How New England's Mac Jones Became the Best QB in 2021 Draft

New England Patriots QB Mac Jones
New England Patriots QB Mac Jones
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 8 - It was not a banner weekend for the rookie quarterbacks of 2021. Trevor Lawrence and Davis Mills saw their teams fall behind by scores of 24-0 and 38-0 before adding some garbage-time production. Zach Wilson and Trey Lance sat out with injuries as their replacements put up monster numbers, threatening to banish them to the sidelines permanently. Justin Fields made just enough big plays to raise the hopes of Bears fans, then made enough mistakes to break their hearts. And the best thing you can say about Mac Jones is that he stayed out of the way as New England's defense carried the Patriots to victory.

For the most part, that has been par for the course for those players this year. Lawrence and Mills are stuck on terrible teams, and Mills of course is only on the field because Tyrod Taylor got hurt. Wilson and Fields have put together a few highlight plays but far more often looked unprepared for the NFL. Lance has mostly been twiddling his thumbs, waiting for the 49ers to decide whether they are in or out on Jimmy Garoppolo. Jones has clearly been the most pro-ready member of the class, but has done little to show that he'll ever be more than an average starter.

We are (roughly) halfway through the season, which makes this a good time to check in on the half-dozen first-year passers who have seen significant playing time this season, where they're succeeding, how they're struggling, and whether they're trending in the right direction. For each quarterback we'll list their DYAR and DVOA totals going into Monday Night Football, their DYAR and DVOA as a starter, and their projected DVOA totals through the end of the season. For this last figure, we're simply taking each player's average DYAR as a starter, multiplying that by the number of games left on their team's schedule, and adding in their Total DYAR so far. Obviously, it's a wild assumption to assume that each player will start every game from here on out (particularly Lance), but this will give us some idea of which rookies in past seasons had similar numbers, and what that tells us about the class of 2021.

For the sake of simplicity, we're going to ignore rushing data today and just look at passing numbers. For the record, Lawrence currently leads the class with 23 rushing DYAR (132 yards, two touchdowns), while Wilson is last at -7 rushing DYAR (24 yards on only six non-kneeldown carries). Fields has the best rushing totals with 243 yards and a pair of scores, but we also have him down for four fumbles on running plays, including three aborted snaps.

Here they are then, in the order they were drafted:

Trevor Lawrence, Weeks 1-8, 2021
Total
DYAR
Total
DVOA
Starts Starter
DYAR
Starter
DVOA
Projected
DYAR
-164 -20.0% 7 -164 -20.0% -399

The Jaguars came into the season on a 15-game losing streak, so this was never going to be an overnight success, but few could have seen things going this badly. Jacksonville remains winless in North America, their only victory coming in a fluky United Kingdom game against a one-win Dolphins team when they got field goals of 54 and 53 yards in the last four minutes to eke out a 23-20 triumph. Meanwhile, each of their six losses has come by a margin of at least 10 points.

The point of all this is that Jacksonville's roster is awful, and we can't fairly judge Lawrence until he gets a chance to play with some adequate talent. Just look at his top five most-targeted players this year:

  • Marvin Jones, a 32-year-old best known as an effective complementary receiver behind Golden Tate and Kenny Golladay in Detroit.
  • Laviska Shenault, a YAC-oriented slot receiver who has more games with negative receiving yardage (two) than 100 yards or more (zero).
  • Jamal Agnew, a tremendous kickoff and punt returner with precious little experience on offense—his 18 catches and 184 yards are already the high-water marks of his five-year career.
  • Dan Arnold, a journeyman tight end now on his fourth team in the last three seasons.
  • James Robinson, who is Jacksonville's top running back only because first-round rookie Travis Etienne was lost for the year due to a foot injury.

That's not even getting into the sorry state of the offensive line, or the defense, or the asleep-at-the-wheel head coach. Given all those handicaps, it's impressive that Lawrence recovered from a slow start (-97, -117, and -65 DYAR in his first three games) to approaching respectability (54, 43, and 56 DYAR in Weeks 4 to 6). Coming off the bye, however, Lawrence and the Jaguars were blown out by Seattle. That leaves Lawrence with a -20.0% DVOA and -399 projected DYAR. Those would rank in the 50-to-60 range of the 81 rookie quarterbacks from 1983 to 2020 who threw at least 200 passes, right around players such as Geno Smith and Kerry Collins. It's not all bad news, however. Troy Aikman—like Lawrence, a first-overall draft pick who arrived on a terrible team—had a -26.7% DVOA and -299 DYAR in his first season. It's a similar story for John Elway, the first overall pick in 1983 who had a -34.2% DVOA and -424 DYAR as a rookie.

The best thing Lawrence has done this year is keep himself alive. He has only taken 11 sacks in 270 pass attempts, a very low rate considering the Jaguars have usually been trailing by multiple scores. If he can last till the end of the year, we'll give Lawrence a disappointing "incomplete" grade and hope the Jaguars supply him with better weapons soon.

Zach Wilson, Weeks 1-8, 2021
Total
DYAR
Total
DVOA
Starts Starter
DYAR
Starter
DVOA
Projected
DYAR
-398 -41.6% 6 -398 -41.6% -1060

Like Lawrence, Wilson had negative DYAR in each of his first three games, including -184 DYAR against New England in Week 2 and -180 against Denver in Week 3. And like Lawrence, he showed improvement since, with 80 DYAR against Tennessee in Week 4 and 26 against New England in Week 7. Unfortunately, he was knocked out of that Patriots game with a PCL strain, an injury that sidelined him for multiple weeks. That makes his projection in the above table somewhat disingenuous—it does not account for the starts that we know he's going to miss—but it still reflects how sorry he has been up to this point. Only three quarterbacks have ever crossed the four-digit threshold in negative DYAR, each doing it in their rookie seasons:

  • David "Derek Carr's older brother" Carr (-1,130) with Houston in 2002.
  • Blaine "future Super Bowl champion" Gabbert (-1,010) with Jacksonville in 2011.
  • Josh "I will sign with all 32 teams before I'm done" Rosen (-1,145) with Arizona in 2018.

