Efficiency Outliers 2020 – Three High and Low Efficiency Quarterbacks

by Corbin Young · Analytics & Advanced Metrics
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In the offseason, I like to dig into the data from the previous season to note any efficiency outliers. When looking at the advanced efficiency metrics to analyze players, it’s important to analyze the opportunity metrics as well. Sometimes teams rely on the volume of opportunities, while others rely on efficiency. Or in some cases, we notice a mix of both. For this article, we’ll analyze efficiency outliers at quarterback, following it up with efficiency outliers at wide receiver, running back, and tight end. Oftentimes, we’ll find a quarterback’s efficiency pairs with a wide receiver’s efficiency. A couple of notable examples include Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, and Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown. That said, let’s dig into the three highest and lowest efficiency outliers at the quarterback position.

High-Efficiency Outliers

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

If it seemed like Aaron Rodgers threw a passing touchdown on every drive, well, he almost did. Rodgers finished 2020 with 48 (No. 1 among qualified quarterbacks) Passing Touchdowns on 34.2 (No. 27) Team Pass Plays Per Game. Even Green Bay’s 2.00 (two plays per minute) Pace of Play ranked dead last in the NFL. All of this screams “efficiency outlier.”

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Rodgers’ uber efficiency was backed up by his averages of 9.2 (No. 1) Adjusted Yards Per Attempt, 0.66 (No. 1) Fantasy Points Per Dropback, and 24.2 (No. 4) Fantasy Points per Game. He also ranked No. 1 with a +34.5 Production Premium and No. 2 with a 73.6-percent Play-Action Completion Percentage. He threw fewer passes per game with a 38.1 (No. 15) Team Pass Plays Per Game average in 2019, yet almost doubled his 4.6-percent Touchdown Rate to 9.1-percent in 2020. That’s a pretty drastic change in one season after several people, including myself, faded him. For reference, recent players with high Touchdown Rates include Patrick Mahomes at 8.6-percent (No. 1) and Russell Wilson at 8.2-percent in 2018. Then in 2019, Lamar Jackson led the league with a 9.0-percent Touchdown Rate ahead of Ryan Tannehill at 7.7-percent.

It’s unlikely that Rodgers remains one of the league’s extreme efficiency outliers, though it wouldn’t be out of the question given the offensive system and the presence of Davante Adams. However, it’s safe to wonder how the potential loss of Aaron Jones impacts their offense. General Manager Brian Gutenkunst noted that the team could use the franchise tag on Jones, which would help the entire offense if it stays mostly intact. With an elite receiver like Adams, there’s a chance Rodgers continues to remain super efficient either way, even if he doesn’t approach his 2020 numbers.

Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans

First off, I’ll admit a big fat loss on thinking Ryan Tannehill couldn’t continue as one of the QB position’s top efficiency outliers. In 2019, he finished with a +54.9 (No. 1) Production Premium and a 9.2 (No. 1) Adjusted Yards Per Attempt average. He only followed that up with a +32.3 (No. 2) Production Premium and an 8.3 (No. 4) Adjusted Yards per Attempt. In 2020, the Titans averaged 31.8 (No. 30) Team Pass Plays Per Game, almost identical to their 31.5 (No. 30) mark from the prior season. However, they picked up their tempo, logging a 2.33 (No. 5) Pace of Play in 2020 compared to a 2.20 mark that ranked near the bottom-third of the league in 2019.

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Most Efficient 2020 QBs

Similar to Aaron Rodgers, Tannehill’s supporting cast in A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Derrick Henry, and even Jonnu Smith to an extent, helped him maintain his high efficiency. When we dig into efficiency outliers at wide receiver, Brown and Davis will top that list based on Production Premium. It’s mind-boggling to see that both ranked highly in Fantasy Points Per Route Run; Brown boasted a 0.62 (No. 2) average while Davis finished with a 0.52 (No. 6) mark. With an elite receiver in Brown (sorry I ever doubted you), and a running back that no one wants to tackle, it’s safe to project high efficiency for Tannehill again in 2021.

Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings

Sneakily, Kirk Cousins ranks as one of the position’s high-efficiency outliers in both 2019 and 2020. The passing volume increased slightly with the team averaging 34.8 (No. 25) Team Pass Plays Per Game, up from 30.9 (No. 31) the year prior. Cousins boosted his passing volume in the second half of last season, averaging 26.1 pass attempts from Weeks 1-9 and 38.5 pass attempts from Weeks 10-17. The passing yardage totals also ticked up in the second half.

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Kirk Cousins 2020 Splits

With Adam Thielen displaying great TD-scoring efficiency and Justin Jefferson breaking out as a rookie, Cousins’ productivity and efficiency boomed. He ranked No. 6 with 35 Passing Touchdowns (6.8-percent Touchdown Rate) and No. 8 with 4,265 Passing Yards, compared to his previous season’s marks of 26 (No. 8) Passing Touchdowns (5.9-percent Touchdown Rate) and 3,602 (No. 16) Passing Yards. Cousins’ efficiency and productivity paired well together with a perfect storm of Jefferson, Thielen, and a dominant running game led by Dalvin Cook.

