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Drive-Based Quarterback Analysis

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Traditional statistics such yards per game and completion percentage fail to accurately portray quarterback performance because they neglect to account for context. Combining drive-based statistics with the individual performance of quarterbacks provides a better sense of a player's skill, production, and value.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback production depends on a combination of surrounding talent, play calling, strength of schedule, timing, and luck. The evaluation of quarterbacks consequently continues to be one of the most difficult tasks for coaches, college programs, NFL franchises, and the sport's most eminently qualified statisticians.

Disclaimer: It would be nothing more than self-aggrandizing hubris to state that the statistics below are somehow impervious to criticism. Some measurements shown will be insightful. Others measurements will defy logic. This post's purpose is to evaluate quarterbacks from a different perspective.

The interactive chart below measures quarterback performance with the following statistics:

  • Usage percentage
  • Average starting field position
  • Rush yards per play
  • Pass yards per play
  • Yards per play
  • Percentage of available yards gained rushing
  • Percentage of available yards gained passing
  • Percentage of available yards gained
  • Sacks per passing play
  • Punt percentage
  • Effective turnover percentage
  • Touchdown percentage
  • Points per ten drives

Usage rate measures the percentage of plays a quarterback participates in as either rusher or passer. Click on this link for definitions of the other listed formulas. These statistics only include statistically significant drives where the quarterback participated in at least one play. Drives in which a quarterback did not rush or pass have been discarded. Quarterbacks with the highest number of total plays on statistically significant drives represent each team. No team has more than one player listed. Click on the Viz below to examine how the primary quarterbacks from all 128 teams compare with one another:

Observations and Overreactions


Jameis Winston's raw numbers trail his prodigal production from last season. The Seminoles continue to perform exceptionally well offensively despite his buffoonish behavior and regression in production.

It's disappointing that Deshaun Watson will be out for a month. He established himself as the ACC's second-best quarterback in his brief stint as Clemson's starter.

Big 12

It looks as if preseason prognosticators overreacted to Trevor Knight's exceptional game against Alabama last season. Bryce Petty, Trevone Boykin, and Jake Waters have each led their offenses to higher touchdown percentages than Knight. Trevor Knight should still be considered a good player, but his exemplary performance to end last season created unrealistic expectations for him.

Big Ten

Panic ensued in Columbus when the Buckeyes lost Braxton Miller for the season and proceeded to lose to Virginia Tech at the horseshoe. Kenny Guiton graduated last year after performing exceptionally well as his backup. J.T. Barrett has quietly (for Ohio State's standards) performed exceptionally well in the Buckeye's last three games against Kent State, Cincinnati, and Maryland. While that trio will not be confused with the SEC West, Barrett averaged 9.3 yards per attempt. The Buckeye offense scored more than 40 points per ten drives each of those three games. If Barrett can take that momentum into East Lansing, there's reason to believe the Buckeyes remain a threat to win the Big Ten.


Connor Halliday leads the country with a usage rate of 84.6%.

Brett Hundley's high sack rate may help explain UCLA's relative struggles this season. He has been sacked on 13.6% of pass plays thus far. Only Keenan Reynolds (Navy), Angel Santiago (Army), Rob Bolden (Eastern Michigan), and Chandler Whitmer (UConn) have been taken down on pass plays with more regularity.


NC State's offense has a touchdown percentage of 36.8% with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Boston College's offense has a touchdown percentage of 30.8% with Tyler Murphy at quarterback. Florida's offense has a touchdown percentage of 16% with Jeff Driskel at quarterback. It's increasingly clear that the Gators will turn around their program with a coach other than Will Muschamp.

Dak Prescott leads other SEC quarterbacks by a wide margin in touchdown percentage and offensive efficiency. Blake Sims leads the country in yards per play. Nick Marshall continues to produce as one of the country's premier rushing quarterbacks. Bo Wallace has played a level below Prescott and Kenny Hill, but he also has the nation's best defense. The emergence of quality quarterbacks in the SEC West magnifies LSU's quarterback problems this year.

Outside the Power Five

Rakeem Cato leads all quarterbacks in touchdown percentage and points per ten drives. With all apologies to Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, and Ahmad Bradshaw, Cato may be the program's best player since Randy Moss. (I'm not sure I really believe that sentence. I just wanted an excuse to link to a highlight video of Randy Moss at Marshall. For future reference, all East Carolina references will somehow include a highlight video of Chris Johnson.)

The data for this post comes from CFB Stats. The idea for this post came from Scott Kacsmar's application of drive-based statistics to gauge the performance of NFL quarterbacks in the postseason.

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