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2023 YAC+: Another Huge 49ers Year

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The Kansas City Chiefs may have the NFL’s current active dynasty when it comes to championships and wins and things that actually matter, but the San Francisco 49ers have the YAC+ dynasty, and isn’t that more important? No? Well, alright then.

What is YAC+? YAC+ estimates how much YAC a receiver gained compared to what we would have expected from an average receiver catching passes of similar length in similar down-and-distance situations. This is imperfect—we don’t base YAC+ on what route a player runs, and obviously a go route will have more YAC than a comeback—but it does a fairly good job of telling you if this receiver gets more or less YAC than other receivers with similar usage patterns. You can get the full numbers for every player in FTN Football Almanac 2024 (available this July!), but we’ll cover the highlights today.

If you’re a long-time reader, you know that if you want to find out how the 49ers have done in YAC+, you go right to the top of the table. The 49ers as a team had a YAC+ of +1.6, which led the league by a landslide, doubling the total of Kansas City in second place at +0.8. The 49ers have led the league in this stat in every year since 2018, and Kyle Shanahan’s Falcons led in 2016 before that. This is very much Shanahan’s signature stat, and the rest of the league is literally running to catch up.

It usually isn’t quite so big of a 49ers lead, mind you. In 2022, the 49ers and Chiefs essentially tied at +1.5, with Andy Reid’s team ending up just .0004 behind Shanahan’s. Reid also was just a rounding error under Shanahan in 2020, while Zac Taylor’s Bengals and Arthur Smith’s Titans were solid second-place finishers in 2021 and 2019. But the 2023 49ers had the third-best team YAC+ we’ve ever recorded, going back to 2006. Couple that with the general offensive downturn around the league last season, and you have a massive victory lap for San Francisco.

However, we don’t want to imply that this stat is all just scheme. There is quite a bit of stickiness in this stat for receivers, even when they change teams. Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs and Tyreek Hill all saw their YAC+ numbers change by less than 0.3 when switching teams. DeAndre Hopkins had nearly identical numbers in Houston and Arizona before tanking in Tennessee last season. A player isn’t going to get to show off his full talent if he is put into a nonfunctioning offense. Play design and usage can help showcase a receiver’s talents, but Allen Robinson wouldn’t become a screen superstar if he went to San Francisco, and Cooper Kupp wouldn’t stop running if he left Los Angeles. One of the reasons Shanahan and Reid always appear near the top of this stat is because they prioritize finding speedy YAC guys, and then know how to use them once they’re in the fold.

And that brings us nicely to 2023’s leaderboards.

2023 Wide Receivers

A total of 81 wide receivers qualified last season, but we’ll just show a dozen from the top and bottom of the rankings to save space here.

2023 Wide Receivers: Top 12 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Targets ALEX aDOT YAC+
1 Deebo Samuel SF 85 -2.9 6.8 3.2
2 Rashee Rice KC 100 -4.2 4.8 3.0
3 Tee Higgins CIN 73 3.9 12.7 2.1
4 Nico Collins HOU 107 1.9 10.7 1.8
5 George Pickens PIT 103 5.6 13.7 1.8
6 Noah Brown HOU 53 4.0 12.2 1.6
7 DK Metcalf SEA 112 5.2 13.3 1.6
8 Puka Nacua LAR 155 0.8 9.3 1.6
9 Kendrick Bourne NE 53 2.2 10.7 1.2
10 Darius Slayton NYG 74 3.2 12.6 1.1
11 Cooper Kupp LAR 91 0.7 8.6 1.1
12 Dontayvion Wicks GB 57 2.5 10.4 1.0

Twenty-eight wide receivers were targeted on at least 10 screens in 2023. Only two had a positive DVOA on those targets – Deebo Samuel and Rashee Rice. Forty-nine receivers had at least 10 targets at or behind the line of scrimmage. Only Rice had a positive DVOA. Rice and Samuel were the only qualified receivers with an aDOT under 7.5 to have a positive DVOA. Their ability to take some of the least effective routes in football and consistently turn them into positive value plays makes them uniquely valuable, and some of the best weapons in the league with the ball in their hands.

