Bills should build around Tyrod Taylor—not show him the door

Senior Analyst Sam Monson makes the case for QB Tyrod Taylor to return as a Buffalo Bill next season.

| 5 months ago
Bills QB Tyrod Taylor

(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Bills should build around Tyrod Taylor—not show him the door


With uncertainty surrounding the team as they show Rex and Rob Ryan the door, it made some business sense for the Buffalo Bills to bench Tyrod Taylor in Week 17. By doing so, the franchise avoided being on the hook for a huge sum of guaranteed money if Taylor got hurt in a meaningless game. Now that the season is over, however, the Bills would be foolish to walk away from the quarterback.

Tyrod Taylor represents an increasingly frustrating tranche of NFL quarterbacks that have shown more than enough ability to win games, yet will likely never become elite. In the current football landscape, such players can command ludicrous salaries based entirely off their ability to not be Blaine Gabbert.

Taylor isn’t alone here; there is an increasing number of flawed, but capable, starters around the league giving teams major headaches when it comes contract time. Washington is in a similar bind with Kirk Cousins, and others will follow.

Everybody is searching for the next Aaron Rodgers, because he is the home-run hit that makes everything else easier. Rodgers found his old form this season and transformed a Green Bay offense that was stuck in the mud. He has been able to overcome an underperforming defense that can’t cover anybody, and drag his team to the playoffs—and who knows how much further. If Green Bay replaced him with even Derek Carr or Drew Brees, that probably doesn’t happen.

This is the dilemma for teams. You want the next Aaron Rodgers, but at some point, you need to accept that you’re not going to find him, and determine the point at which you can settle for a lesser player to be your QB and start to build around him instead.

There is no hard and fast line here, and no obvious single number to point to that a player can achieve to qualify. It’s all subjective and instinctive.

I would argue though that Tyrod Taylor has clearly surpassed whatever reasonable threshold you want to specify. I don’t think Taylor is flawless by any means, and he’s a QB that may have a very definitive cap on his projected ceiling, but he has demonstrated himself to be a capable starter, at which point you are far better off dedicating resources to build around him as opposed to endlessly searching for a replacement—the odds of successfully upgrading at all are minimal.

Taylor ended the 2016 regular season with the 10th-best overall grade among all QBs, at 84.7. That’s higher than Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton and—here is the big one—Dak Prescott. Last year, Taylor was seventh (88.3).

Now, Taylor doesn’t have the best offensive line in the game like Prescott, or a running back that has carried the ball 322 times at 5.0 yards per carry behind it, and they are very different QBs—but the difference in perception is notable.

Prescott is celebrated as the next great franchise QB in Dallas, and is keeping Tony Romo on the bench—a player it looked like Jerry Jones would ride until he functioned no more. Meanwhile, Taylor has a large and vocal section of his own supporters campaigning for his replacement. Obviously, Prescott is a rookie, so the situations are far from direct comparisons, but it’s worth appreciating where Taylor is in terms of PFF grading, which comes from watching and grading every snap each player takes, not just computing some complex formula of stats. Tape shows that Taylor is a lot better than many are giving him credit for.

But if you need more evidence than PFF’s say-so for Taylor’s play, it’s there. One of the most important facets of a QB’s play in today’s NFL is how he deals with pressure. League-wide, pressure causes a drop of 33.0 points in passer rating, and QBs are pressured on almost exactly one-third of all dropbacks (33.6 percent). In passer rating terms this season, that’s the equivalent of turning Tom Brady into Colin Kaepernick simply by applying pressure, or Matthew Stafford into Jared Goff, and it happens, on average, on a third of a QB’s dropbacks, typically.

Tyrod Taylor versus pressure in the 2016 NFL season

Tyrod Taylor vs pressure

Not only does Taylor’s passer rating decline less than that of most players (14.3 points this season), but he has maintained a consistently-high passer rating when pressured over the past two seasons. This year, he recorded a passer rating of 80.1 when hurried; last season, it was 87.6. Those figures rank seventh and fifth in the league, respectively, and represent a QB that can still function at a high level when hurried and moved off his spot. If anything, they do him a disservice, because they don’t factor in the plays he makes when scrambling, which is a bigger weapon for Taylor than other QBs. He has over 550 rushing yards in each of the past two years, and each season, more than 400 of those have been on scrambles, adding four touchdowns to his tally over that span on passing plays where he took off to make a play on the ground.

