Is it that time of year again?
Somehow, someway, we are just two weeks away from the start of the 2022 NFL season. Wait, what? It feels it was just yesterday that we were simply trying to catch our breath after an offseason of unprecedented player movement. Now, though, it is time to take a step back, and gear up for what ought to be an incredibly entertaining season.
Of course, there is no better way to begin a preview of the upcoming NFL season than with the quarterback position. After all, we’re talking about not only the most important position in football, but, in my eyes, the most valuable position of all of sports. I mean, there’s a reason the quarterback market has continued to rise rapidly; teams are well aware of the significance of the position, and are more than willing to spend up to find stability there.
Yet, I’m not sure we’ve entered a season with more intrigue at the quarterback position. While a couple of veteran quarterbacks continue to perform at an elite level, we’ve seen a clear ascension of the “new age” of quarterbacks. Not only does this give us new players to embrace, but a more exciting product; the game is now filled with ultra-talented signal-callers who aren’t afraid to leave the pocket, and aren’t simply playing in structure. As such, the types of moments that would be a rarity ten years ago have become rather typical now, while play-styles of various quarterbacks have become rather diverse.
To top it off, we’re also at a point of offensive innovation where a quarterback’s strengths are being magnified better than ever. In the past, the thought was that a quarterback had to fit into how the offense was structured, but, now the quarterback IS the offense. This is only going to continue to lead to an improved quality of play, while more signal-callers are simply getting a fair shot. This is precisely what the NFL wants, and it’s a trend that certainly is here to stay.
Essentially, when projecting a team’s performance, a significant portion of it is going to lie with the quarterback. In fact, if you simply list the best quarterbacks in the league, the chances are they are playing for a postseason contender, and that is not an accident. Nevertheless, in a small sample size sport, there is naturally a lot of variance, and, consequently, things never quite play out as you’d expect. Still, if we just conceded this, where would be the fun of it all?
Alas, today, we are going to embark on the impossible task of ranking every notable quarterback in the NFL entering the 2022 season. However, we are going to do so with a wrinkle. For starters, the rankings will be established with the foundation of a projection of each quarterback’s expected points added per play (EPA/play) for this upcoming season, relying on these main metrics:
- EPA/Play: How well does a team/quarterback perform compared to expectation?
- Completion Percentage Over Expectation (CPOE): The difference between a quarterback’s actual completion percentage and expected completion percentage based on the throws they’re making
- PFF Grade: The most stable aspect of quarterback play from one season to the next, Pro Football Focus analysts chart every play for a quarterback and assigns them with a grade between -2 and 2. Over time, that is translated to a 0-99.9 overall grade.
- Big-Time Throw Rate: Another PFF staple, big-time throws are charted as any throw assigned a grade of +1 or higher. Essentially, this means what you’d imagine; the higher big-time throw rate a quarterback has, the more high-end passes they are executing
- Turnover-Worthy Play Rate: Essentially the exact opposite of big-time throw rate, a turnover-worthy play is only a pass assigned a -1 grade or lower from PFF. This metric actually correlates strong season-to-season with interception rate than interception rate themselves, and thus are a great predictor of turnovers, a critical aspect of quarterback play.
In terms of overall significance, a quarterback’s past adjusted EPA/play, PFF Grade, and CPOE are the most predictive of future success, though the other peripherals hold plenty of value on their own. All together, between 2019 and 2021, the model’s projected EPA/play for each quarterback is more than twice as predictive for future EPA/play, based on the coefficient of determination (r^2) for each. In simple terms, rather than simply looking at last year’s results, there is a lot more nuance needed to project future quarterback.
With that said, these are the quarterbacks that would be projected to lead the most efficient offenses in 2022:
I would note that Jameis Winston’s 2021 data comes from a smaller sample size, which is why his projection is in asterisks. If we take that out, he would rank tied for 25th with a projected 0.08 EPA/Play; also, the gap between Burrow (.220 projected EPA/play) and Herbert (.219 EPA/play) isn’t there if you solely projected off of last season, while dismissing Josh Allen’s second year would put him tied with Kyler Murray at .174 EPA/play. Of course, for projection sake, you can’t hold some to a different standard than others, but these are interesting thinking points. Now, while this gives us a very strong baseline, it doesn’t solve the whole puzzle. After all, any projection/metric is only as strong as how it is interpreted, and there is a lot of context absent here- football is a team sport, after all, and a player’s situation impacts their performance greatly.
That’s what we’re here for! For this upcoming season, what should a draft of each quarterback look like for a team trying to win a Super Bowl? That’s what we’ll be trying to solve. Of course, when it comes to rankings, there is often a key point missed- many players are simply interchangeable. Thus, this is where tiering the players comes into play. Rather than simply focus on which elite quarterback you’d rather have, wouldn’t it be more logical to try to figure out what bucket each quarterback falls into, particularly when there is so much variance on a season-to-season basis? That would make sense to me! Thus, while there are rankings attached to each player, the main focus should come with the tiers they fall into- within the tiers, you could essentially pick your poison in terms of which quarterback you’d rather have.
With so much quarterback movement this offseason, the development of the five 2021 first-round quarterbacks, and many signal callers entering make-or-break seasons, this is quite a compelling time at the game’s most tantalizing position. So, how will it all break down in 2022? Let’s dive right into it.
Stats via Pro Football Focus and Sharp Football Stats
TIER 1: BULLET-PROOF, FRANCHISE-CHANGING QBs
#1: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Reason For Optimism: Absolutely Flawless Profile The Past Two Years
Reason To Be Concerned: Supporting Cast
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 1st
It’s astonishing to think about now, but, as recently as the 2020 NFL Draft, the Packers drafted Jordan Love in the first round, indicating plenty of concern that Aaron Rodgers’ time as an elite quarterback was coming to a close. To be fair, at the time, he had just finished his age-36 season, struggled mightily during the final portion of the season, and there seemed to be an overall disconnect between him and the rest of the organization. Since then, though, things could not have gone better from a performance standpoint.
I mean, we’re literally talking about the reigning back-to-back NFL MVP. Just to put his overall production in perspective, just take a look at where Rodgers ranks in key metrics over the past two seasons:
- PFF Passing Grade: 2020- 1st, 2021- 3rd
- Yards/Attempt: 2020- 4th, 2021- T-4th
- EPA/Play: 2020- 1st, 2021- 1st
- Adjusted Completion Percentage: 2020- 1st, 2021- 3rd
- Big-Time Throw Rate: 2020- 2nd, 2021- T-3rd
- Turnover-Worthy Play Rate: 2020- 3rd, 2021-3rd
There’s a reason Rodgers’ data all rates out in green- he simply does not have a notable flaw. He’s seen a notable uptick in his accuracy, can dominate at all levels of the field, and, under head coach Matt LeFleur, is now also making quicker decisions than ever. Few quarterbacks have the ability to both play within structure and out of structure simultaneously, yet that’s Rodgers to a tee.
Speaking of LeFleur, his effect on Rodgers has been notable, to say the least. After years of running an offense with little movement, play-action, and static isolation routes, Rodgers now gets the lay-ups over the middle of the field that he previously did not have, in addition to more favorable looks off of play action, which, as a result, has simply led to more open receivers to throw to. Ultimately, the marriage between LeFleur and Rodgers has led to something special, and, theoretically, there is no reason to expect that to change.
Of course, life isn’t that simple. Over the past two seasons, no receiver has a higher target share (30.3%) than Davante Adams, who has also been the most efficient receiver (2.78 yards/route run) during that span as well. Part of this has to do with how elite of a player Adams is, as well as his bond with Rodgers. Yet, some of that also has to do with the lack of receiver depth behind him; Randall Cobb was the only other wide receiver/tight end to have a PFF receiving grade of 65 or higher, which is remarkably concerning. Look no further than the game Adams missed this year, where running backs Aaron Jones received 32.4% of the team’s targets, and, thus, Rodgers averaged just 5.9 yards per target, a very conservative number. Elite quarterbacks like Rodgers get the most of the talent around them, but there still needs to be some baseline of support around him.
With Adams now a Las Vegas Raider and deep threat Marquez Valdes-Scantling now a Kansas City Chief, Rodgers will have to make do with a receiving core of Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, Robert Tonyan, and rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. PFF went as far as to rank them as the second-worst receiving corps in the league, and, honestly, can you blame them? Perhaps the Packers are that confident LeFleur’s scheme and Rodgers’ excellence will be sufficient enough, but it’s quite a risk. If there was a time to know how much an elite quarterback hides all other flaws, another high-end season would add to a legacy that is already up there with some of the game’s most elite quarterbacks. Even if his overall numbers this season don’t completely back it up simply due to the lack of talent around him, there is no quarterback you’d rather want simply for this season.
#2: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Reason To Be Optimistic: Freakish-Level Talent and Has Become Incredibly Well-Rounded
Reason To Be Concerned: Downtick In Chunk Plays and Overall Production Last Year
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 5th
Expectations are everything when it comes to the perception of an individual player. Two quarterbacks can put up the same exact statistics, but if one is the favorite to win MVP and the other wasn’t, then there is going to be a much better feeling regarding the latter. Essentially, I think expectations have almost gotten too high for Patrick Mahomes.
After all, this is the same quarterback that was the MVP of the league in his first full season, won a Super Bowl in his second, and then made it back again in his third. During that time, the conversation wasn’t only what Mahomes was capable of now, yet how long it’d take for him to be considered one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. That’s quite a lofty reputation to try to live up to after just three full seasons as a starter in the NFL and simply by not being perfect, he almost appeared to be have a disappointing 2022 season. Overall, he posted career-low marks in EPA/play (0.232), yards/attempt (7.6), PFF passing grade (75.7), and big-time throw rate (3.6%), which are quality numbers for many quarterbacks, but not for someone with the resume that Mahomes has.
So, what changed? Really, it comes down to how defenses were attacking the Chiefs’ passing attack. By now, it’s well known that Kansas City was attacked with a lot more two-high coverages, mainly to limit the explosive element to their offense. Ultimately, it worked; Mahomes’ average depth of target fell a full yard down (7.4 yards), his big-time throw rate was cut in half, and the Chiefs ranked just 13th in explosive pass rate. For perspective, that average depth of target was the same as Tua Tagovailoa, and lower than Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, and Jacoby Brissett. Not ideal, to say the least.
Given how less explosive the Chiefs were, it’s almost a certainty we’ll see defenses continue to take that element away. So, how can they adapt? Well, it appears they are content with simply becoming a different type of offense. With Tyreek Hill traded to the Dolphins and Juju Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Skyy Moore all acquired this offseason, this has gone from a star-studded, one-dimensional offense to one that is much more balanced, which may be ideal given how little (59% vs 67% league average) Mahomes went to his first read last year. Instead, they have different elements of their offense potentially better equipped to make them more flexible to different defenses, especially since Smith-Schuster (short-passing game zone beater) and Valdes-Scantling (vertical threat) have very distinct skillsets. I’m not saying losing Hill is a benefit for him, though when you consider the lack of options behind him in the past, perhaps it isn’t as consequential of a loss as it may appear to be.
At the end of the day, we’re still talking about as elite of a quarterback as it gets. Want to know how much defenses respect him? Mahomes was the lowest-blitzed quarterback in the league, with that occurring on just 15.2% of his dropbacks. The second lowest? 21.1%, the same difference between second-lowest and 21st-lowest. We’ll see if he can remain as effective against the blitz without Hill, his main targeted receiver in those situations, but he forces defenses to go completely out of their comfort to simply try to contain. Meanwhile, in spite of a “down year”, he still ranked second in EPA/play, and has consistently rated out as one of the best passers in the league working 10+ yards down the field. Plus, although he is generally perceived as an unconventional risk taker, he’s also been one of the best quarterbacks at limiting negative plays (6th-lowest negative play rate), while Kansas City had the highest pass success rate in the NFL. All told, he’s much more of a “classic quarterback” than you may think; he just happens to be a dynamic player as well.
With a whole offseason to develop a counter-punch to the “two-high movement”, Mahomes should be fully expected to get back to performing at the superb level we’ve come to expect from him. If anything, the change in personnel for Kansas City could ultimately serve as a nice change-of-pace, particularly since it was always inevitable that Mahomes would have to adjust to life without Hill eventually. Now, it’s time for us to once again be reminded how rare of a player he is.
#3: Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Reason To Be Optimistic: He’s Tom Brady
Reason To Be Concerned: Father Time? Change In Personnel?
