Seven weeks into this first post-COVID (or neo-COVID, because it’s still around, even if it’s not affecting sports much any more) season, also the first with 17 regular-season games per team, I thought I’d look into the league quarterbacking situation.
As always, I’m using my quarterback metric, which attempts to normalize performance within a small set of years. For now, I’m using the 2020 normalized values, since there’s not enough 2021 information at this point to see where it might differ. Differences are always tiny from year-to-year.
Overall, performance is a bit down in the NFL this season. Teams are averaging 23.6 points per game, down from last season’s record 24.7. The metric is about one point per performance lower, suggesting that quarterback play is a big reason for the drop (I’ll assume this is the retirements of Philip Rivers and Drew Brees combined with the rookie struggles of an unusually large quarterback draft class).
A team-by-team list, starting with the best QB performance averages this season (an average performance from a starting QB is about 52):
Los Angeles Rams: Matthew Stafford, 63.4 average (last season 54.1 with the Lions). Stafford has the third-highest personal increase from last season and is playing at an MVP level. The Rams paid a huge price for this trade, but so far, they’re looking smart for making it.
Cincinnati: Joe Burrow, 62.0 (52.0 last season). Like about half of the quarterbacks drafted with the first overall pick, Burrow is leaping forward in his sophomore year and might be the AFC MVP so far. A pick like this transforms a franchise. The Bengals last won a playoff game on January 6, 1991, 31 seasons back. This is the longest drought in the NFL, beating out the Detroit Lions by 364 days. It looks like Detroit will take over in a couple of months.
Minnesota: Kirk Cousins, 59.5 (54.1). With Philip Rivers retired, he’s the new “really good, but can he lead you deep into the playoffs?” guy.
Dallas: Dak Prescott, 59.2 (58.2). Prescott will lead the Cowboys there sooner or later.
Arizona: Kyler Murray, 59.0 (59.9). Murray took that sophomore leap last season.
Seattle: Russell Wilson, 58.0 (53.4).
Washington: Taylor Heinicke, 57.4 (limited action last season). Heinicke, undrafted six years ago, is the only undrafted quarterback starting this season. The Football Team does not play defense.
Tampa Bay: Tom Brady, 56.7 (55.8).
Buffalo: Josh Allen, 56.7 (57.4).
Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers, 56.6 (62.1).
Kansas City: Patrick Mahomes, 56.4 (63.6). Tied for the biggest drop in the league from last season’s performance, but a loaded early schedule has a lot to do with it.
New England: Mac Jones, 55.9 (rookie). Surprisingly, the 15th overall pick (and fifth quarterback selected) has been the most effective of the rookies.
Denver: Teddy Bridgewater, 55.3 (56.8).
Tennessee: Ryan Tannehill, 55.1 (59.7).
Cleveland: Baker Mayfield, 54.8 (53.8).
Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert, 54.7 (53.9).
New Orleans: Jameis Winston, 54.3 (limited action last season).
New York Giants: Daniel Jones, 54.1 (45.6). After a poor sophomore season, Jones is showing signs that he might become a franchise guy.
San Francisco: Jimmy Garoppolo, 53.4 (46.3). Does it seem like losing the Super Bowl simply breaks 49ers quarterbacks? They were 5-0 in the big game until the 2012 season.
Miami: Tua Tagovailoa, 53.3 (52.9). Not sure why they’re apparently willing to trade everything because the number-five pick from last season is about what one could expect from that draft position.
Las Vegas: Derek Carr, 52.9 (55.9).
Atlanta: Matt Ryan, 52.8 (53.2).
Indianapolis: Carson Wentz, 50.6 (37.8). The biggest riser this year, but he’s lucky he’s still starting after last year’s performance.
Jacksonville: Trevor Lawrence, 50.5 (rookie).
Philadelphia: Jalen Hurts, 49.9 (44.4). The Eagles might be asking too much from Hurts, but he’s still in there fighting.
Baltimore: Lamar Jackson, 49.9 (53.8). I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing the numbers the last couple of years because it’s so clear that Jackson does so much out there. I’ve added measures for quarterbacks who run a lot. It’s difficult to measure degree of difficulty because of its subjective nature. What would Baltimore be without Jackson? Very different. There’s never been a quarterback quite like him. And no guarantee that Baltimore could replace what he does with less option. It’s tough being a sample size of one.
Pittsburgh: Ben Roethlisberger, 48.3 (51.9). Seems like the end of the line for a great competitor. Who knows?
Detroit: Jared Goff, 47.3 (54.5). Sorry, Lions. I guess it was you all along.
Carolina: Sam Darnold, 46.0 (44.8). I suppose the price (second, fourth and sixth) for a recent number-three overall pick already reflects his value. But he got paid. And it looks like he’s not NFL starting material.
Houston: Davis Mills, 42.2 (rookie). If you’re determined to start a third-rounder from the most recent draft, this is what you get. Just a bad situation for the Texans. My hope is that Deshaun Watson is cleared of all charges and finds he likes Houston after all and resumes what looked like a very promising career. Reality isn’t so kind.
New York Jets: Zach Wilson, 40.0 (rookie). Reality is sometimes realistic, too. Nowhere near time to seriously worry about the pick, though.
Chicago: Justin Fields, 39.2 (rookie). This is a tougher situation. Fields has had a couple of games that could mess with his head, long-term. They have two veteran quarterbacks on the roster. I do not think the Bears are doing the right thing here.