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NextGen Stats - Quarterback Breakdowns and Takeaways

justin fields fantasy football rankings news NFL DFS lineup picks

You can officially start panicking. We're already through three weeks of the year, and by next Monday at this time, you'll be looking at the schedule to realize that a quarter of the season is already behind us. It sucks, but it means there are still three more quarters ahead of us! Yay!

To gain the biggest edge in your fantasy football league, it's necessary to understand how to apply the advanced statistics being used in sports nowadays. Back in the day, it was all about wins and losses, passing yards, and touchdowns scored. It's not that those stats are now worthless, they just don't offer enough information to savvy analysts. While football is still in its infancy compared to baseball in terms of analytics, the evolution the sport has seen lately in those terms is notable.

Each week, I'll be tackling NFL's Next Gen Stats, bringing you data from the previous week's games with notable takeaways you should consider when assessing fantasy players for the upcoming week. In case you're new to the series, or Next Gen Stats altogether, I recommend you read our NGS-primer. Now, let's get to the data!

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Week 3 - The State Of The Passing Game

Back a few days ago when I introduced the series to you, I mentioned one of the most important concepts to consider when analyzing players: air yards. The metrics around it are key to knowing who is really overperforming or underperforming among receivers and passers, but it doesn't have much to do with rushers. For this last group, which mostly features on the ground, we can look at time, speed, and efficiency metrics.

For the first week's analysis, I opted to go with the receivers (and tight ends) group. For the second iteration, I turned my attention to running backs, for which we looked at efficiency and time-related metrics to try and get some insights from the data.

Now the time has come to tackle the most important position at football and probably every other sport out there: quarterbacks.

Today, I'll present each of the stats from the NFL's advanced metrics site, its correlation with quarterback-fantasy points, and a list of leaders and trailers in each category along with some notes and takeaways on both the players' and the metrics' impact on fantasy football as a whole.

As we'll be discussing quarterbacks and their passing stats, I will reduce the fantasy points per game averages to just those related to passing. That means that I have removed the rushing/receiving fantasy points the qualifying quarterbacks have logged during the season. I've called this metric paFP/G, which is to say passing Fantasy Points per Game.

So let's dive in. Note: The cutoff is set at 23 pass attempts.

 

Time to Throw

Correlation with Passing Fantasy Points (based on the 2021 season): 6%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

Although there is some relation between TT and FPPG (paFP/G, I mean), the truth is that randomness is the calling card of this metric. Just look at the top and the bottom of the leaderboard three weeks into the season, and you'll see why.

As is often the case with all of the NGS metrics, beauty is in the middle. Those making the top cut in the chart above rank 17th (on average) in FPPG while those at the bottom of the chart rank 19th on average. Just in case, that two-position difference amounts to less than a full fantasy point.

While Tom Brady has definitely not made many lineups to start this year--perhaps more because of the lack of viable pass-catcher options than his own game--he's leading the league as the quickest passer through Week 3. He's only the 19th-best QB in pure passing FP with an average of 12.3 FPPG.

Another veteran and former Brady understudy, Jimmy Garoppolo, has hit the ground running in his one-and-change games played to date: Garoppolo is the fourth-quickest passer of the year at 2.53 seconds and barely below Aaron Rodgers' 2.52 mark.

Tua Tagovailoa (21.7) is the only player throwing passes before the clock hit 2.70 while having an average of 20+ passing FP through Week 3. The closest player to him is second-year QB Trevor Lawrence with an average of 17.6 FPPG.

At the other end, two oft-criticized players are found among the slowest of them all: Daniel Jones at 3.13 seconds per pass attempt followed by Justin Fields' 3.06. As stated above, though, this doesn't mean much when the third-slowest passer through Week 3 is Lamar Jackson (3.02 seconds) although he's averaging a world-large 22 FPPG.

Taking all of the time he needs is working wonderfully for Jackson, though, as he is the only QB with 10 TDs under his belt with three games in the books. Again, this metric doesn't tell you a lot if you want to use it for fantasy purposes, as Justin Fields has only tossed a couple of touchdowns...

In case you were wondering, Justin Herbert is the only other passer taking 2.90+ seconds to pass the ball while still averaging 20+ FPPG. Surprisingly, Carson Wentz is close to Herbert and Lamar with 18.8 FPPG while taking 2.88 seconds to throw on average.

The fantasy breakdown after Week 3:

  • QBs averaging 18+ FPPG through Week 3 are throwing the ball with an average TT of 2.82 seconds.
  • QBs averaging <12 FPPG through Week 3 are throwing the ball with an average TT of 2.78 seconds

All things considered, don't put much weight on this metric, as it is way more descriptive of past performance and style than predictive of future fantasy outings.

