Quick Reads: 2020 in Review
With the regular season in the books and 256 NFL games finished, it's time to look back at the best and worst players of 2020. The best players include a quarterback who has already won an MVP award in both the regular season and the Super Bowl; a running back who has shown a rare ability to produce on the ground and in the air; a wide receiver who once looked like a bust but has developed into the dominant player at his position; and a tight end who already had a strong Hall of Fame resume and somehow played better than ever at age 31.
|Best Quarterbacks, Total DYAR, 2020|
Analysis: In three years as a starting quarterback, Patrick Mahomes has now finished first, second, and first in passing DYAR. He is the sixth quarterback since 1985 to finish in the top two at least three times and in first place at least twice. The others: Dan Marino, Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees. Mahomes only turned 25 in September, so we'll probably be talking about him in this space for years to come.
Aaron Rodgers has never finished first in passing DYAR, but he has now finished second three times: behind Brees in 2011 and Ben Roethlisberger in 2014, and now behind Mahomes.
While Mahomes has done things no other quarterback has done at so young an age, Tom Brady is doing things no quarterback has ever done so old. There have now been 61 touchdowns thrown by players in their age-43 seasons or older -- 40 by Brady, 21 by every other human being ever. Brady's stubborn refusal to submit to the corrosive effects of middle age have left him within shouting distance of a mark once thought unreachable: Peyton Manning's career total of 26,290 passing DYAR. Brady now sits at 25,742 passing DYAR, only 549 DYAR back. To put that number into perspective, Baker Mayfield finished 16th with 545 DYAR in 2020. Drew Brees is in third place at 23,692, but he'll need at least two more years to catch Manning, and the gap between himself and Brady is growing.
In Houston, Deshaun Watson had one of the best seasons you'll ever see from a quarterback on a horrible team. The Texans finished with a total DVOA of -12.5%, but a pass offense DVOA of 24.1%. Coming into this year, only 11 teams had posted a total DVOA of -10.0% or worse with a pass offense DVOA of 20.0% or better:
- Warren Moon's Oilers and Dan Marino's Dolphins in 1989;
- Jim Everett's Rams in 1990 and 1992;
- Jake Plummer's Cardinals in 2001;
- Kyle Orton's Broncos in 2010;
- Drew Brees' Saints and Philip Rivers' Chargers in 2015;
- Jameis Winston's Buccaneers in 2017 and 2018;
- and Derek Carr's Raiders in 2019.
There were actually two teams that crossed those thresholds in 2020: Watson's Texans, and Justin Herbert's Los Angeles Chargers. As you have probably heard, Herbert set a rookie record with 31 passing touchdowns this season. DYAR was not quite as impressed -- Herbert averaged a mediocre 7.3 yards per pass -- but he still finished with 861 passing DYAR. Since 1983, only five rookies have been better:
- Dak Prescott, DAL, 2016, 1,302 DYAR
- Matt Ryan, ATL, 2008, 1,012 DYAR
- Ben Roethlisberger, PIT, 2004, 908 DYAR
- Dan Marino, MIA, 1983, 885 DYAR
- Russell Wilson, SEA, 2012, 872 DYAR
|Worst Quarterbacks, Total DYAR, 2020|
Analysis: We discussed Carson Wentz's horrible season in detail after Week 13; he was benched after that and has not played since. And yet, despite being shelved for a quarter of the season, he still led the league with 50 sacks taken, and tied Denver's Drew Lock for the league lead with 15 interceptions thrown. Only two other quarterbacks have ever led the NFL in both categories in the same season -- Detroit's Jon Kitna in 2007 and Jacksonville's Blake Bortles in 2015 -- and they both needed 16 games to get there.
Putting Wentz's historic ineptitude aside for the moment, we see that this list is comprised entirely of teams from the NFC East and the New York Jets, which sure sounds a source of the worst football on earth. Alex Smith is going to win Comeback Player of the Year, and he's going to deserve it, but that shouldn't stop Washington from looking to upgrade in the offseason. Dwayne Haskins, of course, has already been axed. Sam Darnold is likely to be replaced by the second pick in the draft. Also in New Jersey, the struggles of Daniel Jones somewhat flew under the radar this year, but it's worrying that he only threw 11 touchdown passes in 14 games. There were 10 quarterbacks who played fewer games this year than Jones but threw more touchdowns, including such non-luminaries as Andy Dalton, Drew Lock, Nick Mullens … and Carson Wentz.
Better Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Drew Lock, DEN
First we must point out that "better" does not mean "good." Drew Lock was a bad starting quarterback this season, but not quite as bad as his NFL passer rating of 75.4 would have you believe. He certainly had his struggles -- we already mentioned that he led the league in interceptions, and his completion rate of 57.3% was last among qualifiers -- but he was able to stay upright and hit the occasional big play, ranking in the top 10 in both yards per completion and sack rate. He was 33rd among qualifiers in passer rating, but 28th with a DVOA of -16.2%.
Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Gardner Minshew, JAX
Quarterbacks such as Minshew play like they were designed in a laboratory to produce inflated passer ratings. Constantly looking for the checkdown, they manage to rack up completions while avoiding interceptions, but they lack the physical tools needed to hit deep shots downfield or avoid sacks. Minshew was 17th in passer rating, but just 27th in DVOA.
Most Improved: Josh Allen, BUF
|Biggest Year-to-Year Improvements in Total DYAR, Quarterbacks, 1985-2020|
|Minimum 200 pass plays both seasons|
Biggest Decline: Carson Wentz, PHI
It's obvious that Wentz suffered the biggest decline in 2020, but pretty surprising that he was not close to the biggest decline of all time. He fell from 531 total DYAR in 2019 to -718 this season, a decline of 1,250 DYAR. The ignominious record belongs to Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper, who went from 1,943 total DYAR in 2004 to -155 in 2005, a drop of 2,098.
(By the way, nobody's talking about Lamar Jackson, but his total DYAR fell from 1,532 to 334, a drop of -1,199 that was nearly as big as Wentz's.)
Rushing: We wrote this about Kyler Murray's rushing numbers after Week 9:
Since Murray and the Cardinals have played exactly eight games this season, we can conveniently double his current numbers and say he is on pace for 1,110 yards and 16 touchdowns -- the quarterback records of 1,229 yards ([Lamar] Jackson, 2019) and 14 touchdowns (Cam Newton, 2011) are both in jeopardy. We can also see Murray's pace of 23.0 DYAR per game; if he can maintain that rate, he will pass Randall Cunningham's all-time mark of 297 DYAR in Week 14 against the Giants. Of course, maintaining that rate would be a very difficult feat, but given Murray's game-to-game consistency and the number of games left to play, it's more likely than not that he'll break Cunningham's record before all is said and done.
Murray finished with 819 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, finishing second among quarterbacks behind Lamar Jackson (1,005 yards) and Cam Newton (12 touchdowns). Murray did finish first with 184 rushing DYAR … but that's actually less than he had after Week 9. Murray had 3 rushing DYAR in Week 10, then had negative DYAR six times in his last seven games. Through Week 9, Murray was averaging 69.4 yards per game and 7.9 yards per carry with 189 total DYAR; after that point, those numbers fell to 34.9 yards per game, 5.2 yards per carry, and -4 total DYAR. I'm not telling you that the defensive coordinators of the NFL all got together in November and read Quick Reads and realized that if you contained Murray's rushing, the Cardinals were much easier to beat … but I'm not saying that didn't happen either.
