Signal Caller Throwdown: Greg Ward Jr.

The Roundup Signal Caller Throwdown series looks at the most important position on the field for some of the Roundups 12 FBS programs. We start with the defending Roundup Champs, the Houston #H-TownTakeover Cougars and Greg Ward Jr. 

When you read this, bear in mind that Greg Ward Jr. was a wide receiver to start the 2014 season. By the time the previous coaching staff came to their senses, The Cougars were 2-3 with a loss to UTSA at home. Ward led the Cougars to a 6-2 finish and a comeback win in a bowl game against Pitt. Tom Herman arrived on the scene and took Ward’s game to new heights. How high? Ward ended 2015 as second team all AAC, AAC championship game MVP, Peach Bowl MVP, Tyler Rose Award Winner, a Manning Award Finalist and a Davey O’Brien Semi-Finalist. Not bad for a wide receiver. 

Hey look kids, we’ve got crappy excel graphs!

Based on Percentile rank of all quarterbacks with 100 or more attempts in 2015.

This area graph is based on where a player falls from a percentile standpoint against all other quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts in 2015. We look at 5 very essential skills/stats. Yards per play is the total number of yards, whether on the ground or through the air, sack or touchdown, that a player accumulates. This is distinguishable from yards per attempt and gives us an idea of how a QB stacks up to all other QBs in terms of total offense per play. Yards per attempt are just that. The key here is we’re looking at passing efficiency in terms of yardage produced.

Completion percentage is essential to winning football in 2016 average college quarterbacks complete 59.5% of their passes. Exceed that number and you are, well, above average. Fall below that and you’re team is probably struggling. In an era where number of plays and tempo are critical, so is completion percentage. A low percentage and your offense is stagnate and your defense is exposed. 

Interception rate is also critical because turnovers remain one of the great indicators of wins and losses. (The other being the score.) Finally sack rate examines how often a quarterback drops back and loses yardage. The worse the sack rate, the more inefficient a signal caller is, even though like each of the other five statistical categories, a quarterback is not solely responsible for sacks. Think of sack rate and interception rate like a golf score, the lower the rate, the better the score, we then flip that number so that the better the score that higher the percentile rank. For fun, here's number 1 pick from the 2016 draft Jared Groff's area map. 

Generally speaking, a larger area is better. A well rounded quarterback would have a nice large, rounded area graph with few jagged juts and dives. 

Comparing 2014 to 2015

Looking at Greg Ward’s area map, he’s pretty stinking good. Not surprising, Greg Ward is pretty stinking good. And he’s improved as the comparison from 2014 indicates. Ward is above the 80th percentile in 4 of the 5 categories, the outlier is sack rate. Sacks are never good, but for a guy like Ward we may have a few explanations for the fall off. Ward was learning a new offense, though his sack rate didn’t really fluctuate greatly from the beginning of the season to the end, so that may not be the issue. Ward’s sack rate is probably influenced more importantly by two factors. First Ward is a classic dual threat quarterback, evidenced by his 1,041 rushing yards. At 5-11 and with the athleticism to play out wide, Ward is not a pocket statue, he’s a pocket breaker meaning he’s exposed to more pressure as he extends plays i.e. more tackles behind the line. Second the Cougars used nine different offensive line combinations in 2015, so protection was an issue at times, evidenced by Houston's 61st ranking in sacks per game and 73rd ranking in sack percentage.  

Forget about the negative, let’s look at the positives. And there are a bunch.

Ward is an elite signal caller in the other four areas. Ward completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, and he’s not a dink thrower, his yards per attempt is also impressive, in the 83rd percentile. If Ward drops back, the Cougars are going to advance an average of 8.5 yards. Houston possesses one of the most explosive offenses in the country and Ward is the trigger man.

He stood head and shoulders above the rest of the AAC quarterback contingent. 

Ward amassed over 3,900 yards of total offense, rushing and passing yards. That’s good enough for the 89% among other quarterback in 2015. By the way, Matt Johnson from Bowling Green led the nation in combined rushing and passing yards. Ward's numbers are made more impressive after you consider that Ward had 59 yards of total offense combined against Memphis and UConn due to injury, otherwise Ward easily surpasses 4,300 yards. 

All that plus Ward doesn’t turn the ball over, his interception rate was also in the 83rd percentile.

Ward played at an elite level among other elite quarterbacks. When compared to Deshaun Watson, Trevone Boykin, Baker Mayfield and Connor Cook, Ward compares very favorably. Still, Ward didn't receive the credit of the Big four, or the Heisman consideration. That should change.

Ward enters the 2016 season as an elite level talent, every bit the productive player Trevone Boykin or Deshaun Watsonwas in 2015. He’ll get to showcase his skills early against OU at NRG stadium. The date with the Sooners could serve as a springboard to a Heisman campaign. Or the Sooners could make life really hard on Ward and his buddies. 

Looking at his improvement from 2014 to 2015, it’s significant. Credit to Tom Herman for taking the talented John Tyler product to the next level. Also credit Ward for buying in and proving his detractors wrong. No one would have bet that Ward would make the dramatic improvement in offensive efficiency he made from 2014 to 2015. Now comes the hard part, improving or at the very least, maintaining that level in 2016. 

Adding to the difficulty are the losses of Kenneth Farrow, Ryan Jackson, and Jarvin Webb, U of H's top three running backs from 2015. Further, the loss of all-everything DeMarcus Ayers. Ayers was targeted almost a third of the time in Houston's pass offense and replacing his 98 catches will be a problem.  

The Cougars lose 4 starters with a combined 32 starts from 2015 up front. In spite of Houston's high flying reputation, the Cougars are a run first, downhill offense. The loss of three running backs and a repaired offensive line may be a harbinger of difficulty in 2016. Still, as Greg Ward has continued to prove, you shouldn't underestimate him. 

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