Grading NFL's next generation of quarterbacks: Lamar Jackson's masterpiece, Sam Darnold and Kyle Allen thrive
Many young quarterbacks had fine performances in Week 12
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: Let's start with a run, as in Jackson's first run of the game, a read-option keep that went for 16 and showcased his unreal acceleration. His second touchdown of the night was a gorgeous throw to Marquise Brown down the seam that arrived a split second before the safety arrived. After running away from Michael Brockers, Jackson fit one into Nick Boyle near the sideline. His third touchdown was perfectly placed to Willie Snead on an in-breaker from the slot. He slightly climbed the pocket and threw a rope to an open Andrews over the middle against zone on a play that ultimately went for 38 yards. His fourth touchdown was a dart to Mark Ingram on an angle route between two defenders. He had perfect ball placement on a play-action seam throw to Andrews in the third quarter before perfect timing on a deep comeback for a first down. Jackson threw with ideal trajectory on a play-action roll to Miles Boykin for 15 late in the third.
Worst Throws: On the second drive, he took a bad sack when he scrambled left into pressure.
Summary: Jackson was essentially flawless, on the road, in prime time, against a team that came into the game No. 8 in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA. He was dynamic as a runner and threw accurately and on-time throughout his virtuoso performance. This game was Jackson's third A+ of the season.
Season Grade: B+
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Best Throws: On the first drive of the game, Finley started left then got to Auden Tate on the right side of the field for a first down as the pocket collapsed. Late in the second, Finley uncorked a jump ball for Tyler Boyd in tight coverage, on a play that resulted in a 47-yard gain. While the pass was kind of a duck, Finley gave Boyd a jump-ball opportunity on the next play, and he secured it for a touchdown. He placed one perfectly on a back-shoulder toss in the third quarter, but the receiver was just out of bounds despite coming down with the reception. Finley spun away from pressure and threw a strike while on the run to his left. However, the pass was dropped. The rookie quarterback put nice touch on a throwback toss to Boyd off play-action in the fourth quarter.
Worst Throws: Finley held onto the ball too long on screen and fumbled early in the game then took a bad sack that was nearly a safety when he didn't notice a free rusher from his right. To start the third, he skipped a consecutive passes on in-breaking routes. Finley had Alex Erickson wide open down the right sideline, but the pass sailed and made the wideout drift out of bounds. As he was being hit, Finley was late on an intermediate throw just outside the numbers that probably should've been picked. The same thing nearly happened on a similar play late in the fourth on a throw down the sideline. The ball was underthrown. On the next play, Joe Haden undercut a dig route but dropped the easy interception. On the next drive, Finley was sacked from behind when he didn't feel the edge rusher and fumbled.
Summary: Finley put the most impressive throws of his NFL career on film in this one, but the ghastly tosses were plenty. He easily could've tossed three picks, and his pocket presence was well below average. Finley did labor through some drops, yet they were counteracted to a certain degree by some outstanding receptions by his receivers.
Season Grade: D+
Best Throws: Darnold's day began with a nice wheel route through to Le'Veon Bell, and the back made a tremendous one-handed grab. He then threw with good accuracy to an open Robby Anderson on intermediate crossing route. Darnold climbed awesomely in the pocket off play-action and found Bell short to the left. After dropping a shotgun snap, he waited for his receiver to move into a void in zone and lofted it to him. A few plays later, while drifting left, Darnold showcased his athleticism and arm talent while hitting Anderson over the middle on a throw that needed perfect trajectory. Early in the third, after bouncing around somewhat frantically inside the pocket, Darnold found an uncovered Braxton Berrios with a full head of steam over the middle on a catch-and-run that went for 69 yards. On a creative flea-flicker, the second-year passer fit one into Anderson who made a leaping grab as contact arrived. Midway through the third, Darnold scanned the entire field -- in the red zone -- before throwing with pinpoint accuracy near the back right pylon for a touchdown against tight coverage. Darnold hit a receiver on an intermediate angle route after motioning in which he created a step of separation. Somehow, he fit a high-arcing pass between a bunch of defenders near the sideline, but the pass was dropped.
Worst Throws: While scrambling to his right in the red zone, Darnold found an open receiver near the front right pylon but threw the ball too low. In the second, he inexplicably held the ball with a defender bearing down on him and took a sack. After double clutching inside the pocket, Darnold threw late and wide of a throw outside the numbers that fell incomplete. There was an overthrow deep to Anderson down the sideline in the early stages of the fourth.
