Grading NFL's next generation of quarterbacks: Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen thrive, Drew Lock impresses in debut
The two highest-graded quarterbacks in this project played well in Week 13, as did both passer who made their NFL debuts
In Week 13, Lamar Jackson fared well against the stingy San Francisco 49ers defense in wet conditions, Josh Allen diced the Cowboys' secondary, and two rookie quarterbacks were impressive in their NFL debuts.
Beyond that, there were some average efforts and brutal performances from the rather large contingent of young passers.
Each week, I dig deep and grade these quarterbacks on a per-snap basis, taking every individual aspect of their performance into account. And you'll see a season grade for the signal-callers who've played significant snaps in more than one game.
Best Throws: On the first drive of the game, Jackson's elite speed helped him beat a defender to the corner on a designed run that went for 11. Off play-action, he arced a touchdown pass down the seam to Mark Andrews that landed before a defender converged on him. He was patient in the pocket and got it to his tight end on another play. On a second and 10 keeper, Jackson made a bananas juke before accelerating to the outside for seven. In tight, he got through his reads and found Nick Boyle on a crossing route, but the ball was dropped. Jackson threw a rope through a tight window between defenders over the middle to Andrews. He got skinny through a line of defenders to pick up 11 yards and a first down in the third. Early in the fourth, he dropped down to a sidearm delivery and connected with Willie Snead near the sideline. Later in the final quarter, he completed a pass to Andrews a split second before a defensive back hit the second-year tight end.
Worst Throws: In the first quarter, Jackson had a clear overthrow down the field to Snead. While on the run to his right, Jackson missed an open Hayden Hurst running near the sideline. Late in the second, Jackson threw behind an in-breaking route at the goal line. In the fourth, he missed Snead on a short crossing route with a throw that didn't lead the wideout toward the sideline.
Summary: Given the strength of the defense he played, and the steady rain throughout the entire game, Jackson had a very good outing. There were a few outstanding designed runs and quality throws at the intermediate level. There were some blatant misses too.
Season Grade: B+
Best Throws: Darnold stepped into the pocket and ripped an out-breaker to Ryan Griffin for nine with a defender in tight. On a third and short in the second quarter, he waited in the pocket and fit it into Anderson with two defenders near on an in-breaking route then completed a nearly identical throw -- with Robby Anderson cross from the other direction -- right before the half on his second read. In the fourth, he connected with Anderson for 20 yards a moment before the safety came over. A few plays later, on third and 12, Darnold threw it to Anderson in stride over the middle for 18.
Worst Throws: He had Anderson open deep in the first quarter for a touchdown, but the pass was well underthrown. Darnold was sacked when he was stationary in the pocket as it collapsed. He was a touch behind on a deep corner to Griffin that was knocked away and should've had a deep cross picked on the same drive. Late in the third, Darnold moved left and jumped as he threw the ball inaccurately over the middle and was close to being picked. Following a scramble to his left, Darnold tried a sidearm flip throw to his right that landed behind Jamison Crowder. Jessie Bates nearly intercepted a forced dig route, and Darnold missed deep to Anderson while under pressure.
Summary: Darnold really couldn't get into a rhythm against one of the worst defenses in football in reasonable early December weather in Cincinnati. There were a few solid throws but many more poor ones, and again, his pocket presence was frenetic. Also, the Jets offensive line didn't exactly form a brick wall around Darnold in this one.
Season Grade: C
Best Throws: On Buffalo's second possession of the game, from his own end zone, Allen looked middle then stepped up from pressure to his right and fired a pinpoint accurate dime to Cole Beasley on a deep cross on third and 10. He threw it on the run too. Early in the second, he roped one to Brown on a dig on his second read. After a play-action fake while pressured, Allen ran past a defender for nine yards. His touchdown to Beasley was another good display of his throw-on-the-run ability, as he threw a strike while on the move. Allen accurately fit a back-shoulder pass into tight end Dawson Knox after climbing the pocket and getting to his second read, but then it was broken up. On the next play, he demonstrated awesome patience in the pocket, and ripped one to Beasley for 19. His touchdown scramble was a decisive transition from pocket climb to scramble. In the fourth, Allen squeezed a fastball into Robert Foster near the sideline while scrambling.
