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Grading 2018 QB Prospects By The Teams They Played

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How did this year’s top seven quarterbacks stack up against their toughest opponents in years previous?

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NFL Draft is almost here, and it’s time to finish up a bit of house-keeping when it comes to this year’s crop of Quarterbacks.

If you missed the first part of my rankings, you can find them below:

Updated Parcells Rules

For today’s article, we’ll do a study into one of the best metrics for helping spot potential franchise QB’s, top level QB’s and then those who are boosted by their surrounding talent or program.

Why does this matter?

A few reasons, but I’ll keep it brief by naming three:

  1. Quarterbacks who struggle against elite competition and their toughest opponents don’t suddenly improve when they move to a higher level of competition in the National Football League
  2. Quarterbacks who put up top-tier statistics in easy conferences against poor teams are separated out if they struggle against tougher opponents
  3. The main role of a quarterback is to play their best and elevate their play when the chips are stacked against them as they will have to carry their team when no one else will.

The areas that I look at for this metric are simple ones:

-Their conference,

-The games they played against (I select 5 games from their time as a starter, aiming for higher AP ranked teams that are given preference)

-Completions & Attempts

-Yards

-TD’s and INT’s

-Won or Lost those games?

Some will question the games selected (and I will say that I understand concern about subjectivity) but from what I have measured, the beauty of this metric in using 5 games and then taking the “statistical average game” from that group is that it evens out most outliers and gets down to who that prospect is when the lights are brightest.

To start, we’ll use one example from 2017 that performed exceptionally well in this metric”

Deshaun Watson:

Conference:

ACC

Games vs:

#1 Alabama, #1 Alabama, #3 Ohio State, #3 Oklahoma, Pittsburgh

Completions/Attempts:

135/200

Completion %

67.5%

Yards:

1,614

TD’s:

12

INT’s:

6

TD/INT:

2.0

Average game:

27/40 for 359 Yards, 3 TD’s, 1.5 INT’s

W-L:

3-2

In short, Watson proved that he was a dynamic playmaker who would throw for touchdowns and limited picks as well as having a high completion % against some top 3 ranked teams, including a Nick Saban defense, twice.

It should be no surprise, to many, that he was on par for Rookie of the Year before his untimely injury.

Now, let’s take a look at the rest of the 2018 QB’s in comparison to Watson and each other:

Sam Darnold

Conference:

Pac-12

Games vs:

2016: 5 Penn State, 13 Notre Dame 2017: 4 Washington, 5 Ohio State, 12 Stanford

Completions/Attempts:

115/179

Completion %

66%

Yards:

1586

TD’s:

12

INT’s:

3

W/L:

3-2

Avg. Yards/TD/INT per game:

23/35 for 314 Yards, 2.5 TD’s, .5 INT’s, Win

Darnold may have been a turnover machine in college but in big moments, he really shone. He wasn’t overly over the top in touchdowns but managed the game well and put up some spectacular yardage and on average got a win.

He might be the “safest” prospect for some who can make plays and manage an offense and make the big plays when it counts but he’s also young at 20 years old.

Josh Rosen

Conference:

Pac-12

Games vs:

2015: Stanford 2016: 13 USC, 12 Washington, 7 Stanford 2017: 12 USC

Completions/Attempts:

119/201

Completion %

59%

Yards:

1578

TD’s:

12

INT’s:

3

W/L:

1-4

Avg. Yards/TD/INT per game:

24/40 for 315 yards, 2.5 TD’s and .5 INT’s, Loss

Well...this is interesting. Rosen and Darnold look very similar with their games played on average. The biggest difference being that Rosen averaged a loss while Darnold averaged a win and the completion percentage did, indeed, dip as Rosen played tougher teams.

Now Rosen did throw more interceptions on the road, but when I checked back with other games, it wasn’t nearly as much of the multi-INT games. I do think that Rosen was let down some by his team and seeing his production against some of the same teams Darnold beat, I wonder if he had a better team if we’d be viewing him differently as many do Darnold.

His stats coming out of college are very reminiscent of Matt Ryan’s for what it is worth. He might not end up an “elite” QB but if he can stay healthy perhaps he might be a consistent franchise starter.

