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Mid-Season Quarterback Awards and CPM Check-In

Mid-Season Quarterback Awards

After introducing Comprehensive Passing Metric (CPM) at the beginning of the season, 150 games (of the regular season’s 272) have passed, allowing us to hand out some midseason QB awards as well as evaluate how well the statistic has done. So far, the QB with the better CPM has won 85.33% of games this season, while the QB entering with a higher average CPM has won 54.48% of games. This shows a statistic that is highly descriptive, but with some improvement to be made in terms of predictiveness. Regardless, let’s look at game CPM and start with the leaders in some of the categories that we’ve identified as important to winning games.

Explosive Passer Award: Derek Carr

Honorable Mentions: Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson

Although he’s flown somewhat under the radar with everything else going on in Las Vegas, Derek Carr has been having a bit of a moment.

In his age-30 season, Carr is putting up significant career-bests through 10 games for passing yards (2,826) and yards per attempt (8.14). Most importantly to us, however, is the fact that Carr leads the league with 39 passes of 20+ yards, good for an explosive pass on every 9.41 dropbacks.

Before stumbling out of their bye, Carr had the Raiders in pole position in the AFC West and potentially the surprise of the season. Even now, they’re second in the league for passing yards despite being led in receptions by a pair of late-round draft picks: Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller. 

Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray make up the other two passers this season to complete a 20+ yard pass every 10 dropbacks or less, with both of the former first-round picks continuing to show their limitless potential that will have them in the MVP race for years to come.

Burrow has quickly meshed with top 2021 pick Ja’Marr Chase, but has been sacked the 7th-most of all QBs and thrown a league-leading 11 INTs for a streaky Bengals team.

Murray is setting his team up for a Super Bowl run using a downfield passing offense that stretches defenses vertically with Murray’s arm and the 8th-ranked rushing attack.

As for Lamar Jackson, he’s producing explosive passes *only* every 11.8 dropbacks, but he is also the only passer to clear the five-yard barrier for completed air yards per attempt (5.02), indicating that he’s been creating yards through the air rather than benefitting from strong yards after the catch. 

Preventing Mistakes Award: Kirk Cousins

Honorable Mentions: Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, Josh Allen

Are sacks and interceptions fully the fault of the quarterback? No, but QBs have at least some responsibility for each, and it’s been shown that able quarterbacks have been able to reduce the interceptions they throw and the sacks they take. With that said, Kirk Cousins has the second-fewest interceptions (2) and fourth-fewest sacks (12) of any passers with 150+ dropbacks.

We’re all aware of the investment in Minnesota’s receivers, but the Vikings actually have the ninth-lowest cap hit for their OL. Led by Cousins’ league-leading vigilance of a sack or pick every 25.1 dropbacks, the team has the fewest giveaways in the league and has managed three wins by one score or less. 

To no surprise, Tom Brady is near the top of this category just about every year and his sack or interception every 21.7 dropbacks in 2021 is predictably excellent. Despite his age, his 2021 rendition actually includes his fewest sacks and interceptions per dropback since at least 2006.

Since the beginning of 2019, Dak Prescott has been similarly elite at preventing mistakes and has taken a step up in 2021 with only 4 interceptions and 11 sacks, similar to his full-season 2020 numbers despite nearly 70 more dropbacks.

The surprise of the honorable mentions is undoubtedly Josh Allen, the rocket-armed passer who has managed to break traditional quarterback expectations by improving his accuracy every year. Even after his incredible improvement to culminate in his world-beating 2020 campaign, he’s actually continued to improve this year in ball protection — no small part of the Bills’ second-place spot in the AFC. 

Accuracy Award: Kyler Murray

Honorable Mentions: Teddy Bridgewater, Joe Burrow, Russell Wilson

If you ask a scout what trait they value most in a quarterback, most will say accuracy. Being able to hit a spot with timing and placement can be the difference between an in-stride throw that lets the receiver turn upfield to gain YAC and a tipped ball that falls incomplete.

According to nflfastR, Murray leads the league in completion percentage over expected (CPOE) this season (8.44 percentage points), meaning he’s completing over eight percent more passes than would be expected based on a host of factors including the depth and direction of his throws. This matches very well with his league-leading 72.7% completion and 8.9 yards per attempt, showing the accuracy Murray is exhibiting at all levels of the field.

Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t necessarily been a world-beater so far this year, but he’s been accurate. With a CPOE of 6.33, he ranks second in the league even before considering his career-best 69.2 completion percentage.

Joe Burrow and Russell Wilson might not be the other names you’re expecting to see, but they’ve both completed over 65% of their passes despite having the 3rd- and 13th-highest average depth of target respectively, meaning they’re successfully attacking downfield and putting strain on the defense.