Those numbers also combat the argument that Taylor has one of the league’s best run games to prop him up. He is adding 550-plus yards to that run game himself each season to make it look far better than it would with a less-mobile QB behind it. Buffalo has a league-leading 2,630 rushing yards this season, but Taylor accounts for 22.0 percent of them, and 23.3 percent of the team’s total in 2015.

That rushing threat is not necessarily a net win for him as a player, because what he gains on the ground, others may gain through the air, and he sacrifices those opportunities when he does run. However, it’s important to break down where the success comes from.

Taylor also makes big plays that many QBs can’t match. As attractive as a game manager is for teams to build around because he will give you a consistent and defined level of play, Taylor’s brand of play gives a team the ability to come back from deficits in a way a game manager couldn’t.

Tyrod Taylor’s passing chart in the 2016 NFL season

Tyrod Taylor passing chart

Against Miami in Week 16, Buffalo found themselves in a 14-0 hole early and were 14 points down a further two more times in the game, but Taylor was able to lead them back to take the lead with under 90 seconds left on the clock—only for the defense to capitulate in the remaining time and overtime. For the big plays he makes, Taylor rarely puts the ball in harm’s way. His nine turnover-worthy plays this season represent the second-lowest percentage after Tom Brady, and when you look at the ratio of big plays to those turnover-worthy ones, he is fifth league-wide.

Taylor’s issue has always been consistency on the intermediate, more routine plays that make the difference between good quarterbacks and very good (or even great) ones, but to cut him loose because he may never fully master that aspect of the game and become great would be an exercise in degenerate gambling. The chances of the Bills rolling the dice and coming up with a better QB than Tyrod Taylor in the short-term are incredibly small, so Buffalo would be crazy to show him the door, and far better off trying to build around him.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Gman

    But Doug Whaley needs EJ Manuel to be the guy so he looks good as a GM.

    • McGeorge

      Doug Whaley didn’t draft EJ, it was the prior GM.
      Whaley was with the Bills, but was not the GM during the 2013 draft.
      He forced Lynn to start EJ to avoid injury to Taylor, not to salvage EJ who they knew was a bust.

      • Tyler Hayes

        Keep believing that. He drafted Darby and Williams, so he obviously has a liking for FSU.

        Whaley was 2nd in line to Nix and being groomed to become the GM right after that draft…he even said, “I was an integral part to drafting EJ Manuel.”

        So, yeah, Doug Whaley theoretically drafted EJ Manuel.

      • jimbo

        Yet Whaley insisted that Manuel be kept instead of Cassel last season with no rational basis. Smells like an ulterior motive to me.

        • McGeorge

          Manuels salary was guaranteed. Cassel would have been an extra cost to their cap. Both stink, so why pay extra?

  • Trenton Johnson

    Tyrod Taylor is the best thing that has happened to Buffalo since Flutie! IMHO he wants to throw it deep but the health of the receivers has been a major factor in the decline in the passing game for the last 2 years!
    He is a QB that can be elite with the right amount of time this off-season with his receivers because he can start slinging it deep,intermediate and shallow as he gains the same trust in the others that he has in Sammy. I will say that when Watkins is in the game Tyrod seems to throw it deep to different players more so than when Watkins is absent.
    Keep Tyrod and watch players like TE Logan Thomas 6’6″ 250 lbs,Clay,Watkins,Woods,Goodwin,Hunter,Listenbee,McCoy and Gragg allow him to have 300+ yard games every week. Get better on defense (scheme wise) and get that stud RT,safety and The Bills will be contenders!

    • Tyler Hayes

      That’s like saying your girlfriend is the hottest fat girl.

      Comparing Tyrod to Losman and Edwards does nothing…compare him to other NFL QB’s.

      He can be elite??? Lmfao, no he can’t. He can’t throw anything but the long ball, we’ve seen that for 29 NFL games now.

      • jimbo

        He can throw the long ball, but can’t hit his targets half the time.

      • Troy Wands

        You don’t need to be elite. You need to play solid and have a good defense. Look at Eli. Look at Flacco (From a Ravens fan), Look at Brady’s and Big Ben’s first super bowl wins.

    • jimbo

      How many beers have you been drinking?

  • BeansNRice

    Most QB rushing yards are incremental. Many of these yards replace an incompletion (zero yard gain)…or they are called runs. Only some are because the QB runs “too early” even then a rush is less turnover prone than a pass. The real value is that the D must alter its scheme and dedicate an extra man to the QB run instead of the pass. Running threat…only the threat, opens up the pass D quite significantly.

