By Alex Kurpeski
Over the past decade of professional sports, we have seen the quarterback position evolve in a variety of ways. A position that was once catered to a group of strictly pocket passers has now become so much more, as we have entered an era of mobility that may forever change the way offensive football is played. While there have been some ‘generational’ players that have flopped hard in the NFL following incredible collegiate careers, there have also been some hidden gems that were able to bloom once they landed with a constructive coaching staff in the pros. Basing our analysis on the last decade of QBs drafted into the league (the ones who spent significant time as starters), we have come up with our outlooks for this year’s class of rookie passers based on what recent history has told us.
We have not included the passers from this year’s class who we have deemed to be strictly roster depth picks (James Morgan, Jake Luton, Ben DiNucci, Tommy Stevens, and Nate Stanley) only because we cannot foresee them taking any meaningful snaps anytime soon as projected third-string (or lower) players. While these players are all very talented, their situations are a bit too uncertain for us to project them to produce in the near future.
For context, here are some figures/explanations that we find relevant for this piece:
- A ‘successful’ QB is one who has registered a fantasy relevant campaign (200+ points) or a top-15 fantasy finish (players from 2018-19 draft classes) or has registered three or more top-20 finishes (Jameis Winston, Kirk Cousins, etc) and/or been a team’s starter for more than five seasons (Andy Dalton, Derek Carr, etc)
- A ‘moderately successful’ QB is a more arbitrary measurement, as these are guys who have had success but have either been held back from consistent success (due to injuries typically) or have flamed out of the league following great starts to their careers (RG3, Mitch Trubisky, Blake Bortles, just to name a few)
- A ‘bust’ is a QB with one of fewer Top-20 finishes, these guys are the easiest to spot (Johnny Manziel, Paxton Lynch, etc)
- There are a few players who we have yet to judge. Drafted between 2016 and 2019, we have yet to pass judgement on them due to their limited experience starting. Jacoby Brissett, Sam Darnold, Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock, Jarrett Stidham all fall into this purgatorial category.
- QBs who have been traded in their first three seasons have an 87% bust rate, with the only outlier being Brissett
- 90% of QBs taken out of non-power conference programs since 2010 have been ‘successes’ or ‘moderately successful’, with the only exception being 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch
- Out of the rookies who have been ‘redshirted’ as rookies (groomed to start), only Patrick Mahomes has been a ‘success’, while 45% of these players have been outright busts
- 22% of passers who have had a former high level starter as a mentor have been ‘successes’ (Prescott, Mahomes, Jackson, Daniel Jones) while 39% of these players have been busts
- No ‘busts’ have recorded fantasy relevant campaigns in their first season
- 45% of eligible players who have recorded below average turnover rates in college have been busts, while only 31% of players who recorded above average turnover rates have busted
Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers:
While Justin Herbert would typically have been the designated ‘most polarizing QB prospect’ in any other draft class, former Utah State passer Jordan Love managed to overshadow the Oregon product in this year’s class following a Junior season that saw him throw almost as many interceptions (17) as touchdown passes (20). While Love is next in line for the throne in Green Bay, it may be a few years before he’s a fantasy relevant player.
Had Love been eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft, he may have very well been the first quarterback off the board, as his 2018 campaign was a dazzling display of competence at the position for a young gunslinger. Unfortunately for Love, he remained on the Aggies roster in 2019, while the program searched for a new identity in the wake of former coach Matt Wells’ departure. A quick glance at Love’s regression between his second and third season is all you need to see just why many experts disregarded him as a legitimate franchise QB ahead of this past spring’s draft.
Love’s 2018 numbers (with Wells as his coach):
- 3,567 passing yards
- 274.3 yards per game
- 8.6 yards per attempt
- 9.4 air yards per attempt
- 64% completion rate
- QB rating of 158.3 (well above average for college passers)
- 417 passing attempts
- 32 passing touchdowns, 7 rushing touchdowns, only 6 interceptions (32:6 TD:INT ratio)
Love’s 2019 numbers (without Wells):
- 3,402 passing yards (-165 yards)
- 261.7 yards per game (-12.6 yards per game)
- 7.2 yards per attempt (-1.4 YPA)
- 6.4 air yards per attempt (-3.0 AYPA)
- 61.9% completion rate (-2.1%)
- QB rating of 129.1 (below average, -29.2 points)
- 473 passing attempts (+56 attempts)
- 20 passing touchdowns (-12), 0 rushing touchdowns (-7), 17 interceptions (+11)
As you can see, even with an increase in passing volume, Love’s numbers dropped across the board. While the spike in turnovers is the most concerning figure, the overall decrease in averages show that Love was also throwing far shallower passes in the team’s newly installed offense. From the tape, it’s clear that Wells’ passer friendly system did wonders for Love, whose arm strength is on par with the Justin Herberts and Jacob Easons of the world. By opening up the field for vertical plays, Wells accentuated the strengths of Love’s game while also masking many of his deficiencies.
