With five weeks of data for the 2021 season, here is a check-up on the quarterback position for career trajectories, regression, and dynasty valuation:
The concise summary is they have been poor. One of the major trackers I use is a touchdown-interception ratio. However, this is not a straight-forward counting statistic. Instead, this is the touchdown rate (touchdowns per completion) divided by interception rate (interceptions divided by incompletions). This is different than the typical per-attempt calculations shown on a majority of sites and resources. The average mark in the NFL is somewhere in the 1.10-1.25 range on an annual basis with the best in the NFL usually 2.0 or higher. Below 1.0 is highly concerning from a developmental standpoint and a 'keep your job for long' standpoint.
Back to the 2021 rookie quarterbacks...
They have been abysmal in TD-INT ratio through five weeks.
The five quarterbacks who have played the most and attempted a decent sample size of passes to date and their ratios:
Looking at notable young quarterbacks over the past 15 years, at least being close to the 1.0 ratio threshold through two seasons is a key marker for a success-failure trajectory beyond the two-year prism. Most have been successful above the 1.0 line and most have been unsuccessful (or fallen to a backup role a la Ryan Tannehill, Teddy Bridgewater even if they have been viewed as more successful later).
The 2021 rookies still have potentially 10 or more starts for this year plus 2022 to assess them in this two-year window. However, they are woefully behind the curve. For example, Daniel Jones was 0.97, Kyler Murray 1.00, Mitch Trubisky 0.94, Jameis Winston 1.03 as young quarterbacks right around the 1.00 threshold through two seasons. To really boost one's odds, the strong quarterbacks (Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert, etc) are all 1.40 or higher early in their career.
To put Fields, Jones, and Wilson's career-start into perspective, here are the only seasons I've found since 2005 of qualifying quarterbacks 23 years old or younger with a 0.50 or lower ratio:
This is rare and historically poor for the 2021 class to have three in the subset (yes, plenty of time to go) when only five since 2005 were this low in a critical category.
This is yet another reminder to have pause investing in rookie quarterbacks in a rookie draft or startup settings out of the gate, especially when at a premium (assumed success) cost. Mac Jones was easily the most affordable of the 'Big 5' who were drafted in the top half of Round 1. Jones was commonly going in the 10-15 overall range in Superflex rookie drafts. At worst, Jones is blending in with the rest of the higher-drafted options in the class and, at best, he is looking like the most accurate and best value of the quintet.
2020 Regression Candidates
The touchdown regression list from 2020 included seven high-probability fallers in their rate, above the historical 9.5% touchdown rate:
The all-timers on the list typically fare better versus the strong regression trends than the less dominant historical profiles as one would assume. The biggest drops from this subset through five games are Ryan Tannehill and Lamar Jackson - both with their TD rates cut significantly from last year. Rodgers and Cousins have expected drops in the 2.5-4.0% range, still notable. Wilson and Brady are close to their 2020 rate to date. Mahomes is UP 2.1% this year because he may be part cyborg.
Here are the high-probability risers from the 2020 list:
Burrow is the massive uptick name here, more than doubling his 4.9% TD rate from last year. The 5.0% TD rate is the threshold line as a point of reference for an 88% historical probability to regress upwards the following year, assuming their quality based on passes thrown. Bridgewater is also up by a robust 2.3% from last year and this without Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler already for part of his sample size. Darnold and Jones are marginally up from last year but still not enough to get them off the hot seat of 'are they longer-term NFL starters' based on their career (and recent) body of work.
2021 Early Regression Candidates
- 17.1% Jameis Winston
- 12.0% Trey Lance
- 11.9% Patrick Mahomes II
This marks the second-highest of Mahomes' career to his magical 50-touchdown 2018 season. The more notable aspect of Mahomes' 2021 is his 10.0% INT Rate, which is triple his 2019 and 2020 seasons. He was a regression candidate in INT Rate coming out of last season and already has as many interceptions on fewer than 200 passes. Mahomes is also well on pace for a career-high in passes thrown in 2021.
- 11.1% Russell Wilson
Wilson is on the shelf for a few weeks but was off to a historic season start with his near 4-to-1 ratio of TD to INT Rates. Wilson has been dominant in these measures in a handful of seasons in his career, but this had/has the makings of his best yet. Wilson is the perfect dynasty quarterback profile with a high-end profile and in the heart of his prime in his younger 30s. Hopefully, Seattle can stay afloat until Wilson returns.
- 10.7% Dak Prescott
Prescott is in the midst of his career year to date. His 10.7% TD Rate dwarfs his previous high (7.7%). It is notable the INT Rate is still on the higher side (7.0%) compared to the truly dominant names of the position in recent years. Michaell Gallup back and Amari Cooper fully healthy is a scary proposition for Dallas opponents in their current iteration.
- 10.3% Matthew Stafford
Stafford is on a similar pace to his 2019 season (10.2% TD, 4.8% INT) but that was on a partial season of fewer than 300 attempts. The system and surrounding weapons point to this being a magical year for Stafford and we can discuss in the offseason if Stafford should be viewed among the NFL's best quarterbacks now out of Detroit or if he is a strong regression candidate.
- 10.1% Tom Brady
More than anything notable, this is to acknowledge we are witnessing something truly ridiculous. In 10 years, will it be commonplace for quarterbacks to play beyond 40 years old? At a high level? We will see, but color me skeptical. Brady is 44 years old. 44. This is only his third qualifying season since 2005 with a 10% TD rate or higher. This is also his third-lowest INT Rate. Yes, the weapons are great. But he is straight dealing and at an age where even stalwarts of the past 20 years like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and Brett Favre were already spent and done.
Any strong track record older quarterback is a potentially lucrative target for a contending dynasty team, especially if residing on a falling out of the race leaguemate's roster. Brady has been recently traded for less than a future Round 1 pick or for marginally more than Baker Mayfield straight up as points of reference (Superflex).