Worst Throws: He slightly overthrew John Brown down the right sideline in the first quarter and forced an RPO slant to Beasley that wasn't there.
Summary: Allen was masterful against the Cowboys. He demonstrated his willingness to be patent in the pocket but moved when he needed to while keeping his head up and delivering throws with ideal ball placement. He was involved in the run game too.
Season Grade: B-
Best Throws: In the first half, Murray threw a laser of a slant to Larry Fitzgerald for 18 -- it was a "runner's ball" in the sense that it aided the veteran's yards after the catch. He had a drop back in which he showcased good patience before finding an open receiver against zone coverage for a moderate gain. In the fourth, after looking left, Murray came all the way back to the right sideline and squeezed in a throw low and away from the defender to Christian Kirk. His touchdown scamper was an amazing demonstration of his acceleration and ability to bend, as he ran around a defender and didn't go out of bounds before scoring.
Worst Throws: On Arizona's second possession of the game, Murray took a bad sack when he drifted right into edge pressure instead of stepping up into the pocket. Midway through the second, he tried to hit a running back on a vertical route out of the backfield but never saw rookie safety Taylor Rapp. While the pass the dropped, it should've been an easy interception for the Rams defender. In the third, Murray didn't see Rapp underneath a crosser and threw the ball right to him for what turned into a pick-six.
Summary: Murray and the entire Cardinals offense was overwhelmed against the Rams defense from start to finish. There were a plethora of screen passes and easy underneath stuff, but for the most part, this was his worst game as a pro to date. Arizona's offensive line did him no favors, and Murray was more antsy than usual.
Season Grade: C+
Best Throws: The first throw of the game was a fastball to Jarius Wright on a play-action bootleg that went for 14 with a defender in tight. His touchdown to Curtis Samuel was pretty, a perfectly placed ball on a corner route near the back pylon from the slot. On the second drive, after a laser beam of a slant, Allen ripped a deep crosser to Samuel that needed to be in stride and was. Allen threw another accurate out-breaker down the field to Samuel. Drop. In the fourth, while drifting left, Allen fit a fastball into Wright near the sideline with two defenders close to the football. He also threw a strike to Christian McCaffrey while scrambling to his left. Allen made Landon Collins miss in space on his touchdown run. To get Carolina inside the five after the onside-kick recovery, he threw right through zone coverage to Moore over the middle.
Worst Throws: On a deep comeback in the second, Allen threw it high and wide of D.J. Moore, who was open. Late in the second quarter, Allen had Curtis Samuel wide open for a long touchdown but threw it a half-step too far. Allen also threw too far out in front of Moore on a short slant deep in his own end that was intercepted. Allen should've been picked when he threw a deep corner toward the left sideline short of his intended target. After a crazy improvisation inside the pocket after his first read was covered, Allen uncorked a long ball on third and 16 that was about a yard underthrown and was nearly picked. In the fourth quarter, he was not even close on a deep shot down the left sideline. Late in the game, he really forced a pass that wasn't there to Moore that was almost picked in the end zone. Allen should've been intercepted on the second-to-last play of the game, a throw near the post to Moore. He then had an open receiver in the front right corner of the end zone but didn't throw it to him while looking in that direction and retreated before getting sacked.
Summary: It was a strange day in general for the Panthers, and while Allen did make a handful of impressive plays/throws, his pocket presence was subpar, and his dangerous misses popped up relatively often.
Season Grade: C+
Best Throws: Minshew relieved Nick Foles to start to the second half against Tampa Bay, but his first throw of any real substance came on the last play of the third quarter, when he looked left then came back to the middle and hit Chris Conley for a first down. After pumping into the flat, Minshew lofted one to D.J. Chark downfield for 30 yards, and the second-year receiver made a nice diving catch. He improvised to his left and converted the two-point conversion after an easy touchdown throw.
