PFN Data Lab: Best and worst performing Quarterbacks in Week 1

Week 1 in the NFL was full of extreme quarterback performances on both sides of the spectrum. Using PFN's Offensive Share Metric, we can determine which players had the most (and least) impact on their own production.

The first week of the NFL season is over, and it was an interesting one for the quarterbacks. From shaky performances by players like Jimmy Garoppolo to a nearly perfect game from Lamar Jackson, Week 1 had quarterback play from all across the spectrum. And these raw statistical discrepancies coincided with an astonishingly large gap between the best and worst PFN Offensive Share Metric (OSM) grades of the week from the PFN Data Lab.

For those unfamiliar, the OSM uses the NFL’s Next Gen Stats to evaluate how responsible a player was for their own production. So, if a player like Jackson, who had a great game statistically, also had a high grade, this would indicate that his play was the primary factor in his statistics. But if he received a low grade, it would instead suggest that his statistics were more the product of great plays by his teammates or poor play by the opponent. For a more in-depth explanation, check out this article by the metric’s creator, Brett Yarris. Now, without further ado, the main point of this article: PFN’s five lowest and highest-graded quarterbacks from Week 1.

The Bottom Five:

5. Jameis Winston: 15.14

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hoped that Bruce Arians would be able to turn Jameis Winston’s career around. But if Week 1 was any indication, they might end up disappointed. The difference between his intended and completed air yards (air yards differential) was -3.6, tied for fourth-worst in the NFL. His completion percentage was just 55.6%, third-worst in the NFL, and was 4.8% lower than his expected completion percentage.

In short, Winston struggled to have any positive impact on the game. He may not have had quite as small an effect on his own production as the players lower on this list, but he will need to play better if he wants to avoid being replaced in next year’s draft. His first opportunity to do so will come against the Carolina Panthers, who lost a close game against the New Orleans Saints last week.

4. Ben Roethlisberger: 13.3

Three things are consistent in this world: Death, taxes, and Ben Roethlisberger losing to Tom Brady in Foxborough. Once again, the Pittsburgh Steelers star quarterback was unable to find a win in his rival’s hometown. And at least this time, a large portion of the blame can be placed directly on his shoulders.

The difference between his actual completion percentage and his expected completion percentage was -6.5%, tied for the second-worst differential in the league in Week 1. His air yards differential was -5, dead last among qualifying quarterbacks. He didn’t fare quite as poorly in other areas, keeping him from ranking even lower on this list, but it was still a poor performance from the longtime Steelers quarterback.

Roethlisberger will need to improve his play (as will the Steelers in general) if he wants to overcome the losses of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell during the offseason. They do have a tough challenge against the Seattle Seahawks next week, so Roethlisberger will need to turn things around quickly. But at least he isn’t playing against Brady in Foxborough again this season (until a potential playoff matchup, that is).

3. Jimmy Garoppolo: 12.8

The Garoppolo experiment has taken a rough turn for the San Francisco 49ers. After missing most of last season with a torn ACL, Garoppolo has had a less than stellar return. He played poorly in both training camp and the preseason, something that appears to have carried over into the regular season. The 49ers did manage to beat the Buccaneers, but Garoppolo was still clearly not playing at an elite level.

He had the lowest completed and intended air yards of any quarterback in Week 1, and still had a relatively poor differential of -3, placing him in the bottom ten. Additionally, Garoppolo’s completion percentage of 66.7% was 5.4% lower than expected, once again landing him in the bottom ten among qualifying quarterbacks.

In short, Garoppolo graded poorly on just about every advanced statistic the NFL measures. He absolutely needs to improve if the 49ers expect to make a playoff push this season, starting next week against a Cincinnati Bengals team that looked better in Week 1 than many expected.

2. Sam Darnold: 11.2

The first game of the Sam Darnold-Adam Gase combination got off to a rocky start. Not only did the New York Jets blow a 16-point lead against their division rivals, but Darnold also had a rough game to open his sophomore season.

His completion percentage was 6% lower than expected, bottom ten in the NFL, his intended air yards was third worst, and his air yards differential was bottom ten as well. He was saved from being dead last on this list because of average aggressiveness, and because the quarterback below was even worse.

The Jets play the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football next week. Unfortunately, Darnold will not be a part of it. It was announced Thursday morning that Darnold has mono and will be out indefinitely. Trevor Siemian is expected to start in his place, and Luke Falk has been promoted to the active roster to be the primary backup.