This is nothing new for Samuel, who has been a fixture atop these leaderboards for basically his entire career. He’s now finished first in each of the last three seasons, would have finished first in 2020 had he had enough targets, and had to settle for second as a rookie in 2019. His career YAC+ is 3.4; no one else with at least 250 targets since 2006 is over +2.0. In short, he’s been worth an extra yard and a half over every other wide receiver in football for five years. The 49ers don’t give him as many carries as they used to, but they still funnel the ball to him early and often, and that’s the major wrinkle in the ongoing contract negotiations with Brandon Aiyuk.

Aiyuk has been the more valuable receiver in terms of DVOA for the last three years, but there are other wideouts like there like Aiyuk. They could theoretically find a replacement – they’re hoping Ricky Pearsall will be that sort of player. There really isn’t a replacement out there for Samuel; he’s one-of-one. Since 2006, there have been 15 receivers with qualified seasons with a YAC+ above 2.0 and an aDOT under 10. 14 players have one season each, and Samuel has four. Samuel would be more difficult to replace, and the 49ers’ offense would likely have to change more without him than without Aiyuk. Letting Aiyuk walk and keeping Samuel is almost certainly plan B, if only because winning downfield is just more valuable than racking up tons of YAC on short passes. That’s been the difference for the 49ers’ offense with Brock Purdy, after all. But it is a palatable plan B, and one San Francisco could fall back on should Aiyuk want Justin Jefferson money.

But while Samuel led on a per-reception basis, Rice was only a half-step behind him in 2023. Couple that with his higher target rate, and Rice was your volume leader in YAC+ last season. Both Rice and Samuel broke onto the top 10 in single-season YAC above expectation, with Rice’s 239 extra yards ranking fifth in our database.

Most YAC Above Expectation Gained, 2006-2023
Year Player Team Targets Rec YAC+ Added YAC
2021 Deebo Samuel SF 117 78 4.2 330
2021 Ja’Marr Chase CIN 124 81 3.2 259
2013 Demarius Thomas DEN 136 92 2.8 253
2013 Josh Gordon CLE 148 87 2.8 242
2023 Rashee Rice KC 102 79 3.0 239
2019 A.J. Brown TEN 83 52 4.4 229
2009 Miles Austin DAL 118 81 2.8 224
2011 Victor Cruz NYG 118 82 2.5 206
2023 Deebo Samuel SF 89 60 3.2 194
2022 A.J. Brown PHI 145 88 2.2 193

Rice passes Samuel in volume because while Deebo was working with an offense filled with superstar playmakers, Rice was at times the only wideout in Kansas City who could be trusted to hold on to the ball. Every other wide receiver on Kansas City had a negative plus-minus, meaning they caught fewer passes than expected after adjusting for situation. For large stretches, then, the Kansas City offense was either hope Travis Kelce could win downfield, or dump the ball off to Rice and get him to make a play. Only New England threw more first-down wide receiver screens than Kansas City did, as Andy Reid dug deep to the back of his playbook to try to generate offense. But while the likes of Kadarius Toney and Mecole Hardman put up a combined -67.7% DVOA on these first-down screens, Rice was at 5.6% with a 77% success rate. When nothing else was working, Rice could keep the Chiefs’ offense moving, and he was rewarded with more and more targets as the year went along.

It’d be a little bit disingenuous to sing Rice’s praises without at least mentioning the street race and car crash he was involved in in April, as well as any potential suspension that may result thereof. If a suspension for that comes down in 2024, that alone could keep Rice from becoming the first non-Samuel player to put up multiple seasons with short aDOTs and a big YAC+ number. From purely a football standpoint, however, Rice was already the most talented wide receiver on Kansas City as a rookie. It will be interesting to see if Kansas City keeps using him as a screens-and-speed guy, or if they’ll expand his route tree more as he gains experience in the Chiefs’ offense. It’s not like he was expected to play such a major role when the season began; he wasn’t consistently on the field for more than half of Kansas City’s offensive snaps until Week 7. It’s possible he’ll build on his 2023 role and end up trading some YAC for more intermediate and deep targets.

Outside of the top two, you can see Shanahan-type systems grabbing the YAC guys they want to make their offenses go. Bobby Slowik in Houston got two of the top six with Noah Brown barely squeaking past the 50-target minimum to join Nico Collins. Sean McVay and the Rams saw just a slight downtick from Cooper Kupp and the immediate impact of Puka Nacua, who absolutely thrived in the catch-and-run game. Nacua had the single biggest YAC+ play of the season, gaining 72.7 yards above expected on this dumpoff from Matthew Stafford, with the assist of some excellent tackling from Adoree’ Jackson.