For the record, Ben Roethlisberger was last with -49 rushing DYAR. Three of his nine non-kneeldown rushing plays this season were fumbles on aborted snaps.
Schedules: In Week 15 we noted that Philip Rivers had benefitted from one of the easiest schedules on record. Rivers has since played one game against the Steelers (the best pass defense in the league) and one against the Jaguars (the second-worst). He finished the year 1,025 YAR but 765 DYAR; that gap of 260 DYAR means he played the third-easiest schedule since 1985.
Carolina's Teddy Bridgewater finished with 248 YAR but 446 DYAR; that gap of 198 tells us he played the most difficult schedule in the league. That will happen when you get two games each against the Saints and Bucs. (Atlanta's Matt Ryan had the next-most difficult schedule among full-time starters.)
|Best Running Backs by DYAR, 2020|
|Derrick Henry||TEN||386||Alvin Kamara||NO||196||Alvin Kamara||NO||253||196||449|
|Dalvin Cook||MIN||337||Nyheim Hines||IND||158||Dalvin Cook||MIN||337||58||395|
|Nick Chubb||CLE||277||Kareem Hunt||CLE||148||Nick Chubb||CLE||277||63||340|
|Aaron Jones||GB||255||Myles Gaskin||MIA||137||Derrick Henry||TEN||386||-75||311|
|Alvin Kamara||NO||253||Chase Edmonds||ARI||131||Aaron Jones||GB||255||30||285|
Analysis: It was a big year for running backs -- Derrick Henry's total of 386 rushing DYAR is the best in a single season since Adrian Peterson had 458 in 2012 with Minnesota. (And that's despite playing a very easy schedule -- Henry lost 75 DYAR due to opponent adjustments.) Second-place Dalvin Cook would have led the league in three of the last five years. Nick Chubb finishes in third place despite missing four games -- that's what happens when you run for a dozen touchdowns and average 5.6 yards per carry. Aaron Jones missed two games himself, but still rushed for a career-high 1,104 yards and 5.5 yards per carry.
Alvin Kamara leads all runners in both receiving and total DYAR. This is the 14th time that the running back leader in receiving DYAR has also made the top five in rushing DYAR. Kamara also did it back in 2017. (Marshall Faulk did it every year from 1998 to 2001.) Kamara's receiving numbers have been frighteningly consistent -- in four NFL seasons, he has now caught 81, 81, 81, and 83 passes -- but he set career-highs on the ground this season with 932 yards and 16 touchdowns.
If you read our Decade in Review series over the offseason, you know that Philip Rivers had a long history of using running backs as effective receivers with the Chargers. Well, Rivers is in Indianapolis now, and he immediately took Nyheim Hines -- who had negative receiving DYAR in 2019 -- and made him a weapon. Kareem Hunt has always been an effective receiver -- this is his third season in the top 10 in receiving DYAR -- but neither Myles Gaskin nor Chase Edmonds has ever gotten the 25 targets needed to qualify for our tables before.
|Worst Running Backs by DYAR, 2020|
|Joshua Kelley||LAC||-142||Melvin Gordon||DEN||-93||Joshua Kelley||LAC||-142||27||-115|
|Duke Johnson||HOU||-117||Ronald Jones||TB||-88||Phillip Lindsay||DEN||-70||-38||-108|
|Benny Snell||PIT||-96||Ito Smith||ATL||-77||Benny Snell||PIT||-96||-11||-107|
|Phillip Lindsay||DEN||-70||Derrick Henry||TEN||-75||Duke Johnson||HOU||-117||30||-87|
|Josh Jacobs||LV||-56||Miles Sanders||PHI||-56||Jordan Howard||MIA/PHI||-51||-27||-78|
Analysis: Joshua Kelley is a fourth-round rookie out of UCLA whom the Chargers used in relief of Austin Ekeler, Kalen Ballage, and Justin Jackson. He did not start ahead of any of those men, which is not a good sign. He had 12 games with at least one carry and finished with negative DYAR in nine of them. In three games from Week 2 to Week 4, he ran 40 times for 114 yards (a 2.9-yard average) with two fumbles.
Benny Snell averaged 3.3 yards per carry and Duke Johnson 3.1, so they fit right in here. But what about Phillip Lindsay, who averaged 4.3 and still has never fumbled in three NFL seasons? Lindsay was a boom-and-bust runner -- his success rate of 40% was worst among qualifiers this year. He also played a very easy schedule, with 46 of his 118 carries coming against the Chiefs or Patriots, the two worst teams this year in run defense DVOA. As for Josh Jacobs, we'll get to him later.
At one point this year, Tampa Bay's Ronald Jones was threatening the record books for worst receiving numbers by a running back, but he was saved from that fate by catching a 37-yard touchdown pass against Kansas City in Week 12; that play by itself was worth 25 DYAR. Jones wasn't even the worst receiving back this year; that honor instead goes to Denver's Melvin Gordon. In his last eight games, Gordon caught only 12 of 17 passes for 71 yards.
We also see that Derrick Henry's skills as a runner do not translate to the passing game. He joins Emmitt Smith in 1992, Jerome Bettis in 1996, and Rudi Johnson in 2005 as players with at least 300 rushing DYAR but less than -50 receiving DYAR.
Better Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Darrell Henderson, LAR
Henderson ranked 34th among running backs in yards from scrimmage, but seventh in total DYAR. That's mostly due to his reliability as a runner, where ranked 11th in success rate without a fumble. He was especially effective on first-and-10, where he averaged 5.0 yards on 77 carries. He also faced a very tough slate of opposing defenses -- 105 of his 138 carries came against teams in the top half of the league in run defense DVOA, including the Seahawks and 49ers twice each.
Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Josh Jacobs, LV
Jacobs was ninth in the NFL with 1,303 yards from scrimmage, but had negative rushing DYAR and total DYAR. Jacobs suffered the biggest penalty in opponent adjustments of any runner this year -- in other words, he faced the easiest schedule of any running back in the NFL. Just look at his opponents: 16 carries against New England, the worst run defense in the league! 40 against Kansas City, second-worst! 40 more against the Chargers, 26th! 36 against Denver, 25th! Add in games against Buffalo, Carolina, Cleveland, Miami, and we find that nearly 80% of Jacobs' 273 carries this year came against teams in the bottom half of the league in run defense DVOA. And he still averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry.
Most Improved: Alvin Kamara, NO
From 162 total DYAR in 2019 to 449 in 2020. In addition to his previously mentioned career-bests, Kamara's 1,688 yards from scrimmage and league-leading total of 21 touchdowns were also personal highs.
Biggest Decline: Ezekiel Elliott, DAL
Mathematically, Carolina's Christian McCaffrey and Baltimore's Mark Ingram suffered bigger drop-offs than Elliott, but that's mostly because they missed 13 and five games, respectively. Elliott only missed one game, but still posted the worst marks of his career in rushing yards (979), yards per carry (4.0), yards per game (65.3), and yards per catch (6.5), while tying a career high with six fumbles.
|Best Wide Receivers by DYAR, 2020|
Analysis: Five years ago in this space, we listed Green Bay's Davante Adams as the worst overall wide receiver in football. He was better after that, ranking in the teens for three years in a row, then fell back to 31st last year, in part because he missed four games. But everything came together in 2020 -- he was first in the league with 18 touchdown catches and 98.1 yards per game, and he topped all wide receivers in receiving DYAR despite missing two games. He certainly finished strong -- in his last two games of the year, against playoff teams in Tennessee and Chicago, he caught 17 of 18 passes for 188 yards and four touchdowns.
