Daily Focus: Why Drew Brees is still a top-10 NFL QB
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Drew Brees is still one of NFL’s top 10 QBs: This throw Drew Brees delivers shows why he is still one of the best QBs in the league. While the referee initially calls this incomplete and it’s overturned for a touchdown, the pass couldn’t be placed any better. Ben Watson makes an equally impressive catch but what makes this throw even more special is that Brees has to hold on to the pass until the absolute last second with a defender hitting him immediately after releasing the ball.
This isn’t an isolated fluke and shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that pays a little attention to the New Orleans signal caller. In fact, Brees has been one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league since he arrived in New Orleans in 2006 – never grading outside the top five in passing. When including rushing grades, he’s never been outside the top seven.
Brees is arguably the most accurate QB in the league ranking second in deep passing adjusted completion percentage and seventh at all depths of the field. When throwing under 2.5 seconds per pass, Brees ranks first in completion percentage with 79.7, more than three percentage points ahead of second place Russell Wilson at 76.4 percent. When not using play action, Brees is second behind Wilson in completion percentage at 70 percent. Brees’ pinpoint accuracy combined with great decision-making skills makes Brees a top-10 QB even at 37 years old.
If there is a reason why we don’t have Brees as a top-five quarterback right now, it’s a combination of a few young quarterbacks making strides in 2015 and Brees taking a small step back. In 2014, Brees ranked second in adjusted completion percentage under pressure at 73.3 but was 16th in 2015 at 65.2 percent. Russell Wilson and Cam Newton graded superbly and look to continue that upward swing. Even Carson Palmer (playoffs not included) had the best season of his career in 2015.
The former Purdue Boilermaker still has the arm talent and smarts to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He clearly has the accuracy at all depth of the field, especially deep. He hasn’t been the reason Saints have struggled the past few years as that can be blamed on a porous defense and a declining receiving corps. While Brees and the Saints’ front office haven’t resumed contract talks this summer, Brees hasn’t given the Saints any reason not to extend him past this season. He is a top quarterback and should get paid like one.
Where Deandre Hopkins ranks among NFL’s best WRs: The Houston Texans have extended their first-round picks in the fourth year of their contracts each of the past two seasons and WR DeAndre Hopkins is hoping for the same. Hopkins was selected to his first Pro Bowl last year after amassing over 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns. As the only legitimate receiving threat on a team led by the likes of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallet and Brandon Weedon, Hopkins earned every yard and touchdown he recorded.
Hopkins graded as our sixth-best wide receiver of 2015 and with (presumable) stability at the quarterback position and more weapons on the field, the former Clemson Tiger could perform even better in 2016. Brock Osweiler was given a monster contract and the front office drafted WR Will Fuller, WR Braxton Miller and HB Tyler Ervin to add speed and versatility to the offense that force fed Hopkins the ball.
Hopkins only caught 59.4 percent of his targets and of the top 15 receivers in number of receptions, he was tied for the lowest catch percentage. With a better quarterback, he should see that number rise along with his sixth-ranked 2.29 yards per route run. Heading into 2016, Sam Monson ranked Hopkins as the fourth-best wide receiver in the league for the aforementioned reasons. The Texans would be smart to lock up “Nuk” longterm sooner than later.
Should the Niners start Gabbert over Kaepernick? The San Francisco 49ers have a quarterback problem, but at least they don’t have the worst situation in the NFL. While Chip Kelly will undoubtedly work his QB magic with either Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick, Kelly inherits a group that struggled mightily under pressure with Gabbert ranking 25th of 37 in adjusted competition percentage under pressure and Kaepernick ranking last. In stark contrast, Sam Bradford ranked first at 74.6 – almost 30 points better than Kaep.
So who should start? Unfortunately, there is no good answer as neither quarterback has shown the ability to play at high level the past two years (in Gabbert’s case, he’s never shown it). Kelly’s offense manufactures passing lanes to make things easier for his quarterback which will be essential for either 49er QB. In 2013, Nick Foles didn’t make quick decisions as he averaged the third-highest time to throw — he just made good decisions when given time. His 120.0 QB Rating was by far the best mark in the NFL when throwing 2.6 seconds or more.
When looking at Gabbert and Kaepernick and how they’ve succeeded (or where they don’t struggle) in the NFL, both grade similarly and both have shown to struggle under pressure. Where Gabbert separates himself is when needing to hold on to the ball longer. Gabbert ranked second in QB Rating in 2015 when throwing after 2.6 seconds while Kaepernick was 31st. Because Kaepernick’s career appears to be on the decline and Gabbert is actually showing signs of improvement, Chip Kelly would be wise to give Gabbert an opportunity to start and lead the team.