A -41.6% DVOA would put Wilson among the bottom 10 rookies in that category too. There are not a lot of comps for Wilson who went on to enjoy successful careers, but it's worth pointing out that two rookies with worse DVOAs—Donovan McNabb (-51.6% in 1999) and Jared Goff (-74.8% in 2016)—went on to play in Super Bowls.

We know that Lawrence is struggling in part due to a lack of talent around him, and the same could be said for Wilson … or at least, it could have until Mike White lit up the Bengals defense in a win over Cincinnati on Sunday. A 2018 draftee by the Cowboys, White is a practice squad body who was cut by the Jets three times last year. If a limited player like White can find a way to make plays with this roster, then Wilson, the second overall player in the draft, should be finding similar results, at least once in a while. Instead, in roughly six quarters of action, White has already tied Wilson with four touchdown passes, while Wilson maintains commanding leads in both interceptions (nine to four) and sacks (19 to three).

White will start on Thursday night against Indianapolis, but what happens after that is up in the air. Jets coach Robert Saleh has been very coy about his plans for the position. At 2-5 and with no practical chance of making the playoffs, the question of which quarterback gives New York the best chance to win is irrelevant. Their only goal at this point is to help Wilson be a better player in 2022, and whether that's best accomplished by getting him onto the field for more experience or letting him watch and learn from a survivor like White is a question only the Jets can answer.

Trey Lance, Weeks 1-8, 2021
Total
DYAR
Total
DVOA
Starts Starter
DYAR
Starter
DVOA
Projected
DYAR
84 15.2% 1 21 0.3% 298

Well, there's not much to discuss here. Lance played the second half against Seattle in Week 4 after Jimmy Garoppolo was inevitably injured, started against Arizona in Week 5 in Garoppolo's absence, and has not been seen since as he too has been inevitably injured. Such is the fate of the quarterbacks in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Lance's passing numbers are better than you might expect because more than 60% of his dropbacks came against the Cardinals, the league's second-ranked pass defense coming into the week. Lance averaged 6.6 yards per pass against Arizona, which may not sound like much, but only three quarterbacks have fared better against the Cardinals this season.

We must also discuss Lance's rushing somewhat, because he has more carries (27) than completed passes (25). Those carries have been a mixed bag—he has averaged 9.0 yards on nine scrambles, but only 2.9 yards on 18 designed runs. Whatever option schemes Shanahan had in mind for Lance, they have not worked yet.

The bigger issue for Lance is that Garoppolo is back in the lineup and shows no sign of relinquishing his starting job any time soon. Garoppolo's numbers have always been better than his reputation, be they team-based (he's now 27-11 as a starter) or on an individual level (he's averaging 8.2 yards per pass in his career; only Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes have been better among active players). The 49ers are only a half-game out of the last wild-card spot in the NFC and still have plenty to play for, so even if he's healthy, we may not see Lance on the field any time soon.

Then again, San Francisco's next two games are against the Cardinals and Rams, two divisional foes who are 1-1 against each other and 13-1 against everyone else. A pair of losses would drop San Francisco to 3-6, and at that point they may turn things over to Lance to see what he can do.

Justin Fields, Weeks 1-8, 2021
Total
DYAR
Total
DVOA
Starts Starter
DYAR
Starter
DVOA
Projected
DYAR
-456 -51.6% 6 -333 -43.2% -956

It may surprise you to learn that Fields, not Zach Wilson, is dead-last among qualifiers in both DYAR and DVOA. His numbers are skewed, however, by a disastrous relief appearance in Week 2 against Cincinnati when he completed less than half his passes for only 60 yards while giving up two sacks, a fumble, and an interception. Throw that game out and Fields' numbers are … well, they're still terrible, but neck-and-neck with Wilson's instead of clearly worse. In fact, when he actually throws the ball, Fields' basic stats are eerily similar to those of the Jets quarterback.

Fields' problems have come when he hasn't thrown the ball. He's not in the top 30 in completions, attempts, or passing yards, but he has taken a league-high 26 sacks. Fields has been sacked on 14.1% of his dropbacks; the last player to take so many sacks at such a high rate was Andrew Walter with the then-Oakland Raiders in 2006. The only other players to meet those thresholds this century are Alex Smith and David Carr in their rookie seasons. And this is a Justin Fields problem, not a Chicago Bears problem—Andy Dalton's sack rate of 7.4% is barely half that of Fields'.

Fields' performance has been erratic this season. He was horrendous against the Bengals, Browns, and Buccaneers; fair-to-middlin' against the Lions, Raiders, Packers, and 49ers. The Bears are committed to letting him work through his growing pains, which means he could wind up joining Carr, Gabbert, and Rosen in the -1,000 club … assuming he is not beaten to a pulp over the next nine weeks.

Mac Jones, Weeks 1-8, 2021
Total
DYAR
Total
DVOA
Starts Starter
DYAR
Starter
DVOA
Projected
DYAR
137 -4.1% 8 137 -4.1% 291

There is a common theme amongst most of these quarterbacks: They struggled in their first two or three weeks but then improved from there, though that improvement wasn't always dramatic or permanent. Jones was actually below replacement level three weeks into the season, struggling with interceptions (three) and fumbles (two). He has only thrown three interceptions and fumbled once in the five games since as the Patriots have rallied to a 4-4 record. Granted, three of those wins came against the Jets and Texans, but they just beat the Chargers, who are … mediocre?

Jones is on pace for 291 passing DYAR, which would put him among the top 20 rookies on record. He'd be a few slots below Cam Newton (remember, this is ignoring rushing data) but slightly ahead of Joe Flacco, Chris Chandler, or Drew Bledsoe. That's not bad company considering all four of those men reached the Super Bowl.

There is no question that Jones has been the best rookie quarterback this season. It's just not very exciting watching him play. His yardage, interception, and sack averages are right in the middle of the pack, while he's in the top 10 in completion percentage but the bottom 10 in yards per completion and touchdown rate. That leads to a lot of failed completions (57, tied with Jared Goff behind the 61 of Kirk Cousins) and field goal attempts (21 for New England, most in the league). It's an arch-conservative style that can get you into the playoffs, but not much more than that. That lack of big plays is the biggest thing Jones needs to work on as his career develops. If he can't make the occasional risk pay off once in a while, he may have already hit his ceiling.

