2022 Failed Completions: Justin Herbert Aims for the Record

Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - When you try to find comparisons for Justin Herbert, the mind races. Carson Wentz was the most common name pulled out during the pre-draft process; his arm strength has been compared to Aaron Rodgers; Ryan Harris called him better than Peyton Manning. Last offseason here at Football Outsiders, we ran a table of the quarterbacks with the most passing DYAR in their first two seasons, and Herbert came in just behind Manning and Dan Marino.

But for this particular article, we're going to make a significantly rarer comparison: Joe Flacco.

Under the watchful eye of since-fired Joe Lombardi, Herbert made a run at an all-time record in 2022. Flacco has been the single-season failed completions leader since 2016, with a nigh-incomprehensible 144 dump-offs to the likes of Dennis Pitta and Kyle Juszczyk. No one else in NFL history had topped 130 failed completions; Flacco's record seemed like it might stand forever. But due to a combination of injuries, a play-calling methodology that prioritized passes to running backs over rushing plays, a 17th game, and good old-fashioned offensive ineptitude, Herbert nearly managed to knock off Flacco. In the end, however, Flacco remains your all-time failed completion king.

A failed completion is any completed pass that fails to gain 45% of needed yards on first down, 60% on second down, or 100% on third or fourth down. You can see last year's study on the subject here.

There were 3,087 failed completions last season, representing 26.7% of all completed passes. Ladies and gentlemen, that is a new NFL record, as the combination of historical trends towards shorter passes crashed into last season's noted offensive slump to produce the highest rate of dinky dump-offs and checkdowns ever recorded. It's not a new record in total number of failed completions—2021 had 44 more. But 2021 also had 556 more completions in general than 2022 did, and it wasn't the short pitches to running backs that were taken off the board.

With an agreed-upon Good Quarterback leading the table this season, and the overall total going up, it's worth asking: are failed completions actually bad? The short answer is yes. But we have a couple thousand words left to go, so maybe we can tease out a little more of a nuanced reply.

As a side note, not every failed completion is created equal. For the purposes of this article, however, we're treating it as a binary, simply summing up successes and failures. A 7-yard completion on third-and-10 is better than a 2-yard completion, especially when you start getting into field goal range. That's reflected in DVOA, but not here—for the purposes of this article, a failure is a failure.


In the following table, the 34 qualified quarterbacks of 2022 are ranked by ascending failed completion rate (FC%). We also included failed completions as a percentage of attempts (very little change in the rankings) as well as the average ALEX (all downs) for the season. "Passes" here refers to all passing plays, including sacks.

Quarterbacks, Failed Completions, 2022
Rk Player Team Pass Cmp Failed FC% FC%
1 Josh Allen BUF 607 359 55 15.3% 9.1% 1 0.7 3
2 Patrick Mahomes KC 676 435 74 17.0% 10.9% 2 -0.9 16
3 Jimmy Garoppolo SF 330 207 38 18.4% 11.5% 3 -1.9 30
4 Dak Prescott DAL 421 261 51 19.5% 12.1% 5 -0.2 8
5 Tua Tagovailoa MIA 425 259 53 20.5% 12.5% 6 1.0 2
6 Marcus Mariota ATL 329 184 38 20.7% 11.6% 4 1.8 1
7 Jared Goff DET 616 382 83 21.7% 13.5% 8 -1.3 25
8 Andy Dalton NO 406 252 60 23.8% 14.8% 11 -0.7 14
9 Joe Burrow CIN 654 414 99 23.9% 15.1% 13 -1.5 27
10 Matthew Stafford LAR 333 206 50 24.3% 15.0% 12 -1.6 28
11 Trevor Lawrence JAX 613 387 96 24.8% 15.7% 17 -1.4 26
12 Ryan Tannehill TEN 359 212 53 25.0% 14.8% 10 -1.1 21
13 Lamar Jackson BAL 354 203 51 25.1% 14.4% 9 -0.5 12
14 Jalen Hurts PHI 504 306 78 25.5% 15.5% 16 -0.6 13
15 Jacoby Brissett CLE 397 236 61 25.8% 15.4% 15 0.2 4
16 Geno Smith SEA 624 399 105 26.3% 16.8% 25 -1.3 23
17 Kirk Cousins MIN 697 424 112 26.4% 16.1% 18 -0.9 18
18 Zach Wilson NYJ 268 132 35 26.5% 13.1% 7 -0.3 10
19 Tom Brady TB 764 490 130 26.5% 17.0% 26 -1.3 24
20 Aaron Rodgers GB 580 350 97 27.7% 16.7% 24 -0.1 7
21 Taylor Heinicke WAS 276 161 45 28.0% 16.3% 20 0.0 6
22 Derek Carr LV 534 305 87 28.5% 16.3% 19 0.1 5
23 Kenny Pickett PIT 423 245 70 28.6% 16.5% 23 -1.2 22
24 Daniel Jones NYG 516 317 91 28.7% 17.6% 27 -2.6 33
25 Matt Ryan IND 501 309 89 28.8% 17.8% 28 -2.7 34
26 Carson Wentz WAS 306 172 50 29.1% 16.3% 22 -0.8 15
27 Justin Fields CHI 376 192 57 29.7% 15.2% 14 -0.2 9
28 Justin Herbert LAC 741 477 142 29.8% 19.2% 32 -2.1 32
29 Joe Flacco NYJ 202 110 33 30.0% 16.3% 21 -1.0 19
30 Kyler Murray ARI 415 259 82 31.7% 19.8% 33 -1.7 29
31 Davis Mills HOU 517 292 95 32.5% 18.4% 30 -1.1 20
32 Baker Mayfield 2TM 376 201 67 33.3% 17.8% 29 -2.0 31
33 Mac Jones NE 478 288 101 35.1% 21.1% 34 -0.9 17
34 Russell Wilson DEN 546 292 103 35.3% 18.9% 31 -0.4 11

Back to Justin Herbert. Herbert had 106 failed completions as a rookie and a failed completion percentage of 26.8%. Both of those numbers stepped down in 2021 as Herbert advanced to a Pro Bowl-caliber player. But they came back with a vengeance last season—12 more failed completions than anyone else, in large part driven by his third-lowest ALEX.

