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Four QBs Who Should Bounce Back In 2023

Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Regression Reaper is real. I’ve seen it.

This reaper comes in various forms, usually with nerdy, numbers-obsessed harbingers warning of the reaper’s likely targets. You likely know by now that the Regression Reaper comes for quarterbacks whose touchdown production was way above or below their career baseline.

It happens every year, and 2023 will be no exception. Below are four quarterbacks who could get the good kind of Regression Reaper visit following dreadful 2022 campaigns. It’s that kind of bounceback that sometimes doesn’t get priced into a quarterback’s redraft ADP, as we saw last season with Justin Herbert (whose 2022 touchdown rate was 3.6 percent after posting a 5.8 percent rate in 2021) and Jared Goff (4.8 percent TD rate in 2022 following a 3.7 percent rate in 2021).

I am the harbinger, telling of (positive) regression to come.

Matthew Stafford (LAR)

It appears Stafford, 35, will return to the shell of the Rams in 2023 after missing half the 2022 season with a brain injury and fighting a chronic elbow issue that probably won’t improve with age.

Last year, as you well know if you drafted Stafford as your Week 1 starter, was a total abomination for the LA quarterback. His 3.3 percent touchdown rate was the seventh worst among 33 qualifying quarterbacks, and the second lowest of his 14-year NFL career. It was well below his career 4.8 percent touchdown rate and miles lower than his 6.8 percent TD rate in 2021. Stafford’s touchdown luck was always going to run out in 2022, but the drop off was more severe than any regression truther could have guessed. Probably that had something to do with losing Cooper Kupp to injury. We’re looking into this very strongly.

The devolution of Sean McVay‘s offense in 2022 turned Stafford into a check-down machine. Not surprisingly, Stafford’s 6.4 adjusted yards per attempt was the second lowest mark of his career. Only three quarterbacks had a lower air yards per attempt. Turns out Stafford’s 3.05 adjusted yards per attempt against the Bills on Opening Night was a harbinger of things to come for the grizzled veteran.

Stafford’s touchdown rate should bounce back in some capacity in 2023, if he indeed plays and if Kupp is back to full health. Stafford in 2021 took advantage of high-value throws in McVay’s pass-first red zone offense: No quarterback had more pass attempts inside the 10 yard line, as 26 of Stafford’s 41 touchdown tosses came on those throws.

Kenny Pickett (PIT)

The living, breathing definition of “mid,” Pickett’s rookie year numbers -- 2,404 passing yards and seven touchdowns in 12 starts -- weren’t as dismal as they seem with a little context.

Pickett’s laughably low 1.8 percent touchdown rate ranked 33rd (dead last) among qualifying QBs. Give Pickett a middle-of-the-road touchdown rate (around 4.5 percent) and he would have thrown 18 touchdowns in his 12 starts. It’s not spectacular, but it’s also not seven. This is analytics.

Pickett was also last among the 33 qualifying passers with a 5.5 adjusted yards per attempt. He was one of only three quarterbacks -- Davis Mills and Carson Wentz were the other two -- who posted an AY/A below six. One saving grace for Pickett: His AY/A rose as his rookie campaign wore on; he had an adjusted yards per attempt of over seven in three of his final four complete games. That could suggest Pickett had settled in and adjusted to NFL defenses, which seemed to overwhelm him over his first half dozen starts. It’s noteworthy that Pickett’s adjusted yards per attempt efficiency coincided with a massively run-heavy offensive scheme in the final month of the regular season.

I’m fairly certain Pickett will win the mid-off between him and whoever else gets a few first-team reps for the Steelers this offseason. More touchdowns, at the very least, should be on their way. There’s almost no chance Pickett will be useful as anything more than a streaming option in 12-team leagues though.

Russell Wilson (DEN)

As a fantasy football analyst, it’s always smart to get aboard a quarterback’s comeback hype train when his new head coach clearly doesn’t like him and talks about his backup like the second coming of Joe Montana.

But that’s what we have with Russell Wilson, 34, coming off an abysmal 2022 campaign in which his touchdown rate fell to a career-low 3.3 percent. That’s about 2.7 percent below his career TD rate and 5 percent lower than his best touchdown rate. Wilson also registered a career low in adjusted yards per attempt (6.9), well below his career AY/A of 8.2.

Wilson’s drop off was extraordinary: He was 26th in EPA per play in 2022 after ranking 12th from 2014 to 2021 as Seattle’s starter. He led all quarterbacks in completion rate over expected during that stretch; in 2022, he was 21st. I’m sure I speak for Nathaniel Hackett when I say it was downright jarring to see a quarterback known for his efficiency becoming so horribly inefficient last season.

Can age explain all of these mind-bending declines in efficiency? I doubt it.

Wilson showed signs of statistical life late last season before Denver’s Christmas Day Massacre against the Rams. With a real head coach calling the shots in Denver -- even if Sean Payton is infatuated by Jarrett Stidham -- I think Russ will bounce back. How much he’ll bounce back is the question.

Daniel Jones (NYG)

Jones picked a good time to have his one outstanding game of 2022. He ripped the hapless Vikings through the air and on the ground in New York’s Wild Card win over Kevin O’Connell‘s fraudulent team, and now Jones is very rich. You have to respect it.

With a touchdown rate of 3.2 percent in 2022, Jones ranked 28th out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks, though -- somewhat concerningly -- that’s not far off from his career TD rate (3.4 percent). Jones has a meager 27 touchdown throws over his past 26 games. I’m astounded, you’re astounded, we’re all astounded, especially considering Big Blue’s offense was ninth in expected points added per play in 2022 and Jones’ numbers stayed flat.

A middling touchdown rate would have netted Jones about 21 touchdown passes in 2022, six more than his 15 actual TD throws.

After an offseason in which head coach Brian Daboll begged Jones to occasionally throw downfield, Jones did no such thing in 2022. His lowly 6.8 adjusted yards per attempt was in line with his 6.7 AY/A career mark. Jones’ 26 attempts of more than 20 yards downfield last year ranked 34th among quarterbacks, fewer than Mitchell Trubisky, who played in seven games. For more context, consider Sam Darnold, who started six games in 2022, had 25 deep throws. Perhaps there’s no amount of haranguing that can force Jones to sometimes let it loose.

The Giants would likely need to throw more in the green zone if Jones’ touchdown numbers are going to increase in 2023. Jones’ 22 attempts inside the 10 yard line last season ranked 20th among all quarterbacks. Half of those throws, by the bye, resulted in touchdowns.