Kansas City's Tyreek Hill was "only" seventh in receiving DYAR, but he climbs up to second place when you include his 73 rushing DYAR for his 13 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns. We discussed Justin Jefferson's monstrous rookie year in Week 6. In the end, his mark of 374 receiving DYAR is fifth in rookie history behind Michael Thomas, Randy Moss, Odell Beckham, and Michael Clayton; however, he joins Thomas and Moss as the only wideouts to finish second in this category in their rookie seasons. Stefon Diggs had the best year of his career after being traded to Buffalo, leading the NFL in both catches (127) and receiving yards (1,535). Mike Evans' secret weapon was his ability to draw pass interference flags -- he led all receivers with nine, and the 171 yards gained on those plays was second only to the 185 of Pittsburgh's Chase Claypool.
|Worst Wide Receivers by DYAR, 2020|
Analysis: If this is it, what a sad ending for A.J. Green in Cincinnati. His mark of -173 DYAR is in the bottom 10 on record (Chris Chambers standard of -294 with Miami in 2006 remains untouched). He had five games this year with at least one target but no catches, including an 0-for-6 performance in Week 17 against Baltimore. And no, he's not just here because Joe Burrow was injured -- he had -154 DYAR on 76 targets from Burrow, -19 DYAR on 32 targets from other Bengals quarterbacks.
In Denver, Jerry Jeudy's rookie season was quite a disappointment. His 92-yard touchdown catch against the Raiders on Sunday was the longest passing play of the year, but that one catch produced more than 10% of his yardage (and one-third of his scores) all season. Meanwhile, he led all players with 61 incomplete targets. Jeff Smith, who started four games for the Jets, managed to catch fewer than half his targets while averaging less than 10.0 yards per reception; only one other player in the league did that on more targets than Smith's 37, but we'll get to him in the tight ends section. Two years after the Patriots drafted him in the first round, N'Keal Harry has failed to stick in the starting lineup -- which says a ton considering the dearth of other options in Foxborough. Trent Taylor combines some of the worst elements of Smith and Harry -- he's also a member of the sub-50%/sub-10.0 club, and he did so even though he was an afterthought on the 49ers' wide receiver depth chart.
Better Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Will Fuller, HOU
Fuller only caught 53 passes this year, barely making the top 50 … but he was eighth in DYAR. He had a catch rate better than 70% and still averaged 16.6 yards per catch, while scoring eight touchdowns in only 11 games.
Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Diontae Johnson, PIT
Johnson was in the top 15 with 88 catches, but he had -75 DYAR and almost qualified for the bottom-five table we listed above. When you only average 10.5 yards per reception, you need to catch more than 61.1% of your targets. Johnson also had 23 failed receptions; only three players had more.
Most Improved: Nelson Agholor, LV
Oh, how painful it must have been for Eagles fans to see Agholor thriving in the desert. In five seasons in Philadelphia, Agholor finished with negative DYAR four times. Yes, he won a Super Bowl in midnight green, but his lasting legacy in the City of Brotherly Love is as the personification of a failure to catch things:
In Las Vegas, though, Darren Waller's presence as a possession receiver has freed Agholor to be a deep-ball specialist, the role he was born to play. Agholor's average target depth of 16.4 yards was most of any player with at least 70 targets; his 244 DYAR on deep balls was second only to Justin Jefferson.
Biggest Decline: Michael Thomas, NO
I try to avoid listing players here who were injured (or suspended), but Thomas' struggles this season go far beyond the nine games he missed. All of his per-game and rate stats (11.0 yards per catch, 5.7 catches per game, 62.6 yards per game, 72.7% catch rate) were career lows, and he failed to cross the goal line even once after scoring 32 touchdowns in his first four seasons. He fell from 525 total DYAR in 2019 to only 42 this year.
|Best Tight Ends by DYAR, 2020|
Analysis: We covered Kelce's dominant season in Week 14. In the end, he failed to break Rob Gronkowski's DYAR record or become the first tight end to lead the NFL in receiving yards … but he is the first tight end to lead the league in receiving DYAR despite sitting out Week 17.
Darren Waller led all tight ends with 107 catches. George Kittle's highlight was his 15-catch, 183-yard day against Philadelphia in Week 4 … which, accounting for full-season opponent adjustments, was only 71 DYAR, barely in the top 20. And in L.A., Tyler Higbee's steady climb continues. He has now gone from 46th in DYAR as a rookie in 2016 to 36th, 16th, 11th, and now fifth, even as everything else in the Rams offense has slipped a bit.
|Worst Tight Ends by DYAR, 2020|
Analysis: Once upon a time, all the great tight ends had names that started with "G" -- Gonzalez, Gates, Graham, Gronkowski. Apparently, the letter "E" is a cursed sigil for the position, as we have not just an Ertz and an Eifert, but even the unfortunately alliterative Eric Ebron and Evan Engram. There is also Cole Kmet, who has "E" in both his first and last name. (You have no idea how badly I wanted Kmet's middle name to be Emmitt or Ephraim or Erasmus or something, but apparently he doesn't even have one.) The worst was Ertz, the aforementioned player in the sub-50%/sub-10.0 club with more targets than Smith. Ebron's collapse was synchronous with that of the Pittsburgh offense as a whole, though it remains to be seen how much of his struggles were the cause and how much were the effect. Engram actually led the Giants with 109 targets, and that right there tells you a lot about why the Giants went 6-10 and missed the playoffs. Kmet did not lead the Bears in targets -- he wasn't even their top tight end -- but you're not going to have good statistics when you average 8.7 yards per catch. (You'll recall that Deshaun Watson averaged 8.9 yards per throw.) Tyler Eifert is kind of the reverse version of Davante Adams, going from first at the position in 2015 to (almost) last in 2020.
(Fun fact: If you consider New Orleans' Taysom Hill a tight end, as he was listed to start the year, he would have qualified for this table. His DYAR numbers: -5 receiving, 2 rushing, -69 passing, -72 total.)
Better Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Robert Tonyan, GB
Tonyan, a third-year pro out of Indiana State, rose from obscurity to become an elite red zone target. He's the first player in six years with at least 11 touchdown catches but fewer than 600 receiving yards. He was 13th with 52 catches, but second with 243 DYAR, which would have been enough to finish first in 2018 or 2019. His DVOA of 51.9% was best for a tight end since 2010 (when three players topped it).
Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look: Evan Engram, NYG
Engram caught 63 balls for New York; only four tight ends this season had more. But he was first in incomplete targets and in failed completions while finishing just eighth in yards, and he only scored one touchdown.
Most Improved: Robert Tonyan, GB
In 11 games in 2019, Tonyan caught 10 passes for 100 yards and one touchdown. The year before that, he had a 4-77-1 statline in 16 games. Yes, this breakout was unexpected. His DYAR jumped from 11 to 243.