You can't absolve Herbert of all the blame; the quarterback is ultimately the one who decides where the ball is thrown, after all. But it is worth noting the challenges Herbert faced in 2022, problems which converted what might have been a disappointing season into a near-record-shattering year.

Injuries, first and foremost. Herbert was slowed for much of the first half of the season with torn rib cartilage, suffered in Week 2 against Kansas City. Herbert had 75 failed completions from Weeks 2 to 10 and 60 in Weeks 11 to 18, both eight games. It turns out that it's easier to push the ball downfield with your ribs in one piece. Herbert's weapons weren't always all there, either; DeAndre Carter was the only receiver to play all 18 games as both Mike Williams and Keenan Allen missed time, as did Rashawn Slater and Corey Linsley on the line. That's a tough environment to work in, and while Herbert gutted it out the best he could, it is perhaps not surprising that an offense that featured in an injured passer behind a makeshift line throwing behind the line of scrimmage to Austin Ekeler did not result in oodles of air yards.

There was also the issue of play selection. The Chargers passed 65% of the time, second-most in the league behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. You'll note Tom Brady near the top of the failed completions leaderboard as well; his 130 failed completions ends up tied for third-most in history as Brady's deep ball finally, finally went away at age 45. Arizona and Minnesota also finished in the top eight in both pass percentage and failed completion totals, though obviously Arizona's ended up being spread over a number of passers. If you throw more often, you're likely to have a higher number of failed completions, because you're likely to have a larger number of completions to begin with.

Most Failed Completions Since 1981
Rk Player Year Team Cmp Failed FC%
1 Joe Flacco 2016 BAL 436 144 33.0%
2 Justin Herbert 2022 LAC 477 142 29.8%
3 Ben Roethlisberger 2021 PIT 390 130 33.3%
4 Tom Brady 2022 TB 490 130 26.5%
5 Joe Flacco 2017 BAL 352 127 36.1%
6 Kirk Cousins 2018 MIN 425 120 28.2%
7 Matt Ryan 2013 ATL 439 120 27.3%
8 Sam Bradford 2016 MIN 395 116 29.4%
9 Eli Manning 2018 NYG 380 115 30.3%
10 Drew Brees 2015 NO 429 113 26.3%
11 Derek Carr 2014 OAK 348 112 32.2%
12 Kirk Cousins 2022 MIN 424 112 26.4%
13 Joe Flacco 2013 BAL 362 111 30.7%
14 Kirk Cousins 2021 MIN 372 110 29.6%
15 Eli Manning 2016 NYG 378 110 29.1%
16 Drew Brees 2017 NO 387 110 28.4%
17 Derek Carr 2021 LV 428 110 25.7%
18 Ben Roethlisberger 2018 PIT 452 110 24.3%
19 Ben Roethlisberger 2020 PIT 399 109 27.3%
20 Drew Brees 2010 NO 449 109 24.3%
21 Carson Wentz 2016 PHI 379 108 28.5%
22 Matt Ryan 2019 ATL 408 108 26.5%
23 Matt Ryan 2021 ATL 375 107 28.5%
24 Drew Brees 2013 NO 447 107 23.9%
25 Teddy Bridgewater 2020 CAR 340 106 31.2%
26 Justin Herbert 2020 LAC 396 106 26.8%

You're replacing part of your running game with a quick passing game, which makes sense if you have someone like Ekeler or Leonard Fournette to throw to. If you believe a completion to a running back has a higher percentage chance to convert than a running play with that same running back, then the decision to throw short passes makes sense even when it doesn't work—your failed completions will replace stuffs at the line. Herbert and Brady led the league on pass attempts to running backs with 173 and 144, respectively. Both players had positive passing DVOA on those targets, with Brady at 16.2% and Herbert at 3.5%. And both Tampa Bay and Los Angeles were in the negatives in rush DVOA in general, with the Buccaneers at -18.1% and the Chargers at -8.9%. So, yeah, I think you could make the argument that a significant factor in Herbert and Brady topping the tables in failed completions is the failure of their teams' respective running games, though the argument holds stronger for Brady than Herbert.

And then, yes, Joe Lombardi was fired. Lombardi copy-pasted the late-career Drew Brees game plan on a quarterback with an actual live arm. Brees was consistently near the top of the leaderboards in failed completions, in both good seasons and bad, as he made up for fading arm strength with exceptional precision in short yardage in a Sean Payton offense designed to squeeze every last drop out of short routes over the middle. Lombardi is no Payton, and limiting Herbert to one or two deep shots per game handcuffed Los Angeles' offense for no adequately explained reason. Chargers fans should expect Herbert's numbers to drop down significantly with Kellen Moore calling the shots in 2023.

Enough about Herbert. We don't have to leave the division to find the passer with the worst failed completion rate in 2022—that's Russell Wilson, with over a third of his completions failing to gain significant yardage. We have been over and over Wilson's struggles in his first year in Denver, a combination of Nathaniel Hackett's stale offense and Wilson's sudden struggles with accuracy and precision, all coated over with a bizarre paste of enthusiasm which grated as the year went along. Wilson only had a 27.4% failed completion rate in Seattle in 2021, and it's not like Aaron Rodgers ever had high numbers of failed completions in Hackett's offense; this was a bit of a case of square pegs in round holes, only with questions about the quality of both the peg and the hole. Wilson sharing the bottom of the list with Mac "benched for Bailey Zappe" Jones and Baker "too bad for Carolina" Mayfield is not precisely what Denver was hoping for when they sent an absolute truckload of picks and players for their quarterback of the future.

Wilson was one of five passers who saw their failed completion percentage jump at least five points from 2021. The biggest increase went to Mayfield, going from 20.6% in his last year in Cleveland to 33.3% in time split between Carolina and Los Angeles; that's mostly his terrible Panthers tenure sticking out there. Jones and Herbert are on that list as well, as is Kyler Murray, who regressed significantly in his last year in Kliff Kingsbury's offense. With Murray unlikely to see the field at the beginning of the year after suffering a torn ACL late in the season, head coach Jonathan Gannon and coordinator Drew Petzing are going to have their work cut out for them trying to fix Arizona's offense.

