• Justin Fields could stand to work on pocket passing: The average NFL quarterback moves off his spot 18.3% of the time. Fields did so at a 32.3% clip in 2022, in part because of a shaky offensive line and a lackluster receiving corps.
•Danny Dimes needs more dimes: Daniel Jones finished 2022 with just a 1.4% big-time throw rate,
• Expectations remain high for Jordan Love: It's not easy following up Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, but Love is tasked with exactly that in 2023 and beyond.
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.
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Kryptonite: The NFL
McCoy has been a career backup in the NFL for a reason. A great college quarterback, he is just working from too far behind the eight-ball at this level to have the same kind of success. He projects to start at the moment for Arizona with Kyler Murray rehabbing from injury but is still under pressure from rookie Clayton Tune for that responsibility.
McCoy is the classic quarterback with marginal NFL tools who doesn’t quite have enough to get over the hump. He is sill a capable backup and able to win games in a pinch. But as a starter, he is in over his head.
We saw just four games of Ridder as a rookie starter, and his biggest problem was inaccuracy — or, rather, inconsistency with his accuracy. Ridder can put the ball in a perfect position, but he seems to have far more lapses than other quarterbacks. His adjusted completion rate last year was just 68.5%, 39th out of 41 qualifiers.
Ridder was also strangely inconsistent in college, seeming to just miss throws at random having placed the previous pass perfectly. He may have work to do in a number of areas, but this is priority No. 1 for him.
Young was an elite quarterback in college, but his virtually unprecedented size was all anybody wanted to talk about pre-draft. The reality is that, in today’s game, the rules for quarterback size have changed. His size won’t prevent him from throwing the ball over the line or even working the middle of the field.
The fear is that, at some point, Young will be in the grasp of a defender who may outweigh him by 150 pounds, and at that point he is a victim of physics and merely a passenger along for a ride that ends by crashing into the turf at speed. That’s what caused Tua Tagovailoa to get concussed last season, and it could be Young’s biggest issue at the next level.
Kryptonite: The pocket
There’s no secret to what type of player Fields is right now: an elite running threat but a player still trying to find his way as a passer. His biggest issue is how willing he is to hang in the pocket and find a pass. The average NFL quarterback moves off his spot 18.3% of the time. Fields did so at a 32.3% clip in 2022.
Chicago’s offensive line certainly played a part in that, as did a relative lack of receiving help, but those were both upgraded in the offseason. Now Fields needs to show growth to give those passing plays more of a chance and lean on his running threat as more of an added weapon rather than the basis of his game.
All quarterbacks are dependent to a degree on their environment and supporting cast. Protection, scheme and receiving talent all determine how successful and productive a passer will be.
Since entering the league in 2016, Dak Prescott has seemed to be unusually sensitive to changes in those external factors. When things around him are great, Prescott is capable of leading one of the best offenses in the game and playing like a top-10, and arguably top-five, passer. When something happens to that supporting cast — say, trading away Amari Cooper — Prescott's performance tends to immediately and significantly change.
Goff has been thriving in Ben Johnson’s Lions offense since he was acquired as a makeweight in the Matthew Stafford trade. There is debate as to how well Goff is actually playing and how much he is being flattered by Johnson’s offense, and one area that can be articulated is in performance under pressure.
Over the past two seasons, Goff’s PFF grade under pressure has been 36.6 and he averages just 5.1 yards per attempt compared to an 86.6 grade and 7.7 yards per attempt when kept clean. He has been very productive when in rhythm, but things get worse in a hurry when he is pressured and has to act with more autonomy.
Love has played 157 total snaps in the NFL, and most of them weren’t great. It’s an incredibly small sample size of play, so drawing any real conclusions from it would be harsh.
His biggest issue may simply be having to live up to expectations, not just of succeeding a legend in Aaron Rodgers but in following back-to-back Hall of Fame passers in Green Bay. The last time the Packers had a true starter who wasn’t a Hall of Famer was 1991, seven years before Love was even born. Those are big shoes to fill, whatever way you look at it.
Stafford has exuded toughness in his NFL career. One of his most defining moments is a video of him taking a brutal hit for the Lions and howling in pain before getting up and finishing a scoring drive.
At 35 years old, those years of attrition may have had lasting effects and now Stafford’s ability to remain available all season is a question mark for the Rams. Things were spiraling out of control for the team last season even before Stafford went down, but it seems likely they need him available all season if they are to have any hope of success in 2023.