Big Spots Award: Matthew Stafford

Honorable Mentions: Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Tom Brady, Josh Allen

Despite popular belief that the fourth quarter is the most important, it’s actually winning the second quarter that is most important to victories. Which quarterback has personally contributed the most second quarter points this season? One John Matthew Stafford, new QB for the LA Rams.

Not only has Stafford contributed 54 points in the second quarter, he’s also put home 20 TDs in the red zone — most in the league. On third down he’s similarly been great, converting 51.1% when the team has asked him to throw (or run) the ball. 

Mahomes has had a lot of detractors this season as he experiences a bit of a slump, but he’s still played well enough when it matters to drag his team to the AFC West pole position despite the 12th-worst scoring defense and 14th-worst rushing attack. A large component of this is his 18 red zone TDs and his role in KC’s league-leading third down conversion rate.

Justin Herbert and Tom Brady join Josh Allen in being responsible for 48 points in the second quarter each, tied for second. Brady has the edge for red zone TDs (20), but it’s Allen who has the third-best personal third down conversion rate and Herbert behind LAC’s 11 fourth-down conversions on 17 attempts. 

Rushing QB Award: Lamar Jackson

Honorable Mentions: Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, Justin Fields

Who else could it be? Lamar Jackson has once again run riot on the rest of the league with 609 rushing yards outside of garbage time, indicating he’s piling up these stats when the game is truly in the balance. He certainly has more attempts, but 6.03 yards per attempt is good for third-best in the league and one of only four players above 6.0 this season. 

National attention around Jalen Hurts has been quiet, but he’s in a tier of his own behind Jackson with 451 rushing yards outside of garbage time.

Allen’s ability as a rusher hasn’t been discussed much due to his ascension as a passer, but he’s still been excellent, especially considering that 39.6% of his yards come before contact per PFF, 6th-best in the league and showing that he’s picking his spots well and eating field.

In Justin Field’s short time as a starter, he’s already accumulated the fourth-most rushing yards outside of garbage time (among QBs) and third-most yards after contact.

Best Rookie QB Award: Mac Jones

Honorable Mentions: Justin Fields, Davis Mills, Trevor Lawrence

While none of the rookies have quite made it into the league’s top 20 quarterbacks just yet, we’ve seen a lot of promise after some early struggles across the board. Similar to his pre-draft report, Mac Jones has been the most pro-ready, putting up an amazing 69.0% completion percentage, albeit on a diet of shorter throws.

Each of these rookies can cut down on the turnovers, but only Jones has his team in the playoff picture so far. 

Similarly, Fields struggled mightily in his first few outings, including one of the worst games we’ve ever recorded, but has quietly picked up his game bit by bit each week. Most recently, we saw 336 total yards in a down-to-the-wire matchup with Pittsburgh.

Mills was a surprise starter and the only rookie quarterback with significant snaps to not be from the first-round, but he had some excellent outings in a close loss to New England and a somewhat farther loss to the Rams before Tyrod Taylor returned.

Finally, the number one overall pick was thrown into an extremely tough situation but has steadily cut down on his turnovers (7 picks in weeks 1-3, and only one in the past four weeks) and started to make better decisions with the ball.

Here’s how all 6 of the rookies have shaped out so far, with the black vertical lines representing their median CPM:

Best Underdog Performance: Colt McCoy vs SF (Week 9)

Honorable Mentions: Davis Mills v NE, Mike White v CIN

Missing an MVP candidate, two star wide receivers, and a running back against a feared division rival, all longtime backup Colt McCoy did was complete 84.62% of his passes at 9.6 yards per attempt with no turnovers. The Cardinals were reeling without their star talent and had just lost their first game of the season, but McCoy kept the ship aligned enough to pick up the win.

We’ve mentioned how unlikely Davis Mill’s performance was against New England in only his third career start, even on the back of a 4-INT outing against Buffalo, and it’s become only more impressive with the hindsight of New England entirely shutting down the Browns and Panthers. Mike White’s debut has already received an exhibit in the Hall of Fame, so let’s get to the MVP. 

MVP: Matthew Stafford

Honorable Mentions: Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Aaron Rodgers

Here’s a breakdown of the top 20 quarterbacks so far this season by median game CPM:

For those following each week, Matthew Stafford has narrowly hung on to his lead despite a few recent stumbles. Stafford hasn’t necessarily had the most hype, and Josh Allen has taken the lead as the most consistently excellent, but Stafford barely remains in the pole position.

Aaron Rodgers will almost certainly be excluded from the discussion due to his off-the-field controversies and a series of less-than-excellent games, but he remains as somewhat of a dark horse with a proven history of production. Regardless, this discussion is currently a three-horse race between the best production so far (Stafford), the most consistent with highest ceiling (Allen), and the best player on the best team (Murray).

Follow this series for the rest of the season to see the race continue to develop.