Elite OSM: Narrowing down the top NFL quarterbacks

All football fans have ever wanted is a grading scale that could compare quarterbacks and distinguish the best-of-the-best. From the 1930s to now there have been several metrics designed to identify elite performances by the top NFL quarterbacks. Here's how PFN's Offensive Share Metric (OSM) compares to those before it.

These days the word ‘elite’ is often overused. As I tend to agree, the true definition of ‘elite’ refers to a select few who are superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group, or in this case, the NFL. Therefore, we can only contend whether a passer is among the best at what he does, not whether or not they’re superior. If we recognize them as a top NFL quarterback, by definition, they’re elite.

Beyond the eye test, the NFL has always sought to pinpoint a signal-caller’s performance. A decade into its existence, the NFL used solely passing yardage totals to honor its top quarterbacks. Since that alone couldn’t decipher the elite from the rest of the league, the NFL turned to completion percentages. Again, too many variables were found to contradict this method of grading quarterback play.

Passer Rating (RTG)

It would take more than 50 years for the National Football League to adopt the formula it uses today–the quarterback passer rating. And the fact it’s held steady for nearly 50 years is impressive given the lack of statistical stability beforehand.

Below you’ll find a table from ESPN indicating numerous quarterback statistics. To the far right, you will see the player’s QB passer rating, as I have sorted the columns according to this number. Per the “tried-and-true” formula, Tennessee Titan quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the best passer of 2019.

In addition to Tannehill, the graphic lists signal-caller’s Matthew Stafford, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Derek Carr, all in the top-ten. Ironically, the three have been tied to trade rumors this offseason. Had Kirk Cousins’ three-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings not been fully guaranteed and contained a no-trade clause, he may very well be in the same boat.

However, the passer rating system, like all metrics, has its flaws. Yet, it has withstood its faults and continues to rule all other quarterback statistics to this day. What helps matters is that up until 2011, the passer-rating had little to no competition.

Total Quarterback Rating (QBR)

Nine years ago, ESPN created a proprietary metric known as the Total Quarterback Rating or QBR. Besides using statistics similar to that of the passer rating, QBR includes all quarterback actions within a football game. The passer rating only accounts for passing.

QBR took what the passer rating accomplished and added to it. There was now a quarterback performance grading scale that rewarded athletic players who gain yards with their feet and buy time from scrambling out of the pocket. Hence four of the top five players being elusive, athletic type signal-callers. But therein lies the flaw.

In QBR’s inaugural year, during a Week five matchup between the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers, quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Aaron Rodgers went toe-to-toe. Rodgers completed 66.7% of his 39 attempts for 396 yards and two touchdowns and was given a lower QBR designation than the Broncos quarterback. Tebow completed just four of his ten attempts for 79 yards and a single score. However, Tebow ran for a touchdown, adding 38 yards rushing. Clearly, the metric benefits the dual-threat passer–to a fault.

Offensive Share Metric (OSM)

Here at Pro Football Network, we’ve adopted our very own metric for evaluating NFL quarterback performance, the Offensive Share Metric (OSM). One of the most significant differences between OSM and the flawed QBR and archaic passer rating is for the first time, quarterbacks can be correlated with other players on their respective offenses. That’s right, running backs, receivers, and even tight ends. OSM assesses all of these positions on an individual basis.

While it has its own critics, OSM is a relatively new metric. Research is ongoing, and tweaking of the formula is anticipated. Similarly to the passer rating, OSM does not yet associate rushing yards for the quarterback at this time, but it aims to. Keep in mind both passer rating, and QBR have undergone revisions and adjustments several times throughout their existence.

OSM’s foundational recipe was established in 2016 using data and expertise behind a comprehensive physical education company geared for developing elite athletes. But its results weren’t fully appropriated until 2019 when Pro Football Network made it the company’s proprietary metric for evaluating individual offensive production in the NFL.

Stemming from behavioral science, OSM was constructed to measure results. It’s often difficult to tell how well an individual is performing during an NFL game. Conventional statistics are helpful, but they seldom tell the full story. Similarly to ESPN’s QBR, OSM grades measure how much of a player’s statistical production they were actually responsible for, making it immediately more accurate than the passer rating metric developed in the 1970s.

Film or analytics?

As an advocate of film analysis, I’d be remiss in including the importance of evaluating a player’s performance through tape. However, there’s a place for both film study and analytics in formulated a best-of-the-best list. Here at Pro Football Network, we assess offensive production using OSM as the basis for player performance, but we don’t turn a blind eye to the apparent.

As stated in several instances above, statistical formulas aren’t perfect, although modern systems have proven more reliable. All data should be a reference to the actual in-game behavior. And that’s what makes OSM the most reliable of all; it’s rooted in player behaviors.

So without further ado, here are the top NFL quarterbacks deemed elite by Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric and reinforced by film analysis.

On the cusp of greatness

First of all, several quarterbacks narrowly missed being added in this area that I must grant them an honorable mention. Quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, and even Kirk Cousins were tough studies.

At a minimum, I must recognize them for grading out in the top half of the league, according to RTG, QBR, and OSM. However, I’m not sure how much better they will all get from here on out. Regardless, the four passers combined for eight single-game performances with an OSM of 40.00 or higher.

Deshaun Watson – Houston Texans

In Week 12, Watson recorded his best game from an OSM standpoint, and his 47.72 was the seventh-highest single-game OSM grade of 2019.

