Justin Fields Climbing Sack Leaderboards
NFL Week 8 - This column exists as a companion piece to the Loser League content, of course, but we made it clear in our mission statement early on that we're here to celebrate losing in all its forms, to celebrate terrible football whether or not you want to assign fantasy value to it. So let's talk about the sack.
You don't get any points for sacks in Loser League—in fact, they conceivably could harm you, as a sack doesn't count as a passing attempt and could theoretically keep your quarterback in the penalty. In practice, the 10-attempt minimum is generous enough that that almost never happens. Just two passers saw sacks give them the penalty in 2020, both in Denver—Kendall Hinton in the "all Broncos quarterbacks have COVID" game, and Brett Rypien coming in for a benched Jeff Driskel in Week 3. For starters, it's even rarer—including Hinton, it has happened just 16 times since the 2002 realignment, usually when the starter gets injured on one of those many, many sacks. It's not an issue to worry about.
So it makes sense to try to hunt down those players who do take a lot of sacks. While the sacks themselves won't help you score points, the situation that causes sacks generally produces a Loser-positive environment. Constant pressure can lead to bad decisions, take away the threat of the long passing game, and end drives before they have a chance to get going. It's no surprise, then, that Justin Fields has been a top-tier Loser League starter since he was given the ball.
Fields leads the league with 22 sacks taken through Week 7. That's not unheard of. Just last season, Joe Burrow had 28 sacks in seven weeks, while Kyler Murray absorbed 23 in 2019 and Josh Allen had 21 in six games in 2018. Put a rookie quarterback still trying to adjust to the league behind a poor offensive line and sacks are going to happen while he's trying to figure everything out. Burrow, Murray, and Allen have all turned out fine, and while that's still the exception rather than the rule, there's nothing inherently concerning in the long-term about Fields simply ending up on the ground a lot.
|Most-Sacked Rookies, Weeks 1-7|
The thing is, though, Fields has only started five games. He has just 131 passing attempts this season; Burrow and Murray were each over 250. It's not so much a fact that Fields is taking a lot of sacks, it's the rate at which he's racking that up that is turning heads. Fields has been sacked on 14.4% of his dropbacks. That cracks the top 20 (since individual quarterback sack numbers started being recorded) among players with at least 100 passing attempts through seven weeks.
|Highest Sack Rate, Weeks 1-7|
The best part of these historical tables is seeing the different classes of player that show up. This one's got three Hall of Famers on it in Warren Moon, Bart Starr, and Fran Tarkenton. You have some of the terrible passers of my generation in Danny Wuerffel, Bobby Hoying, and Dave Brown who bring back terrific terrible memories for me, while the Bob Lees and John Reaves of the world do the same for the slightly greyer beards behind me. And of course you have David Carr and Archie Manning, two of the patron saints of the Loser League quarterback.
You also have just Fields in the past decade, just four passers from the 21st century, and a median year of 1978. Fields is being sacked at rates which feel more at home in an era before pass-blockers could extend their arms to stop opposing pass-rushers. You can try to shunt some of the blame off of Fields by pointing out poor offensive play calling, and an offensive line which is both below average and missing players, but other passers have dealt with those situations too, and they haven't put up historically high sack rates. By playing like a passer from a different era, Fields is carving out his own place in terrible quarterback history.
One of the best way to compare raw stats like this across generations is through index stats, which adjust rates to league averages. Teams use the passing game much differently today than they did in the 1970s, so a stat like sack percentage index (or sack%+) gives us a better grasp on just how badly Fields' pocket presence really has been to this point. A sack%+ rating of 100 would mean that a player was sacked a league-average amount of the time, whether that's 5.9% in 2020 or 9.1% in 1976. When you start getting into the 120s, you're talking about being 20% better at avoiding sacks than your contemporaries; Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford lead the league this year at 121, and Dan Marino's 139 in 1988 is the all-time NFL record.
Justin Fields' sack%+ is sitting at 42. Only three other players (Baker Mayfield, Russell Wilson, and Zach Wilson) are below 80 this season, and no one else is below 70. The worst mark in the past five years was 2018 Ryan Tannehill at 64; Fields is shattering that in his apparent quest to get up close and personal with every blade of Soldier Field's turf.
