Watching the Decline of Donovan McNabb

It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about Donovan McNabb.

Take a gander at the chart below showing McNabb's career in statistics. It’s an updated variant on the graphs I put together back before McNabb was traded to the Redskins. It's not pretty.


Yuck. The last two years have not been kind to McNabb. Both in Washington last year and with the Vikings this year, he’s scored solidly at the bottom of NFL quarterbacks.

You can read the graph two different ways, although neither are positive for Donovan.

First, you can just plot a steady decline in performance since 2006. In that season he put up numbers akin to the Super Bowl year. Afterward, even through Brian Westbrook’s masterful season of 2007 and the emergence of the young guns in 2008 and 2009, McNabb could never again match those peak years.

Before he was traded there were warning signs of his decline. 2009 saw his lowest DVOA performance since 2002 and his lowest EPA since 2005. Perhaps that trend would have continued in Philadelphia.

The second understanding of the graph comes instead from the sharp dropoff in 2010. From 2007-2009 McNabb largely hovered just above average, as the 10th- to 15th-best quarterback in the league. As soon as he started in Washington, however, he plummeted to 25th-best. Every notable stat fell.

There is no doubt that the difference is large between the Eagles offense and those in Washington and Minnesota. That’s a potential excuse for McNabb, if you’re looking for one. If he came back and started with the Eagles his numbers would probably look better. But the fact that he couldn’t elevate those teams and perform at least close to he did in Philadelphia doesn’t lend to any argument in his favor. Maybe Andy Reid was propping him up.

Or maybe it’s just age catching up to McNabb. Thirty-five is old for an NFL player. This year only Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck, and Kerry Collins are seeing significant playing time among quarterbacks over age 32. Since he came into the league, McNabb has gained about 20 lbs and has lost his trademark speed.

No matter the reason, it’s sad to watch.

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