college evaluation is a difficult one, as he had quite possibly the best surrounding cast of anyone outside the Big House in the FBS this season. He was masterful to all areas of the field for Washington’s offense and checks in with the best pressure to sack ratio of any quarterback in this class. 

Dane Brugler pointed out some inconsistencies across several areas, which is the reason he is being priced as a borderline first round pick, as opposed to a top 15 selection where some people have him mocked. His upside case seems limited to a reliable NFL starter in the right system and surrounded by quality talent, but his floor seems higher than most in this draft class because of his ability to avoid negative plays and his mental toughness, which is highlighted at the end of Dane Brugler’s write-up. 

  • Michael Pratt 

Composite Score 4.578

Michael Pratt’s list of top comparables in this exercise had some modest success compared to expectations but has no one who can be described as a long-term viable NFL starter at this time. This seems to be the likely path for Pratt, who offers quite a bit from a scrambling standpoint, and also had the highest adjusted air yards of any quarterback in this class; he can make big plays happen unlike the majority of comparables found atop his list. There is a realistic chance he catches on as a quality NFL backup and could make a living in the same mold as Jacoby Brissett, bridge quarterback connoisseur. 

Share

Related Posts

Pigskin Principia, Vol. II: Evidence and Expertise in Football

May 20, 2024

The Class Play – Breaking Down the Schedule Release

May 17, 2024

Deriving the Top 10 Matchups of the 2024 NFL Season 

May 16, 2024

UFL Week 7: Updated Projections

May 7, 2024
Download our FREE 2024 NFL Rookie Guide with advanced analytics and future projections.
FREE 2024 NFL Rookie Guide