If we learned anything from the 2017 NFL playoffs, it’s that teams don’t need a top-shelf quarterback to win in the postseason. Provided they surround their quarterbacks with enough talent and put them in a good system, that is.
No, Nick Foles did not turn into an elite quarterback overnight before leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl. He played behind the league’s best offensive line, was throwing to a good group of receivers and was put in one of the league’s most inventive schemes. The result: A Super Bowl MVP for a quarterback nobody wanted a year ago.
Sure, there are a handful of quarterbacks who are capable of transcending what’s around them, but most need to be put in the right support system to play like a franchise quarterback.With that in mind, we set out to figure out which quarterbacks are in the most ideal situations and which have been dealt a terrible hand.
We tried to figure that out with a metric we’ll call “QB Situation Grade,” which factors in the five elements most conducive to quarterback success: A good offensive line; a group of receivers that will make plays when given the opportunity; an offense that keeps the quarterback in favorable down-and-distances; a good scheme that gives him open receivers to throw to who can gain yards after the catch; and a talented group of skill players to work with. We created five statistical measures to capture those factors as best we could.
Before we look at the results, let’s take a look at what goes into each category…
- “Plays made” measures the number of accurate throws a QB made that were caught by his receivers
- “Pass blocking,” is a measure of the offensive line’s protection, using Pro Football Focus’ Pass Blocking Efficiency metric and Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate.
- “Chains,” is how often the QB’s team kept him ahead of chains and out of obvious passing situations. It’s based on the percentage of throws that came on second- and third-and-long.
- “Scheme” is based on both yards after catch and how often a quarterback was forced to make “tight-window throws,” per NFL.com’s Next-Gen Stats.
- “Weapons” is based on PFF’s team receiving and running grades for the 2017 season.
Each figure has been adjusted to the league average, with 100 being the average for each category. Above 100 is good; below is bad. The overall rankings are based on the average ranking for a team in each category. Here are the final results…
- No surprise at the top with Pittsburgh checking in at No. 1. Ben Roethlisberger gets to play behind the league’s most consistent line, throw to the league’s best receiver and hand it off to one of its most dynamic backs. Throw in JuJu Smith-Schuster coming into his second season and stud rookie James Washington, and Big Ben’s supporting cast could be even better in 2018.
- The Vikings are just on the outside of the top-five, which is good news for Kirk Cousins, who fled Washington and its 19th-ranked situation for Stefon Diggs, Adam Theilen, Kyle Rudolph and Dalvin Cook. The $84 million guaranteed wasn’t a bad throw-in, either.
- The Redskins’ replacement for Cousins, Alex Smith, is leaving behind the third-best support system in the league. Kansas City’s high ranking has a lot to do with Andy Reid’s excellent scheme. But it’s not like Smith is walking into a bad scheme in the nation’s capital. Washington finished sixth in the scheme category.
- The biggest surprise near the top is the Titans checking in at No. 7. Tennessee ranks highly thanks to a solid offensive line that helped keep Marcus Mariota clean and out of obvious passing situations. His receiving corps turned accurate throws into completions at an above-average rate. We don’t necessarily agree that Tennessee made things easy on Mariota last year, however.
- We definitely do not agree with the Eagles finishing 32nd in scheme, but their number was dragged down by Carson Wentz’s penchant for throwing into tight windows. Over 25% of his attempts were thrown to receivers with a defender within a yard of him, per NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats. The closest full-time starter in that stat was Cam Newton at 20.5%. Philadelphia also finished 24th in yards after catch, dragging down their scheme score even further. Doug Pederson has one of the better offensive schemes in the league, but it’s difficult to capture that objectively.
- Case Keenum may have made a mistake signing with Denver. He put up career stats playing in Minnesota, but it’s going to be difficult for him to keep that momentum going with one of the league’s worst support systems. Though that could change if Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have bounce-back seasons, and Courtland Sutton’s preseason performance translates to the regular season. Royce Freeman looks like a running back capable of keeping the Broncos offense on schedule but the line is still a major concern.
- If we had to pick one team that should shoot up this list in 2018, it’s the Bears. Chicago added a ton of talent to the receiving corps, and with Matt Nagy calling the plays, Mitch Trubisky should be put in more comfortable situations.
Now let’s take a look at the best and worst teams in each category…
Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin give Jameis Winston a stable of receivers that will catch anything thrown in their vicinity. It’s up to Jameis to be more accurate for this passing game to reach its potential.
The good news for Andrew Luck is that he’s finally healthy. The bad news: His receiving corps hasn’t gotten any better since he last played.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Drew Brees doesn’t need much time to dissect a defense, but the Saints line provides him with plenty of time anyway. In Terron Armstrong and Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans might have the best young tackle duo in the game. Titans fans might have something to say about that.
No real surprises here. These quarterbacks spent the 2017 season running for their lives. The Texans line was especially bad, which isn’t the best news for a quarterback coming off a major knee injury.
The Patriots being near the top of this list probably has more to do with Tom Brady’s efficiency in the short passing game, which helps New England stay ahead of the chains more than its run game does.
Poor Mitch Trubisky. Not only was he throwing to scrubs, but the defense knew a pass was coming a lot of the time. That’s tough for any quarterback, and even more so for a rookie.
A lot of West Coat offenses at the top of this list. The Packers landing at the top is somewhat surprising. The Chiefs and Rams coming in at at No. 2 and 3 is not.
The Texans’ offensive scheme looked a lot better with Deshaun Watson running the show. There’s only so much a coach can do with Tom Savage back there.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Not a lot of surprises here. Detroit ranking highly is a bit of a shock, but Golden Tate and Marvin Jones could be the league’s most underrated duo.
The Giants get back Odell Beckham and added Saquon Barkley, so don’t expect to see them here next year. The other teams at the bottom, on the other hand…
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