• Patrick Mahomes is kryptonite-less: The NFL's best quarterback continues to prove that there are few holes in his game.
• Josh Allen will look to better balance big positives and negatives: The Bills star led the league in big-time throws in 2022 but also ranked near the bottom in turnover-worthy play rate.
• Should the Broncos still let Russ cook? New head coach Sean Payton seems more dedicated to the run, potentially alleviating some of the pressure on Wilson after a disastrous 2022 campaign.
Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes
Even Superman had a weakness. Everyone has their kryptonite, and that is no different for NFL quarterbacks. Plenty have more than one weakness — whether it’s deep passing, accuracy or play under pressure — but something stands out for pretty much all 32 NFL starters.
Thanks to PFF’s data, we can articulate and identify some of those biggest weaknesses — the kryptonite for each AFC starting quarterback in 2023.
JUMP TO A TEAM:
Kryptonite: Staying healthy
One of the holdups in giving Lamar Jackson a new contract was the concern about how much time he has missed injured over the past two seasons. A quarterback who relies on his athleticism and rushing ability was unavailable for significant portions of 2021 and 2022.
The combination of passing ability and elite rushing production makes somebody like Jackson impossible to stop when they are on their game, but it also inevitably exposes him to some hits that prototypical pocket passers will never endure and potentially limits how long he can play at that level because of it. The Ravens eventually gave him the bag, but that worry must weigh on them as they enter the 2023 season.
Kryptonite: Turnover-worthy plays
Josh Allen is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Few players shoulder as much individual responsibility as he does for driving his offense, but perhaps that burden causes more glaring mistakes than for other elite passers.
Allen led the league with 52 big-time throws in 2022, 14 more than anybody else if you include the playoffs. His big-time throw rate was also the best by a significant margin. But his turnover-worthy play rate (4.2%) was one of the worst in the league and more than twice as bad as some top passers (including Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes). Allen might need to work at better finding the balance between those big positive and big negative plays.
Kryptonite: Arm strength
This is the biggest stretch of any weakness in this list. Joe Burrow’s arm isn’t bad. It’s not even necessarily average, but he can’t match the rockets possessed by the likes of Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes. Relative to those players, his arm is a weakness — but quite obviously not to the point that it is an actual weakness.
Burrow has been the quarterback sitting atop the PFF grades in each of the past two seasons, so he is more than able to offset any weaknesses with his strengths.
Kryptonite: Creating sacks
Let’s sidestep any off-field things we could mention here. On the field, Deshaun Watson has always invited more pressure than almost any quarterback in football.
Over his career, 21.0% of pressure turns into sacks (a number double the best figures in the league), and he averages 3.06 seconds per pass. He was also charged by PFF with being responsible for a league-high 18 sacks in 2020, 17 the year before (second most) and 14 the year before that (second). He was charged with seven sacks in just six games last season for the Browns. Watson is capable of spectacular plays but causes too many smaller negatives that can be difficult to fully appreciate in quarterback stats.
The Denver Broncos “let Russ cook” in 2022, and it was a kitchen fire. Nathaniel Hackett didn’t even see out the year before being fired, and Denver traded a first-round pick to the Saints to bring aboard Sean Payton to try and fix it all.
Payton’s moves this offseason have all screamed an emphasis on running the football after Denver ranked 20th in run-play rate last year, taking the pressure off Wilson. The Broncos are effectively going back to the Seattle approach of restricting Wilson’s autonomy to cook, and it’s hard to argue that’s the wrong move after last season.
At least outside of one spectacular game against Georgia — the best defense he faced — C.J. Stroud struggled under pressure in his college career. He graded in the 18th percentile under pressure in 2022 and just the 31st percentile over his college career. He reportedly scored poorly in the S2 Cognition Test, a system designed to quantify a quarterback’s split-second decision-making and processing, among other things.
Stroud showed against Georgia he can play well under pressure, but can he do it consistently when the rate of those plays is about to go way up relative to his college career?
Kryptonite: Throwing the football to a target
Anthony Richardson hasn’t yet taken an NFL snap and has been working with a private quarterback coach, so we have no real baseline established for him as a passer yet. But in college, he was one of the least accurate passers PFF has seen.
The only highly touted prospect to post a lower accuracy rate in college than Richardson was Trey Lance. Richardson is a supreme athlete with a howitzer for an arm, but right now his biggest weakness is simply hitting the target he is aiming for as regularly as he should be. If he can dramatically improve that, his floor and ceiling in terms of NFL play shoot upward.
