Who's Projected to Be 2019's Most Efficient Quarterback?

Statistics in sports have come a long way over the years.

It would've been hard to imagine something like numberFire's live updating win probability model back when you had to wait a day or two for box scores in newspapers, depending on how late games concluded.

But now? Now it's not just yards and touchdowns we have at our fingertips but instead expected points models and detailed player tracking stats.

Typically, though, stats like these are just descriptive, informing us of what has already happened in the past. Our Net Expected Points (NEP) model does well to differentiate between the value of a five-yard catch on third-and-two and a five-yard catch on third-and-nine, yet it does so after a play is completed.

Why not use that same algorithm to project 2019's best performers? I couldn't think of a reason not to do it, either, so here we are. Here is how every team's top quarterback (in terms of expected drop back volume) is projected to fare in our Passing NEP per drop back stat in 2019.

For context, the league-average in 2018 was 0.11, meaning the average NFL pass play was expected to put up 0.11 points on the scoreboard. In the early 2000s, that number was closer to 0.00, but the spike in passing efficiency now yields a positive outcome on a per-drop back basis. The projected output this season is 0.14.

The Bottom Six

Quarterback Drop Backs Passing NEP/
Drop Back
Yards TDs INTs
Joe Flacco 329 -0.01 1,915 11.5 6.7
Josh Allen 526 -0.01 3,289 19.1 13.8
Josh Rosen 295 0.01 1,828 10.5 8.9
Lamar Jackson 505 0.03 3,359 16.8 13.0
Dwayne Haskins 321 0.03 2,023 11.1 8.7
Eli Manning 629 0.03 3,888 23.6 15.6

- Joe Flacco is projected to be the league's least-efficient starting quarterback this year, a sad sign for the Denver Broncos. Flacco's projected volume isn't substantial, as Drew Lock (projected for 0.04 Passing NEP per drop back) should see work in 2019. Regardless, we're looking a per-play rate here for Flacco, and it's not pretty. Flacco secured a 0.10 Passing NEP per drop back in 2018, so this would be a big dip, but his 44.81% Passing Success Rate suggests that he was a bottom-five quarterback last season. Overall, we project Denver to finish as the eighth-worst opponent-adjusted passing offense in 2019.

- Josh Allen's -0.04 Passing NEP per drop back from 2018 is projected to improve a little -- but not much. That ranked him 33rd among 34 passers with at least 200 drop backs in 2018. His 39.08% Passing Success Rate was also 33rd. Allen is projected to lead starting quarterbacks in Rushing NEP per carry, however.

- Josh Rosen has a new team in Miami, and he sure could use a change of scenery. His -0.23 Passing NEP per drop back and 36.99% Passing Success Rate were both worst among qualified quarterbacks in 2018.

Below-Average Passers

Quarterback Drop Backs Passing NEP/
Drop Back
Yards TDs INTs
Sam Darnold 586 0.05 3,791 21.9 13.9
Nick Foles 555 0.06 3,474 22.8 11.4
Andy Dalton 596 0.07 3,710 24.4 12.7
Kyler Murray 579 0.08 3,823 24.0 14.9
Marcus Mariota 511 0.10 3,414 19.2 13.0

- Sam Darnold started out poorly in 2018, generating 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions through his first nine games. In all, he posted -0.09 Passing NEP per drop back and a 6.69 yards per attempt rate. In his final four outings after returning from a mid-season absence, Darnold tossed six touchdowns and just one interception. His yards per attempt rate jumped to 7.45, and his Passing NEP per drop back was 0.17. Showing promise, Darnold still hasn't proven it to the algorithm.

- Nick Foles will be an upgrade over Blake Bortles (-0.03 Passing NEP per drop back last year) at this projection for the Jaguars, but Jacksonville still projects for a bottom-five adjusted passing offense overall.

- Kyler Murray is slated for an efficient rookie season, though still not enough to get to the general or projected league average. It'll be a huge upgrade over Josh Rosen (0.31 points per drop back) if Murray lives up to the algorithm's expectations.

Middle of the Road

Quarterback Drop Backs Passing NEP/
Drop Back
Yards TDs INTs
Derek Carr 608 0.13 4,094 24.1 13.0
Mitchell Trubisky 542 0.13 3,731 25.8 14.3
Cam Newton 562 0.13 3,858 26.8 12.2
Matthew Stafford 598 0.13 4,016 23.0 12.4
Dak Prescott 587 0.14 3,998 24.3 11.2

- Quite the list of "league-average passers" here. Derek Carr had a solid Passing Success Rate in 2018 (50.33%, 13th among 34 qualified passers), but his per-drop back Passing NEP was 0.06. He has had just one above-average passing season in terms of Passing NEP per drop back (0.20 in 2016).

