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Grading NFL’s next generation of quarterbacks: Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen maintain highest season marks

Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens steamrolled Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans in Week 11, and after a slow-ish start, the second-year quarterback made some impressive throws and dazzled with his legs to help his team get out to a huge lead. 

In Miami, Josh Allen had one of his best games of the season. Although, he had some misses, there were a handful of stunning examples of his arm strength and maturation as a pocket passer. He too made an impact with his legs in the Buffalo Bills win.

Each week, I dig deep and grade these quarterbacks on a per-snap basis, taking every individual aspect of their performance into account. And you’ll see a season grade for the signal-callers who’ve played significant snaps in more than one game. 

Best Throws: Jackson’s first two touchdowns were throws over the middle into the end zone, and the second was more impressive than the first. It was a seam rope to Mark Andrews running a post route. The initial score was slightly behind Seth Roberts but gave the wideout a chance to make a play, and he did. Jackson stepped into the pocket wonderfully on that play. He also threw a rocket to Marquise Brown on a deep comeback off play-action. Late in the game, he fired a slant into Brown through an ultra-tiny window and ripped a deep cross to Andrews on a deep cross. There were also a few impressive designed runs before his highlight-reel 39-yarder in which he made a plethora of defenders miss. 

Worst Throws: He started slow against Houston, with a misfire deep early (after climbing the pocket) that was nearly picked. Later in the first half, Jackson overthrow Miles Boykin deep down the field as well. There was an errant throw when he dropped down to a sidearm release, and he was late on an angle route out of the backfield by Mark Ingram. The throw was high and fell incomplete. In the third, Jackson had a slight overthrow to Willie Snead on a flag route. 

Summary: Jackson quickly shook off his less-than-stellar start by making a few good throws into the end zone, mixed in with some impressive displays of his explosion, vision, and balance on rushing attempts. As usual, he threw to a variety of wide open targets in this game, but did put some impressive passes on film in the second half after Baltimore got out to a huge lead. 

Grade: B+
Season Grade: B

Best Throws: Two of Finley’s best throws of a game without many came on back-to-back plays in the two-minute drill before halftime. He found Auden Tate for 14 yards on a throw somewhat across his body while on the run then ripped one down the seam on a back-shoulder attempt that was dropped. Late in the game, Finley beamed a laser to Tate on a deep dig for 20 yards on 3rd and 19. Tate was injured on the play. On the second-to-last drive for the Bengals, Finley squeezed one in down the field between two defensive backs and, while somewhat high, the pass hit the receiver’s hands and fell incomplete. 

Worst Throws: Finley threw behind his tight end on an easy, short throw on a rollout. He was nearly picked on a long throw toward the sideline in the third quarter that was late and simply didn’t have enough zip. Finley threw one into the dirt on a short swing pass on a second and long in the second half, and his interception was a force while on the run into tight coverage on a throw made somewhat across his body. 

Summary: The Finley-run offense simply lacked pop throughout this game, as he mostly threw short passes for minimal gains when he wasn’t being sacked. There just weren’t many attempts made with even an slightly above average amount of difficulty. He was under duress a fair amount in this game, and while he did muster some solid scrambles, he did not work effectively against Oakland’s pass rush. His lacking arm was on display on a few occasions, and the pick to seal the win for the Raiders was a throw that should’ve been made. 

Grade: D
Season Grade: D

Best Throws: Darnold’s first touchdown was an impressive ad-lib and throw to his left that helped Demaryius Thomas get open. He later ripped an intermediate crosser to Thomas. Darnold had perfect ball placement on his six-yard touchdown to Robby Anderson on a roll to his right. The ball needed to be near the back pylon and was. He had a pass dropped on a deep comeback off play-action and fired a pretty throw to Le’Veon Bell down the numbers against zone. His third touchdown of the day had the perfect amount of velocity on it, a flag route to Ryan Griffin near the front corner of the end zone. Darnold’s final aerial score of the day was a good demonstration of his touch, a 29-yard touchdown to Jamison Crowder. Late in the game, Darnold also threw a strike a deep cross while under pressure.

Worst Throws: One seam throw to Crowder should’ve been picked by underneath defensive back but sailed right through his hands. His interception was a bad decision and errant pass. He pumped, and as he was retreating Darnold forced the ball — the screen never materialized — but threw it behind his target as he was being taken to the turf. He had a major overthrow of Anderson deep down the field.