    Running/athletic qbs also get injured less. As the pocket is the most dangerous place to get hit on the field.

    • Tyler Hayes

      I don’t care about QB rushing yards, I want a passer…hopefully the Bills do too.

      • J.Murph

        Leading the NFL in rushing shouldn’t require a Qb to throw the ball 30 times a game.

        • jimbo

          I hope not, considering they lose virtually each time he throws as much as half of that.

          • J.Murph

            And then there is EJ…..

  • Sand Ripper

    The Jets game was a glimpse of life without Taylor, and it wasn’t pretty.

    • Tyler Hayes

      And the previous 29 games before that was a glimpse of life with Taylor…and it wasn’t much better.

      8-8, 7-9…no playoffs.

      JP Losman, Trent Edwards, Fitzpatrick, EJ/Orton…they all got us there.

    • jimbo

      The earlier Jets game was a glimpse of life with Taylor, and it likewise wasn’t pretty.

  • DaStrongSKRAWN

    Bills are dumb. Nothing new.
    Tyrod is the man but I’ll be ecstatic if he leaves the AFC East.

  • J.Murph

    Awesome article and stat writer.. Kudos.. Been riding with TT and not leaving..He is even willing to restructure his contract again to play in Buffalo.. A No Brainer for Whaley.. If he whiff s on this DW will not recover.

    • Tyler Hayes

      He never said that.

  • Thomas W

    And just think how good the Bills offense will be after they draft Leonard Fournette, which is what PFF projects (LOL).

  • BuffaloGals

    “Taylor’s brand of play gives a team the ability to come back from deficits in a way a game manager couldn’t.”

    How many examples of this are there? The only game we came back from a deficit and won with Taylor that I can remember is against the Titans in ’15, when the defense played lights out and we only trailed 13-0 because of Tyrod’s horrendous play up until the 4th quarter.

    • jimbo

      Exactly.

    • Odysseus

      “How many examples of this are there?”

      From 2016 there’s the Seahawks game and the second Dolphins game. In both games, Taylor rose to the occasion and passed extremely well — and without Sammy in Seattle. Those Taylor-led offensive comebacks would have been successful if the defense had held the other team in either of those games. But any comeback from behind requires your defense to stop the bleeding. In both of those games, Tyrod’s solid performance was undermined by the fact that our defense couldn’t get the opposing offense off the field.

      You can’t come back from a deficit when the other team keeps getting touchdowns. Even Brady couldn’t do that against Denver in last year’s AFC title game.

      • BuffaloGals

        Ok, but that’s 2 times out of his 30 starts. 3 if you count titans last year. Lots of QBs do that more than once every 10 or 15 games. The claim is that Tyrod gives the bills a chance to do something that other teams can’t do. There’s no proof.

        • Odysseus

          “Ok, but that’s 2 times out of his 30 starts.”
          That’s twice this season, out of 15 games he started.

          “Lots of QBs do that more than once every 10 or 15 games.”
          Second-half comeback wins are pretty difficult, so name those “lots” of QBs. Stafford brought the Lions back from big deficits several times this season, but he’s the only outlier I saw. Brady no doubt could do it, but hasn’t had to this year, so can’t count him — same with Rodgers.

          We ended 7-9 and Taylor didn’t play the last game against the Jets “for business reasons.” Give him those two comebacks and the Jets game and we would have been 10-6 and had a wildcard berth. I’m not saying Taylor is the world’s greatest QB, but let’s be real: the reason we weren’t in the playoffs this year is the poor defense, period.

          • BuffaloGals

            That’s 2 out of his last 15 sure, but he had none last year besides TEN, so that’s 2 (or 3, if you inculde TEN) in 29 total starts (I was off by one).

            Osweiler has 4 such games in 21 career starts. Tannehill has 5 in his last 29 starts. Hoyer has 6 in 31 career starts. Bortles has 4 in his last 32 starts.

            These are all middling or bad quarterbacks. The claim is that “Taylor’s brand of play gives a team the ability to come back from deficits in a way a game manager couldn’t.” I see game managers that apparently have the same ability Tyrod does to come back from deficits.

            So lets assume he gets those two comebacks (he could have gotten Seattle, if he’d scored from 1st and goal at the end of the game, but I digress) and the Jets game. We’re 10-6.

