Quick Reads Decade in Review: QB Totals
Welcome back to Quick Reads' Decade in Review. Last time we looked at the best and worst quarterback games of the past 10 years. Today we're going to look at total DYAR in the 2010s to show who helped (or hurt) their teams the most. We're also going to separate passing and rushing info to see who was most effective with their arms, their legs, or both.
We went back and accumulated passing, rushing, and receiving DYAR in every regular-season game for every player in the league in the last 10 years. By total DYAR, here are the most valuable quarterbacks since 2010. Games and DYAR-per-game numbers are also given so you can see which of these players were most effective in the fewest outings.
|Best Quarterbacks, Total DYAR, 2010-2019|
Your most valuable quarterback of the decade is Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, the NFL's all-time leader in completions, yards, and touchdowns. In second place is Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, who is also in second place in each of those passing categories. It's important to note that these numbers are for the regular season only. In most cases, the gap in these tables from one player to the next was so large that it wasn't worth looking up what effect a handful of playoff games might have had. In this case, however, the gap was more narrow, and Brady's edge in playoff opportunities (23 games to Brees' 10) might have been enough to overcome the regular-season difference and crown him the decade's top quarterback. So we put in the legwork, and yes, as it turns out, the postseason made a difference. Brady totaled 2,770 DYAR in the playoffs, bringing his overall total to 16,827 DYAR. Brees' playoff total of 1,352 DYAR leaves him with an overall total of 16,285. However, this does not necessarily mean Brees was the lesser performer in the postseason -- he averaged 135.2 DYAR per game in the playoffs, compared to 120.4 for Brady. Any way you slice it, the margin between Brees and Brady was so close this decade that there's little reason to argue in favor of one or the other.
After our top two we have Aaron Rogers, an MVP and Super Bowl champion, then a pair of ironmen in Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers, who missed only one game between them this decade. Ben Roethlisberger won two Super Bowls himself, but neither was in this decade; his only Super Bowl appearance in the 2010s was a loss to Rodgers and the Packers after the 2010 season. And then we find Matthew Stafford, and you'd be hard-pressed to find another player with so much regular-season production but so little playoff success to show for it. Stafford has only played in three playoff games, all in the wild-card round, all on the road, and all in defeat.
Russell Wilson was devastating with his arm and even better with his legs -- his 943 rushing DYAR were most for any quarterback in the last 10 years. Peyton Manning's high ranking may surprise you considering he only had four good years in this timeframe, but those four years were really good -- his 2,446 DYAR in 2013 were the best season since 2010, and his 2010, 2012, and 2014 seasons were each ranked 32nd or better. Ironically, he won his last Super Bowl championship in the worst season of his career; his -326 combined DYAR in 2015 was the third-worst total of that season, and his -115 DYAR in the championship game against Carolina was the worst performance by a quarterback in the Super Bowl in the 2010s. (By the way, one of the two quarterbacks worse than Manning in 2015 was Nick Foles, who would win his own Super Bowl two years later because the NFL is crazy.)
The last quarterback to discuss here is Patrick Mahomes, who established himself among the greats of the decade in less than two full seasons as a starter. Game for game, he blows away anyone else in this table.
|Worst Quarterbacks, Total DYAR, 2010-2019|
Blaine Gabbert was the 10th overall draft pick in 2011, taken one pick before J.J. Watt, 25 picks before Andy Dalton, and 26 picks before Colin Kaepernick. He started 27 games in three seasons with the Jaguars, winning only five of them while completing 53% of his passes for 5.6 yards per throw with 22 touchdowns, 24 interceptions, and 74 sacks. Since then he has started 13 games for San Francisco, five for Arizona, and three for Tennessee, showing only modest improvement from his days in Jacksonville. Put it all together, and Gabbert has done more on the field to hurt his teams than any other quarterback of the past decade. And if 43-year-old Tom Brady misses any time this season, it will be Blaine Gabbert taking snaps for your Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020.
In second place we have Josh Rosen, whose -1,122 combined DYAR as a rookie in 2018 were the worst single-season total we have ever measured. (Not surprisingly, the worst six seasons of the last decade were all by rookie quarterbacks: Rosen, Blake Bortles in 2014, Jared Goff in 2016, Gabbert in 2011, DeShone Kizer in 2017, and Jimmy Clausen in 2010.) His numbers in Miami last season were also below replacement level, but given Tua Tagavailoa's injury history, his job with the Dolphins looks safe for at least one more year.
Gabbert and Rosen are two of the five Cardinals quarterbacks on this list, along with Max Hall, Ryan Lindley, and John Skelton. That's the most of any franchise. The Browns are in second place with four -- Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden -- but that jumps to five if you include Brock Osweiler, who was on their roster at one point even though he never played in a game for them. The Cowboys, Dolphins, Jets, Texans, and Titans and had three each. This includes every team each quarterback played for, so Matt Cassel counts for the Bills, Chiefs, Cowboys, Lions, Titans, and Vikings. (And there's your reminder that the Chiefs opened the decade with Matt Cassel at quarterback and closed it with Patrick Mahomes, which is quite an upgrade.)