Davis Mills, Weeks 1-8, 2021
Total
DYAR
Total
DVOA
Starts Starter
DYAR
Starter
DVOA
Projected
DYAR
-161 -22.3% 6 -116 -19.9% -335

Mills was not supposed to play this year. That's why he was drafted after Lawrence, Wilson, Lance, Fields, and Jones … and Kyle Trask, and Kellen Mond. Mills was supposed to back up Tyrod Taylor, who was doing very well early in the season before injuring his hamstring in Week 2. The Texans have been Mills' team since then and, well, they'll be Taylor's team again as soon as his leg heals.

Stylistically, Mills has been a copy of a copy of a copy of Mac Jones—he's completing 67.0% of his passes, which is better than average, but for a meager 9.7 yards per completion. And unlike Jones, he's not avoiding interceptions or sacks. That makes him steadier than players such as Wilson and Fields, but without the flickers of excitement they bring to the table. Taylor is reportedly day-to-day at this point. Here's hoping he comes back sooner rather than later and makes Houston watchable again.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Sacks
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Opp
1.
Jimmy Garoppolo SF
17/27
322
0
0
0
139
119
20
CHI
The Bears got the ball first in the second half and promptly scored a field goal to take a 16-9 lead. The 49ers then scored touchdowns on three straight drives as Garoppolo went 7-for-9 for 159 yards in the second half. He led all passers in DYAR on third/fourth downs (5-of-6 for 144 yards with three conversions) and on throws down the middle (10-of-13 for 191 yards). All of those stats are helped by the league-high 9.6 yards after the catch Garoppolo averaged on his 17 completions.
2.
Matthew Stafford LAR
21/32
305
3
0
0
123
123
0
HOU
Stafford's average pass came with 7.0 yards to go for a first down, tied with Aaron Rodgers for fewest in the league. He was the league's best passer on throws to his left, going 9-of-10 for 131 yards.
3.
Mike White NYJ
37/45
405
3
2
2
116
113
3
CIN
White's average pass traveled only 3.7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage (only Jameis Winston threw shorter passes this week), but he was still successful on 68% of his dropbacks; nobody else even hit the 60% threshold. Most of those successful plays came later in the game; he was actually last in DYAR in the first quarter, going 12-of-14 for 99 yards with a pair of interceptions.
4.
Tom Brady TB
28/40
375
4
2
3
75
71
4
NO
The Saints scored a touchdown on the first drive of the second half to open up a 23-7 lead. That lead was cut to 23-21 two drives later because Brady was the week's best passer in the third quarter, going 10-of-12 for 151 yards and a pair of scores.
5.
Cooper Rush DAL
24/40
325
2
1
3
50
53
-2
MIN
Rush was great when throwing to his wide receivers (more on this later), but not so much on throws to his backs and tight ends: 7-of-15 for 35 yards with an interception.
6.
Aaron Rodgers GB
22/37
184
2
0
1
50
50
0
ARI
Rodgers' average pass came with 7.0 yards to go for a first down, tied with Matthew Stafford for fewest in the league. He struggled on throws to his right, going 8-of-15 for 59 yards and a touchdown.
7.
Baker Mayfield CLE
20/31
225
0
0
4
47
44
3
PIT
Inside the Pittsburgh 40-yard line, Mayfield went 5-of-9 for 43 yards with no touchdowns and a sack.
8.
Josh Allen BUF
30/42
249
2
0
0
42
42
0
MIA
Allen led all passers in red zone DYAR, going 4-for-4 for 38 yards and two touchdowns, with a fifth pass picking up 3 yards and a DPI.
9.
Jalen Hurts PHI
9/14
103
0
0
0
38
12
25
DET
The Eagles won comfortably, so Hurts did not throw a pass in the final 20 minutes of this game. Half of the passes he did throw traveled at least 15 yards downfield; he went 5-of-7 for 82 yards on those plays.
10.
Davis Mills HOU
29/38
310
2
1
5
37
37
0
LAR
At the end of the Third Quarter From Hell (2-of-3 for 2 yards with four, count 'em, four sacks), Mills was last in passing DYAR for the week. Then he rebounded in garbage time and finished first in fourth-quarter DYAR, going 18-of-23 for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He also finished first in DYAR on deep balls (5-of-6 for 149 yards and a touchdown) and on throws to tight ends (8-of-9 for 94 yards and a touchdown). Yes, this is all crazy.
11.
Ben Roethlisberger PIT
22/34
266
1
0
2
37
37
0
CLE
Roethlisberger came to life after Pittsburgh fell behind 10-3 in the third quarter. From that point forward, he went 13-of-18 for 192 yards and a touchdown.
12.
Jameis Winston NO
6/10
56
1
0
0
31
14
16
TB
Winston's game (and season) ended early in the second quarter. His average pass traveled 1.8 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, fewest of any qualifier this week. His last pass of the year was a 16-yard touchdown that was caught in the end zone; none of his other passes traveled more than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Sacks
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Opp
13.
Mac Jones NE
18/35
218
0
0
1
21
21
0
LAC
Jones only threw for one first down inside the Chargers' 35-yard line, where he went 3-of-13 for 13 yards (not a typo).
14.
Trevor Siemian NO
16/29
159
1
0
1
15
17
-1
TB
Considering that he played less than three-quarters of this game, Siemian spent a ton of time in the red zone. He only came away with one touchdown, though, going 4-of-9 for all of 6 yards.
15.
Geno Smith SEA
20/24
195
2
0
3
15
4
11
JAX
Smith loses a league-high 53 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. His average completion gained a league-worst 1.9 yards after the catch, so it's a good thing he was so accurate on deep balls, going 4-of-5 for 99 yards and a touchdown.
16.
Teddy Bridgewater DEN
19/26
213
1
0
4
11
10
1
WAS
Bridgewater was the week's best passer in the second quarter, going 6-of-7 for 101 yards with a touchdown and a sack.
17.
Tua Tagovailoa MIA
21/39
205
0
1
2
2
-5
7
BUF
Tagovailoa gains 81 DYAR due to opponent adjustments. Aaron Rodgers (56 DYAR) and Cooper Rush (43) were the only players with even half as many. The Dolphins kicked a field goal to tie the game 3-3 midway through the third quarter. The Bills went up 17-3 early in the fourth. In between those two plays, Tagovailoa went 8-of-14 for only 42 yards.
18.
Justin Fields CHI
19/27
175
1
1
4
1
-9
9
SF
The Bears started a drive with 5:52 left in the third quarter, clinging to a razor-thin 16-15 lead. Fields only threw for one first down from that point to the end of the game, going 4-of-8 for 44 yards with an interception and three sacks.
19.
Sam Darnold CAR
13/24
129
0
0
0
-6
-28
23
ATL
Darnold loses 36 DYAR due to opponent adjustments, second-most this week. He left the game midway through the fourth quarter with a concussion. He only completed two of his six passes inside the Atlanta 25-yard line, for a net loss of 1 yard.
20.
Ryan Tannehill TEN
23/33
265
3
2
3
-7
-23
16
IND
Tannehill's 5-yard touchdown pass to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine put Tennessee up 21-17 midway through the third quarter. He only threw for one first down the rest of the game, going 9-of-14 for 101 yards with two sacks. Somehow the Titans won 34-31 in overtime anyway.
21.
Kyler Murray ARI
22/33
274
0
2
2
-19
-3
-16
GB
Murray had the league's best DYAR on passes to receivers at or behind the line of scrimmage, completing all seven of his passes for 48 yards and three first downs.
22.
Kirk Cousins MIN
24/35
184
1
0
1
-20
-29
10
DAL
Cousins was successful on a league-low 30% of his dropbacks, in part because he threw a league-high 13 failed completions. On a related note, he had the league's worst DYAR on throws to running backs, going 5-of-7 for a loss of 2 yards. Four of those completions lost yardage.
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Sacks
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Opp
23.
Trevor Lawrence JAX
32/54
238
1
1
1
-44
-38
-6
SEA
Lawrence was the league's worst passer on deep balls. Though he threw a league-high 54 passes, only four traveled more than 15 yards downfield. None of them were completed; one was intercepted.
24.
Patrick Mahomes KC
30/48
275
1
1
2
-47
-51
4
NYG
Coming into this season, Mahomes had only finished with negative DYAR in two games, just once in the regular season. He has now finished with negative DYAR in each of the last three weeks.
25.
Jared Goff DET
25/34
222
0
0
5
-56
-56
0
PHI
Goff led the NFL in DYAR on passes to running backs. He threw a dozen passes to his backs and completed all of them for a total of 87 yards with a touchdown.
26.
Taylor Heinicke WAS
24/39
269
1
2
5
-59
-64
5
DEN
Heinicke was the week's worst passer in the games most critical splits. In the red zone, he went 4-of-6 for 22 yards with one touchdown, one sack, one fumble, and one interception. On third/fourth downs, he went 5-of-12 for 87 yards with five conversions, four sacks, and two interceptions (one on a Hail Mary).
27.
Carson Wentz IND
27/51
231
3
2
1
-69
-61
-8
TEN
Wentz's average pass traveled a league-high 11.1 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He finished as the worst passer on throws down the middle (8-of-15 for 86 yards with one touchdown and a pick-six) and in the fourth quarter/overtime (6-of-19 for 67 yards with two interceptions, including that pick-six, plus a 42-yard DPI). Now go back and re-read Ryan Tannehill's comment and think about what a great finish the fans in Indianapolis were treated to.
28.
Justin Herbert LAC
18/35
223
2
2
3
-74
-75
1
NE
Herbert was the week's worst passer in the second quarter, going 3-of-8 for 19 yards with one touchdown, one interception, and one sack.
29.
Matt Ryan ATL
20/27
146
1
2
3
-76
-57
-18
CAR
When your coach is Arthur Smith and you're throwing to Kyle Pitts, you're not supposed to be the worst quarterback on throws to tight ends. But that's what Ryan was this week, going 4-of-9 for 17 yards with two DPIs for 21 yards and two interceptions.
30.
Joe Burrow CIN
21/34
259
3
1
3
-83
-83
0
NYJ
Throws to targets at or behind the line of scrimmage are supposed to be safe with little risk. Well, not for Burrow, who threw six such passes against the Jets, completing only three of them for 14 yards with an interception. He was also terrible in short-yardage. With 3 yards or less to go for a first down, he went 3-of-7 for 18 yards with two conversions (including one touchdown) and a sack.
31.
Daniel Jones NYG
22/32
222
2
1
3
-90
-78
-12
KC