One major concern about Love stems from the level of competition he faced, as Utah State rarely drew many tough defenses, looking overwhelmed when they did face Power-5 competition. At 6’4, 225 lbs, Love combines a powerful arm with smooth athleticism that allows him to glide in and around the pocket. Thankfully, non-power conference quarterbacks taken in round one have fared extremely well this decade, with only one outright bust (Paxton Lynch). His game tape shows us a tremendous athlete, who looks like a franchise quarterback when he’s in his element.
Unfortunately, Love was completely out of his element for the entire 2019 season, as the Aggies struggled to replace many of the offensive standouts who departed following the program’s excellent 2018 campaign. Even as his offensive line crumbled in front of him for most of the season, Love excelled in the pocket, getting sacked on only 15.9% of plays where he faced pressure. While PFF graded Love out well below average on plays when he faced pressure (49.4), the fact that he avoided sacks is a nice silver lining, especially considering the circumstances that limited him.
With a 70.6 adjusted completion percentage (67th among qualified college passers), 26 turnover-worthy plays (tied for 101st, in the bottom quartile of qualified passers), and a 56.6 passer grade on short throws, there were a lot of advanced metrics that condemned Love as an inaccurate interception machine. At the same time, he proved to be quite the improviser, with 31 big time throws (7th best) and 992 deep passing yards (20th best), tossing all of his touchdowns on throws beyond 10 yards. Due to his high-risk, high-reward style of play, Love has become almost synonymous with Jameis Winston, a fellow gunslinger with a well documented turnover issue. Here’s how the two stack up:
- Overall Passing Grade: 79.8
- Average Depth of Target: 10.09
- AIR%: 51.7%
- Adjusted Completion Rate: 69.1%
- Overall Passing Grade: 80.9
- Average Depth of Target: 9.00
- AIR%: 49.8%
- Adjusted Completion Rate: 71.5%
While Love tended to air the ball out a bit more than Winston, he was also a bit less accurate. If we were to assume that these two would have similar careers, then Love would be quite the fantasy asset, as Winston has finished as the QB13, QB16, QB22, QB22, and QB3 all while playing on some deeply flawed Buccaneers squads that often accentuated his turnover issues by forcing him into some shootouts.
While Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa come off the board in the first round of Superflex Rookie drafts, Love has been coming off the board in round two or three of most superflex drafts, he could be an absolute steal for the right patient owners. Aaron Rodgers is expected to be the starter in Green Bay for the next three seasons, as his contract makes him virtually unmovable. Yet we saw what three years of development did for Rodgers himself, as he grew into the game’s best passer following an extended apprenticeship under Hall of Famer Brett Favre. Assuming offensive-minded head coach Matt LaFleur is still around once the team believes Love is ready to start, this could be an ideal fantasy situation for the young signal caller. While the majority of the team’s playmakers are teetering on the edge of their primes as we speak, the organization has a reputation for developing talented passers into elite field generals. We saw what a healthy structure did for Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson in Kansas City and Baltimore respectively, so we can only imagine what it will do for Love in Green Bay.
Ceiling: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Assuming he learns everything he can from Aaron Rodgers (the original Mahomes), Love’s ceiling is truly limitless. Like Mahomes, he has arm strength for days, and will take risks downfield. While he won’t have the supporting cast that Mahomes had, the Packers will have time to build up weapons for the Love era while keeping competitive with Rodgers. If he can harness his true potential, there’s no doubt that Love can become an unquestioned QB1 in fantasy, perhaps even a perennial top-five player at the position. We saw Matt LaFleur turn Jared Goff from Jeff Fisher’s ultimate mistake into the league’s highest-paid QB, now he will have a chance to work magic with his own prospect.
Floor: Paxton Lynch, Pittsburgh Steelers
There’s a decent chance that the Love we saw in 2019 is simply the true version of the player in question. If that’s the case, then he should go down as one of the biggest first-round busts from this decade. Talent can only do so much for you if you cannot read defenses in the NFL.
Median: Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
A turnover prone gunslinger with the potential to lead the league in passing yardage and interceptions simultaneously, Love could usurp Winston’s throne as the league’s most polarizing passer if he follows suit with the expert comparisons. While Winston is deeply flawed as a real life passer, he was an extremely consistent fantasy QB, providing a safe QB2 floor week-to-week while also having top-ten upside. Not a bad fate by any means, and well worth a draft pick in any dynasty format.