Clutch Performers

Offensive player rankings, Week 10: Best off-schedule passers

How many times did Rich Eisen say "What a play by Deshaun Watson!" on the Sunday morning broadcast of the Texans' win over the Jaguars in London? Too many to count.

Watson mesmerized the crowd all game long as he slipped through sack attempts that would have stopped a lot of other NFL quarterbacks, extending plays and keeping drives alive. The highlight of the Watson Show came in the second quarter, when he threw a backward pass to Carlos Hyde with three Jaguars defenders draped all over him.

The thing is, Watson makes these kinds of plays every week. So I started thinking, who are the best off-schedule playmakers at the quarterback position? Here are my top five:

1) Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: Nobody improvises like Wilson. The thing that sets Wilson and Aaron Rodgers apart from quarterbacks who just scramble is they have a plan for when the play breaks down. Their supporting casts adjust when the first four reads aren't there, moving with them and to them. And Wilson has the extra advantage of being more explosive and more dynamic than Rodgers. In Pro Football Focus' scramble drill metric, which considers passes that are thrown late in the progression either after QB movement, after the receiver changes the route or both, Wilson ranks near the top in most categories among qualifying quarterbacks this season, completing 21 of 35 pass attempts for 378 yards (10.8 yards per attempt), five TDs, no picks and a 136.7 passer rating on scramble drill plays. Wilson's running ability poses a huge threat, but he does a phenomenal job keeping his eyes downfield in an effort to earn chunk plays.

2) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: As I mentioned in Wilson's blurb, Rodgers is a regular at buying time with his legs, and he has a plan (or two) when plays break down. Former Packers receiver James Jones has said previously that Rodgers only really trusts certain receivers, so he'll hold the ball and dance in the pocket until his target is open. And it's a known fact that the Packers will practice off-schedule plays with receivers, defensive backs and linebackers -- but no linemen -- during 7-on-7 drills, where Rodgers won't throw the ball on time and roll out of the pretend pocket to teach his receivers to move toward him and where to run when the play goes off-schedule. It's obvious that the Packers practice this, because Rodgers has routine success when improvising and extends plays more than any other quarterback in the league, as 19.5 percent of Rodgers' pass attempts are on extended plays (when the time to throw is 4-plus seconds), per Next Gen Stats. (Wilson is second in extended plays, with a rate of 15.4 percent.) One more quality that is underappreciated is Rodgers' spatial awareness in the pocket. He keeps his eyes downfield and rarely looks at the defensive linemen when improvising, but is still able to move and evade pressure.

3) Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans: Watson's athleticism allows him to improvise as well as the two veterans above him, but he's a little too much of a wild card for me. While he's tossed two touchdown passes and no interceptions on scramble drill plays this season, per PFF, I don't see him consistently try to stay in a position to throw the ball downfield when he extends. Instead, it feels like he is freelancing instead of moving with a purpose or with a plan. That said, I'd take Watson's physical ability and God-given talent any day of the week.

4) Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs: The reigning MVP can throw the ball from so many positions and in 100 different ways, even left-handed, and the Chiefs' offense thrives when Mahomes extends plays above the original play call. And because of his incredible arm strength, no area of the field is out of the question. Of quarterbacks with 20 passing attempts during extended plays, Mahomes ranks No. 1 in yards per attempt (12.7), completion percentage (65.4) and passer rating (147.1), per NGS. The reason Mahomes sits behind Watson here is because the Texans QB is a bigger threat to run the ball and often finds a way to make a play in the middle of absolute chaos.

5) Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles:Jameis Winston has better numbers on off-schedule plays, but Wentz brings more to the table athletically. And while Wentz might not look for the big throw as much as the passers above him on this list (7.0 yards per attempt on extended plays, which is more than a yard less per attempt than any of the other four QBs), he's been able to sustain drives because of his pocket awareness and ability to make defenders miss. One aspect Wentz must get better at is protecting himself when he's outside the pocket. He plays very similarly to how Andrew Luck did, and the former Colts star retired before his 30th birthday, citing the "cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab," he'd gone through as a player.

Each week in the 2019 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. Now, let's get to it -- the Week 10 pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.

Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks · QB

With Sunday's victory, the Seahawks improved to 4-0 at home in overtime games (including playoffs) in the Russell Wilson era, thanks to a huge performance by -- yes, you guessed it -- Russell Wilson. He was in sync with his receivers from start to finish and completed four of six attempts for 131 yards and two TDs on deep passes (20-plus air yards), according to Next Gen Stats. Wilson finished the game with five TD passes (tying a career high), zero picks and a 133.7 passer rating. Right now, he leads the league in touchdown passes (22) and passer rating (118.2) and feels like the front-runner for the league's most prestigious individual award. And just think, he might get the luxury of throwing to Josh Gordon soon.

Christian McCaffrey
Carolina Panthers · RB

McCaffrey was ridiculous against the Titans on Sunday, providing more evidence for why he is a strong candidate in the MVP race. He had 27 touches for 166 scrimmage yards and three total TDs on Sunday. In doing so, he joined Hall of Famer Jim Brown (1963) as the only players in NFL history with 150-plus scrimmage yards and at least one scrimmage TD in six of the first eight games of the season, per NFL Research. I can't stress enough how impressive McCaffrey has been this season, and we're only halfway done.

Sidenote: McCaffrey is on pace for 492.8 fantasy points this season, which would break the NFL single-season record of 483.1 set by my colleague LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. (L.T.'s going to hear about this.) Man, I knew I should've drafted him over Le'Veon Bell.