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 2nd
As much as we get excited about the “new age” of incoming franchise quarterbacks, let’s all come to the realization that they probably will retire before Tom Brady ever stops playing. Okay, maybe not, but in all seriousness, I still remained astonished that someone who turned 45-years-old in August could still be considered one of the game’s elite quarterbacks, yet, after a lot scoops of avocado ice cream, here he is! After a brief contemplation of retirement, Brady is at least back for one more year with the Bucs, and should be expected to perform at a remarkable level.
Per Pro Football Focus, Brady at age 44 led the league in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) – he probably deserved to be the MVP – and has ranked in the top-two in overall grade in back-to-back years. Really, outside of mobility, he brings everything else to the table. Accuracy? PFF charted him as a top-five quarterback in both accurate+ rate (perfect throws) and accuracy rate. Limit turnovers? Only Justin Herbert has a lower turnover-worthy play rate. Produce big plays? He’s ranked in the top-ten in big-time throw rate in back-to-back seasons. Make quick decisions? Only Ben Roethlisberger has a lower time to throw, yet he also an average depth of target a full yard less than Brady. There are few quarterbacks that can go to a franchise and immediately change their fate, yet that’s exactly what Brady has done in Tampa Bay.
Any missed time for Chris Godwin as he recovers from his torn ACL would be not ideal, nor is the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. On the bright side, Russell Gage and Julio Jones do provide Tampa Bay with quality wide receiver depth, with Gage thriving against man-coverage looks and Jones being able to sit in zones for the most part at this stage of his career. Once Godwin gets back, there is a lot to be optimistic about, though Brady will also have to adjust to a slightly depleted offensive line. Really, outside of Father Time coming back to bite him, there really isn’t any reason to be concerned about him- his range of outcomes are as narrow as it gets. This may be the end of the road, but if it is, he’s going to go out in style. I mean, what else would you expect?
#4: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Reason To Be Optimistic: Exceptional Accuracy and Decision Making
Reason To Be Concerned: Will Take Some Sacks
Projected EPA/Play: 6th
No player in any sport has to deal with more analysis regarding their personality than an NFL quarterback, and it makes sense. After all, they’re generally not only the leader of a group of 53 players, but also the face of the franchise- the organization runs as they do. Fortunately for the Bengals, they stumbled into the perfect quarterback for them.
Now, I do not anticipate this becoming a full-on deep-dive on Joe Burrow’s swagger, though is there anyone easier to rally behind? For a franchise that had become very stale, his mere presence has changed everything in Cincinnati- it’s impossible to lose trust in him. Really, it’s a unique trait that was evident from the time he was at LSU, and after leading the Bengals to the Super Bowl, it certainly was on full display.
Okay, onto the true reason Burrow has ascended into the player he has- he’s really good at football. I know, I know, what a shock, but, hey, it’s true! Simply looking at box-score statistics from Burrow’s rookie year, where he averaged just 6.7 yards/pass attempt may have made this not particularly clear, especially after tearing his ACL in Week 11, but, in actuality, there was a lot to be excited about. Simply to grade as a mid-tier quarterback (75.1) as a rookie is something very few signal-callers can accomplish, especially when the second-half of your rookie season is taken away. Plus, it’s not as though his situation was ideal; the Bengals had the sixth-lowest PFF pass-blocking offensive line, and, most significantly, only 42% of Burrow’s passes were to open receivers. For perspective, that is 14% below league average; not only did Burrow have to deal with poor protection, but he simply had to wait extra time just to have a chance of finding an open receiver. All together, it was a very poor combination.
Enter Ja’Marr Chase. Burrow’s college teammate provided Cincinnati with the separator and deep threat they lacked previously, which, as it turns out, did wonders for the entire offense. In 2020, Burrow averaged the third-lowest yards/attempt (6.1) on passes 20+ yards down the field. Fast forward to 2021, and he was tied for fourth in that category (15.8), also ranking in the top-four in PFF passing grade (95.8) and big-time throw rate (36.5%) on those passes. Well, that’s quite a difference! Of course, Burrow’s ascension also helps matters; when you lead the league in PFF grade and accurate pass rate, you’re probably doing things right.
In many ways, Burrow is everything you wouldn’t expect a young quarterback to be. He had the lowest negative play rate of the year, yet also produced positive plays at the fifth-highest rate, which all ties back to the combination of his effectiveness down the field and elite decision making (fifth-lowest turnover-worthy play rate). That’s not typical at all, let alone for someone with just 30 professional games either as a rookie or fresh off an ACL tear. I’m not sure there’s another level in the tank simply based on how elite he’s been, but when you look at the adversity he’s already had to overcome to have this success, it’s pretty clear that last season was not a flash in the pan; he was the #1 overall pick for a reason.
If there’s one concern with Burrow, though, it’s been his propensity to take sacks. No quarterback in the NFL was sacked on a higher rate of his dropbacks than Burrow, and a lot of blame can be placed on the fact that pressures were converted to sacks against him at the third highest rate. With an ability to avoid sacks a concern in Year 1, this does look like a legitimate trend, though I’d be remiss to not mention he was playing behind a bottom-ten graded offensive line from PFF, and he now gets a major upgrade in terms of pass protection with the additions of La’el Collins, Alex Cappa, and Ted Karras via free agency. Alas, we may simply just see Burrow play from more clean pockets, which is a scary thought for opposing defenses.
While there have been minor qualms about Burrow’s tendency to throw to his first read (7% above league average), a lot of that also has to do with him thriving in terms of his pre-snap looks, as Robert Mays of The Athletic Football Show has been quick to point out. Perhaps that changes as teams start coming up with different looks to try to take away the explosive element of the Bengals’ passing game with Chase, but there’s no reason not to be confident in a quarterback who is as poised and refined as one could have ever hoped for. He’s already transformed the Bengals franchise in just two seasons, and based on where he’s having success (all stable areas of play/overall refinement and accuracy), it’s hard to see any reason why he won’t continue to perform as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Stay cool, Joe.
#5: Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Reason To Be Optimistic: Tremendous Decision Maker, Exceptional Physical Capabilities
Reason To Be Concerned: Where Are The Big Plays?
Projected EPA/Play: 4th
As much as we think we know about NFL prospects coming out of college, we rarely do. After all, simply take a look at Justin Herbert. Coming out of Oregon, there were mixed reviews of Herbert as a prospect, with plenty of concerns arising about his ability to take over a game, be accurate enough, and process defenses well enough. As such, he was convincingly the consensus third quarterback in the 2020 draft, which is where he ended up being selected. Well, I’m sure the Chargers are quite glad it played out like that.
Coming into his rookie season, Herbert wasn’t expected to play any significant role, with Tyrod Taylor entrenched as the starter while he simply would become a more refined player. However, a medical emergency with Taylor forced Herbert into the starting lineup in Week 2, and he never looked back, ranking 13th among quarterbacks in PFF passing grade. For a rookie, that is awfully impressive, yet there were still reasons to be skeptical. See, performance under pressure has been found to be unstable on a year-to-year basis, so the fact that Herbert was the highest graded quarterback in those situations, yet ranked just 25th from a clean pocket, was not ideal; in the more stable areas of play, he struggled. Fast forward to 2021, and the growth we were hoping for came in a major way.
As expected, Herbert’s success when under pressure (13th) slipped, but he compensated that for being one of the best quarterbacks in a clean pocket (tied-5th in PFF grade), while an improved offensive line kept him clean in 10% more of his drop-backs- a notable amount. Furthermore, no player had a lower rate of turnover-worthy plays (1.6%), and he had the second highest accuracy rate allowed. With a better processor and improved accuracy to go along with supreme physical talent he brings to the table, he’s become the complete package, and done so at a much more rapid pace that anyone could have imagined.
The astonishing part? There is still room to grow. For someone with Herbert’s arm talent, you would expect him to rank right near the top of the league in terms of producing chunk plays. Instead, he was tied for 20th in big-time throw rate, thanks to an average depth of target (7.9) that put him in the same company of the same of the game’s most conservative quarterbacks. Let me put it this way: only Daniel Jones, Tua Tagovailoa, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, Matt Ryan, and Jared Goff attempted fewer passes 20+ yards down the field than Herbert; for someone near the top of the league in every deep-ball metric, that is simply unacceptable.
Now, who is to “blame” for this? Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has a tendency of coercing his quarterbacks into a more conservative play style – see Matthew Stafford 2015 – though it’s worth noting that a knock on Herbert coming out was him not perhaps playing as aggressively as you’d hope for. The Chargers’ receiving corps, which doesn’t feature much speed at all, doesn’t help matters, and there’s no reason to believe that Herbert couldn’t thrive with a more aggressive style of play. As is, he’s already capable of conducting an elite offense thanks to his combination of freakish physical talent and limiting negatives at a ridiculous level, but the ceiling is much, much higher. In an AFC West division that should be filled with plenty of shootouts, perhaps the aggressiveness will be forced out of necessity, yet, either way, the Chargers enter every game in that division very confident they have the best man for the job. I’m not implying anything, but we could be looking at the 2022 NFL MVP.
#6: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Reason To Be Optimistic: Does Any Quarterback Have The Peaks He’s Capable Of?
Reason To Be Concerned: You Might Have To Deal With Some Rough Games
Projected EPA/Play: 10th
Historically, you can usually have a pretty good idea about a quarterback’s quality after their first two seasons in the NFL. Well? Unless you’re Josh Allen. As recently as 2019, the Bills’ quarterback was the fourth-lowest graded passer from Pro Football Focus (among QBs w/350 dropbacks), and also ranked right at the bottom of the league in yards/attempt (6.6), adjusted completion percentage (70.9%), big-time throw rate (2.8%) and turnover-worthy play rate (4.4%). Surely, there was no way that he’d end up becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, right?
Wrong. It was reasonable to expect some sort of improvement for Allen in 2020, but very few expected him to be PFF’s sixth-highest graded passer, and, most surprisingly, rank in the top-five in adjusted completion percentage (78.7%). Remember, this wasn’t just a quarterback who struggled, but as about as inaccurate and mistake-prone as it gets. Yet, between re-worked mechanics, private coaching, the efforts of the Bills’ coaching staff, and his own perseverance, he was able to make one of the most remarkable turn-arounds in NFL history.
Still, could Allen sustain that level of success? By virtue of signing him to a monster six-year, $258 million extension, the Bills certainly believed so, and they were absolutely rewarded for their faith. Even if he couldn’t quite keep up the mammoth numbers he posted in 2020, Allen finished as PFF‘s third-highest graded quarterback (90.9), led the league in positive-play rate, and vaulted Buffalo to being just 13 seconds away from hosting the AFC Championship Game. Remember, this is the same quarterback that couldn’t be trusted his first two years in the league. Honestly, I’m still in awe.
The pros with Allen are quite obvious- the highs are very high. Not only was he the second-highest graded passer 20+ yards down the field thanks to a cannon of an arm with improved accuracy, but his ability to continue to keep drives going simply via his elite athleticism (62 first-downs, to be exact) can’t be discounted as well. When you’re in need of a miracle, this is the quarterback you call upon- he is a true magician. No quarterback leads to pressure being converted to a sack less often than him, and he’s one of the few quarterback that has a higher EPA/play on non-structured plays (plays he holds onto the ball longer). When you’re thinking about the prototype of a quarterback capable of the type of high-end plays that result in a Super Bowl title, this is it.
Nevertheless, the lows can also be low. There were five games where Allen earned a PFF passing grade under 54, while he averaged six yards/pass attempt or under in 10 of his 17 regular season games. That all comes down to his play-style, as he ranked 24th in negative play rate and middle-of-the-pack in turnover-worthy play rate, which, ultimately, is the trade-off you make for the peaks he can provide. That leads to an overall exhausting experience with some bumps in the road, which is going to lead to you having a significantly different opinion of him based on what game you watch. When it comes to the whole sample size, though, the pros certainly outweigh the cons.
TIER 1B: ELITE QBs WITH MORE RED FLAGS
#7: Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns
Reason For Optimism: His 2020 Season Was As Dominant As It Gets
Reason To Be Concerned: Suspended 11 Games For Allegedly Sexually Assaulting At Least 24 Different Women
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 3rd
This is a situation that makes sense to stray away from, other than to provide the facts. As many are well aware, 24 different women have come out and accused Deshaun Watson of sexual assault during organized massages, while there is belief that there are many more than haven’t spoken out. Watson was able to alluded a criminal sentence, but after initially only being suspended six games, the NFL stepped in and reached an 11-game settlement with him. Thus, he won’t play again until Week 13, where he’ll face his former team, the Houston Texans.