It’s also rare we get to praise something from the Steelers’ offense, so a hat tip to George Pickens is well deserved. Most of the YAC+ superstars succeed most often on short and intermediate routes, so to put up a +1.8 number on an aDOT of 13.7 is impressive, to say the least. Pickens had the highest YAC+ for anyone with that deep of an aDOT since Marques Valdes-Scantling had a +2.3 for the 2020 Packers. Pickens didn’t quite have the worst quarterback situation of anyone in the top 10 – Hi, Kendrick Bourne and Darius Slayton – but considering the general lack of production Pittsburgh got out of the quarterback position, having a player like Pickens who could scrap for extra yardage might well have been the difference between the seventh seed and staying home last year.

2023 Wide Receivers: Bottom 12 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Targets ALEX aDOT YAC+
70 Drake London ATL 107 2.6 11.4 -1.5
71 Jahan Dotson WAS 76 0.6 9.3 -1.6
72 Robert Woods HOU 69 0.8 9.7 -1.6
73 Elijah Moore CLE 101 1.9 11.4 -1.6
74 Romeo Doubs GB 95 3.2 11.8 -1.7
75 Tutu Atwell LAR 64 3.5 11.8 -1.8
76 Rashid Shaheed NO 73 6.5 14.9 -1.9
77 Rashod Bateman BAL 55 6.1 14.9 -2.0
78 Trey Palmer TB 66 2.4 11.3 -2.2
79 DJ Chark CAR 65 7.3 15.5 -2.3
80 Zay Jones JAX 62 5.7 13.9 -2.4
81 Justin Watson KC 50 8.4 17.8 -2.8

Unlike receiving plus-minus, there are plenty of good receivers who score very badly in YAC+. Possession receivers and jump ball threats aren’t expected to rack up tons of YAC. Someone like Drake London appearing on this list is more about his role in Atlanta’s offense more than anything else

Justin Watson, at the very bottom of the list, had the longest aDOT of any qualified receiver. He was never going to have much opportunity to add extra yards after the catch. He wasn’t particularly inspiring with the ball in his hands either, and there are deep ball merchants who have better juice after the catch than Watson did, but you’re not expecting a huge positive number from someone with a steady diet of deep corners, digs, posts and gos. That being said, Watson had the second-lowest YAC+ on deep passes in general and averaged just 2.1 YAC on his deep receptions. Pickens, by comparison, averaged 8.4. Being the worst of a subgroup of receivers who always rank low on these sorts of things is a great way to appear at the bottom of the list.

Robert Woods was never the most successful YAC target, even with Sean McVay in Los Angeles, but this is now two straight years he’s been deep in the negatives with a low aDOT, working with two different offenses. Woods may be reaching the end of his career, and may not even make the Texans’ 53-man roster in 2024.

2023 Tight Ends

A total of 52 tight ends qualified last season, but we’ll just show a dozen from the top and bottom of the rankings to save space here.

2023 Tight Ends: Top 12 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Targets ALEX aDOT YAC+
1 Tucker Kraft GB 39 -4.1 4.1 2.9
2 George Kittle SF 89 0.3 9.6 2.7
3 Isaiah Likely BAL 39 -2.7 6.6 2.4
4 Josh Oliver MIN 25 -5.4 2.7 2.2
5 David Njoku CLE 116 -5.0 4.6 2.1
6 Jonnu Smith ATL 67 -3.0 5.9 1.9
7 Michael Mayer LV 36 -1.8 6.3 1.7
8 Jake Ferguson DAL 96 -3.4 5.7 1.1
9 Austin Hooper LV 31 -5.2 4.2 1.1
10 Tyler Higbee LAR 67 -1.8 6.2 0.9
11 Drew Sample CIN 27 -7.8 1.1 0.9
12 Noah Fant SEA 42 -2.1 7.2 0.9

Tucker Kraft is an intriguing player for 2024. He got very little work in the Packers’ offense until Luke Musgrave went down in Week 11, but was sixth in DVOA among tight ends from that point on as he very quickly became one of Jordan Love’s most reliable targets. Despite basically not playing for half the year, Kraft led all Packers receivers with 22 targets, 59 DYAR and a 31.6% DVOA on quick outs. It was a part of the Green Bay offense that was just missing for the first three months, as Musgrave and Jayden Reed had negative DVOAs running the route before Kraft took over. We’re not saying that it’s Kraft who was the secret sauce to the Packers’ late-season surge, but having a reliable target who can take those dump-offs and turn them into successes is a hugely valuable resource. Kraft’s YAC meant he had a 73% success rate on quick outs, second in the league among players with 20 targets on the route. We’ll have to see how the Packers use Kraft and Musgrave together when both are healthy, though Kraft is currently recovering from a torn pec and is out until camp at the earliest.