- Mitchell Trubisky (0.16 Passing NEP per drop back last season), Cam Newton (0.12), and Dak Prescott (0.10) are all projected for a similar outcome in 2019, but the algorithm projects a boost for Matthew Stafford (0.07 in 2018).

In the Top Half

QuarterbackDrop BacksPassing NEP/
Drop Back
Jimmy Garoppolo5640.164,05223.313.1
Jameis Winston6300.174,49131.515.0
Carson Wentz6280.184,46629.111.8
Kirk Cousins6480.184,31230.211.4
Aaron Rodgers6470.194,47433.16.5
Andrew Luck6610.204,60137.413.3

- In a limited sample (186 drop backs), Jimmy Garoppolo led the NFL in Passing NEP per drop back (0.35) and Passing Success Rate (56.45%) in 2017. His limited 2018 data showed a huge drop (0.01 and 47.06%) over 102 drop backs.

- Kirk Cousins, per the algorithm, is in store for a return to form in 2019 after a 0.07 Passing NEP per drop back mark in 2018. This comes after a down season in 2017 as well (0.06). Cousins netted a 0.24 Passing NEP per drop back in each 2015 and 2016.

- Speaking of two down years, Aaron Rodgers' Passing NEP per drop back had been at least 0.21 from 2009 through 2016 before dropping to 0.13 in 2017 and 0.14 in 2018, his worst marks ever. The algorithm likes Rodgers to trend back up under Matt LaFleur.

In the Top 10

QuarterbackDrop BacksPassing NEP/
Drop Back
Baker Mayfield6220.214,60433.912.0
Ben Roethlisberger6470.224,81331.413.8
Tom Brady6050.224,37629.38.9
Deshaun Watson5410.234,06228.19.4
Matt Ryan6320.234,62732.111.5
Russell Wilson4770.233,48831.79.4

- Baker Mayfield's Passing NEP per drop back spiked from -0.06 to 0.27 after the coaching shift to Freddie Kitchens last season. Even if he doesn't live up to that late-season trend, he's slated to have a top-10 season in expected points per play.

- Ben Roethlisberger has been above a 0.20 Passing NEP per drop back for six straight seasons. He'll have to do it again this year without Antonio Brown. Via TheQuantEdge, Roethlisberger's yards per attempt fell from 7.70 to 6.77 without Brown on the field in 2018.

- Last year, Russell Wilson's metrics spiked after multiple, clear downward trends in his data. In his first year, his per-play Passing NEP was 0.20. It fell to 0.17 and then 0.10 the following two years. It jumped back up in 2015 to 0.30 before falling to 0.14 and 0.12. In 2018, his Passing NEP per drop back of 0.19 was his third-best season. We expect an even better year in 2019, despite the loss of Doug Baldwin.

The Top of the Class

QuarterbackDrop BacksPassing NEP/
Drop Back
Patrick Mahomes6080.274,67338.713.6
Jared Goff6010.294,76532.511.3
Philip Rivers5740.294,56132.112.4
Drew Brees5450.374,43732.38.5

- It's not Patrick Mahomes at the top this year. Mahomes' 0.39 Passing NEP per drop back last season led the league and also ranked sixth since 2000 among passers with at least 200 drop backs in a season. His 53.47% Passing Success Rate was 37th out of 679 such passers.

- We project Jared Goff to lead the NFL in passing yards this season, and it's tied to efficiency. Goff's turnaround (-0.28 as a rookie to 0.21 as a sophomore) continued in 2018 (0.25). His Passing Success Rate has spiked each year, too (33.77%, 45.33%, and 52.77%).

- Philip Rivers' Passing NEP per drop back has been at least 0.25 in six straight seasons, and his Passing Success Rate was at least 51.30% in five of those six seasons. He has been -- too quietly -- one of the league's best, most consistent passers for more than half a decade. We expect it to continue in 2019. In his 13 starting seasons, Rivers' offenses have ranked top-10 in Adjusted Passing NEP per play 11 times.

- Perhaps nobody portrays continued excellence quite like Drew Brees. For the past 15 years, Brees' offenses have ranked top-10 in Adjusted Passing NEP per play, and the New Orleans Saints have been top-three for three straight seasons. Sure, 0.37 Passing NEP per drop back is a massive jump over the rest of the field, but Brees' 0.35 clip ranked second last year -- and ninth among 679 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs since 2000.