Only two quarterbacks saw their failed completion rate drop by at least five percentage points. Josh Allen ended up leading the league with a 15.3% failed completion rate, which is what happens when you never throw short. Allen saw his average depth of target jump nearly a full yard in 2022, and you don't throw many dump-offs 9 or more yards downfield. The other is Jared Goff, who benefitted from Detroit's late-season switch to a more aerially aggressive offense, likely playing the Lions out of even remote first-round quarterback consideration.

Six passers topped the 100-fail threshold last year. We have already talked briefly about Herbert, Brady, and Wilson and mentioned Mac Jones in passing—it turns out, Matt Patricia may not be the offensive genius needed to unlock him. Another is Kirk Cousins, and we mentioned Minnesota's pass-happy offense before. That just leaves Geno Smith, who requires a little unpacking.

Smith led the league in completion rate at 70.4%, and it's not surprising that some of those completions were empty calories. Smith also saw a slight increase in his failed completions after the Germany game, which sent Seattle's offense in general into a tailspin. But for the most part, Smith had a lot of failed completions because he had a lot of completions overall; the more you throw accurate passes, the more times you're going to have receivers catch the ball and immediately get tackled. A high failed completion number could just be part and parcel of a solid overall season of high-volume throws. It doesn't matter how many failed completions you have if you're mixing them in with plenty of successful completions.

And, on that note, we can run our table of successful completion percentage—the percentage of all pass attempts that end in a successful completion. This is where we count all failed completions as incomplete passes, removing some of the empty passing calories from completion percentage around the league:

Successful Completion Percentage, 2022
Player Team Att Comp. Cmp% Rk Failed Success% Rk
Patrick Mahomes KC 648 435 67.1% 8 74 55.7% 1
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 307 207 67.4% 6 38 55.0% 2
Josh Allen BUF 566 359 63.4% 22 55 53.7% 3
Dak Prescott DAL 393 261 66.4% 14 51 53.4% 4
Joe Burrow CIN 604 414 68.5% 2 99 52.2% 5
Geno Smith SEA 567 399 70.4% 1 105 51.9% 6
Tua Tagovailoa MIA 398 259 65.1% 19 53 51.8% 7
Matthew Stafford LAR 302 206 68.2% 4 50 51.7% 8
Jared Goff DET 586 382 65.2% 18 83 51.0% 9
Andy Dalton NO 377 252 66.8% 11 60 50.9% 10
Trevor Lawrence JAX 579 387 66.8% 12 96 50.3% 11
Jalen Hurts PHI 460 306 66.5% 13 78 49.6% 12
Marcus Mariota ATL 296 184 62.2% 27 38 49.3% 13
Tom Brady TB 730 490 67.1% 9 130 49.3% 14
Ryan Tannehill TEN 324 212 65.4% 18 53 49.1% 15
Kirk Cousins MIN 639 424 66.4% 15 112 48.8% 16
Daniel Jones NYG 465 317 68.2% 5 91 48.6% 17
Justin Herbert LAC 697 477 68.4% 3 142 48.1% 18
Matt Ryan IND 459 309 67.3% 7 89 47.9% 19
Jacoby Brissett CLE 366 236 64.5% 21 61 47.8% 20
Aaron Rodgers GB 539 350 64.9% 20 97 46.9% 21
Lamar Jackson BAL 324 203 62.7% 25 51 46.9% 22
Kyler Murray ARI 386 259 67.1% 10 82 45.9% 23
Taylor Henicke WAS 257 161 62.6% 26 45 45.1% 24
Kenny Pickett PIT 388 245 63.1% 23 70 45.1% 25
Carson Wentz WAS 273 172 63.0% 24 50 44.7% 26
Derek Carr LV 501 305 60.9% 29 87 43.5% 27
Mac Jones NE 437 288 65.9% 16 101 42.8% 28
Justin Fields CHI 318 192 60.4% 31 57 42.5% 29
Davis Mills HOU 478 292 61.1% 28 95 41.2% 30
Joe Flacco NYJ 189 110 58.2% 33 33 40.7% 31
Zach Wilson NYJ 241 132 54.8% 34 35 40.2% 32
Baker Mayfield 2TM 333 201 60.4% 32 67 40.2% 33
Russell Wilson DEN 481 292 60.7% 30 103 39.3% 34

See? Geno's just fine. He drops from first in overall completion percentage to sixth in successful completion percentage, but that's still more than acceptable numbers for a player written off as an afterthought before the year began. Still, he's no Patrick Mahomes.

This is the second consecutive successful completion percentage crown for Mahomes, who remains the best quarterback in the game. This is not a surprise; no one blinks twice when good players appear at the top of good stats. You may, however, be surprised to see Jimmy Garoppolo in second place, such is his reputation—at least you would if I hadn't written the exact same sentence last season. We all know Jimmy G's lowlights. We all know his injury history. But when Garoppolo drops back to pass, generally speaking, good things happen. Yes, of course, a lot of that is the Shanahan scheme that Garoppolo has been working with. He had a league high 7.8 yards after catch on his successful completions; Mahomes was in second place at 7.1. He had a league-low 5.8-yard aDOT on his successful completions; Kyler Murray was next up at 6.1. Garoppolo has certainly made his name for himself as a distributor more than a passer, someone there to get the ball into the hands of a talented player and let him succeed. It is worth noting, of course, that Garoppolo has better numbers in the 49ers' offense than the guys we have seen attempt to fill in for him—much better than the C.J. Beathards, Nick Mullens, and, so far, Trey Lances of the world. It's going to be interesting to see him go to Las Vegas, get out of that comfort zone, and perform in the Raiders' offense. Just how much of Garoppolo's success is Shanahan-based, and how much is him actually being a legitimately good passer? Maybe we'll find out this year.

For the record, Brock Purdy had 24 failed completions and a successful completion rate of 52.9%, which would have ranked fifth if he had had enough attempts to qualify. Trey Lance had four failed completions and a successful completion rate of 35.5%, which would have ranked dead last, though that comes with both "very small sample size" and "massive monsoon" qualifiers.

