Handsomeness and Quarterback Play


I’ve often said, halfway seriously, that the handsomer a QB is, the better he’ll play. Recently however, I actually started to buy into my own (half) joking theory.

After a bit of Googling, it turns out the idea isn’t quite as unique as I originally thought.

So, I decided to do some research into the relationship between whether a QB’s handsomeness was in anyway correlated with his ability as a player.

Now, in order to determine whether any such relationship existed, I had to figure out how to rank QBs not only by their play, but also how to determine whether they were handsome or not.

QB play was determined by grouping QBs based on their Yards per Attempt (Y/A), Completion Percentage (Comp. %) and ESPN’s QBR (QBR). I then averaged their standing on each list in order to determine their ranking.

It should be noted that my system isn’t necessarily great, or even good, for purely ranking the QB’s by their play, but it was good for grouping them into three groups. The 14 Best, the 16 Meh, and the 14 worst. I split it up that way because I figured most QBs fell somewhere between good and bad.

I decided to use this system, despite its flaws, because I figured those three stats were each decent indicators of how a QB performed, but none told the whole story, averaged together, I figured they’d make reasonable groups. I liked how the groups ultimately turned out so, in the end, I decided to stick with it.

I determined whether QBs were handsome or not subjectively, based on extensive Googling.

The image below, which is sort of hard to read (clicking it may help), displays all QBs who attempted at least one hundred passes this season. They are then ranked by Y/A, Completion percentage and QBR.

The color coded column is their “rank” based on their average score in each category. I used the numbers on their left not to actually rank them, but to make sure I recorded the scores for all forty-four.

The numbers to the right of their names indicate their average standing on the three lists.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I just want to make it super clear I’m not trying to rank the QBs, so don’t come at me because Alex Smith is ahead of Tom Brady.

Wilson, Newton, McCown and Winston are listed to the far right for a reason I will explain further into this piece.

The Data

The Best

According to my metric the 14 Best QBs in the NFL this year (min 100 attempts) were:

Jimmy Garappollo (H)       Matt Ryan (M)
Drew Brees (H)                  Carson Wentz (H)
Alex Smith (H)                   Ben Roethlisberger (U)
Tom Brady (H)                   Aaron Rodgers (H)
Case Keenum (M)              Josh McCown (!!!) (M)
Deshaun Watson (M)          Phillip Rivers (M)
Matthew Stafford (M)         Jameis Winston (U)

*Garappollo, Watson and Rodgers attempted less passes than the other 12 completed. So in the case of Garappollo and  Watson, small sample size could be, and likely is, the reason for their inclusion so high on the list. Rodgers based on his traditional play obviously is grouped where he belongs. 

H=Handsome, M=Meh or not ugly, U=Ugly, !!!=Holy Shit

H-6/14 (43%)
M-6/14 (43%)
U-2/14 (14%)

So right off the bat, without some fair edits I’m going to take into account in a few moments, 86% of the best QBs are not ugly, though the majority aren’t handsome.

The Meh

According to my metric the 16 next best QBs in the NFL this year (min. 100 attempts) were:

Kirk Cousins (M)        Carson Palmer (M)
Dak Prescott (M)         Ryan Fitzpatrick (U)
Jared Goff (H)            Matt Moore (M)
Marcus Mariota (H)    Cam Newton (H)
Russell Wilson (H)    Joe Flacco (U)
Derek Carr (M)          Andy Dalton (M)
Blake Bortles (U)      Eli Manning (M)
Tyrod Taylor (H)       Mike Glennon (U)

*Carson Palmer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Moore, and Mike Glennon also only played partial seasons. Glennon’s position was boosted by a fairly high completion percentage.
**While it could be argued that Kirk Cousins is handsome, I think that he sort of looks like a serial killer so that forced him down to the Meh Category. 

H-5/16 (31%)
M-7/16 (44%)
U-4/16 (25%)

The Worst

According to my metric the 14 Worst QBs in the NFL this year (min. 100 attempts) were:

Jay Cutler (M)            CJ Beathard (U)
Jacoby Brisset (U)      Blaine Gabbert (U)
Brett Hundley (U)      Brian Hoyer (U)
Brock Osweiler (M)   Deshone Kizer (M)
Mitch Trubisky (M)   Drew Stanton (M)
Trevor Siemian (H)    Nick Foles (U)
Tom Savage (U)         Bryce Petty (U)

*With the exceptions of Deshone Kizer and Jacoby Brisset, these QBs only started small portions of the season. 

H-1/14 (7%)
M-5/14 (36%)
U-8/14 (57%)

The top 14 QBs had the highest percentage of handsome QBs and the lowest percentage of ugly QBs.

The 16 mid-tier QBs had the highest percentage of meh QBs (by 1 percentage point) and the second highest percentage of both handsome and ugly QBs.

The worst 14 QBs had the highest percentage of ugly QBs and the lowest percentage of meh, and handsome QBs.

So, even without any tinkering, there does seem to be a moderate correlation between at least not being ugly and performance levels of a QB.

If we tinker a little bit the case is made slightly stronger.

I think that it is fair to take Josh McCown and Jameis Winston out of the top 14 performers and replace them with Russell Wilson and Cam Newton.

Sorry Jets and Buccaneer fans.

With these changes taken into account, it makes the percentages of the top 14 QBs change to:

H-8/14 (57%)
M-5/14 (36%)
U-1/14 (7%)

With this change my belief that teams are better off with a handsome QB looks better, but even without the change I think it is supported because of the declining numbers of handsome QBs as the skill level of the groups declines.

Super Bowls and Handsomeness

Nine* out of the forty-four QBs who qualified for this list have started a Super Bowl. That’s around 20%.

Of those nine, seven have won Super Bowls, which is around 77%.

Of the nine qualified QBs to start a Super Bowl,  five are handsome, two are meh, and two are ugly.

That means 56% are handsome, 22% are meh, and 22% are ugly.

Of the seven who have won Super Bowls, four are handsome, one is meh, and two are ugly.

That means 57% are handsome, 14% are meh, and 29% are ugly.

*Brady (H), Brees (H), Rodgers (H), Newton (H), Wilson (H), Ryan (M), Manning (M), Roethlisberger (U), and Flacco (U). 


Now, we’re faced with the all important question, does any of this mean absolutely anything?

Probably not.

For one thing, in the best of circumstances in actual studies, correlational relationships don’t prove much at all. We can’t use correlations to say that something definitively causes another.

This basically means that although there seemed to be a strong correlation between ugliness and QB performance, as well as a moderate one between handsomeness and QB performance, it is certainly not a directly causal relationship.

A QB’s handsomeness, or lack-thereof doesn’t cause him to play well, its likely a third variable causing both.

Which means, strictly speaking, no, handsomeness doesn’t result in better QB play, but it does sort of predict it.

I also think that its wild that only nine active QBs have started a Super Bowl, and only seven have won.

My method of measuring QB play was flawed, and I subjectively rated the QB’s handsomeness based on my own beliefs. If someone else were to think different QBs belonged in different handsomeness rankings, even one change would alter the results.

However, I do think that this little study could be a tiny bit useful to teams.

Pretend you’re an NFL GM with two QBs on your board. Both scored differently in different areas of your rankings, but hold the same overall score. You don’t know which to choose.

Everything else being equal, take the handsome QB.

Remember, the majority of Super Bowl winning QBs are handsome.

(Small sample size be damned!)

Hey the Browns, if you’re reading this, make sure you give me a finders fee when you take Baker Mayfield first overall.*

*Update: The Browns have since taken Mayfield First overall. I was not given a finders fee.

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