Biggest Decline: Zach Ertz, PHI
Just two years ago Ertz set a tight end record with 116 catches, and he had 88 more the next year. Granted, we listed him as our tight end who was Worse Than His Standard Stats Made Him Look both years, but at least he was doing something. This year, he only had 72 targets in 11 games, turning that into a 36-335-1 statline.
58 comments, Last at 11 Jan 2021, 1:42pm
#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 05, 2021 - 11:38am
Schedules: In Week 15 we noted that Philip Rivers had benefitted from one of the easiest schedules on record. Rivers has since played one game against the Steelers (the best pass defense in the league) and one against the Jaguars (the second-worst). He finished the year 1,025 YAR but 765 DYAR; that gap of 260 DYAR means he played the third-easiest schedule since 1985.
Trubisky had a gap of 202 in 9 games. That's a pro-rated 359!
#5 by theslothook // Jan 05, 2021 - 12:24pm
The funny thing is - I believe Moss got hurt for part of 2004 and Culpepper still played like a near MVP. It was this play that made Minny assume they could move on from Moss and his never ending headaches.
Culpepper then turned in half a season of horrible play(I guess he was Wentz' predecessor here), but then tragically blew out his knee and was never the same.
I remember coming into that 06 offseason - the prizes were an injured Brees or an injured Culpepper. I thought the Miami made the better decision because
a) Culpepper's career heights were higher than Brees' had been
b) Brees' injury was directly tied to his ability to throw. Not the same for Culpepper
Of course, I turned out to be spectacularly wrong but I am not quite sure what to learn from it. Consider the following situations:
Watson blows out his knee and Josh Allen suffers a shoulder tear and both end up in free agency. Who would you prefer under those same circumstances?
#11 by Joey-Harringto… // Jan 05, 2021 - 2:11pm
Yea, as Slothlook pointed out, the Moss/No Moss in 2004/2005 is a false narrative, given that Moss was injured for most of 2004. Culpepper had an all-pro worthy year in 2004 with Nate Burleson as his de facto WR1.
#13 by TheAnonymousCo… // Jan 05, 2021 - 2:35pm
Birk (the starting C) was injured and his backup was awful. Immediate, unimpeded pressure up the middle on almost every play, bad snaps, and couldn't make the blocking reads at all. The Vikes traded for the Browns' backup center, and went on a run once he was put into the starting lineup. (I think he was coming off an injury or something, and couldn't start right away)
#47 by MC2 // Jan 07, 2021 - 2:00pm
Moss finished 8th in DYAR in 2004. In fact, Moss had more DYAR that year than TO (in TO's only full year in Philly), despite getting about 40 fewer targets than TO. So, the claim that Moss had little to do with Culpepper's success that year is rather dubious.
#4 by big10freak // Jan 05, 2021 - 12:18pm
Multiple posters at Acme Packing Company blog stated before the season that if Tonyan stayed healthy he would get 50 plus catches. In his few appearances you saw the good hands and ability to separate. Guy just could not stay on the field.
but nobody anticipated this type of efficiency. Just really fun to watch.
#10 by All Is On // Jan 05, 2021 - 1:47pm
Just anecdotally, it seemed like he was wide open every time he was targeted. Some of that was scheme, some of that was luck (defenders falling down, etc), and some is skill. Hard to say how you should weight those things going forward and thus how much you can depend on him or how much you would expect this performance to repeat. The folks who look at these things through the fantasy football lens seemed to think all season that he was due for some regression.
#20 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 05, 2021 - 3:36pm
I'm curious what things will look like with Deguara. While I don't like where he was picked in the draft and like the injury even less he looks like he'll be a more viable receiver threat than the venerable Lewis has been. Teams key off Tonyan, and if Deguara turns out to be viable when healthy that changes the multiple TE look. Lewis got some key plays this year because of attention to Tonyan. Maybe you get a mini Gronk/Hernandez situation. Note I love Lewis, I love that he appears to realize where his body is at now and he appears to have embraced his role on this team. He just is not a major receiving threat anymore. But I think he has been great for the team and probably is awesome to have in that TE room.
I agree that I can't see Tonyan keeping up this level of efficiency, dude had more TD catches (11) than missed receptions (7) with 52 rec on 59 targets. But he has sufficient talent and clearly takes coaching. I'm also not sure of his true skill at creating separation outside of scheme. It's not that he doesn't have any, he demonstrably does, but you put a Kelce or healthy Kittle (who Tonyan credits for help in the off-season) in this scheme and the numbers could be scary. This offense is friendly to TE and RB receptions.
All that said I really enjoyed seeing one of the best TE seasons in Packers history this year.
#6 by RevBackjoy // Jan 05, 2021 - 12:25pm
Love the Brady-Manning-Brees chart! All three have been marching inexorably upward for 15-20 years, stopped only by injury and retirement. Pretty remarkable how consistent their trajectories are; aside from years missed due to injury, their outputs are damn near linear, especially Brees'.
#7 by nat // Jan 05, 2021 - 12:39pm
It’s easy to confuse Manning’s final year with retirement on that chart, isn’t it.
“Stopped only by injury, retirement, or playing really poorly” would be more correct. But they dragged him to a Super Bowl win. So who’s to say they were wrong to let him play?
#8 by TimK // Jan 05, 2021 - 1:34pm
Well, a lot of Manning's playing really poorly was caused by inability to recover from even the mildest of injury anymore. The nerve problems in his arm caused by the neck injury that cost him a season seemed to be making sure that even the slightest further impairment put him below the athletic minimum to be even a league average QB, but he could still diagnose coverage and call audibles.
Given Manning's ability to generally avoid taking hits, if he hadn't been unlucky with the neck injury he could well put the records out of sight of even Brady. Of course in another maybe 15 years we might be watching Mahomes coming up towards breaking a lot of records.
#15 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 05, 2021 - 2:45pm
By his last year, Manning was still struggling with the old neck injury and never really recovered from the plantar fascia injury. It all kind of snowballed on him, like Favre in his last season. Eventually his other skills just couldn't cover for the progressing physical decline.
#12 by Bobman // Jan 05, 2021 - 2:33pm
With many amazing sub-sections. The one that strikes me is the horizontal lines for Manning and Brady: The fact that Manning and Brady both have a level year for their major injuries, but Brees does not despite a major shoulder injury, because he was hurt at the end of one season and somehow managed to recover before the next. That is both fortuitous and amazing.
Brady, by contrast, was injured in Week 1 and missed a whole season but came back fine, while Manning was injured a few years before his lost season, never missed a game but played at less than 100% for a couple years, and finally couldn't any longer (for a week/month/whole year/forever, nobody seemed to know at the time). He came back fine as well.
As much as I was just about to type "we've been blessed to see this level of excellence for son long from these guys" (including the end of Favre, the rise of Rodgers, plus Kurt Warner, Rivers, and Ben R) I have to pause and consider today's kids (Mahomes, Allen, Herbert, Burrow, Jackson, and their eminence grise Russel Wilson), who might make these graybeards seem merely above-average. Mahomes, for sure. Okay, maybe we're just lucky for football in general. And for FO. And this community of commenters. Especially Raiderjoe.
Okay, now I'm getting all sentimental.... sniff.
#26 by Joseph // Jan 05, 2021 - 5:48pm
Scary thing is--Mahomes, Allen, Watson, Herbert, Burrow, Jackson--all are on AFC teams. Then you have presumptively Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields going to JAX & NYJ. Then you still haven't taken into account Mayfield & Tua. In other words, Brady picked the right time to leave the AFC :). The other 6 teams have Rivers, Ben, Tannehill, Carr, and two sinkholes (DEN & NE).