Summary: Darnold carved up one of the most porous secondaries in the league on Sunday. His interception was ugly, but the rest of the day, he mostly hit open targets in stride at the intermediate level, and the Jets offense worked wonders with play-action bootlegs. A few tight-ish window throws were completed. He did take two sacks — one was bad in the red zone — and his improvisation still looks panicked to a certain degree, but in this game, Darnold made some plays after he scampered out of the pocket. 

Grade: B
Season Grade: C-

Best Throws: Allen’s best throw of the day came early, and it was an absolute laser to John Brown down the sideline on a play in which the second-year quarterback started by looking left, pumping as he came to the middle, then snapped his head to the right and unloaded the rocket to his veteran receiver for a long score. He had a 36-yard run on a read option in which he ran through a tackle attempt. Allen got to his second read and fit one into Brown on a comeback just short of the end zone. He later waited, pumped, then found Brown on a dig that went for a big gain. Allen waited patiently in the pocket and fit a pass into McKenzie through moderate traffic for 16. There was a laser slant to Beasley, and good timing on a comeback in the red zone. In the second half, he displayed his speed on his touchdown run and got through his progressions before ripping one to Beasley on an in-breaker at the intermediate level. He threw a rope to Brown against tight coverage on a dig from left to right and got it to his top target on a deep comeback off play-action. 

Worst Throws: Allen had two somewhat high throws to start and had a jump ball in the end zone to Brown sail just a tad high and wide. He was off target on a deep cross to Brown and should’ve been picked on a comeback to Brown late in the second. He missed on a deep ball that simply wasn’t there to Isaiah McKenzie and was slightly wide on a deep out to him on a third down. There was a low throw on an easy swing pass to Frank Gore on another third down. Late in the game, he was slightly off on a long ball to a double-teamed Brown. 

Summary: Allen demonstrated outstanding patience and mostly impressive ability to get through his reads in the win in Week 11. He was facing one of the worst secondaries in football and shredded it. There were some questionable throws but also many high-level tosses too along with strikes to open wideouts. Allen worked in some good runs as well. 

Grade: B+
Season Grade: B-

Best Throws: Murray demonstrated his immense athletic gifts on a play-action roll to his left when he found an open receiver but had to contort his body to make the accurate throw. He threw a dime on a deep cross for 23 as he was fading away and waited then found a wide open Christian Kirk on a dig, but the pass was dropped. Murray had a good run for 21 and a 22-yard touchdown scamper on a read option in which his acceleration was on full display. Late in the game, Murray squeezed one into Larry Fitzgerald on a deep comeback. 

Worst Throws: He overthrew Kirk on a throwback screen early in the game and was late on a throw over the middle in the end zone that led to a pass breakup. Murray had an overthrow on a third and long throw into the flat to Charles Clay

Summary: Murray and the Cardinals offense did more than just an admirable job on the road against a top defense. There were a myriad of quick screens mixed in to mitigate the San Francisco pass rush, and for the most part it worked. However, for as many good designed runs as there were from Murray, he took just about as many bad sacks. He made a handful of solid throws too and didn’t really put the ball in harm’s way. 

Grade: B+
Cumulative Grade: C+

Best Throws: Rudolph dropped a long ball into James Washington, but he was held after the release and defensive pass interference was called. Two deep shots to Johnny Holton fell incomplete. The first was knocked away at the last second as the receiver jumped for the football. The second fell incomplete after plenty of contact, and the pass actually hit Holton in the hands in the end zone, but he wasn’t able to bring it in. Rudolph also placed one in the bucket in the sideline hole against Cover 2 to Diontae Johnson, but he dropped the pass and was injured after a helmet-to-helmet hit. Rudolph ripped a deep cross to Washington for 22 yards. Another deep ball to Holton wasn’t completed, yet it hit the receiver in the hands as he tried to make an over-the-shoulder catch. Early in the game, he rocketed one between defenders to JuJu Smith-Schuster. The veteran wasn’t able to make the reception and was injured on the play.

Worst Throws: Three of his interceptions were of the brutal variety. One was simply behind his target on a deep cross. Another was a pass in which Rudolph did not identify the underneath — but sinking — linebacker while under pressure, and the ball was thrown right to him for an extremely easy interception. The last was an overthrown target to Vance McDonald in which Rudolph tried to loft it over the linebacker, but the ball sailed. The fourth pick was tipped on a slightly underthrown deep ball. There was also a potential miscommunication on a long ball to Holton — he slowed up — that should’ve been intercepted. A few short crossers were late or made simply when the receiver wasn’t open.