Despite all of this, the Browns still felt confident enough in Watson to trade three first-round picks for him, and sign him to a five-year, $230 million contract that is fully guaranteed. Why? Well, he remains a very talented football player. When we last saw Watson, he finished 2020 as PFF‘s third highest-graded quarterback (92.5), ranking top-three in big-time throw rate (7.4%) and turnover-worthy play rate (2%). As an extremely athletic quarterback who can thrive on the move, is very accurate (5th in accuracy%), and is has rated out as an elite down-the-field thrower, his talent is that of a generational-type of quarterback.
Meanwhile, Watson did all of this while not benefitting from a friendly offensive system. Over his past three years, he’s averaged two yards/pass attempt more off of play-action passes than when not in play action, yet he ranked near the bottom of the league in the rate of play-action concepts (21.2%) in 2020. Now, partner him with head coach Kevin Stefanski, who is certainly going to create the favorable looks off of play-action and better route concepts over the middle-of-the-field that Watson hasn’t had. In return, he provides them with a quarterback who doesn’t need an elite situation to succeed and allows Stefanski to not be forced to elevate his quarterback, but, rather, work in tandem to build the most elite offense possible.
#8: Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos
Reason For Optimism: Has Consistently Been an Elite QB Thrust In Poor Offensive Systems, Was Still Dominant Before Getting Injured, Now in Better Spot To Succeed
Reason To Be Concerned: What Happened Down The Stretch? Is He Willing To Go Away From What He’s Relied On?
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 13th
Okay, back on a more positive note! By now, it’s become extremely common for quarterbacks to stick with one franchise their entire career, and, if they leave, still be known for the contributions they made previously. Does anyone truly remember Joe Montana as a Chief? Yet, a franchise quarterback being traded at age 33 isn’t exactly common, and paves the way for a legacy to be built across multiple different fashions. That’s exactly what Russell Wilson may be looking at here.
Of course, as a Super Bowl champion with ten elite seasons under his belt, Wilson certainly will go down as the best Seahawks quarterback of all time. Nevertheless, over the past few years, there were clear signs of disconnect between him and the conservative Pete Carroll, and with the team now longer being able to support him with enough supporting talent, it was time for a reset. Hence, why he finds himself in Denver, who certainly are putting all of their chips (two first-round picks and second-round picks, TE Noah Fant, IDL Shelby Harris, and more) in him being the difference maker that puts them over the top.
Wilson’s recent pedigree speaks for itself. Between 2018 and 2020, he put together quite the run of success:
- 2018: 88.9 PFF Grade (6th), 8.8% Big-Time Throw (1st), .170 EPA+CPOE Composite (3rd)
- 2019: 91.9 PFF Grade (1st), 7.6% Big-Time Throw (1st), .147 EPA+CPOE Composite (6th)
- 2020: 90.5 PFF Grade (6th), 7.6% Big-Time Throw (T-1st), .152 EPA+CPOE Composite (7th)
Well, it’s safe to say Wilson knows a thing or two about creating a chunk play. The change to Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator seemed to lead to an ideal pairing, and the Seahawks built their offense around taking advantage of Wilson’s prowess working down the field. Nevertheless, after leaning on a heavy-pass approach to start the 2020 season to much success, Carroll pulled back the reigns on the offense, and they subsequently sputtered. From there, Schottenheimer was let go, and Wilson went as far as to hint that a trade may be beneficial for both sides. Ultimately, Seattle held onto him in hopes of another playoff push, though it’s safe to say that didn’t happen.
Instead, Wilson finished with the lowest-graded season of his career (73.9), ranking just 19th in adjusted EPA/play (.084) in the process. Meanwhile, his accuracy (24th in adjusted completion rate) cratered, while he ranked in the bottom-ten in both positively-graded play rate (22nd) and negatively-graded play rate (27th). Add it all up, and it was essentially the worst possible outcome you could have imagined for Wilson heading into last year; if those numbers hold up, the Broncos are in serious trouble.
Fortunately for all parties, there at least seems to be some reasonable explanation here. See, in Week 5 against the Rams, Wilson injured his middle finger leading to him missing three games, which, perhaps, wasn’t enough time. Regardless, the splits pre and post-injury are rather telling:
- Pre-Injury: 92.1 PFF passing grade, 9.6% big-time throw, 0% turnover-worthy play, 80% adjusted completion rate, 9.6 yards/pass attempt, .153 adjusted EPA/play, 10.2 (!) CPOE
- Post-Injury: 53.9 PFF passing grade, 3.9% big-time throw, 3.8% turnover-worthy play, 67.9% adjusted completion rate, 6.6 yards/pass attempt, .051 adjusted EPA/play, 0 CPOE
You have to be careful with small-sample size splits, of course, but when there is as clear of a reasoning behind it as this, there has to be some serious consideration that the injury played a significant role here; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make that connection. For someone who relies on touch and accuracy the way Wilson does down the field, having that gone essentially takes away his pathway to success, especially when he’s behind a bottom-ten graded offensive line and in an offensive system that was putting him in disadvantageous situations (plenty of third and longs due to early-down rushing). I mean, a finger injury is a pretty big deal for a quarterback, and the decline in accuracy backs it up. To me, it’s much more likely that the injury led to the decline than Wilson suddenly falling off a proverbial cliff, and the Broncos have definitely made that same assessment.
Speaking of which, the reason for extra intrigue with Wilson goes beyond how he performs now fully healthy; he also has the chance to be unleashed in a new offense. As a first-team head coach who wasn’t calling the plays in Green Bay, head coach Nathaniel Hackett is a bit of an unknown as a play-caller, but if we extrapolate off his time with the Packers, there will be some similarities; taking advantage of Wilson’s deep-ball prowess via play-action passes, avoidance of the intermediate passing game, and plenty of go balls- Aaron Rodgers also has been reluctant to throw to the middle-of-the-filed throughout his career. At the same time, the go balls that Wilson has relied on have been pure first-read “50/50” balls in which he trusts his ability to place the football into a very small window that his receiver can take advantage of. The problem? These are very low-percentage throws. In Green Bay, those deep shots came much more on favorable concepts – slot fades, etc – that simply lead to higher-percentage throws, which would work wonders if Wilson allows that to be a part of the offense. As fun as it would be to simply “lob it up” to Courtland Sutton, how about passes that simply have a higher chance of being completed?
If all goes well, Wilson embraces this, he continues to make quicker decisions, and is able to match elite efficiency with much more passing volume. If that happens, we’ll finally see him in a non “boom-or-bust” offense, which will prevent him from the same lows he has experienced at times. There certainly will be some growing pains with so many moving parts, but there is also an extensive amount of upside with this group. All told, Denver should be happy with the investment they made.
TIER 2: VERY TALENTED QBS THAT NEED SOME HELP
#9: Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Reason For Optimism: Consistent Growth, A Lot of Big Plays with Limited Mistakes, Elite Athlete
Reason To Be Concerned: Have Limitations Led To Less-Efficient Offense Than You’d Hope?
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 7th
As alluded to with Joe Burrow, quarterbacks are naturally subject to extensive analysis not just about their play, but, also, their perceived ability to be the true face of a franchise. As a result, this often leads to quarterbacks being over-scrutinized, which may be happening with Kyler Murray. Now, you may not have agreed with his decision to immediately ask for a contract extension and then scrub anything associated with the Cardinals from his social media. Or, you’re still flabbergasted that Arizona felt obligated to have a requirement for him to watch film for four hours a week, rather than trust him to study on his own. At the end of the day, on the outside, we also don’t have the capacity to judge an individual, nor should we. To be frank, we’re not talking about anyone with any criminal accusations or someone who has been suspended by the league for any misconduct on or off the field, which leads us to need to focus on the play on the field.
To that end, Murray checks a lot of boxes. With a young quarterback, you’re looking for growth, and Murray has demonstrated that. Simply take a look at his PFF passing grades by year:
- 2019: 61.1 (32nd)
- 2020: 76.2 (15th)
- 2021: 86.7 (5th)
In 2020, we saw plenty of flashes from Murray, but there was still a desire for chunk plays, particularly for someone with the arm talent he possesses. Well, in 2021, he proceeded to lead all quarterbacks in big-time throw rate, doing that simultaneously with the fifth-lowest turnover-worthy play rate as well. When you can create explosive plays and limit mistakes, that’s a very difficult combination to have, and truly makes you stand out. Ultimately, it comes down to his special ability to throw the ball down the field. No quarterback had a higher PFF passing grade than Murray (99.2) throwing 20+ yards down the field, and with a true deep threat in Hollywood Brown now in Arizona, here’s hoping we see that translate to even more success this year.
Any player with Murray’s athleticism is going to be lauded for his rushing ability, but it’s the combination of Murray’s arm talent and accuracy (third in accuracy%) that truly stands out. You’d like to see him perhaps not take as many sacks when he doesn’t need to or throw between the numbers more, yet this is certainly a quarterback able to elevate the talent around him and have the peaks that will lead to have a lot of success. After all, it’s not as though he’s been in the most creative offensive system, nor has he been able to benefit greatly from impact separators that can allow him to fully thrive. A quarterback being paid the type of money ($230.5 million) will be under an extensive amount of pressure, but it’s pretty easy to see why the Cardinals made it a priority- he truly is a special talent.
#10: Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
Reason For Optimism: Capable Of High-End Play That Can Lead To a Super Bowl Title
Reason To Be Concerned: Have To Deal With The Negatives
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 11th
The NFL postseason is a very tricky time for NFL analysis. In reality, a playoff game is the same as a regular season game, yet there simply is more at stake. At the same time, though, when the whole world is tuning in, the perception of a quarterback will change greatly based on the outcome of the game. Consider Matthew Stafford the clear example of this.
For the first 12 years of his career, Stafford established a resume of relatively strong play in Detroit, but he was a clear case of the limitations a quarterback can face when in not the best of circumstances. While Stafford played with plenty of receiver talent, he also went through a gauntlet of different offensive coordinators, and the team overall never was in position to have continued success. With a new regime taking over following the 2020 season, it was time for the two sides to move on. Fortunately for Stafford, the perfect marriage was formed. See, after multiple years of more offensive struggles than anticipated, the Rams and head coach Sean McVay had seen enough from Jared Goff, and thus were willing to give up multiple first-round picks to acquire Stafford. At the time, it seemed like another risk for a team that had consistently gone “all-in”, but Stafford did give them the type of high-end play they clearly needed, which is certainly how it played out.
Now, as a player, Stafford didn’t change much. His PFF passing grade of 84.6 was a career-high, though, simply in the regular season it was right on par (79.3) with his previous norms. What changed, though, was the situation he was in. The Rams ranked in the top-three in PFF receiving and pass-block grade, and, naturally, an offense led by Sean McVay is going to lead to more open receivers- he went from throwing to open receivers 4% below league average to 3% above league average, for perspective. Hence, the creation of a much more productive offense.
The appeal with Stafford is obvious- he’s capable of the high-end play that can win a Super Bowl. He finished in the top-five in both big-time throw rate and positively-graded play rate, averaged the most yards/attempt (18) working 20+ yards down the field, and led an offense that was tied for the highest explosive pass rate in all of football. Truly, there weren’t many plays more exciting that classic Stafford play-action deep shot:
Plays like that are exactly why Sean McVay pushed so hard to bring Stafford on board- these weren’t even remote possibilities before. Of course, outside the very elite quarterbacks, for every positive, there is usually some sort of negative. In that case, for Stafford, there are going to be plays that simply make you scratch your head; he had the second-highest turnover-worthy play rate working 20+ yards down the field, and ranked near the bottom of the league in overall turnover-worthy play rate and negatively-graded play rate. In fact, had 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt capitalized on a clear interception opportunity in the NFC Championship Game, the chances are that Stafford’s season would have been held in a completely different regard. You’ll take the good with some negatives, as evidenced by how productive the Rams offense was last season, yet there are going to be inevitable peaks and valleys with him at helm.
At the end of the day, practically every NFL team is looking for high-end play from their quarterback; if Stafford was made available via trade right now, the chances are he’d bring a package quite similar to the one Wilson brought back for the Seahawks. In the second year in this offense with more playmaker stability, he should be fully expected that he leads one of the better offenses in the NFL, while Los Angeles will rightfully be a clear Super Bowl favorite. Here’s to the re-creation of the greatest show on turf.
#11: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Reason For Optimism: Unique Talent With Previous Track Record Of Leading Very Productive Offenses
Reason To Be Concerned: Issues As a Passer, Struggled Last Season
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 19th
If you haven’t watched American Underdog yet, I highly recommend doing so- it’s a tremendous movie dictating the incredible story of Kurt Warner’s rise to Hall of Fame quarterback. Anyways, there is one scene in which Warner is consistently urged to “stay in the pocket” by his college coach, to the point the coach wouldn’t play him unless he became a true pocket passer. Really, this is symbolic of the way the quarterback position was coached in the past, and, as a result, it led to a more bland style of play without any sort of uniqueness. Well, thank goodness for how football has changed.