Worst Throws: In the fourth, Minshew overthrew a corner route to Dede Westbrook from the slot and tried to fit it into Nick O'Leary in the end zone from in close when the tight end hadn't turned to find the football yet. Late, he unnecessarily moved up in the pocket and tossed an incomplete pass into the flat. Something similar happened on a shallow cross on the next play. The game ended on a Minshew fumble when he bounced up in the pocket, retreated and was hit by a blindside edge rusher.
Summary: Minshew certainly knows how to get the ball out of his hands in a hurry, and despite not playing for the past couple weeks, he wasn't rusty. However, there weren't the sprinkling of "wow" throws in this game that he showed earlier in the season. Also there were some mishaps while ad-libbing.
Season Grade: C+
Best Throws: On the first drive of the game, Mayfield threw with good timing and accuracy on a deep out to Jarvis Landry. Then, after vacating the pocket to his right, he ripped one at the sideline to Landry who made an outrageous toe-tap grab. In the second, he fired one into Landry on a third-down attempt against tight coverage. In the fourth, he zipped a well-timed out to Odell Beckham for 19. He nearly threw a touchdown that would've brought Cleveland within three on a seam throw to Demetrius Harris. The somewhat high throw was dropped. In the fourth, he dropped a dime near the front corner of the end zone on a back shoulder to Landry that needed a brilliant defensive play to be knocked away.
Worst Throws: In the red zone, Mayfield fired one well over Beckham's head. Late in the second, Mayfield bounced around in the pocket and found Rashard Higgins over the middle but threw too low for the pass to be completed. On the last drive of the first half, Mayfield airmailed a flag route to Landry then threw too far and wide of Beckham down the field against double coverage. Late in the third, he drifted into pressure to his left and fumbled. With under two to go in the fourth, Mayfield forced an in-breaking route that should've been intercepted then threw well behind Landry on a throw over the middle against zone that was picked to end the game.
Summary: This was what has become a classic game for Mayfield in 2019; plenty of short passes, some elite-level throws, and some bad misses. Plus, as usual, he was under pressure fairly often and hasn't really proved to be good in those situations this season.
Season Grade: C+
Best Throws: On a third and two in the first quarter, Lock looked left, moved right and got the ball to Jeff Heuerman for a first down. With a free rusher in his face, Lock dropped an absolute dime for a touchdown to Courtland Sutton. In the red zone, a heater was required on a long throw into the flat on third down, and Lock delivered to move the chains. A few plays later, he stepped into the pocket and zinged one to Sutton in the back part of the end zone for another score. On the last play of the first half, Lock ripped one into Sutton over the middle with coverage draped on him.
Worst Throws: Lock's first NFL throw was well behind Sutton down the field on what looked like a back-shoulder attempt. On the next drive, he slightly overthrew his tight end on a play-action rollout. Early in the fourth, Lock didn't see an underneath linebacker on an in-breaking route and was intercepted.
Summary: Lock more than just held his own in his first NFL start. His first quarter was impressive and while the rest of the game didn't feature many "wow" throws, outside of his pick, Lock took care of the football, and his arm strength was apparent.
Best Throws: Inside the red zone, with Luke Kuechly in coverage, Haskins put a throw to the back portion of the end zone high, where it needed to be, but it was dropped. On a third and six in the second quarter, Haskins moved a trio of second-level defenders to his left with his eyes then got it to Jeremy Sprinkle over the middle. Midway through the third, Haskins dropped it in the basket to Terry McLaurin on a go route, but the ball went right through the rookie's hands.
Worst Throws: In the third, Haskins took a bad red zone sack when he held the ball for far too long. He ran out of a decently clean pocket then tried to throw across his body for a third-down conversion but was hit as he threw, and the pass fell incomplete.
Summary: Haskins gave the Redskins a few nice throws in this one, but this outing was owned by Washington's run game. While not a clear step forward for the rookie, he certainly didn't regress either.
