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Passing Plus-Minus for 2023

NFL DVOA

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As we continue our statistical deep-dive in the lead up to the FTN Football Almanac 2024, we turn our heads back to the quarterback position. Passing plus-minus is a stat we annually track to help provide context to a quarterback’s completion percentage. Given the location of a quarterback’s passes, it compares his completion percentage in each area to historical baselines. This stat does not consider passes listed as “Thrown Away,” “Batted Down,” “Miscommunication,” “Hit in Motion,” or “Quarterback Drops Ball” by FTN charting data. Metrics are based on how often a pass is completed based on the pass distance, the distance required for a first down, and whether the ball was thrown to the left, middle, or right side of the field. This is a counting stat, so more attempts are obviously a great thing for the purposes of this exercise. Our Completion Percentage Over Expectation (CPOE) numbers may differ from other models around the Internet.

The below table highlights all quarterbacks who threw at least 150 passes in 2023, with stats from FTN charting data.

Player Team Pass +/- CPOE
Brock Purdy SF 406 22.9 5.7%
Jalen Hurts PHI 479 20.0 4.2%
Tua Tagovailoa MIA 530 18.6 3.5%
Josh Allen BUF 528 17.4 3.3%
Dak Prescott DAL 562 16.6 3.0%
Lamar Jackson BAL 424 13.2 3.1%
Derek Carr NO 512 13.0 2.5%
Russell Wilson DEN 396 11.1 2.8%
Kirk Cousins MIN 290 9.2 3.2%
Geno Smith SEA 447 8.1 1.9%
C.J. Stroud HOU 454 7.0 1.6%
Jared Goff DET 558 6.4 1.1%
Jake Browning CIN 226 6.3 2.8%
Patrick Mahomes KC 543 5.2 0.9%
Baker Mayfield TB 519 5.1 1.0%
Justin Herbert LAC 419 4.1 1.0%
Tyrod Taylor NYG 161 3.8 2.3%
Trevor Lawrence JAX 530 2.9 0.5%
Justin Fields CHI 319 2.7 0.9%
Ryan Tannehill TEN 211 1.1 0.5%
Player Team Pass +/- CPOE
Jimmy Garoppolo LV 158 0.3 0.1%
Sam Howell WAS 544 0.2 0.0%
Desmond Ridder ATL 360 -0.9 -0.2%
Joe Burrow CIN 339 -1.5 -0.4%
Tommy DeVito NYG 158 -1.7 -1.0%
Garrett Minshew IND 435 -1.8 -0.4%
Kyler Murray ARI 252 -4.3 -1.8%
Deshaun Watson CLE 159 -4.5 -2.9%
Will Levis TEN 232 -5.1 -2.2%
Aidan O’Connell LV 309 -6.4 -2.1%
Bryce Young CAR 458 -6.5 -1.4%
Easton Stick LAC 165 -7.1 -4.3%
Joe Flacco CLE 191 -7.6 -4.0%
Kenny Pickett PIT 295 -7.7 -2.6%
Jordan Love GB 544 -7.7 -1.4%
Matthew Stafford LAR 479 -7.8 -1.6%
Mac Jones NE 323 -8.5 -2.7%
Josh Dobbs 2TM 386 -10.1 -2.6%
Zach Wilson NYJ 323 -10.5 -3.3%
Bailey Zappe NE 198 -11.8 -6.0%

Purdy, Purdy Good

He led the league in DYAR and DVOA. He dominated our Passing Under Pressure deep-dive from last month. He topped the charts in yards per attempt, QBR, and CPOE. We can now add one more to that list. With a passing plus-minus of 22.9 – meaning he completed 22.9 more passes than the average quarterback with the same types of throws – San Francisco’s Brock Purdy leads our metric for 2023. 

It should be noted that Purdy’s 22.9 plus-minus is the lowest passing plus-minus to lead the league since we began keeping the stat in 2006. It’s the third straight year quarterbacks have reset the benchmark, with Geno Smith’s 2022 (23.4) barely edging out Kyler Murray’s 2021 (27.4) as the low man in the clubhouse. In both cases, Smith and Murray came back down to more respectable numbers the following season. While Purdy could certainly succumb to the same fate, neither Smith nor Murray have the situation Purdy has in San Francisco. The Kyle Shanahan offense is so quarterback-friendly and specifically designed to get targets into space, making plays easier for the quarterback at the helm. 

Is this a product of a head coach whose offense has birthed the most disciples of any current coach in the league? Absolutely. Does a skill position group with three All-Pros (plus an All-Pro at fullback and one at left tackle) make a difference? You bet. But Purdy should get credit for reaching heights his predecessor was never able to. In 2022, Jimmy Garoppolo finished the season with a -2.6 plus-minus. Despite taking just over half of Garoppolo’s passing attempts, Purdy finished his rookie year with a plus-minus of 0.9. Even during his Super Bowl run in 2019, Garoppolo finished the regular season with a 5.4 plus-minus, ranked just 15th in the league that season. This kind of ascent is more than just the system. Purdy is a smarter, better-equipped quarterback than Garoppolo, able to extend plays with his legs and make tight-window throws Jimmy G wished he could.

Some of this could also be attributed to the Christian McCaffrey Effect, too. The most versatile running back in the league helped turn things around for the 49ers in 2022. Before trading for McCaffrey, the San Francisco 49ers collectively posted a -8.3 plus-minus in Weeks 1 through 6, fourth-worst in the league over that span. Post-trade, San Francisco finished with a more respectable plus-minus of 2.8, up to 11th in the league from Week 7 onward. The team’s transition from Garoppolo to Purdy did not come until Week 13, so even Garoppolo’s plus-minus benefitted from the addition. 