Now, some of those could end up busts, retire early (Luck), or just never really become great (Flacco). But 10 AFC teams may have their QB for the next decade in place in just a few months.
#30 by Wifan6562 // Jan 05, 2021 - 8:41pm
All of those players look great right now. Great like Cam Newton, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, Jake Locker, RG3, Blake Bortles, Marcus Marriotta, Jamie’s Winston, Mitch Trubisky, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Carson Wentz. And that’s only looking at top 10 draft picks since 2009.
We’ve seen many quarterbacks have 1 or 2 good years early in their careers only to be unable to adjust when defenses focus on negating their best talents.
We’ve also seen many “running quarterbacks” who are unable to adjust when they slow down a step after their ACL surgery. Nearly the entire list of AFC quarterbacks will prove if they can make those transitions in the next 1-4 years. History says that 50-75% will fail that test, but I have no clue how to predict which ones.
#19 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 05, 2021 - 3:16pm
While Rodgers has never lead the league in DYAR he has at least three DVOA titles in 2011, 2014, and 2020. As is often pointed out, DYAR is a counting stat, and Rodgers just doesn't get the same usage. That isn't going to change with LeFleur either. He'll have to have really great DVOA to ever lead in DYAR because he's always going to be behind in attempts. This offense holds the ball and shortens games, the pace stats for the last couple years are quite telling.
Quick Reads has always been about the DYAR though so nothing wrong with that. I do wonder about qualified DVOA leader tables sometimes, but the qualification levels can muddy things too. I also still someone miss DPAR even if I understand that DYAR is a quicker to grasp concept. So don't mind me.
#21 by theslothook // Jan 05, 2021 - 3:40pm
The problem is, DVOA and DYAR are almost correlated but not quite. Passers who throw more frequently, including in both favorable and unfavorable situations, are going to accumulate more DYAR but certainly hurt their overall DVOA whereas those who pass less often and in mostly favorable circumstances will have the reverse.
I'll be curious to hear what Seahawks fans think, but Wilson this year was worse in DVOA, rank, and even amazingly in DYAR than his rookie year. I suppose by raw numbers, you are forced to conclude that RW in 2012 is better than RW in 2020, though I certainly don't agree. RW in 2020 was a superior player but asked to carry more of the offensive burden than in 2012 both because his defense was clearly worse but also because the offense was placed into his hands more often.
#22 by ChrisLong // Jan 05, 2021 - 3:58pm
DYAR and DVOA are also normalized to the year in question: passing offense this year was much more efficient overall than in 2012. So, *relative to the league that year* RW was better in 2012, but in comparison to himself in 2012 I think any reasonable observer would conclude RW was better this year.
I've often wondered if it would be possible to say "OK, if Aaron Rodgers had done exactly what he did now, but in 2013, how would his DVOA have looked", but of course that's not really possible. It would be cool to do some sort of comparison where everyone was analyzed as if they had played in a reference year that was the average year or maybe the first year of DVOA, and then see whose stats come out the best. But I don't think that is possible the way DVOA is currently constructed.
#23 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 05, 2021 - 4:02pm
Agree on both points. I don't have a problem with DYAR being the primary ranking stat, and DVOA providing additional context. My fandom comes out at times and I have to defend my guy. It's not like Rodgers is under utilized either. He may not have the same volume, but it's not like he's ever outside the top 7 or so in attempts.
With the extra game this year due to not resting starters he had more attempts this year than in 2011 and his 2011 DYAR and DVOA kill his 2020 numbers. I pointed out last week he had exactly the same amount of attempts through 15 games in 2020 as he did for his 15 games in 2011. I still don't know which version is better. 2011 wins on most stats, traditional and advanced. 2020 had a better scheme. 2011 had better receivers. 2020 had better running backs and a better defense. 2011 had better regular season record. But you can see all that in the post from last week. Post 74 here if curious: https://www.footballoutsiders.com/quick-reads/2020/week-16-quick-reads
Regardless enjoyed both seasons.
I also agree on Wilson. He was awesome this year, and I would take the 2020 version over the 2012 version despite the advanced metrics as well.
#24 by theslothook // Jan 05, 2021 - 4:31pm
I watched 2011 Rodgers more than 2020, but as a neutral observer, 2011 Rodgers was the finest combination of physical and mental balance at the QB position I have ever seen with 2006 Manning being the closest rival with some heavy bias.
I do feel a lot of that ad lib brilliance was kind of unsustainable. And indeed next year a lot of those sublime plays were traded for sacks, but still...I don't think it was a comparison if you're asking me which player was better in that year
#28 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 05, 2021 - 7:09pm
I think a lot of that ad lib brilliance was the talent in the receivers. Sure it was the same players between 2011 and 2012, but availability was vastly different, and Drivers decline from serviceable old veteran to washed out old veteran was Manningesque. 2012 was a brutal injury year for the Packers at WR and RB.
Just listing the games played.
2011 - Jennings (13), Nelson (16), Cobb (15), Jones (16), Driver (16), Finley (16)
2012 - Jennings (8), Nelson (12), Cobb (15), Jones (16), Driver (13), Finley (16)
The missed game numbers don't cover the whole story. There were games without both Jennings and Nelson. Driver like I said cratered. He went from 37 rec on 56 targets for 445 yards and 6 TD to 8 rec on 13 targets for 77 yards and 2 TD despite all the injuries he still wasn't playing well enough to get on the field. Wish we had 2011 snap count numbers, but Jones was the defacto WR1 much of the season in 2012.
2012 Offensive Snap Count
Jennings (416), Nelson (595), Cobb (631), Jones (1000), Driver (150), Finley (690)
2011 - Grant (15), Starks (13), Kuhn (16)
2012 - Grant (4), Starks (6), Cedric Benson (5), Alex Green (12), Kuhn (14)
It's worse with those running backs. Kuhn was a fullback, but he started 3 games at HB because that was their option. Alex Green was a huge failed draft pick who was there in 2011 too, but he had to start 4 games. Grant started 1 game, Starks started 2. They brought Cedric Benson in as a FA for those 5 starts late in the season.
That 2011 receiver groups is one of the deepest in NFL history, certainly in the salary cap era. Jennings and Nelson are both legit WR1 talents. Cobb is an excellent slot receiver and while a rookie in 2011 still brought high value. Jones was a viable WR2 talent, he had a year in Oakland where rookie Derek Carr made him his #1 target but he isn't a WR1 level player. Driver was a legit WR1 talent earlier in his career, though was more of a bottom tier WR2/top tier WR3 talent by 2011. Finley was a top 10 TE. We have info on most of those players with other QBs too, this wasn't all just Rodgers elevating players. Talked about Jones already. Jennings put up respectable seasons in MIN with Matt Cassell, Christian Ponder, and Teddy Bridgewater as his QB at 30+ years old and had great seasons with Favre in GB. A 33 year old Nelson put up a respectable WR2 level season in his last year as a pro in Oakland with Carr. Cobb is still injury prone but playing well enough as a slot receiver for DAL last year and HOU this year.
Any QB of sufficient quality is going to do amazing things with that 2011 receiver group. Not every QB is going to do what Rodgers did with that group. But that was a hell of corps.