The only player more successful on quick outs than Kraft? George Kittle, who once again finishes near the top of the tight end leaderboards. He’s your volume leader in YAC+ for 2023 with 179 extra yards added – and he did it despite having the second-longest aDOT of all tight ends, rather than just racking up short catch after short catch. This is nothing new for Kittle, as he and Travis Kelce have basically dominated this stat – they each own three of the top seven seasons in total YAC+ since Kittle entered the league in 2017. Kittle’s always done a little bit better than Kelce on pure rate, however. Kittle is the positional leader since 2017 among tight ends with at least 100 targets at +2.3; Kelce ranks 12th at +1.0. Then again, Kelce has always had a larger role in the Chiefs passing game, so it does sort of balance out in the end. Both Kelce and Kittle are very good. These are the deep analytical insights you’ve come to expect from FTN.

2023 Tight Ends: Bottom 12 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Targets ALEX aDOT YAC+
41 Irv Smith CIN 25 -3.7 4.2 -0.8
42 T.J. Hockenson MIN 123 -1.6 7.7 -0.8
43 Luke Musgrave GB 45 -1.1 7.5 -0.8
44 Tanner Hudson CIN 49 -2.0 5.6 -0.9
45 Connor Heyward PIT 33 -3.9 5.3 -0.9
46 Tyler Conklin NYJ 80 -1.5 7.0 -1.0
47 Mike Gesicki NE 44 -0.1 8.8 -1.1
48 Taysom Hill NO 39 -4.7 5.4 -1.2
49 Kyle Pitts ATL 85 3.1 12.1 -1.5
50 John Bates WAS 25 -2.3 5.9 -1.6
51 Hunter Henry NE 61 0.3 8.8 -1.9
52 Zach Ertz ARI 42 -1.9 7.4 -3.1

Zach Ertz’s -3.1 is the worst for a qualified tight end in our database, beating out 2017 Austin Seferian-Jenkins at -2.5. Ertz was never a YAC guy, even in his prime, and his prime was ever so long ago at this point. He’s also only had one season in the past six years with a positive receiving plus-minus. Call us doubtful that a reunion with Kliff Kingsbury in Washington will serve as a fountain of youth.

2023 Running Backs

A total of 48 running backs qualified last season, but we’ll just show the 10 from the top and bottom of the rankings to save space here.

2023 Running Backs: Top 10 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Targets ALEX aDOT YAC+
1 Brian Robinson WAS 40 -9.2 -1.1 4.6
2 AJ Dillon GB 26 -9.4 -0.3 3.7
3 Kenneth Walker SEA 34 -11.7 -2.0 2.7
4 Samaje Perine DEN 52 -9.9 -0.2 2.5
5 Austin Ekeler LAC 68 -9.5 -0.9 2.5
6 James Cook BUF 53 -6.8 2.5 2.3
7 Rachaad White TB 70 -9.9 -0.5 2.2
8 Bijan Robinson ATL 82 -7.7 0.4 2.0
9 De’Von Achane MIA 35 -7.5 1.0 2.0
10 Aaron Jones GB 41 -8.9 -0.8 1.8

Your 2024 Washington Commanders will feature both Brian Robinson and Austin Ekeler in the backfield, with Kingsbury experimenting with two-back sets to get them both on the field at the same time. We would have to expect it would be Ekeler, not Robinson, who would be the primary pass catcher of the two just because of the historical track record, but Robinson had a terrific year when Sam Howell could actually get him the ball on screen routes. Robinson was sixth in the league with 46 DYAR on running back screens, and one of just five running backs who had a success rate above 50% on them. Robinson led all running backs with 10 plays with at least 20 YAC, as defenders were often so eager to sack Howell yet again that Robinson found himself with clear running room ahead. Having two of the four running backs who averaged more than 10 yards of YAC should be a great resource for Jayden Daniels, whether Robinson or Ekeler end up with more time in the backfield.