 

Five Best Running Backs by DYAR (Total)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Michael Carter NYJ
15
77
1
9/14
95
0
57
40
17
CIN
Only one of Carter's runs gained more than 10 yards, and only four produced first downs, but he was stuffed for a loss just once. Five of his receptions produced first downs, including gains of 12, 20, and 23 yards.
2.
Ty Johnson NYJ
4
15
0
5/6
71
1
51
1
50
CIN
None of Johnson's runs gained more than 8 yards or produced a first down; he was stuffed once. Four of his catches gained at least 14 yards and a first down; the other was an 8-yard gain on first-and-10.
3.
Najee Harris PIT
26
91
1
3/3
29
0
46
31
15
CLE
Harris' longest run gained only 11 yards, but he ran for a half-dozen first downs while being stuffed three times. His best catch was a 20-yard gain on second-and-7.
4.
Jonathan Taylor IND
16
70
1
3/4
52
0
44
30
15
TEN
Taylor was stuffed just once against Tennessee while rushing for seven first downs, including gains of 11 and 12 yards. His best catch was a 37-yard gain on first-and-10.
5.
Darrel Williams KC
13
49
0
6/6
61
0
37
3
34
NYG

 

Five Best Running Backs by DYAR (Rushing)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Michael Carter NYJ
15
77
1
9/14
95
0
57
40
17
CIN
2.
Elijah Mitchell SF
18
137
1
0/0
0
0
31
31
0
CHI
It was a boom-and-bust day for Mitchell against Chicago. He was stuffed five times but he ran for six first downs, including gains of 11, 12, 27, 27, and 39 yards.
3.
Najee Harris PIT
26
91
1
3/3
29
0
46
31
15
CLE
4.
Jordan Howard PHI
12
57
2
0/0
0
0
31
31
0
DET
Each of Howard's carries—most of which came while protecting a multiple-score lead in the second half—gained at least 2 yards. His longest carries were a pair of 10-yarders, but half his runs picked up first downs.
5.
Jonathan Taylor IND
16
70
1
3/4
52
0
44
30
15
TEN

 

Worst Running Back by DYAR (Total)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
D'Andre Swift DET
12
27
0
5/5
24
0
-45
-23
-22
PHI
Swift's only first down was a 2-yard gain on third-and-1. His longest carry was a 7-yard gain on third-and-18. He was stuffed twice. None of his catches produced first downs. His longest reception was an 8-yard gain on first-and-10 ... which ended in a fumble that the Eagles recovered and returned for a touchdown.

