Grading The Most Reliable (And Unreliable) Quarterbacks

TAGs: NFL, NFL betting, Nick Gianatis

Wilson NewtonBy nature, gamblers hate mistakes they can’t see coming. It’s like betting last-minute that AJ McCarron is going to fumble the snap on Monday Night Football or getting screwed by a random injury. It’s impossible to work these types of x-factors in to whatever calculations or assumptions you design to create the most risk adverse, investment situation for your money.

It’s probably an oxymoron to call gamblers “risk averse”, but it’s not like the sharps and veterans of the industry go out there burning cash like it’s a stack of old porn their mother just found under the bed. We all try to find different angles, corners and metrics to improve our leverages. At least, that’s what we should be doing.

I’m a fan of advanced metrics as a nerd who loves football and probably has too much spare time on my hands. But I also prefer fiddling with classic stats to try and find inside anomalies because – honestly – I’m not as smart as the guys who design the advanced metrics in the first place.

There’s a lot of different, self-made stat configurations I could dig up, but most of it’s boring and don’t necessarily lead anywhere. Most of it reaffirms stuff I already know or assume, which is what most of us want to hear when we’re buying points or laying them. More than anything, I’m just trying to find a wrinkle in the matrix. An anomaly. Something that doesn’t make sense that can help me arrive at a destination that’s closer to a definitive conclusion.

So one thing I started doing was measuring attempts-per-interception (API). It’s one of those numbers that fluctuates in the early part of the season but really starts to find a rhythm later in the year. API also helps me shape my opinions about playoff quarterbacks as well, which is the time of year we currently find ourselves in.

All you do is take the number of pass attempts and divide them by the number of interceptions a quarterback has thrown. It gives you an API mark that indicates how many passes a quarterback has to throw before they throw an interception. It’s sort of like a very inaccurate “interception-rate-o-meter”.

Here’s the best API quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts ranked in order from 1st thru 14th.


PlayerTeamAttemptsINTATT per INT
Alex SmithKC446589.20
Tom BradyNE603786.14
Aaron RodgersGB528775.43
Tyrod TaylorBUF352658.67
Jay CutlerCHI460857.50
Russell WilsonSEA455856.88
Andy DaltonCIN386755.14
Brian HoyerHOU329654.83
Teddy BridgewaterMIN428853.50
Drew BreesNO5851153.18
Philip RiversSD6261252.17
Carson PalmerARI5121051.20
Kirk CousinsWAS5281148.00
Cam NewtonCAR4691046.90


The most important thing to remember is that API is not a percentage or a specified rate. What this table tells is you is that Jay Cutler throws a pick every 58.67 pass attempts. That’s it. The only way this is relevant is if you compare the grades of every quarterback in the NFL. Then you get a clearer understanding. It’s a stat that adds to the conversation. It’s by no means a concluding statement or debate-ender.

The highest standard bearer for this metric is only sort-of surprising. It’s Alex smith, who throws a pick every 89.20 attempts. He also leads the league with just 5 interceptions, which makes sense given how careful he is with the football and how tactful he tends to be with his decision making. That doesn’t’ mean he’s the most risk averse passer in the NFL.

That distinction belongs clearly to Tom Brady, who has attempted the second-most passes in the league and ranks 11th in completion percentage with 64.7 percent. Brady also logs an astounding 86.14 API and leads the league in touchdown passes. This is a hearty argument as to why Brady is noteworthy of the MVP, especially given his team’s injury plagued season.

In Brady and Smith’s case, you have a pair of quarterbacks routinely operate at a level that avoids mistakes. This is huge for gamblers, especially in the playoffs where a pick can swing momentum or bury your bet. I mean you already knew how much you liked Brady. Maybe you like Smith a bit more.

The fourth player on the list is probably the most shocking, but this is also where we can expand on what this stat inevitably means and how to read it within the context of specific players. Tyrod Taylor leads all above-average quarterbacks in API with 58.67. But he also has the lowest attempts of any quarterback on this list. He’s also not going to the playoffs so there’s no reason to care, but his numbers also assist Brady’s astonishing mark in this made-up stat category. With 251 more passes (which is roughly 6 games worth of attempts in a pass-first game), Brady has just one more pick than Taylor.

A lot of guys will fall in the 50’s, which tends to be the average for a lot of guys. You have people like Cutler, Hoyer, Bridgewater, Brees and Rivers all in there. Where things get more interesting when it comes to betting is the fellows at the bottom of the list.

Caught in the middle is Aaron Rodgers, a quarterback who has been dogged all year for his team’s lacking offensive output. I have blamed coaching for not adapting in Green Bay, and others continue to lament the loss of Jordy Nelson. With a 75.43 API, Rodgers begins to regain the elite status that’s chipping away this season. Sure, they guy is having trouble connecting with receivers, but he’s also not connecting with the other team at a significant rate.

