Midseason report card: The NFL’s young quarterbacks, Vol. 2

The search for a franchise quarterback is the most important journey any NFL team can embark upon. It is also the most daunting.

Teams such as New England and New Orleans may find themselves in that unfamiliar territory sooner than later. Others, like the Eagles and Seahawks, are set long-term at the position. As 2019 rolls on, nine NFL franchises find themselves walking this uncertain road. We’ll take a look at each of those nine teams below.

Two men who appeared on last year’s midseason report card, Patrick Mahomes II and Deshaun Watson, have since elevated themselves into the ranks of the NFL elite. Kansas City and Houston need not worry about their search any longer, and both quarterbacks have subsequently been left off this year’s report.

Advanced statistics have helped us better understand quarterback performance. Some of my favorites — Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR), and Average Net Yards Per Attempt Index (ANY/A+) — will be discussed below. Football Outsiders has the explanation on DVOA and DYAR while Pro Football Reference has more about ANY/A+, and other adjusted passing stats, here.

Let’s start with the guy nipping at the heels of Russell Wilson in the league MVP race.

Lamar Jackson (Baltimore)
168/255, 65.9%, 2,036 yards, 15 TD, 5 INT, 101.7 rating
2018 grade: Incomplete

NFL teams so often try to force a square peg into a round hole when molding young quarterbacks. Lamar Jackson has shown what can happen when you change the hole, not the peg.

The Ravens overhauled their entire offense to fit Jackson’s unique skill set and the results have been electric. Behind Jackson, the Ravens lead the league in points per game, rank second in yards per game and third in offense by DVOA, per Football Outsiders.

Jackson’s individual numbers have jumped precipitously since his seven-game run as Baltimore’s starter last season. Jackson is fourth in the NFL in QBR while ranking in the top 10 in quarterback rating, ANY/A+, and DYAR. Most notably, Jackson is on pace to shatter Michael Vick’s single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback. At his current pace, Jackson would break Vick’s record by mid-December.

Comparing Jackson to Vick, or current teammate Robert Griffin III, may come natural but neither comparison is apt. Vick’s career pass completion percentage of 56.2 is nearly 10 points behind Jackson’s 2019 mark. Though both are elusive and sudden playmakers, Jackson is equally adept at making defenses pay with his arm and his legs.

Unlike Griffin, who has been a mentor to the former Louisville standout, Jackson does not take many unnecessary hits. Jackson has become much smarter as a runner, ducking out of bounds or sliding instead of fighting for an extra yard or two. Griffin, whose career was marred by injuries, has almost certainly played a role in that development.

Lamar Jackson may become the league’s first true dual-threat quarterback. Russell Wilson is capable of punishing opponents with his legs, but Jackson’s running game is on a different level. Jackson needs to find consistency with his performances, as he already has three games this season with a rating below 75. Consistency may be the only thing standing between Jackson and superstardom.

Grade: A

Kyler Murray (Arizona)
230/360, 63.9%, 2,553 yards, 12 TD, 5 INT, 90.2 rating
2018 grade: N/A

There were a lot of question marks surrounding the viability of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense and how Kyler Murray would perform within it. Through half of his rookie campaign, Murray has been as advertised: A smart, accurate passer and playmaker.

All of Murray’s adjusted passing metrics are right about league average. That may seem uninspiring, but considering the dearth of playmakers and quality offensive linemen in Arizona, it’s indicative of one hell of a performance. Murray has also done a great job taking care of the football, which should come as no surprise to those who followed the former Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma.

Like Jackson, Murray needs to find consistency to take the next step in his development. Murray has gone without a touchdown pass in half of his 10 starts this season, and Arizona has lost three of those five contests. (The other two games, wins over the Bengals and Giants, came by a total of nine points.)

Kingsbury and the Cardinals need Murray to drive their offense. Arizona’s running backs can’t stay on the field, Christian Kirk is battling an injury of his own, and Larry Fitzgerald is nearing retirement.

Consistency, and some help in the trenches, will help Murray lead Arizona’s offense and ascend to the next level.

Grade: B+

Daniel Jones (NY Giants)
187/297, 63.0%, 1,984 yards, 15 TD, 8 INT, 88.0 rating
2018 grade: N/A

Daniel Jones, who I rated as a third-round prospect last spring, has posted impressive numbers as a rookie. Jones already has three 300-yard passing performances and a pair of four-touchdown efforts. Two of the league’s best defenses, Minnesota and New England, gave Jones a mess of problems, but Jones’ numbers have otherwise pointed to an above-average quarterback.

Those numbers have been deceiving. His Effective Yards (explained here) are nearly 650 fewer than his actual passing total. That discrepancy is easily the largest in the league. Football Outsiders’ DVOA and DYAR rank Jones as either the worst, or second-worst, quarterback in the league among passers with at least 150 attempts.

New York’s rookie quarterback has locked down the basics of the position but needs to take a significant step forward in the second half of his maiden NFL voyage.

Grade: C

Sam Darnold (NY Jets)
129/204, 63.2%, 1,307 yards, 7 TD, 9 INT, 74.5 rating
2018 grade: C

Darnold suffered through a brutal two-game stretch last month, completing only half his passes while throwing seven interceptions and taking nine sacks in a pair of blowout losses. In his other four starts this season, however, Darnold has been a perfectly capable starting quarterback.