Summary: Darnold was sharp for the vast majority of this game, and while his pocket presence still looks hurried and slightly out of control, he again showed the ability to get the ball to receivers while ad-libbing. His touch was solid all game and his accuracy on fastballs was impressive.
Season Grade: C
Best Throws: On his first possession of the game, on third and nine deep in his own end, Allen stood in, got to his second read, and ripped one to Cole Beasley over the middle against tight coverage. After looking around inside the pocket, he scrambled for 14 yards -- while making a defender miss in space -- to get a first down. On a play in which Allen looked for multiple options to his left on third and five, he reversed his field, juked a linebacker behind the line of scrimmage and scampered for 18 yards. He threw it in stride to Beasley on a throw back off play-action in the second. His touchdown to Beasley was a thing of beauty and a clear indication of his development. He looked middle, pump faked to draw the safety to a crossing route, then reset his feet and threw a strike to Beasley over the middle as he was being hit by a blitzing linebacker. In the fourth quarter, he dropped a dime on a long ball to Brown in the back of the end zone.
Worst Throws: Late in the second, Allen airmailed a target to John Brown over the middle that was easily intercepted by Justin Simmons. He checked the middle of the field then threw one wide of Devin Singletary in the flat in the third quarter. In that same quarter, Allen didn't see an underneath defender on a long throw toward the sideline that should've been intercepted.
Summary: Allen had two truly bad throws in this game but was otherwise impressive against a solid pass defense. He only ran as a last resort, routinely got through his reads, worked the intermediate portion of the field well, and hit his first legitimate long ball of the year to Brown.
Season Grade: B-
Best Throws: On the second drive of the game, Rudolph delivered a sideline pass to Diontae Johnson for nine yards on third and 8. Midway through the second, Rudolph gave his new receiver Deon Cain a chance down the field, and he brought in the football for a 35-yard gain. On a target into the back of the end zone, Rudolph threw it over the shoulder of the underneath defender, and Tevin Jones jumped to make the reception but wasn't able to come down with it.
Worst Throws: He well overthrew Washington deep down the middle in the first quarter. Rudolph narrowly missed Washington on a huge long ball late in the second quarter. An on-target throw would've likely resulted in 82-yard touchdown. On that same drive, he threw a tad wide of Johnson on an out route. He started the third by holding the ball far too long before taking a sack then didn't have enough velocity on a deep dig that fell short of its target on third down. He also had an intentional grounding when he threw to an area near no Pittsburgh receiver as he was being taken to the turf.
Summary: Rudolph was benched after the first drive of the third quarter, when, at the time, the Steelers only had three points. He missed two deep connections with Washington on overthrows in the first half, and his interception in the red zone came when his arm was hit as he threw, leading to the ball popping up in the air. There were some good throws from Rudolph in this contest, but he tended to hold the ball too long inside the pocket.
Season Grade: C
Best Throws: Early in the game, Allen fit one into Greg Olsen against tight coverage at the intermediate level. After stepping into the pocket, Allen uncorked a moon ball to D.J. Moore for a long touchdown with two defenders approaching. He fit one into Curtis Samuel on a slant that was dropped. He threw a rope to Moore over the middle in the second half. In the fourth, after being flushed to his right, Allen threw with plenty of velocity on a pass with tight coverage, but the ball was dropped as contact arrived. Also in the fourth, the second-year passer flashed an awesome pocket climb and almost dropped it into Samuel in the back of the end zone but it fell incomplete yet defensive pass interference was called. On that same drive, Allen looked right then came back to the middle and fired a fastball into Moore for a touchdown.
Worst Throws: He missed an open Olsen on a deep cross in the second quarter. Allen held the ball too long and back-to-back sacks late in the second. After a creative way to elude an unblocked rusher on rollout, Allen somewhat recklessly lofted the ball downfield into double coverage that should've been intercepted.
Summary: Allen mostly took what the defense gave him, and much of that was short passes to Christian McCaffrey. However, especially in the second half, Allen was impressive in a hostile environment against a fair amount of pressure. He had one potential interception -- that was dropped -- but otherwise was very solid against one of the sturdiest defenses in football.
Season Grade: C+
Best Throws: After moving to his right when he couldn't find anyone open, Mayfield pumped, then found Jarvis Landry on a scramble drill route toward the sideline for a big gain. He threw it out in front of Nick Chubb on a vertical route from the backfield that went for 22. Although he was open deep, Mayfield got it to Odell Beckham for a 35-yard score in the first half. After drifting back from the play, the former No. 1 overall pick found Landry in the back of the end zone, and the receiver made an awesome grab for the score. Late in the first half, Mayfield threw a dart to Beckham on a deep comeback. Midway through the third, he rolled left and fired a rocket to Landry near the sideline for 17. In the fourth, there was a nice placement on a deep back-shoulder to Landry.
