Reader Thoughts: Long-Time Backup QB Success and Does Dax Do Research?

Written by Kyle Porter

I got some really good, thoughtful reader emails over the last few weeks that I wanted to share. One of my favorite things about running this website is the intellect and curiosity it often engenders among many of you (who are often much smarter about Oklahoma State things than myself!). So keep the emails and the thoughts rolling in, and we will continue posting them.

Here’s the first email.

Hi Kyle,

It needs a more pithy description, but this seems like an interesting topic… with “The Corndog Baron” in a good position to fit this category.  The case studies of NFL QBs who were long-time backups before becoming stars are fairly well-known (Steve Young, Aaron Rodgers, etc.) But I can’t come up with a single example in my head of an outstanding QB who was a backup for four years and then becomes a star. -David K.

It’s true that this is probably pretty rare, but it’s also true that OSU has had a Big 12 title-winning QB (and nearly two!) since Mike Gundy has been the coach who sat for a long period of time before assuming the reins. Maybe not four years, but Brandon Weeden (and Clint Chelf) certainly didn’t play right away, either. It’s also true that very few first-year QBs have the sort of embarrassment of riches OSU has at tailback and wide receiver.

David followed up later and said he found a handful of elite seasons from both QBs from the state of Oklahoma as well as the Big 12 that fit his criteria.

The most notable of these was probably B.J. Symons from Texas Tech. As an aside, I’m not sure I’ve ever sports hated anyone more than B.J. Symons. But yeah, what he did in Year 4 in Lubbock after sitting behind Ryan Gosling in the first three years was astonishing.

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Sonny Cumbie and Cody Hodges followed up Symons with similar years. Three of the top 100 passing years in NCAA history from first-year starters from the same school in three consecutive years. Great research on that, David.

His other pull was just as fascinating. David Johnson sat behind Paul Smith at Tulsa for a number of years before exploding in his final college season for 4,059 yards and 46 (!) TDs.

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I don’t really think Taylor Cornelius is going to have this kind of year, nor do I think he needs to for OSU to be good. But it’s an interesting concept to think about somebody sitting for that long before coming and being uber-productive.

Here’s email No. 2.

On Dax…. I just got done listening to your podcast, where the point was repeatedly made by you and others that Alabama and Ohio State produce lots of NFL defensive backs. True enough, but maybe (I don’t know, just saying maybe) your causation arrow is pointing in the wrong direction. Is it that Alabama produces pro DBs, or is it that all the future pro DBs go to Alabama?

Minkah Fitzpatrick was the #30 recruit in the nation. Kevin Peterson was #671. The fact that Fitzpatrick was drafted and Peterson was not doesn’t really constitute evidence that Alabama is a better place for a DB to prepare himself for the NFL. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not, but if Peterson had gone to Bama and Fitzpatrick to OSU, I’d be willing to bet Fitzpatrick would still be the one drafted.

When you just look at the number of DBs drafted, you’re not comparing Alabama to OSU, you’re comparing [Fitzpatricks + Alabama] to [Petersons + OSU].

What’s needed is a study that compares, say, top 50 recruits who go to blue blood schools to top 50 recruits who don’t (and adjusts for the fact that the blue bloods are disproportionately getting the guys on the higher end of the top 50). We know the blue blood schools are *collecting* more value than the non-blue-bloods, but are they actually *adding* more value? It’s not clear.

I’m not saying Bama isn’t a better place for a 5-star to increase his NFL value, I’m just saying I’ve never seen any evidence that that’s the case. In other words, I’m hoping Dax Hill is willing to do some analysis that’s more in-depth than yours 🙂   -Doug D.

All of this is true, and I wish I had the time to do an in-depth study of what Doug is talking about because I think it’s really smart. However, I also think it’s wildly optimistic and probably a little bit unreasonable to think high school players would do this research, too. If I, who literally makes a living unearthing statistics and quotes and data and narratives, looks at all of that and says, “nah, ain’t worth the time,” I’m not sure Dax Hill (or anyone) is going to go beyond that.

I don’t think Doug thinks that, either. But it leaves us with the original point that it kind of doesn’t matter what the causation is. Most people — maybe especially high school athletes — are only focused on the end result. If Alabama puts 10 out of 20 four- and five-star DBs into the NFL over a five-year period, and Oklahoma State puts 3 out of 4 four- and five-star into the league over that same period, guess what, Alabama still put 10 players in the NFL and OSU still put 3.

This is the heart of why it’s so difficult to turn programs around in the long-term, right? Success (and creating pros) begets success (and more future pros entering your program).

Add to that fact that if your goal as a high school senior is to get to the NFL, you want every single thing going in your favor. You don’t necessarily want to say, “You know what, I’m going to prove that a 5-star safety can go to OSU and still get drafted.” Who would say that?! Now, there are plenty of other reasons for attending OSU over Alabama, and if you dig way down, player development might even be one of them. But for the sake of the current argument as well as the near future, this is not necessarily a point I’m confident of the Pokes winning.