If Fields can keep this up over the course of a full season, he'll be in some rarified air. Only six passers since 1969 have qualified for rate leaderboards and had a sack%+ of under 50; only three have gone under 40. Let's briefly meet them:
2014 Robert Griffin III (33 sacks, 13.4% sack rate, 46 sack%+)
This, of course, should be the "shattered remains of Robert Griffin III"—not just from the ACL, LCL, and meniscus tears that ended his rookie season, but also from the ankle dislocation he suffered against Jacksonville in Week 2. It turns out that if you take away a running quarterback's mobility, they suddenly have trouble escaping the opposing pass rush! Griffin was sacked 16 times in his first three games after rushing back from the injured ankle—a decision reportedly made by owner Dan Snyder and general manger Bruce Allen and not head coach Jay Gruden, who reportedly wanted to keep Colt McCoy in the lineup. Griffin was benched after that, but was forced to re-enter the lineup after McCoy injured his neck and absorbed seven more sacks in relief against the Giants. Because of the injuries and the benching, Griffin just barely squeaked over the 224-play minimum needed for PFR to count him for rate stats, so that's one option for Fields—if you get hurt or benched, you can't qualify for the leaders!
2002 David Carr (76 sacks, 14.6% sack rate, 44 sack%+)
Your all-time sack king is in the building. Carr's career sack%+ is 74, the worst for any player with at least 1,500 career pass attempts, and 2002 was his worst season. The expansion Texans' offensive line was made of mostly backups, bailing wire, and the never-realized hope that Tony Boselli would one day be healthy enough to wear a Houston uniform. Two of Carr's linemen would never play again after 2003; one was done after 2002. Two more were rookies. Carr had some athleticism, sure, but he wasn't super-mobile or anything, and so opposing defenses just teed off on him. Carr's 76 sacks remains the single-season record; a complete disaster of a year that saw him play 12 games where he hit the turf at least four times, with a nine-sack day against the San Diego Chargers being the nadir. Even when the line improved, Carr really didn't; he's the only player in NFL history with more than 250 sacks and fewer than 100 games played.
1986 Randall Cunningham (72 sacks, 25.6% sack rate, -4 sack%+)
You're reading that right; a sack index of -4. Cunningham and Carr are the only two players ever to be sacked 70 times in a season, but Carr did it on 520 dropbacks, Cunningham on just 281. The 1986 Eagles allowed 104 sacks to Cunningham, Ron Jaworski, and Matt Cavanaugh, still an NFL record. Cunningham started the year as Buddy Ryan's third-and-impossible specialist; coming in to spell Jaworski on long downs where his mobility would give the defense something else to think about. What they mostly ended up thinking about was how best to clean Cunningham's clock, as the near-certain passing calls, coupled with Cunningham's tendency to hold on to the ball forever to try to make something happen, provided the perfect breeding ground for insane sack rates. Add in an offensive line that was inexperienced, bad, and injured, as Mike Tanier described in Walkthrough back in 2006, and you have NFL history. No one is ever going to approach Cunningham's record. No one else with under 200 passing attempts has a stat%+ of less than 44. You have to go to 1978 Mike Rae to find someone else with single-digits and at least 100 passing attempts, and you need to go to 35 attempts or fewer to find anyone else with negative numbers (most recently 2012 Greg McElroy). It's a minor miracle Cunningham survived the 1986 season, much less developed into a regular Pro Bowler with a successful career. The other five names on this list were bad, but Cunningham's 1986 dwarfs them all.
1971 Archie Manning (40 sacks, 18.4% sack rate, 47 sack%+)
You can find Manning near the top of almost any terrible passing stat leaderboard, often with a note explaining that the Saints were so horrible that the numbers really weren't Manning's fault. There's no denying that the 1970s Saints were horrible—hell, the official Saints Hall of Fame piece on him opens with saying Manning was "cursed by bad management and an overall lack of talent around him," so that's just the party line at this point. If anything, Manning has become a bit overrated for being underrated, if that makes sense—sacks are a quarterback stat first and foremost, and that was true in the 1970s as well. At the very least, however, you have to credit Manning with being able to absorb a beating. And none of these other guys had their own theme song!
Like Fields, Manning started off terrible, with 18 sacks in his first three games. Things improved, somewhat, as he began to get his feet underneath him; his sack rate fell from 22.2% to 16.2% the rest of the way. Obviously, "improved" is somewhat of faint qualifier there, but that improvement did carry on to the rest of his career. Manning and Cunningham are the signs of hope for Fields; a poor start to a career doesn't necessarily doom things.