The problem for Gang Green is Darnold’s coach, Adam Gase. An alleged quarterback whisperer, Gase was supposed to take Darnold and the Jets to the next level. Instead, he’s hindered Darnold’s development.

Darnold still needs to better protect the football. His nine interceptions and three fumbles are unacceptable totals for a player who has started only six games. Cleaning up turnovers is imperative for Darnold, but getting out from Gase’s tutelage is also important. Despite assuring he would return in 2020, Jets CEO Christopher Johnson may want to look elsewhere for leadership this winter.

Another season under Gase may cement Darnold in the quarterbacking middle class. Ask Ryan Tannehill.

Grade: C

Baker Mayfield (Cleveland)
185/309, 59.9%, 2,201 yards, 9 TD, 12 INT, 75.2 rating
2018 grade: B

Baker Mayfield’s history suggests the second half of 2019 will see the former Sooner rebound. Mayfield is an historically accurate passer — his career completion percentage at Oklahoma was nearly 70 percent while he threw an interception on just 1.8 percent of his passes.

Mayfield’s rookie numbers were equally impressive, as he completed 64 percent of his passes for 27 touchdowns in 14 games. His adjusted pass numbers were all above average, an impressive feat for a rookie quarterback.

So what happened? Mayfield has been playing like a completely different quarterback and needs to prove his first nine games in 2019 were an aberration and not the new norm. Like fellow sophomore Sam Darnold, Mayfield’s coaching staff may be part of the problem.

There will be plenty of questions to answer in northern Ohio if Mayfield cannot turn things around in the second half of the season. That turnaround begins with Mayfield, who must find the form that made him special in 2018.

Grade: C

Josh Allen (Buffalo)
170/284, 59.9%, 1,919 yards, 10 TD, 7 INT, 81.6 rating
2018 grade: D

Josh Allen is getting better. His completion percentage, yards per attempt, and yards per game are up. Allen’s interceptions and sack percentage are down. Every one of Allen’s advanced passing metrics tracked by Pro Football Reference have improved year over year.

That doesn’t mean Allen is good.

Every one of Allen’s aforementioned advanced passing metrics are below average. Allen has taken 22 sacks in just nine starts. His completion percentage is still below 60 percent, a completely unacceptable mark in 2019. At 59.9 percent, Allen’s completion percentage is the highest it has been since Allen was in high school.

Buffalo got what they drafted: An inaccurate quarterback who relies on his arm strength. Allen’s field reading and decision-making are nowhere near where they need to be. Allen’s marginal improvement is a positive sign, but his development must accelerate if the Bills can trust Allen with the keys to the franchise.

Grade: C-

Josh Rosen (Miami)
58/109, 53.2%, 567 yards, 1 TD, 5 INT, 52.0 rating
2018 grade: B-

I pounded the table for Josh Rosen and will continue to do so. The former UCLA Bruin has elite footwork and anticipation. He is confident in the pocket and has the requisite tools between his ears to succeed as a pro. But Rosen is perilously close to becoming a career backup … or worse.

Rosen started for one of the worst statistical offenses in NFL history last season. This time around, Rosen is playing musical chairs with Ryan Fitzpatrick on a team that is actively tanking. Both campaigns saw Rosen stuck behind an abysmal offensive line with no playmakers or competent offensive minds to aid his development.

Rosen never had a chance.

By any reasonable measure, Rosen has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the league since his pro career began. That doesn’t mean he can’t bounce back. Rosen is supremely confident in his abilities, and while that rubbed some people the wrong way before he entered the league, it may be the very thing that saves Rosen’s NFL career.

Grade: D+

Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago)
152/239, 63.6%, 1,390 yards, 8 TD, 3 INT, 85.2 rating
2018 grade: C+

It’s over for Mitchell Trubisky.

Trubisky was supposed to ascend in his second season under Matt Nagy, subsequently lifting the Bears into Super Bowl contention. After years of searching, Chicago would finally have its franchise quarterback.

Instead, Trubisky has regressed in almost every measurable way. Trubisky’s 5.82 yards per attempt ranks 34th among 35 quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts this season. Chicago’s signal-caller also ranks 28th or worse in most adjusted passing metrics.

Trubisky still cannot make simple reads and misses easy throws. His blitz recognition is virtually non-existent. His pocket presence has not developed despite starting 34 games for Chicago.

The Bears passed on Mahomes and Watson to draft Trubisky. Mahomes and Watson are franchise quarterbacks who would have thrived in Chicago. Instead, the Bears took the only quarterback bust in 2017’s first round.

Grade: F

Dwayne Haskins (Washington)
27/44, 61.4%, 284 yards, 0 TD, 4 INT, 42.2 rating
2018 grade: N/A

Bill Callahan, who may be the only competent decision-maker in Washington’s facility, named Haskins the starter for the rest of the season. It was a smart move by the league’s most dysfunctional franchise. With the likes of Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm, Justin Herbert and Jacob Eason all likely to be first-round picks next spring, Washington needs to know if Haskins, or one of the aforementioned prospects, is the answer under center.

Haskins has nowhere to go but up. His spot play has been terrible but the physical tools are in place. Washington’s cupboard isn’t bare on offense so Haskins will have the chance to succeed. If his awful play continues, though, Haskins may end up as the next Josh Rosen, heading out of town just a year after being drafted in the first round.

Grade: Incomplete

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Brewer

Footy junkie. Sports and wrestling nerd. Kind of a big deal in Canada.