Worst Throws: He threw well over the head of Landry on a third and 20 after moving up into the pocket. Mayfield threw behind Landry on an easy slant throw, the ball was tipped and intercepted. Early in the fourth, he overthrew Landry who was waiting with his feet just in bounds down the field then put one slightly in front of Beckham down the left sideline. After that, Mayfield was woefully high on a fastball down the numbers before throwing too high on a deep corner route near the end zone. He threw high for Ricky Seals-Jones in the end zone.
Summary: Mayfield mostly diced one of the worst secondaries in the league for three quarters of this game and was trending toward an A. But for some reason, his sharpness dissipated in the fourth quarter. Overall, it was a strong effort from the second-year pro.
Season Grade: C+
Best Throws: After ricocheting off some bodies in the pocket, Haskins had a nice scramble for 18 yards then fit one into McLaurin over the middle to pick up a first down on third and long. Haskins squeezed one into McLaurin in the sideline hole in Cover 2 for 26 yards. After drifting slightly to the left, he threw a rope down the middle of the field to Kelvin Harmon with defenders converging. He got one into McLaurin on a deep cross late in the fourth then found him on the same route later to set up the game-winning field goal.
Worst Throws: Haskins was stripped from behind on his first drop back of the game. He was a little slow to release the football inside a pocket that was collapsing from its edges. He got to his second read down the field but overthrew an open Terry McLaurin in the first quarter. In the red zone, he scanned the entire field and found McLaurin running open toward the end zone, but threw the ball too high. Incomplete. On the next play, he threw one over the head of Steven Sims in the end zone. There was an overthrown deep ball down the sideline in the first half too. His interception was late and inside on an on-breaking route near the sideline. On third and four with under two minutes to go, Haskins overthrew a pass into the end zone that would've given Washington the lead. On the final drive, he had a pass broken up on a similar throw to the interception.
Summary: Washington's offense is opening up a bit as Haskins is seemingly getting comfortable, but his accuracy at the intermediate level and down the field in this game was simply not good. It could've been a convincing win for the Redskins had he hit on just a few of those throws. While this game is at the high end of the D+ range, Haskins had too many misses in this game to earn a higher mark.
Season Grade: D+
Best Throws: While not a tight-window pass over the middle, Hodges ripped a long ball on an in-breaking route to Washington that ultimately went for a 79-yard touchdown thanks to the second-year wideout's incredible effort down the field.
Worst Throws: Hodges threw wide of Washington on a long out-breaker then threw low and wide on a sidearm release into the flat. He was sacked when he was late to feel blindside pressure.
Summary: Hodges had one big-gainer -- on a good but not especially difficult throw -- and once the Steelers got the lead, he was content throwing the football away. Two defensive pass interference calls on adequate throws moved Pittsburgh down the field to extend the lead to six in the fourth quarter. It wasn't a bad performance from Hodges but far from a solid one.
Season Grade: C
Best Throws: On the first pass of the game, Jones moved out of the pocket to the right and hit his receiver near the sideline. In the fourth quarter, Jones had a nice escape from a defender before dumping it down. Late in the game, he had an impressive 26-yard scramble. He threw with good timing on a deep comeback. On fourth and eight with under five minutes to go, Jones moved into the pocket as it collapsed around him and lofted a perfect pass to Golden Tate for a touchdown.
Worst Throws: While scrambling left on the second Giants drop back of the game, Jones threw into traffic and an intercepted was dropped. There was a misfire on a throw down the numbers in the first quarter, although it may have been a miscommunication. While under pressure, he threw a tad low to an open Tate over the middle. He threw slightly behind Tate on a deep cross that was knocked away by an underneath linebacker. Early in the fourth, Jones threw late on a simple comeback and should've been picked. On a third and four deep in his own end near the end of the game, Jones was a tad late on a toss over the middle, and it was knocked away. A few plays later, he missed a deep out then threw behind an out-breaker to the other side of the field. The game ended when he ran out of the pocket for seemingly no reason then lofted a prayer that was nearly picked.
Summary: Honestly, until the fourth-quarter touchdown to Tate, it was hard to find a truly "good" throw from Jones in this game. Most of his completions were of the easy/short variety to wide open receivers. His pocket presence was not great, and neither was his accuracy.
Season Grade: C+
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