Cody Kessler's Performance Is Being Overlooked

Kessler almost led the Browns to their first victory of the season in Week 6, and his strong play is being ignored because of the Browns' record.

When you're in a rebuilding season like the Cleveland Browns are, you're just looking for little victories. If you can find some improvements with players who are going to be on the roster for the next few years, then the win-loss column can sting a bit less.

Cody Kessler is starting to look like much more than a "little victory."

The rookie quarterback had the best game of his career Sunday, throwing for 336 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Browns almost pulled off a comeback against the Tennessee Titans. Kessler was playing through an injury he sustained last week while simultaneously dealing with the loss of his grandmother, potentially making the performance even a bit more impressive.

This isn't a new thing for Kessler, though. We've now got a sample of three-plus games on him, and he seems to have passed every test that has come his way thus far. It's about time to give him the credit he's due.

Let's take a closer look at Kessler through the eyes of numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players with the team side being adjusted for strength of opponent. A three-yard completion on 3rd and 2 is wildly different than a three-yard completion on 3rd and 4, and NEP helps account for that by tracking the expected points players add to their team's total over the course of a season.

It's too early to say definitively that the Browns have found their franchise quarterback with Kessler, but the early returns have to have them feeling giddy.

Doing More With Less

There are plenty of young quarterbacks who have generated buzz this year thanks to some top-tier play, and all of that is absolutely warranted. But it's about time that we lump Kessler into that same discussion.

Here's a little blind resume comparison between two of those young quarterbacks. Passing NEP per drop back measures the expected points added or subtracted on each drop back this season (including deductions for sacks, interceptions, and other negative plays), and Success Rate is the percentage of drop backs that result in an increase in NEP.

Player Dropbacks Passing NEP per Drop Back Success Rate
Quarterback A 169 0.24 44.97%
Quarterback B 132 0.21 50.00%

Both of these guys have obviously had great years, ranking above the league-average Passing NEP per drop back of 0.13. But Quarterback B's 50.00% Success Rate surpasses the league-average mark of 47.6% while Quarterback A lags a bit behind.

Quarterback A is Carson Wentz. Quarterback B is Kessler.

This isn't to say that Kessler has definitively been better than Wentz. There are plenty of things that will affect those numbers, especially in a small sample. But if we're going to heap praise on Wentz for what he has done early on, then the same should apply to Kessler.

For a broader context on Kessler's exploits, here's a look at all five of the rookies who have recorded at least 50 drop backs this season.

Player Drop Backs Passing NEP per Drop Back Success Rate
Dak Prescott 191 0.32 55.50%
Carson Wentz 169 0.24 44.97%
Cody Kessler 132 0.21 50.00%
Paxton Lynch 66 0.11 48.48%
Jacoby Brissett 59 0.02 42.37%

Dak Prescott has been one of the best quarterbacks in the entire league, and he blows everybody out of the water here. But Kessler absolutely holds his own in what has been a superbly-impressive season for rookies.

With Kessler, we also must consider his situation. He doesn't have one of the best offensive lines in the league like Prescott does, and he does not have a top-tier defense to keep him out of negative game script like Wentz. Of Kessler's 132 drop backs, 78.8% have come while the team has trailed compared to 39.6% for Wentz.

Additionally, Kessler has played his four games without one of the team's best weapons. Corey Coleman's broken hand occurred in practice the week leading up to Kessler's first start, and he hasn't been able to return yet. Coleman was initially expected to miss four to six weeks, meaning he could be back soon, which would bolster a passing game that has been largely reliant upon Terrelle Pryor.

Pryor's presence certainly helps Kessler, and he deserves praise for his play this year. This isn't to say that Pryor's play is single-handedly propping up Kessler's numbers, though. The table below breaks down Kessler's metrics when targeting various players this year with a minimum of 10 targets. This includes deductions for expected points lost on interceptions and incompletions when that specific player was targeted.

Player Targets Target NEP Target NEP per Target
Terrelle Pryor 38 16.90 0.44
Duke Johnson 21 -5.15 -0.25
Gary Barnidge 19 11.30 0.59
Ricardo Louis 18 3.21 0.18
Andrew Hawkins 14 9.80 0.70

Given his volume, Pryor's metrics are very good. However, Kessler has also done well when targeting Gary Barnidge and Andrew Hawkins. Pryor is definitely helping Kessler, but he's not the sole reason for the quarterback's success.

In Coleman's small sample, he leads the team in Target NEP per target at 0.85. When he comes back, it would be fair to assume that Kessler will perform even better than he has thus far. And considering Kessler's metrics, that has to be a comforting thought for Browns fans.


Again, it's still way too early to conclude that Kessler is a quarterback around whom the Browns can build for the future. But you really couldn't ask for a much better start out of him.

Even with depleted resources around him, Kessler's metrics have compared well to his fellow rookies and the league as a whole. This is while playing from behind when the opposing teams are able to gear up for the pass, a time when you would expect a quarterback to be less efficient.

There's reason to believe that Kessler could further improve once he has Coleman back in the arsenal. Coleman's a dynamic force, and it'll allow him to spread the ball out more rather than focusing heavily on Pryor. Kessler's surrounding situation certainly isn't great, but Coleman's return would swing things in the right direction.

Kessler may not have the same numbers as the other rookies right now, and we really shouldn't expect him to for the rest of the season. But don't let the win column fool you; Kessler has been stout to start his career, and he could get even better in the near future.