Overall, this is an odd list of players, because most quarterbacks who regularly stink up the joint don't last long enough to rack up deep negative numbers. So you've got an unusual mix of veterans who got for more playing time than they deserved (Gabbert, Cassel, Mark Sanchez); youngsters still hoping to redeem themselves after terrible rookie seasons (Rosen, Kizer, Dwayne Haskins); and guys who were so cover-your-eyes awful (Max Hall, Caleb Hanie, and Nathan Peterman) that they made an historical impact in just a tiny handful of starts. And no, Nathan Peterman was not the worst quarterback of the past decade, not even on a per-game basis. Max Hall didn't throw interceptions quite as often as Peterman, but he had a worse completion percentage and dwarfed him in sack rate, 15.2% to 5.8%.
While we can combine passing and rushing DYAR to measure total value, we must separate them to measure efficiency with DVOA. We calculated each quarterback's total passing DVOA over the past decade, then cut the list to those with 800 pass plays -- in theory, the minimum number of plays needed to qualify for our passing leaderboards four times, though several of our 63 qualifiers hit the mark much faster than that. That includes the most efficient passer of the past decade, your reigning Super Bowl MVP.
|Best Passing DVOA, 2010-2019|
|Minimum 800 pass plays|
For the most part, this is a repeat of the names in the total DYAR list, though a few younger active players (Jimmy Garoppolo, Deshaun Watson) slip in over the 800-attempt threshold. Mostly, though, this shows the brilliance of the Holy Trinity of Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning, who even in the twilight of their careers (or, in Manning's case, the end) were outshone only by the brightest young passing star the league has seen since Dan Marino. It's also notable that most of the names in the top half of this table are veterans. In 2025, they'll mostly be gone, we'll be comparing Patrick Mahomes to Jimmy Garoppolo, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, and Deshaun Watson. And if he continues to play this much better than all of them, we're going to have burn the Hall of Fame to the ground and erect 326 busts of Mahomes instead.
At the other end of the spectrum, adding a minimum of 800 passes wipes out the Nathan Petermans and Max Halls of the world and limits our quarterbacks to those who were starters for several seasons. And among that crew, Gabbert sticks out again as by far the worst of the bunch.
|Worst Passing DVOA, 2010-2019|
|Minimum 800 pass plays|
The gap between Gabbert and Josh Allen, the second-worst passer on this list, is larger than the gap between Allen and 13th-ranked Chad Henne. The most surprising name here might be Teddy Bridgewater, who is finally getting a chance to start again in Carolina. Remember, though, that he only started for two seasons in Minnesota before tearing up his knee, and in those two years, he had a DVOA of -16.9% as a rookie and -5.1% in 2015.
If you're looking for the definitions of average and replacement-level: Eli Manning had the most passes this decade of anyone with a negative DVOA (5,326, -0.2%); Blake Bortles had the most passes of anyone with negative passing DYAR (2,634, -676).
We didn't bother listing the decade's passing DYAR leaders because it was mostly the same as the total DYAR leaders. We will, however, list the rushing DYAR leaders here. Note that the attempts and yardage columns here DO NOT include kneeldowns:
|Best Rushing DYAR, Quarterbacks, 2010-2019|
|Kneeldowns removed from rushing statistics|
We mentioned that Russell Wilson had the most rushing DYAR by any quarterback in the 2010s, but at first glance here it may be hard to figure out why. Cam Newton, the second-ranked quarterback, had nearly 800 more yards on the ground, with dominant leads in first downs and touchdowns and fewer fumbles. Nearly half of those first downs, however, came in short-yardage situations -- 47% came with less than 4 yards to go, and on average Newton only needed 4.9 yards for a first down. Only 21% of Wilson's first downs came in those short-yardage situations, and on average he needed 7.2 yards for a conversion. In short, while Newton was making the most of his relatively easy opportunities, Wilson was constantly bailing the Seahawks out of no-win situations, routinely turning third-and-forever into first-and-10 with one highlight scramble after another.
Josh Allen also sticks out here -- he has the most DYAR per game in this table, and he makes the total value leaderboard in only two years as a starter, so he's kind of the rushing version of Patrick Mahomes, as bizarre as that comparison sounds. But it's justified -- Allen leads all players here with 41.4 yards per game and a fumble rate of only 1.68%, and only two players can top his first-down rate.