 

Worst Running Back by DYAR (Rushing)
Rk
Player
Team
Runs
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
Opp
1.
Kenneth Gainwell PHI
13
27
0
0/0
0
0
-29
-29
0
DET
Gainwell did run for two first downs against Detroit, but his longest carry gained only eight yards, seven of them gained 1 yard or less, three were stuffed, and one was a 6-yard loss on first-and-10.

 

Five Best Wide Receivers and Tight Ends by DYAR
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
Opp
1.
A.J. Brown TEN
10
11
155
15.5
1
46
IND
Each of Brown's first four catches produced first downs, including a 57-yard touchdown. He did not gain a single first down after that as most of his catches were good gains in long-yardage scenarios. His final six receptions were a 7-yard gain on second-and-11, a 10-yard gain on third-and-12, a 14-yard gain on third-and-17, a 9-yard gain on first-and-10, an 11-yard gain on third-and-13, and a 13-yard gain on second-and-20.
2.
Brandin Cooks HOU
6
6
83
13.8
1
43
LAR
Only three of Cooks' catches produced first downs, but two of them were third-and-1 conversions and the other was a 45-yard touchdown on second-and-4.
3.
Cedrick Wilson DAL
3
3
84
28.0
1
42
MIN
All three of Wilson's catches came on third downs. Two of them were conversions, including a 73-yard touchdown on third-and-8. He also gained 14 yards on a DPI.
4.
CeeDee Lamb DAL
6
8
112
18.7
0
37
MIN
Five of Lamb's catches gained at least 13 yards and a first down, the longest a gain of 35. The other was an 8-yard gain on second-and-15.
5.
Chris Godwin TB
8
12
140
17.5
1
37
NO
Each of Godwin's first five catches gained at least 12 yards and a first down, and if Tampa Bay had just stopped throwing him passes at that point, he would have finished atop these tables. Alas, they threw him five more passes, resulting in three catches for 23 yards and no first downs, and he fell to fifth place.

 

Worst Wide Receiver or Tight End by DYAR
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
Opp
1.
Danny Amendola HOU
2
5
3
1.5
0
-50
LAR
Amendola's two catches: no gain and a fumble (recovered by Houston) on second-and-10; 3 yards on second-and-13.

Comments

63 comments, Last at 05 Nov 2021, 4:05pm

10 Why-ever not? They are as…

Why-ever not? They are as predictive as any other play from the two, aren’t they? Is it just a technical issue of scraping the play-by-play? Or is it that you would need to filter attempts from seasons before the current rules went into effect?

13 They are as predictive as…

They are as predictive as any other play from the two, aren’t they?

Id be surprised if that's the case. It's closer to 4th and goal from the 2, but the cost/benefit is very different because it's worth less points, and also has a very different risk profile.  

23 Turnovers are not that…

Turnovers are not that different in cost, really, since a failure to score gives up the ball in any case. It’s just the chance of a touchback or long, non-scoring return that makes fourth and goal different. I guess defensive penalties are potentially worse there, too.

But it’s hard to see either of those affecting predictiveness much at all, since they won’t affect play calling on either side of the ball.

35 I'm with nat

Yeah, I don't see why they wouldn't be included.  It's difficult for me to imagine how the offense plays so differently on a 2pt conversion that it would impact the stats.  There are so many other sources of variability, this must be small in comparison, if it exists at all.

41 My guess would be there's…

In reply to by countertorque

My guess would be there's just not enough of them. There were 131 2-point attempts the entire year in 2020: in other words, in an entire year, the average team attempted 4 2-point conversions.

Kindof amazing how few there are.

51 Are you saying that the…

Are you saying that the teams try less hard? Call different plays? If not, the point difference is irrelevant.

To put it another way, if a team is good at 4th and goal from the 2, but significantly less or more good at conversions, then they are doing something wrong. The situations are tactically almost identical. The “playbook” is the same, or should be.

57  To put it another way, if…

 

To put it another way, if a team is good at 4th and goal from the 2, but significantly less or more good at conversions, 

This is probably right, but the reverse probably isn't. There's a higher cost penalty (or at least, should be) for being overly aggressive at 4th and goal from the 2.

I don't understand your "the turnover cost is the same" part - throwing a pick on a 2-point conversion is essentially just a loss of 1 point (expected points from that position are ~1, net result=0, change=-1), exactly the same as an incomplete, plus some chance of a defensive 2 point. So the effect of a turnover's small, just "-2*chance of horrible failure". Call that guy "p" - this is the chance that a turnover results in a defensive score. Net result of "failure" is -1-2*p*t, where "t" is the fraction of times you failed due to a turnover.

4th and goal from the 2 if you just fail is around -3 (expected points are 4, net result 1, change=-3, the net result here is due to field position when the other team takes over), but a pick that results in a touchback costs you -4.5 (new net result of -0.5), and an "OMG awful fail" (which is that same "p") costs you 11 points. Obviously a pick can result in other things too, but these are probably the two most likely.

So on a 4th and goal from the 2, the failure cost is -3-1.5t-6.5*p*t. Very, very different risk profile.

62 Hey, look, there was a 4th…

Hey, look, there was a 4th and 2 attempt in the Colts/Jets game.

What happened? They ran the ball. They didn't make it, but Jets went nowhere and handed the ball back to them on their side of the field, and they promptly scored a TD.