1969 Bobby Douglass (37 sacks, 20.0% sack rate, 38 sack%+)
Hey, Bears fans, you have been here before! Bobby Douglass was one of the first great rushing quarterbacks in the league; he set a record with 968 yards in 1972. He had a great arm, as well, only without any semblance of accuracy. Josh Allen, then, without the "getting better" portion of his career. Like Cunningham, Douglass had enough confidence in his arm and legs to hang out in the pocket for eons, hoping that this would be the time to make a great play. Unlike Cunningham, Douglass never learned how to harness his physical tools into something that actually worked on the field, resorting to improvisation rather than going through progressions or (allegedly) even leaning the playbook to begin with. He believes he'd be a 1,500-yard rusher today with spread offenses opening up lanes for him, but considering he only completed 41% of his passes—terrible, even for the 1960s and 1970s—I find it hard to believe that any modern team would give him four years as a starter to make mistakes.
1969 Bob Berry (31 sacks, 20.0% sack rate, 38 sack%+)
That's Pro Bowl quarterback Bob Berry to you. The Falcons passer made the Pro Bowl despite starting just seven games and being sacked 31 times, which seems beyond impossible. This was the last season before the AFL/NFL merger, so the talent pool was more diluted, but still. Berry got the nod for being one of the most efficient passers in the league, by the tools they had at the time. A 106.5 quarterback rating, best in the league! A completion rate of 57.3%, third-best behind Bart Starr and Sonny Jurgensen! Ten touchdowns and only two interceptions, one of the safest passers in the league! What people didn't take into account is that none of these things incorporate sacks at all. Plays that would be relatively harmless incomplete passes for most quality passers of the day were sacks for Berry. Like Manning, credit has to be given to Berry for performing for a team with no talent around him, but I'd like to think that nowadays, we'd recognize the full scope of Berry's performance, and not just the actual passing attempts.
All in all, I do expect things to get better for Fields, if for no other reason than there's not much worse things can get. But until then, he's going to be featured in this column a lot.
Week 7's Biggest Losers
Worst of the Worst
It's a tie, but we'll give a pass to Zach Wilson (2), who was injured after just barely clearing the penalty. So, Justin Fields (2) gets to be singled out as the worst passer of the week. If his four sacks weren't enough to frustrate Bears fans, his three picks and two fumbles certainly were, all while failing to hit 200 passing yards yet again. Fields has had some success while running and in the play-action passing game. The Bears refuse to draw those plays up for him and, well, here we are.
Justin Fields gives Dee Delaney his first career INT.
Hit him right between the numbers.pic.twitter.com/ElvRLosrhE
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 24, 2021
Other Loser Leaders
It was a good week for our preseason Loser League picks. Sam Darnold (3) has, at this point, fully regressed into his Jetsian self; he was benched for P.J. Walker before the game was through. Jimmy Garoppolo (7) threw a pair of back-breaking interceptions and lost a fumble, albeit in a heavy rainstorm, on Sunday Night. Both passers received votes of confidence from their coaches this week and should start in Week 8. I'm using "should" as "they are expected to," and not as a "this is a good idea" qualifier, to be clear.
Davis Mills (4) keeps on plugging along, but he may be short for our Loser League world—Tyrod Taylor is returning to practice, so there's a faint light at the end of the tunnel for Texans fans, and they can get back to being … well, bad, but in a more normal way. And then there's Patrick Mahomes (9), who was having an unproductive day even before coming out of the game after a big hit. Believe it or not, there were people with Mahomes in their lineup; I assume they are not attempting to win.
Hello, Mac Jones (24)! Yes, it was just the Jets, but a 300-yard, two-touchdown day is always something to write home about, especially when Jones got pulled due to the size of the New England blow out. When Jones played the Jets in Week 2, he had just 186 yards passing and no touchdowns, so to put up the sorts of numbers he did this week certainly qualifies as unexpected, even against a soft matchup.
Worst of the Worst
Nyheim Hines (1) had his most carries since Week 1, meaning he hit eight and avoided the penalty. Hines got to close out the game in part because Jonathan Taylor fumbled in the rainy conditions in Santa Clara. Hines had a chance for a much bigger night, though, as he was open for a deep shot with no one in front of him, but, well…
— Chris 🥶 (@CRiley1111) October 25, 2021
Other Loser Leaders
A pair of low scorers met up in Los Angeles in the Rams-Lions tilt. People expected a big day from Darrell Henderson (5), but the Lions kept things competitive long enough that there wasn't a lot of clock-killing to be done from the Rams side of the ball; Henderson was held under 50 yards rushing on a full workload for the first time since November of 2020. And, with the score actually close, the Lions felt they could use Jamaal Williams (5) more than usual as well; D'Andre Swift is the receiving back they use when things aren't close. 57 yards on 12 carries might count as a productive day by Lions standards, but not by Loser League ones.