As a result, we’ve been able to have the pleasure of watching a quarterback who is truly one of a kind. Of course, I’m talking about Lamar Jackson. Coming out of Louisville, Jackson was quite the accomplished prospect, winning a Heisman Trophy in the process. At the same time, due to concerns about his ability to be a “traditional quarterback”, he also had his fair share of skeptics who believed he needed to transition to another position. As such, he fell to the 32nd overall pick in the draft, where the Ravens were more than happy to trade up to select him. After an injury to Joe Flacco thrust him into the starting lineup, he had his fair share of struggles, but come year 2, everything changed.
If you expected Jackson to win the NFL MVP unanimously in his first full season, please buy a lottery ticket ASAP. Well, that’s what he earned after leading the highest-scoring offense in baseball with the highest adjusted EPA/play (.344) credited to him as well. In total, things didn’t go as perfect, but Baltimore still finished as the sixth-best offense in EPA/play, ranking 12th in adjusted EPA/play overall. That is definitely a quality quarterback, but, unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse in 2021. Overall, Jackson ranked just 22nd in PFF grade and 18th in adjusted EPA/play, particularly struggling towards the end of the season before suffering an ankle injury in Week 14. Certainly, it wasn’t the year anyone was hoping he’d have, and as he looks to secure a massive contract extension, he’ll be looking to bounce back in a major way.
When looking at Jackson’s performance last year, it’s hard to start anywhere but with the change of offensive philosophy. With running backs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards each getting injured before the season started, the team simply did not have the running back talent to support such a run-heavy offense, leading to them passing on 13% more plays last season. Now, whether that was due to the running back shortage or a change in philosophy – they did draft receiver Rashod Bateman in the first round, after all – the case in point is that we finally got to see a more diverse Ravens offense. Initially, it went tremendously, yet as the season went on, the results got much, much worse:
- First five weeks: 83.8 PFF Grade, 8.7 Yards/Attempt, 6.9% Big-Time Throw, 3.8% Turnover-Worthy Play, .246 Adjusted EPA/Play, 5.8 CPOE
- Final six weeks: 53.6 PFF Grade, 6.3 Yards/Attempt, 2.7% Big-Time Throw, 4.2% Turnover-Worthy Play, .007 Adjusted EPA/Play, -3.8 CPOE
Now, there is no rhyme or reason to these splits, but it’s enough to expect the Ravens to shift back to a more run-heavy approach. If that wasn’t enough, they traded away top receiver Marquise Brown, didn’t add any other receivers, and made an emphasis in the draft to add tight end depth, indication more heavy personnel sets. Ultimately, getting back to what worked so effectively in 2019 and 2020 is the best way to find sustained success with Jackson at the helm, and it will be fascinating to see how far the Ravens shift back in that pendulum.
With Jackson, you’re not getting an accurate quarterback (28th in accuracy%), and he is someone who’ll make his fair share of mistakes (29th in negative-play rate) and not throw outside the numbers at all. At the same time, even in his worst season, he still ranked eighth in positively-graded play rate, which speaks to the dynamism he brings to the table. Fantasy football players are well aware of his rushing production, but it goes beyond just him- there’s a reason that the Ravens still managed to rank sixth in yards/carry last year with no clear running back options, and were clearly the top team in that category the previous two seasons. In fact, I’d argue what Jackson brings to the table in terms of his net benefit to the team’s explosive rushing attack can’t simply be quantified in his own EPA/play, which shows up with the team’s overall offensive success.
Plus, it’s not as though Jackson has been armed with talent to work with. Baltimore has consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in amount of cap space allocated to offensive players, while offensive tackle Rodney Staley has essentially missed the past two seasons due to injury. Meanwhile, outside of the limited contributions Rashod Bateman brought when working his way back from injury, the team’s passing game was completely condensed between tight end Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown, which isn’t a formula for success.
Then, there’s one last notable fact. Third down performance, similarly to play under pressure, has proven to be a more volatile area of play season-to-season and for good reason; they are a much smaller percentage of a quarterback’s sample size. Thus, Jackson’s EPA/play on third down is rather damning:
- 2018: -.18
- 2019: .48
- 2020: .06
- 2021: -.37
Remember, 2018 was by far Jackson’s worst year as a passer. If we simply make 2020 the baseline, which seems rather fair, then a massive regression back to the mean is in store for Jackson in these situations, leading to his overall numbers backing him up as a fringe top-ten quarterback. Of course, an offense that can have more success on early downs and catered back to his strengths also helps. If there is one quarterback outside of Russell Wilson to expect to bounce back into potential MVP form, it’s Jackson, and when it’s all said and done, I’d bet on him signing a contract extension that keeps him around in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. Just don’t stay in the pocket.
#12: Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Reason For Optimism: Well-Rounded Quarterback, Strong Performance Pre-Injury
Reason To Be Concerned: Much Worse Supporting Cast, Can He Succeed In Spite Of That?
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 15th
Being the quarterback of the Cowboys is a task like no other. When you’re the face of the franchise for the most valuable franchise in the game and a team that has such a storied history of superstar quarterbacks, the onus is going to be on you to transcend into an elite player that can lead a team to a Super Bowl on his own. The jury still is out on if that player is Dak Prescott, yet he’ll need to be just that for Dallas this season.
The story of Prescott is well-known; as a fourth-round pick, he wasn’t expected to play at all as a rookie, but an injury to Tony Romo forced him into the starting lineup, and, from there, he vaulted the Cowboys to the #1 seed in the NFC. Yet, we never quite saw Prescott get back to those heights in the subsequent seasons, leading to concern whether he was truly capable of earning a lofty contract extension. We did see Prescott finish as PFF’s third-most valuable quarterback based on WAR in 2019, but, even then, the Cowboys weren’t prepared to give him a contract extension. Instead, it took to a dominant five-game stretch in 2020, in which Prescott played to the level of a top-ten quarterback (85.2 PFF Grade, .192 adjusted EPA/play) before suffering a season-ending ankle injury, for Dallas to finally give him the long-awaited contract that cemented his fate as the team’s quarterback moving forward.
Thus, heading into 2021, a fully healthy Prescott was fully expected to lead the Cowboys to a deep Super Bowl push. Over the first six weeks, that more than appeared the case, yet that was before Prescott suffered a calf injury that kept him out for a game, and, upon coming back, his run of success came to a close:
- Pre-Injury: 87.7 PFF Passing Grade, 8.4 Yards/Attempt, 6.3% Big-Time Throw, 2.3% Turnover-Worthy Play, .171 adjusted EPA/play
- Post-Injury: 72.7 PFF Passing Grade, 6.7 Yards/Attempt, 4.1% Big-Time Throw, 3.5% Turnover Worthy Play, .089 adjusted EPA/play
Now, I’m reluctant to believe in these small-sample size; Prescott’s calf strain is much different than Russell Wilson’s finger injury, for instance. That being said, Cowboys fans certainly hope there is some merit to it. Even as is though, Prescott graded out as a top-ten quarterback from PFF, and certainly did enough on his part to lead the Cowboys farther than they got. By now, he’s established himself as an accurate quarterback (6th in accuracy%), especially outside the numbers, while he ranks in the 11-15 range in terms of producing positive plays and limiting negative plays. The question, though, is if that’s enough. Last season, for instance, Prescott was the beneficiary of the second-best graded pass-blocking unit and receiving corps, yet still only finished 14th in adjusted EPA/play. Why is this notable? Well, he now will have to deal with a receiving corps without Amari Cooper and an injured Michael Gallup, as well as an offensive line sans Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, and Connor Williams. Those are significant losses, and, right now, it’s unclear if Prescott can compensate for that.
If not, then things could go south for Dallas in a hurry. At his current level of performance, the odds may actually be stacked enough against him for him to have the type of success he’s become accustomed to, but that’s the risk when paying a quarterback $40+ million a season- they need to elevate the talent around him. For the Cowboys to get to where they want, it’ll take Prescott taking his game to another level for that to happen. Will it? That’s the question that’ll make America’s Team very fun to watch this season.
#13: Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Reason For Optimism: Extremely Accurate and Efficient
Reason To Be Concerned: Not Necessarily Someone Who Is Going To Thrive On His Own
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 8th
Circling back on our conversation on the fascination of a quarterback’s personality, there may be no quarterback who gets penalized in this “analysis” more than Kirk Cousins. Generally not seen as a “natural leader”, there have been significant questions regarding Cousins’ ability to elevate the players around him, to the point that the area of mediocrity has been known as the “Kirk Cousins” line. While some of these concerns are valid, the fact of the matter remains that Cousins is a very productive quarterback….. in the right situation.
Statistically, there are plenty of indicators. in favor of Cousins’ ability to perform at a high level. He’s fresh off a year in which he finished as PFF’s fourth-highest graded passer, while he’s ranked in the top-ten in yards/pass attempt in three straight years. He’s a very accurate quarterback who is proficient throwing ten+ yards down the field, combining the ability to produce chunk plays with limiting negatives as well. In a vacuum, he’s as “safe” of a quarterback as there is from a range of outcomes point of view, giving his team a strong baseline of competitiveness.
Yet, that doesn’t tell the whole story. As a quarterback, your job isn’t simply to perform well, but to elevate the talent around you and help hide other deficiencies the team may have. To that end, there are many reasons to be skeptical of Cousins’ ability to do that. Over the past three seasons, the Vikings have ranked 4th, 1st, and 9th, respectively, in PFF receiving grade, in addition to an offensive system that has generally been conducive to his strengths. As someone who has ranked in the middle-of-the-pack in his percentage of positively-graded plays and big-time throw rate, you naturally have to question whether he can win off schedule, especially as someone who has historically seen in his efficiency take a major hit in non-play action situations. To boot, play under pressure is generally unstable, yet Cousins has consistently seen a major drop-off in production in those situations, speaking to the limitations he provides based on his overall lack of mobility. In ideal game-scripts where Cousins can work off early-down play-action concepts and avoid true dropback situations, he is going to have a lot of success. However, with football being as volatile as it gets week-to-week, his supposed inability to succeed when things aren’t on schedule remains a concern.
On the bright side, Cousins is in line for another very productive season. New head coach Kevin O’Connell, coming over from the Rams, is certainly going to run the exact type of offense that caters to Cousins’ strengths; using the play-action passing game to create big plays, more favorable route concepts that lead to open receivers in stride (crossers), and doing every little edge (pre-snap motion, etc) to make life as easy on him as possible. Of course, it also helps when you’re throwing to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, while the offensive line could take a major step forward with the expected progression of second-year tackle Christian Darrisaw. At the same time, when the Vikings play in Green Bay in Week 17, a game that could have massive playoff implications, will Cousins be able to overcome the likelihood that Minnesota may not have the luxury of a favorable gamescript? We haven’t seen that yet, though his overall level of production can’t be disputed.
TIER 3: QUALITY QBs WITH SOME LIMITATIONS
#14: Mac Jones, New England Patriots
Reason For Optimism: Very Refined Quarterback, Impressive Rookie Season
Reason To Be Concerned: What’s The Next Step/Ceiling?
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 9th
When it comes to analyzing incoming NFL prospects via the draft, the attention is often placed on their potential “ceiling” outcome, which often is a slippery slope because a) there’s no way to actually quantify a player’s ceiling and b) you don’t make decisions simply based on the 99th percentile outcome. For quarterbacks, though, there perhaps is more merit for this; having someone who can win outside of structure can be exactly what you need to elevate the players around you and overcome a variety of challenges that come along the way of an NFL season. Nevertheless, the pendulum has shifted so far in that direction that I think we’ve lost any sort of appreciation for the overall refinement of a player.
That is the perfect transition to Mac Jones, who in a draft featuring Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, and Justin Fields, seemed to go under the radar due to lacking the natural athletic gifts that the other four had to offer. Yet, when you consider how dominant he was during his senior season (95.8 PFF Grade), as well as the rave reviews about his accuracy and processor, and you start to wonder if he perhaps went too far under-the-radar. That sentiment was only strengthened with Jones not only being by far the best rookie quarterback, but an above-average quarterback (12th in PFF Grade, 10th in adjusted EPA/play). So, what’s the next step for Jones? That’s the million-dollar question that is impossible to answer right now.