We also compiled rushing DVOA leaders, with a minimum of 32 non-kneeldown carries. That may not sound like very much, but again, it's enough to theoretically meet our seasonal leaderboards four times. That leaves us with 79 qualifying runners. It was not terribly surprising to see Wilson and Newton rank one-two in rushing DYAR in the 2010s, or to see Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, and Michael Vick following them. But when we saw the decade's leader in rushing DVOA, we about fell out of our collective chairs.
|Best Rushing DVOA, Quarterbacks, 2010-2019|
|Minimum 32 Runs
Kneeldowns removed from rushing statistics
Jay … Cutler? Jay Cutler? As in Smokin' Jay Cutler? The same Jay Cutler who made this face when he came out of retirement to play for the Dolphins?
— SB Nation (@SBNation) August 7, 2017
And then had this to say when asked why he was returning to the NFL?
I would probably say my wife, Kristin (Cavallari), probably talked me into it more than anybody else could. … Yeah, I think she got tired of me around the house.
And then, when his playing days really ended and his wife really did get tired of him around the house, was reportedly described as "this lazy, unmotivated guy?" That Jay Cutler was the most efficient running quarterback of the 2010s?
The first thing you must realize is that DYAR and DVOA do not include kneeldowns, and Cutler's standard rushing stats are turfed because he took a ton of knees -- 74 of them for a combined loss of 69 yards, to be specific. All told, 32% of Cutler's official rush attempts this decade were simple kneels to kill clock. Of the top 20 quarterbacks in rushing DYAR, only Drew Brees (54% -- the Saints won a lot more games than Cutler's Bears or Dolphins) was kneeling down on a higher share of his rushing attempts. Take away those kneeldowns, and Cutler averaged a Vick-esque 7.3 yards per carry, earning a first down nearly half the time. And Cutler, like Wilson, was often making something out of nothing -- only 24% of his rushing first downs came with less than 4 yards to go, and on average he needed 6.9 yards to convert them.
(By the way, if you're looking for Lamar Jackson in those tables, you won't find him. As we covered in our 2018 Year in Review, Jackson's advanced rushing numbers as a rookie were shockingly awful. Even without kneeldowns, he averaged only 5.3 yards per carry, compared to the average of 6.1 for quarterbacks that season. And he fumbled 10 times on running plays, six more than any other quarterback. Many of those fumbles were likely botched handoffs or option mesh points, so blame could be split between Jackson and his running backs, but officially those plays go down as fumbles for the quarterback. Jackson rebounded strongly in his second season and will likely dominate this category when we get to the 2020s Decade in Review. For now, Jackson has 289 runs for 161 DYAR, with a DVOA of -1.9%.)
The quarterbacks with the worst rushing numbers in DYAR and DVOA aren't very meaningful. These are basically players who never really run in the first place, so when they fumble a snap or a handoff, their advanced stats nosedive, and they never get the first downs or long runs needed to overcome that. But since we had these numbers calculated anyway, we thought we'd go ahead and run them anyway. Enjoy the data dump!
|Worst Rushing DYAR, Quarterbacks, 2010-2019|
|Kneeldowns removed from rushing statistics|
|Worst Rushing DVOA, Quarterbacks, 2010-2019|
|Minimum 32 runs
Kneeldowns removed from rushing statistics
Yes, we calculated advanced receiving stats for quarterbacks. No, we're not going to bother running or analyzing them. Suffice to say that Taysom Hill led all quarterbacks with 84 receiving DYAR (29 targets, 22 receptions, 238 yards, six touchdowns), while Joe Webb was last with -37 (25 targets, 10 receptions, 74 yards, no touchdowns). If you're wondering about Terrelle Pryor, we essentially split him in two, counting him as a quarterback until 2014 and a wide receiver after that. For the record, Pryor amassed a total of 221 DYAR this decade (216 targets, 115 receptions, 1,563 yards, seven touchdowns). No other quarterback saw more than four targets, and only Russell Wilson had even that many.
We're not going to go in-depth on the best and worst seasons of the decade because A) we just wrote about that for ESPN+ in December, and B) all that information is freely available elsewhere on the site for anyone who wants to compile it. But a few bullet points:
- The best quarterback season of the decade was Peyton Manning in 2013 when he totaled 2,446 DYAR (2,475 passing, -30 rushing).
- Tom Brady was the only quarterback to top 2,000 total DYAR twice -- 2,051 in 2011 and 2,092 a year later in 2012.
- Brees was the only quarterback to go over 1,000 total DYAR in every season in the 2010s. Brady and Matt Ryan were tied for second with eight 1,000-DYAR seasons each.
- As previously mentioned, Josh Rosen's -1,122 combined DYAR as a rookie with the Cardinals in 2018 were the worst single-season total of this or any other decade on record.
- While no quarterback ever dropped below -500 combined DYAR more than once, a few had multiple seasons at -250 DYAR or worse. Blaine Gabbert did it three times -- in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Matt Cassel, Josh McCown, Josh Rosen, Mark Sanchez, John Skelton, and Brandon Weeden did it twice each.
- Joe Flacco was the only quarterback with four seasons with 200-plus pass plays and negative total DYAR. Cassel, Gabbert, and Case Keenum did it three times each.