Alex Collins (3), Chuba Hubbard (4), Ronald Jones (4), and Antonio Gibson (5) round out your low scorers.
With basically the entire Browns' offense out on Thursday, you may have been tempted to run their backups and hope for the worst. D'Ernest Johnson (22) put the spikes to that right away with 146 yards and a touchdown in his emergency spot start. Johnson has now had three NFL games with at least eight carries; a nominal workload. He's averaging 6.3 yards per carry in those games. And that's why you use a high draft pick in your backfield, I'm sure.
Worst of the Worst
A trio of Goose Eggers is nothing new. Two of them coming from Kansas City, however? That's worth stopping and noting. Demarcus Robinson earned his the traditional way, with one catch for 7 yards. Mecole Hardman, on the other hand, caught four passes, but his fumble on the last offensive play wiped out any value he had had on the day. Preston Williams rounds out your zero-point scorers for the week.
Other Loser Leaders
Any Texans receiver was a good value this week, though it was Danny Amendola who led the way among players you could actually pick with just one point. Seriously, look at this table and weep.
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) October 25, 2021
Elsewhere, Allen Robinson continued his no-good year, targeted nine times but coming down with just three receptions for 14 yards. He joins Amendola and Robby Anderson as one-point scorers involved in terrible quarterback days. Zach Pascal, Tim Patrick, Tre'Quan Smith, Tyler Lockett, and Rondale Moore round out your one-point scorers.
There was a little concern about Terry McLaurin (18), coming off of a poor hamstring. Might he take it easy against a Packers defense which doesn't give up a ton of yards, and is vulnerable more in the red zone, and not to deep threats like McLaurin? No. Gaining 122 yards and a touchdown is more than an acceptable day, and if McLaurin had literally any chemistry whatsoever with Taylor Heinicke, it could have been much, much more.
Worst of the Worst
The Jets remain the only team in the league without first-quarter points. They could have broken that streak this week, but Matt Ammendola (-1) saw his 48-yard attempt go wide right. Presumably, the Jets will eventually score early … right?
Other Loser Leaders
Jason Myers is the only other kicker to hit zero points, thanks to a pair of missed field goals in the Bomb Cyclone up in Seattle on Monday Night. Considering how poorly kickers have been doing to this point in the season, this was a darn good week for them.
Austin Seibert (13) was the only player to out-kick the penalty this week. The Lions' aggressiveness gave them more field goal attempts than a team of their offensive caliber normally gets, and Seibert nailed all four of them, keeping Detroit's game closer for longer than expected.
Week 7 Contest Results
Two points do not yet make a trend, but it does make for a neat coincidence.
Your Week 1 winner, Aaron Schatz, ended up repeating in Week 6. And now your Week 2 winner, AlecB, has picked up his second win of the year as well. We're just going in a rotation here, apparently!
If you ignore the running back position, Alec was basically perfect—Zach Wilson and Matt Ammendola were the low scorers at their respective positions, and Allen Robinson and Zach Pascal weren't far behind. Alec's running backs somewhat let him down, but there are worse things to have than 15 combined points from Michael Carter and Melvin Gordon. As a result, while he doesn't match his nine-point day from September, Alec's 18 points earns him his second Football Outsiders shirt of the year as well as a $100 NFL Shop gift card, making winning this contest approximately one-tenth as important as being handed Tom Brady's 600th touchdown, and much more respectable.
Your top five for Week 5:
1. Alec B (18)
2. Fynsta (20)
3. Mumoo13 (21)
4. DenverChiefs (22)
T5. Pugl18 (23)
T5. MikeyNG (23)
Just below them, still in the top 10, were the Rod Rust Roughriders, who are in strong contention for my favorite name of the year; we'll bust out a huge list of them around midseason.
As for our overall standings, Aaron Schatz Has a Posse remains in first place, but his lead has shrunk to just 17 points. A 42-point day for our leader isn't a complete disaster—no one can be perfect all the time—but it's enough to carve him back towards the pack in a notable way. Running back was the real problem—he ended up scoring Devontae Booker (12) and Khalil Herbert (13), in part because Mark Ingram ended up taking the penalty with just six carries. The fact that we talked some this week about the threshold for running back touches in relation to the penalty is probably a coincidence. Probably.