Kryptonite: Urban Meyer
Apparently, Urban Meyer was bad enough as an NFL head coach to make the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck (2012), Peyton Manning (1998) or even John Elway (1983!) look like just another guy at the position.
Freed from Meyer’s influence, Lawrence took a big leap forward and finished last season playing as well as any quarterback in the game. From Week 11 onward, Lawrence trailed only Joe Burrow in PFF grade and was rivaling the elite at the position. If he can pick up this year where he left off, Lawrence may have ascended into that rare air at the position, with very few obvious deficiencies in his game.
Kryptonite: Yet to be discovered
We could have said Joe Burrow, but Mahomes and the Chiefs were finally able to get a win in the AFC championship game after three straight Burrow victories. Now we are left with no weaknesses for the game’s best player.
Mahomes is good in any situation and was even able to play at a high level in the playoffs with an ankle injury that theoretically neutralized some of his greatest strengths. If he has a kryptonite, the NFL is still searching for what it is.
The 49ers would have been well within their rights to go in search of an alternative option to Jimmy Garoppolo purely based on his injury history, and that dossier has only been added to since they traded up to draft Trey Lance.
Now the quarterback of the Raiders, Garoppolo has only once in his career made it through a full-season schedule without missing at least a game. He is capable of high-level play, but his own body is his biggest weakness as a player.
Kellen Moore is the Chargers' new offensive coordinator, tasked with unlocking the missing potential of Justin Herbert and liberating him from a tendency to be too careful with the football. In each of the past two seasons, Herbert has led the league with the lowest turnover-worthy play rate in the league (1.6%). And last season, his average depth of target ranked 39th out of 40 qualifiers.
Herbert has the arm to make any throw and can thread a needle with the best of them, but he needs to be more aggressive to rival the top passers in the game.
Kryptonite: 330-pound D-linemen
We could focus on Tua’s limitations in arm strength, but the biggest concern right now, by far, is his history of concussions off the back of last season. He suffered at least two back-to-back concussions, and the biggest issue he faces at his size is that there are plays where he is simply a passenger when a big enough lineman gets hold of him. Josh Tupou tossed him into the turf in the Bengals game, and that size and strength disparity is the biggest area of concern right now.
Tua has shown he can execute this Miami offense to a very high standard, but he has yet to show he can avoid the kind of hits that could shorten or derail his career.
Kryptonite: Outside of structure
Mac Jones showed almost immediately that his ability to process, read a defense and accurately deliver the football to the correct spot translated seamlessly from Alabama to the NFL. Where he has struggled is when those plays aren’t there and he has to create something by himself outside of the structure of the offense.
In his defense, the scheme last season didn't exactly aid that cause, resulting in Jones earning a 26.4 PFF grade when pressured compared to a 90.6 mark when kept clean, one of the biggest disparities in football. With a new offense in 2023, Jones needs to show that he can add that off-platform creativity to his game.
Kryptonite: The biggest playoff games
We all expect the New York Jets to be instant contenders with Aaron Rodgers as he seeks to secure that elusive second championship after winning it all back in the 2010 season. Since that year, however, Rodgers has stumbled in the championship games and lost each time. He has at least one turnover-worthy play in each career appearance in the championship game — including the win — and in three of his most recent four has multiple turnover-worthy plays.
Rodgers' most recent appearance (2020) was his best performance, but the Packers were unable to stop Tom Brady and the Bucs. At this point, Rodgers is in danger of seeing his legacy undone by failing to put together one more signature performance on the big stage in the quest for another ring.
Kryptonite: The middle of the field
Kenny Pickett impressed as a rookie, but the Steelers were extremely poor at working the middle of the field. As shown in this heat map, Pittsburgh’s offense doesn’t even run routes into the middle of the field to a large degree, leaving Pickett with little means of attacking one of the most important areas of the field.
It's simply too important an area of the field to eschew the way the team did a season ago. If Pickett is to realize his potential, it's something he needs to find a way of changing.
Kryptonite: Non-play action
Play action serves as an “easy button” for NFL offenses. It doesn’t need the run to be established to work; it just makes passing easier. So, offenses that use a lot of play action typically boost the production of their quarterbacks.
Since taking over in Tennessee, Tannehill carries a 71.2 PFF grade when not employing play action, but an 88.5 figure when using it. His yards per attempt jumps from 6.6 to 10.2 and his big-time throw rate goes up almost a full percentage point. Most quarterbacks improve when using play action, but few see the kind of difference Tannehill does.