Season Grade: C-
Best Throws: Hodges placed a teardrop into James Washington for 31 down the sideline. With under two minutes to go in the second quarter, he took a chance over the middle and had enough elevation on his pass to get it over the underneath defender and into the hands of a leaping Tevin Jones. On the next play, Washington made a tremendous catch as he was being interfered with on a slightly underthrown deep ball -- that probably would've been knocked away had it been further into the end zone -- for a score. In the third, he placed a ball over the shoulder of Washington for 44. With pressure in his face late in the game on a third and six, Hodges quickly got it to a wide-open Johnson.
Worst Throws: Hodges started with a bad sack as he drifted back and slightly to his right on the first drive of the game for Pittsburgh. On a third and long late in the second, he drifted away from a corner blitz instead of up into the pocket, leading to a throwaway. Hodges threw too high to an open Diontae Johnson on a comeback in the fourth then, on the next possession, threw a bad interception when he released a pass that traveled much too far for Johnson to reel it in, although the rookie wideout didn't make much of an effort to knock it down.
Summary: Hodges didn't really get the Steelers into trouble in this game, outside of his strange interception. He had two gorgeous downfield throws to Washington and got some quality contested-catch play from Washington on the touchdown and Jones a play before that.
Season Grade: C
Best Throws: With a defender hanging on him, Jones somehow got it to Darius Slayton for 13 near the sideline, and the pass actually had some zip on it. As he was drifting to his right -- near pressure -- Jones lofted an 18-yard touchdown to Sterling Shepard, although the pass wasn't perfect. Jones rolled left and connected with Shepard as he moved near the sideline. An early third quarter bucket throw down the sideline was negated by an illegal formation penalty, but a few plays later, Jones found Cody Latimer down the seam with good position on his defender for 43 yards. Late in the game, Jones squeezed a pass near the sideline to his intended target for 11 yards to get a first down. In garbage time, Jones located rookie tight end Kaden Smith and got the ball downfield to him a split second before a defender arrived to lay the lumber.
Worst Throws: Early in the second, Jones waited, hopped up in the pocket, and threw an ill-advised pass directly to a Packers defender at the intermediate level. He skied a short pass over the middle in the second while pressured. In the fourth, on third and 18, Jones sailed a pass over the head of Shepard -- who was open -- over the middle for an interception. Jones overthrew a pass down the sideline -- that really wasn't there -- for another pick late.
Summary: The conditions in this game were far from ideal. The snow was steady for most of the game and create slick conditions late after the snow stopped. Jones made some impressive throws from awkward foundations but was too careless with the football to get a high grade, and his interceptions came from clean pockets, making them worse from a grading perspective.
Season Grade: C
Best Throws: Blough's first NFL completion went for a 75-yard touchdown, and while Kenny Golladay was wide open down the field, the young quarterback waited patiently for him to separate. On the second drive, Blough had two strikes of 19 and 29 yards, the second coming to a completely uncovered Golladay over the middle. Both passes he waited then climbed before releasing. With under six to go in the second, Blough pumped then dropped it in the bucket to Golladay for 34 through tight coverage. Early in the fourth, he fit one into Marvin Jones near the sideline on a play-action bootleg. After bouncing back and forth in the pocket with under two minutes to play, Blough ripped one to Jones on a deep comeback that should've been caught but wasn't. On the next play, while drifting slightly to his left, he found Jones running from left to right for 20 yards. On second and eight on the final drive of the game, Blough laid one in perfectly to Danny Amendola on a deep corner from the far hash that was dropped.
Worst Throws: His first NFL pass was close to being five yards short of where it needed to be on a seam route by T.J. Hockenson. Late in the first, a deep comeback just outside the seam was late and should've been picked. He also should've been intercepted on a forced and low seam throw to Hockenson late in the fourth. Blough took a bad sack on a third and eight with under a minute to play.
Summary: For his first NFL game, Blough mostly impressed. The magnitude of playing on Thanksgiving didn't look too big for him nor did the fact he was facing one of the better defenses in the NFC. While some plays showed his lack of arm talent, he also dropped some dimes.
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