Where Jones shines is where you’d expect- he’s significantly more polished than your standard young quarterback. His 2.5% turnover-worthy play rate was already up there with the lowest in the NFL, yet it wasn’t as if he was completely devoid of positives; he already ranked 15th in both positive play rate and big-time throw rate as a rookie, better than many productive quarterbacks (Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray) in their first season as a pro. As someone who is able to make quick decisions (2.62 time to throw), he naturally is going to be one of the league’s least pressured quarterbacks, which, for someone who perhaps doesn’t have the skillset to win outside of structure, is very notable. The fact that he could be this well-rounded after just one reason in the NFL is remarkably encouraging, and would certainly appear to be a things to come.
Yet, is “good” actually good enough? While on his rookie contract, the current level that Jones is at is more than sufficient, but when you think about potentially giving him a very lofty contract down the line, it gets a bit more murky. While Jones performed well in the short passing game (6th in PFF passing grade), he was closer to a middle-of-the-pack quarterback working 10+ yards down the field, and his scramble rate (2.8%) puts him in line with Matt Ryan (2.8%) and Kirk Cousins (2.5%)- he’s not eluding the pocket if things break down. Now, with how proficient he already is at making decisions quickly, that becomes less of a problem, yet there are going to be natural limitations to your offense with a quarterback of this nature.
For some, Jones’ struggles down the stretch last season – 63.8 PFF Grade, 71.7% adjusted completion rate, 3.7% big-time throw from Week 12 on – may seem concerning, though, if there was any concern, it’d be more about the fact that his processor (2.80 time to throw) seemingly slowed down. Of course, we need to take the whole sample size into account, which points to Jones in many ways being very similar to Kirk Cousins; someone who’ll keep everything on schedule with strong accuracy and quick decisions, with questions about his ability to his ability to succeed when things don’t go as planned. Then again, it’s also worth noting that Jones has only played one year in the NFL, and not only has established a very high floor, but could seemingly grow into an even better player in the future. Given the team’s offensive coordinator debacle and lack of explosive playmakers, perhaps he’s not quite set up for a “boom” season in New England, yet any growth from his as a player changes that. At the very least, we’re looking at someone who is going to be a starting quarterback in the NFL for a very long time, with the potential to perhaps become more than that with further growth. All told, you’ll want to keep your eye on him this year.
#15: Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
Reason For Optimism: Extremely Accurate, Deadly In Short Passing Game, Has Led High-End Offenses
Reason To Be Concerned: Takes a Lot of Sacks, Has Limitations, Worse Supporting Cast
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 12th
It’s not often that a quarterback has a break-out season in the eighth season of their career at age 31, especially after grading out as the worst-performing quarterback in the NFL. Alas, the turn-around of Ryan Tannehill has been truly remarkable. Remember, when the Titans traded for him in 2019, it was to solely serve as the backup to Marcus Mariota, who had dealt with his fair share of injuries in the past. However, with the offense stagnating under Mariota, Tannehill took over in Week 7. From there, Tannehill didn’t look back. I mean, his production between 2019 and 2020 was exceptional:
- 2019: 90.2 PFF Grade (3rd), .275 adjusted EPA/play (3rd)
- 2020: 90.6 PFF Grade (5th), .344 adjusted EPA/play (2nd)
At their peak, the Titans offense simply could not be stopped, and while a majority of a the credit goes to their rushing attack, having one of the game’s most effective quarterback certainly played a bulk of the role. At the same time, though, there’s also the matter of the fact that the Titans not only had the second-highest PFF receiving grade in 2020, but a tremendous offensive scheme led by offensive coordinator Arthur Smith with the highest play-action pass rate in all of football. With Smith getting hired as the head coach of the Falcons, there was plenty of reason to be concerned about the domino effect that’d have for Tennessee’s offense, but the hope was that the receiver duo of AJ Brown and Julio Jone would offset that. Instead, both dealt with injuries, and things started to fall off the rails
Now, to be fair to Tannehill, he ranked 8th and 11th in PFF Grade (83.7) and adjusted EPA/play (.151), respectively. Still, that’s a notable drop-off in offense production compared to what they had established themselves as before, and things may only continue to head in the wrong direction; Brown and Jones are no longer here, Robert Woods (acquired from Rams) is coming off of a torn ACL, and first-round rookie Treylon Burks may not be ready to begin the season as a full-time starter. As such, a lot of pressure is going to be on him to keep the offense functioning in spite of this, which is definite question mark.
There are a lot of strengths Tannehill brings to the table, including his ability to produce positive plays (6th) and limit negative plays (2nd) simultaneously. What stands out the most, though, is what he brings to the table in the short passing game. After all, he’s been the highest-graded quarterback in the NFL each of the past two seasons throwing 0-9 yards, making him a natural distributor, while he was also one of the league’s most accurate quarterbacks (third in accuracy%) as well. He’s the precise type of quarterback who is going to put his playmakers in position to consistently move the chains, which, for two yards-after-catch specialists in Woods and Burks, would seemingly help keep this offense afloat.
At the same time, there are some limitations that need to be accounted for. Over the past three seasons, he’s averaged 10.12 yards/pass attempt on play-action passes, yet just 6.77 yards/pass attempt on standard drop-backs. This showed up last season in an offense that wasn’t able to rely on the play-action passing game as much, and also makes the Titans offense quite vulnerable to game scripts. Meanwhile, it doesn’t help matters that he’s generally struggled alluding pressure and not having it converted into sacks, and he was very reluctant to push the ball down the field. Most likely, the conservative version of Tannehill is what we’ll see, which simply may hold back this offense too mch.
If there’s one other bright light for Tannehill, it’s that his poor luck in the red zone (-0.03 EPA/play) should regress positively in a big play, which could help compensate for some other clear red flags. That being said, with the second-lowest explosive pass rate in the league last year, this is an offense that is trying to win via paper-cuts rather than one knockout punch, which leaves them zero margin for error, particularly with a quarterback with a propensity for taking sacks. At this point, I’m not sure what the ceiling is for this offense, yet for Tannehill, we do have to acknowledge how successful he can be in the ideal situation- that’s all you can ask for from a traditional mid-tier quarterback. Hopefully, we still get to see plenty of finger rolls this season.
#16: Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
Reason For Optimism: Has Become Significantly More Aggressive, Much Better Situation
Reason To Be Concerned: Can He Go Toe-To-Toe With The Other Elite AFC QBs?
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 16th
If things weren’t complicated enough in Las Vegas, recent rumors that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were set to go to the Raiders during the 2020 offseason certainly won’t lead to any more drama, right? Naturally, this is going to put a greater target on Derek Carr’s back; can he “prove” that Jon Gruden was right to stick with him? After acquiring star receiver Davante Adams, expectations are high for the Raiders this season, and it’s up to Carr to lead them to where they want to go.
At the point where Brady would have potentially become a Raider, Carr had established himself as one of the most conservative quarterbacks in the NFL; he was tied for the lowest average depth of target (6.9 yards) in 2019. Since then, though his average depth of target is up 1.5 yards, and, as a result, he’s gotten back to his early-career levels in terms of big-time throw rate (6.2%)- the aggressiveness, for whatever reason was coerced out of him once again.
Why is this a big deal? Well, he’s been of the league’s most productive quarterbacks throwing 10+ yards down the field, and especially shines in the intermediate area of the field. Thus, the ability to succeed down the field was always there, he just needed to have the willingness to embrace that style of play. At the same time, this isn’t something that Carr is going to do naturally. Over the first seven weeks of the season, he had the luxury of partnering with Henry Ruggs III, one of the most explosive wide receivers in the NFL. After he was suspended and released, however, things changed dramatically:
- With Ruggs: 89.9 PFF Passing Grade, 8.5% Big-Time Throw, 2% Turnover-Worthy Play, 9.2 average depth of target, .201 adjusted EPA/play
- Without Ruggs: 61.6 PFF Passing Grade, 3.9% Big-Time Throw, 4.3% Turnover-Worthy Play, 7.8 average depth of target, .083 adjusted EPA/play
Now, there are conflating factors here, including a change in head coach, the loss of tight end Darren Waller for an extended period of time, and the natural ebbs and flows of the NFL season. That being said, it is telling that Carr simply no longer felt confident stretching the field, which correlates with what has seemed to be the case- he isn’t going to be an aggressive quarterback by nature, but, rather, is going to wait for the perfect opportunity. He’s a very accurate quarterback with the arm talent to shine as an aggressive player, yet unless he becomes comfortable with that, there are going to be some limitations.
On the bright side, Carr’s situation has improved in a hurry. Adams is the exact type of intermediate weapon with the separation ability to be an excellent fit with Carr, while Waller should be back healthy and Hunter Renfrow remains in the fold. Meanwhile, new head coach Josh McDaniels should bring more of a play-action element to the offense, which could coax some aggressiveness from Carr. Now, it can take time to adjust to a completely new offense, though it certainly helps that McDaniels is an established play-caller and is certainly an upgrade over what Carr dealt with following the firing of Gruden.
If there’s one notable concern, it’s that Carr is a quarterback whose production has dropped off significantly when under pressure, and the Raiders offensive line is a projected liability as currently constructed. That being said, he’s been able to handle playing behind a below-average offensive line by PFF pass-block grade in two straight seasons, and when you have the type of separators that Carr has, that becomes less of an issue. If all goes well, we could see Carr put up career-best numbers, but it’s going to take some sort of willingness of his part to take advantage of some of his clear strengths. It’s going to be an uphill battle for the Raiders in the AFC West, but a peak season from Carr would certainly go a very long way.
#17: Matt Ryan, Indianapolis Colts
Reason For Optimism: Great Fit With The Colts, Still Capable of High-End Play
Reason To Be Concerned: Is Father Time Working His Unfortunate Magic?
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 19th
Okay, this is going to take some getting used to. For 14 years, Matt Ryan became the staple of the Atlanta Falcons franchise, winning an MVP award and providing them with a run of consistently high-end play. With his contract being restructured, making it nearly impossible for the Falcons to trade him, the thought was he’d finish his career with Atlanta, but with the team making a run at Deshaun Watson, Ryan asked for a trade, and they granted it; they took on $40 million in dead money to trade him the Colts for a third-round pick. While it is unfortunate it had to end this way, Ryan is in a great spot to end his career on a high note.
In Atlanta, production was hard to come by. Ryan has ranked 19th or lower in adjusted EPA/play in three straight seasons, though he did graded slightly better from PFF in each of those seasons, indicating positive regression in a better situation. Over the past two seasons, he’s ranked right at the top of the league in passing grade throwing in the intermediate areas of the field and for all the concern about him being on the decline, he still had the second-best adjusted completion rate throwing 20+ yards down the field.
What has been problematic, though, is the support around him- he’s thrown to an open receiver at a rate of 5% and 4% below league average, respectively, and only had one wide receiver (Russell Gage) earn a PFF receiving grade above 62. To no one’s surprise, his production against the blitz and on third downs cratered, while he struggled even more with wide receiver Calvin Ridley out and running back/wide receiver hybrid Cordarrelle Patterson playing less of a role down the stretch. At this point, Ryan simply doesn’t have the physical capability to elevate an offense on his own, and, thus, needed a change of scenery in the worst way. Enter Indianapolis.
Could you think of a better fit for Ryan than what Michael Pittman Jr. brings to the table? If you simply take a look at where he’s been at his best, it’s working over the middle of the field, exactly where Ryan thrives. Thus, we can see Pittman serve as a “slasher” type that gets back to producing after the catch with a more accurate quarterback, while Ryan gets the consistent chain mover he lacked during the end of his time with the Falcons. While Indianapolis’ offensive line struggled last year, the Falcons’ second-worst pass-block unit per PFF grade didn’t do an immobile quarterback any favors, and it worth noting they were able to rank 13th in EPA/play despite having to deal with subpar quarterback play from Carson Wentz (67.9 PFF Grade). Finally, Ryan is in position where he doesn’t have to be savior, which is a beautiful sight.
What is the ultimate ceiling for a Ryan-led Colts offense? At this point of his career, it’s unclear, but there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic. Of course, Father Time could take its course, but there are still clear indicators that Ryan may have something left in the tank, and he’s in position to be the exact type of quarterback he needs to be right now. Now, let’s just hope it doesn’t run out too quickly.
#18: Baker Mayfield, Carolina Panthers
Reason For Optimism: Production Before Injury, Track Record
Reason To Be Concerned: Last Season, Overall Inconsistency, Relatively Reliant on Supporting Cast
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 23rd
Recency bias is a hell of a drug, folks. After all, just ask Baker Mayfield. The #1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Mayfield was seen as a future star after a very promising rookie season, only to see his performance crumble the next season. Well, after a promising third season (85.7 PFF Grade), his stock went back up, and a contract extension with the Browns seemed inevitable. That was, before everything went south dramatically in 2021.