Baker Mayfield

Conference:

Big 12

Games vs:

2015: 1 Clemson, 2016: 3 Ohio State, 2017: 8 TCU, 3 Georgia, 2 Ohio State

Completions/Attempts:

111/170

Completion %

65%

Yards:

1543

TD’s:

12

INT’s:

5

W/L:

2-3

Avg. Yards/TD/INT per game:

22/14 for 309 yards, 2 TD’s and 1 INT, Loss

Now this was one of the the most interesting part of my findings. When he played tougher, non-Big 12 defenses, Baker Mayfield went from statistics that looked otherworldly to fitting in more with Darnold and Rosen, and even averaged a higher INT count in those games.

I don’t think this indicates that Mayfield will be doomed, by any means. But it’s important to note that when he gets thrown off of his comfort zone, he can struggle some. Still, it’s important to note that he did play tougher opponents and stood out. But it’s also noteworthy that he still averaged a loss and some of those Oklahoma teams did have some of his own failures on display as to part of the reason they fell to their opponent.

In short, this metric can tell us that Mayfield might not be the clear-cut QB1 in teams he’s playing in this metric alone...but it shows that he’s not a guy who crumbles completely either and can hold his own. Just not maybe at a “generational” level that gets tossed around with him for stats geeks who gloss over these performances.

Josh Allen

Conference:

Mountain West

Games vs:

2016: Nebraska, 2017: Iowa, Central Michigan, Boise State, San Diego State

Completions/Attempts:

84/153

Completion %

54%

Yards:

1125

TD’s:

11

INT’s:

10

W/L:

3-2

Avg. Yards/TD/INT per game:

17/30 for 225 yards, 2 TD’s and 2 INT’s, Win

Yikes.

This isn’t even Josh Allen against just Power 5 conference teams alone (the stats were worse). Allen is a true gunslinger, tossing as many INT’s as touchdowns when he played more challenging teams, and didn’t throw for as many attempts but also didn’t throw for 300 yards in a game either.

Flacco has been suggested for him but I see a lot of Jay Cutler in his game due to the fact that when he played tougher teams, his TD: INT ratio was almost dead even. One game against Nebraska he threw 5 picks.

It’s tough to argue that he should be a #1 overall pick given that the NFL will only get tougher, and when you compare his stats to Watson’s, especially, he stands out as a guy who might have just crumbled against an Alabama just as he did against Nebraska in 2016 (16/32 for 189 yards, 1 TD, 5 INT’s).

Lamar Jackson*

*Note: I have added in rushing stats for Lamar, because while I do think passing stats are what should be evaluated foremost for a QB, his special running ability is such a big factor of who Jackson is as a prospect.

Conference:

ACC

Games vs:

2015: 11 FSU 2016: 2 FSU, 5 Clemson, 6 LSU 2017: 3 Clemson, 24 Miss St.

Completions/Attempts

94/172

Completion %

55%

Yards:

1336 passing yards, 562 rushing yards

Total Yards:

1898 yards

TD’s:

Passing=10, Rushing=6

Total TD’s:

16

INT’s:

4

W/L:

1-4

Avg. Yards/TD/INT per game:

19/34 for 267 passing yards, 112 rushing yards (total of 379 yards) 2 passing TD’s, 1 rushing TD and 2 INT’s (vs. Mississipi State), Loss

18/34 for 257 passing yards, 87 rushing yards for 344 total yards, 2 passing TD’s, 1 rushing TD 1 INT, Loss

....Wait a minute, why are there two versions?

That’s because I took two measurements of Lamar Jackson. The first one took into context his Mississipi State bowl game in which he threw 4 interceptions.

The second average replaced that with his game against Louisiana State and the LSU Tigers. Both games were bad losses. But it shows as far as interceptions how that despite it being an awful game, in the grand scheme of Jackson, it only added 1 more average pick per game. Perhaps that will be significant and he will have more multi-INT games in the pros but that has seemed to be the exception versus the norm in the NFL.