Although Thielen is a dynasty sell-high candidate, he’s still a solid player in the Vikings offense. Since all of Minnesota’s major offensive weapons will return in 2021, Cousins should remain efficient, but expect QB2 numbers and not his 19.3 (No. 11) Fantasy Points per Game from this past season. It seems unlikely that he goes straight Aaron Rodgers on us and displays the uber-efficiency with a ton of passing touchdowns in 2021. However, it seems like the opportunity and efficiency metrics collided for fantasy production with the help of the efficient supporting cast.

Low-Efficiency Outliers

Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

Unfortunately, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2020 NFL Draft suffered a season-ending knee injury. The entire Bengals offense, including Joe Burrow, relied on opportunity and volume in 2020. Meanwhile, they struggled with efficiency, hence the headliner of the low-efficiency outliers section. The Bengals finished with 39.3 (No. 11) Team Pass Plays Per Game, and Burrow ranked poorly with a 6.2 (No. 25) Adjusted Yards Per Attempt average. Other efficiency metrics that stand out include a -20.9 (No. 34) Production Premium and 0.38 (No. 27) Fantasy Points per Dropback.

Least Efficient 2020 QBs

One area where Burrow stands out is in the run game, with his 136 Rushing Yards ranking No. 23 amongst qualified quarterbacks. Sure, it’s nothing flashy by any means. However, he would’ve snuck into the top-15 in total rushing yards at the position if we pace out his 13.6 rushing yards per game across 16 games. Since he suffered a serious knee injury, it’s safe to wonder if or how much he will run in 2021. Regardless, we can handle the low efficiency assuming the high passing volume holds up. Burrow projects as a high-end QB2 to draft and stash in case the stars align in redraft leagues. In dynasty leagues, wait and hold, don’t sell low.

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Similar to Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield boomed in the second half of 2020 shortly (and coincidentally) after the injury to Odell Beckham. Although Mayfield wasn’t as fantasy relevant as Cousins, they also landed on opposite ends in terms of efficiency. With a dominant Browns run game that averaged 30.9 (No. 4) Team Run Plays Per Game, it left little for a passing game that average 32.9 (No. 29) Team Pass Plays Per Game. The Browns also ranked in the bottom-eight with a 2.16 Pace of Play mark, which isn’t surprising given their run game dominance.

Baker Mayfield 2020 Splits

Even though Mayfield finished with a 7.3 (No. 12) Adjusted Yards Per Attempt average and 26 (No. 12) Passing Touchdowns (5.3-percent Touchdown Rate), he didn’t rank highly in other efficiency metrics. Given that he falls into the low-efficiency outlier category, it’s not surprising that he “boasted” a middling 0.45 (No. 18) Fantasy Points Per Dropback average and a -7.5 (No. 23) Production Premium. If the dominant running game remains, which seems likely, Mayfield could improve in the efficiency metrics with the play-action game. With projected low passing volume, he’ll need to rely on efficiency to produce anything better than middling or back-end QB2 numbers.

Daniel Jones, New York Giants

Overall, a rough season for the Giants and Daniel Jones. Any time a team loses its best offensive player, especially one as good as Saquon Barkley, the offense will struggle. The Giants averaged 35.4 (No. 24) Team Pass Plays Per Game with brutal passing production. Jones totaled 2,935 (No. 20) Passing Yards and 11 (No. 29) Passing Touchdowns (2.4-percent Touchdown Rate). He recorded five out of 14 games with fewer than 200 Passing Yards and only three games without an interception or fumble. Granted he didn’t lose a fumble in each game, but the potential turnovers cause problems for fantasy and real-life football.

Interestingly, Jones finished with a 5.5 (No. 31) Adjusted Yards Per Attempt average in 2020 compared to a 6.0 (No. 26) Adjusted Yards Per Attempt the year prior. Meanwhile, he logged a +10.0 (No. 11) Production Premium in 2019 before struggling with a -18.9 (No. 31) Production Premium last year. It appears that lack of production from the Giants offense contributed to his ranking as one of the low-efficiency outliers.

Daniel Jones 2020 Efficiency Metrics

The biggest issues for Jones include the turnovers and sacks. He recorded an interception or fumble in over half of his games played in 2019 and 2020. He also ranked No. 4 with 45 sacks taken in 2020 and tied for No. 11 with 38 sacks taken in 2019. Hopefully Barkley returning helps the entire offense, but they need to improve the offensive line as well. That said, Jones ranks as a back-end QB2 until he proves otherwise, even though he provides rushing ability.