Through the first five weeks, it was business as usual for Mayfield and the Browns. Cleveland averaged 28.4 points per game during that span, while Mayfield was passing for a strong 8.4 yards/pass attempt. Outside of a down game against the Vikings, he was providing them with a very stable base of quarterback play, and the Browns appeared to be destined for a playoff run. Then, Mayfield re-injured a labrum he had torn in Week 2, and, from there, things went about as poorly as you could have imagined; a 55.5 PFF passing grade, 3.8% big-time throw rate, 4.7% turnover-worthy play, and -6.9 CPOE aren’t the type of numbers you’re looking for. Meanwhile, the Browns averaged just 16 points per game, missed out on the postseason, and apparently had seen enough- they shipped three-first round picks to the Texans for Deshaun Watson, and then later shipped Mayfield to the Panthers for a fifth-round pick while talking on a significant portion of his salary. If that doesn’t speak to a desire to move on, I don’t know what does!
Yet, was this warranted? Sure, last season didn’t go as planned, but given his previous of body work and the clear reasoning behind the struggles, it’s still very clear Mayfield is a very productive NFL starter. Although his accuracy did slip last year, he’s rated out as an accurate quarterback, and was one of the best quarterbacks working 10+ yards down the field as recently as 2020. Whether it’s throwing between the numbers or a beautiful go ball, there’s a lot of big-play ability he brings to the table, and it’s very likely those strengths come back with him fully healthy; as such, Robbie Anderson is the perfect deep threat, while DJ Moore gives him a receiver who can win anywhere. Unless you believe he’s going to continue to be one of the worst quarterbacks on third down (-0.31 EPA/play) again, then there’s also massive positive regression coming in that regard, leading to him getting back. tothe level of production he is capable of.
Still, we do have to acknowledge that as quarterback that has statistically been very affected by pressure, going from the top-graded pass-block unit to the 17th, which also features a rookie left tackle who has struggled in pass protection in the preseason, is concerning. Meanwhile, whereas head coach Kevin Stefanski was able to build a system that allowed him to thrive in the play-action rollout passing game, there’s no indication that he’ll receive the same level of support in Carolina, a franchise that hasn’t exactly experience a lot of functionality as of late. Thus, the situation may not be conducive for him to succeed, but, in some way, this is the perfect “prove-it” spot for him; if he performs well in a subpar situation, then perhaps we can get back to viewing Mayfield for what he is, rather than what happened this past offseason. Or, at least I hope that’s the case.
#19: Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
Reason For Optimism: The Highs Are Very Fun
Reason To Be Concerned: The Lows Are Not So Fun
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 18th
Have you ever gone on multiple roller-coasters, and thought, “They each have their high and their lows, but, really it’s the same story all the time”? Consider Jameis Winston the roller-coaster of quarterbacks. This is the same quarterback who threw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions each in a season he passed for 5000 passing yards, and in six full games with the Saints last year, put on quite the demonstration of turbulence. Take his game-by-game PFF grades as a clear example of this:
- Week 1: 89.5
- Week 2: 40.3
- Week 3: 51.4
- Week 4: 91.6
- Week 5: 64
- Week 7: 70.7
Seems exhausting, right? Yet, it ends you in the exact same place. Take a look now at his season-by-season PFF grades:
- 2015: 67.1
- 2016: 72
- 2017: 73.7
- 2018: 69.9
- 2019: 68.4
- 2021: 74
Overall by these grades, there is some intrigue, but not enough to anoint Winston as a starting quarterback. However, consider this; in every season of his NFL career, Winston has ranked 14th or higher in adjusted EPA/play. In my eyes, this may come down to his style of play. It’s become rather evident that quarterbacks capable of high-end play are needed for an NFL team to win a Super Bowl, and Winston has consistently been able to provide that. As you’d expect for someone with a double-digit career average depth of target (10.8 is very high!), he is consistently willing to push the ball down the field, which is going to lead to explosive passing offenses, as we saw in New Orleans – his 7.1% big-time throw rate would have ranked second in the NFL last year. Of course, you have to deal with plenty of mistakes along the way, but when that’s still leading to productive offenses, can you completely blame him?
In his small sample last year, we did see Winston limit turnover-worthy plays at the best rate (3%) , which correlates in a slight tick in his average depth of targets (9.5). Thus, he potentially found a balance between being aggressive and not putting his team in unsustainable harm’s way, especially sine half of his turnover-worthy plays came from playing well from behind in a loss against the Panthers. In fact, in Tampa Bay, Winston was no strange to playing in less favorable game-scripts, which certainly would explain a lot of the “mistakes”; he’s simply doing what he can to try to help his team come back and win, rather than playing it safe for no real reason. If the Saints provide Winston with the foundation of strong defensive play and a massive upgrade in receiver talent, don’t be surprised if the turnovers are more in check that you think.
Of course, a lot of the credit has to also be given to former head coach Sean Payton, who not only helped Winston cut down on his mistakes, but also embraced the play-action passing game (25.7%) to set up more high-percentage big play opportunities for Winston; he averaged 10.2 yards/attempt and an 11.4 depth of target on play-action passes last year. His unprecedented success in the red zone (1.07 EPA/play) won’t stay intact, but when you go from throwing to the receivers he had to work with last year. to having Michael Thomas as a chain mover and first-round pick Chris Olave take the top off of defenses, that also is going to help. With Payton retired, his long-time offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael will now be tasked with calling the plays, but if the offense looks similar to last year – perhaps with slightly less early-down rushing for the sake of everyone involved – there is a pathway for the Saints having much more success offensively than anticipated. Ultimately, it’s a complete unknown at this point, but, man, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. Let’s see if this roller-coaster ride ends a bit differently this time around.
TIER 4: GOOD LUCK FIGURING OUT THESE QBs
#20: Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Reason For Optimism: Plenty of Big-Play Ability, Elite College Prospect
Reason To Be Concerned: Negatives, Especially Sacks; Very Poor Supporting Cast
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 33rd
With how many talented young quarterbacks there are currently in the NFL, it can be easy to forget how difficult it is to play the position, particularly as a rookie. In the 2021 NFL Draft, the expectation was that there would be five impact quarterbacks, but, at the moment, it’s still a waiting game outside of Mac Jones. Still, if starting a franchise today, the quarterback I’d personally want to bet on is none other Justin Fields.
Once upon a time, Fields was considered as likely to be a future #1 overall pick as Trevor Lawrence, yet as the draft process carried on, his stock started to suddenly fall, even if that would appear to be quite unfounded. Ultimately, he ended up as the 4th quarterback selected when the Bears traded up to the 11th overall pick, immediately putting in a rough spot with a general manager (Ryan Pace) and head coach (Matt Nagy) that clearly had little job security, and, he’ll now need to accomplish enough to show the team’s new regime that he can be the face of their franchise moving forward.
Overall, Fields’ rookie season didn’t go as planned; he finished 30th in both PFF passing grade (60.8) and adjusted EPA/play (-.104). Now, the former still ranked higher than every rookie quarterback not named Mac Jones, but for someone whose college data was essentially as prodigious as it gets, it certainly was a disappointing first year. That being said, it wasn’t devoid of reasons for optimism moving forward. When looking for a franchise quarterback, one o the first places to start is their ability to produce positive plays- do they have the high-end style of play that can truly take over games. In Fields’ case, that showed right away. Overall, the Ohio State product ranked third in big-time throw rate (6.1%) and positively-graded play rate, combining impact arm talent with scrambling ability that he started to rely on to his advantage as the season went on. That on its own is a great start, though we’ll be looking for Fields to improve in other areas to become the player he has the ability to be. PFF,
In college, Fields, according to a data study by Tej Seth at PFF, was not only the most accurate quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft, but the most accurate draft prospect since 2015. Yet, with the highest uncatchable pass rate in the NFL and a negative completion rate above expectation, he was anything but the accurate passer we had come to expect. With accuracy being such a stable trait from college to pro, I’d expect on this improving – he was mainly throwing outside the numbers and was a rookie – though it’s worth monitoring. From there, a slightly quicker processor would be beneficial; even if time to throw rate doesn’t correlate with success on either end of the spectrum, not being under pressure on 42.8% of his drop-backs again make matters much easier. Now, a mobile quarterback with such extensive big-play ability should be holding onto the ball in hopes of utilizing his strengths, but making sure to not have these situations covert into sacks as much as he did would certainly keep things from getting out of hand at any particular time.
On the bright side, Fields’ production on third down and in the red zone was so low compared to standard that it would be a shock to not see him improve in those two areas. Furthermore, he already showed plenty of flashes (12.7% big-time throw) working off play-action, which is someone thing he should be able to use to his benefit a lot more with new offensive coordinator Luke Getsby, who comes over from Green Bay and has already made it an emphasis in the preseason. For a quarterback that dealt with poor separation from his receivers as much as almost any other quarterback, being in a more fluid offense that allows for more high-percentage throws will be a great addition for him- combining layups to go along with his normal half-court shots will certainly help him become the complete player he has the potential to be. With the high-end play he already showed and the clear areas of growth that we have reason to expect to happen, there are so many reasons to be optimistic about Fields’ long-term outlook.
That is, unless you’ve taken a look at the Bears’ depth chart. With an offensive line that will be starting a fifth-round offensive tackle and a receiving corps that lacks depth, to put in nicely, Fields’ situation looks quite inferior compared to the other second-year quarterbacks. Hopefully, the offensive system is enough for him to make huge strides as a player, even if his production doesn’t show it, and it all comes down to him succeeding in ways he has before. Of course, there is a chance that things don’t go so smoothly, but given his elite college profile and the peaks he saw during his rookie season, there is enough to still expect him to settle in as a long-term, above-average starter in the NFL. Hey, given what Bears fans have gone through at the quarterback position, they deserve at least that!
#21: Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Reason For Optimism: Elite College Prospect, Better Situation
Reason To Be Concerned: Very Rough Rookie Season
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 32nd
When you’re considered perhaps the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck and a generational player, expectations are about as sky high as it gets; anything but an elite quarterback wouldn’t match them. Being the savior of a franchise is never an easy task, and, for Trevor Lawrence, it’s one he struggled to accomplish in his rookie year. With a more functional coaching staff and further progression, he’ll look to take major step forwards in his second season.
Coming out of Clemson, Lawrence profiled as a high-end prospect for a variety of reasons; he was an accomplished three-year starter, already demonstrated the ability to make extremely quick decisions, and had otherworldly physical capabilities. It’s not often that a player is labeled as the clear-cut #1 pick for multiple years, yet that’s where Lawrence found himself. Theoretically, Jacksonville was getting a polished quarterback who could step in right away and thrive, while being capable of the high-end play that could one day get them to the promise land.
In Lawrence’s rookie season, though, things didn’t go as planned. His PFF grade (59.6) and adjusted EPA/play (-.03) ranked 31st and 26th, respectively, while he was the second-least accurate quarterback in the NFL based on CPOE (-4.9). Furthermore, he struggled at areas of the field sans behind the line of scrimmage, graded worse (71.1) than every other rookie quarterback, and was one of the worst quarterbacks both in terms of producing positive plays (28th) and limiting negative plays (28th). Really, from a statistical standpoint, there aren’t any particular areas you can truly hang your hat on, which, considering how dominant of a prospect he was perceived to be, is concerning.
Of course, we’d be remiss to not acknowledge the dysfunction Lawrence had to deal with during the fiasco of Urban Meyer’s brief head coaching tenure. Meanwhile, when you’re on a team that only won three games and lost by double-digit points in ten of them, it’s also reasonable that you naturally make more “mistakes” in hopes of rectifying their previous errors, as Lawrence (20th in NFL with 72.4 PFF passing grade) on passes made in 2.5 or fewer seconds. By all accounts, Lawrence was already dictating his own protection calls and is the best second-year quarterback in terms of the mental aspects of the quarterback position, and all of the reasons to be excited about him coming out of college are still there. Now, it’s time for that to translate into production.
With head coach Doug Pederson taking over, Lawrence now gets to be in a situation with a lot more stability. Ultimately, we’re looking at a quarterback who reads pressure well and has all the physical talent in the world, but that lead to him becoming the player he was expected to be? There are certainly some concerns about ball placement that have to be had, though it’d also be silly to dismiss a quarterback after one year in a rough situation. Sometimes, all you need to shine is some sense of stability.
#22: Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
Reason For Optimism: So Much Raw Talent and In a Superb Situation
Reason To Be Concerned: Accuracy, Refinement, Complete Unknown
Projected EPA/Play Rank: N/A
What do I even put here? Heading into 2022, there may be no greater unknown than the prospects of Trey Lance, who, unlike the other second-year quarterbacks, only played 2.5 games in his rookie year, and also is tasked with being the quarterback of a team who just made the NFC Championship Game. Really, is there a player whose success is more consequential to the outlook of the NFL than him?