So to put up nearly identical numbers in 2020 with a less group though better scheme and RB impresses me immensely. His sack rate going from 6.7 to 3.7% is impressive too, most of that is scheme and him playing to it as he actually will get rid of the ball quickly now in part because he knows he doesn't have the WR talent to keep trying to extend the play. Adams can get open on a broken play as well as any of those 2011 players. Tonyan is on par with Finley. But MVS, Lazard, ESB, are not going to embarrass a DB like Nelson, Cobb, Jones, or Driver could.
2011 Rodgers was AWESOME, he made some amazing throws, and I'll concede that his physical gifts were better than what he has now. 2006 Manning I agree was amazing as well. But I think 2020 Rodgers with the greater experience and less physical tools might put up better numbers in 2011 than 2011 Rodgers did. I don't think 2011 Rodgers would have put up quite as good of numbers in 2020. I didn't see Rodgers missing throws this year because of physical issues. I mean 24 more attempts in 2020 and a 70.7% completion rate vs a 68.3% in 2011. A 9.1% TD rate in 2020 vs 9.0% in 2011. 1.0% INT rate vs 1.2% in 2011, though that's really a wash. I think he had 4 dropped INT's in 2020 and 3 in 2011. He didn't have the same WR talent to get as many deep shots and hence lower yards, ANY/A, DYAR, and DVOA.
I also don't really buy much into the offensive environment being that different in 2011 vs 2020. I mean 2011 had three QB with over 5000 yards (2020 had zero, Watson would have been 5th in passing yards in 2011). TD numbers are similar three 40 or better TD QB's both years. Rodgers sat out a game in 2011, Mahomes sat out a game in 2020 both had legit shots at breaking 5K if they had played. It may have been a little easier to rack up numbers in 2020 than 2011, and that does seem to bear out in the middle ranks, but the top 10 aren't that different. Of course 2011 was a bit of a blip year as a recall, and things came back down in 2012 and started climbing back up to where they are now. But the specific 2011 to 2020 comps don't need much if any adjustment.
So I think 2020 Rodgers has a clear mental game advantage (though maybe that's all scheme I really like the LeFleur scheme) and a small physical disadvantage. I think I talked myself into 2020 Rodgers. I will say the physical differences got smaller this year compared to 2018 and 2019. Whatever he did in the offseason he needs to keep doing as he not only slowed but reversed the age related decline. Maybe he copied that other #12 who has been around longer, don't know, don't care as long as it works and he keeps doing it. Despite the Love pick contract wise he isn't going anywhere in 2021. They could move on in 2022, but at a hit (~$17 million dead money I think) they would need to be sure they wanted to take that hit. 2023 the last year of the contract and his age 40 season wouldn't be bad at all if they wanted to drop him. I'd love to see him keep doing this till then. Sure the Love pick is still frustrating. Though if the Love pick prompted it all then I actually think that was worth it. I think most any team would give a first round pick to make their starting QB play about 7 ranks higher than he did the previous season and sustain that, of course we don't know if Rodgers will sustain. And maybe not, going from 32nd to 25th might not be as nice as going from the 8-9 that Rodgers was at to the 1-2 he's at now. Is worth a 1st round pick to go from Bridgewater/Prescott level production to Wilson/Brees level production? In most cases it's still 300 - 500 or so DYAR and not the 800 we saw from Rodgers this year.
Eh, I enjoy musing on stuff like this with a bye week in front my team in the playoffs.
#33 by All Is On // Jan 05, 2021 - 11:10pm
The ad-lib stuff arguably peaked for him in 2011, but it was a huge part of his overall game until very recently, despite a lot of evidence that the brilliance had gone from it. The "Is Rodgers Declining?" articles from the likes of Ben Baldwin started around 2015 or so and I think a loss of athleticism and a subsequent loss of the ability to make those plays is a big reason why (McCarthy's offense stagnating along with a lack of offensive weapons surely also contributed). The 2017-2018 offenses consisted of a lot of cases of Rodgers hunting for something deep before taking a sack or throwing it away when it didn't materialize.
I think it took Rodgers some time to wrap his head around his athletic decline and adjust his playing style, but this is the year where it seems he's figured it out. The ball is far more likely to come out of his hand on time now than it has in any offense he's played in at the pro level and he's taking far fewer sacks. I'm sure the new coaching staff had something to do with it too - the offensive strategy is absolutely better than the latter McCarthy years and maybe they were able to guide Rodgers along a path to taking what's there rather than hunting for killshots. Basically, I think he's the MVP this year because he's finally playing in a way compatible with being an old man rather than chasing after young-man plays all the time.
#29 by gomer_rs // Jan 05, 2021 - 8:15pm
In 2012 when Wilson had training wheels on, Wilson was an elite rusher in his own right, Marshawn Lynch could take over games by himself, arguably the best O-Line of Wilson's career, and maybe the best WR corps of his career (or second best to 2020)...
When he had a lot more weapons on offense overall and his physical tools rushing made up for a lot deficiencies throwing, Seattle could be a lot more selective with their passing offense and deploy him in the most pass friendly situations with excellent weapons to work with.
Whereas in 2020 they are forced as much by talent as by best practices to establish the offense through the passing game, thus turning some low efficiency runs into (relatively) low efficiency passes. A 5 yard screen may be better than a 4 yard run, but a passing offense with a greater percentage of 15 yard passes to 5 yard passes looks better isolated than a passing offenses with a lot more 5 yard passes replacing designed running plays.
#38 by MJK // Jan 06, 2021 - 10:04am
I prefer DVOA as a ranking stat. DVOA tells how well a QB played. DYAR tells how much he did. Consider two “equal” QBs. If one has a good defense or a fantastic running game, he will put up less DYAR through no fault of his own. In fact, a great QB with these things on his team will put up less DYAR than a good QB with a bad defense and a poor running game because the former will only be passing much till he builds a lead, while the latter will throw many passes in many shootouts.
#34 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 06, 2021 - 1:48am
Next Gen Stats has average separation for receivers.
They also have rushing yards over expectation based on the position of all 22 players on the field. Expected yards are not listed, rushing yards are, so you could calculate expected yards if you wanted to.
#40 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 06, 2021 - 3:46pm
We have that data, but it's not published anywhere on the site. We use it for analysis in Quick Reads, playoff previews, and the Almanac
For what it's worth, I would go a step further and make them a third kind of play: runs, downfield passes, and YAC plays (or whatever you want to call them).
#42 by dbostedo // Jan 06, 2021 - 7:03pm
Maybe because there's no meaningful difference in a pass that goes very slightly forward, and one that goes backward. So they should be catgorized the same either way. I'm thinking particularly of "wide receiver screens".
#44 by Dan // Jan 07, 2021 - 3:13am
One way of thinking of the basic conceptual distinction:
There are two ways for an offense to advance the ball down the field. The person carrying the ball can run down the field. Or, a player can throw the ball down the field to a teammate who catches it. Those are the two things that offenses can do, and those are the two things the defense has to stop.
It's not possible to cleanly divide plays as doing only one or the other, since most passing plays involve the receiving trying to get yards after the catch (first they throw the ball down the field, then the guy who catches it runs further down the field).