Why do I mention this? It's a good example of what I'm saying. Teams almost always pass on 2-point conversions (~80%) because the risk profile is exceptionally different. Turnovers basically don't matter. Turnovers are dramatically more costly on 4th and goal from the 2, and so teams run less risky plays more often.

2 Truth or luke-warm take?

That lack of big plays is the biggest thing Jones needs to work on as his career develops.

Does the data actually support that any more? According to nfl.com, Jones has the 7th most passes that gained 20+ yards, more than any other rookie, and in pretty good company. His 3 passes gaining 40+ yards is only 19th in the league. But what rookie has more? Even his mere 9 TD passes looks good compared to other rookies.

His statistical problem seems to be that he throws a lot of short passes and screens, in what you rightly call an “arch-conservative” style. That’s to be expected, given the design of the offense, and what was considered one of the weaker receiving corps in the league, even before his best target (James White) lost his season to injury.

5 It doesn't really.  The last…

It doesn't really.  The last couple games they've been taking quite a few more shots.  He clearly doesn't have a cannon, but he's accurate as hell down field. 

 

And much of the issue causing that lack of downfield throwing has been line issues. They've had a bunch of injuries and a bunch of Covid issues with the o line.  

 

The issue this week seemed to be timing/communication, which hasn't been an issue before. 

8 Jones has been pretty solid…

Jones has been pretty solid throwing downfield, based on the eye test. But I think if you read “big plays” as “scoring plays”, the criticism is spot on. The Pats offense has been extremely lackluster in the red zone; those field goals need to turn into touchdowns if they want to make a playoff push. 

4 I'm not surprised Mac Jones…

I'm not surprised Mac Jones is being successful - I would expect that someone with actual talent would be put in a position to succeed by that coaching staff, unlike the QBs taken before him. NE wasn't going to stay terrible for long.

I'm curious where Cole Beasley ranked for receivers - it seemed like every catch he made went for a 1st down.

So what we're saying is Bad Wentz trumps Bad Tannehill?

 

 

7 Mac Jones

Mac has an oline. He also has a running game. Most important of all is he has a defense. All of which allows New England to essentially not ask Mac Jones to will his team to victory in shoot out after shoot out. Most young QBs are asked to do to much with too little. The results are usually bad. 

11 It's an ideal situation for…

In reply to by johonny

It's an ideal situation for a rookie QB.  In addition to the factors you noted, he also has a coaching staff that seems to be game-planning with the objective of: "don't ruin him".  

Only thing that could be better for him would be a stronger WR corps to throw to, but even that unit seems okay-ish with Kendrick Bourne added into the mix.  Considering he already has more factors in his favor than any rookie QB should expect, it would really be asking for the moon to quibble about not having a superstar here in amongst the middling professionals.

 

12 Nitpicking a bit here, but…

In reply to by johonny

Nitpicking a bit here, but the Patriots offensive line hasnt been good this year - mostly due to injury/Covid. 

 

Andrews has played all 8 games, but Trent Brown went on IR, Mason, Wynn, and Onwenu have all been missing/very limited in multiple games, and Cajuste and Durant have played way more than their talent should allow. 

 

The line is a weakpoint, not a strength. 

22 It has.  My point is the the…

It has.  My point is the the majority of Jones play (and a significant factor in the conservative play calling) at this point has been with a offensive line that was not a strength.  

 

 

If the new configuration holds up, and people can stay healthy, this is a very different team than it was weeks 1-6 

17 "The line is a weakpoint,…

"The line is a weakpoint, not a strength. "

Maybe by historical NE standards, but relative to 2021 NFL OL play they've been at worst mediocre when playing scrubs and above-average the rest of the time.

20 No, they weren't "at worst…

No, they weren't "at worst mediocre"

 

Against Houston, and New Orleans, they were awful. 

Against Houston Andrews was the only starter playing, and they started a guy who was on the practice squad until a couple days before game time.  

 

The biggest factor in that game was the Patriots offensive line. It was an enormous problem.

 

 

 

 

24 well....

They did beat Houston.  I think, relative to expectations, Andrews and the practice squad did OK vs. Houston.  Mac was only sacked once and they got 4.2 YPC. 

The Saints game is another story.  Worst game of the season. 

26 Against NO they fell behind…

In reply to by RickD

Against NO they fell behind early and had to pass often.  Still, on 53 drop backs Jones got sacked twice by NO, while meantime NE was sacking Winston 3 times on 24 drop backs.  It might have been NE's OL's worst game of the year, but it won't crack the top 100 worst OL games of the year across the NFL.

EDIT: took me a while but I found the pressure rate stats for the game.  Jones was under pressure 21.4% of the time versus Winston 23.1%.  It's not clear that NE's OL was even the worst OL in this one game.

25 Such an enormous problem…

Such an enormous problem that against HOU they only rushed for 126 yards on 4.2 average yards per carry while giving up 1 sack for a 5-yard loss.

I'll give you that NE's OL was weaker than normal while missing almost all their starters, but they still did a better job for Jones than the lines protecting many other NFL QBs, including all of the other rookie QBs.

EDIT: took me a while but I found the pressure rate stats.  Jones was under pressure 19.4% of the time in the HOU game while Mills was under pressure on 25.0% of drop backs.  This and the NO may have been NE's worst games for OL performance for the year, but they still outplayed the OLs of the other teams in those games.

43 Beasley had 17 DYAR and did…

Beasley had 17 DYAR and did not make the top 20 WRs/TEs. He did pick up a half-dozen first downs, but also had three incomplete targets and a pair of failed completions, most notably a 1-yard gain on second-and-2.

6 Wentz too high?

I find it hard to believe four QBs were worse on Sunday. (Well, OK three, since Jones didn't play until Monday night.)

Wentz still looks like the QB most likely to make a catastrophically bad decision.

15 I still feel very…

I still feel very comfortable that Wilson is going to be the best of the class two years from now.  

19 I'm not, and I was on Team…

I'm not, and I was on Team Wilson (as New can attest).  Wouldn't surprise if he gets Wally Pipped, it wouldn't surprise me if both him and White tank, it wouldn't surprise me if Wilson eventually succeeds a la Josh Allen.  I doubted him before, but Lawrence seems most likely to succeed in this class, once the coaching staff (or perhaps one coach) goes away.