Expectations were for Cousins to take his game to a new level under Kevin O’Connell last season, and while that didn’t quite happen, he did pass for more than 4,500 yards and 29 touchdowns. Still, it felt like a relatively underwhelming campaign for him, given those expectations.
Cousins is, by pretty much any measure, an outstanding quarterback, but there’s also always the lingering feeling of something intangible being missing that separates him from the best in the game. When ranking lists get made, Cousins often struggles to crack the top 10 more than he threatens the front of the pack. Ultimately, it’s difficult to identify the ways that he isn’t an elite quarterback, except to hide behind the ambiguity of “intangibles,” but maybe the aggregate of a series of small margins will get you to the same place.
Kryptonite: Mistakes under pressure
All quarterbacks perform worse under pressure, at least over the long haul. How they react to that pressure can differ, though. Carr tends to become wildly all-or-nothing when pressured, producing a Jameis Winston style of play.
Over the past three seasons, Carr’s big-time throw rate and turnover-worthy play rate when he's pressured both spike to 5.9%. Maintaining the ability to make big plays under pressure is a huge plus, but it being a coin flip between those big plays and a potential turnover is far less ideal.
Ironically, the player once nicknamed “Danny Dimes” has been struggling to drop those dimes in recent years, no doubt affected by a lack of consistent receiving threats in New York. Jones finished 2022 with just a 1.4% big-time throw rate, finding just eight such throws on 650 dropbacks. The season before, it was just 1.8%. And you have to go back to 2020 to find a better number for him (5.0%).
It’s certainly not all Jones' fault, but that’s an unworkable level of finding the big play in today’s NFL. The Giants upgraded their receiving corps this offseason, so Jones needs to rediscover those dimes to justify his new contract.
Hurts doesn’t have a high number of turnover-worthy plays, and he has a low interception rate, but he has a tendency to fumble on carries. Look no further than the Super Bowl for how devastating that can be to the offense. He has had at least nine fumbles in each of his three seasons starting, and while not all fumbles are created equal, most of his are basic handling errors rather than defenders ripping the ball loose.
Hurts was an elite quarterback in 2022, so this is very much nitpicking, but that Super Bowl fumble was one of a number of plays he shouldn’t be making at this point in his career.
Kryptonite: His UCL
Another NFC quarterback with a very small sample size to work from, Purdy was playing excellent football last season before an injury took him out of the NFC Championship game and effectively ended the 49ers season then and there.
Purdy’s performance wasn’t quite as impressive as the numbers suggest, but he was bringing plays to the table that weren’t there before he came into the lineup, enhancing the cheat code of the Kyle Shanahan offense. Both things can be true at the same time. If not for his elbow injury, he would be the unquestioned starter heading into preseason, but now he needs to show there has been no lasting damage there and that last season’s performance wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
Kryptonite: Turnover-worthy plays
Smith’s 2022 season came out of nowhere. After a long period of being a journeyman backup, Smith posted a 79.8 overall PFF grade to rank ninth in the NFL over the season, and he trailed only Josh Allen in big-time throws (34). The issue was Smith also tied for the league lead in turnover-worthy plays (29) despite having only 11 interceptions.
Smith put together just three “clean” games without a turnover-worthy play and had eight performances with multiple such plays, including five against the Panthers at home. Smith earned himself a payday and a chance to be a starter going forward, but he needs to be more careful with the football or his number of actual turnovers will spike.
Strangely, Mayfield’s biggest issue in the NFL has been inaccuracy. One of the most accurate passers PFF has charted in college football since 2014 simply misses far too many routine throws at this level.
We may think more of the glaring mistakes, but Mayfield’s career turnover-worthy play rate of 3.3% is only marginally worse than Trevor Lawrence’s 3.0% mark last season and better than Tua Tagovailoa’s 2022 mark of 4.2%. Mayfield’s adjusted completion rate, though, has been below 70.0% twice in his career, a figure that 34 quarterbacks exceeded in 2022.
Kryptonite: Taking sacks
Howell is one of a number of NFC quarterbacks with a small sample size at this level, so let’s look at his biggest weakness in college: a propensity to take too many sacks. In his career, he allowed 26.7% of pressure to become sacks, and that got worse over time.
Howell’s overall sack rate was high, and it worsened in gotta-have-it third-and-long situations. In fact, only Malik Willis in recent years had a worse sack rate in those situations. This is something that needs to be improved if he is to prove a viable starting quarterback this year.