Summary: It was an ugly effort from Rudolph, but the defensive pass interference calls and drops could’ve made his night — and stat line — look much better. Some good throws were sprinkled in, but the four interceptions and sacks stood out in a defensive battle of a game. Losing James Conner, Smith-Schuster, and Johnson during the game certainly didn’t help the second-year quarterback in the Thursday Night Football loss. 

Grade: D+
Season Grade: C+

Best Throws: Allen ripped a seam throw through zone coverage early in the game, but the pass was dropped by Reggie Bonnafon. There was a 17-yard connection with D.J. Moore over the middle against slight pressure. Allen also zinged a tight-window slant to Moore that ultimately went for 31 yards. Allen threw with good timing on a long comeback to Curtis Samuel and found Greg Olsen near the numbers against zone for 15 in the second half. His best throw came on a scramble drill when he move right, stopped, reset his feet and found Jarius Wright for 19. 

Worst Throws: Three of the four interceptions were on Allen. The first was a bad decision as he was being taken to the turf. He seemingly was trying to throw the football away, but it went directly into the arms of linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. On the second pick, Allen correctly climbed the pocket then threw the ball into the end zone yet didn’t notice an undercutting Desmond Trufant. The third interception looked like a miscommunication in which Moore sat down and Allen threw the ball as if he was expecting the second-year wideout to continue down the field. The last pick was an overthrow on a forced pass as the pocket had almost fully collapsed around him. He also had an out-breaker that was nearly picked late in the game. 

Summary: Allen did not handle pressure well, and was overly aggressive in most of those situations. A small collection of high-level plays were there from Allen, but in general, he was panicky and off-target when his pocket wasn’t perfectly clean, and Carolina’s offense featured a myriad of quick dump offs. Even when protected well, Allen checked it down more often than not.

Grade: D
Season Grade: C

Best Throws: Mayfield started with a crazy improvisational maneuver inside the pocket — and he’d later outdo himself — before squeezing one into Kareem Hunt for 20. Then, still early, he climbed between the tackles and ripped a seam laser to Odell Beckham that nearly went for a touchdown. Later in the first half, Mayfield pump faked, which caused a free rusher to jump, then uncorked a perfect ball downfield that went for 42 yards. 

Worst Throws: In the second half, Mayfield was late on an out-breaker to Jarvis Landry and another throw near the sideline was broken up when it was left too far to the inside, and it should’ve been intercepted. There were also a handful of errant throws after halftime on passes to Landry and Beckham outside the numbers and a misfire to Beckham on a scramble. Also, his second touchdown of the night was a throw directly at the back of Mark Barron, but his tight end jumped over the hybrid defender and reached over him to secure the score.

Summary: Mayfield started relatively hot with two dimes down the field. He found holes in zone on a handful of occasions. In the second half, he was not nearly as effective as his solid albeit unspectacular first half. Many of Mayfield’s throws were late or off-target, and there could’ve been a some miscommunications. His pass catchers bailed him out with a few spectacular receptions.

Grade: C-
Season Grade: C

Best Throws: Haskins had a gorgeous 67-yard completion to Terry McLaurin — that came after a slide up into the pocket — negated by a holding penalty. The rookie ripped a deep corner to McLaurin that went for a big gain, and the ball got to the receiver a split second before Jamal Adams arrived. In the third, Haskins climbed the pocket and found McLaurin wide open on a deep dig while under pressure. He squeezed one in low and out in front of his target on a third and long for a first down — between multiple defenders — and got to his second read to find his tight end open, but the ball was dropped. 

Worst Throws: Haskins was behind on a slant early in the game. In the second half, a pass on a dig route didn’t have enough velocity and was knocked away. There was a misfire on a check down, and a simply errant throw on an out on a third and five. Haskins was late on his interception, another check down thrown with two defenders near the intended target. Most of Haskins’ bad plays in this game were on sacks, when he either held the ball too long, reversed his field, or was late to move away from oncoming pressure.

Summary: The Jets defense entered this game about as susceptible to the pass as the Redskins, and Haskins took a clear step forward. The pocket presence wasn’t good — although he gave many valiant efforts — but there were a handful of quality throws at the intermediate level and the deep dime that was called back. On a few occasions, he got through his reads while keeping his head up and threw accurately. The interception was a poor decision, but in general, Haskins fared well in the loss despite marginal help from his offensive line. 

Grade: C+
Season Grade: D+

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