            But what about New England, when the Defense shutout the Patriots and Tyrod only put up 16 points? If you want to start changing outcomes, that’s a game where the offense didn’t do much and the defense won the game. Now we’re 9-7. How about Cincy? Tyrod put up 166 yards but the defense held the Bengals to 12 points, so we won by 4. Now we’re back to 8-8. And how about the first Miami game? The Bills punted on 5 of their last 6 drives (not counting the last garbage time drive when they were down 2 scores). 4 of those 5 drives were 3 and out, keeping a tired defense on the field on an 80+ degree day. That wasn’t just a defensive failure.

            A better QB probably beats Baltimore week 1, since the defense held them to 13 points. A better QB might actually pick up a first down and keep the defense off the field while the Raiders were putting up 3 TDs in a just a few minutes of clock time. Ditto with the first Dolphins game, as explained above.

            The defense was poor most of the year. I don’t disagree. But still not seeing any evidence that Tyrod gives the Bills some unique ability to come back from deficits, because they don’t do it any more than any other middling team.

          • BuffaloGals

            Oh and for the record, the numbers I listed for Osweiler, Tannehill etc are only for games they actually won. It wouldn’t count games that their defense blew, as your numbers for Tyrod do. So they may actually be higher.

          • Odysseus

            If you would trade Taylor and his contract for Osweiler and his, best of luck to you. I’m glad you aren’t working at OBD.

          • BuffaloGals

            When did I say I would do that? Are you still really missing the point that I’m simply providing evidence to counter the claim “Taylor’s brand of play gives a team the ability to come back from deficits in a way a game manager couldn’t.”?

          • Odysseus

            I didn’t miss that at all. If you read back to my original response, I never disputed that. You had simply asked “How many examples of this are there?” and I pointed out two that you had overlooked.

            Taylor *is* a game-manager QB to me, and a good one at that: Low ceiling but great ball protection. I think he has value in that role and should be kept on the 2017 roster if Whaley can negotiate a cheaper deal. Then we draft a QB and see what develops. The alternative of casting Taylor to the wind before the draft is perilous because then we run the serious risk of losing out on the few quality QBs in this class or being forced to trade up to get one at a substantial cost in future draft picks. Not keeping Taylor in March telegraphs to the other 31 teams that we’re definitely drafting one in April and puts us at a disadvantage in the draft room.

            It’s easy to hate on Taylor. I think some of the criticism is justified but a lot of those people in their haste to judge him seem too quick to dismiss the absolute garbage that our defense showed on the field in a majority of the games this season.

            I’ve made it pretty clear, so I’ll drop it from here. Best wishes and go Bills!

          • BuffaloGals

            They’ve turned us against each other on internet comment boards.

            I’ve been advocating for letting him go most of the season, but if Whaley could negotiate a lower deal, great. I just don’t think that’ll happen. Someone will overspend on him.

            I just don’t want to be committed to him for 5 more years. I’d love, say, two more years. Enough time to draft a QB in April (and next April, why not?) and not have to throw him to the wolves right away. Go Bills!

  • Matt A.

    Pure crap… this analysis is terrible!!!! You say Dak has Elliott and TT can’t rely on the run game the same way. HA… McCoy Gillislee out gained Elliott for the season. So that argument is WRONG. Then you make the argument that the Bills should just keep an average QB that can’t hit open players… and when he does… the WRs have no ability for any meaningful RAC yards… he ignores the TE… or he can’t see him… and rarely throws to the middle of the field BUT… THAT IS THE BEST THE BILLS CAN DO! Whatever… find a team that settles for a “capable” starter and I will show you a team that doesn’t have much of a chance of doing anything but go .500!!!!!!!!!

  • Tyler Hayes

    Says the same people who think the Bills should draft Leonard Fournette because they need a RB.

    You guys are rarely right on anything.

    He has one big comeback game in his career, in a meaningless game…and it took him 29 NFL games to throw for 300 yards in a game.

    Tyrod Taylor is average and nothing special to build around…he’s had 6 years to develop, he is what he is.

    • Troy Wands

      Who should the Bills get then?

      • jimbo

        An owner and president that actually know how to build a competitive football team?

        • Odysseus

          If you think you can do better, make an offer to buy the franchise.

  • Eric

    The offense did its part even with a lot of injuries. The defense let the team down all year. Anyone that thinks TT isn’t the best option to lead the team is a moron. 5th in scoring, few turn overs, good time of posession. We need to fix other parts of this team and hopefully don’t mess up what’s going well but as a long time fan, I suppose we can just start from scratch again and be no better than the Browns next year…once again. People that think TT should go are begging for a lousy team again. The offense of the last two years with the defense we had three years ago, and the Bills are back.