But we can pick out a set of plays that only advance the ball by carrying it, not by throwing it. And those are the plays that don't have a pass beyond the line of scrimmage. On any run play, or any pass behind the line of scrimmage, all of the yards gained on the play come with the ball in the ballcarrier's hands (plus a few more yards getting back to the line of scrimmage from where the ballcarrier caught or was handed the ball).
So we can divide plays into those where some progress down the field came with the ball in the air (passes thrown past the line of scrimmage) and those where none of the progress happened that way (handoffs, pitches, screens, SHOVeLLs, and other passes behind the line of scrimmage).
There are some differences between the plays in this category - how to defend them, what makes them work, what other plays they open up (compare a standard handoff vs. a traditional RB screen vs. a draw play vs. a WR screen vs. an end-around vs. a SHOVeLL vs. a pitch to the outside). But those differences don't cut cleanly between runs vs. forward passes behind the line of scrimmage, and they do have a lot in common relative to other passes (they're mainly about defensive integrity & tackling, rather than covering receivers, ball skills on a pass in the air, & pressuring the QB).
#46 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 07, 2021 - 10:15am
I would just rule change it that any pass that lands behind the line of scrimmage is a fumble. But a pass cannot be thrown forward twice, from anywhere on the field. (Illegal forward pass also becomes a loss-of-down spot foul)
#36 by mansteel // Jan 06, 2021 - 9:02am
Evan Engram was not only worse than his standard stats made him look, he was worse than his terrible DYAR made him look, since I don't think DYAR takes into account drops (?) and I'm sure it doesn't take into account either "passes that hit a guy right in the hands that get popped up in the air and subsequently intercepted" or "dropping a would-be game-clinching bunny leading to a loss that ultimately cost his team a playoff spot".
#45 by jheidelberg // Jan 07, 2021 - 3:44am
I'm not telling you that the defensive coordinators of the NFL all got together in November and read Quick Reads and realized that if you contained Murray's rushing, the Cardinals were much easier to beat … but I'm not saying that didn't happen either.
(By the way, nobody's talking about Lamar Jackson, but his total DYAR fell from 1,532 to 334, a drop of -1,199 that was nearly as big as Wentz's.)
I am telling you that defensive coordinators of the NFL figured out that if you contained Lamar Jackson's rushing, the Ravens are much easier to beat.
Jackson is an anomaly. The FO stats show that he is a bad QB this year. Now lets not blame the receivers. Jackson was great last year, with a similar collection of Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews, Willie Snead, Grumpy, Dopey, Bashful, Sleepy, Sneezy (sorry I am out of the 7 dwarf names that sound like a bad receiver).
Running backs have been excellent since Jackson took over. The 2018 splits of Ravens rushing effectiveness were massively different from Flacco to Jackson. This year, in a limited sample size the Ravens run efficiency declines substantially with a backup QB. This is not the lets run Jamal Lewis Ravens of Kyle Boller.
Jackson finished the year 21st in passing DVOA and rushing DVOA. I would assume in combination, that makes him worse than 21st overall. He is 22nd in passing DYAR and 6th in rushing DYAR but 69 rushing DYAR, really does not help much when you compare to QB leaders with totals over 2000 DYAR.
Fans may be saying what, he rushed for 1005 yards on 159 carries a 6.3 average (and that includes knees), how is that negative DVOA? Its simple, FO correctly defines scrambles as pass plays so that when the Ravens used a designed run for Jackson this year it has simply not been very effective.
Is the Ravens offensive line without Marshall Yanda and Ronnie Stanley, and with bad Matt Skura snaps good?
In FO stats the Ravens were 1st in running back yards and open field yards. This is in large part due to Jackson in my opinion, I would certainly need a better understanding of your basic line stats overall.
In my opinion, Jackson has two values, his scrambling ability and the fact that he makes the Ravens running backs great. I do not believe that FO or any other site has a way to show his value. The one thing that stats can not take into account is the fact that the Ravens running backs are great because of Jackson; this year without a depleted offensive line, and without stud blocking tight end Nick Boyle for much of the season. The Ravens were 3rd in rushing DVOA and 17th in passing DVOA.
I would love to know the breakdown of passing DVOA splits by scrambles vs actual passes. I know that sacks have to figure in there somewhere.
Since you thought my acronym comment on a post from the DVOA article was brilliant (I truly appreciate your compliment and recognition), I will ask, "Are FO stats telling me that TEDDY (Tolerably Efficient Dink Dunk Yards) Bridgewater was a better QB this year than Lamar Jackson?" Am I misinterpreting the statistics?
Can you have an above average offense (4.3 DVOA, 11th overall) with a bad QB in this era? I think not.
#48 by BJR // Jan 07, 2021 - 2:58pm
Good post which, by and large, I agree with.
Regarding Kyler Murray in particular: he injured his shoulder in week 11 (appearing on subsequent injury reports). He then injured his "lower leg" in week 16, before being finally forced from the field with a bad ankle in week 17. I'd venture to suggest it might be this accumulation of injuries, rather than defensive coordinators suddenly 'solving' matters, that contributed to Murray's decline in value as a rusher.
I realize you are talking explicitly with regard to Jackson's performance this past season, and not making any reference to his durability or future performance. And Jackson is a different player from Murray, who may well have a better propensity to avoid injury. He may also play in a better scheme. But durability must remain a huge concern for any QB whose value is predominantly as a rusher/rushing decoy.
#50 by jheidelberg // Jan 07, 2021 - 5:37pm
Jackson runs so much that there is no comparable QB in history to say what the future holds. My biggest concern is that he has a running back shelf life. He may be great for years to come, but maybe not. To expect him to be of value at the age of Brady, Manning, Brees, Rivers, Roethlisberger, etc. to me is not realistic.
Our best comparable is Cam Newton. Is he done? He looks awful.
I have not seen much of Arizona, nobody runs as much as Jackson. My biggest concern with Murray is that even before his injuries this year, his passing DVOA was nothing special. He finished 18th. He has Hopkins, and yes, it was only one play, which does not help much for DVOA, but that was one extra win.
Arizona runs a completely different offense. I know that in 2019 they used for or more wide receivers far more than any team. The Ravens use a fullback or two running backs, or two tight ends, or a combo of these players quite often. The QB's skill set may be similar, yet the systems they play in could not be more different.
#51 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 07, 2021 - 8:23pm
My biggest concern is that he has a running back shelf life.
Which has always been the big argument against running quarterbacks in the NFL, at least the biggest one that seems to hold water. Especially when they weren't as common in the college ranks. I don't have the data but the way injuries affect positions and the frequency of high injury risk situations come into play as well. Pocket QB's occasionally get hit in ways that Running backs almost never do and almost never get hit in some ways that running backs will see. Mobile QB's can end up in both categories of rare high risk situations. With the higher positional value of a QB I get that argument. I'm not sure I agree with it anymore. But I get it.
I do think mobile QB's are still more likely to wash out earlier than pocket QBs be it from a major injury or just degraded play from minor injuries. But I'm not sure that is the same type of problem it used to be either.
How do you quantify positional value?
If you accept that cross positional DYAR is a good measure of overall value to winning games then going from the best running back to the worst is probably about 600 +/- 100 DYAR most seasons (I haven't fully combed the data that's just from spot checks). So that's your risk if you lose a great running back to injury.