Russell Wilson, Baker Mayfield, and Davis Mills maintain their spots at the bottom of this table as well, but they're joined by a couple of Jets. Joe Flacco, the all-time failed completions king, showed that he still has what it takes to throw a checkdown in his brief stints as a starter. Meanwhile, Zach Wilson crashes towards the bottom of this table—he only had 35 failed completions, but then, he didn't have many completions of any kind in 2022. He avoided joining Russell Wilson in the sub-40% club by one failed attempt; considering he was at 40.7% last year as well, you can pretty much write off any hope of Zach recovering at this point.

Four passers saw their rank jump at least 10 spots jumping from completion percentage to successful completion percentage: Josh Allen, Marcus Mariota, Tua Tagovailoa, and Dak Prescott. Mariota, Tagovailoa, and Allen were also in the top four in aDOT; this is not a coincidence. Meanwhile, five passers saw their rank drop at least 10 spots—Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray, Mac Jones, Matt Ryan, and Daniel Jones. All five passers feasted on dump-offs to running backs and tight ends; there's a lot of empty calories in those numbers.


What about the receivers on the other end of those failed completions? It's worth taking a look at that, even though appearances here generally have more to do with usage and scheme than a receiver's individual talents. We exclude running backs from these tables; they would otherwise dominate due to their roles in checkdowns and emergency outlets. For the record, however, Austin Ekeler led all players with 49 failed receptions as Joe Lombardi's offense was really, really well-designed. Three other running backs topped 30—Rhamondre Stevenson (37), Saquon Barkley (32), and Leonard Fournette (31)

Most Failed
Receptions (WR/TE)
  Lowest Failed
Reception Rate (WR/TE)
  Highest Failed
Reception Rate (WR/TE)
Receiver Team Failed Receiver Team Rec Failed Pct Receiver Team Rec Failed Pct
T.J. Hockenson 2TM 25 Gabe Davis BUF 48 1 2.1% Greg Dortch ARI 52 24 46.2%
Greg Dortch ARI 24 Corey Davis NYJ 32 1 3.1% Quez Watkins PHI 33 14 42.4%
Tyreek Hill MIA 24 Josh Reynolds DET 38 3 7.9% Isaiah Likely BAL 36 15 41.7%
Michael Pittman IND 24 Drake London ATL 72 6 8.3% Rondale Moore ARI 41 16 39.0%
DeVonta Smith PHI 23 Marvin Jones JAX 46 4 8.7% Tyler Conklin NYJ 58 22 37.9%
Justin Jefferson MIN 23 M. Valdes-Scantling KC 42 4 9.5% Logan Thomas WAS 39 14 35.9%
Tyler Conklin NYJ 22 DeVante Parker NE 31 3 9.7% Nelson Agholor NE 31 11 35.5%
Curtis Samuel WAS 22 Allen Lazard GB 60 6 10.0% Curtis Samuel WAS 64 22 34.4%
Marquise Brown ARI 21 Stefon Diggs BUF 108 11 10.2% Hunter Henry NE 41 14 34.1%
CeeDee Lamb DAL 21 Amari Cooper CLE 78 8 10.3% Noah Fant SEA 50 17 34.0%
Evan Engram JAX 21 Darius Slayton NYG 46 5 10.9% Kylen Granson IND 31 10 32.3%
DK Metcalf SEA 20 Chris Olave NO 72 8 11.1% Robert Tonyan GB 53 17 32.1%
Tyler Higbee LAR 20 Josh Dotson WAS 35 4 11.4% Marquise Brown ARI 67 21 31.3%
Min. 30 receptions

There are normally a number of repeat appearances on these tables—high-volume outlets in one-receiver shows are generally good for plenty of failed receptions, with Davante Adams being a long-time staple in Green Bay. Last year, however, there were only two returnees: Tyler Conklin and Marquise Brown. Both were in new places in 2022 as well. Conklin went from being Kirk Cousins' security blanket to Zach Wilson's, with similar results in each location. He's never going to be a serious receiving threat, but he has solid enough hands to serve as a last-ditch option offensively. Brown, meanwhile, headed from Baltimore to Arizona in a draft-day trade, but struggled through a foot injury during the middle part of the season. That makes the fact that he still managed 21 failed receptions all the more impressive; his 31.3% failed completion rate just squeezes on to the bottom of that table as well.

There are plenty of good receivers on the failed receptions leaderboard—Tyreek Hill, DeVonta Smith, Justin Jefferson, and CeeDee Lamb most prominently. "Throw the ball to them and let them make a play" is generally a good offensive strategy, and their high number of failed completions just reflects their high overall usage rate and the trust their offenses have in them. Similarly, it's far from the end of the world for a tight end outlet such as T.J. Hockenson to lead the league in failed receptions; a large part of his role is "be there to catch the ball so we get something rather than nothing." It's also worth noting that 20 of Hockensen's 25 failed completions came in Minnesota but just five in Detroit. Minnesota used Hockenson much more as a short-range receiver, with his aDOT dropping from 7.2 yards with the Lions to 5.3 with the Vikings.

And then we have Greg Dortch. Dortch kept getting opportunities to start in Arizona due to injuries and suspensions, but he only racked up 64 targets. The other players close to him on the top of the failed receptions leaderboard were well beyond that—Hockenson had 129, Hill had 170, Pittman had 141, Smith had 136 and Jefferson had 184. Dortch served Kliff Kingsbury's role of "doomed screen target." His aDOT was 4.9 yards, second-lowest in the league behind only Deebo Samuel, and Dortch is no Deebo Samuel. On failed completions, that fell to just 0.5, as Dortch was targeted on go-nowhere screen after go-nowhere screen. He averaged 3.8 yards after the catch on his failed receptions, which isn't terrible, but as his average failed reception came on second-and-11, it just wasn't good enough. And so, Dortch led all receivers with a 46.2% failed completion rate, the worst we have seen since Steven Sims in 2019. Here's hoping Arizona actually lets him run a regular route or three in 2023.

Dortch is joined high atop the list by Rondale Moore, returning from the 2021 leaderboards. We said last year that it felt like Moore could be salvaged with better play design. The fact that Kingsbury was given a one-way ticket to Thailand after the season tells you how that went. Other returnees include Conklin and Noah Fant as safety valve tight ends, plus Quez Watkins, the only Eagles receiver not to benefit from Philadelphia's greater passing focus in 2022.

