Matt Hasselbeck Testing his Potential in San Diego

Matt Hasselbeck won't be on the field long, but he will give us something to think about. Hasselbeck was unequivocally bad last year. Hasselbeck was unequivocally badly hurt last year, too. It's easy to connect the two. Believe his decline was caused by his ailing back and weakened knee, but if the idea is sensible, it is not yet proven. It is human nature, perhaps the driving force behind human innovation and engineering, to make connections between phenomena and to see patterns. But it can lead to incorrect conclusions. In fact, our own intuition can make it hard to understand something perfectly logical.

Not to open a can of worms, but what if Matt Hasselbeck did not decline solely or even partly because of his injuries and instead declined because of his age? He was 33 last season. Pro Football Reference created a model that shows that a quarterback at 33 is about as effective as that same quarterback at 26. Hasselbeck was 26 in 2001. Last season he managed to underperform his 26 year old self, but not too badly. In 2001, Hasselbeck completed 54.8% of his passes for 4.3 ANY/A. He was at 52.2% and 3.3 in 2008. He turns 34 this September, and 34 splits the difference between 26 and 25. Hasselbeck was a backup and a Packer at 25.

I don't bring this up because I think applying a general rule to Hasselbeck is the best method for projecting his 2009 season, but to shine light on a few sometimes forgotten facts. Hasselbeck's career is short and has existed almost entirely within a quarterback's peak seasons. From 27 to 32, a quarterback is expected to perform at greater than 90% of his potential. Last season was the second season outside his peak and the third season ever he has averaged fewer than 5.9 ANY/A. The other is 2006. He was expected to perform at 88.9% last season, 83.2% this season and 76.8% next season. If Hasselbeck has no specific disadvantages this season, but instead plays at the average level for quarterbacks of his age, draft position and career production, he will be among the worst quarterbacks in football. In March, Nate Dogg used PFR's model to project Hasselbeck's expected production.

Hasselbeck's 2009 using that projection system?
2510 yards, 16 TDs, 11 INTs, 57.5 completion%.

Thats going back far enough to include his 2005 season, using a standard 3 year projection would make those numbers slightly worse.

Herein lies the value and trap of stereotypes. If Hasselbeck were a free agent, I wouldn't sign him. But, we must assume, the Seahawks organization better understands how to project Hasselbeck than a crude model. Well, we must assume until tomorrow, when the veil is lifted and we can see what remains of our once great quarterback. He is playing with the best receiving talent of his career, and that talent will be on the field. The offensive line is not in peak form, but it doesn't look like a liability. It's somewhat important what Hasselbeck does, but it's more important how he does it. He must be accurate, show enough zip on his passes and regain his focus in the pocket. I am not going to pretend we will see something unequivocal tomorrow night, but it will give us something to think about.

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