Breaking Down Tyrod Taylor's Small Sample Size
Training camp news is the best news, and training camp news is the worst news. It’s the best because any news means there’s actual football to be reported on. It’s the worst because performance in padless practices and 7-on-7 drills are reported on a per-second basis and very clearly as an indication of what we should expect during the regular season.
Somewhere along that scale on Wednesday came some news on Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is currently a quarterback with the Buffalo Bills in a competition with Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel for the starting job. Reports surfaced that Taylor easily looked like the best option of the three, though considering the competition, it’s hard to know if that means any good or not.
Because Taylor is such an unknown -- he’s thrown 35 professional passes -- his play in training camp has naturally drawn the attention of many across the league. Taylor is entering his fifth year in the NFL, but his story still feels new and exciting. His competition couldn’t be more opposite.
But in the midst of the workout praise, came this tweet from our Brandon Gdula:
According to @numberFire metrics, Tyrod Taylor lost 11.15 points on 5 drop backs in 2013 w/ BAL. Worst per-drop back rate ever w/ >5 DBs.
— Brandon Gdula (@gdula13) August 5, 2015
What Brandon is referring to there is Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data.
Five drop backs is obviously one of the smallest sample sizes we could work with, and no one should be taking this to mean Tyrod Taylor was the worst quarterback to ever take an NFL snap, or will be so in the future. The thing is, though, this did happen. In those five pass attempts, Taylor did put up the worst Passing NEP per drop back we’ve seen since 2000. The pressing question coming out of this, then, is how? What does one have to do to put up numbers that poor in such a limited amount of time?
Well, luckily five pass attempts is a very manageable total to go take a look at, so that’s what we’ve done here and it’s what you’ll find below.
Week 12 vs. New York Jets
Taylor didn’t get his first pass of the season until Week 12 against the New York Jets. After a Jets' punt with six and a half minutes left in the second quarter, the Ravens offense came out onto the field and into the huddle with a 6-3 lead. When they broke, Joe Flacco jogged out wide to the left side of the formation and Taylor was in shotgun. Taylor and the Ravens had already run a play out of the wildcat earlier in the game -- a 17-yard run -- so this was not a shocking development. This time, though, Taylor attempted a pass and his target was tight end Ed Dickson.
The ball was underthrown, sure, but it also hit Dickson in the hands. It’s not unreasonable for a professional receiver to catch a ball located in that area. It wasn’t a perfect pass by any means, but we also weren’t approaching worst quarterback in the world territory. Still, Flacco would throw the rest of the team’s passes that day. Taylor rushed three more times afterward and even caught a pass from Flacco for a six-yard gain.
Week 16 vs. New England Patriots
Baltimore didn't put Taylor back on the field until a Week 16 game against the New England Patriots. Taylor was not part of the game plan, though. He was put in for an ineffective and slightly injured Flacco with 2:05 remaining in the game and the Ravens trailing 33-7. That’s not a preferable scenario for any quarterback to play and things immediately got worse. This was Taylor’s first play from scrimmage:
The fumble wasn’t exactly Taylor’s fault. He never had a chance to catch Gino Gradkowski’s errant snap. This play didn’t even count against Taylor’s NEP. His first snap in the game was a botched snap that led to a touchdown and it didn’t even count towards what would be the worst Passing NEP per drop back we have.
At the start of the next drive, Taylor threw on first down and completed a 2-yard pass to Bernard Scott. It would be his only completion of the day. His next throw was almost a touchdown, but not for the Ravens.
We now know Jamie Collins as one of the better linebackers in the league after a breakout 2014, but in his rookie season he played on just 25.9 percent of New England’s defensive snaps. Here he trails Dickson perfectly, baiting Taylor into a throw before undercutting the route. It should have been an interception, but it goes down as an incompletion and Taylor lives to see another play.
The next two plays showed what Taylor has done pretty well: run. Sandwiched by a New England timeout, Taylor had runs of 25 and 14 yards as scrambles. Following the 14-yard gain to set up first down on New England’s 39, Taylor dropped back to pass again, which resulted in a harmless incompletion thrown at Tandon Doss.
Then this happened:
Tavon Wilson would score on that play. It’s not shown in the GIF because the GIF couldn't cover all 74 yards of the return. When it comes to measuring expected points, giving up a touchdown when the ball starts in opposing territory is not going to be measured favorably.
So there it is. That’s how you get the worst per drop back NEP with just five passes. 1-5, 2 yards and an interception returned 74 yards for a touchdown. That’ll do it.
If Taylor does win the starting job in Buffalo, we can probably safely assume he’ll be a little more involved in the game plan and weekly preparation than being thrown into a 26-point game. We can have that much faith in Greg Roman. It’s unlikely any of this really has any impact on what Taylor could be, but we really won’t know until we get out of the rosy reports of training camp and onto the field.