Analysis

Next Gen Stats' top 10 QBs under pressure in 2020: Ryan Fitzpatrick outshines competition

When comparing the 2019 version of this list with this year's, one truth is clear: The NFL had an incredible crop of under-pressure passers in 2019. Overall, the performances were not on the same level in 2020, a season in which our top-ranked passer under pressure wouldn't have cracked the top three on this list a year ago.

That said, it's not unusual to see such fluctuations when tracking advanced metrics from year to year. Those who end up rising to the top of our rankings still posted elite numbers relative to the rest of the NFL. It's not Ryan Fitzpatrick's fault that no other player was able to break a 98 passer rating under pressure in 2020, just like it's not always the quarterback's fault he's under pressure (pressures can come from holding onto the ball too long, playing behind a poor offensive line, or extending the play). No matter the reason for the pressure, the quarterback must be able to deliver with defenders in his face.

As for our criteria to be considered for this list, quarterbacks had to attempt at least 250 passes last season, which means you will see some QBs who weren't every-week starters listed below. QBs were also required to have a positive completion percentage over expectation. With those parameters set, let's explore the league's best passers under pressure in 2020.

NOTE: Stats listed above analysis for each player are based solely on under-pressure throws.

Rank
10
Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers · QB

Passer rating: 86.9

Completion percentage: 55.9%

CPOE: +0.9%


The Offensive Rookie of the Year might appear to be deserving of a more prestigious place on this list if we're just looking at passer rating under pressure. However, he didn't quite do the unthinkable often enough to land higher than 10th. That's not a major knock on Herbert, of course. It's just that his CPOE of +0.9 percent is the lowest of anyone on this list. Now, keep in mind that he was pressured 177 times (fourth-most in the league), so the Chargers were wise to invest a first-round pick in left tackle Rashawn Slater in the 2021 draft. Amid the madness last season, Herbert was calm, cool and decisive, leading the NFL in passing yards under pressure (1,113), passing touchdowns under pressure (nine) and finishing with the third-most completions under pressure (81). Quite a start for a player with a bright future.

Rank
9
Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · QB

Passer rating: 77.2

Completion percentage: 53.5%

CPOE: +2.3%


Carr scored a tally in his favor in the battle against his haters with an appearance on our best deep passers list, and he gets another one here with this selection. Carr earned his position by proving that he was unafraid of using his arm to get the Raiders out of trouble, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt under pressure (second-highest mark in the NFL). The key for Carr was a quick release in 2020, posting a 111.6 passer rating, 13 touchdown passes and just two interceptions on quick passes (time to throw under 2.5 seconds). Interestingly, Carr was actually worse when he had extended time to throw (four or more seconds), finishing with a passer rating of 76.2 on such attempts. Speeding Carr up is, in fact, a bad idea for opposing defenses, it seems.


Carr was slightly worse under pressure in 2020 than he was in 2019, when he finished as one of three quarterbacks with a passer rating of 100 or better both under pressure and not under pressure (the other two were Drew Brees and Ryan Tannehill). In that season, he was the only quarterback who was better under pressure (103.7) than not (100.3), but his 2020 rating of 77.2 is still very good, as evidenced by his appearance here. Hate all you want on Carr, but don't get in his face -- or he might make you and your band of doubters pay with a completion.

Rank
8
Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · QB

Passer rating: 79.6

Completion percentage: 53.2%

CPOE: +4.4%


Allen posted the most air yards per attempt under pressure in the NFL last season (13.2), reinforcing what we already knew: The Bills QB isn't afraid to let it fly, no matter the circumstance. That statistic is interesting, though, considering how much Allen improved his efficiency in 2020. We might have an explanation. Allen evaded pressure at a higher rate than anyone else in the league at 26.1 percent -- an increase of nearly 10 percentage points from his mark in that category in 2019. Mobility mattered for Allen, who has thrown five or more passing touchdowns under pressure in each season of his career. Allen and Matt Ryan are the only quarterbacks with five or more passing scores under pressure in each season since 2018. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and the Bills staff found a way to maximize Allen's abilities in 2020, leading to their memorable season and deep playoff run. Now it's up to Allen to continue on this track and try to help get the Bills over the hump in 2021.