28 Why? Lawrence seems more…

Why?

Lawrence seems more talented by far. Jones seems more successful and with a real coach. Fields and Lance might not have shown too much, but there’s two of them, so at least one is likely to outperform Wilson.

21 It was a strange week for…

It was a strange week for QBs, with almost everyone playing mediocre. The split between the top and bottom QBs was probably the lowest it will be all year. Strange to see Burrow and Jones, whose popcorn stats look OK but not terrible, at the bottom of such a week, but I assume opponent adjustments hurt them both. 

27 Packers Just Dropped in DVOA From 11 to 14

 i guess losing to ARIZ with their complete team healthy was really a serious problem. Damn.   

Anyone who actually watched the game-- and how with no weapons Rodgers and LaFleur controlled it-- to then conclude, as obviously DVOA has, that ARIZ was the better team-- well what can I say? I guess a rookie mistake lining up on the wrong side was by far the most important play... Because the final score is probably 31-21 without that mistake.

Play the games and we will see....

38 the Mistake before his mistake

In reply to by LyleNM

Rodgers thought it was a sure fire TD-- would have made Cardinals final drive garbage time/meaningless-- Rookie tight end went wrong direction-- and Packer had no TOs left (their fault) and had to take a delay penalty...

34 As someone who actually…

As someone who actually watched the game, the Packers got 10 points off Rondale Moore not being able to catch a punt and a screen pass and they likely kept at least another 3 off the board because AJ Green didn't know what the play was. Credit to Green Bay for falling on the fumble and catching both INTs (as well as losing neither of their fumbles) but I did not walk away thinking Green Bay controlled that game so much as Arizona repeatedly gave it away.

From DVOA's point of view, I would guess the Packers averaging just 4.7 yards per play to Arizona's 6.1 explains at least part of the drop.

39 38 to 22 minutes time of possession was the Packers strategy

They wanted the yards per play to go like that, for crying out loud. 

DVOA cannot measure the impact of:

not having your starting All-Pro tackle

not having your starting center

not having your starting All-Pro WR

not having your only deep threat WR

not having your #2 WR

Not having your Pro Bowl OLB best pass rusher

Not having your Pro Bowl CB

Not having your other starting CB

Not having two other starters

But what the hell? Let's just say ARIZ was the better team and LaFleur is a lucky coach and call it a day.

Murray and Co made those mistakes. I hardly think it was a dominant GB win-- but they controlled the game, played it just the way they wanted, and won  ON THE ROAD.

Anyway-- play the games and we shall see...

40 Calm down dude

That is exactly what the DESCRIPTIVE portion of DVOA does measure. It measures what happened on the field. Green Bay was limited, their average pay was not as efficient as they usually are. If those players stay out, that is exactly what we can expect from the Packers going forward too.

Also King is not the other starting CB. If healthy he is not starting over Stokes, he lost that job before he got hurt. Hell he might be 4th on the depth chart now. He has value, but the team is not playing without CB1 & 2, it's more like 1 and 3.

Defense Adjusted -- Value -- Over -- (League) Average

It isn't actually this simple, but I'm trying a different approach dive we've spent years trying to get through to you and it still hasn't sunk in. So try this. Ignoring injuries, just what happened on a play by play basis was Green Bay better than their OWN average on a per play basis that game? You can even try and factor in the defense effect to? The answer no, not even close. It was an anemic offense compared to past games, no big plays, had to convert several 4ths. DVOA describes exactly that. Were they better than other teams against Arizona? Zona has won a few very close games. GB played great under the conditions, but in the grand scheme it was pretty pedestrian.

Learn what DVOA measures and how to use the information it provides and just calm down.

DVOA for each teams is likely close, both offenses basically only stopped themselves in the second half and Arizona got the yardage on few plays, so per play, which DVOA measures, zona could look a little better. GB was better in the first half but the one 55 yard play zona did have could still have an impact. Special teams for zona was poor but that is less predictive so has a smaller effect.

47 No, that's not what DVOA…

In reply to by DisplacedPackerFan

No, that's not what DVOA measures.  That's what VOA measures. 

 

 

DVOA makes the assumption that the teams are at their average strength for the season. 

48 Yes it measures what…

Yes it measures what happened on the field, adjusted for the defense. The defensive adjustment is based off the seasonal DVOA, yes.

Look as I said in the post I was simplifying to try and get through to someone who has spent years willfully ignoring even the concept of what DVOA measures. So I left those details out. Even given the quality of Arizona's defense that was not a good performance by Green Bays offense. Why it wasn't good had more to do with GB's health than Zona's defense, but DVOA does not care about that at all. It cares about what happened on the field. Like you said VOA is completely unadjusted and is the pure value over average. As the DVOA article points out GB had their 2nd worst VOA performance of the season to it was around -20% while DVOA was around 9% because of the quality of the Zona D.

29 And this is a Justin Fields…

And this is a Justin Fields problem, not a Chicago Bears problem—Andy Dalton's sack rate of 7.4% is barely half that of Fields'.

This seems like a suspect assertion that ignores recency and sample size, given that Dalton has taken 90 snaps this season - all but 3 of those in weeks 1 and 2 - while Fields has taken over 400.

I'm not trying to argue that Fields is blameless or playing pwell, but I don't see how anyone can look at Chicago's lack of talent on the offensive line coupled with the abysmal playcalling (it would have been hard for Nagy and his staff to have designed a worse plan for the Cleveland game even if they were trying to get Fields killed) and say it's not a Chicago Bears problem.

32 Yeah but they played the…

Yeah but they played the Rams in week 1, who lead the league in sacks with 25. Then they played the Bengals, who have a solid defense. I think it’s likely that Dalton has faced better pass rush than Fields, and given up half the sack rate.

36 Gainwell

Just to give Gainwell's performance a little context, The Eagles pulled almost every starter for his last 12 carries - QB, TE, OL, not sure about WR, but even against an 0-7 team, a 3-5 team's backup OL is going to struggle...

37 Trevor Lawrence

The analysis on Trevor Lawrence reeks of bias. I'm just not impressed by someone who is averaging 6.3YPA and probably has slightly inflated stats because of garbage time. Listing James Robinson as a negative is insane.