Going from the best to the worst QB is more like 2600 +/- 500. So that is 3 - 6 times more value. RB Salaries range from $142,000 to $16,000,000 with#32 at 2,100,000 and #64 at $1,000,000. QB's range from $572,000 to $45,000,000 with number #32 getting $6,000,000. (based on data from spotrac). So again seems to match that 3-6 and since most teams will carry 2 at least mostly viable RB still in part to cover injury.
So teams seem to bake that kind of risk/value into the salaries and cap hits too. Which makes some sense as well.
Where is this going? Is there another potential model?
I'm not the first to propose this, I've seen it on this site before too, but I still keep wondering.
Historically serviceable running backs you can win the super bowl with are much easier to find than an equivalent QB. Most teams have adjusted to keeping a back for 3-5 years then moving on with the next one. Actually with rookie contracts now that more like 4 years then done as you don't see nearly as many first round RB who have that 5th year option, though you may still get a decent number of UDFA or veterans who might still get a 3 year deal or a 3 year extension.
What I keep wondering about is that since there are more running quarterbacks in the college rank, and QB #64 (by pay) is currently at that same $1,000,000 rate as RB 64 is when will there be a team that is willing to basically draft a mobile QB at least every 2 years. Keep those QBs through the rookie contracts and just keep cycling through like running backs. While it does seem like the positional value of a QB keeps increasing it also seems like the number of serviceable mobile QB's that are available is increasing as well.
QB's need to do more than a RB, but you will have a couple years to to prep the next one on the bench. If you catch a Lamar Jackson (who by the way is making less than Jordan Love is sitting behind Rodgers because pick 26 vs pick 32 and 2 years of cap growth) maybe you do a second contract, but that's it.
You assume they will get injured at the rate running backs get injured. You assume the risk that you may let the occasional MVP talent go, but that you've got another decent player developing behind them. Even if the QB knows that they get their rookie deal and then they are done, they will still be motivated to play for that FA contract. You draft frequently because you may see in practice that you missed on the next one.
You have a team that is constantly sitting at the bottom of league in percent of cap going towards the QB and you spend that extra space to get a better D, or better line, or better WR. You make sure you keep surrounding these 2-3 year starting QB's with theoretically better talent than teams that are paying their QB 5 - 45 times as much. You catch lightning in a bottle from time to time and get to the Super Bowl.
#54 by theslothook // Jan 08, 2021 - 12:21pm
There is just a fine like between Lamar and say Joe Webb for example. Lamar is sufficiently good at passing that it all works. He's also an elite special rusher, but even if he was merely just good - this would still be a functioning offense whereas Joe Webb is unplayable. I just don't think its easy enough to find running qbs who are capable passers. Sure we see Wilson but I don't think a player like him is going to slip anymore and Murray went first overall.
Also, as Jheidelberg noted, the Ravens are in a particularly dangerous position. Lamar is grossly underpaid now, but he's going to get PAID soon. And there is a universe where he goes from tremendous asset to albatross for the Ravens if he suffers any kind of physical decline. If he becomes Cam Newton, its a tremendous disaster that would destroy the Ravens for at least a few seasons and possibly get Jon Harbaugh fired which would seem to be a franchise altering setback.
The sad fact is, the Ravens are in a win now mode far more than they would otherwise be with their signal caller.
#55 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jan 08, 2021 - 2:07pm
I agree completely if you treat QB the way teams always have. But if Baltimore had already drafted another qb and drafts another in 2021 and isn't worried about letting Lamar get paid somewhere else could they make it work?
Can you identify a Joe Webb in practice if you are focused on a QB churn? Pittsburg did this with linebackers for years because they were drafting for a defense that no one else played the copy cat nature of the league finally caught up to them and it would destroy any thoughts of my issues working as the supply is at best good enough for one or two teams right now.
But even Baltimore is not fully embracing Lamar's running. They limit it. I'm taking about going full college style with a mobile QB. Lesson the paint requirements for sufficiently good even more and realize you only need the QB healthy for 2 or 3 years, that's all you get in college. I know the vast differences in player acquisition between college and NFL pay a huge role in sustainability. But there have been multiple mobile QBs that have been sufficiently good enough for a couple of years and washed out in the NFL. No team has embraced that at reality the way they have with running backs.
It's a huge GM and coach killing risk. I understand why it's never happened, but I think the supply may be large enough to let it happen at this point. Though maybe the margins are too thin with the NFL talent levels. Even the worst offensives and defenses are so much better than what's in college that the level of sufficiency gets too high. I'm sure you'd need to embrace some of the VR and AR innovations that let QBs practice decision making at game speeds as well.
It seems clear that the way coaches and gms operate now makes a more mobile QB riskier. I'm just speculating on if there are ways that can reduce that. Leveraging the rookie pay scales and changing views on how long you want to keep a QB around is part of it.
#56 by theslothook // Jan 08, 2021 - 2:28pm
I guess I'm more pessimistic than you are about the number of functional passing but good at running quarterbacks out there. And really Cam Newton this year showed the hard ceiling reality of such a player.
The passing game is still such a step up from college and I think you see this when Rbs and run blockers and run defenders are viewed as safer picks than receivers, qbs, and dbs.
I could be wrong and maybe there is a potential moneyball-like win to be had. Never pay the QB salary while producing just good enough offense while you splurge elsewhere. But the downside risk as you alluded to is so severe that I don't think anybody would sign up for it voluntarily.
I do like the way you're thinking that there has to be an alternative long term strategy than hoping Trevor Lawrence becomes Peyton Manning.
Note I say long term because defense heavy teams rarely sustain for years into the future. Either they're saddled with trubisky in which case they are stuck or with Jimmy G who wants to get paid and you have to lose valuable defensive players.
#53 by Clock_Football // Jan 08, 2021 - 10:35am
Any opinions on how Justin Jefferson's historic season reflects on the NFL prospects of Ja'Marr Chase? In the 2019 LSU games that I watched (with a TV view, though, not film) I was under the impression that Chase was clearly the better player. Is he the best WR prospect in recent memory?
#57 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 08, 2021 - 2:34pm
Jefferson wasn't a shoe in as a prospect but Chase will go higher in overall draft pick 22 and at his position, WR5. WR5 and 22 overall was actually pretty close to consensus I'd say for Jefferson. Not a single soul thought he'd be THIS good. And Chase will likely be better, especially when Jefferson likely regresses.
#58 by Yomagn'tho // Jan 11, 2021 - 1:42pm
This will sound crazy, but let's put this into context. Brees was without Michael Thomas (his #1 receiver) for functionally 7 games to start the season and this made Kamara Brees's primary target, and despite this was in the top 5 of all QBs in DYAR, DVOA, QBR, and ANY/A up until his injury. He was better than Brady in all those metrics up until he suffered a bad injury (albeit not season ending). He rebounds from this injury and comes back fairly quickly (especially for someone his age!) and while his play suffered he still ended up at the end of the year being 7th in ANY/A (better than Brady), 12th in DYAR (makes sense considering he missed functionally 5 games), 7th in DVOA, and 7th in QBR (better than Brady).
While FO gushes about Brady, I would argue that all things considered Brees was more impressive given the difficulties he faced. Brady's season was impressive given his age (and even then regardless of his age), but he also had a wealth of talent to throw to (young talent in Evans and Godwin and proven talent in Gronk and Brown) while having the same benefits as Brees (top 10 o-line protection, top 10 defense).
If this is his last year I hope he can end it holding the Lombardi.