Quarterbacks are one of the most misleading positions to watch as a fan or evaluator. It’s easy to get caught up on a few brilliant 40+ yard passes or a couple of misses on easy passes, thus creating a narrative that might not hold up to reality. By breaking down the metrics behind pass location, accuracy, ability under pressure we can dispel some preconceived notions. These numbers are meant to provide data to back up what you see on film in order to form a more perfect evaluation.
To do that, I’ve hand charted every one of AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Tajh Boyd, Connor Shaw and Aaron Murrays’ attempts this year on everything from pass distance to throws against the blitz. The data here can’t render an opinion for you, but it can provide an effective complement to your knowledge on a prospect.
Where Did They Throw the Ball?
The ‘zones’ in the chart represent where the QB threw the ball on the field, that is exactly the spot the receiver caught the ball. This is to make sure yards after the catch don’t influence our opinion on the QBs.
- In the college football world when so many systems rely heavily on screens, Mettenberger and LSU defied convention and threw intermediate and deep routes often. Approximately 50% of Mettenberger’s passes went deeper than 10 yards compared to an average of 35% for the rest of the QBs. As such, only 12% of his total passes came in the form of a screen – 10% less than what we would expect.
- Unlike Mettenberger, Tajh Boyd threw 13% more screen passes than average. However, those didn’t come at the expense of his deep attempts but was drawn from the pool of shorter attempts in the 1-5 and 6-10 yard zones. Intuitively this matches what we would expect from a Clemson offense, short screens and then long bombs.
- Aside from slight variation of approximately 2% in some of the zones, Connor Shaw nearly represents the average quarterback perfectly. He threw the intermediate and deep zones around 5% more than average, but falls in line with what we’d expect from a draftable QB.
- While most of the QBs here threw the deep ball at around an average rate, Aaron Murray threw past 20 yards only 9.6% of the time. His throws were focused more on the shorter zones, hitting the 6-10 yard range 23% of the time compared to an average 16.6%.
How Accurate Were They?
This requires a bit of explaining. The chart below represents each QBs accuracy in the individual target zones when adjusting for drops by their receivers. The colors represent how that accuracy compares to the ‘Average QB’, green is better than average, yellow average, red is below-average. Let’s get to it.
- For the most part, AJ McCarron hovers around an average completion percentage from 1-20 yards. He’s 4% above average in the 6-10 yard zone, but that’s really nothing to write home about. The harsh reality for McCarron is his group worst 43% on 20+ yard throws. While an accurate deep ball is far from the most important trait for a QB, 8% below-average is quite poor.
- I noted earlier that Mettenberger threw deep very often. Here we can see that in both the intermediate and deep zones he displayed average accuracy on a high volume of attempts. While being average in both isn’t great, It’s positive to see that his accuracy was replicable often.
- For some strange reason Tajh Boyd had serious issues throwing short passes, but was absolutely stellar on deep passes. Of course, we’d normally expect it to be the opposite, but Boyd was quite proficient on 20+ passes hitting them at a rate of 58.5%. That accuracy did not translate to the ‘NFL type’ throws of 11-20 yards where he was just average.
- Aaron Murray may have had the poorest showing among these categories. The only zone in which he was remotely accurate was the 11-20 yard zone, where he hit an average 64.29% of his passes. In every other zone he was below-average, including on screens where he was only able to complete 85%.
How Do They Do Under Pressure?
I’ve got quite a few stats for these QBs, but for the sake of brevity I’ve picked their completion percentage while being blitzed and under pressure to highlight. For reference, a blitz counts regardless of whether the O-line picks it up, but under pressure is when the QB is moved off his spot or has to get rid of the ball quicker than anticipated.
- The first thing that’s noticeable about the entire group is that they are across the board worse at throwing under pressure than the first group of QBs I wrote about (Bridgewater, Manziel, Carr and Bortles). If you compare this group’s pressure stats to the first group (linked in the intro), you can really see a clear delineation of why these QBs are widely considered second or third tier.
- Leading the group is AJ McCarron who completed 56.8% of his passes under pressure. He was much better when he faced the blitz, finding an open receiver 72.3% of the time. That’s a positive for evaluating AJ’s decision making skills, however it still doesn’t match up to the first tier.
- Mettenberger’s ability against pressure and the blitz was slightly below McCarron’s in both categories by about approximately 5-6%. However, his ability under pressure was still leagues ahead of Connor Shaw and Tajh Boyd.
- Both Boyd and Shaw fared terribly when under pressure despite both being considered fairly mobile QBs in and out of the pocket. Boyd and Shaw completed 39% and 35% of their passes respectively when moved off their spot, nearly half of what Bortles and Bridgewater were able to do in similar situations. Shaw by far had the roughest go of it – only completing 61% of his passes against the blitz as well.
- Shaw showed other positive decision making attributes, racking up the lowest amount of throws into coverage (deflections and interceptions) among both QB groups which could mean his problems under pressure may be coachable.
How Did Their Systems Affect Them?
My goal here was to take out the variability of systems they all played in. Thus, how would Derek Carr have performed in an average system? This is imperfect, but it gives you a feel for how the systems helped or harmed them.
What I’ve done is taken out drops and then used the data to create an average system. The result is what their overall completion percentage would have been if they had played in an average system and the difference between the actual and adjusted completion percentages.
- As noted earlier, Mettenberger threw deep far more often than what is expected of college QBs. If he had capitalized on his higher accuracy in the shorter zones he would have seen an increase in his total accuracy.
- On the other hand, Boyd’s system was far more favorable to him. The high percentage of screens and high percentage throws gave him an overall advantage relative to what is expected from other QBs. In total, his completion percentage would have dropped 3% in an average system.
Below you can find a target chart for each QB detailed here. The graphic shows the location of each target for the quarterback broken down into individual spots on the field. The bigger the circle, the more passes a QB threw to that spot. The colors signify accuracy, the brighter red – the hotter or more accurate the QB was. The more blue spots represent cold or less accurate areas.
The charts don’t give you any statistical insight, but are there to give you a feel for how the QB did throwing to certain areas. IE…how often did AJ McCarron throw outside the numbers or where were Mettenberger’s deep passes located.