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Comprehensive Passing Metric: Who Were the NFL’s Best QBs This Season?

Who Were the NFL's Best QBs This Season?

Is this your first introduction to the Comprehensive Passing Metric (CPM)? Check out our explanation here.

There are two contradicting facts about quarterback play in the NFL. First, QBs are more responsible for whether or not their team wins a game than any other player (or potentially even coach) on the field. Second, wins are not a QB stat — the best quarterbacks don’t necessarily win more games. Jake Delhomme had a higher career winning percentage than Kurt Warner.

But wins are undoubtably the most important thing in football, so how do we reconcile these truths? With the Comprehensive Passing Metric (CPM), we drill down on how well a quarterback is putting his team in a position to win. (See the link above for a specific list of inputs). Originally released early in the 2021 season with a track record of favoring 12 of the past 13 QBs to win MVP, let’s add a bit of color to answer some questions of the past year. 

Who was the best quarterback?

The top 20 QBs by median CPM, min five qualifying games

Who Were the NFL's Best QBs This Season?

Spoiler alert: it was Aaron Rodgers. Although Matthew Stafford started hot as the Rams jumped out to a 7-1 record, nobody could match the pure consistency of excellence of Rodgers. The league averaged a 4.95 CPM this year and Rodgers fell beneath that mark only three times, best in the league. Passers like Josh Allen and Tom Brady may have offered more upside, especially with Rodgers failing to top 400 yards in a game this season, but consistency is king. Even though no rookie QBs cracked the list, 7 of the top 10 passers are 29 or younger, including second-year stalwarts Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, and Joe Burrow. In all, every one of the top 10 QBs finished with a winning record (112-58 overall), dragging their teams to a collective nine playoff berths and five (of six) Pro Bowl spots. 

What were the best performances?

We saw the season bookended by the two best performances, with Jameis Winston’s five-TD Week 1 bettered only by Dak Prescott’s five-TD Week 18. Some of the top-end performances we discussed in the last section pop up hear as well — Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes are the only two passers to warrant multiple spots here.

In other news, all of the best performances came in winning efforts, typically by significant margins. Only Ryan Tannehill’s Week 18 and Taylor Heinicke’s Week 1 came by less than two scores, with Tannehill facing a superb 6.15 CPM Davis Mills and Heinicke bettering the 5.43 CPM outing in Cam Newton’s return to Carolina — which included 3 Washington fumbles. 

How about those rookies?

Let’s start with the obvious — none of these rookies were good enough to make the Top 20 list, so their teams will hope improvement is on the horizon. Luckily, we absolutely saw potential in this group. Mac Jones was the most consistent, albeit in the best situation, averaging a 5.09 CPM with and taking each of the top three rookie performances in wins over the Browns, Jets, and Jaguars.

On that Jacksonville team was golden boy Trevor Lawrence, who has definitely taken his lumps in finishing with the worst average CPM of any 17-game starter this season, but still showed his potential in a pair of 6+ CPM games in the final three weeks of the season.

Among the other three first-rounders, Zach Wilson and Justin Fields were much the same — significant room to grow, especially for the BYU product, while Trey Lance only got a qualifying number of plays in two games.

Coming out of left field was the Stanford mystery man, Davis Mills, who started as many games his rookie season as his entire college career combined. While he definitely had his highlights and lowlights, from a two-touchdown win over the Chargers to a 28-point loss against Indianapolis, he’s earned the right to be in the same conversation as any other QB here. 

Did CPM actually matter?

Descriptively, yes. In the 272 games of the season, the QB who compiled a better CPM won 222 times — good for a 81.62% win rate. Predictively, there’s still some work to be done, with a 57.81% win rate for the team who entered the game with a higher average CPM this season. We have big plans for improving CPM in the offseason and will be thrilled to share some of the ideas we have as we get closer to the new year.  Until then, watch for yet another top quarterback to claim a Super Bowl title.