It simply stands to reason: If there’s a best of everything, there’s also a worst. And when it comes to NFL quarterbacks and their abilities to deal with different passing game concepts, there are one-year blunders and repeat offenders. When I wrote about the worst NFL quarterbacks for every type of throw last season, there were guys who didn’t repeat their efforts from then to now, and a couple who did. Daniel Jones of the Giants, for example.
It should come as no surprise that Carson Wentz was the most prolific member of the Worst Club for the 2020 season. He didn’t show up on last year’s list, and why should he have? Wentz led the league in interceptions (15) and sacks (50) in 2020 behind a series of patchwork offensive lines, and a receiver group who didn’t do him any favors. He’s now in the hands of the Colts, and old buddy Frank Reich, who will try and turn Wentz’s career around.
Based on the numbers below, Reich has a lot of work to do. As for the other worst quarterbacks for every type of throw… well, here they all are. Warning: It ain’t pretty. You may want to investigate the list of the best quarterbacks for every type of throw once you’re done here, just to get a more positive picture of the quarterback position.
(All metrics courtesy of Sports Info Solutions, unless otherwise noted).
Zero/One-step drop: Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
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Wentz’s fall from grace on the field in 2020 was one of the more… well, “remarkable” isn’t the right word, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a starting NFL quarterback fall off a cliff from one season to the next as Wentz did last season. There were all kinds of reasons for this — an injury-plagued offensive line and receiver corps among the most prominent — and Wentz didn’t help with his delayed reads and truly mindblowing (in a bad way) throws at times. Shorter throws from short drops are supposed to be easier concepts to get a quarterback into rhythm, but it wasn’t the case for Wentz, who was by far the NFL’s least efficient passer on throws with dropbacks of zero or one step. On such throws (157 dropbacks), Wentz completed 90 of 145 passes for 784 yards, 422 air yards, three touchdowns, five interceptions, and a passer rating of 68.9. Denver’s Drew Lock was the second-least efficient on such throws, and he wound up with a passer rating of 75.6. Colts head coach Frank Reich is right to believe that he can turn Wentz around to a degree based on his history with the quarterback, but there is a LOT of work to do here.
Three-step drop: Drew Lock, Denver Broncos
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Speaking of Mr. Lock, he’s in here more than he’d prefer to be, and Denver’s got some long-term decisions to make at the quarterback position beyond the potential short-term fix Teddy Bridgewater may or may not provide. The hope is that Lock will capitalize on Denver’s last four games in 2020, when he threw seven touchdowns and just two interceptions, but the body of work does not bode well. On three-step throws, Lock was the second-worst quarterback in the league last season, and as Dwayne Haskins was the worst, and Haskins is now buried deep on the Steelers’ depth chart after washing out in Washington, we’ll have to put Lock here with his 102 completions on 189 attempts for 1,316 yards, 739 air yards, three touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a passer rating of 61.5. On the plus side, Lock can say that he has one thing in common with Tom Brady, who also threw nine interceptions on three-step throws. Of course, Brady also threw 14 touchdowns.
Five-step drop: Cam Newton, New England Patriots
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Newton’s first season with the Patriots was negatively affected by the lack of a true offseason, and Newton’s own COVID issues in-season. It takes time for a quarterback to become a true part of any offense, and with something as complicated as New England’s offense, you can amplify that sentiment. One hopes for a more equitable opportunity in 2021, but one thing we do know about Newton’s 2020 is that he was not a plus performer on five-step throws. There, he completed 49 of 79 passes for 769 yards, 564 air yards, one touchdown, four interceptions, and a passer rating of 77.5. Dwayne Haskins, Alex Smith, Drew Lock, and Ben Roethlisberger had worse passer ratings on five-step throws, but Newton’s unfortunate touchdown/interception ratio puts him over the top (or to the bottom) in this case.
Seven-step drop: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
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It’s correct to generally align the seven-step drop with the deep throw, and though Ryan had a quality season overall in 2020, neither the deep drop nor the deep throw were friendly concepts for him last season. Overall, Ryan completed 35 of 54 seven-step throws for 469 yards, 294 air yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 83.0. On seven-step throws of 20 or more air yards, Ryan completed six of 12 passes for 209 yards, 162 air yards, and a passer rating of 56.3. Both of his seven-step picks came on play-action, so before we assume that Arthur Smith’s play-action friendly offense will fix this, we may want to take a step back. Based on the tape, Ryan may be at that point in his career where he needs to mix in more breaking stuff, and forget about the fastball.