2023 Running Backs: Bottom 10 in YAC+
Rk Player Team Targets ALEX aDOT YAC+
39 Jahmyr Gibbs DET 69 -8.0 0.2 -0.6
40 Miles Sanders CAR 38 -8.9 0.4 -0.6
41 Kenneth Gainwell PHI 35 -7.2 1.9 -0.7
42 D’Andre Swift PHI 46 -8.5 0.7 -0.7
43 Tony Pollard DAL 66 -8.4 0.4 -0.8
44 Alexander Mattison MIN 42 -9.8 0.6 -0.9
45 Javonte Williams DEN 56 -10.6 -1.6 -1.0
46 Saquon Barkley NYG 57 -6.6 2.5 -1.2
47 Emari Demercado ARI 29 -9.0 1.0 -1.6
48 Michael Carter 2TM 30 -8.1 1.1 -2.3

Michael Carter had a -2.3 YAC+ as a Jet on 19 targets, and a -2.3 YAC+ as a Cardinal on 11 targets. This was the primary pass-catching back for Arizona after the trade, too; he took snaps away from James Conner for the Cardinals to trot him out there. Then again, it’s not like Emari Demercado was doing much with the role before Carter came to town, so sometimes you just don’t have a good option. Save us, Trey Benson.

Javonte Williams and Samaje Perine received about the same number of targets for Denver, despite Perine’s massive leads in YAC+, receiving plus-minus, DYAR and DVOA – and, for that matter, rushing DYAR and DVOA. Explaining Sean Payton’s vision for the Denver Broncos offense is left as an exercise for the reader.

2023 Quarterbacks

YAC+ for quarterbacks is really an indicator more of the type of offense the quarterback runs and the talent in it rather than his individual performance level. Here are the 2023 results for our 36 qualified quarterbacks.

2023 Quarterbacks: YAC+
Player Team Pass Pa +/- ALEX aDOT YAC YAC+ Rk
Brock Purdy SF 406 22.9 -0.8 8.3 6.6 1.7 1
Jake Browning CIN 226 6.3 -2.3 6.6 6.5 0.9 2
Patrick Mahomes KC 543 5.2 -2.5 6.6 6.4 0.8 3
Matthew Stafford LAR 479 -7.8 -0.6 8.1 5.8 0.8 4
Lamar Jackson BAL 424 13.2 -0.3 8.9 5.7 0.6 5
Joe Flacco CLE 191 -7.6 0.7 9.5 5.5 0.6 6
C.J. Stroud HOU 454 7.0 0.4 9.2 5.5 0.5 7
Kyler Murray ARI 252 -4.3 -1.9 7.5 5.6 0.3 8
Justin Fields CHI 319 2.7 -1.0 8.3 5.4 0.2 9
Baker Mayfield TB 519 5.1 0.0 8.7 5.3 0.2 10
Josh Allen BUF 528 17.4 -0.2 8.6 5.1 0.2 11
Jared Goff DET 558 6.4 -1.4 7.2 5.3 0.1 12
Geno Smith SEA 447 8.1 -1.3 7.6 5.3 0.1 13
Justin Herbert LAC 419 4.1 -0.8 7.9 5.3 0.1 14
Tua Tagovailoa MIA 530 18.6 -0.7 8.0 5.6 0.1 15
Dak Prescott DAL 562 16.6 -0.5 8.0 4.8 0.1 16
Russell Wilson DEN 396 11.1 -1.7 7.1 5.8 0.1 17
Gardner Minshew IND 435 -1.8 -1.1 7.7 5.1 0.0 18
Player Team Pass Pa +/- ALEX aDOT YAC YAC+ Rk
Aiden O’Connell LV 309 -6.4 -1.2 7.8 5.0 0.0 19
Jordan Love GB 544 -7.7 0.1 8.6 5.2 0.0 20
Mac Jones NE 323 -8.5 -1.5 7.3 5.4 -0.1 21
Sam Howell WAS 544 0.2 -1.3 7.4 5.2 -0.1 22
Desmond Ridder ATL 360 -0.9 -0.3 8.5 4.9 -0.1 23
Joe Burrow CIN 339 -1.5 -1.8 6.6 5.1 -0.2 24
Jalen Hurts PHI 479 20.0 -0.1 8.8 4.8 -0.2 25
Kenny Pickett PIT 295 -7.7 -1.1 7.5 5.2 -0.2 26
Trevor Lawrence JAX 530 2.9 -0.1 8.6 4.8 -0.3 27
Ryan Tannehill TEN 211 1.1 -0.9 8.2 5.3 -0.3 28
Zach Wilson NYJ 323 -10.5 -1.9 7.5 5.0 -0.3 29
Kirk Cousins MIN 290 9.2 -1.5 7.1 4.6 -0.4 30
Tommy DeVito NYG 158 -1.7 -3.7 6.6 5.1 -0.6 31
Will Levis TEN 232 -5.1 1.8 11.0 5.0 -0.6 32
Derek Carr NO 512 13.0 -0.6 8.1 4.5 -0.7 33
Bailey Zappe NE 198 -11.8 -0.9 8.2 5.0 -0.8 34
Bryce Young CAR 458 -6.5 -1.2 7.7 4.1 -1.2 35
Josh Dobbs 2TM 386 -10.1 -0.9 7.9 3.8 -1.4 36

