Again, glancing at a passer’s overall production doesn’t necessarily reflect how they operated or what aspects helped see them elevate their outputs. Two passers could be asked to complete the same RPO read, but one could be gifted a potential first round pick while the other is dumping it off to a future salesperson. One passer could be more apt at playing backyard ball and extending plays outside of structure and make up for his lack of passing acumen. The point is, there are plenty of superfluous aspects to the game that can make evaluating a true passer’s ability more murky.
While play versus pressure might set a quarterback’s ceiling, play from pristine pockets often sets their floor. You want a high floor. Because after all, if you cannot produce when everything goes as designed consistently, when exactly can you? Being able to make a play when a design breaks down will always be a desirable trait for quarterbacks, but that ability rarely reflects one’s down-to-down trajectory. Since unpressured attempts present far less variables, and hence excuses, they are better reflections of one’s down-to-down floor. Plus, they are more common. The average SEC passer logged a 23% Pressure Rate this past season.
Like pressures, RPOs and screen snaps are omitted from this parameter. Since RPOs are modern day triple options, their usage are dependent on micro situations; and again, not every team fancies them the same. These throws hardly help project a passer’s ability to operate from the pocket. Screens as de facto extensions of the run game, make the passer’s decision for him. Either way, production on these snaps are mostly outside of the QB’s control. Meaning, any schmo could slide in and execute those concepts. In order for a passer to standout, he’s got to set a decent bar on dropback attempts with pristine pockets.
Here’s how he analyzes JT Daniels’ 2020 efforts:
When I charted JT Daniels last spring, I chose to only watch him against his five hardest defensive opponents over his tenure at USC. Along with not bothering with games against cupcakes where he could pad his metrics, the collection in opponents translated to an average SEC slate that would better help forecast his play where “it just means more”. He projected to be a nickel and dimer more than someone who wanted to break the bank. Though Daniels wasn’t that shy of trying his luck deep as a Trojan, his production was overly beefed up by his underneath completions. Even before his injury, his shots arced high in the air and fell to the turf hard and fast like a dead duck. Though hunting season apparently continued in Athens, he at least gave his guys a stab at those passes unlike his predecessors. Stetson Bennet’s and D’Wan Mathis’ each had Uncatchable Pass Rates of 23.5% and 40.0%, respectively. JTD’s was only 16.7% by comparison. Over the last month or so of the season, Daniels’ homeruns positioned him as one of the most potent passers in college football. He leads the SEC returners in Predictive Points Added/play, Y/A, Explosive Pass Rate, and ADOT. But, the increased focus on the vertical passing game soured his accuracy figures, which allows questions to linger on whether the fireworks are sustainable.
Or, another way of putting it, whether he can clean up his mechanics such that the fireworks are sustainable. On to his floor:
Screens and RPOs composed about a fifth of Daniels’ attempts. Even though these plays helped secure plenty of completions, their 29.2% combined Success Rate was truly awful. Without them pulling down his passing profile, Daniels already sterling result-based stats entered another stratosphere in our parameter. With only 15% of his attempts occurring under duress, the Bulldog was one of the SEC’s least-pressured passers. Keeping Daniels upright was vital to the downfield passing game. Frequently aided by a sound shield — JTD averaged the SEC’s 3rd-most blockers/clean dropback — the Californian was further goaded into executing Georgia’s deep aerial scheme. His 16.0 ADOT was almost two yards more than the next passer’s in line. Behind that gumption to go deep, Daniels leads the way in Y/A, Explosive Pass Rate, and First Down+TD Rate. The later increased by an insane ten percentage points compared to his overall figure.
Due to his muted play and USC’s way of doing things, Daniels didn’t project to be a potent passer. He overly stuck to modest completions, taking what the defense gave him, and padding his ball placement stats. Ironically based on his five game sample against his most-challenging opponents from his time as a Trojan, he projected the SEC’s top Accuracy% and one of the lowest Explosive Pass Rates. Funny what a change in environment and a chip on your shoulder (and very, very talented pass catchers) can do for a one’s modus operandi through the air. His bottom line was truly fantastic, but you’d have to be a fool to ignore Daniels’ rotten accuracy numbers. Both his raw Accuracy and Depth Adjusted Accuracy clips soured by over four points; Daniels was the only SECer to suffer from such a thing. His backers will surely point to his degree of difficulty as to why his precision faltered. And, they might have a case. Even for someone like me who doesn’t think much of his ability to drive the ball downfield, Daniels finished inside the SEC’s top5 in Depth Adjusted Accuracy (with a top7 raw clip) on clean+dropback attempts with a depth of target under 15 yards last season. But, I don’t care what anyone tells me. Daniels’ accuracy stats and Interceptable Pass Rate, which fall inside the bottom3 amongst qualifiers, from our parameter all would have represented the conference’s floor in last year’s sample.
The big takeaway there? “With only 15% of his attempts occurring under duress, the Bulldog was one of the SEC’s least-pressured passers. Keeping Daniels upright was vital to the downfield passing game.” That tells me defensive coordinators are going to keep selling out to pressure Daniels until Monken proves he’s got the assets to make them pay for that. (Let’s hear it for those “very, very talented pass catchers”!) Also, did I mention that Monken’s got to work with his quarterback to clean up his mechanics?