AUT algorithm predicts unlikely NFL pick

23 Apr, 2024
AUT algorithm predicts unlikely NFL pick
Photo credit: Dave Adamson for Unsplash

An algorithm developed by an AUT economics professor is predicting an unlikely pick for the forthcoming National Football League (NFL) draft.

Jayden Daniels is likely to perform better in the National Football League (NFL) than any other quarterback in the 2024 draft according to an algorithm that predicts the NFL potential of college quarterbacks. This is at odds with rankings based on ESPN scout scores, which ranks Daniels the second-best quarterback behind Caleb Williams.

The algorithm is developed by AUT Business School economics Professor Niven Winchester and his colleague, Joe Craig, at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. It uses data from college games and other sources to predict the performance of rookie quarterbacks in the NFL. Quarterback performance is measured using ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), a numerical measure of quarterback performance that ranges from zero to 100, with higher numbers indicating better performances. The algorithm determined that to succeed in the NFL quarterbacks must be good passers but rushing ability also matters.

Professor Winchester gained international attention for his calculations predicting the winner of the 2023 Rugby World Cup (RWC). The algorithm more accurately predicted outcomes in RWC 2023 than bookmakers and professional analytics organisations.

The NFL algorithm estimates each quarterbacks’ maximum season QBR in their first five years in the league, which is abbreviated to Max5-QBR. Max5-QBR values for the top-ranked quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL draft according to the algorithm are displayed in the table below. Jayden Daniel’s expected Max5-QBR value (65.9) is significantly higher than that for second-ranked Drake Maye’s (58.1).


The algorithm’s ranking of quarterbacks differs from one based on ESPN scout grades, as noted above. According to scouts, Caleb Williams is the top quarterback, followed by Daniels and then Drake Maye. Additionally, scouts rate Bo Nix the fifth best quarterback, but the algorithm rates Nix fourth, just behind Williams.

The reason for the difference in rankings is that, according to the algorithm, scouts undervalue rushing ability when evaluating draftee quarterbacks. Among the top quarterback draft prospects, Daniels has the best college rushing statistics, by a large margin, and Nix the second best. According to the algorithm, the rushing prowess of these quarterbacks will help their performances in the NFL.

A possible reason for the importance of rushing ability is that effective rushing at opportune times enables quarterbacks to gain the additional yards required to be awarded a new set of downs.

Interestingly, this year’s NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP), Lamar Jackson, was considered the top quarterback in the 2018 NFL draft by the algorithm but he was ranked the fifth best draftee quarterback by scouts. Like Daniels in the 2024 draft, Jackson’s college rushing statistics were considerably better than other quarterbacks in draft contention.

Who will be the first quarterback drafted in 2024? Jayden Daniels is the algorithm’s top prospect, but scouts favour Caleb Williams. All will be revealed when the NFL draft happens later in the week.

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