Marginal Quarterback Yards in 2014

Taking a break from Deflategate, draft analysis, and all the other news of the moment to focus instead on QB play from last season and tie it in a bit with projected salaries since there are a number of QB’s whose contracts are coming due in the near future. What I want to do is break down the incremental or marginal contribution of a QB based on the difficulty of the throw (based on air yards) and see what players (or offenses if we believe strongly in the QB) may need to be tinkered with or revalued in the near future. 

The passing data comes from Pro Football Focus, which tracks the performance of the QB on four tiers of “air yards”, behind the line, 0 to 9 yards, 10 to 19 yards and 20+ yards.  The data is based on aimed passes. I looked at all QBs from 2014 who played in at least 50% of the snaps and came up with the following league average for the position:

Air YardsPct. ThrowsComp %YPAYPCTDPAIntPA
Behind Line15.0%88.2%5.576.322.94%0.61%

What that tells us is that if we are calling a deep pass, we should be expected to complete it 36.3% of the time, average 35.5 yards per completion, score on 10.5% of the plays and turn it over nearly 6% of those passes. We can use those numbers to determine how many yards a QB should have thrown for based on his individual pass selection and how many times he should have been intercepted. If we value additional interceptions at -45 yards we simply add up  the yardage from passes and interceptions to come up with our incremental yardage numbers

The Best Players

Aaron Rodgers blew the field away in 2014.  He added nearly 530 passing yards and saved another 350 yards by only throwing 5 interceptions against an expectation of just under 13. On a per attempt basis he was ridiculous averaging 1.79 yards per pass attempt, nearly 40% higher than the next closest player. His performance throwing the ball deep was unrivaled last year.

Ben Roethlisberger produced the second most amount of yard (663.9), but took 579 attempts to do so. In terms of value per play he actually ranked 4th but it was very close between he(1.15 YPA), Russell Wilson(1.29YPA), and Tony Romo (1.2 YPA).

Wilson is perhaps the most intriguing QB in the NFL. He ranked 3rd in generated passing yards but did so in just 400 attempts. I think the question there is if he is just being utilized perfectly or there is a far higher upside if they passed the ball more. Considering he does this with what are considered below average receivers it is very impressive. He just is steady across the board.

Alex Smith comes in 5th, but a distant fifth with 0.89 YPP added.  Smith is severely limited throwing just 5.7% of his passes beyond 20 yards, which was the lowest in the NFL by about 4%. Kansas City clearly is hoping that will change by signing Jeremy Maclin who is a deep threat.

The Worst Players

It’s no surprise that Derek Carr and Blake Bortles were the worst two players last season with -896 and -738 yards respectively. Basically every time they decided to pass the team lost 1.6 yards from the average performance.  They are rookies so that’s not too uncommon and neither had a good supporting cast to give any assistance. Both teams will be expecting more youth to develop at the skill positions while beefing their lines up with veterans. Both were far inferior to Teddy Bridgewater whose Achilles was simply turnovers.

Josh McCown performed nearly as bad as Carr and Bortles which is ridiculous for a veteran QB. He produced -1.6 YPA which is essential double the next closest veteran. He had good receivers in Tampa though his line was poor. Somehow he landed a job in Cleveland despite of this.

Jay Cutler came in fourth at -0.85 YPA producing a total of -450 yards, making him the worst value in the NFL. He had good receivers, a good running back, and ok pieces on the line so Im not sure there is any excuse for him other than he played poorly. Everyone involved with the decision to re-sign him has been fired.

Finally rounding out the bottom 5 is the Jets Geno Smith at -0.75 yards per attempt. Smith’s numbers are not incredibly different than where he was as a rookie in that his yardage totals are not terrible (-47) but his turnover numbers are (-200 yards despite just 329 attempts). He’ll fight Ryan Fitzpatrick for a job this year. Fitzpatrick was surprisingly efficient last year, but it almost all came on deep passes which would seem to be a fluke more than anything else.

The Contract Year Players

Andrew Luck rated tops of the players seeking a new deal, generating about 0.33 yards per attempt. If he cut down on his interceptions he would really begin to stand out. He also struggles somewhat in the 10-19 yard are which I think says more about his receivers than him.

Eli Manning was entirely average last year finishing up with about -0.04 yards per attempt. He was below average in yards gained (-92) but that was balanced out by a surprisingly low interception total. He should be aided with OBJ being on the team for a full 16 games and Victor Cruz being healthy.  He’s not an elite QB by any means but he wasn’t  big negative last year either. Eli’s deep passing is not very good anymore either.

Philip Rivers ranking surprised me. I thought he played very well last year but the numbers said otherwise. He struggled somewhat with turnovers, but maybe there were some very random late game type interceptions in there that pushed the numbers up.  His supporting cast in general has been poor and the Chargers are going to need to upgrade that significantly when they up his salary to $21M+ per year.

Ryan Tannehill was below average coming in at -0.227 YPA.  His yardage numbers were  well below average at -213, which was 6th worst in the NFL. His saving grace where he just cracked the top 10 was interceptions saved. He had the second lowest down the field attempts in the NFL and performed poorly when he threw down the field. Miami gutted their receiving corps to attempt to fix the problem. This is a huge year for him.

Cam Newton, the former number 1 pick, ranked very low at -0.72 yards per play. He doesn’t turn the ball over, but his -311 yards was the worst among veteran QBs. He has no supporting cast whatsoever. He has poor receivers, a poor offensive line, and a mediocre running game. Basically anything over 10 yards produced very poor results and that’s likely not entirely on him. It doesn’t seem as if Carolina, who is still wading their way out of cap trouble, is going to do much to help him out which may make this a very tricky negotiation.

Here is the final list of all the the players.  The table should be sortable and hopefully I caught any glaring errors before posting.

NameYardsExp. YardsIncr. Pass YardsExp IntIncr.  IntTotal Incr. YardsIncr. YPA
Aaron Rodgers43813853.1527.912.9-7.9882.01.789
Russell Wilson34753103.0372.010.2-3.2514.91.287
Tony Romo37053302.4402.611.2-2.2500.51.200
Ben Roethlisberger49544583.5370.515.5-6.5663.91.147
Alex Smith32853053.4231.69.0-3.0367.00.872
Ryan Fitzpatrick24832335.1147.98.00.0146.40.498
Andrew Luck47624554.3207.715.60.4190.30.334
Drew Brees49524684.7267.315.31.7191.90.316
Peyton Manning47334591.6141.415.7-0.7172.30.298
Matt Ryan46944580.7113.315.2-1.2167.20.284
Tom Brady41084201.4-93.413.9-4.9125.00.231
Joe Flacco39893960.628.413.0-
Matthew Stafford42474292.1-45.114.0-
Teddy Bridgewater29202745.5174.58.73.325.90.072
Eli Manning44104502.2-92.215.5-1.5-25.7-0.046
Brian Hoyer33433364.1-
Colin Kaepernick33693550.3-181.312.2-2.2-83.5-0.188
Phillip Rivers42864232.853.214.43.6-107.7-0.202
Ryan Tannehill40594272.5-213.513.9-1.9-125.8-0.227
Kyle Orton30163140.0-
Mark Sanchez24142372.541.58.03.0-93.5-0.311
Andy Dalton33983452.6-54.611.15.9-318.2-0.707
Cam Newton31363447.3-311.312.1-0.1-308.4-0.722
Geno Smith25252572.3-
Jay Cutler38124031.1-
Josh McCown22062443.6-
Derek Carr32644256.2-992.214.1-2.1-896.5-1.645
Blake Bortles29073354.3-447.310.56.5-738.4-1.663