With just 19 career starts for a run-heavy offense at North Dakota State, Lance was already a complete enigma coming into the draft. Any team drafting him was banking on his illustrious talent, hoping to help refine some of the other deficiencies in his game. If a team was going to make that bet, perhaps the 49ers, who have such a strong foundation for development with an offensive mastermind in head coach Kyle Shanahan and an elite supporting cast, as well as an incumbent quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo) who could allow Lance to take as much time as he needed, were the best fit. Then again, compared to the other organizations that drafted quarterbacks, it is relatively obvious San Francisco was the best fit for any of those quarterbacks.
Anyways, rather than go with the anticipated selection of Mac Jones, the 49ers certainly believe that Lance can give them a layer to their offense they’ve lacked. His 64.4 rushing yards/game (168 over 2.5 games) was enough to make fantasy football managers drool, as well as Shanahan, who can only imagine the explosive rushing attack he can build with him at helm (see, Lamar Jackson). Meanwhile, with Garoppolo, this is a team that has been forced to play completely on schedule and rely on production after the catch, yet, now, Lance allows them to succeed even if things go off the rails, which they will at times. Lance’s accuracy woes in college showed up in a major way (71.4% adjusted completion rate), while he had more turnover-worthy plays (4.3%) than big-time throws (3.9%), and struggled mightily (53.4 PFF passing grade) in the intermediate areas of the field. All together, there are a lot of raw elements here that could go south, which could make Shanahan quite comfortable at times.
Now, when you have the amount of playmaking talent that Lance has, this is going to be an offense that is as explosive as it gets. Even if his overall skills as a quarterback lack, you can bank on his production still being quite strong, simply as a virtue of being paired with Shanahan- Garoppolo averaged 8.4 yards/pass attempt, after all. Honestly, there’s no way to know how this goes, but if it does, man, it’s going to be a lot of fun in San Francisco. Fellas, this is a team to tune in for this year; through the highs and lows, they are quality entertainment, to say the least.
#23: Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Reason For Optimism: Showed The Ability To Lead a Productive Offense In Second Half
Reason To Be Concerned: Limitations, Reliance on Production Under Pressure
Projected EPA/Play Rank: 20th
As a general manager, how you handle the quarterback position tends to determine your overall success. Hit on the quarterback, and you have a significant margin for error, but, if not, things get a lot of tougher. After drafting Carson Wentz in 2016, it certainly looked like Howie Roseman had found his guy, yet after things went south, he had to adjust in a hurry. With an elite offensive line, a remade receiving corps, and plenty of defensive talent, the Eagles once again have one of the league’s best rosters. At the end of the day, though, it all comes down to one player.
This is a much different situation for Jalen Hurts to be in than the season prior, where he was a second-round pick with four NFL starts under his belt and appeared to simply be a stopgap option for a rebuilding team. Now, he’s leading a team that fully anticipates winning the NFC East, and it’s up to Hurts to prove to not only be capable of that, but also can continue to be the team’s signal-caller for the foreseeable future. If so, further development from last season is needed.
To be fair, by ranking eighth in adjusted EPA/play from Week 8 on, when the team adopted a more run-heavy approach, Hurts showed the capability of leading a productive offense over a relatively elongated period of success. Plus, thanks in large part to his high-end rushing ability, he finished 14th in PFF grade (77.1), and was a top-ten quarterback in terms of producing positive plays. Plus, he was one of the better passers working to the intermediate areas of the field (9th in PFF passing grade), a great sign about his passing skillset moving forward. For the most part, this was a quarterback capable of high-end play without an abundance of negatives, which was enough for Philadelphia to stick by him.
That being said, there are some other limitations with Hurts that have to be dealt with. For starters, one quick look at his heat map from last year shows that he simply refused to throw over the middle of the field, leading to a much more limiting offense. Considering newly-acquired star receiver AJ Brown specializes on in-breaking routes between the numbers, this is something Hurts will have to show the capability to accomplish; if not, the offense is much more capped in terms of what they can achieve. Personally, I’m not too worried about the fact that Hurts wasn’t relied up on through the air over the second-half of the season – he actually graded better prior to the change in offensive philosophy – though you’d hope the team shows more confidence in him this season. Rather, what’s curious to me is how he handles any sort of regression under pressure. With performance in these situations being quite volatile, the fact that he was the second-highest graded quarterback there, yet only the 21st from a clean pocket, is a bit concerning, and could end up being an impediment to the offense’s success. Of course, Hurts can simply perform better from a clean pocket, particularly with a much improved group of weapons, yet it’s still a relative unknown.
Can you beat up on inferior teams with a quarterback like Hurts? Sure, but, against more talented defenses, there are still enough limitations that need to be addressed. If we see Hurts continue to develop in terms of accuracy with a more diverse target spectrum, then this is a team that can be quite dangerous. If not, the Eagles are going to have their ceiling capped, and, thus, may lead to them searching for a new quarterback next offseason. Consider this the million-dollar question in the city of Brotherly Love.
TIER 5: HIGH-END BACKUP QBs
#24: Teddy Bridgewater, Miami Dolphins
- Reasons For Optimism: Accurate Quarterback Who Was Efficient Last Season
- Reasons For Concern: Very Little Big-Play Ability
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: 14th
No, not that Miami Dolphins quarterback. From being a first-round pick to an entire dislocation of his knee in 2016 to going essentially three full years without any starting opportunities to filling in admirably for Drew Brees in New Orleans in 2019 and earning a $60 million contract from the Panthers, it’s been quite a journey for Teddy Bridgewater. Alas, after an average season (22nd in adjusted EPA/play) in Carolina, he was traded to the Broncos, where he actually was efficient on his end (9th in adjusted EPA/play) before suffering a gruesome head injury that kept him out for the rest of the season. Now, he’s in Miami as a backup, where he’s more than capable filling in if needed.
With Bridgewater, you’re not getting a quarterback who is going to produce many positive plays. Rather, you’re getting an accurate quarterback (7th in accuracy%) who will keep an offense in structure by limiting the amount of mistakes made. Now, that type of quarterback may not be able to lead a high-end offense that can win a Super Bowl, yet, in a pinch, that’s more than enough to stumble into success in the right situation. Still only 29-years-old, he likely still has plenty more ahead of him as a coveted backup quarterback, though he can be more than that if needed.
#25: Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers (For Now)
- Reasons For Optimism: Accurate Quarterback Who Was Efficient Last Season
- Reasons For Concern: Has Been In Perfect Situation, Twice as Many TWPs as BTTs, Clear Limitations
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: 21st
How does a quarterback who ranked second in yards/pass attempt last season end up without a starting job heading into 2022? Well, consider it the magic of Kyle Shanahan. Keep this in mind; Garoppolo had the second-lowest big-time throw rate (2.2%) and highest turnover-worthy play rate (5.1%) among quarterbacks with at least 350 drop-backs last season, yet still was able to be as efficient as he was; it pays to be in San Francisco with the yards after catch monsters he had to work with.
Now, for the most part, Garoppolo is an accurate quarterback who can succeed in the right situation, yet without any sort of aggressiveness combined with plenty of mistakes, it’s very difficult to imagine him performing well if everything isn’t already in place; his lack of ability to throw outside the numbers is also telling. Hence, why the 49ers still haven’t been able to find a trade partner yet.
#26: Zach Wilson, New York Jets
- Reasons For Optimism: He Was The Second Overall Pick
- Reasons For Concern: His Entire Rookie Season
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: 36th
Development isn’t always linear, and it would be bad process to write off a #2 overall pick after one season. That being said, there are a lot of reasons to be concerned about Zach Wilson following his first year in the league. Not only was he the worst quarterback in terms of limiting negative plays, yet the big-play ability (26th in positively-graded play rate) didn’t show up either, and he was the least-accurate quarterback in the NFL based on PFF charting. No quarterback was credited for being responsible for more sacks than he was (17 in 13 games), while he finished dead last in every notable statistic- PFF grade, adjusted EPA/play, CPOE, etc.. Yeah, not ideal.
Here’s one interesting thought, though. Fields, by virtue of his big-time throw rate and peak performances (75+ PFF grade three times w/a 90 grade game) and Lawrence (three games with PFF grade of 79 or higher) each showed at times why they were elite college prospects, as did Jones and even Davis Mills. Wilson, on the other hand, exceeded 70 PFF passing grade just once. To see the pathway to becoming a franchise quarterback, you’d essentially have to throw away his rookie season, yet the red flags are too significant to ignore. Making matters worse, he had to undergo knee surgery after injuring it in the first week of the preseason, meaning it’s likely misses the first few games of the year. When he comes back, he quietly has a talented group of weapons to throw to, but it’s up to him to show he can take advantage of that. If not, the Jets might be back in the quarterback sweepstakes in the 2023 NFL Draft.
#27: Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Reasons For Optimism: Productive Senior Season, Has Impressed In Preseason
- Reasons For Concern: Some Red Flags as a Prospect, Rookie Season Difficulties
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: N/A
To be fair, Kenny Pickett hopefully won’t be described as a “backup quarterback” in the future. That being said, being a rookie quarterback is difficult, and it isn’t as though Pickett was a blue-chip prospect. After all, prior to his fifth season in college, his career high PFF grade was a mere 75, and his career big-time throw (3.6%) and turnover-worthy play rates (3.3%) aren’t exactly that of an elite quarterback. Of course, development can come at any time, though this is a concern.
Meanwhile, for someone who isn’t a dynamic rushing threat, Pickett’s long time-to-throw (3.07 seconds) in college is an issue; if he’s not creating big plays, there’s not much point with inducing more pressure and risking taking more sacks. Now, that’s been significantly better in the preseason (2.5 seconds), though it also has come with a very low 5.4-yard average depth of target. Ultimately, from a pocket movement and accuracy standpoint, there is enough to like to project him as a mid-tier quarterback, but what is the hope beyond that? His rookie season could really go any which way.
#28: Daniel Jones, New York Giants
- Reasons For Optimism: Has Shown Flashes Of Quality Play, Limits Mistakes
- Reasons For Concern: Has Become Ultra-Conservative
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: 24th
Simply from a production standpoint, Daniel Jones, who’s averaged just 6.6 yards/attempt over the first three seasons of his career, isn’t exactly checking a lot of boxes. At the same time, though, he’s had back-to-back seasons with a PFF grade over 71, showed more (16th in positive-play rate, 4th in negative-play rate) than it may seem last year, and now gets a massive coaching upgrade with former Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll taking over.
So, where lies the truth? As someone who has ranked at the bottom of the league throughout his career in terms of frequency of passes 20 yards down the field, there is a conservative nature than could be coached out of Jones, though it’s also true that perhaps that leads to more negatives. While a strong trade-off, will a more aggressive approach be enough to compensate for subpar accuracy, a struggle to allude pressure, and the lack of innate big-play ability? We’ll see how real Daboll’s powers truly are.
#29: Carson Wentz, Washington Commanders
- Reasons For Optimism: Strong Deep-Ball Production
- Reasons For Concern: Negative Plays, Poor Accuracy, Very Low “Lows” Without Enough “Highs”
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: 22nd
Actions speak louder than words, so the fact that each of Carson Wentz’s last two teams have made it a priority to move on from him in consecutive seasons perhaps is a red flag worth noting. Once upon a time, Wentz, between 2017 and 2019, had established himself as a franchise-level quarterback, but after an extremely surprising down season (60 PFF passing grade) in Philadelphia amidst reported locker-room issues, he was traded to the Colts. Paired with head coach Frank Reich, his offensive coordinator in 2017, this was supposed to be the change of scenery that got him back on the track.
Instead, Wentz marginally improved (67.9 PFF passing grade), and after a late-season meltdown, the team was content to trade him to the Washington Commanders for two third-round picks, even though they had no other answer at the quarterback position (Matt Ryan wasn’t even available yet). Alas, he’ll look to rectify his career in a third different spot, where he’ll be protected by PFF‘s fourth-ranked offensive line last year and an intriguing group of weapons. For a team that has dealt with so many issues at the quarterback position, having someone with competent deep-ball production (13th in PFF passing grade 20+ yards down the field) has to be a sense of relief, but that also comes with a lot of other negatives.
For instance, Wentz has consistently ranked as one of the league’s least accurate passers, and combined negative plays (25th in negative play rate) with not enough positives (21st in positive play rate). Meanwhile, as a quarterback who generally holds onto the ball for a substantial period of time and lacks pocket awareness, he’ll take his fair share of sacks, with plenty of poor decisions that’ll leave you scratching your head. Will there be a few weeks where Wentz performs at a high-end level and leads Washington to dominant offensive showing? Yes, but it’ll unfortunately likely come with more performances on the lower-end of the spectrum, which is very difficult for a competitive team to swallow. As such, it’s more likely than not that this marriage ends in a divorce very soon.