 

Completed Air Yards & Intended Air Yards & Air Yards Differential

Correlation with Passing Fantasy Points (based on the 2021 season):  32% / 17% / 24%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

Although close to last season's leader through Week 3, Jameis Winston's 8.8 CAY figure is a bit short of Lamar Jackson's 9.1 CAY from the start of the 2021 season. Even then, Winston has been in a league of his own so far with more than a full yard above second-highest CAY-QB--your very own Lamar (7.7).

The distance between Winston's and Lamar's marks (1.1 CAY) is the same between Lamar's and no. 10 Mitch Trubisky. Just imagine how absolutely ridiculous Winston has been in the first three games of the season! It hasn't worked that well for his fantasy GMs, though, as Winston's averaging 13.4 passing FPPG compared to Jackson's 22.0.

That last bit is not surprising, though, considering Jackson and Tua Tagovailoa (21.7) are the only two players with a CAY figure above 6.0 yards averaging more than 20+ FPPG through Week 3.

Aaron Rodgers (13.1), while boasting virtually the same FPPG average as Winston's, has the total opposite CAY figure with a league-trailing 3.1-yard figure to date. The distance isn't incredible with second-lowest Kyler Murray (3.7) but it indeed is with Matthew Stafford's third-lowest mark of 4.5 yards.

Rodgers is 1.4 yards separated from no. 3 Stafford, which is the same distance between Stafford and no. 20 (!) Carson Wentz. Rodgers is averaging 13.1 FPPG compared to Wentz's 18.8 FPPG just on passing statistics.

Back to the top of the leaderboard, the truth is that Winston and Jackson have experienced different (although close) results in the CAY department--which makes sense considering Baltimore's atrocious receiving corps--but they have been super close in what they have tried to accomplish: Winston (11.4 IAY) and Jackson (11.2) are separated by a measly 0.2 yards in the intended air yards leaderboard.

In fact, Jackson leagues (or trails, depending on how you look at it) in AYD: he has gone for 11.2 air yards per pass but only completed passes for an average of 7.7 for an AYD figure of minus-3.5. Only one other QB is below minus-3.0: Justin Fields (-3.2).

 

Aggressiveness

Correlation with Passing Fantasy Points (based on the 2020 season): negative-30%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

NGS defines "Aggressiveness" as the percentage of passes a quarterback throws into tight coverage, that is when a defender is within one yard or less of the receiver at the point of the catch/interception. Don't take this metric as a sign of "braveness" or anything like that, though. It relates more to reckless passing than anything else.

Before dropping some nuggets from the current leaderboard, let me tell you a little secret: I have removed Justin Fields from the list. That's because Fields, through three games, has yet to throw an aggressive/tight-window pass even though he's tossed 45 passes. He's the only player without even one such throw!

Even Trey Lance, who qualified for the leaderboard but has only attempted 31 passes, has three aggressive passes to his name already--and for the remainder of the season, sadly, as he's now gone until 2023. Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, and Geno Smith are the only other players with fewer than eight tight passes to date.

No real surprise finding Winston topping the leaderboard. More interesting is the fact that Prescott is sitting second with just 29 pass attempts before getting injured in Week 1. We'll see what happens when he comes back after a few games and if he still has that aggressive mindset then.

Justin Herbert has "only" attempted aggressive passes at a 20.5% rate, although he's gone for such a volume of throws that he has actually attempted the second-most such passes with 26, only three behind Winston's 29 and one above Matt Ryan's 25.

Dallas' backup-QB Cooper Rush is the only qualified player without an interception, but he's only attempted 75 passes of which 12 were deemed aggressive throws. Players with one interception have an average AGG% of 15.9 percent compared to an average AGG% of 14.4 percent for those who have tossed more than one.

Among the three players with five interceptions through Week 3 (Winston, Stafford, and Mac Jones), only Stafford has attempted fewer than 19 aggressive passes while only averaging a measly 6.9 percent AGG%.

 

Attempts & Yards & Y/A

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2020 season): 70% / 78% / 68%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

Not many big secrets are hidden in these three stats, am I right? The correlation is high with fantasy points basically because fantasy points rely mostly on pure yardage, and to rack up yards you have to throw the ball (the more the better, that is).

Only six quarterbacks are attempting more than 40 passes per game, and five of them (all except Kyler Murray, 13.8) are averaging 16+ FPPG. Tip: throw the ball often, folks.

Joe Flacco, he of all men, leads the league with a ridiculous 52 pass attempts per game. Kyler Murray is second already down at 47 with nobody else breaking the 45-barrier. Of course, those attempts mean nothing if they don't end in the hands of a pass catcher, and Flacco has been far from great at connecting posting a paltry 58.7% completion rate.

