Indianapolis Colts: How much worse is Jacoby Brissett? (PFN Data Lab)

The retirement of Andrew Luck was devastating news for the Indianapolis Colts. Now, the franchise is in the hands of backup Jacoby Brissett. How much of a downgrade is he?

If you have been paying any attention to the NFL in the last week, you know that the Indianapolis Colts’ superstar quarterback, Andrew Luck, has retired from football, leaving Jacoby Brissett as the presumed starter.

Last season’s AP Comeback Player of the Year cited the strain of the constant cycle of injury and recovery as the primary reason for his decision. His choice proved to be a controversial one. Although Luck received an outpouring of support from many, he was actually booed on his way out of Lucas Oil Stadium by fans. But whatever opinion you might have of Luck’s choice, it was undeniably a crippling blow to the prospects of a franchise that appeared to have Super Bowl aspirations a few short weeks ago.

Replacing Andrew Luck with Jacoby Brissett

Part of the reason Luck’s departure is so devastating is that he was coming off one of the best seasons of his career in 2018. He threw for 4,593 yards, 39 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions while leading the Colts back to the playoffs. Fans were justifiably optimistic about the coming season, hoping that Luck would be able to take them even further in 2019. But now that he has retired, the Colts somehow need to fill the gap left by his absence.

Barring a late signing, the new starter in Indianapolis will be Brissett, who started 15 games during the 2017 season due to Luck’s injury. During that year, Brissett threw for 3,098 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. Those statistics aren’t terrible; most teams would be happy to get that level of play from a backup quarterback who only plays in a few games each year. But you generally won’t win many games if you expect that player to start an entire season. This proved to be true in 2017, as the Colts were 4-11 during Brissett’s 15 starts. Based purely on his results during that season, Colts’ fans might be right to keep low expectations about the coming season.

Indianapolis was a very different team in 2017 compared to 2018

However, it’s important to remember that Brissett needed to do more work than Luck in order to have any measure of success. After all, Luck’s return wasn’t the only reason that the Colts improved in 2018. The team saw significant additions on both sides of the ball that played a vital role in the turnaround. For example, their defense went from being the third-worst in the NFL in yards allowed to eleventh, a massive turnaround sparked by the arrival of new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard.

On offense, Indianapolis added players like 2018 Pro Bowlers Quenton Nelson and Eric Ebron. Because of all these changes, it could be argued that Brissett’s subpar statistics weren’t the result of his own play, but instead were caused by poor team performance overall.

Comparing Luck and Brissett using the OSM

PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM) grading system was created for precisely this situation. The metric uses the NFL’s Next Gen Stats to gauge how much of a player’s statistical production they were personally responsible for. For example, a quarterback who threw the ball deep more often would score higher than a player who threw short, safe passes, even if the second player had better statistics. It doesn’t necessarily indicate that the second player was worse, but rather that they made less out of the situation they were presented with. So, if Brissett received a high grade, this would imply that he performed well even when the team was playing badly.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the reality of the situation. Brissett received an OSM grade of 16.7. For comparison, that would have been the third-worst in the NFL in 2018, higher only than C.J. Beathard and Blake Bortles. As far as quarterbacks go, it would be difficult to be in worse company. On the other hand, Luck received a grade of 24.99 in 2018. This grade was only good enough for 15th among qualifying quarterbacks, but it was still significantly higher than Brissett’s.

Explaining the discrepancy between the grades

Luck outperformed Brissett on just about every metric involved in the OSM grade. The most notable example of this discrepancy is the two players completion percentages. More specifically, the difference between the two players actual and expected completion percentages, a statistic tracked by the NFL as part of their Next Gen Stats.

Brissett’s completion percentage of 58.8% was 5.7% lower than expected, one of the highest negative differentials in the NFL last season. Meanwhile, Luck’s average of 67.3% was 0.9% higher than expected. Again, Luck was hardly the best in the NFL on this metric, but he was still far better than Brissett. The implication of all of this is that, not only did Brissett perform worse than Luck statistically, he was also far less responsible for his own production than Luck was last season. In short, he was a poorly performing player on a poorly performing team.

It might be beneficial for Indianapolis if Brissett plays poorly

It will be interesting to see how the Colts season plays out in 2019. Given how Brissett played in 2017, it seems relatively likely that the Colts will not win very many games next season. However, the roster is still very talented, which might cause Indianapolis to get enough wins that they miss out on their quarterback of the future in the coming draft. Of course, between Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa, Jordan Love, and others, they will have plenty of choices. But the more they win, the more difficult it will become to draft the player that they really want. Fortunately, Brissett shouldn’t be good enough for that to be a problem.

Lucas Ellinas is a writer for the Pro Football Network covering the PFN Data Lab. You can follow him @Lucas_Ellinas on Twitter.

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