This is an article about interceptions in 2019, and that means we are going to talk a lot about Jameis Winston. Jameis Winston shall be the player most frequently discussed today, and the player most frequently discussed today shall be Jameis Winston. Jimmy Garoppolo and Joe Flacco will not come up, excepting that they are compared to Jameis Winston. Jameis Winston, Jameis Winston, Jameis Winston. Jameis, Jameis, Jameis. Winston, Winston, Winston. Jameis "Jameis Winston" Winston. Jameis Winston. Wameis Jinston. Jameston Winis. Jameis Winston.
Specifically today we are going to discuss adjusted interceptions. Unlike the NFL's raw interception totals, these numbers account for plays when a defender drops a pass that he should have caught, or when a wide receiver makes a big play to turn what should have been a turnover into an incompletion instead. On the other hand, sometimes quarterbacks are charged with interceptions that aren't really their fault -- passes that bounce off a receiver's hands and straight to a defender -- or interceptions that don't matter, like Hail Mary passes.
After each season, we go back and account for these discrepancies and account for each quarterback's adjusted interceptions. Here's the process:
- We start with each player's actual interception total. Jameis Winston led the NFL in 2019 with 30 interceptions, only the 12th time in NFL/AFL history that a quarterback has thrown so many in a single season, and the first since Vinny Testaverde in 1988.
- We then add plays where the quarterback threw a ball that could have or should have been intercepted but was not, either because the defender outright dropped the ball (which we have been tracking in game charting since 2007), or he had it knocked out of his hands by an offensive receiver (a "defensed interception," which we have been tracking since 2012). These are listed as "Drop/Def INT" in the table at the end of this page. Winston also led the NFL in this category, with 13 -- the most of any quarterback in a single season since Andrew Luck threw 14 as a rookie in 2012. (Note that this does not include a Kyle Allen pass that was dropped by Adrian Amos of the Packers, only to then be intercepted by Amos' teammate Tramon Williams -- Allen deserved to be intercepted on that play, and eventually, he was.)
- Next, we subtract those interceptions that were tipped by receivers into the hands of defenders (as established in 2017, these plays can be thought of as Matt Ryan specials). Three players tied for the league lead in this category with three apiece: Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Baker Mayfield. (Jameis Winston had two.) We also subtract passes that are tipped by receivers but then dropped by defenders to make sure they are not double-counted. There was only one of these in 2018, but eight in 2019, though no player threw more than one.
- We subtract Hail Mary interceptions, as well as interceptions thrown in desperation on fourth down in the final two minutes of a game. We're flexible on these definitions, but this year there was only one play that was in the gray area: a Winston interception in Week 6 against Carolina, thrown on fourth down while trailing by 11 points with 2:31 to go. We opted not to count that one as a Hail Mary interception. Three players threw two qualifying Hail Mary interceptions last season: Dak Prescott, Philip Rivers, and Detroit's David Blough. (Blough did not qualify for the final table below, but he finished with eight adjusted interceptions and six actual interceptions.)
- New this year, we are subtracting dropped interceptions that occur in Hail Mary situations, since those plays wouldn't count as adjusted interceptions even if they had been caught. Mitchell Trubisky had two such plays; Josh Allen, Daniel Jones, and Aaron Rodgers threw one each.
When we started running these numbers, we had to get the data from our own in-house volunteer game charters. For the last five seasons, we've had access to data from Sports Info Solutions. Determining whether or not a defender should be charged with a dropped interception will always be subjective on some plays, but you can rest assured that all the obvious calls have been counted here.
Anyway. The 2019 leader in adjusted interceptions was -- of course -- Jameis Winston.
|Adjusted Interceptions, 2019|
We have adjusted interception numbers dating back to 2007, and Winston is the first player since then to hit 40 adjusted interceptions in a season. Only three other players have even hit 30 in a season: Jay Cutler (34 in his first year with the Bears in 2009), Eli Manning (31 in 2013), and Luck (30 in 2012).
The gap between Winston and anyone else last year was monstrous. Philip Rivers and Kyle Allen each threw 26 adjusted interceptions. That was enough to tie for second place, but they were just as close to the 12 adjusted interceptions of 18th-place Josh Allen as they were to Winston. Baker Mayfield (23) and Andy Dalton (21) round out the top five.
In Winston's defense, he threw a lot of passes into the hands of defenders in part because he threw a lot of passes period, a league-high 624. He threw an adjusted interception on 6.4% of his passes. That's still the highest rate in several years, but at least it's not totally unprecedented. The last qualifying passer with a higher rate was Chicago's Matt Barkley in 2016. The highest rate on record is the 7.1% of Carson Palmer, who threw 23 adjusted interceptions in 326 passes for the Oakland Raiders in 2011.
Because he threw so many interceptions, Winston is going from the starting quarterback for the Buccaneers to the backup for the Saints. That's going to be a radical shift in New Orleans, where last year's backup, Teddy Bridgewater, had the lowest adjusted interception rate in the league. Bridgewater, meanwhile, is moving on to Carolina, where he will replace Kyle Allen … whose adjusted interception rate of 5.3% was second-highest behind Winston.
With all those hundreds of passes, Winston's luck mostly evened out. The average quarterback throws about 30% more adjusted interceptions than actual interceptions. At that rate, we would expect a passer with 40 adjusted interceptions to finish with 30.8 actual interceptions, barely any higher than Winston's real-life total of 30. Compare that to Philadelphia's Carson Wentz, who was 12th in the NFL with 16 adjusted interceptions but tied for 20th with seven real-life picks. That's 5.3 interceptions less than we would expect, making Wentz the luckiest quarterback in the league. He's followed in that department by Kyle Allen (-4.0), Drew Brees (-3.7), Tom Brady (-2.8), and Patrick Mahomes (-2.7).
The unluckiest quarterback was Cleveland's Baker Mayfield. Mayfield threw 23 adjusted interceptions, so we would expect him to have thrown 17.7 total interceptions, but instead he threw 21. That difference of +3.3 was the highest in the league. It's even higher than the +3.2 difference Mayfield had in 2018, when he was second in bad luck behind Jacksonville's Blake Bortles. In two NFL seasons, the defenders of the NFL have intercepted 35 of Mayfield's passes, but dropped only eight of them. Last season, he was joined in misfortune by Pittsburgh's Devlin Hodges. Hodges only threw 160 passes, so you won't find him in the above table, but he was one of the few quarterbacks to throw more actual interceptions than adjusted interceptions, with eight of the former and seven of the latter -- 2.6 more interceptions than expected. Mayfield and Hodges are followed by Dwayne Haskins (+2.4), Ryan Tannehill (+2.2), and Hodges' teammate Mason Rudolph (+2.1). Add in Ben Roethlisberger's numbers (one interception, two adjusted interceptions), and Steelers quarterbacks threw 4.2 more interceptions than expected. It truly was a cursed year in Pittsburgh.