I get that TLaw had the best projections, so it's important to account for that prior, but really the FO pre-draft model tells you that even the best guys bust half of the time. Unless Lawrence becomes way more accurate a la Josh Allen he's never going to be a superstar. 

I actually have the highest hopes for Lance still. I think he has the ability to play a Russell Wilson style where he makes all of his money off of the deep stuff.

42 If there's bias there, it's…

In reply to by MikeWhiteGOAT

If there's bias there, it's not in defense of QBASE or anything like that, it's because I wrote this 24 hours after watching the Jaguars get trampled by a bad Seattle team. I'm not sure anyone on Jacksonville would be starting in Seattle, and believe me, there are holes in this Seahawks roster.

44 I don't know who is writing…

I don't know who is writing the headlines this year, but they often sound more like the worst writers' "Hot Takes" than descriptions of the real content in FO articles.

49 Playing around with filters on rbsdm.com

When you exclude garbage time (wp 28-72%) and set the min plays to 34 (gotta get rid of Mike White!), the rookie class is as such, out of 35 in EPA+CPOE composite:

5th Fields

22nd Mills

24th Jones

28th Lawrence

35th Wilson

Rage away

52 No need to rage. You already…

No need to rage. You already admitted you were cherry picking to get weird results. I assume you’re just making a joke.

FWIW, according to pro-football-reference, starting the second half down 10 points gives a win probability of only 14.7%. Hardly garbage time. Down 14 gives a probability of 7.1%. Again, not garbage time. Down 21 gives 1.4%. I doubt many teams would treat any of those as garbage time with 30 minutes left.

53 Doesn't matter what they "treat" it like

The bottom 4 are generally in their place regardless of moving the filters and stay relatively the same throughout. But being down 14, like the whole 2 point conversion conversation, is hard to come back from and you have to play more risky.

Of course there's more time to change things around. There's also more time for the opposition to score more. Which they were already doing at a clearly better pace. But if they make a comeback, cool, those non garbage time plays will be included. But playing risky and having bad luck like interceptions bouncing off your recievers hands, well, that doesn't help and may explain why you're down a lot.  

54 Your attempt at extended…

Your attempt at extended parody is failing. I hope that’s what’s going on here.

If you actually think that third quarter passes made while leading or trailing by 10 points should be excluded when evaluating QBs, you are just plain bonkers.

The win probability down 10 at the start of the fourth quarter is only 6.9%.

Heck, the win probability down 7 is only 15%. You are excluding way, way too much to be doing anything but making a joke.

 

55 "Only"

You do know being down and coming back is hard right? Especially later in games right?

Taking out tail ends of when the game out of reach is perfectly usable right? Unlike thinking rare 2pt conversions are predictive.

You're hyper focused on time when wp is wp that time is already factored into.

It's interesting and if you cant see how drastic things can swing when games are getting out of reach and they start to get desperate...because when you get desperate you do risky things (and should) because time is running out. You generally have to push the ball downfield and in tight situations. And when variance doesn't fall on your side, it doesn't help. Not that you had much of a chance to begin with since you were already down. It's like a hail Mary at the end of a half that's intercepted. It shouldn't matter as much despite the how strong it is on a stat sheet.

56 To give people an idea of…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

To give people an idea of how insane this level of cherry-picking is, the win probability with the ball, 1st and 10, start of 4th quarter, down 5 points is…

…wait for it…

25.7%

Or, by your definition, GARBAGE TIME, not worthy of consideration when judging a QB’s play.

MEH. If a QB treats that situation as close-your-eyes-and-heave-it-into-double-coverage time, that’s precisely the kind of thing we want to measure.

60 Lol you sure seem to be getting worked up

Yes a majority of teams don't win when down late and have to continue to be more predictable. You can cry about it all you want but it's tangible and there's still garbage.

If you must know many consider garbage time to be the tail 20% ends. Play becomes much more lax for d and limiting for offenses. 

And if you haven't gotten it by now. They're... rookies...all this proclaiming of their fates halfway through their first season is silly. It's easy to make silly predictions based on such a sample size. Nonetheless the results are interesting when things are more neutral for one but the others remain more or less the same. 

63 If your point was to…

If your point was to demonstrate the futility of judging any QBs after 8 games because with the right cherry-picking (and thus small sample sizes, too) you can make almost anyone look good, you’ve got things backwards. You’ve demonstrated the futility of cherry-picking down to small sample sizes.

If you’re point is that it is too soon to “proclaim fates” for rookie QBs, you’d get no argument here. The only thing we can say for certain about someone like Mac Jones is that he **can be** at least an 18th best QB in the league, because for half a season he has been precisely that. Since he’s a rookie still learning the pro game, that’s unlikely to be his ceiling. But it’s possible that we’ve seen his best games.

58 I have thank New for this…

I have thank New for this post, irregardless of 'parody' or cherrypicking.  I'd never heard of that site, and it was a lot of fun doing my own tweaking of the stats last night.  If you knock the number of plays down to 20, Tyrod Taylor beats out Mike White for #1.  Actually, leaving all the garbage time plays in drops White down to 14th, just ahead of Lamar Jackson.  Wilson stays at the bottom or just above Trey Lance depending on where you put the garbage time meter.  I might add that Fields only has 64 plays at the 28% level, while Wilson has 51 and Mike White has 33.  Wondering if Fields takes most of his sacks while the Bears are down a lot.

Of course, there are some problems with this compared to DVOA; there are no opponent adjustments.  There are results that seem off; including all plays leads to Teddy Bridgewater ranking #4.  And if you aren't careful typing the site name in, or have occasional dyslexia (believing A-Rod to be Steve Rogers in another post), you'll end up on a porn site.  I have to get a new laptop now.

59 I agree that pointing out…

I agree that pointing out that stats site is a good thing. And thanks to you for the warning about misspelling that url.

It’s still hard to fathom anyone thinking that down 5 at the start of the fourth quarter (or the equivalent) is garbage time. But that’s what you have to do to get the results he was fishing for, I guess.

I still think it’s really just a trollish spoof. No one could actually be that clueless about when garbage time starts.

50 DVOA knew

DVOA knew about Aaron Rodgers' COVID situation.  Hence the Packers' drop.

Spooky.