Michael Nania grades every play from Sam Darnold‘s performance against the Cleveland Browns. How well did he actually perform?
Each week this season, I have been grading every one of the New York Jets‘ starting quarterback’s plays from his most recent game to get a 0-to-100 grade on the quality of his performance.
Although the Jets picked up their second consecutive win, Sam Darnold had a ho-hum outing, completing 16 of 32 passes for 175 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions (although multiple passes were very nearly intercepted) against a Browns defense that currently ranks 25th against the pass according to DVOA.
How well did Darnold truly play? Was he really an Alex Smith-esque game manager who checked the ball down too much and left potential big plays on the field? Or was he let down by his supporting cast, simply taking the best of what was made available to him?
Let’s analyze the nuances of Darnold’s play throughout his game against the Browns to get a feel for his true impact level beyond the box score.
Sam Darnold Grades
- Week 1 at Buffalo Bills
- Week 2 vs. San Francisco 49ers
- Week 3 at Indianapolis Colts
- Week 4 vs. Denver Broncos
- Joe Flacco – Week 5 vs. Arizona Cardinals
- Joe Flacco – Week 6 at Miami Dolphins
- Week 7 vs. Buffalo Bills
- Week 8 at Kansas City Chiefs
- Joe Flacco – Week 9 vs. New England Patriots
- Joe Flacco – Week 11 at Los Angeles Chargers
- Week 12 vs. Miami Dolphins
- Week 13 vs. Las Vegas Raiders
- Week 14 at Seattle Seahawks
- Week 15 at Los Angeles Rams
- Nania’s Darnold Grades home page (links to all 2019-20 games)
Digging through the All-22 film, I went back and graded every play (pass attempt, sack, rushing attempt) Darnold logged in the game, scoring each on a scale of 0-to-10 (5 representing an average play).
Anything and everything is taken into account. Ball placement. Should-be turnovers. Unlucky turnovers. Protection quality. Play-calling effectiveness. The number of open targets available and their locations on the field relative to the quarterback. Impact of the route-running and ball-tracking by the intended receiver. Down and distance. Field position. Game situation.
Every layer of decision-making is considered. Did Darnold choose the best available option? Did he scan the field to check all possible options? Did he take an over-aggressive shot when a first down was available underneath? Did he check down too early with a potential big play open down the field? Should he have tucked-and-run? Did he take a sack he should not have? Should he have thrown the ball away? Was there absolutely no option available for him to pick up yards, excusing a lack of production?
Simple statistics do not account for any of those factors. Using a manual, play-by-play grading system, many crucial variables that usually go overlooked are being properly valued. Sprinkle in this essential context, and we get a grade that is much more representative of the quarterback’s true performance level than standard box score numbers.
Darnold’s final scores are scaled from 0-to-100, with 50 representing the approximate league average (based on the analysis of other quarterbacks).
Here is a glossary of my personally-tracked statistics, as well as some context to help you understand what good and bad numbers look like.
Overall grade: 0-to-100 grade based on the average score of all plays analyzed. (Average: 50, Max: 100, Minimum: 0)
Plays: Number of plays graded.
Positive plays: Number of plays graded above 5.0: above-average efforts. (Average: 50%, Phenomenal: >60%, Awful: <40%)
Negative plays: Number of plays graded below 5.0: below-average efforts. (Average: 30%, Phenomenal: <20%, Awful: >40%)
Positive/negative ratio: Positive plays divided by negative plays: a measure of consistency. (Average: 1.80, Phenomenal: 3.00+, Awful: <1.00)
Average positive: The average score of all positive plays (scored above 5). An indicator of how high the quarterback’s peaks were — a higher score indicates a great rate of splash plays, a lower score indicates some combination of a low number of big-time plays, many easy throws created by the supporting cast, or teammates bailing out the quarterback on subpar throws. (Average: 5.90, Phenomenal: 6.00+, Awful: <5.80)
Average negative: The average score of all negative plays (scored below 5). An indicator of how low the quarterback’s valleys were — a higher score indicates few catastrophic mistakes and/or lost plays tending to be more the supporting cast’s fault than the quarterback’s, while a lower score indicates that the quarterback’s mistakes were generally very bad and that lost plays tended to be largely his own fault. (Average: 3.80, Phenomenal: 4.00+, Awful: <3.60)
Wow Factor: Combination of average positive and average negative. An indicator of the ability to both avoid big mistakes and produce impressive moments. (Average: 9.70, Phenomenal: 10.00+, Awful: <9.40)
7+ plays: Number of plays graded 7 or better: elite moments. (Average: 8%, Phenomenal: >12%, Awful: <4%)
≤3 plays: Number of plays graded 3 or worse: brutal moments. (Average: 8%, Phenomenal: <4%, Awful: >12%)
Let’s dig in. We’ll get into my numbers on Darnold’s game against Cleveland, compare my findings to his advanced metrics and box score statistics, and break down his best and worst plays on film.
To kick things off, here is my comprehensive 0-to-100 grade on Darnold’s performance against the Browns: