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Draft Chatter: For Brandon Weeden, age ain’t nothin’ but a number

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Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden at the 2012 Fiesta Bowl (Getty Images)

Thousands of articles, hundreds of television hours, and about six trillion Tweets will be devoted to draft speculation in the next few weeks, creating a free-for-all of hype, confusion, and misinformation. In the run-up to the draft, smart people will say dumb things, dumb people will say smart things, and rumors will take on lives of their own. In his regular Draft Chatter feature, Mike Tanier tries to find nuggets of meaning and truth in a roaring river of draft nonsense.

We turn now to the curious case of 28-year old quarterback prospect Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State.

Weeden, who is 28 years old, is one of the more interesting characters in this year's draft class. The 28-year old was the best quarterback on the field during Senior Bowl practices, which might have had something to do with the fact that he is six weeks older than Aaron Rodgers. At 28, he is currently the fourth-ranked quarterback on the NFLDraftScout.com draft board, and he is rated as a second round talent by most experts, a few of whom are younger than him.

Chris Kouffman of the Universal Draft site weighs in at length on the blog run by David Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on the 28-year old Weeden. I do mean "at length," by the way: Clancy spends 8,296 words on Weeden, which is fascinating in its own right. Clancy says of the 28-year old Weeden's 28-year oldness:

"I was not interested in the age so much as the circumstances that led to his being a draft prospect with an unusual birth certificate." Those circumstances include a long stint in the Yankees organization as an A-ball pitcher, followed by a couple of years on the Oklahoma State bench behind Zac Robinson, followed finally by two seasons as a very effective starter.

Those of us who are interested in the age should have a look at the quarterbacks who came out of Weeden's would-have-been draft class: JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Kevin Kolb, John Beck, Drew Stanton, Trent Edwards, Jeff Lowe, Troy Smith, Jordan Palmer, and Tyler Thigpen. That's what a 28-year old quarterback looks like, to say nothing of Rodgers. Do you look at any of these guys, with the possible exception of Kolb, and talk seriously about future development? If your team traded a second round pick for Jeff Lowe, how would you react?

Here's Kouffman's spin on Weeden:

"This is a guy that played high school baseball, basketball and football, made history with his high school football program in only his second year focusing on the position, was the highest pick of one of the most storied baseball franchises in Major League Baseball, made history with his college football program in his first year starting at the position, will soon be playing professional football, and decided to walk-on at one of the more prestigious golf programs in NCAA golf."

Or, put another way: this is a guy who graduated high school in 2002, spent five years amassing a 5.02 ERA without getting past A ball, entered a college program at an age when most people are starting their adult lives, still needed three years to climb to a starting job, enjoyed the Big Man on Campus life while a married man in his mid-20s, and is now entering the NFL while at the start of his athletic decline phase and hoping that scouts know the words to "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number."

Okay, that makes Weeden sound like a Will Ferrell character. He's not like that. He's … mature. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but the language of draft analysis is designed for 21 or 22 year olds. Calling him a "bright, disciplined, hard working young man" sounds condescending, because he is 28 years old. And that's exactly the problem.

Jeff McClane of the Philadelphia Inquirer quotes Eagles general manager Howie Roseman thusly: "Age is a factor on every player that you're drafting." The Eagles drafted 26-year old guard Danny Watkins last year, but Roseman said that "last year was a unique situation with us and Danny." The unique situation may have been that the Eagles spent most of their offseason licking lead paint off the walls; at any rate, Roseman is clear on something baseball executives (and fans) take for granted: age has an incredible impact on the development process. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Ryan Tannehill are all going to get better. So will Brock Osweiller and Nick Foles. Weeden will not.

Or perhaps he will. Kouffman cites a study he conducted of quarterbacks who did not earn starting jobs until they were 28 years old. The study had startling results:

"The average number of career starts covered enough for eight solid seasons of starting. When limiting the study to players that played in at least two Pro Bowls, that number jumped up to nine seasons' worth of starts. If you nail the talent question on Brandon Weeden (which should always be the most important question), then you should be able to expect at least eight seasons' worth of starts. Notable quarterbacks involved in this study include Jim Kelly, Warren Moon, Kurt Warner and Roger Staubach, all of whom are (or will likely be) in the Hall of Fame."

Wowburger.

Last I checked, Kelly and Moon held starting jobs long before their 28th birthdays, they just weren't in the NFL. Warner, too, though the Arena league is not the USFL or CFL 30 years ago. (Nor is it the Big-12).  And of course, this study does not include players who never got to start by their 28th birthday, or who earned and lost starting jobs by their 28th birthday, though Clancy does acknowledge this issue.

A very smart coworker asked me a few months ago why a team should not project six seasons as a starter out of Weeden, and I responded with a list of 33- and 34-year old quarterbacks. Mike McMahon turned 33 last month. Marques Tuiasosopo just turned 33. Joey Harrington is 33 years old. Patrick Ramsey turned 33 on Valentine's Day. Even quarterbacks who had solid careers are often washed up in their mid-30s. David Garrard, another Valentines Baby, just turned 34. The problem with the "quarterbacks play through their late 30s" argument is the same as the problem with Hyde's "all 28 year old rookies are Jim Kelly" argument: selection bias. In both cases, we assemble a list of players who succeed despite extreme disadvantages which ignores several hundred counterexamples. And those counterexamples were players who sat the bench in the NFL at age 25, not at Oklahoma State.

At any rate, the Browns have expressed interest in the 28-year old Weeden, and there is talk of them selecting him with the 22nd pick in the draft. Weeden is almost four full years older than Colt McCoy. Does this make any sense at all to you?

Perhaps what the Browns should have done is kept McCoy on the bench for six full seasons. Then, having been denied a starting job until he was 28, McCoy would be guaranteed an eight-year career as the next Jim Kelly.

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