In other words, he’s not forcing it, which is what any other quarterback in his situation would be doing. If you’ve lost some faith in Rodgers due to a down year, you can rest assured that he’s actually doing a pretty good job of protecting the football.

Strangely, Ben Roethlisberger tracks out as one of the most mistake prone throwers in the league with a pick every 39.93 attempts. That’s a lot. He’s throwing picks at a clip that’s more than twice that of Brady, Smith or Rodgers. It’s a big deal.

This should send off alarm bells for anyone who thinks the Steelers are the most dangerous passing game in the NFL. They have a ton of weapons, and the football fan in me absolutely loves Roethlisberger’s gun slinging mentality. But there’s no denying how mistake prone he is. In the last two weeks, Big Ben has thrown a pair of costly picks at the end of each game. He was saved against Denver, but Baltimore didn’t give him the same bail out.

Grading out better than Ben, but far worse than others, are Carson Palmer, Kirk Cousins and Cam Newton. Palmer’s 10 picks this season are inexcusable given how deep and talented his receiving corps is, how well his offensive line protects him and with how effective the run support has been. Everyone has shot off their dumb mouths about how great Arizona can be in the playoffs, but it’s hard to trust a guy who throws a pick as often as Jay Cutler does.

Kirk Cousins has a similar API, but his causes less concerns because almost all of his picks happened at the beginning of the year when Washington was an absolute disaster. Cousins has just one turnover in his last five games, and has offset those with 11 touchdowns. He also leads the league in completion percentage. Somehow, Washington has stumbled in to a potential franchise quarterback who has legitimate chops.

While we’re talking about offsetting negatives with touchdowns, let’s flip the script briefly.

The inverse of the API is Attempts Per Touchdown (APT). It’s incredibly tough to flesh out as a stand alone state, but it can also create some interesting angles for gamblers who may not fully understand the value some quarterbacks represent. APT also fails to account for rushing touchdowns either by the quarterback or his running backs, but it’s also a decent way to measure the efficacy of the man under center.

Cam Newton and Russell Wilson are the two best quarterbacks in terms of APT with marks of 14.21 and 14.68 respectively. To put these numbers in context, I’ll put their numbers up against one of the most prolific touchdown artists in the game today:

Cam Newton: 469 attempts, 33 PASS TD (14.21 APT), 10 INT (46.90 API)

Russell Wilson: 455 attempts, 31 Pass TD (14.68 APT), 8 INT (56.88 API)

Drew Brees: 585 attempts, 31 Pass TD (18.28 APT), 11 INT (53.18 API)

In no blogosphere or debate show are you going to hear anyone compare Newton and Wilson to Drew Brees. The Saints passer has terrific feet, but he has never been a scrambler on the level of these two guys. Again, look at those numbers. In terms of sheer risk-aversion and touchdown efficiency with their arms, Wilson and Newton are taking over. I also really like this comparison because they all play with receivers who leave a lot to be desired.

Carson Palmer ranks third in APT with 15.06, while Tom Brady clocks in at 6th with a mark of 16.8. Anything above 22 tends to give you guys like Jameis Winston, Philip Rivers and Alex Smith. Oh wait, and there’s Big Ben Roethlisberger at 24.06 pass attempts per touchdown. The higher that number gets, the worse things are.

In a way, Newton and Wilson are relatively average when it comes to inadvertently creating turnovers, but they’re beyond exceptional when it comes to generating scoring opportunities for their team. That may have not been the situation for Seattle earlier in the year, or last weekend for Carolina, but after 16 weeks we can probably put a little more sauce behind these stats.

Numbers like API and APT don’t tell the whole story, but they can really open up some glaring plot twists. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t as godly as you probably thought. Newton’s offensive brilliance is only re-affirmed as is Russell Wilson’s.

Does it matter that Tom Brady has to throw it a billion times? Not nearly as much as you think because he won’t jack you in turnovers despite the high volume.

Are you asking yourself “why the hell are people telling me to bet on the Kansas City Chiefs?” It’s because Alex Smith doesn’t make mistakes, and he’s avoiding them at a phenomenal rate this season.

If you’re wondering why people are gun shy about Pittsburgh’s seemingly incredible and unstoppable offense, you have your reason. Roethlisberger is a high volume risk taker who gets caught more often than he doesn’t, and he lacks the ability to offset those turnovers by throwing touchdowns at an ungodly rate.

More than anything, the API and APT indexes also revealed one catastrophic fact: if you take Nick Foles out of the equation, Peyton Manning is dead last in both with an 18.94 API and a 35.78 APT. Somehow he was allowed to throw the ball 322 times before tearing his foot or whatever. If he comes back to save the Broncos from Brock Osweiler, he may very well be doing just the opposite.


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