Earlier in the year, against the Atlanta Falcons, Watson and the Texans offense put up 53 points as Watson, again, graded out with an elite OSM (41.47). Watson was one of only seven NFL quarterbacks to top 40.00 OSM on two separate occasions. He’s an ascending talent and on track to becoming an elite NFL quarterback.

Lamar Jackson – Baltimore Ravens

2019’s league MVP just misses the cut by virtue of experience. In just his second season, Jackson took the NFL by storm, throwing for more than 3,000 yards and rushing for over 1,000 yards. In a mere 22 starts, he’s accounted for 52 total touchdowns compared to only 13 turnovers.

Here he is against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, where one would expect an uber-talented player to dominate. That’s precisely what Jackson did on his way to recording the highest single-game OSM grade of any player in 2019.

Week 10’s 61.74 grade was the only time an NFL passer reached 60.00 or more during the season. The closest a player came?

In his very first game of the season, Lamar Jackson tore the Miami Dolphins defense apart on his way to a 59.12 OSM, the second-highest grade of 2019. Unfortunately, he’d only manage to top 40.00 OSM in those two instances, but it’s clear that Jackson is well on his way to being a top threat at the position for the foreseeable future.

Best days are behind them

Tom Brady – Free Agent

Every year for the past few years, there’s been chatter concerning Tom Brady’s drop in performance. Before 2019, Brady regularly proved pundits wrong, and at each season’s completion, no one argued Brady out of a top NFL quarterback discussion.

However, the 2019-2020 season ended much differently, making it clear the once elite leader of the Patriots offense will never be the same. Because of it, he may never don a Patriots uniform again.

No matter the metric, Brady failed to register in the top half of the league for 2019. The closest he came to resembling an elite passer was in a Week 2 drumming of the Miami Dolphins, where he registered a near-elite OSM of 39.45. He’d never get any closer, though. The 20-year veteran never reached 30.00 OSM for the rest of the season and failed to land inside the top-ten on any given week.

Philip Rivers – Free Agent

I nearly retained Rivers with the elite but eventually decided against it. He’s going to hit the market for a reason. Ironically, the two quarterbacks I have as once elite will both be free agents in less than two weeks.

Rivers threw 20 interceptions in 2019, marking only the third time in his 16 year career he’s thrown 20 or more. While I firmly believe there’s more to it than his fading arm talent, Rivers’ days of elite play are behind him. With that being said, Rivers was the eighth-ranked quarterback according to OSM despite registering zero weeks above a 35.00 grade. Consistency will be Rivers’ upside. And like Brady, Rivers has much to offer a new franchise given his savvy nature, competitiveness, and all-around situational experience.

Fearsome foursome

Earlier in the week, I reached out to a few hundred football fans in regards to elite quarterbacks in the NFL. If you were one of the 186 voters that said four or fewer, than I’m happy to admit, we’re on the same page with this one.

Patrick Mahomes – Kansas City Chiefs

Slam dunk, right? Not so fast. I particularly struggled with crowning Mahomes elite after barely two full seasons in the league. A third of the games Mahomes played in 2019 graded out as average to below average (Weeks 6 and 17), with a couple of poor performances (Weeks 11, 13-14). He wasn’t as consistent as in 2018.

His best game last year was against the Denver Broncos in Week 15, winning 23-3. Despite the elements, Mahomes recorded his lone 40.00 or higher OSM grade (45.00) and the 13th highest for any passer.

With a video circulating the internet where Mahomes admits to just starting to read defensive tendencies this last season, expect this kid only to get better.

Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks

Wilson is the best quarterback in the league as far as I’m concerned. His 29.99 overall OSM was third highest in the league. He’d also register three elite OSM games in 2019, which is tied for the most by any NFL quarterback.

His best outing? A 27-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8, where he graded out with a 45.27 OSM.

Weeks 5 and 15, Wilson recorded a 41.46 and 41.48, respectively. If it weren’t for Lamar Jackson rushing for an NFL record 1,206 yards, Wilson would’ve been the league’s MVP. He was that good.

Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints

While you sit there and contemplate whether Drew Brees should’ve joined Brady and Rivers, let me remind you of Brees’ eliteness.

Brees was OSM’s sixth-best passer in 2019. He owned the fifth-highest single-game OSM grade (53.95) and was one of only four passers to reach the 50.00 mark last season.

I would tend to agree with the fact he’s only going to get worse, but in the past three seasons, Brees has completed at least 72% of his passes, thrown single-digit interceptions each year, and thrown 82 total touchdowns.

Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers

Rodgers’ 2019 season was quite the phenomenon. His overall OSM of 19.60 is considered to be on the high end of an average starter. And if you watch Week 1 through 17, you’ll see why. He’d also fail to register a single elite week.

However, there are plenty of moments within every one of those games where you just can’t discount this guy’s ability. The consistency he’s played with throughout his career was not there in 2019, but I believe he’s still an elite player and one of the four top NFL quarterbacks.

Here he is putting up a season-high 37.70 in Week 7 against the soon to be Las Vegas Raiders.

Conclusion

The quarterback passer rating formula turns 47 years old this season, and despite apparent concerns for its efficacy, most fans treat it as doctrine. And when a new and improved means of measuring player performance is introduced, those same people quickly turn to point out its flaws.

There’s a place for all statistics and analytics, as there isn’t an exact measurement of an individual’s production. But as ESPN’s QBR improved upon the passer rating from 1973, Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric improves upon QBR. It even goes beyond signal-callers by evaluating all offensive skill player’s production.

The sport is changing. So, why are we using old-fashioned systems to measure a modern game?

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Articles