Do teams undervalue quarterback runs? An examination of quarterback passing and rushing EPA

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By: IMissFatRex

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Taking a look at quarterback passing and rushing EPA

Much has been said about the New York Jets’ selection of Quarterback Zach Wilson with the 2nd overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft. One of the most common laments has been that the Jets opted to pass on (then Ohio State) Quarterback Justin Fields, who has since gone on to become one of the premier rushing quarterbacks in the league but who also has yet to be a meaningfully better passer than Zach Wilson.

This creates an interesting question: is a quarterback who primarily generates their value on the ground a worthwhile selection or should teams gamble on passing upside?

The answer to this question is obviously going to be multifaceted. One could easily point to scheme, team identity, and coaching staff considerations as important factors worthy of consideration. Interestingly enough though, data does support scrambling plays are arguably more effective than passing plays, even among the game’s best passers.

As laid out in that tweet (with information originally provided in an article by Ben Solak of The Ringer), “Across all [NFL] quarterbacks [in 2022], scrambles are producing .508 EPA per play, which is the second-highest mark in any season since 2000. In comparison: The EPA per play of a league-average pass attempt (no spikes, no throwaways) is .212.” EPA is expected points added, which implies that scrambles are, on average, 2.5x as valuable as the average passing attempt.

While some may argue this is due to the dearth of quality passers, this trends towards the greater value attained on scrambles also holds for some of the games best passers, including Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback Patrick Mahomes (who I personally consider to be the best passer I’ve ever seen). As stated in that same article from The Ringer, “Patrick Mahomes leads the league in EPA per pass attempt at .532. The average quarterback scramble this season is more valuable than any quarterback’s pass attempts, save for Mahomes. And even then, get this: Mahomes’s EPA per pass attempt is .532, and his EPA per scramble is .603. Mahomes is a more valuable scrambler than he is thrower—and he’s the best thrower in the league.”

With that said, Solak does a fantastic job of contextualizing this data, adding scrambles typically happen on important plays which can inflate EPA. As he wrote, “A disproportionate number of scrambles happen on third downs, when quarterbacks are just trying to get to the sticks—and when they do, they score a huge victory in EPA” It is important to note, however, that same conclusion is reached even if the overall EPA numbers are lessened when limiting the sample to only ‘less valuable’ plays with Solak adding “But on first and second downs only, the average scramble (.298 EPA/play) is still worth much more than the average pass attempt (.193).”

Overall, the data suggests that a significant competitive advantage could be gained by teams if they were to allow their quarterbacks to scramble more.

Given the track record of the Jets new starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it is unlikely the Jets will feature a large amount of scrambles this season. However, this may have relevance for who the Jets opt to replace Rodgers with when the time comes. Beyond that, this also suggests that the degree of success the Jets offense experienced under Zach Wilson’s helm may have been salvaged if they had allowed him to run more. This argument is further bolstered by the success that Wilson had when scrambling, with PFF crediting him with 97 yards on 13 scrambles (7.46 yards per attempt).

But what do you think?

Originally posted on Gang Green Nation – All Posts

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