NFL News & Analysis

NFL’s top 10 quarterbacks in clean-pocket passing grade: Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and more 

2MA4WJ6 Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) comes to the field before an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Cincinnati, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

• Joe Burrow leads the way: His 93.5 clean-pocket passing grade was the best mark in the NFL last season when including the playoffs.

• Clean pockets helped Jalen Hurts rise to greatness: His 22 big-time throws from a clean pocket last year tied with Patrick Mahomes.

• A few surprise top-10 quarterbacks: Andy Dalton and Jacoby Brissett both thrived from a clean pocket in 2022 and will now play for new teams in 2023.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

One of the more stable statistics in football to judge quarterback play year-over-year is how well they perform from a clean pocket. In this article, we use PFF Premium Stats to identify the top 10 quarterbacks in passing grade from a clean pocket in 2022.

For a more in-depth look at quarterbacks, check out the PFF QB Annual.

1. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

Clean-pocket passing grade: 93.5

Burrow has quickly blossomed into a bona fide top-three player at the most important position in the game, and no one has been better from a clean pocket over the past two seasons. Perhaps not coincidentally, that timeline matches up with how long Ja’Marr Chase has been in the NFL. Regardless, Burrow led all qualified quarterbacks with a 94.5 passing grade when kept clean in 2021 and followed that up with a 93.5 passing grade last season.

Over that span, Burrow has accumulated 51 big-time throws to just 14 turnover-worthy plays. He ranked third last season with a 1.1% turnover-worthy play rate from a clean pocket. Burrow also ranked third in time to throw (2.21 seconds), showcasing his ability to swiftly diagnose coverages and get the ball to his intended target. His 218 first downs when kept clean trailed only Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady.

2. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

Clean-pocket passing grade: 92.4

The two-time Super Bowl MVP led this category throughout the regular season, but he slightly trailed Burrow when also including postseason play. These two quarterbacks were neck-and-neck from a clean pocket. Mahomes often wows with his ability to extend and create plays out of structure, but his presence within the structure of a clean pocket makes him a special player. He led all qualified quarterbacks with 248 first downs gained when kept clean, which was 20 more than the next-best player.

Mahomes posted an 81.6% adjusted completion percentage from a clean pocket, which ranked fifth among qualified quarterbacks. He led the way with a 76.0% completion percentage, putting up 4,469 yards and 34 touchdowns when he was not under pressure. Mahomes' 22 big-time throws from a clean pocket tied for sixth with Jalen Hurts. He makes these incredible downfield throws but is also extremely good at taking care of the ball. His 1.6% turnover-worthy play rate also ranked sixth among qualified quarterbacks.

3. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

Clean-pocket passing grade: 91.9

The last time we saw Hurts play football, he showcased the best version of himself. His 92.9 passing grade in Super Bowl 57 was the highest such mark PFF has ever recorded for a quarterback in the Super Bowl. Although the Eagles ultimately came up short, Hurts played the best game of his young career. He made five big-time throws and had zero turnover-worthy plays on an 11.3-yard average depth of target with a phenomenal 80.0% adjusted completion percentage.

When kept clean, Hurts' 22 big-time throws tied for sixth with Patrick Mahomes. His 5.0% big-time throw rate also ranked sixth, and his 1.3% turnover-worthy play rate placed fourth among qualified quarterbacks. Hurts is accustomed to clean pockets behind the top offensive line in the league, and he consistently delivered, going 306-of-418 with 3,573 yards and 21 touchdowns.

4. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

Clean-pocket passing grade: 91.2

Lawrence’s consistent growth in his second year under head coach Doug Pederson was more than apparent. The former first-overall selection is starting to live up to the nickname “The Prince Who Was Promised.”

He joins Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts as the only quarterbacks to post elite 90.0-plus grades from a clean pocket. Lawrence took care of the football when kept clean, with his 0.9% turnover-worthy play rate ranking second among qualified quarterbacks. His 27 big-time throws ranked third, behind Tom Brady and Josh Allen. From Week 9 through Lawrence’s last outing in the divisional round of the playoffs, he had the highest passing grade (93.5) among all quarterbacks. Lawrence has a big 2023 season ahead of him if he picks up where he left off.

5. Mac Jones, New England Patriots

Clean-pocket passing grade: 89.0

Jones came from the same draft class as Trevor Lawrence, and it was Jones who led all quarterbacks from that group as a rookie with an 80.0 PFF grade. He took a step back last season under co-offensive coordinators Matt Patricia and Joe Judge. Unless you look at his stats from a clean pocket, he actually improved, jumping to an 89.0 passing grade from an 84.8 as a rookie. After all, standing from a clean pocket and playing within structure is where Jones thrives, dating back to his days at Alabama.

