To scout the quarterback position in the NFL Draft is to explore the intersection of natural-born talent and decision-making skills. Most QBs are stronger in one category than the other; a few excel in both, and a very, very small percentage of the remainder are Nathan Peterman.
And though front offices have many tools at their disposal to separate touchdown-slinging wheat from sack-taking chaff, I believe they’ve ignored a simple but valuable metric: the name a quarterback goes by. This is the other major area where a prospect’s inherited traits – the name given to them by their parents – collide with their own judgment – the name they choose to be called.
As a football thought leader, it’s my job to crunch the numbers to determine what a QB’s name can tell us about his future. So I’ve taken every quarterback drafted since 1970 who threw at least one pass in the NFL and broken them down into six name categories. (In the case of QBs who are called multiple names, like Pat/Patrick Mahomes, I turned to my usual guide whenever I have a touch decision to make, Pro Football Reference.)
- FULL FIRST: Any quarterback that goes by their first name in its entirety
- SHORTENED FIRST: Any quarterback that goes by a shortened or alternative version of their first name (Charlie instead of Charles, for instance, qualifies, even though it’s not shorter)
- FULL MIDDLE: Any quarterback that goes by their middle name in its entirety
- SHORTENED MIDDLE: Any quarterback that goes by a shortened or alternative version of their middle name
- COMPOUND: Any quarterback who goes by two names (Billy Joe Hobert) or two initials (B.J. Daniels)
- NICKNAME: Any quarterback who goes by a name that does not fit any of the above (Boomer Esiason, Trace McSorley)
Here’s how the 396* drafted QBs I looked at broke down into those groups.
That only tells us who’s played the most important position in the NFL. Let’s look at some measurements that tell us how those name groups have performed:
1. WIN-LOSS RECORD
There’s a famous phrase we in the advanced stats community love to use: “Just win, baby!” Because winning is good and losing is bad, the NFL values quarterbacks who win games over those who lose them. That’s just how the league’s built.
Here are the win-loss records of each name group, from most winning to least.
Shortened Middle: 410-332 (.553)
Shortened First: 3339-3242-18 (.507)
Full First: 3761-3717-17 (.503)
Nickname: 148-162 (.477)
Full Middle: 234-321-1 (.422)
Compound: 55-122 (.310)
Based on these numbers, general managers should be focusing on quarterbacks who use a shortened form of one of their names, preferably the middle one. Some of the short middle name signal callers who’ve proven this theory include Steve Young and Dak Prescott.
Compound name QBs, on the other hand, simply can’t win games for their teams reliably. Take EJ Manuel (6-12 in his career) or Billy Joe Tolliver (15 wins and 32 losses).
Ha! You actually shouldn’t take them! That was a test!
While we could just stop there and call it a day, let’s consult some additional numbers for the sake of completeness:
2. COMPLETION PERCENTAGE
While you don’t have to complete passes to win, most teams would prefer to get the offense moving through the air. Here’s how our name groups do completing their pass attempts:
Shortened Middle: 60.82%
Shortened First: 59.57%
Full Middle: 59.53%
Full First: 59.36%
The same two groups show up at the top, and the compound names are still struggling in the basement, but here Full Middle Name Quarterbacks fare much better. So if you want a passer who will rack up stats without winning, go get a Matthew Stafford or a Colt McCoy.
3. TOUCHDOWN/INTERCEPTION RATIO
A good quarterback’s not afraid to take risks. A great quarterback turns those risks into rewards.
Shortened Middle: 1.38 TDs per interception
Full First: 1.37 TDs per interception
Shortened First: 1.36 TDs per interception
Full Middle: 1.35 TDs per interception
Nickname: 1.21 TDs per interception
Compound: 0.94 TDs per interception
Shortened Middle remains the king, but Full First, which wasn’t that far behind the top two in the win-loss category, edges out Shortened First in this metric. Aaron Rodgers (4.63 TDs per pick) and Patrick Mahomes (4.75) provide major contributions to the Full First cause here, though they’re nowhere near Shortened First King Jim Sorgi: six career touchdowns, one interception.
4. YARDS PER ATTEMPT
Shortened Middle: 7.00
Full Middle: 6.98
Full First: 6.95
Shortened First: 6.95
Two shocking things to take away from this ranking. The first is the Nickname Group jumping to the top of the heap, mostly thanks to Boomer Esiason, Bubby Brister, and Tony Eason.
The second is that Tony Eason’s birth name is Charles Carroll Eason IV. I have no idea where “Tony” came from.
5. PERCENTAGE OF GAMES WITH A FOURTH-QUARTER COMEBACK
Winning’s great, but winning and being a hero is the greatest. Sure, some might say the best quarterbacks don’t need to come back in the fourth quarter because they put the game away earlier. Those people forget that pressure makes diamonds, and diamonds were key to the lasers used in the climactic scene of the hit motion picture “Congo.”
Full Middle: 9.1%
Full First: 8.9%
Shortened First: 8.4%
Shortened Middle: 7.5%
Even though Full Middle Name QBs won’t win you a ton of games, the ones they do triumph in have a good chance of being thrillers. The Shortened Middles, on the other hand, play too well to create as much drama. And, per usual, the Compound Name QBs lag behind everyone else.
Based on the data, here’s my unassailable draft advice:
- Take a quarterback who goes by a shortened version of his middle name. His historical peers will include Super Bowl champions like Steve Young, Jeff Hostetler, and Brad Johnson. A Shortened Middle QB will avoid turnovers, complete passes, and win games.
- If a Shortened Middle QB isn’t available, take someone from the Shortened First category. This is where you’ll find a Joe Montana, a Drew Brees, or a Cam Newton. Sure, you’ll also get the occasional Joe Germaine and Matt Barkley, but a good front office has to accept risk.
- Never take a QB with a Compound Name. If Tom Brady had entered the league as T.E. Brady, he’d have thrown 17 career passes and then wound up managing a sketchy wellness center within two years. Instead, he’ll retire with at least seven Super Bowl rings before managing a sketchy wellness center.
- Use the interview process to see which quarterbacks are willing to shorten their names – or, more importantly, which ones are thinking about going longer. The Bears should have known Trubisky was doomed when he decided to go by Mitchell instead of Mitch.
*In the Drafts from 1970 through 2020, 397 quarterbacks have been selected and thrown at least one pass in the NFL. Only one of them completely evaded my system: Jake Plummer. His first name is not Jacob, or Jacques, or Jack, or even James. He’s Jason Steven Plummer, and I have not included his stats here because I will not abide that level of nominative absurdity.