Can Jay Cutler be more than just an average QB in 2016?

Will Bears quarterback Jay Cutler finally take a leap forward next season in Chicago? Mike Renner breaks down his grades thus far.

| 6 months ago
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Jason Williams

    “One of the biggest reasons I rank Cutler outside the top 16 QBs entering the 2016 season is his propensity to throw away games.”

    I would split those into two buckets – games he throws away (Detroit on the road and Minnesota at home in Trestman’s 2nd year) and games he is trying like hell to catch up in and throws some ill-advised throws (every Green Bay Packers game, EVER).

    I don’t think it’s fair to nail him for both.

    All this being said, I jumped off the Cutler bandwagon against the Bills two years ago on opening day when he DRILLED Kyle Williams in the stomach with a 4th and 2 throw.

    • crosseyedlemon

      The bottom line is that QBs get the big bucks to win games and Cutler is just as likely to self destruct as to orchestrate a game winning drive.

      • Jason Williams

        yes I think that’s fair. but as we’ve discussed before, he’s a phenomenal upgrade over the revolving “Cleveland Browns like” door that was the Bears QB position before he came to town.

        • crosseyedlemon

          There’s always the option of bringing Bobby Douglass out of retirement. At 69 I’m betting he could still out rush Jay.

          • Jason Williams

            probably would throw less interceptions but also zero touchdowns.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Unfortunately you can never convince Cutler than he is just an average QB. Too often he tries to convince fans that he is just as good as that QB the rival Packers have. What excuse will Cutler have ready for a season of under achievement this time?
    a) management let Forte go
    b) the OL sucks
    c) the new offensive co-ordinator doesn’t understand QBs

    • James Dalton

      That is some deep stuff dude. Well said.
      I do believe Loggains will understand QBs, Loggains having been a 5’5 practice QB at Arkansas. But I have little to no faith in him, I haven’t heard anything good. I hope he proves me wrong, but I’ve seen the Bears give Mike Tice the reigns. We’ve been so average too bad for a long time now in Chicago.
      I will cut Cutler some slack, that his career with the Bears is like a B.I.G. song. “Another season, another coordinator”
      And it doesn’t end with that jingle,
      “Another season, another offensive line”
      Regardless though, Jay Cutler is just tough to watch. Every part of it.

  • Bill

    I think the problem with Cutler isn’t just that he’s an average QB. You can win with some average QBs, as long as they’re predictably average. If you look at Cutler’s efficiency numbers (completion %, yards/attempt, TD:INT ratio, passer rating) over the whole time he’s been in Chicago, they look something like a middle-of-the-pack starter. If he played to his career averages every game, I think the Bears would have won a lot more games with him.

    The problem is that Cutler vacillates wildly on either side of that average. Some games his accuracy seems to be on, and he looks like a franchise QB. But then other games he just melts down, and you never know which one it’s going to be. If you’re going to build a team around a just-about-average QB, he’s got to be CONSISTENTLY average. He can’t be a franchise player half the time and actively hurt your team the other half.

    When I think of an average QB, I think of Alex Smith: it’s very clear what he can and can’t do, and he gives you pretty much the same thing every game. That’s an average QB who you can compensate for on offense: you can build an offense that caters to the things he consistently does well, and try to hide the things that he consistently does badly. You can’t do that with a QB who’s unpredictable, even if his good games are way better than anything you get from the Alex Smiths of the world.

  • Rob Fagiano-Gleason

    He wont have anymore excuses since this is his 1st run since being a Bear with legitimate coaches that focus on a team, not just a D, like the idiot Lovie did, hence why he got booted from Chi AND TB. Nor will he have the incredibly inept GMs selecting talentLESS players from the draft that are gone within a year or two. Is it just me or is this a team with a decent looking Offense AND a decent looking Defense as well? WHAT A CONCEPT? No QB gets better under Ron Turner Mike Martz Mike Tice… IF YOU PUT SHIT IN YOU WILL GET SHIT OUT. Thats not something I made up, thats an unbreakable principal, try eating at McDonalds fora year straight and tell me how that works out for you.If we had these coaches from day one of Cutlers arrival, we wouldve won a SB by now.
    Im not a huge Cutler fan, lets replace him if they think it should be so, but I know for an absolute unequivacal fact because its happened to me, that coaching is paramount. If we had Brady Rogers instead of Cutler I guarantee they would not be the same QBs they are today. Maybe theyd have slightly better numbers because they are better QBs, but nothing like they have now.
    IF ALL you Cutler haters knew anything about football, youd know the most successful teams build through the draft with a small percentage of free agents to come and help. The Bears had the lowest % of draft picks still on the team,and GB was number 1,thats a testament to how crappy Angelo and Emery were as GMs.

  • Ben William

    CAN JAY CUTLER BE MORE THAN JUST AN AVERAGE QB IN 2016?

    Why do we keep having to ask this question ever since Cutler’s days in Denver?

    The REAL question concerning Jay Cutler should be… Is it true that Jay Cutler is NOT an elite qb but, an ENTITLED qb?

    Answer? YES!!!