Dalvin Cook
Minnesota Vikings · RB

With just 71 rush yards Sunday against the Chiefs, Cook has logged fewer than 100 rush yards in consecutive games for the first time this season. However, he did register his seventh game with at least 100 scrimmage yards. The Vikings had opportunities to put Kansas City away, but they couldn't get it done. Cook still holds the league lead for rushing yards heading into Week 10, but McCaffrey is hot on his heels.

Deshaun Watson
Houston Texans · QB

I raved plenty in the intro about Watson being an off-schedule playmaker, but extending plays isn't the only thing he has done well. The dual-threat quarterback has made great decisions in his last two games and it's shown in his production. He has five TD passes, zero picks and a 117.8 passer rating over the last two weeks -- a big improvement from his two TD passes, four INTs and 79.3 passer rating in Weeks 6-7. Watson's play has jumped up a level at the perfect time.

Ezekiel Elliott
Dallas Cowboys · RB

Zeke did exactly what the Cowboys needed him to do on Monday night. He ran the ball down the Giants' throats all game long and racked up a season-high 139 yards on the ground to help keep the Cowboys at the top of the NFC East. He has rushed for 100-plus yards in three straight games with a matchup against Minnesota's top-10 run defense on deck.

Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · QB

The Ravens' first three scoring drives proved my geniusLamar Jackson had the Pats' defense looking distraught early on, and if it weren't for some unfortunate Baltimore turnovers, this game had the potential to turn into a landslide in the first half. Jackson accomplished a whole bunch of firsts on Sunday, but neither of us have time to go through all of them. (Check the @NFLResearch Twitter account for more.) I will say the second-year QB looked incredibly comfortable on the big stage against an even bigger opponent as he improved to 2-0 in his career as a starter in prime time.

Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · QB

Rodgers and the Packers' offense couldn't do anything in Sunday's 26-11 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, whose defense came to life and registered three sacks and seven QB hits. Rodgers said after the game that the team has to "be honest about our routine and decisions we made the last 48 hours and make sure that our heads are in the right place the next time we come on a big road trip." It feels like Sunday's game was lost before it even started.

George Kittle
San Francisco 49ers · TE

Kittle's 49ers are the only undefeated team in the league heading into Week 10. In last week's 28-25 win over the Cardinals, Kittle got in the end zone for the second time this season -- his first TD since Week 5. He doesn't have the numbers he did in 2018 with Jimmy Garoppolo sharing the wealth this season (10 49ers players have a TD reception).

Michael Thomas
New Orleans Saints · WR

Coming off a bye week, Thomas is one of two wide receivers averaging more than 100 receiving yards per game this season ( Mike Evans is the other). The Saints have four consecutive division games coming up and in Thomas' only game against a division opponent this season (the Bucs in Week 5), he had 11 catches for 182 yards and two TDs. Consider this foreshadowing.

Tom Brady
New England Patriots · QB

Although Brady threw a season-high 46 pass attempts against the Ravens, the 42-year-old's production has steadily dropped over the course of the season. He has thrown seven TDs and five INTs in the last six games -- including one TD and one pick on Sunday -- after tossing seven TDs and no INTs in his first three games of the season. It's not often that Brady and the Patriots' offense look rattled, but they did at times Sunday night when Brady felt pressure.

Travis Kelce
Kansas City Chiefs · TE

Kelce continued his steady campaign with seven receptions for 62 yards against the Vikings. He's not always flashy, but he is the Chiefs' most reliable offensive player right now.

Cooper Kupp
Los Angeles Rams · WR

Kupp, who had a career-high 220 receiving yards last time out, leads the Rams in receptions (58), receiving yards (792) and TD receptions (5). He'll need to maintain that rate of production coming out of the bye week to help keep the Rams in playoff contention.

Tyreek Hill
Kansas City Chiefs · WR

A few BIG-time plays lifted the Chiefs over the Vikings on Sunday, and Hill's 40-yard touchdown reception from Matt Moore in the first quarter was the first of the game. The Chiefs WR1 finished with a season-high 140 receiving yards.

Drew Brees
New Orleans Saints · QB

Brees was great in his return to the field in Week 8, so I'm expecting big things with another week of rest. He has an opportunity to climb the ranks with the struggling Atlanta Falcons coming to town for "National Hate Week," as Cam Jordan calls it.

Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · QB

went to the Lions- Raiders game Sunday in Oakland, and one Lions defender told me after the game that "Your brother's playing as good as anyone in the league." He's right. Since Week 4, Derek has thrown nine TDs to just one pick, with a 112.4 passer rating. He's comfortable and efficient in Jon Gruden's system and we're starting to see that come through even more so when pushing the ball downfield.

Dropping out: Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings (previously No. 12); Nick Chubb, RB, Browns (No. 15).


Nick Chubb, RB, Browns: Chubb's 65 rush yards against the Broncos were his second-fewest of the season, and in a close game, Chubb wasn't able to break off for a big run like he's done so many times in the past. His longest rush was for 11 yards.

Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings: With Adam Thielen aggravating his hamstring injury in the first quarter, it felt as if Diggs could have a huge day. Boy, were we wrong. He finished with one catch for four yards on four targets in the loss. When watching the game film, I saw Diggs take too many plays off. He's a great player, but this is an issue. Hall of Famer Randy Moss was condemned for taking plays off (rightfully so) and Diggs is nowhere near the caliber of player Moss was.

Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers: With 180 receiving yards against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Evans has now had three games with 180-plus yards this season. No defender could stop him even when they knew Evans was getting the ball. He was on another level.

Julio Jones, WR, Falcons: During Good Morning Football on Tuesday, Jerry Rice called Julio the best wide receiver in the game right now. It's hard to argue with all the intangibles Julio brings to the table. Though the Falcons sit at the bottom of the NFC South, they are the league's No. 1 passing offense and Julio has a lot to do with that.

Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8.

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