Can Jay Cutler be more than just an average QB in 2016?
Is this the year Jay Cutler takes the next step? It’s the question pundits have been asking every season since Cutler took over as a full-time NFL starter in 2007. Blessed with a cannon for an arm and the prototypical size for the position, the Bears’ quarterback “looks the part” as much as anyone in the league.
At 33 years old, though, it’s safe to say that we know who he is—and it’s not a top-10 quarterback. In fact, it’s not even a quarterback I’d take in the top half of the NFL. There are simply too many glaring deficiencies in his game still that keep him from taking that next step forward.
The most obvious flaw in Cutler’s game is his accuracy. Over the past five seasons, his average finish among starters in adjusted completion percentage is 19th. His most-accurate season came in 2014 (74.7 percent), but that year also correlated with a precipitous drop in his average depth of target (from 10.0 yards in 2013 to 7.7 in 2014). Basically, he became checkdown-happy, with running back Matt Forte’s 102 receptions being the result.
Strong-armed quarterbacks are often labeled as having good deep balls, for no other reason other than they have the ability to fit it into tighter windows downfield. While Cutler has made some ridiculous throws throughout his career, he’s far from an effective downfield passer. Since 2008, Cutler has one lone season inside the top 10 for deep accuracy (2011). His career deep accuracy comes out at 39.7 percent; Sam Bradford’s was 40.7 percent last season, for comparison.
Accuracy isn’t everything, though, as we saw Cam Newton finish below-average in adjusted completion percentage last year and still come away as our third-highest-graded quarterback. If a QB isn’t accurate, though, he better be consistent and take care of the ball—both areas Cutler has struggled in throughout his career. One of the biggest reasons I rank Cutler outside the top 16 QBs entering the 2016 season is his propensity to throw away games. 22.1 percent of his starts over the past nine seasons—almost a quarter—have ended with Cutler earning a well below-average grade (-2.0 or lower on our cumulative grading scale). Simply put, it’s the sort of grade that really puts your team in a difficult situation. While he has certainly won games for the Bears over the course of his career, losing games solely with your arm can be far more detrimental, especially in the playoffs.
It’s hard to call Cutler much more than an average quarterback at this point, and that’s okay; average quarterback play is extremely valuable in the NFL. We just saw a far below-average quarterback (in the 2015 season) walk away as a Super Bowl champion. It’s a matter of opinion, like any objective player rankings, but it’s difficult to find too many arguments in Cutler’s favor anymore.