Everyone knows it’s a quarterback-driven NFL. We’ve written about it, media outlets talk about it and even the rules of the game have helped it.
It's no secret that you need good quarterback play to win in the NFL. No, it's not that they're the only reason you win games in the league, but there's a reason we consistently see top-notch passers move on through the NFL playoffs. The position is the most important on a football field, and when that's filled with solid competition, your team has an edge.
But when your signal-caller is anything but good, you know you’re in trouble. The Jaguars, Texans, Raiders and Browns finished in the bottom four of the numberFire power rankings this year, and by no surprise, each of those teams started more than one player under center this season, at times completely lost with their choice at quarterback.
They weren't the only teams with troubles though. In fact, only one of the squads listed above actually had a quarterback ranked as one of the five worst in the league this year. Who were they? Take a look.
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
The one passer that made the list while being a member of one of the bottom four NFL teams this year was Blaine Gabbert. The worst part? He only dropped back to pass 98 times, throwing 86 pass attempts. Yet, we can still consider him one of the worst quarterbacks in 2013.
We use a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP) at numberFire, which measures the cumulative number of points a player adds for his team. This, too, can be looked at from a per drop back basis. So if a player has a poor per drop back NEP score, his total Passing NEP can be salvaged a bit if he didn't see a high volume of passes.
Not for Blaine Gabbert. Nope. Even with just one-fifth of the volume a standard starting quarterback would see, Gabbert still produced the second-lowest Passing NEP in the NFL this year, putting up a score of -51.31. Guys, every time Gabbert dropped back to pass in 2013, his team lost over half a point - by far the worst rate in the NFL among anyone with two arms.
It's because of this that I decided not to actually rank the bottom five passers. Gabbert was the worst from a per drop back perspective, but he wasn't the worst in simple Passing NEP. That guy will come later.
Eli Manning, New York Giants
Eli Manning's year-to-year performances are about as predictable as the next thing to come out of Dennis Rodman's mouth. Entering 2013, Manning had five straight seasons with at least 55 Passing Net Expected Points, which is typically top-15 quarterback range. But we've seen bad Eli, like his rookie season where he played 35 points below expectation, and his fourth year where he was even worse. Of course that fourth year was when he lifted the Lombardi for the first time, only adding to the "What are you?" Eli Manning narrative.
The 2013 season was almost as bad as his 2007 campaign, as he finished fourth from the bottom in Passing NEP. And when adjusted for strength of schedule, the Giants, as a team, finished 31st in the league in passing efficiency, ahead of only the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Knowing Eli, he'll come back next year without wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and perform like his older brother. But until then, we have to recognize just how bad he was in 2013.
Josh Freeman, Minnesota Vikings
Like Gabbert, Freeman didn't play a whole lot. But when he did, it was Super Bowl XLVIII ugly.
Freeman dropped back to pass 155 times this past year, attempting 94 passes for the Buccaneers and 53 more in one game with the Vikings. Over his three games in Tampa Bay, Freeman performed far below expectation, totaling a putrid -21.04 Passing Net Expected Points - a player in his position would have scored over a touchdown more for the Bucs per game than Freeman did.
But nothing - nothing - was worse than his lone game for Minnesota. I wrote about it when it happened, but Freeman lost over 20 points for the Vikings against the Giants on Monday Night Football earlier in the season, which was one of the worst single-game quarterback performances an NFL fan has ever seen. Had he been remotely competent in that game (or had the Vikings not rushed him onto the field so quickly), the team would have almost easily won.
Freeman was also more inconsistent this year than even the aforementioned Gabbert, as his 32.26% pass Success Rate, which measures the proportion of passes that contribute positively towards a player's NEP, was lowest in the league among relevant passers. To put this horrific rate into perspective, Freeman was over 10 percentage points worse under the metric than Eli Manning, meaning Manning saw 10 additional successful passes per 100 drop backs than Freeman this season. Yikes.
E.J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills
Manuel's rookie season could have been a lot better - any Buffalo fan knows this - as he played nearly 48 points below expectation, the third-worst Passing NEP score in the entire NFL. With each drop back, Manuel was losing 0.14 points for the Bills, a number that was better than just six passers, including teammate Jeff Tuel.
While many folks will want to give E.J. Manuel a pass because he was an oft-injured rookie quarterback, keep in mind that history is not on his side. According to research I did on first-year quarterbacks, Manuel's going to have a hard time digging out of his hole, as players who performed similarly to him during their first years include Christian Ponder, Sam Bradford and the already mentioned Josh Freeman.
One positive for Manuel is that he posted over 12 Rushing Net Expected Points, which was 12th-best among quarterbacks. And remember, he missed time, so his per rush average is higher than some of those ranked ahead of him.
Geno Smith, New York Jets
When you replace Mark Sanchez, the goal is to not get another Mark Sanchez. Unfortunately, from a production standpoint, that's exactly what the Jets got in 2013's NFL Draft.
Geno Smith posted the worst Passing NEP of any quarterback this year, as an average player in his position would have created a near 69-point swing in the Jets favor over the course of the season. That's over four points per game, which is incredibly significant when seeing how many close contests there are in today's NFL.
It should be noted that he did play well over the final quarter of the season, increasing his Passing NEP by about 13 points. Perhaps this is a sign of what's to come in New York, but let's not get overly excited, Jets fans - Smith has a lot of work to do before he's relevant.