Jalen Hurts was the only other passer to break a plus-minus of 20, and he could have led for the whole season before the Eagles’ end-of-year collapse. During the Eagles’ 10-1 run over the first 12 weeks of the season, Hurts posted a plus-minus of 19.6, nearly two full points ahead of a second-place Purdy. Regardless of the end-of-season collapse, the 20.0 plus-minus is a testament to how Hurts has really developed as a passer over his early NFL career. Hurts’ first sason as a full-time starter saw him fail to produce a positive plus-minus or CPOE. His throwing mechanics were still raw, and his supporting talent was still weak. Then Tennessee decided A.J. Brown was expendable. Hurts immediately leapt to a 14.9 plus-minus in 2022 with Brown in tow, raising his completion percentage by five percentage points. While Hurts wasn’t as accurate as a passer in 2023, the presence of A.J. Brown has enabled the Eagles to pass so much more than they did in 2021. 

2023 Showers Bring Maye Flowers

Leaving an offense every quarterback dreams of, we go to a situation where it doesn’t matter who was under center. New England’s 2023 offense was just that lousy. Bailey Zappe and Mac Jones finished with the lowest (-11.8) and fourth-lowest (-8.5) plus-minus in the league, respectively. There was a laundry list of reasons New England moved on from Jones to Drake Maye, but the year-to-year fall-off in passing plus-minus illustrates why the decision to pivot was easy. You can see Jones’ confidence crumble in real time. Entering the league touted as a cerebral, highly accurate quarterback, Jones finished his rookie season 10th in plus-minus (just behind Tom Brady, no less) and ninth in CPOE. By his second season, Jones’ passing plus-minus slipped from 11.7 to -2.3, down to 24th among 37 qualifying quarterbacks. The Matt Patricia year was not kind to Jones, but he managed to keep his accuracy relatively around league average. His third coordinator in three years, a weak offensive line, and a depleted receiving corps left Jones completely hapless this year. Zappe had a similarly precipitous descent. Removing the minimum passing requirement, Zappe’s 5.9 plus-minus ranked 10th in 2022. He had the benefit of a changing offensive scheme when playing fill-in for Jones, but that clearly wore off in 2023. 

The most hapless quarterback of the bunch, though, might be the quarterback that finished with the second-worst plus-minus in the league. Zach Wilson wasn’t supposed to start in 2023 – blame MetLife’s turf and Aaron Rodgers’ 39-year-old Achilles tendon for that – but the opportunity did help Zach Wilson make history. From 2021 to 2023, no one is even in the same stratosphere of Wilson’s career plus-minus of -56.6. Sam Darnold and Trevor Lawrence, both coming in at -17.3, are the only quarterbacks with multiple seasons to come within one quarter of Wilson’s output (or lack thereof), while a particularly bad end-of-career season by Ben Roethlisberger helps push past the pair at -19.5. No one comes even close, though. In fact, if you combine all seasons from 2016 through 2023, the worst quarterback is … still Zach Wilson! 

Risers and Fallers

Among year-to-year changes, the biggest riser is not Brock Purdy, but Derek Carr! The former Raiders quarterback leaped 22.3 points in plus-minus between his transition from las Vegas to New Orleans. Carr’s lone season under head coach Josh McDaniels was a miserable affair. Even with the addition of Davante Adams, frustration with the offense and the decline of supporting talent led to Carr posting a -9.3 plus-minus in 2022. Now in New Orleans, Carr and the Saints had a very slow start to their season but he completely redeemed himself in the back third. From Weeks 13 on, Carr’s 9.7 plus-minus was nearly a point higher than any other quarterback in the league. His production through the first 12 weeks was still respectable – a 3.3, good for 18th in the league over that stretch – but his end-of-year performance helped solidify a massive turnaround year. 

Aside from Brock Purdy, whose 22.0 point jump barely fell short of Carr’s big pivot, Baker Mayfield makes the podium with a rise of 19.7. Mayfield’s tumultuous 2022 split between the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams led to him finishing dead last in 2022’s plus-minus rankings with a -14.6. Tampa Bay decided to take a flier on Mayfield; with the help of a mostly-in-tact Super Bowl winning offense from a couple years prior and quarterback guru Dave Canales, Mayfield completely turned things around. Not only did he post new career-highs in passing yards, touchdowns, and DYAR, he also brought his passing plus-minus up to a respectable 5.1. Stability and supporting cast sure go a long way. An honorable mention has to be made for Lamar Jackson as well, whose new offense and overhauled receiving corps put him sixth in the league in passing plus-minus and fourth among our biggest risers year-to-year. 

The list of our biggest fallers is mostly made up of injured quarterbacks. Three of our bottom four quarterbacks missed significant chunks of the season, Joe Burrow leads the way with 21.3 points lost since 2022. He came into the season already injured, looked every bit of it, then was finally sidelined after 10 games. Justin Herbert is not too far behind at -18.1 points lost. While his team’s collective offensive struggles made things more difficult, Herbert was eventually done in by a fractured finger in his throwing hand. Smith, last year’s leader, missed two games of his own and had to deal with massive holes in his team’s offensive line. He still managed to finish 10th in the league in this year’s plus-minus, it just finished well below his breakout 2022 season. Murray showed up late to the party after recovering from an ACL tear from the year prior. In the time since exiting the field, the Cardinals underwent a complete coaching staff overhaul, and DeAndre Hopkins skipped town. That’s not an easy situation to slide into mid-season. 

The lone quarterback in the top-five biggest sliders to play all 17 games? None other than Patrick Mahomes, whose 5.2 plus-minus was still 14th in the league. It just came after a top-five finish in plus-minus last season. The Chiefs’ lack of receiving talent certainly may have played a role in Mahomes’ slide in plus-minus compared to 2022, but it certainly didn’t prevent them from winning another Super Bowl. 

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