    Nobody is saying it but Denis Thurman’s defenses with NJ Jets were terrible too. Pettin had them playing well before he came to Buffalo. Four years of lousy defensive play under Denis Thurman. Record breaking passing yards again may defense by Brady in 2015 and record breaking rushing yards this year. They needed a change at DC.

    • jimbo

      Same scenario, different season. Apparently 7-9 is not lousy? Your analysis is myopic in the sense that you fail to see the big picture. It’s not a matter of making an adjustment here and there. There’s a fundamental flaw with the team that originates with the front office, and until that’s corrected, you’re going to see the same 3rd place team as you do virtually every season.

  • Eric

    We had a revolving door at the WR position both years, the OL doesn’t pass block well and the defense sucked. Sounds like a good time to get rid of the best QB the team has had since Flutie cause we really don’t want to build around TT and have a good team. I suppose we should move on and draft this year’s version of EJ and bring in a veteran guy that’s been a backup on six different teams to teach the rookie how not to play. That we we can draft #4 and get Marcell Darious instead of JJ Watt or some DT that nobody remembers in the 2nd instead of Gronkowski…or pass on the best player to ever play at UB and has been a dominant player for a WR that has been outperformed by several that were taken afterwards in the same draft. Let’s just start from scratch every two years and continue to be laughed at by everyone around the country without an identity…or I guess I should say that has been our identity. We needed a new DC and decided to clean house on the whole staff. The players wanted to stay on the team and we show them that we are completely dysfunctional. Tyron had given the Bills an identity these last two years and made a lot out of nothing, so yeah…he’s got to go. Some of you ‘fans’ deserve what will come next if we let him go.

    • jimbo

      Tyrod also made nothing out of a lot in terms of needed points. As for the ‘fans’, just what will come next? Another season missing the playoffs? That’s already been the case for what seventeen years?

  • feyenoord

    All Taylor has to do is learn to master short passes and not keep overthrowing long bombs.

    • jimbo

      You might as well say that about every quarterback.

      • J.Murph

        So why are you plying both sides after bashing TT? The Oline can run block but can’t pass block, i.e., 42 sacks of the fastest qb in the NFL. So you think a pocket qb is the answer with this Oline?

  • Kurt Edens

    They’d be fools to part ways with Tyrod, but they do foolish stuff all the time… I hope we keep him and focus on improving our defense. This stat breakdown is interesting. Thanks.. Hope Whaley and Co. read this.

  • jimbo

    Every year there’s some myopic theme on what the Bills need to do for next season following their predictable playoff pretense and inevitable failure. This year it’s about a stable but relatively unremarkable quarterback. Whatever. I really don’t understand the posters with a ravenous desire to keep this guy unless they’re on assignment from the front office to distract from the disaster they now have on their hands, which wouldn’t surprise me given the kind of crap that Russ Brandon pulls. It’s not like Tyrod is going anywhere with the Bills, and there are so many problems with this team that focusing on one position seems irrelevant. Seriously. I’ll concede that he probably is the best option at the moment, but so what? Tyrod is not going to save this franchise and has already demonstrated enough times (and quite convincingly) that he doesn’t have what it takes to put it all together when it counts, much less lead the Bills to and through the playoffs. Blame the defense, blame Rex Ryan, but the Bills of the early 90s also gave up boatloads of points several times. Jim Kelly, who demonstrated what a starting quarterback is supposed to do, was able to score even more and/or rally when necessary to maintain the team’s status as a perennial playoff contender.

  • Odysseus

    Buffalo can keep Tyrod *and* draft an early-round QB. They not only can, they should. Showing TT the door is a mistake just as bad as not drafting someone to develop alongside him. I’d love to see them keep Tyrod and get Deshaun Watson. If they get Mike McCoy as the new OC to scheme around these two, Shady, and Sammy, that’s the making of a fierce offense. Then, like now, its up to the defense to deliver.

    • Michael Mackend

      I wish more people were this smart. :/

  • Yoyophil

    Keep Taylor. Draft Watson from Clemson. We will have a good QB (Tyrod) to play as we groom 2 QBs who have both won a college championship. Whoever wins the job in the coming years will play and we should have trade bait with the others, like New England likes to do.

  • Hunter

    Are we not going to talk about the need for dan carpenter to be cut?