Pro Football Focus innocently tweeted out its highest-graded quarterback grades for the Big Ten for 2018, but their final results drew some controversy from fans not only on both sides of the Michigan/Ohio State rivalry, but also most people with two working eyeballs.
Shea Patterson edged out Dwayne Haskins for PFF’s top-graded quarterback in the conference, the outlet announced in the embedded tweet below.
The highest-graded quarterback in the B1G this season was Shea Patterson, who narrowly edged out Dwayne Haskins in overall grade. Both were spectacular this season. pic.twitter.com/lWzdRpOUEh— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 11, 2019
Here’s how PFF’s Wikipedia page explains their grading criteria:
PFF grades every NFL player on every play on a scale of -2 to +2 using half point increments. The grades are based on context and performance. A four-yard run that gains a first down after two broken tackles will receive a better grade than a four-yard run on 3rd & 5, where the ball carrier does nothing more than expected. A quarterback who makes a good pass that a receiver tips into the arms of a defender will not negatively affect the quarterback’s grade on that play, despite the overall negative result for the team.
Furthermore, grades are separated by play type. Beyond just an overall grade, an offensive lineman receives one grade for pass-blocking and one for run-blocking. The average grade is meant to be zero, and raw grades are normalized.
In watching every game, PFF is also able to record information and create data that is typically unavailable. One example is how frequently individual offensive linemen yield pressure.
Seems sort of ridiculous, right? PFF grades based on what a player accomplished within the confines of what he was asked to do. It has been well-documented how frustrating Michigan’s offensive approach has been the last few seasons, as they’ve opted for a conservative passing game and a ground-and-pound approach with the goal being to take time off the clock as opposed to opening things up and being aggressive in hopes to score more frequently.
Within the constructs of how they operated, Patterson (2,600 yards, 22 TD, 7 INT) did what he was asked to do and made the routine throws when they presented themselves. This is not a defense of PFF’s grade, but simply an explanation of how it works. Haskins (4,831 yards, 50 TD, 8 INT) threw for almost twice as many yards and touchdowns in an offense that let him air it out. They cannot be graded on the same scale because they were asked to do two different things.
Basically, what PFF is saying is that Patterson executed Michigan’s archaic offense slightly better than Haskins executed OSU’s modern attack. There’s not a silver lining here to be had here or justification for how the Wolverines chose to do business, but the result of a grading system that is both fair and flawed at the same time.
Honestly, sometimes there are just too many analytics in sports and some people get too caught up in things that are not exactly quantifiable. The eyeball test has Haskins on top here 100 out of 100 times, but there always has to be some sort of “well, actually...” attached to it.
With that being said, whether you agree with PFF’s grading or not, it shines on a light on the fact that Patterson still played well this season despite limited opportunities to unleash what we think is a pretty talented arm. For whatever reason, Michigan fans are fixated once again on the backup quarterback, as they are every year, and think that Patterson should be benched this season. If you’re on Team Dylan McCaffrey, that’s fine, but do not pretend for a second that Michigan’s approach offensively since Jim Harbaugh has been in town wouldn’t have hamstrung him too, and then we’d be on to rooting for his backup. And so on. And so forth.
That’s what makes this potential change of the offense under Josh Gattis so interesting to me and how Patterson potentially fits into all of that. Anyone who thinks that he is Baker Mayfield 2.0 may be overstating things a bit (clearly), but to see him in an offense that is more geared to getting its playmakers the football as opposed to hoping you just have the ball more than the other team is going to be fun to see play out. We know the arm talent is there.
Could I forsee a scenario in 2019 where Shea Patterson is Alex Smith and Dylan McCaffrey (or someone else) is Colin Kaepernick and could provide more? Sure, it’s possible. It’s also probable that no matter the situation, the best and most prepared quarterback will be the guy that is on the field.
Did this post turn into a bit of a rant? You bet it did. I just get tired of fans turning heel on every single quarterback that wears the winged helmet. But that’s fandom. Nobody can change that.
Heading into a very important 2019 with some major philosophical changes potentially on the way, I’m left wanting more out of Patterson and think he’s capable of it. We’ll just have to wait and see. If not, their QB room is as exciting to me as it has ever been.
At the end of the day, yeah, Haskins outperformed Patterson and it really was not all that close in terms of what everything outside of PFF’s grade says. I’ll choose the route of optimism because if nothing else, it shows that he quarterbacked Michigan’s stone age offense well. Lord knows it could have been far worse (hello, 2017).