The lowest failed completion rate list is generally a list of near-exclusive deep threats. Credit to DeVante Parker and Allen Lazard for showing up on the list two years in a row, and credit to Stefon Diggs, who managed to appear near the top of a rate leaderboard despite 108 receptions.


Finally, let's look at defenses' ability to created failed completions, with a comparison to how those units fared in 2021.

Defenses: 2022 Failed Completions Compared to 2021
Rk Team Comp Failed FC% 2020 Rk 2020 FC% Diff Rk
1 SF 389 122 31.4% 2 32.8% -1.4% 24
2 TB 364 112 30.8% 4 29.4% 1.4% 14
3 NYJ 347 106 30.5% 27 22.7% 7.8% 2
4 WAS 308 94 30.5% 28 22.5% 8.0% 1
5 NO 322 97 30.1% 9 27.9% 2.2% 12
6 DEN 392 116 29.6% 26 22.9% 6.7% 3
7 CIN 329 95 28.9% 6 28.3% 0.6% 15
8 GB 314 90 28.7% 18 25.3% 3.4% 9
9 KC 408 116 28.4% 16 26.2% 2.2% 11
10 DAL 345 98 28.4% 3 29.7% -1.3% 23
11 MIA 416 118 28.4% 15 26.2% 2.2% 13
12 CAR 383 107 27.9% 5 29.4% -1.5% 25
13 BUF 362 101 27.9% 8 27.9% 0.0% 18
14 LAC 310 86 27.7% 21 24.6% 3.1% 10
15 BAL 394 108 27.4% 24 23.9% 3.5% 8
16 PHI 350 95 27.1% 11 27.4% -0.3% 19
17 IND 365 99 27.1% 31 21.3% 5.8% 4
18 CLE 315 83 26.3% 1 33.0% -6.7% 32
19 TEN 439 115 26.2% 12 26.8% -0.6% 21
20 SEA 343 88 25.7% 29 21.9% 3.8% 6
21 JAX 385 98 25.5% 19 25.2% 0.3% 17
22 NE 364 92 25.3% 30 21.6% 3.7% 7
23 MIN 408 101 24.8% 23 24.2% 0.6% 16
24 PIT 332 82 24.7% 20 25.1% -0.4% 20
25 HOU 336 82 24.4% 32 19.6% 4.8% 5
26 NYG 349 85 24.4% 13 26.4% -2.0% 27
27 LV 399 93 23.3% 10 27.5% -4.2% 29
28 LAR 375 87 23.2% 17 25.5% -2.3% 28
29 ARI 414 94 22.7% 22 24.3% -1.6% 26
30 DET 353 78 22.1% 25 23.1% -1.0% 22
31 CHI 323 71 22.0% 7 28.0% -6.0% 31
32 ATL 372 78 21.0% 14 26.3% -5.3% 30

Defensive numbers are far less sticky year-to-year than quarterback stats, at least when it comes to failed completions. A lot of this will depend on the type and quality of offenses on your schedule, so the year-to-year correlation is typically down in the 0.25 range. That held true last year as well, with a lot of shuffling in the ranks.

The 49ers, however, remained near the top of the leaderboards. Since 2018, they have finished 12th, first, seventh, second, and now first once again in failed completion rate. Why go back to 2018, instead of just four years in a row in the top 10? Because 2018 was when Fred Warner was drafted and began cementing himself as the best cover linebacker in all of football. With Warner and Dre Greenlaw patrolling the middle of the field, it's hard for opposing offenses to turn short receptions into successful completions via YAC. You're not picking up many 4-yard completions over the middle on first-and-10 against the San Francisco defense. If you can reduce an opponent's passing game to deep shots and checkdowns by taking away the middle of the field, you're going to have fantastic failed completion numbers.

There also tends to be a correlation between strong pass rushes and failed completions as opposing offenses dump the ball out quickly in order to avoid their quarterbacks being crushed into a fine paste. Strangely, that was not the case last year—Philadelphia, who ranked first in ESPN's pass rush win rate, was just 16th in failed completion percentage, while Arizona, who ranked fourth in win rate, is all the way down at 29th. For Arizona, I think we can blame their complete and utter lack of cornerbacks; they allowed 320 successful completions, so there's only so much you can do in terms of a ratio. The Eagles are more interesting. I posit that they were so effective at converting pressure into sacks that there wasn't enough time for most opposing passers to even get checkdowns out. They were first in the league with an 11.2% sack rate—they really should have considered missing some of those quarterback hits if they wanted to boost their failed completion numbers. Gotta be thinking analytically, Philly!

Cleveland falls from first in 2021 to 18th in 2022 in large part from not getting to play Broken Down Ben Roethlisberger twice a year anymore. Chicago and Atlanta also saw their numbers drop dramatically, ending up in the bottom two spots on the table. They were also the bottom two teams in pressure rate per Pro Football Reference. Without pressure, opposing offenses could take their time and pick the Bears and Falcons apart, and both were very pick-apartable.


44 comments, Last at 29 Mar 2023, 11:18am

#1 by guest from Europe // Mar 27, 2023 - 6:35am

This is a well written and a very informative article! I wish there were more such articles in the offseason covering the whole season in detail: something for run offense, something for defenses.

Points: 3

#2 by Aaron Brooks G… // Mar 27, 2023 - 8:22am

Ladies and gentlemen, that is a new NFL record, as the combination of historical trends towards shorter passes crashed into last season's noted offensive slump to produce the highest rate of dinky dump-offs and checkdowns ever recorded.

But remember, the real scourge is successful sneak rushes.

Points: 2

#3 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 27, 2023 - 8:53am

Herbert had 106 failed completions as a rookie and a failed completion percentage of 26.8%

So it's not just Joe Lombard, who hasn't always been there

Points: 0

#5 by BigRichie // Mar 27, 2023 - 11:28am

Well, the 26.8% is right around average. (and maybe good for a rookie QB??)

Points: 0

#7 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 27, 2023 - 12:01pm

Tied for 8th with Drew Lock. Tua was 19th and Burrow 21st.

Real possibility it's a good chunk him.

Points: 0

#9 by JoelBarlow // Mar 27, 2023 - 12:52pm

yes but for some reason we have to be obsessed with Lombardi 

Points: 0

#11 by Bryan Knowles // Mar 27, 2023 - 1:15pm

"Good" is stretching it, but I wouldn't be overly concerned with a slightly elevated failed number from a rookie with Hunter Henry and Austin Ekeler as primary targets.

