Where should Davis Mills rank amongst AFC South Quarterbacks?
One of the things we chase in every sport is the challenge of forecasting. How can we accurately predict how players will perform? Admittedly, this is a lot easier in baseball than it is in football or basketball. There is an old expression that players’ numbers will eventually resemble what they look like on the back of the baseball card. There are just too many factors independent of the player themselves to consider in football.
However, as we look at each position group in the AFC South, we can begin to get an idea of what any individual player might do. That will likely be true of the quarterbacks as well. So, we will look at all four starting quarterbacks in some depth statistically. From that point we can do some sort of rudimentary ranking.
It should be mentioned that Tannehill has three seasons as the primary starter in Possum Holler. He ranked eighth in the NFL amongst qualified quarterbacks in overall PFF with an 83.7 score. He finished in the top five the previous two seasons at 90.6 and 90.2. In three seasons with the Titans he has never had a completion percentage below 65.7, has thrown 83 touchdowns to 32 interceptions, and had a career low of 7.1 yards per attempt last season.
Were we to take the aggregate we would assume he would come in somewhere in the neighborhood of 28 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a completion percentage in the neighborhood of 67 percent. His yards per attempt would come back in the neighborhood of 8.0. All of those are near elite level numbers and would put Tannehill just under the top group of quarterbacks.
Naturally, this is where numbers and psychology meet. Tannehill’s year crashed spectacularly last year, so who is to say how he reacts mentally? 2021 was his worst season in Tennessee. Has the league figured him out? Has he lost confidence? Those questions might be the most important questions to determine what will happen in the division this season.
When someone is coming from a different team we have to look at his past and the past from the team. Carson Wentz came in at a 70.9 in 2021 for the Colts and Philip Rivers came in at a 77.4 in 2020. So, the first question is whether Ryan is as good or better than those guys. Rivers saw a slight bump in his PFF score moving to Indianapolis while Wentz saw a significant bump.
The working theory here is that whatever bump Ryan might get moving away from Atlanta and to Indy will be offset from the likely decay he will see as he ages. His 74.5 PFF score in 2021 was the lowest in his career. The 76.0 he had in 2019 was the second lowest of his career. That’s obviously not consecutive, but you get the idea. A part of that could be explained through Atlanta’s rotting roster. A part of that is the natural aging process.
Ryan will have one of the top five running games in the NFL next season and that he something he never had in Atlanta. The line will certainly be better as well. Receiver quality might be the only question. We will obviously get to all of those things in subsequent articles.
Lawrence was 32nd in the NFL with a 59.6 PFF grade. Obviously, there is a sizeable gap between Tannehill, Ryan, and the other guys. Ryan is destined to have his bust carved out in Canton. No matter what anyone thinks of the rest of the quarterbacks in the NFL, there aren’t many that can say that. Lawrence came into the league with a lot of fanfare and lofty comps throughout history. So, let’s do the most common one.
Player A— 3641 yards, 59.6%, 12 TDs, 17 INT, 6.0 YPA
Player B— 3734 yards, 56.7%, 26 TDs, 28 INT, 6.5 YPA
I think everyone knows who Player B is. It isn’t so much that we are comparing the two players over a 15 to 20 year career. Only the special ones are able to do that. The question is what we can expect in year two. Quarterbacks that are more special tend to have more growth. So, let’s take a look at what Player B did in year two.
Player B— 4135 yards, 62.1%, 26 TDs, 15 INT, 7.8 YPA
So, it is safe to say that Player B wasn’t the Hall of Famer we remember in year two, but he was certainly a damn sight batter. So, if we were to see a similar jump for Lawrence in year two what exactly would that look like? Unfortunately, we don’t have PFF scores for Player B because they weren’t available back then, but we could probably utilize the other numbers. I’m guessing it won’t be quite as good as Ryan and Tannehill, but it will be a lot closer.
We can do the same thing with Mills that we did with Lawrence. Of course, we have to find different comps. We have done this before, so this is why we utilize the Player A, B, and C test. In this case, Mills will be Player A and two of the other guys we compared him with earlier will be players B and C. Essentially, one will be the conservative comp and the other will be the ambitious comp.
Mills— 58.5 PFF, 16 TD. 10 INT, 66.8%. 6.8 YPA
Player B— 62.2 PFF, 20 TD. 13 INT, 58.1%. 6.6 YPA
Player C— 58.1 PFF, 29 TD, 11 INT, 69.8%, 7.7 YPA
Okay, let’s be honest here. He is a lot closer to Player B than Player C. So, hoping for Player C is definitely ambitious. However, there are reasons for optimism. None of these guys were first round picks and none were expected to even be a Pro Bowler when drafted. So, anything can happen. Like with Lawrence we are more interested in the rate of improvement between year one and year two.
Player B— 63.7 PFF, 27 TD, 16 INT, 62.3%, 6.9 YPA
Player C— 70.8 PFF, 25 TD, 12 INT, 67.0%, 8.1 YPA
I’m not sure how Player C got his grades to tell you the truth. He was better in yards per attempt but literally nothing else. So, if we take the other numbers at face value we would see that both of these quarterbacks were either about the same or slightly better than they were the previous season. That’s why we look at multiple numbers.
If I were a betting guy, I would probably put these quarterbacks in the exact same order as we have them. On a long enough timeline, the survival rate drops to zero. The numbers on the back of the card end up being the target for future performance and the bottom two have too far to go to pass the the top two. I would expect slight improvement for Mills overall. If he gets to Player B status I would actually be ecstatic. That would be Andy Dalton. I know that’s a sobering thought, but he’s been a ten year pro. There’s a lot worse that Mills could be.