Hattrick12488 takes over first place among teams actually eligible for the grand prize after a 25-point day powered by the Zach Wilson/Michael Carter/Matt Ammendola "I don't believe in the Jets" powerhouse. That trio was also ran by fourth-place StMedard, while the fifth-place Mojo Momenteers dropped Carter from the set. Not believing in the Jets is a solid long-term decision, though the loss of Wilson for the immediate future likely will force some alterations in strategy.
Your top five to this point:
1. Aaron Schatz Has a Posse (202)
2. Hattrick12488 (219)
3. Maxentric (223)
4. Stmedard (226)
5. Mojo Momenteers (226)
You can check your results and the rest of the Loserboard here!
Plays for Week 8
I mean, I just wrote a full article about how Justin Fields takes a lot of sacks, and now he has to deal with Nick Bosa. Pass interference calls don't help you in the Loser League, and that's how the 49ers are giving up the majority of their big passing plays to this point in time, so take Fields without worry.
Oh, and as long as Davis Mills remains the quarterback for the Texans, slot him in, too. Tyrod Taylor is getting closer to being ready, and there's a slim chance that he'll even start this week against the Rams, so keep an eye out here. But until Taylor's back, keep plugging Mills into the lineup. If not, well, there's always Mike White.
Other promising picks: Mike White (v. CIN), Whoever Starts For The 49ers, Especially If It's Jimmy Garoppolo (@CHI)
I'm still recommending Michael Carter, though we're beginning to get into a buyer-beware situation with him. Carter had eight receptions against the Patriots on nine targets; he had never been targeted more than three times previously. If Carter starts getting regular receiving value, his Loser prospects flop. It probably helps him that it's Mike White, not Joe Flacco, who is starting this week at quarterback. Flacco never saw a dumpoff he didn't like, so Carter might have ended up clawing some points just through 4-yard screens on third-and-8. With White in, I expect to see a lot more loaded boxes for Carter to slam into.
James Conner is only a bad play when he scores a touchdown. Unfortunately, he has scored a touchdown in four of the past five games. I am still counting on some touchdown regression for Arizona, so I'm going to keep plugging Conner into my lineups, and continue to be disappointed.
Oh, and of course, Mark Ingram. Ingram hurt a lot of people with the penalty this week after receiving just six carries (and we'll deal with that issue in a later column, do not worry), but anyone averaging just 3.2 yards per carry works me, at least until Houston realizes that slamming Ingram into the line over and over again may not be the most efficient strategy available to them. My one real concern is that Phillip Lindsay might eat enough into Ingram's workload going forward … but then, at that point, I'd just plug Lindsay into my lineup.
Other promising picks: Antonio Gibson (@DEN), A Dolphins Running Back (@BUF), Melvin Gordon (v. WAS)
Again, pass interference calls do not hurt you. So if you ever see a deep ball being thrown to Allen Robinson or Darnell Mooney, you should be rooting for the 49ers cornerback in question to just tackle the guy to prevent even the slightest threat of a reception. Fortunately, that's what 49ers cornerbacks are taught to do anyway, so you're still safe running with the Chicago passing game for this week.
I'm watching Washington's receiving corps closely, as Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown are both banged up. If one or both miss action, that puts Adam Humphries in prime position to avoid the penalty. In his four games where he has been involved this season, Humphries has 4-, 0-, 7- and 3-point days; he hasn't been a double-digit-point player since October of last season, and hasn't gone over 100 yards receiving since 2017.
Other promising picks: Amon-Ra St. Brown (v. PHI), Marvin Jones (@SEA), Jakobi Meyers (@LAC)
Is Tristan Vizcaino back? The leader in the clubhouse for the All-Loser team at kicker saw both Dustin Hopkins and Elliot Fry work out for the Chargers this week. We were told that the Chargers "still have confidence in Vizcaino," so he's in my lineup until otherwise stated, but keep an eye out.
(Ed. Note: After we wrote this, the Chargers went ahead and cut Vizcaino for Dustin Hopkins. So there's one option gone from your lineups!
And yes, Matt Ammendola stays in as well. It's hard to imagine an NFL team going seven weeks without scoring in the first quarter of a football game, but the Jets offense is pretty hard to imagine as it is, and now they have Mike White in there? Works for me!
Other promising picks: Joey Slye (@CHI), Ka'imi Fairbairn (v. LAR)