Among the six quarterbacks with more than 40 attempts per game, only one has completed more than 66% (Josh Allen, 71.2%) or fewer than 63% (Flacco) of their total pass attempts.

Speaking of Josh Allen, he's the only quarterback with more than 1,000 yards after just three games. In fact, he's the only one with more than 925 yards as Tua ranks second exactly at that mark but with 31 fewer attempts. That's why Tua and Jalen Hurts lead the league by a good chunk in Y/A with marks of 9.2 and 9.3, respectively (compared to Allen's 7.7).

Lamar Jackson's 10 touchdowns on 88 pass attempts are the most efficient mark of the season to date. He's needed just 8.8 attempts to score a TD while no other quarterback has done so at a mark below 12 Att/TD. Murray is the second most efficient scorer with 12.6 attempts per TD followed by Patrick Mahomes at 13.6.

When it comes to throwing interceptions, Fields dubiously leads the league in a category that nobody would like to. Yes, he has only four to the league-trailers with five, but he's also throwing them at an unreasonable pace, one every 11.3 pass attempts. Jones is second at an already-distant 19.4 attempts per interception and all other quarterbacks aren't gifting possessions away at less than 20 pass attempts.

 

Completion Percentage & xCOMP & COMP Above Expectation

Correlation with Fantasy Points (based on the 2020 season):  67% / 26% / 69%

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

The world of hypotheticals is cool, but what truly matters is what actually happens on the field. That is why the real completion percentage is the stat that matters, and why the expected rate doesn't cut a good deal for fantasy GMs.

That being said, the difference between both marks (CPOE) is the strongest indicator of fantasy performance, which makes sense considering that those that "overperform" or play to higher-than-expected levels on average are the ones who more often than not put on high-octane performances.

I remember last year when Justin Fields had a ridiculous  -20.5 CPOE after three weeks of play. He's not there anymore, but the truth is that his -16.1 isn't much better and it is, in fact, the worst mark among active passers with only Trey Lance (-18.4) and Dak Prescott (-16.4) posting lower figures--but both of them injured for a while or the full season.

Fields' 51.1% completion rate is only rivaled by Baker Mayfield (who else...) and his 51.9%. These two are the only quarterbacks below 57% with Davis Mills at 57.9% himself and ranked third-worst among active QBs. Given their short experience in the NFL, Fields, and Mills might get a pass. Mayfield (-11.5 CPOE), on the other hand, has plainly stunk.

The bonafide COMP% of the season, so far? That'd be Seattle Seahawks Legend Geno Smith! Yes, he is! Good Old Geno has attempted 102 passes of which 77.5% ended in the hands of one of the Seahawks pass catchers waiting at the other end. That, of course, is a much better outcome than poor Russell Wilson's 59.4% completion rate, the eighth-worst mark among qualified QBs (sixth-worst not counting Lance/Prescott).

Smith, truth be told, is completing passes at a CAY of just 5.5 yards down the field and aiming for receivers located only 7.1 (IAY) from him. Tua Tagovailoa, for example, has completed 72.3% of his attempts with much healthier marks of 7.4 CAY and 8.1 IAY.

The issue with Geno Smith is that he's just not showing any sort of aggressiveness/tight-window passing at all. Smith's 6.9 AGG% is the lowest in the league (tied with Matthew Stafford) and, surprise surprise, Stafford has completed passes at the second-highest rate among qualifiers (72.5%).

That said, Smith has outperformed his xCOMP by 9.1% compared to Stafford's performance-to-the-expectations CPOE of 0.0%. Smith is the clear overperformer of the early season, almost four full percentage points above second-best Jameis Winston (5.2% CPOE). No other QB is above 4% with Aaron Rodgers clocking in third at 3.8%.

Through Week 3, there are 20 underperforming players (negative CPOE), only 13 overperformers, and then there is Stafford doing the impossible and somehow completing exactly the same amount of passes as the NGS model would have expected.

The fantasy breakdown after Week 3:

  • QBs averaging 18+ FPPG through Week 3 are completing passes with a CPOE of +0.3%, thus slightly overperforming the expectations.
  • QBs averaging <12 FPPG through Week 3 are completing passes with CPOE of minus-4.4% (not counting Prescott/Lance), clearly underperforming the expectations and mostly because of Fields' putrid outcomes.

Remove Fields from the list of qualified quarterbacks, and those with fewer than 12 FPPG through Week 3 would be sitting at a CPOE of minus-3.3%, more than one full percentage point above their current mark. I guess by now you know that if you decided to draft Fields and he's still your QB1, you should be thinking about releasing him and checking your league's WW.

That's it for today. Until we meet again next week, I hope you can crush your waiver wire, set up the best possible lineup, and get ready for another weekend full of fireworks!



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