#30: Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
- Reasons For Optimism: Accurate Quarterback Who Can Serve as a Distributor
- Reasons For Concern: A Lack of Positive Plays With Too Many Negative Plays
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: 28th
When you’re as hyped-up of a quarterback prospect as Tua Tagovailoa was coming out of Alabama – I mean, there were literally “Tank for Tua” signs when the 2019 season started – you’re going to be watched under a microscopic lens. When you’re the #5 overall pick, one spot ahead of Justin Herbert, that pressure only grows. Heading into his third season, it’s clear the time is now for Tagovailoa to shine before it’s too late.
There are plenty of valid justifications for being worried about Tagovailoa’s stance as a starting quarterback after his first two years in the NFL. After all, he’s had twice as many turnover-worthy plays (35, 4.3%) as big-time throws (17, 2.3%), while he has struggled mightily as an intermediate passer. For someone who doesn’t throw the ball down the field much at all, you’d also wish for fewer negative plays (19th), especially in a RPO-heavy offense that has been relatively catered to his strengths.
Now, for the positives. In a small sample, Tagovailoa did finish as the most accurate passer 20+ yards down the field, so perhaps the ability is in there to push it down the field- we’ll see if that comes to fruition with Tyreek Hill in Miami. At the very least, with his success (8th in PFF passing grade) in the short passing game, allowing him to be the type of distributor who can take advantage of the dynamic playmakers he has to work with. Of course, he’s also going from being “protected” by PFF‘s lowest-graded pass-block unit to a group that has added star tackle Terron Armstead and interior offensive lineman Connor Williams, and head coach Mike McDaniel could theoretically build a more quarterback-friendly system in Garoppolo-esque fashion; Tagovailoa’s reluctance to throw over the middle of the field and struggles in the intermediate passing game complicate things, however.
There is a great chance Tagovailoa has his best season as a pro in 2022. That being said, what does that actually entail. There seem to be too many restrictions in place for a diverse, bullet-proof offense to be in place here in very similar fashion to Garoppolo, though Tagovailoa is also less refined that Garoppolo. With one of their first-round picks being taken away, it’ll be harder for them to find a long-term answer at quarterback should Tagovailoa not take a major step forward, but you have to feel like this is the time the Dolphins’ grand jury makes their final decisions on Tagovailoa. Now, it’s up to his “lawyer” (his production) to craft a winning case.
#31: Marcus Mariota, Atlanta Falcons
- Reasons For Optimism: Strong Scheme Fit, Mobility To Tap Into,
- Reasons For Concern: Hasn’t Started In 2.5 Years, Conservativeness Without Limiting Negatives
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: 26th
Speaking of former top-five picks born in Hawaii who came into the NFL with massive expectations, it feels like another lifetime ago that Marcus Mariota was a Heisman Trophy winner and led Oregon to a national championship appearance, but, hey, that happened. Then, you compound that with being the #2 overall pick and throwing four touchdown passes in your NFL debut, and you’re suddenly put on a pedestal that is difficult to reach. On the bright side, he did continue to progress from a peripheral standpoint in each of the first three seasons of his career, and continue to perform adequately (76.8 PFF grade) in 2018. If you’re familiar with the Ryan Tannehill story, though, you know what happens next; Mariota struggled in 2019, the Titans went to Tannehill, and the rest is history. Hence, why Mariota has waited 2.5 seasons to start another NFL game.
What’s fascinating about Mariota’s trajectory is his complete change in play style. Here is his average depth of target by year:
- 2015: 9.6 yards
- 2016: 10.1 yards
- 2017: 9.5 yards
- 2018: 7.9 yards
- 2019: 7.6 yards
As time went on, Mariota became a much more conservative quarterback, which is reasonable given his limited deep-ball efficiency, though it’s fair to also say he perhaps went to far in the other direction. Particularly for a quarterback who consistently struggled in terms of taking sacks, not producing the positive plays to counter-act that is not a good combination. For what it’s worth, Mariota was much more aggressive (12.3 aDOT) in a limited sample during the preseason, and is in a scheme with head coach Arthur Smith where his ability to create off play action can work to his benefit. There are worse jobs a quarterback can have than throwing the ball to Kyle Pitts and Drake London, though playing behind PFF‘s second-lowest graded pass-blocking unit from a season ago doesn’t help matters. Considering this is Mariota’s last stand, here’s hoping he uses everything in his tool box, including re-established aggressiveness and plenty of mobility. If so, perhaps there’s an avenue to success here we’re overlooking with the Falcons offense.
TIER 6: BACKUP QBs
#32: Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
- Reasons For Optimism: Strong Showing Between Last Year and Preseason
- Reasons For Concern: Hasn’t Been a Legitimate Starter Since 2014 and Struggled Then
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: N/A
After effectively starting their much-needed rebuild by trading Russell Wilson, the Seahawks went into this season without the most exciting quarterback plan, to say the least. Before last season, Geno Smith had started one game since 2014, and although he showed flashes (73.9 PFF grade, 6.9% big-time throw, 2.5% turnover-worthy play) in a 3.5-game sample, it’s hard to have any idea what to truly expect. For the most part, it’s likely we see a conservative, run-heavy offense where Smith is asked to serve as a “game manager”, which works a lot better when your roster isn’t projected to be one of the worst in the NFL. Hey, I’ll be rooting for Geno!
#33: Mitchell Trubisky, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Reasons For Optimism: Mobility, Has Had Bouts of Efficiency
- Reasons For Concern: Lots of Mistakes
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: 30th
Why does it feel like every quarterback we’ve talked about in this range has the same exact story. As the #2 overall pick in a draft that included Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, it’s safe to say Mitchell Trubisky didn’t meet expectations during his four-year stint with the Bears. After a year backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo, he’s currently competing for a chance to be the Steelers’ starting quarterback heading into 2022, where the hope would be his mobility is on display rather than some of his deficiencies; poor accuracy and turnover-worthy play numbers, as well as a general lack of pocket awareness. At the end of the day, how much he plays is based on the team’s confidence in Pickett, though there is probably enough data at this point to suggest Trubisky isn’t likely a reliable solution for a competitive team under center.
#34: Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
- Reasons For Optimism: Accuracy
- Reasons For Concern: No Big-Play Ability or Mobility
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: 25th
Hey, look; another former top pick! For Jared Goff, though, the story is a little different. After all, he led the Rams to a Super Bowl in 2018, and did enough between that season and 2017 to earn a notable contract extension. From that point on, though, he struggled to lead efficient offenses despite being surrounded with a lot of talent and a tremendous offensive play caller, leading to Los Angeles shipping him, along with multiple first-round picks and a third-round pick, for Matthew Stafford. To serve as a double whammy, the Rams immediately went on to win a Super Bowl, while Goff had his worst season as a pro as a member of the Lions.
Really, there aren’t many positives to take away from Goff’s first season in Detroit; he ranked 25th among 31 quarterbacks in PFF grade (60.3), led a very inefficient (-0.031 adjusted EPA/play) offense, and had the third-lowest big-time throw rate (2.3%) in the NFL. Despite having legitimate arm talent, Goff’s strange reluctance to push the ball down the field (6.8 aDOT) at all has clearly held him back, while his lack of mobility is an obvious limitation as well. While he’s rated as an accurate quarterback throughout his career, he haven’t even seen him recently been able to lead a productive offense in an optimal situation, and have now seen how bad it can get when the situation falters. Things are trending up in Detroit, but it almost certainly involves a different quarterback starting in 2023.
#35: Davis Mills, Houston Texans
- Reasons For Optimism: Had a Few High-End Performances w/Accuracy
- Reasons For Concern: No Mobility, Conservative Yet Still Couldn’t Limited Negatives
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: 34th
It isn’t particularly common for a third-round pick to get legitimate playing time as a rookie, yet Davis Mills not only accomplished that, but he did enough for the Texans to give him a full season as the starting quarterback heading into 2022. As someone who makes quick decisions, was actually very accurate (7th in accuracy%), and had four games with a PFF grade of 73.5 or higher, it’s easy to see what Houston is excited about. Of course, at the same time, he also had more turnover-worthy plays (4.3%) than big-time throws (3.8%) despite a conservative 7.8-yard average depth of target, struggled to evade pressure (23.5% pressure to sack) due to his lack of mobility, and simply cannot succeed out of structure. That likely is one too many red flags, particularly without previous prospect pedigree, to project a long-term answer at the quarterback position, though you never know what could happen.
#36: Drew Lock, Seattle Seahawks
- Reasons For Optimism: Big Plays Through The Air
- Reasons For Concern: Poor Decision-Making and Accuracy
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: 29th
If you’re looking for pure entertainment value, then a game featuring Drew Lock would be right up your alley. After all, in one preseason game, he threw three interceptions, one touchdown, and had a solo tackle. That’s quite a half of football if you ask me?
Of course, if you’re looking to win games, you’re looking for much more than pure entertainment. Over the past two seasons, Lock has ranked in the bottom-four in adjusted completion rate, has consistently been amongst the worst quarterbacks in terms of the percentage of negative plays he causes, and also has not showed the ability to deal with pressure on all. On the bright side, he did finish off the season (77.2 PFF passing grade, 5.3% big-time throw rate, 1.1% turnover-worthy play) in three starts last season in Denver, though that’s almost certainly too limited of a sample size to look to much into, and it isn’t ideal that he wasn’t able to win the starting quarterback job in Seattle. Now, let’s just make sure he gets on the field, because football is supposed to be fun.
#37: Jacoby Brissett, Cleveland Browns
- Reasons For Optimism: Success In Short Passing Game, Limits Negatives
- Reasons For Concern: No Big-Play Ability, Will Be Ultra-Conservative, Holds Onto Ball Very Long
- Projected EPA/Play Rank: 27th
There’s just something about Jacoby Brissett and being there when you least expect it. I mean, this is a very strange pathway to starting games in the NFL:
- In 2016 with the Patriots, not only was Tom Brady suspended as part of “Deflate Gate”, but Jimmy Garoppolo, who was filling in for Brady, also got injured; this thrusted Brissett, a rookie third-round pick, into the lineup.
- The Colts weren’t sure when they’d be getting Andrew Luck back in 2017, so they traded for Brissett as needed insurance. Instead, opening starter Scott Tolzien lasted one half before being replaced by Brissett, who started the rest of the season with Luck not coming back.
- Luck then went on to thrive in 2018, and then abruptly retired in 2019, paving the pathway for Brissett to once again to start for a full season.
- Brissett then needed to fill in for Tua Tagovailoa on multiple different occasions in 2020 due to various injuries.
Now, with Deshaun Watson being suspended 11 games, Brissett will be asked to once again do enough in a stopgap starting role. On on end, he did perform adequately (74 PFF passing grade) in a rough situation in Miami, was very productive (5th in PFF passing grade) in the short passing game, and has limited the amount of mistakes he’s made throughout his career. On the other end, he’s been relatively close to a net zero in terms of producing chunk plays through the air (2.8% career big-time throw), was one of the league’s least productive intermediate passers, and also has the propensity to induce an extensive amount of pressure due to a tendency to hold onto the ball for an extended period of time. The Browns are likely hoping he can manage things well enough to allow their roster talent to keep them afloat, particularly with an easy opening schedule. That being said, if anything goes wary, it’s hard to imagine them being able to come from behind much at all over their first 11 games. Don’t worry, though; Brissett will find his way to starting 10+ games again for a new team in 2022! I mean, how long before we question the voodoo powers that may be on display here?
Aaron Rodgers: Packers Wire
Patrick Mahomes: Bloomberg.com
Tom Brady: Sportsnet
Joe Burrow: Football Outsiders
Justin Herbert: Huddle.com
Josh Allen: Yahoo! Sports
Deshaun Watson: Yahoo! Sports
Russell Wilson: Broncos Wire
Kyler Murray: Touchdown Wire
Matthew Stafford: The Boston Globe
Lamar Jackson: Marca
Dak Prescott: Sportsnet
Kirk Cousins: The Viking Age
Mac Jones: CBS Sports
Ryan Tannehill: Sporting News
Derek Carr: Raiders Wire
Matt Ryan: Yahoo! Sports
Baker Mayfield: NFL.Com
Justin Fields: On3.Com
Trevor Lawrence: USA Today
Trey Lance: NBC Sports
Tua Tagovailoa: The Phinsider
Davis Mills: Texans Wire