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Production vs. volatility: Can a quarterback outproduce a bad turnover-worthy throw rate?

Analyzing quarterback play is a tricky balance between production and putting the ball in harm’s way. The best quarterbacks move the ball consistently without making many mistakes. The worst struggle to move it at all, while making mistakes regularly. Most players live somewhere in the middle, but the balance between those two areas is critical.

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In the past, people have looked at the mistakes simply by using interception rate, but that’s a statistic vulnerable to factors outside of a quarterback’s sphere of influence. You can throw a perfect pass that hits your receiver’s hands, only to see it bounce up into the sky and be picked off. You can also make a terrible read and throw the ball straight to a linebacker only to see him drop the interception, recording merely an incompletion like any other harmless miss.

PFF’s grading system allows us to quantify these instances where the stat sheet misleads and tell a far more accurate picture using what we call Turnover-Worthy Plays. These are the lowest-graded throws in PFF’s grading scale and capture bad plays whether or not they resulted in a turnover. The designation can also absolve the quarterback for plays that were not his fault, such as dropped passes and plays where the receiver clearly hung him out to dry by stopping his route, running a bad route or ending up on a different page entirely.

Our exhaustive review process uses All-22 tape, NFL feedback and former NFL quarterbacks in the grading process, which allows us to apply our grades with degrees of context that just aren’t present in other raw data sets. That's why our grading doesn't always mesh with those stats.

Turnover-Worthy Play Rate vs. INT Rate (2019)
Name Team TWP % INT %
Russell Wilson Seahawks 1.7 1.3
Lamar Jackson Ravens 1.8 1.4
Drew Brees Saints 1.9 1.0
Ryan Tannehill Titans 2.0 2.6
Derek Carr Raiders 2.1 1.5
Kirk Cousins Vikings 2.3 1.5
Aaron Rodgers Packers 2.3 0.7
Tom Brady Patriots 2.5 1.4
Patrick Mahomes Chiefs 2.5 1.7
Kyler Murray Cardinals 2.7 2.4

Turnover-worthy play rate is simply a superior statistic to interception rate. Broadly speaking, it will be a higher number, as defenders drop a lot of interceptions. Using TWP rate, we can start to paint a clearer picture of which quarterbacks put the ball in harm’s way the most or the least. Over the past decade of play, Tom Brady has the best TWP rate in the game, while the players with the worst is a who’s who of lousy quarterbacks.

How productive is a quarterback on average between mistakes?

Are there quarterbacks who are prone to mistakes but productive enough in between them that it offsets the negatives (Jameis, I’m looking your way with Lasik-enhanced eyesight)?

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