Numbers Talk: You're Overusing the Phrase "Generational Talent"

Last week I watched as Clemson and Ohio State fans argued whose coach was better. What I found most interesting in that thread was the constant mention of "generational" talents at QB, for both teams.

I'm here to tell you we're all overusing that phrase.

The Generational Talent Twitter Poll

Fascinated by the discussion, I did what any normal human would do, I crowd-sourced which QBs folks considered generational via a Twitter post.

The responses were pretty wild. The question was limited to the last decade, yet some responded with 10-12 QBs. including Jalen Hurts. How can this be? What in the name of Keith Jackson are we doing here?

What Is a Generational Talent

Google told me this and I think it's pretty good: "A generational talent is not just a great player but also a game-changer who shapes the way the game is played and remembered"

That's a great starting point for this discussion. I'll allow the expansion or relaxation of this concept to be confined within a team. There's "generational talents" that stand above all others in the sport, but there are also "generational talents" for a team. Alabama's best in a generation at QB may not be a CFB best, but I'll allow it.

What A Generational Talent Isn't

Great stats within a system conducive to numbers isn't a disqualifier, but it's also not an absolute qualifier. Jalen Hurts is a great example. He put up eye popping numbers at Oklahoma, but not at Alabama. His NFL numbers are good, not elite. He's a great QB. But a QB doing numbers in Lincoln Riley's system isn't generationally unique.

The Trevor Lawrence Problem

Trevor Lawrence, overwhelmingly, was considered a generational talent. I'd argue that much of this is because he came into CFB with tremendous hype, and immediately confirmed it by beating Alabama in the 2018-19 national championship game. He then went on to be the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft.

But is he generational? Did he change the game either on the CFB level or at Clemson? No. Did he produce eye-popping numbers? No. Let's take a look at an average season for Trevor Lawrence:

  • 3366 yards passing
  • 8.9 YPA
  • 30 TDs
  • 6 INTs
  • 164 rating
  • 314 yards rushing (4.1 YPC)

Those are great numbers. But they're not otherworldly in spite of being on a national championship-caliber team in a league that was objectively terrible.

Let's look at his predecessor, Deshaun Watson

  • 4351 yards passing
  • 8.1 YPA
  • 38 TDs
  • 15 INTs
  • 154 rating
  • 867 yards rushing (4.7 YPC)

Let's look at Lamar Jackson

  • 3014 yards passing
  • 8.9 YPA
  • 39 TDs
  • 9 INTs
  • 148 rating
  • 1586 yards rushing (6.1 YPC) and 20 TDs

Let's look at one more for eye popping passing numbers comparison: Tua Tagovailoa's sophomore year:

  • 3966 yards passing
  • 11.2 YPA
  • 43 TDs
  • 6 INTs
  • 199 rating

Given the numbers Tua, Joe Burrow, every QB under Lincoln Riley, etc put up, it's hard to argue Trevor Lawrence is a generational talent. Beyond the numbers, there's also physical traits like size, athelicism (which Lawrence has). But also ball placement, touch, accuracy, anticipation, throwing WRs open, which Lawrence lacks.

Lamar changed the game for his team and the sport. Lamar was also surrounded by less talent in a more competitive ACC. Guys like Tim Tebow and Cam Newton changed the game. Tua Tagovailoa was the first NFL starting quality QB at Alabama since the 70s.

In the last decade, these are the generational QBs

  • Lamar Jackson
  • Tua Tagovailoa
  • Marcus Mariota
  • Jameis Winston
  • Johnny Manziel
  • Joe Burrow
  • Deshaun Watson (though Tajh Boyd doesn't get enough respect)

That's a mixture of players who changed the game for their own team and others who were generational across all teams.

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