1. Jared Goff: 6.9

At the bottom of our list is the Los Angeles Rams $134-million man, Jared Goff. Yes, the Rams managed to defeat the Carolina Panthers in Week 1. But Goff didn’t have much to do with it. His completed air yards was 3.5 yards less than his intended air yards, sixth-worst in the NFL, and he was the third least aggressive quarterback, meaning that he threw the ball downfield and into tight windows less often than just about anyone else. Additionally, his completion percentage of 59% was a full 10.6% lower than expected, the worst differential in the NFL last week by more than 4%. Like Garoppolo, he played poorly in just about every category, but Goff was even worse.

Next week, Goff and the Rams face off against the New Orleans Saints, who will be looking for revenge after their controversial defeat in the NFC Championship Game last season. It seems unlikely that Los Angeles will be able to win without Goff playing at least at an average level. Regardless, whether it’s next week or at some point in the future, Goff will need to play better if Los Angeles hopes to make another Super Bowl run.

The Top Five:

5. Deshaun Watson: 34.17

You have to feel bad for Deshaun Watson. His team gives up a king’s ransom in draft picks in order to get him a new left tackle, and he still takes six sacks during a close Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints. But you certainly can’t fault Watson’s efforts.

He wasn’t spectacular in any particular category, but he was in the top ten in quite a few, including intended air yards, completed air yards, and aggressiveness. Equally important, he ranked in the top half of the NFL in the other categories as well. Put in simple terms, Watson was a well above average quarterback. He may not have distinguished himself quite as much as the players higher on this list, but it was still an excellent opening to the season for the young quarterback. Hopefully, the rest of his team can step up and help him get the win against the Jacksonville Jaguars next week.

4. Gardner Minshew: 38.9

Okay, who saw this coming? In a nightmare scenario for the Jacksonville Jaguars, quarterback Nick Foles, brought in to lead Jacksonville to the Super Bowl, was severely injured in the first game of the season. Then, rookie Gardner Minshew, a man who looks more like a gas station attendant than an NFL quarterback, came into the game. Jacksonville still lost, but Minshew put forth a valiant effort in his first real NFL experience.

Minshew had a solid game statistically, but his advanced metrics were off the charts. His air yards differential was +1.2, best in the NFL and one of just two players with a positive differential. Meanwhile, his completion percentage was highest in the league at 88%, and 16.2% higher than expected, second-best in the NFL. He did rank quite poorly in both aggressiveness and intended air yards, but his incredible efficiency was enough to give him an excellent grade. And for a first start, that is already very impressive.

It will be interesting to see if he can continue to play well against a Houston Texans defense that did not look particularly strong against the Saints last week. At the very least, his play should give Jaguars fans some measure of hope.

3. Derek Carr: 40.70

It has to feel good to be Derek Carr this week. After a chaotic offseason, from rumors of conflict with his head coach and potential trades to the complete insanity that was the Antonio Brown situation, Carr and the Oakland Raiders opened their season with a win, one in which Carr played very well.

Carr’s completion percentage was 14.4% higher than expected, a mark which was somehow only third-best in the NFL. He did not fare better than average in most other categories, but when combined with his completion percentage, it was enough to get him an excellent grade. It may be that we will finally see the return of outstanding player Carr was several years ago.

The Raiders will be hoping for the return of that player as well, especially because they have a tough matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs next week. Carr will need to continue playing well if Oakland has any chance of winning in what will likely be a shootout.

2. Dak Prescott: 40.75

Dak Prescott is up for a new contract after this season. After Ezekiel Elliott became the highest-paid running back in the NFL, there was some question as to whether or not Prescott was worth paying a premium salary for. But at least in Week 1, he certainly played like he was trying to earn a massive amount of money.

Prescott’s completion percentage of 78.1% was fourth-best in the NFL and 9% higher than expected; not quite as ludicrous a number as Minshew or Carr, but still much higher than average. He also had an air yards differential of -.01, fourth-best in the NFL, and was top ten in aggressiveness. Most weeks that would be enough to earn him the top grade, and he only fell short because number one on our list was so spectacular. Hopefully, Prescott can continue his stellar play against the Washington Redskins in Week 2. With each strong performance, he moves a step closer to the big contract he deserves.

1. Lamar Jackson: 58.6

Receiving the highest quarterback grade of Week 1 was another player with a lot to prove. Many people questioned Jackson’s ability as a passer after a rookie season in which he did most of his damage on the ground. Jackson responded by opening the season with a nearly perfect game against the Miami Dolphins. He was top ten in aggressiveness, intended air yards, and air yards differential, and was first in completed air yards. But where he really shined was in his completion percentage, which was an insane 24.8% higher than expected.

Next week, Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens take on the Arizona Cardinals, who managed a comeback draw against the Detroit Lions. In all likelihood, Jackson will regress at least slightly. His level of performance in Week 1 is almost certainly unsustainable. That said, while Arizona appears to be a better team than the Dolphins, they aren’t talented enough to challenge for a playoff spot this year. As such, Jackson could be primed for another big week.

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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