Rookie failed completion percentage since 2019:

Trevor Lawrence: 22.8%
Joe Burrow: 23.5%
Tua Tagovailoa: 23.7%
Mac Jones: 25.6%
Justin Herbert: 26.8%
Zach Wilson: 27.2%
Dwayne Haskins: 27.7%
Justin Fields: 28.3%
Kyler Murray: 28.4%
Kenny Pickett: 28.6%
Gardner Minshew: 29.1%
Daniel Jones: 29.2%
Davis Mills: 30.4%

Points: 2

#16 by BigRichie // Mar 27, 2023 - 4:12pm

Thank you very much for that additional research, Bryan! Very illuminating.  :-)

Points: 0

#27 by HitchikersPie // Mar 28, 2023 - 4:15am

Nice company Mac Jones is keeping there, gives me hope with an actual NFL OC he can get back to threatening top 10 QB level

Points: 0

#20 by UWashington // Mar 28, 2023 - 1:32am

I remember reading that Herbert threw a ton of screen passes in college too; something like a quarter of his pass attempts. And yeah, he didn't average all that many air yards in his first 2 seasons either. For some reason, he just doesn't throw the ball deep.

Points: 0

#29 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 28, 2023 - 8:25am

His adot got shorter and shorter in college too.

Also it isn't what Steichen did with other starters either. Herbert was the lowest. 

Points: 0

#4 by Aaron Brooks G… // Mar 27, 2023 - 10:03am

Finally, let's look at defenses' ability to created failed completions, with a comparison to how those units fared in 2021.

The table says 2020. Which is right?

\the real failed completions were the friends we made along the way

Points: 2

#6 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Mar 27, 2023 - 11:45am

How fun is it to see Joe Flacco still appearing on this list and ranking 6th worst in the league in failed completions in 2022?

Answer: not all that fun

Points: 2

#8 by theslothook // Mar 27, 2023 - 12:05pm

I was sky high on Justin Herbert coming into this season. I had more faith in him than I did Josh Allen if you can imagine. That's what two spectacular seasons to start a career will do. He then had by all accounts, a disappointing year which calls into question exactly what it means for his future.

Herbert has drawn comparisons to Peyton and Peyton did have a serious down year in 2001, so a disappointing third year doesn't have to portend a new normal. However, as the ridiculous hyperbole of Ryan Harris shows; you really shouldn't be drawing equivalences with Peyton Manning for anything. Herbert may have the DVOA pedigree to begin his career to match Peyton, but they are poles apart stylistically.

In any event, I remember Baker following up a terrific year with a dud and it puzzled me about what it meant. Sadly, that dud became a much clearer reflection of who he is as a QB. And then of course, Wentz careening to the literal bottom of the DVOA rankings was a similar, "huh" moment which only clarified that the dude is definitely not a good QB anymore. And now we have Wilson to ponder similar thoughts about the future.

Ultimately, I think Herbert will be fine but I thought he had a real chance to join Mahomes at the top of the QB hierarchy. So for him to settle as a tier 3 QB would be a real disappointment. 

Points: 2

#17 by guest from Europe // Mar 27, 2023 - 6:07pm

i would like to ask who is in your tier 2 of QBs?

Tier 1 is only Mahomes? And Tier 2 is very narrow, as well?

Points: 0

#18 by theslothook // Mar 27, 2023 - 6:13pm

Tier 1 is reserved for Qbs who are always threatening for MVPs and first team all pros. Or basically Qbs who will be in the all time qb discussion. So yes, that is Mahomes

Tier 2 are QBs who are usually in the all pro mix, but are just inconsistent enough that they are usually behind tier 1 guys. Allen and Burrow are definites. Watson at his best was in this group and could return there. I would lean Lamar as well. Herbert too maybe but I am less certain. So that's about 3-5 guys.

Tier 3: Basically guys who swing heavily on roster construction but still provide enough of a floor to keep the team fiesty even when things aren't going so well. Historically, thats meant guys like Kirk Cousins, Jimmy G(who i know dvoa paints in a much more flattering light), Derrek Carr, Jared Goff, Dak Prescott, and some others. 

Tier 4: There are meaningful differences between Jacoby Brissette and Sam Elhinger, but frankly, this tier represents anyone and everyone who isn't good enough to justify committing yourself long term to. 

There are still lots of unknowns as you'll notice I did not list Hurts, or Lawrence, or Tua. I frankly need to see at least 3 full seasons of being the starter for me to feel some semblance of confidence about what tier you are in. Next year should inform a lot about where those qbs are in the tiering hierarchy. Also, with guys like Rodgers or Brady before him, I tend not to provide a tier because their age means they can amazing or toast in a matter of a few games. 

Points: 0

#24 by guest from Europe // Mar 28, 2023 - 3:42am

Maybe your Tier 3 is too wide and needs some refinement.

In Tier 1 you have now 1 player, sometimes 2, max 3.

In Tier 2 you have now 2 players, maybe Jackson a third one.

In Tier 3 you have 10-15 players?

In Tier 4 about 20?

And you have a lot of unknowns: Herbert, Jackson, Watson, Lawrence,...

These players' performance is not a constant, it's a variable. 

If you would apply this to other positions, where would D. Buckner be among DTs? Also Tier 3? Where would Q. Nelson be among guards?

Points: 0

#30 by theslothook // Mar 28, 2023 - 10:02am

The variability is baked into the tiering. And frankly, the number of players growing as the tiers descend roughly follows the distribution of talent.

As for other positions, I have a much harder time doing this exercise because I don't trust our measurement systems for measuring defensive players, other than the outliers who put up gaudy statistics year after year that are fare above the mean. Donald posting double digit sacks and ridiculous pressure numbers while playing at dtackle for instance.

Points: 0

#33 by guest from Europe // Mar 28, 2023 - 12:31pm

Yes, Donald would be alone in your Tier 1. Tier 2 would be Cam Heyward, maybe Chris Jones, maybe Hargrave or somebody else. Buckner would be then Tier 3. Do you think he is just an average good starter? I think he is better than that. Maybe not every year...