Rank
7
Matt Ryan
Atlanta Falcons · QB

Passer rating: 82.3

Completion percentage: 56.1%

CPOE: +4.5%


Ryan is remarkably consistent in how he operates under pressure. After landing in the seventh spot on this list in 2019, Ryan returns in the same position in 2020 but with slightly better numbers. Ryan's passer rating and CPOE under pressure were both better in 2020 than they were in 2019 (thank you, Calvin Ridley), but Ryan faced more pressures (189; third-most in the NFL) than any other passer on this list. It's worth noting Ryan also attempted more passes under pressure than anyone else here (148; third most in the league), but the latter of those two facts actually makes his production even more impressive. His TD-INT ratio (6:4) could've been better, but those six TDs made him the only quarterback to have at least six scores through the air versus pressure in each season since 2016. The only other quarterbacks to have even three such seasons in that span are Tom Brady and Ryan Tannehill. And Ryan's CPOE (+4.5%; fifth-best in the NFL) and total completions under pressure (83; second-most in the league) tell us most of what we need to know: Everything can be crashing to the ground around him, and Ryan is still going to stand tall amid the chaos and deliver. Falcons fans hope a busy offseason will combine with that fact to produce a better result for their team in 2021. History suggests Ryan will hold up his end of the bargain.

Rank
6
Andy Dalton
Dallas Cowboys · QB

Passer rating: 85.5

Completion percentage: 59.7%

CPOE: +5.2%


Dalton started just nine games for the Cowboys last season, but still qualified for this list with his 333 pass attempts in 11 appearances. While the public discourse on Dalton might suggest otherwise, the Red Rifle has shown he can be quite effective under pressure. Dalton's +5.2 completion percentage over expectation while under pressure was the second-highest mark in the league last season, but it wasn't the highest of his career. That single-season high came in 2016, when he finished with a +7.6 CPOE under pressure, so this isn't new territory for the former Bengals passer. In his lone season with the Cowboys, Dalton overcame adversity -- and there was plenty of it -- to finish with NGS-era highs (since 2016) in completion percentage (59.7%), yards per attempt (7.5) and passer rating (85.5) under pressure. He did so by toning down his ambition, averaging just 7.9 air yards per attempt under pressure, the lowest mark for him in the category during the NGS era (he averaged 9.5 air yards or more under pressure in each season from 2016-2019). But that shouldn't discount Dalton's performance in 2020. After all, he was among the league's best when faced with the most difficult situations, which might have been part of the reason the Bears were willing to sign him to a one-year, $10 million deal this offseason.

Rank
5
Ben Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers · QB

Passer rating: 88.8

Completion percentage: 57.7%

CPOE: +4.9%


Big Ben's inclusion here might be a bit of a surprise to anyone who watched the Steelers' decline in the second half of last season, but if we've known one fact about Roethlisberger for the majority of his career, it's that he's mostly unfazed by pressure. Roethlisberger got the ball out quicker than anyone in the league in 2020 with an average time to throw of 2.30 seconds. He also posted a total expected points added (a metric that gauges how an individual's performance affects the team's scoring output) of -1.9, the highest in the league when under pressure. That essentially means Roethlisberger was minimizing risk/damage while also helping his team advance amid disadvantageous circumstances (for comparison's sake, Carson Wentz posted a -122.3 total EPA when under pressure). Roethlisberger attempted 111 passes under pressure, the fifth-highest total of those on this list, yet he still threw only one interception. Finally, Roethlisberger is known as a tower of a quarterback who is highly difficult to bring down, and that shined through in the stats. He took just 13 sacks under pressure, tied for the fewest in the league. Roethlisberger didn't look great down the stretch, sure, but when his team's average offensive line (ranked 17th by PFF) didn't do its part, he still overcame adversity at a rate that was among the best in the league.

