Most NFL quarterbacks can deliver solid play when provided with a clean pocket. QBs are truly tested, however, when their protection breaks down and they are forced to find windows—and deliver accurate passes—under pressure. Here we take a look at the top five quarterbacks under pressure this season in terms of their performance through Week 7.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Although Tom Brady has the smallest sample size of dropbacks under pressure this season (34), not putting the Patriots' quarterback at the top spot would be an injustice. Brady’s current pressure numbers are unheard of, as he leads the NFL in every major pressure category, starting with a 95.0 adjusted completion percentage.
What’s been most impressive is that these plays are providing chunks of yardage, with Brady averaging 10.1 yards per attempt. His passer rating of 115.6 is over 20 points higher than the next competitor. Owning the game’s best pocket instincts, Brady consistently feels pressure and creates space to reset his feet and throw on balance better than anyone.
2. Cody Kessler, Cleveland Browns
Cody Kessler’s work under pressure this season would be considered impressive for a 10-year veteran, much less a rookie who began the season third on the Browns' depth chart. No quarterback has been under more pressure this season than Kessler (47.3 percent of his 146 dropbacks). His 84.4 adjusted completion percentage under pressure, however, is second only behind Tom Brady, and his 91.6 passer rating also sits second only to the New England QB.
Kessler’s ability to find outlets and checkdowns to salvage plays when the rush closes in shows his great understanding of how to play the position, regardless of how few NFL snaps he has under his belt. It's worth noting, however, that the USC product is certainly starting to feel the effects of the high pressure numbers, with some injuries coming of late.
3. Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings
Up until last week’s loss at Philadelphia, Sam Bradford’s play under pressure was the most efficient in the NFL, given the circumstances. Playing behind a makeshift offensive line, Bradford has been pressured at the eighth-highest rate this season (36.8 percent of his 182 dropbacks). He currently sits at fifth in adjusted completion percentage under pressure, at 71.1, and third in passer rating under pressure, with a 90.1 mark.
Bradford is being forced to speed up his internal clock this year; when he has been sacked this season, it has come at an average of just 2.8 seconds into the play, the fastest rate in the NFL. Minnesota's QB doesn't have the luxury to scan the field to get through multiple progressions like many of his positional peers, and is being required to make quick decisions and throws on just one hitch step after his initial drop.
With the trouble shown on the Vikings' offensive line and a running game currently graded 31st in the NFL, Bradford will continually be under pressure and needs to shoulder the load for the Minnesota offense to move effectively.
4. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
A strong running game and offensive-line play have put Derek Carr under pressure on just 25 percent of his 280 dropbacks this season, the third-lowest rate in the NFL. When he has been required to play under pressure, Carr has done so effectively, with a 75.0 adjusted completion percentage (third-best) and a 86.0 passer rating that ranks fifth in the NFL at the moment. He’s been sacked under pressure just seven times, good for the second-lowest sack percentage in the league, and repeatedly shows an uncanny ability to get the ball out to receivers accurately when things get chaotic in the pocket.
With the pass protection and playmakers the Raiders have on the outside to go along with some of the better passing schemes, if Carr can stay consistent under pressure, this offense will continue to be a nightmare to stop.
5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
The final spot was a toss-up between Russell Wilson and Tyrod Taylor, with the edge going to Wilson due to his fourth-best 73.1 adjusted completion percentage under pressure (Taylor at 58.0).
Wilson has been hobbled by an ankle injury for much of the season, but is playing efficiently despite that, with the eighth-best passer rating under pressure (78.4). Inconsistencies along the Seattle offensive line have put him under pressure on 37.8 percent of his 230 dropbacks (seventh-highest rate), but Wilson has thrown for the third-most yards in such situations, with his 523 yards under pressure making up 33 percent of his total passing yards so far this season. He boasts the sixth-lowest sack percentage (12.6), and has been a good decision-maker, despite his ankle injury at times limiting him from doing what he does best.
Wilson’s play under pressure is something he’s always excelled at, as the Seahawks' QB is the most creative pocket-mover in the game.