Five NFL quarterbacks at risk of taking a big step backward in 2021: All eyes on Derek Carr, Matt Ryan


Around this time of year, every team and every player feels really good about what’s going to happen during the upcoming season. OTAs are in the rearview mirror, but training camp hasn’t started yet. Nothing has gone wrong. Everything is all hopes and dreams. 

Of course, we know that not everything can work out as well as possible for everyone. Some teams and players are going to take a step backward, because that’s the way the league works. We’re here today to discuss five quarterbacks (and one team) who could do so in 2021. 

The typical NFL quarterback sees a fairly dramatic drop-off when operating under pressure, compared to what he does from a clean pocket. Over the last four seasons, the league average quarterback rating has dropped 34.6 points when the passer was pressured, according to Tru Media. Carr’s passer rating, however, has dropped 41 points in the same situations. He’s been more turnover prone than the average pressured quarterback — and less likely to throw a touchdown. 

On top of that, the Raiders just traded or cut three of his five starting offensive linemen, despite the fact he was being pressured at a below-average rate in each of the last four seasons. (And far below average last year.) The Raiders also have one of the league’s weakest pass-catching groups outside of star tight end Darren Waller. (Who is this team’s No. 1 receiver? Is it Hunter Renfrow?) Jon Gruden is a good play-caller and should give Carr some opportunities, but this roster is not one that is very well positioned for Carr to succeed.

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It’s tough to think of a single player who had a bigger downgrade in situation than Goff. He went from throwing to Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee, Josh Reynolds, and Van Jefferson, behind an offensive line that ranked second in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate, in an offense whose plays were called by Sean McVay, to throwing to Tyrell Williams, Quintez Cephus, Breshad Perriman, Kalif Raymond, and T.J. Hockenson, behind an offensive line that ranked 21st in Adjusted Sack Rate, in an offense whose plays will be called by Anthony Lynn. It seemed clear the past couple years that McVay and the talent around him were propping up Goff’s performance. Without that safety net, the bottom could very well fall out. 

The last time Ryan began a season without Julio Jones on his team, he was just 25 years old. He’ll be 36 this season, and he’s now five years removed from his MVP campaign. Bringing in Kyle Pitts should help somewhat mitigate the loss of Jones, but there is a serious lack of perimeter playmaking talent here outside of Calvin Ridley. No secondary in the league is scared of Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Christian Blake. Ryan should get schemed into some easier throws than he’s used to thanks to new head coach (and former Titans offensive coordinator) Arthur Smith, but Ryan’s age, lack of mobility, and loss of his security blanket/No. 1 target seem likely to result in a dip in his performance level.

Obviously, neither Lawrence nor Wilson has played in the NFL yet. But if we’re talking about players we can expect to take a step backward from where they were last season, it seems likely these guys will be included. 

Lawrence is going from playing on a loaded Clemson squad behind a top offensive line with elite weapons, to playing for the Jaguars. Wilson was among the most well-protected quarterbacks in the country last year, and while the Jets have upgraded their line a bit, it is still below average. The step up in terms of competition for both players (and especially Wilson) is real. I think we also need to remember that most rookie quarterbacks are just not all that successful — and that it’s okay for them to struggle a bit with the adjustment as they figure out how to make their skill set work in the pros. Having a less-than-stellar debut campaign doesn’t mean they won’t be quite good in the future.

I think this is really important to note: We still do not know who will be playing quarterback for the Saints this year! How can we take this team seriously as a contender? Under center, they will either have Jameis Winston, who owns the league’s second-highest interception rate among the 48 passers who have thrown at least 2,500 passes since 2000; or Taysom Hill, who is only vaguely a quarterback and has more rushing attempts than passing attempts in his NFL career. 

Sean Payton is one of the best offensive coaches of his or any other generation, but the relentless efficiency with which the Saints offense has moved during his tenure seems unlikely to be replicated with one of those two players at quarterback. They’re going to have to make a ton of adjustments, and it is just not easy to count on there not being a breaking-in period. Brees wasn’t at his peak last season, but even sub-peak Brees completed 70-plus percent of his passes at 7.5 yards per attempt. Do you want to bet on either Winston or Hill matching that? I don’t.



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