Rank
4
Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · QB

Passer rating: 92.6

Completion percentage: 47.2%

CPOE: +3.8%


Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception when under pressure since Week 15 of the 2017 season, making it a streak of 243 under-pressure attempts without a pick, the longest such run in the NFL. All five of Rodgers' interceptions came when he wasn't under pressure in 2020. His 13.1 air yards per attempt under pressure were the second-most in the NFL, and a stark contrast to his quick-fire style when free from pressure that saw his passes travel just 7.4 air yards per attempt. Rodgers' passer rating and CPOE under pressure would have put him in line with Kirk Cousins in 2019 when the Vikings signal-caller ranked fifth on this list. As we mentioned in the intro to this piece, 2020 was not as much of a banner year for passing under pressure, so Rodgers lands third this time around. He's proven his ability to float among an unconventional pocket and flick a pass across the field is matched by few, if any, in both style and productivity.

Rank
3
Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · QB

Passer rating: 91.6

Completion percentage: 55.6%

CPOE: +7.5% (highest in NFL)


Jackson didn't quite compile another MVP season, but it was still a stellar one highlighted by the highest completion percentage over expectation under pressure in the NFL at +7.5 percent. His 9.4 yards per attempt under pressure was also a league-best mark, and he was third in the league in evading pressure with a rate of 21.0 percent. Blitzing Jackson clearly wasn't the answer judging by the aforementioned numbers, and this one really drives it home: Jackson finished 2020 with a passer rating of 120.8 against the blitz, the second-highest mark in the league. And finally, as if we didn't already know, Jackson was fantastic in key moments. He led the league with 10.5 yards per attempt when under pressure in the second half or overtime of games. If the Monday night classic against the Browns in Week 14 last season wasn't enough proof, these numbers only further emphasize that Jackson's a rarity in today's game.

Rank
2
Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks · QB

Passer rating: 94.7

Completion percentage: 47.5%

CPOE: +3.3%


Wilson didn't make this list a year ago, but he's here a few months after voicing his frustration with "getting hit too much," and, well, the numbers tell us he has a case. Of the top five passers on this list, no one endured a faster average time to sack than Wilson (4.51 seconds), and just two QBs in the entire league (Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson) were sacked more than Wilson (47). Wilson adjusted pretty well to knowing the heat was coming, though. He had the best single-season TD-INT ratio in the Next Gen Stats era (dating back to 2016), finishing with mark of 8:0. In fact, a pressure cooker might be Wilson's best environment, as all 13 of his interceptions came when he wasn't under pressure, the highest total in pressure-free situations in the entire league. Wilson was excellent at extending the play and letting it rip, posting an eye-popping 130 passer rating on downfield passes (10 or more air yards) when under pressure, the highest rating in the NFL. His TD-INT ratio on such attempts was also the best at 5:0. While he understandably would like to be on the receiving end of fewer hits in the future, Wilson was elite just before he was about to be hit in 2020.

Rank
1
Ryan Fitzpatrick
Miami Dolphins · QB

Passer rating: 98.6 (highest in NFL)

Completion percentage: 62.1% (highest in NFL)

CPOE: +4.6%


As we all know, Fitzpatrick was not a full-time starter in 2020, but he still qualified for this list based on our minimum requirements. He started 7 of the 9 games he appeared in last season, so many of the other players on this list attempted at least twice as many under-pressure throws as Fitzpatrick. A smaller sample size likely benefitted him in the areas we're evaluating here, but we should not and will not discount Fitzpatrick's performance under pressure, especially when considering how improved he was in this department from the previous season. Fitzpatrick went from a 49 passer rating and 2:8 TD-INT ratio under pressure in 2019 to a 98.6 rating and 4:2 ratio in 2020. Fitzpatrick was very much a clutch player last season, posting the highest passer rating and completion percentage under pressure among all qualified passers. He tended to let it fly more often when under pressure, averaging 1.7 more air yards per attempt than he did on unpressured throws. He was even better in crunch time, finishing with a league-best 112.9 passer rating when under pressure in the second half or in overtime of games. The downside: Fitzpatrick wasn't good at getting out of pressure situations (to say the least), posting an evaded-pressure rate of 0 percent. As his successor in Miami, Tua Tagovailoa, works toward taking a big step in his development in Year 2, he can at least lean on whatever he might have learned from the NFL's best QB under pressure in 2020. Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, will attempt to recreate his under-pressure magic in Washington this season.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter.

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