Pro Football Focus (PFF) recently ranked the quarterback situations of every team in the NFL and the New England Patriots ranked 2nd, behind the Packers and QB Aaron Rodgers.
“Tom Brady is playing arguably the best football of his career- despite his advancing years- and put together a real case for MVP last season, given that the Patriots’ offensive line in front of him was not stellar, and he lost many key weapons around him throughout the year,” PFF analyst Sam Monson writes. “He runs the offensive system as well as any quarterback in football, and is vital to its smooth operation.”
PFF factored in Brady’s current 4-game suspension into their rankings, which is fair. Rodgers features the most arm-talent in the league and he is expected to rebound after a “down” 2015 season without his #1 target Jordy Nelson.
The Patriots have to be pretty happy with their 2nd place rating, which also includes a valuation of back-up QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo factors into the calculus more than any other back-up because he is already expected to start four games. All other back-ups are only going to play in the more dire of situations when the starter is seriously hurt.
And how often does this happen? How many games are back-up quarterbacks expected to play?
There have been 20 quarterbacks that have been named the starter in each of the past three seasons. They have played 879 of a possible 960 games, or a 91.6% starting rate and a projected 14.7 games per season. So franchise quarterbacks are expected to miss roughly a game and a half each season.
When you expand the data to include more journeyman type quarterbacks like Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown, we find that all starters only played 84.2% of the games over the course of the season, or an average of 13.5 games. Now some of these players get benched due to their poor play (hence the journeyman tag), which is why I think the 91.6% rate is better for teams with established starters.
(fake math below)
My natural reaction to this injury rate is value quarterbacks and their back-up with roughly a 90:10 ratio- in other words, I’d value a team’s quarterback position by weighting the starter 9-times more than the back-up.
So, for me, when I read PFF’s ratings, I ask myself is 90% of Brady + 10% of Garoppolo better than 90% of Rodgers + 10% of back-up Brett Hundley? Normally I’d say yes, but we also have to factor in Brady’s suspension in addition to the projected missed starts from injury. We’re really asking is 67.5% of Brady + 32.5% of Garoppolo better than 90% of Rodgers + 10% of Hundley.
And, for me, I have to say no. In fact, I’d probably downgrade the Patriots a few slots from 2nd to 6th or 7th for the 2016 season, behind the likes of the Steelers, Cardinals, Panthers, and Seahawks.
But I do think the expectation of missed games supports the Patriots decision to devote resources to their back-up quarterback position. A back-up that can win a game or two in relief could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs, or getting a first round bye.