NFL Analysis


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Who Are the Best QBs in 2021 by CPM?

The Best QBs & an MVP Frontrunner: CPM Insights from 2021

Earlier this week we released our article on Comprehensive Passing Metric, a new take on which quarterbacks truly contribute the most to wins. Looking at a variety of factors, CPM attempts to isolate the contributions of the quarterback. With that said, here’s the first look at every qualified quarterback in the 2021 season (noting that a QB needs 15+ non-garbage time dropbacks + rushes to qualify):

CPM Insights from 2021

Using the red lines to denote the average CPM so far this season (5.33) and the difference between a win and a loss, we can start to group these QB performances into different buckets. The top left quadrant contains the QBs that won games despite lackluster performances. Most notably, we see Justin Fields in Weeks 2 & 5, neither outing with over 200 yards, as well as Lamar Jackson’s recent performance against the Chargers that included a TD but two INTs and a trio of sacks. Only three QBs have managed to place here more than once this season — the aforementioned Fields, Baker Mayfield and Ben Roethlisberger. 

Directly opposite is the bottom right, including QBs who had above average performances in a loss. Although none of these dots were labeled, we see how much closer many of these games were. Matt Ryan, in a 4 TD performance against Washington, has the highest CPM in a loss. Dak Prescott, at the second-highest, joins a surprising number of young QBs in the section – specifically Mac Jones, Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Taylor Heinicke, and Davis Mills, each losing by four points or less despite above average performances. Russell Wilson is the only QB to appear in this quadrant three times, giving it his all, but a host of players at two appearances each include Mayfield, Hurts, Cousins, Jones, Mahomes, and Lawrence.

The top right quadrant is where every passer wants to be — strong performances in a win — and we see some of the best of the best here. Jameis Winston takes the top overall spot with his highly efficient Week 1 blowout of Green Bay, but Mahomes and Josh Allen also show up in four of the next five spots.

Overall in the quadrant, Kyler Murray is the only passer with six appearances and is closely followed by Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford with five apiece. If you’re only here to see how highly your favorite MVP-eligible QB is ranked, he probably ties for fourth here in this category — Prescott,  Allen, Burrow, Herbert, Jackson, and Tom Brady have four such games each.

Finally, the bottom left includes the poor showings in a loss. Fields may have the worst game of the season in his first start, but the kings of this quadrant are Jared Goff (5 appearances), Daniel Jones (4), and Zach Wilson (4), each highly drafted but in very different stages of their career. Sadly for fans of big-bodied QBs, Roethlisberger, Carson Wentz, and Jacoby Brissett aren’t far behind with 3.

What did Week 6 itself look like?

Stafford and Murray dueled for the top spot in blowouts, with Stafford barely coming out ahead. Tagovailoa outperformed Lawrence in his return from injury but lost out on a last-second FG in London. Nearly every other game went as expected, with Prescott and the Cowboys barely edging out the Rookie-led Patriots in both CPM and overtime, while even Jackson’s subpar day better than a frustrated Justin Herbert. The only holdover was Monday Night Football, where Buffalo's Allen matched well with Ryan Tannehill, but couldn’t also account for Derrick Henry’s latest masterclass. 

Let’s finish with one more graph: the full first six weeks, split instead by player.

CPM Insights from 2021

Although Tyrod Taylor takes the top spot with only a single qualifying game (barely missing out on qualifying with his 10-for-11, two-TD Week 2 performance), sorting these players by their median score reveals a healthy lead for Murray, with Rodgers and Stafford on his tail.

When reading these charts, remember that the box itself shows 50 percent of the QB’s performances this season — so seeing a box like Mahomes' that stretches so far to the right shows how dominant some of his performances have been, even if they haven’t been consistent. On the contrary, a small box like that of Jones indicates consistency, and in this case just below average consistency.

What else stands out here? Teddy Bridgewater seems to be performing at a higher level than many expected entering the season but also seems to have some games that just don’t meet that standard. Finally, the (faint) assorted dots show outliers in the data. Winston and Jackson have positive outliers, while everybody from Rodgers to Herbert and Prescott have put up a stinker. There is much of the season still to go, but some QBs have already started to separate themselves from the pack.

Per CPM, Kyler Murray has been the league MVP through six weeks.