4 QBs underrated by traditional passer rating
PFF’s quarterback rating is superior to the NFL’s more-commonly-cited metric, and comparing the two has been instructive for fantasy forecasting. It highlighted Eli Manning in time to see him jump from the fantasy QB21 to QB9 in 2014. It steered us clear of Nick Foles before he turned back into a pumpkin. Last season’s second-highest-scoring quarterback, Matt Ryan, received top billing in this space despite finishing 19th-best in 2015.
To be fair, things haven’t all been unicorns and rainbows – Geno Smith and Matt Schaub come to mind – but comparing the respective passer ratings has been a useful jumping-off point for springtime quarterback examination. PFF’s quarterback rating teases out dropped passes, throwaways, and spiked balls, while it factors in air yards. It gives the quarterback more credit for what he deserves, and us a better read on performance.
Below are four quarterbacks who ranked higher in PFF’s passer rating than the NFL’s version. Perhaps all of them won’t outperform their fantasy draft cost, but we should be investing as if most of them will.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson was a fantasy disappointment in 2016 after he passed for an average of 274 yards and 3.5 touchdowns over the final six weeks. He ranked 14th in scoring last year after posting the second-most in 2015. However, Wilson threw the ball better than his 15th-place passer rating would indicate, as he ranked seventh-best in PFF’s version and tied for the league’s second-largest positive differential between the two metrics. An ankle injury held him to only 3.4 rushing attempts per game during his first nine contests, but Wilson averaged 5.9 over the final seven weeks. It was not as if he ran less often by design, and he remains a rushing threat.
Wilson threw a touchdown on only 3.8 percent of his attempts last year. It was easily his worst rate since turning pro, registering well below his 5.6 career mark and failing to match the NFL’s overall average in 2016 (4.3 percent). Wilson likely won’t throw touchdowns on an insane seven percent of his attempts, as he did in 2015, but last season’s rate will regress positively. For the second straight year he led the league in per-game fantasy scoring differential from the first half of the season to the second (plus 5.6 points). If he starts 2017 as hot as he finished the last two years, he’ll return equity on his mid-seventh-round MFL10 ADP with ease.
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Cousins ranked third-best in PFF’s QBR while placing eighth in traditional passer rating. It was the fifth-largest positive differential. He ranked sixth in fantasy points per game and fifth in total points scored — with every quarterback above him throwing for at least six more touchdowns. His touchdown rate dropped from a healthy 5.3 percent in 2015, to a below-league-average 4.1 percent last year, and it should rebound despite Washington losing their top two wide receivers. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon played large roles in the offense and are quality pass-catchers, but they did Cousins no favors near the end zone while scoring on a combined eight percent of red-zone targets (0-for-10 inside the 10-yard line).
Cousins burned 16 red-zone passes on 5-foot-9 Jamison Crowder, with only three touchdowns to show for it (1-for-10 inside the 10). Meanwhile, Jordan Reed had 64- and 63-percent touchdown rates inside the 10 over the last two seasons, and 6-foot-4, 230-pound free agent import Terrelle Pryor scored on three of four in 2016. Cousins threw touchdowns on 42 percent of his passes inside the 10-yard line in 2015 (fifth-best; minimum 20 attempts). Last year it was 22 percent (29th-best). He will benefit from positive regression and legitimate end-zone targets – including 6-2 Josh Doctson and 6-3 Brian Quick. Cousins trailed only Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan in scoring (Ryan by just 0.4 points per game) over the second half of 2016, and he currently sports an attractive QB11 MFL10 draft cost.
Cody Kessler, Cleveland Browns
Let’s get this out of the way: Kessler has tenuous job security, plays for a coach who prefers a run-heavy approach, and to say he has average arm strength would be offensive to wet noodles. However, he ranked eighth in PFF QBR, versus 16th by the traditional measure – tying Wilson for the second-largest positive differential. Kessler placed first in accuracy percentage while under pressure despite a league-high 47.5-percent pressure rate. His passer rating while under pressure ranked sixth, and his completion percentage was second-highest when feeling a pass rush. The Browns shored up their offensive line this offseason, but at least Kessler appears prepared for when it cracks.
Kessler’s passing grade ranked a middling 16th among 36 qualifiers, but was higher than 12 quarterbacks being drafted ahead of him in MFL10s. Of course, most of them should be drafted before a placeholder quarterback. Prorating statistics is tricky and typically assumes too much. However, if Kessler attempted all of the Browns’ quarterback passes last season (557) and maintained his yards per attempt and touchdown rates, he would have scored one fewer fantasy point than Alex Smith. While it’s a shaky projection and Smith is far from a fantasy role model, it puts Kessler on the fringes of QB2 status. For two-quarterback leagues and late in best-ball drafts, he is worth consideration.
Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
Taylor has a six-spot gap between where traditional passer rating pegged his 2016 performance (20th) and how PFF’s QBR rated him (14th; 90.3). He ranked ninth in PFF’s metric in 2015 (93.2). Of course, for fantasy purposes, Taylor’s passing is only a piece of the puzzle. No quarterback had more rushing attempts, yards, or touchdowns than he did last season, and in 2015 he ranked second in rushing attempts, third in yards, and fourth in touchdowns while missing two games. Taylor accrued 30 percent of his fantasy points on the ground in 2015, and 35 percent last year – a persistent source of points not going away with his old coaching staff.
What should change for Taylor is more passing, as it would be tough to throw any less. Among quarterbacks with at least five starts, Taylor’s pass attempts per game ranked 35th in 2015 and 33rd in 2016. The Bills threw the league’s fewest passes last season and were second-to-last in 2015. Taylor ranked second in deep ball passer rating in 2015 while Sammy Watkins accounting for 48 percent of his deep targets. With Watkins injured and seeing only 22 percent of Taylor’s 20-plus-yard throws last year, the quarterback ranked 18th in deep passer rating. While it’s unnerving to have Taylor tied to Watkins’ health, their upside is tantalizing. Taylor still averaged over 18 points per game in 2016, good for ninth-best. He ranked ninth in 2015 as well. He somehow remains a screaming bargain as the 18th quarterback selected in MFL10s.