Designed rollout: Daniel Jones, New York Giants
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There are quarterbacks who are great when rolling out of the pocket. They’re easy on the move, they know how to snap their shoulders to the target, and they can make pinpoint boot downfield throws even when their feet aren’t set. Then, there are quarterbacks like Daniel Jones, who just hasn’t gotten the hang of this yet. In 2019, on 30 dropbacks that turned into designed rollouts, Jones completed 16 of 29 passes for 111 yards, 50 air yards (yeah, that’s 3.8 yards per attempt), no touchdowns, an interception, and a passer rating of 49.6. Low risk, lower reward. Sam Darnold, who completed 13 of 25 designed rollout passes for 123 yards, 65 air yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 65.9, should also be mentioned.
RPO: Daniel Jones, New York Giants
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The Giants have assembled an impressive array of targets around Jones, and it’s safe to say that the pressure is on the third-year quarterback to perform accordingly. Jones is on this list too often to have been an “elite” quarterback in 2020 — league-average was about the best you could hope for — and Jones’ performance on simple RPOs is yet another unfortunate example. On such throws, Jones completed just 11 of 20 passes for 92 yards, 38 air yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 67.1. Less than ideal. Philip Rivers, who is now coaching high-school football in Alabama, had the second-lowest passer rating on RPOs (71.6), completing 17 of 25 passes for 97 yards, 28 air yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
With pre-snap motion: Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
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Pre-snap motion is supposed to help quarterbacks. It can help a quarterback determine whether man or zone coverage is coming. It can put defenses in bad matchup situations. It can isolate defenders who are not quite up to covering the guys they’re about to cover. And Sean McVay has one of the more interesting set of pre-snap concepts — everything from jet motions to motion to trips and bunch. So why is it, you may ask, that Jared Goff, McVay’s former quarterback, managed to complete 152 of 237 passes for 1,559 yards, 669 air yards, eight touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a passer rating of 80.1? Well, you have to see how the defense adjusts to that motion, so it could be said that for some quarterbacks, pre-snap movement can be just as confusing for them as it is for those defenses. Matthew Stafford, who now replaces Goff, completed 147 of 226 passes with pre-snap motion for 1,734 yards, 852 air yards, 13 touchdowns, five interceptions, and a passer rating of 98.2, so look for a slight uptick in efficiency there — and just about everywhere else.
Without pre-snap motion: Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
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Ah, Mr. Wentz again. This was a weird one, because Wentz was actually pretty good with pre-snap motion — it’s just that the Eagles didn’t allow him to benefit from it that often. With motion, Wentz completed 102 passes on 165 attempts on 197 dropbacks for 977 yards, 503 air yards, seven touchdowns, four interceptions, and a passer rating of 82.3. Without motion, Wentz completed 149 passes on 272 attempts on 313 dropbacks for 1,643 yards, 1,071 air yards, nine touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a passer rating of 70.6. While it’s entirely possible that the Eagles’ coaching staff was just trying to give Wentz a less cluttered picture without having to think about motion, perhaps a bit more of it would have helped.
With play-action: Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
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This does not come as a surprise if you’ve watched Wentz’s 2020 tape. He was mechanically slow and out of sorts, and this caused to him to miss opportunities created by play-action more often than not. When he did have the “benefit” of play-action, Wentz completed just 74 of 124 passes 747 yards, 375 air yards, four touchdowns, four interceptions, and a passer rating of 79.1. Play-action is often used to create shot plays downfield, but this did not apply to Wentz last season. At all. On play-action throws of 20 or more air yards, Wentz completed five of 17 for 154 yards, 114 air yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating of 40.3. As we have said, Frank Reich has a lot of work ahead of him.
Without play-action: Drew Lock, Denver Broncos
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Another guy with a lot of work ahead of him is Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who must put together a passing game with Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater. And in Lock’s case, when he’s on the field, Shurmur might want to use as much play-action as possible. With play-action last season, Lock completed 72 passes on 110 attempts for 836 yards, 422 air yards, eight touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 112.5. Without it? Oof. Lock completed 182 passes on 333 attempts for 2,097 yards, 1,137 air yards, eight touchdowns, a league-high 15 interceptions, and a league-low passer rating of 63.1. Sometimes, the answers are simple.