The same with QBs: guys who have higher ceiling but higher variability (like Stafford, Herbert) don't belong in the same group with consistent but somewhat lower quality ones (like Cousins, Tannehill). Maybe make 3A and 3B or something. Why not just more tiers, in each a group of 3-5 players?

Not all backups are equal, you have them all in Tier 4.

My point: this way you roughly just have supreme outliers in Tier 1 and 2 and other starters in 3, backups in 4. You have Tier 5 for unplayables? 

That is why i would be interested in some kind of separation among your Tier 3. Outliers are obvious. Data should be used to help distinguish between similar players or teams. 

Points: 0

#34 by theslothook // Mar 28, 2023 - 12:39pm

It's easy to separate the Tier 4s. Yes, there's high end backup/low end starter and then guys who are only useful in two game stints vs guys who don't belong in the NFL even as spot starters. But that level of granularity isn't that interesting to the few people reading this comment. 

Its hard to separate Tier 3 guys tbh. Just how much better, if it all, is Kirk Cousins from Matt Stafford or Jared Goff? And what do we do with Jimmy G and Derrek Carr along with Prescott? I could hear arguments for why Stafford or Prescott are are above Kirk, Goff and Carr, but I don't think those differences are sizeable enough to be definitive. Someone could always argue that the difference is coming from coaching and supporting cast. The tier 2 guys are a clear distinction above this group of tier 3 players. 

Yes, one could go super super granular, but eventually, you draw the line somewhere.   

Points: 0

#36 by guest from Europe // Mar 28, 2023 - 3:58pm

Well, people would be interested in any separation between Tier 3 players. Just look at the comments last week, "who is better, Carr or Garoppolo?" If you have any data on such matters, people would be interested. You could publish it in an article.

The data arguments don't have to be definitive! Only the last few years matter to people. If you wait long enough and look just at full careers, they all age and become very similar. Or as i say, they are all talented.

Points: 0

#37 by theslothook // Mar 28, 2023 - 4:07pm

I don't think there's enough data that's bias free enough to say who is better between Carr, Jimmy G, and others. Whatever statistical differences between them year to year can probably be argued as coming from supporting casts and coaching. I think that argument is strained when it comes to someone like Josh Allen or certainly Mahomes, but reasonably plausible for the other guys. That's kind of why I have lumped them as I have and why I prefer tiering in general.

Ordinal rankings get really hard when people are in the same tier; including in the tier 1 category. Not to rehash the Brady Manning debate, but when they were both at their respective peaks, it became a difficult/impossible exercise to definitely say who was better than whom and subjective assessments of supporting casts and coaching started to be the deciding factor one way or the other. 

Points: 0

#41 by guest from Europe // Mar 28, 2023 - 5:39pm

I don't think there's enough data that's bias free enough to say who is better between Carr, Jimmy G, and others.

Unfortunately, you are then only left with outliers. That isn't much.

Also, the degree of difficulty is not obtained in any kind of data. For example, Garoppolo has much better surroundings than Jackson. The Ravens offense doesn't have good WRs, offense isn't Harbaugh's specialty, some O-line injuries and without Jackson they can barely score 16 points. 

Points: 0

#12 by Drivster // Mar 27, 2023 - 1:26pm

I'm sure Herbert will be fine, given the right environment.  An offence still isn't a one man band, as the 2022s of Geno and Jacoby - and guys they replaced - shows.  It's just this is underestimated for everyone not named Jimmy G.

Caveat emptor, Aaron Rodgers...

Points: 0

#13 by theslothook // Mar 27, 2023 - 1:29pm

There's also Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan - who were supposed to be fixed by a change in scenery. Also, a year ago everyone thought Russ michelin star chef was finally going to be unleashed. 

At the end of the day; supporting casts matter but the QB has far more control over the variation year year than any other position. So when you see sharply uncharacteristic downturns in their play; it may be telling us something much more than just the supporting cast sucks. 

Points: 0

#14 by TimK // Mar 27, 2023 - 2:01pm

Lombardi now coordinating Russell Wilson will either demonstrate that Lombardi doesn’t deserve so much blame, or set the record, I guess.

Points: 1

#19 by Theo // Mar 27, 2023 - 11:05pm

Are all fails created equal though?

I can imagine a fail on 3rd down having more negative impact than a fail on first.

I'd rather have a 4 yard gain on 1st and 10 than a 4 yard gain on 3rd and 6.

Points: 1

#21 by Vincent Verhei // Mar 28, 2023 - 2:15am

"As a side note, not every failed completion is created equal. For the purposes of this article, however, we're treating it as a binary, simply summing up successes and failures. A 7-yard completion on third-and-10 is better than a 2-yard completion, especially when you start getting into field goal range. That's reflected in DVOA, but not here—for the purposes of this article, a failure is a failure."

Points: 2

#25 by Theo // Mar 28, 2023 - 3:57am

Maybe I am looking for a new category: drive stopping completions. Completions short of the sticks on 3rd and 4th down.



Points: 0

#26 by Vincent Verhei // Mar 28, 2023 - 4:02am

Ah. Well that we can do. Here's the top 10 for failed completions on third/fourth down. It's mostly the same as the top 10 overall, though Davis Mills zooms up pretty far.


Player FCs
10-J.Herbert 132
12-T.Brady 131
8-K.Cousins 122
3-R.Wilson 121
10-D.Mills 117
12-A.Rodgers 111
7-G.Smith 110
8-D.Jones 104
16-J.Goff 104
16-T.Lawrence 100

Points: 3

#28 by Theo // Mar 28, 2023 - 4:59am

Thanks! I expected more experienced players to avoid these passes, but... apparently they dont.



Points: 0

#31 by Hoodie_Sleeves // Mar 28, 2023 - 12:15pm

These things are really probability distributions that they're trying to turn into binary pass/fail. The proper/optimal play call isn't always "Throw it past the sticks" - sometimes it's "throw it to the guy who is a little short and hope he gets it" - and this thinks that a throw to the WR 6 yards short of the first down with a defender draped on him is the same as throwing it to the guy a yard short running a crossing pattern and hoping he can turn upfield. 

And they're obviously not - and the fact that the best guys in the league still have a lot of these is evidence that they're not explicitly negative.  