Jones made 20 big-time throws when kept clean, one of nine quarterbacks to record 20 or more. He paired that with just three turnover-worthy plays, bringing his turnover-worthy play rate to a league-leading 0.8%. Now, he will get to work with offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. Jones can excel within the confines of a clean pocket, and expect him to bounce back in Year 3 with the third offensive coordinator of his young NFL career.

6. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

Clean-pocket passing grade: 88.8

Tagovailoa was on track to have an incredible breakout season with new head coach and play caller Mike McDaniel, but some unfortunate injuries sidelined him down the stretch. Tagovailoa was at his best from a clean pocket and actually led all quarterbacks with a 10.3-yard average depth of target, while no other quarterback was over 10 yards. He went 213-of-313 for 2,898 yards and 20 touchdowns when kept clean. He delivered as McDaniel was dialing up plays for two of the most electric wide receivers in today’s game — Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

Displaying a high average depth of target, Tagovailoa was a bit boom-or-bust at times. He finished with one of the highest big-time throw rates (4.8%) as well as one of the highest turnover-worthy play rates (3.3%) — both were among the 10 highest marks at the position. Tagovailoa landed just outside the top five with his 109.4 NFL passer rating from a clean pocket.

7. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

Clean-pocket passing grade: 87.6

Allen has transformed into one of the best quarterbacks in the league over the past few seasons. He led all quarterbacks with a 6.3% big-time throw rate last season from a clean pocket but also was tied for 10th with Derek Carr with one of the highest turnover-worthy play rates (3.0%). Allen completed 67.5% of his clean-pocket passes for 3,384 yards and 24 touchdowns.

For what it's worth, Allen led all quarterbacks under pressure with an 85.8 PFF grade. In that department, he had more highs and lows, pacing all quarterbacks with 22 big-time throws and being tied with Trevor Lawrence with 18 turnover-worthy plays. Allen’s 52 total big-time throws led the league, with the next closest being Patrick Mahomes with 38 big-time throws. He is a highlight reel waiting to happen, regardless if he is under pressure or in a clean pocket. Allen has now posted three straight seasons with a 90.0-plus PFF grade and an 80.0-plus passing grade.

8. Andy Dalton, Carolina Panthers

Clean-pocket passing grade: 86.5

The 12-year veteran quarterback had a quietly impressive season with the Saints. Dalton was one of 10 quarterbacks with an 80.0%-plus adjusted completion percentage. He went 211-of-290 with 2,269 yards and 13 touchdowns from a clean pocket. Overall, he posted an 81.0 passing grade, which was the second highest of his career.

Dalton has always performed better within structure from a clean pocket, as most quarterbacks do. Now, he can be that veteran presence for rookie quarterback Bryce Young in Carolina. Not to mention, that is where Young excelled in his college career at Alabama. In 2021, Young posted a 94.5 passing grade when kept clean and followed it up with a 93.2 passing grade in his final season for the Crimson Tide.

9. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Clean-pocket passing grade: 85.7

Brady is the greatest of all time, especially when it comes to playing within the pocket. His 85.7 passing grade from a clean pocket in 2022 was his lowest mark of the PFF era (since 2006), if you take out his 2008 season that was cut short due to injury.

Even in the last year of his career, Brady was making his mark from a clean pocket. He led all quarterbacks with 31 big-time throws when kept clean. He also led the way with 4,487 yards. All at the age of 45. And that is why he is widely considered to be the greatest of all time.

10. Jacoby Brissett, Washington Commanders

Clean-pocket passing grade: 85.6

Brissett had an impressive outing in Cleveland, starting the first 12 weeks of the season while the Browns waited for Deshaun Watson to return from his suspension. Brissett was drafted in 2016 by New England and has since made stops in Indianapolis, Miami and Cleveland. He now joins Washington for the 2023 campaign. Last season in Cleveland, he posted a career-high 82.6 PFF grade.

The journeyman quarterback had a top-five average depth of target (9.0 yards), and he made 13 big-time throws and five turnover-worthy plays from a clean pocket. He was making throws down the field, completing 70.6% of his passes with 1,961 yards and 10 touchdowns when kept clean. Brissett has proven to be one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league and can make plays when his number is called. He will be a fantastic locker-room presence for second-year quarterback Sam Howell, presumably Washington’s starter.

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