We have run half a dozen of these statistical summary articles this offseason. In a bunch of them, we’ve had some variation on the following paragraph:

Brock Purdy was massively ahead of the field in [STAT X]. While it is undeniable that he was helped by his scheme and the talent around him, his performance was the best since [RIDICULOUSLY LONG TIME AGO]. And you just have to compare his performance to Jimmy Garoppolo’s [DRAMATICALLY LOWER NUMBER] to see what Purdy has brought to the 49ers’ offense.

This is not one of those stats.

Since Kyle Shanahan took over the 49ers in 2017, Brock Purdy leads all quarterbacks (min 500 attempts) with a +1.6 YAC+. In second place is Jimmy Garoppolo, at +1.3. In fifth place is former 49ers backup Nick Mullens, at +0.7. And in ninth place is former 49ers backup C.J. Beathard at +0.4. Even Trey Lance, in very limited action, finished at +1.0 for San Francisco. Sam Darnold was at +0.9 with the 49ers and +0.2 everywhere else.

It’s not that quarterback quality doesn’t play any role here – delivering the ball accurately and on time helps the system function, which is why Purdy is ahead of Garoppolo and Garoppolo is ahead of the various backups. Nor is it that every quarterback with a high YAC+ number is being unfairly propped up; Patrick Mahomes is third on the list at +1.0. But it’s clear and obvious that this isn’t a case of Kyle Shanahan finding four of the best 10 quarterbacks in football to run his offense over the past six years. This is a stat driven by the skill position players and the schemes that get them open enough to run for days after the catch. It would be concerning if anyone in this system wasn’t putting up good numbers! And while it’s great that Purdy was getting nearly a yard more on his completions than any other quarterback in football, that’s not really thanks to what he was doing in particular.

When you hear some pundits say that there are 15 guys in the league who could have success doing what Purdy was doing in San Francisco’s offense, this is where they’re right. Anybody who can consistently get the ball to Deebo Samuel and George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk is going to have their raw numbers inflated. And, when needs be, Shanahan has stripped his offense down to just finding those quick easy reads; it’s why the 49ers didn’t quite bottom out when Garoppolo was constantly injured. Whether or not Purdy has opened up Shanahan’s playbook isn’t relevant here. This is showing that the 49ers’ offense can be easy mode for a baseline competent NFL quarterback.

It will be really interesting if we get to see Josh Dobbs have any extended action in the system, seeing as he finished dead last a year ago, with a -1.4 in both Arizona and Minnesota. With the 49ers’ injury history at quarterback, maybe we will get to see if Shanahan can make this magic work with anyone.

The other interesting splits of note there are the three teams that saw multiple passers qualify for the leaderboards. The Titans saw no substantial difference between Will Levis and Ryan Tannehill, but both the Bengals and Patriots did see significant gaps between their two starters.

For Cincinnati, Jake Browning’s big gap over Joe Burrow can be explained by a combination of better health and shorter pass routes. With Browning in, Zak Taylor started calling more screens, wheels and dig routes, cutting down on gos and deep outs. These are higher-percentage plays and didn’t require Browning to ape Burrow’s arm strength – and, as a side effect, asked the receivers to do more after the ball was caught. For New England, the gap between Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe may be summed up as Jones being an acceptable NFL backup, while Zappe may not deserve to be on a roster at this point. A certain level of baseline competency is needed to run any NFL system, and that was not in great supply in New England in 2023.

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