What we should really be interested in here is the possible outcomes - first down, completion without first down, incomplete, sack, interception, penalty - and looking at the distribution of those outcomes. Just looking at one of those outcomes out of context takes a whole lot of interesting information and turns it into something way less useful than the sum of its parts. 

What's useful is figuring out where these failed completions are coming from in the distribution - are they high because the quarterback isn't taking chances and they're coming out of first downs? Or are they high because he's really good at recognizing pressure and getting 4 yards on 3rd and 8 rather than getting sacked or throwing a pick. And while that 4 yards isn't hugely valuable everywhere, there are areas of the field where it is significant. 


Points: 1

#39 by Pat // Mar 28, 2023 - 5:16pm


What we should really be interested in here is the possible outcomes - first down, completion without first down, incomplete, sack, interception, penalty - and looking at the distribution of those outcomes. Just looking at one of those outcomes out of context takes a whole lot of interesting information and turns it into something way less useful than the sum of its parts. 

The other difficulty is that not all of those outcomes are even possible. There isn't always a way to gain the first down. The defense is allowed to win, too.

Points: 0

#38 by Pat // Mar 28, 2023 - 5:15pm

Thanks! I expected more experienced players to avoid these passes, but... apparently they dont.

Why? You can't avoid a failed pass when it's the only one available. If there's nothing available past the sticks, a bad shot at a first down is better than nothing.

I mean, naively I'd expect the opposite - I'd expect young players to avoid those passes, because it takes time to realize what's an acceptable risk and what's not.

Points: 0

#42 by Aaron Brooks G… // Mar 28, 2023 - 6:09pm

I'm curious about the DYAR/DVOA on failed completions. How much less bad are some guys at their failed completions?

Points: 0

#43 by Vincent Verhei // Mar 28, 2023 - 6:20pm

Um ... sure. Here's DYAR and DVOA for everyone with 50 FCs.


10-J.Herbert 142 -519 -77.0%
12-T.Brady 130 -326 -57.0%
8-K.Cousins 112 -332 -65.6%
7-G.Smith 105 -340 -71.4%
3-R.Wilson 103 -298 -71.1%
10-M.Jones 101 -258 -60.0%
9-J.Burrow 99 -286 -63.2%
12-A.Rodgers 97 -336 -73.4%
16-T.Lawrence 96 -252 -62.6%
10-D.Mills 95 -362 -83.3%
8-D.Jones 91 -253 -62.1%
2-M.Ryan 89 -321 -79.5%
4-D.Carr 87 -160 -52.1%
16-J.Goff 83 -224 -61.4%
1-K.Murray 82 -255 -68.0%
1-J.Hurts 78 -314 -83.2%
15-P.Mahomes 74 -263 -68.6%
8-K.Pickett 70 -208 -66.6%
17-B.Mayfield 67 -177 -63.1%
7-J.Brissett 61 -183 -68.4%
14-A.Dalton 60 -125 -52.9%
1-J.Fields 57 -153 -66.6%
17-J.Allen 55 -165 -60.6%
17-R.Tannehill 53 -112 -55.6%
1-T.Tagovailoa 53 -157 -67.9%
4-D.Prescott 51 -175 -71.6%
8-L.Jackson 51 -109 -52.2%
11-C.Wentz 50 -134 -61.3%
9-M.Stafford 50 -96 -48.3%

I have no idea why Derek Carr/Andy Dalton/Ryan Tannehill/Lamar Jackson had a better DVOA on these plays than Davis Mills or Jalen Hurts, but there you go.

Points: 0

#44 by Aaron Brooks G… // Mar 29, 2023 - 11:17am

Thank you!

This goes to this:
As a side note, not every failed completion is created equal. For the purposes of this article, however, we're treating it as a binary, simply summing up successes and failures. A 7-yard completion on third-and-10 is better than a 2-yard completion, especially when you start getting into field goal range. That's reflected in DVOA, but not here—for the purposes of this article, a failure is a failure.

DYOA/DYAR may be a useful proxy for guys for whom their failed completions are partially beneficial (but not successes), versus guys whose failed completions were disasters.

Failed completions are negative DVOA, but the closer to zero suggests the closer that failure was to a success. (The horseshoes/hand grenades model). It looks like Dalton/Jackson/Stafford/Carr were getting something out of their FCs, whereas Mills and Hurts tended to make things worse with their FCs. Ryan and Herbert were edging into disaster territory.

There seems to be a loose association with experience and lower abs(DVOA) on FCs, and vice-versa. I'd have to see how it tracks over time, though.

Points: 0

#22 by Israel P. - Ashkelon // Mar 28, 2023 - 2:52am

The least surprising name here is Ben Roethlisberger in his final three years. And only those years.

Points: 0

#23 by Israel P. - Ashkelon // Mar 28, 2023 - 3:08am

If the Cleveland comparison were because of Roethlisberger, I would expect to see something similar for Cincinnati and Baltimore.  The former barely changed and the latter improved by nine positions.

Points: 0

#32 by Hoodie_Sleeves // Mar 28, 2023 - 12:30pm

 Mac Jones in passing—it turns out, Matt Patricia may not be the offensive genius needed to unlock him.


I know I've said this a lot - but I still don't think the average poster on here understands how poorly designed the Patriots offense was this year, and how bad their general coaching situation was. 

This is a team that for roughly 60% of Jones's starts only ran from under center, and only passed from shotgun. They ran almost no play-action, and when they did - it was out of shotgun. Seriously - they ran play-action from a formation they never ran out of. 

And to make things worse - the most frequent target in those play-action passes out of shotgun was - you guessed it - the running back that they'd just faked the ball to. They also frequently had a second receiver in the same area as the running back. It was insane. 

Points: 1

#35 by BigRichie // Mar 28, 2023 - 1:23pm

Anyone who watched one single half of a Patriots game last year saw just how historically awful the design of the Patriots offense was. It was truly a sight to not behold. One for the ages.

You Pats fans will remember it for years to come, but yeah, we non-Pats fans have pretty much forgotten it 10 weeks out.

Points: 1

#40 by Pat // Mar 28, 2023 - 5:17pm

but I still don't think the average poster on here understands how poorly designed the Patriots offense was this year,

You think the Patriots offense was designed?

Points: 0

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