Much has been made of the need for the New York Jets to acquire a quarterback. This need is quite apparent given the very poor level of QB play the Jets received in 2023. However, while the QB is a huge puzzle in the success of a passing game, it is not the only piece of the puzzle.
In support, I want to provide some anecdotal evidence suggesting the importance that pass catchers play in the success of a passing game (and, in turn, QB play). With the intent of giving credit where it is is due, this article was initially inspired by the below tweet.
What's the difference between Tom Brady (the greatest football player of all time) and Alex Smith?— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) February 6, 2023
Rob Gronkowski. pic.twitter.com/OwT1nRJYjr
Given the nature of Twitter images, I am going to share the full image from that tweet here:
As shown, former New England Patriot and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Quarterback Tom Brady’s stats fluctuate quite a bit based on whether former New England Patriot and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Tight End Rob Gronkowski was playing. Specifically, from 2010 till his recent retirement, Brady’s stats varied from ‘clear-cut inner ring Hall of Famer’ to a ‘pretty good’ based on whether Gronk was on the field. While I found the premise of this tweet interesting, I wanted to look at whether this was a one off incidence or whether this trend was present for other quarterbacks. Accordingly, I went out and found some additional evidence using the website Statmuse.com, which provides a very cool feature wherein stats from a player (call him player A) can be filtered by games wherein another player (call him player B) was playing.
Below are some additional examples provide some additional support that supporting cast members are very important to the play of a QB. Note: this list is hardly all inclusive of the history of the entire NFL and should not be treated as such. Additionally, I did not take the next step of reducing the eligible seasons that were included in the analysis, but I would be open to doing so in a future article if there is significant interest in this topic.
- Ryan Tannehill (with Tennessee Titans) with AJ Brown [39 games]: Passer rating of 104.6 with a 70-24 TD-to-INT ratio and a yards per attempt of 8.2
- Ryan Tannehill without AJ Brown [18 games]: Passer rating of 91.9 with a 19-9 TD to TD-to-INT ratio and a yards per attempt of 7.4
- Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles) with AJ Brown [15 games]: Passer rating of 101.5 with a 22-6 TD-to-INT ratio and a yards per attempt of 8.0
- Jalen Hurts without AJ Brown [30 games]: Passer rating of 84.7 with a 22-13 TD-to-INT ratio and a yards per attempt of 7.3
- Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers) with Devante Adams [108 games]: Passer rating of 103.5 with a 237-38 TD-to-INT ratio and a yards per attempt of 7.4
- Aaron Rodgers with Devante Adams [28 games]: Passer rating of 99.3 with a 50-15 TD-to-INT ratio and a yards per attempt of 7.4
- Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins) with Tyreek Hill [13 games]: Passer rating of 105.5 with a 25-8 TD to INT ratio and a yards per attempt of 8.9
- Tua Tagovailoa with Tyreek Hill [23 games]: Passer rating of 88.8 with a 27-15 TD to INT ratio and a yards per attempt of 7.3
Overall, this data suggests that QB play can vary significantly based on the presence of a given pass catcher. However, much like everything, this relationship is hardly present 100% of the time, with Derek Carr and Patrick Mahomes as notable counter-examples of QBs whose stats were rather consistent regardless of the presence of a Hall of Fame pass catcher.
- Derek Carr (with Las Vegas Raiders) with Devante Adams [15 games]: Passer rating of 86.3 with a 24-14 TD-to-INT ratio and a yards per attempt of 7.0
- Derek Carr without Devante Adams [127 games]: Passer rating of 92.4 with a 193-85 TD-to-INT ratio and a yards per attempt of 7.1
- Patrick Mahomes (Kansas Cit Chiefs) with Tyreek Hill [58 games]: Passer rating of 106.0 with a 143-36 TD-to-INT ratio and a yards per attempt of 8.0
- Patrick Mahomes without Tyreek Hill [22 games]: Passer rating of 104.7 with a 49-13 TD-to-INT ratio and a yards per attempt of 8.3
But what do you think? To what degree is the greatness of a QB dependent on having a great pass catcher in the fold? And would you like to see a deeper dive into this topic?