That’s what separates him from Josh Allen, in my opinion, is that the turnovers seem to be a trend with Allen, while with Jackson they have been an exception when facing elite competition. Jackson’s upside is sky high, as his total number of yards hits a 3:1 TD/INT metric and his added rushing bonus (averaging 87-112 yards against really good teams is crazy) shows that he belongs up there with the other passers. Or at minimum, on a level playing field with Josh Allen, who could go top five overall.

As for another quarterback who threw 3 touchdowns for every 1 interception...

Mason Rudolph

Conference:

Big 12

Games vs:

2015: 5 Oklahoma, 5 TCU 2016: 10 WVU 2017: 22 Virginia Tech, 8 Oklahoma

Completions/Attempts:

100/174

Completion %

57%

Yards:

1532

TD’s:

15

INT’s:

3

W/L:

3-2

Avg. Yards/TD/INT per game:

20/35 for 306 yards, 3 TD’s and 1 INT, Win

Mason Rudolph is an intriguing prospect in this year’s draft for what he has done without much to work with.

Not talking about his surrounding talent (scheme and receiver-wise in a pass-happy conference was tremendous) but in that he doesn’t have the strongest arm or the best athleticism. What he does have is the ability to extend plays, pick up 3rd downs and win games. Besides noticing that his completion percentage fell almost 5% from his career total, when he faced tougher defenses, however, he also had noticably less attempts than most quarterbacks. The big pass plays helped with this and he won a lot of games and enters the draft as a senior quarterback.

His transition to the NFL might indicate a backup with his arm, but if he can carry over that high TD:INT rate (only QB to hit 3:1 of this year’s crop outside of Lamar Jackson). Most importantly? His record versus these tough teams was 3-2. He might be a true sleeper with the right team in this draft.

Kyle Lauletta

Conference:

FBS—Division I

Games vs:

2015: 4 James Madison, 2 North Dakota State 2016: 7 James Madison, 2017: 1 James Madison, 3 Sam Houston State

Completions/Attempts:

121/200

Completion %

60%

Yards:

1871

TD’s:

14

INT’s:

5

W/L:

1-4

Avg. Yards/TD/INT per game:

24/40 for 374 yards, 2.5 TD’s, 1 INT, Loss

Lauletta is a fascinating prospect, as he put up crazy statistics (had games of 415 and 435 yards) but also lost almost all of those difficult games. In one playoff game against North Dakota State (facing Carson Wentz’s backup) he couldn’t hit 200 yards passing and threw two picks, one the other way for six.

I think that when the pressure is on, he can put up yards but even without a defense his arm strength will be a question, as will his overall level of competition. He doesn’t have the physical gifts Wentz did but is athletic and might be a solid backup or spot starter for a team that will appreciate him.

The other thing about Lauletta? He had a high touchdown total at his level of competition, with multiple 5 TD games against top teams and almost hit 3:1 TD’s to INT’s. Will it being against FBS schools matter for him? It didn’t for Wentz.

Summary:

Overall, this is where the quarterbacks fall when playing tough teams. Some quick thoughts;

  • Mayfield, Rosen and Darnold all are closer than at first appearance, Mayfield especially saw his accuracy and completion percentage dipped.
  • Mayfield surprised me, as I had thought he was bullet-proof statistically heading into this project and he, surprisingly, didn’t “struggle” but wasn’t as great as Watson was last year.
  • Mason Rudolph, statistically, might be being underrated in how he manages the game to get a win...but his completion dips as well versus good defenses.
  • Josh Allen is a turnover machine against the toughest teams he faced and didn’t throw for a ton of yards.
  • Lamar Jackson’s upside actually surpassed almost all the other QB’s in totality, when you look at his yardage total (averaging over 100 yards against some really, really good run defending teams in addition to throwing at a similar rate as Josh Allen) might mean that he’s the secret superstar. Even in games he struggled with, he put up jaw-dropping offensive stats. And that probably means his defense (like Rosen’s) wasn’t great.

All in all, the only guys who stood out the most statistically were Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph, with a possible nod to Kyle Lauletta given his lower level.

This is just one metric of many, but it’s still an important one in QB evaluation.

What are your thoughts?

Do you think that any of these quarterbacks are worth taking by the Arizona Cardinals? Will any of them do well or struggle against NFL competition?

Sound off in the comments!

You can follow @blakemurphy7 on Twitter.