When blitzed: Drew Lock, Denver Broncos
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On the other hand, there wasn’t much to do for Lock when he was blitzed last season. When facing five or more pass-rushers, Lock completed 59 of 114 attempts for 755 yards, 333 air yards, six touchdowns, a league-high seven interceptions, and a passer rating of 64.8. How did Teddy Bridgewater fare against the blitz last season for the Panthers? Just a bit better, as he completed 86 of 130 passes for 943 yards, 339 air yards, 10 touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 106.7. Bridgewater had an average depth of throw of 5.8 yards against the blitz, while Lock’s was 9.9, so maybe Bridgewater can teach Lock to check it down when a bunch of pass-rushers are coming after him.
Without the blitz: Eagles quarterbacks in general
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You’d generally think that most quarterbacks would fare well when they’re not blitzed, but the caveat on such plays is that with four or fewer pass-rushers coming after you, you’re also going to have to deal with more defenders in coverage. That isn’t beneficial for some quarterbacks, and two of them played for the Eagles last season. Against four or fewer pass-rushers in 2020, Carson Wentz completed 188 of 328 passes for 2008 yards, 1,266 air yards, 11 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a passer rating of 72.6. When Wentz was cast aside in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts, things didn’t get any better. Hurts completed 55 of 110 passes for 778 yards, 450 air yards, two touchdowns, four interceptions, and a passer rating of 64.1. The combination of a static passing offense and quarterbacks who struggle to read more complex coverages is not a recipe for success.
Under pressure: Drew Lock, Denver Broncos
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Lock’s sub-optimal numbers against the blitz would lead you to believe that he would also struggle against pressure in general. That would be an accurate assessment. When pressured in any instance, regardless of the number of pass-rushers, Lock completed just 57 passes on 141 attempts for 611 yards, 338 air yards, three touchdowns, a league-high nine interceptions, and a passer rating of (eek) 34.3. The surprise name when it comes to a lack of efficiency under pressure beyond Cam Newton, Carson Wentz, and Sam Darnold was Tom Brady, who completed 72 of 167 passes for 903 yards, 608 air yards, three touchdowns, six interceptions, and a passer rating of 51.6 — the fifth-lowest rating in the NFL last season among quarterbacks with at least 100 passing attempts under pressure.
Without pressure: Eagles quarterbacks in general
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And, here we are again with these guys. As Wentz and Hurts struggled when they weren’t blitzed, they also came up short when they weren’t pressured. From a clean pocket, Wentz completed 194 of 295 passes for 2,053 yards, 1,244 air yards, 12 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 85.3. Hurts had a rating of 85.1 without pressure, completing 56 of 93 passes for 692 yards, 324 air yards, three touchdowns and two picks. A passer rating in the 85s sounds like a pretty good deal, but when you consider that 21 starting quarterbacks had a passer rating over 100 without pressure last season, it doesn’t quite work out. Dwayne Haskins had the worst passer rating without pressure at 78.5, and Wentz finished second-worst.
In the pocket: Eagles quarterbacks in general
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Yes, we know. “Eagles quarterbacks in general” is doing a lot of work here. And when in the pocket, neither Wentz nor Hurts were successful on a consistent basis. Wentz completed 216 of 368 passes for 2,266 yards, 1,351 air yards, 12 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and a passer rating of 76.2. Hurts’ passer rating of 79.9 came about via 63 completions on 106 attempts for 780 yards, 395 air yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. The difference in 2020 was that Hurts was somewhat effective outside the pocket (a 71.6 passer rating on 42 attempts), while Wentz… was not (a 54.9 passer rating on 69 attempts).
Outside the pocket: Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers
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Darnold’s combination of inconsistent mechanics and a relative inability to re-calibrate what he sees when on the move led him to have the NFL’s lowest passer rating (52.8) on throws outside the pocket — he completed 29 of 53 passes for 298 yards, 200 air yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. That’s now the Panthers’ problem to deal with. As for the Jets, they have a first-round quarterback in Zach Wilson who was pretty amazing on the move last season — 35 completions on 54 attempts for 509 yards, 325 air yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 132.4. Only Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler (141.9) had a higher passer rating last season among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts outside the pocket.