Steel Curtain Network: A Pittsburgh Steelers podcast

Gauging offensive success in second-year quarterbacks

On the most recent episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast, I compared offensive production of first-round quarterbacks from their rookie season to their second season. Instead of looking at individual statistics which can tell a lot, the ultimate goal for a quarterback is to have good offensive production as a unit. With Kenny Pickett entering his second season in the NFL, looking at recent quarterbacks and how their offenses improved, or failed to improve, going into their second season could help set some reasonable expectations.

There are certain parameters that I set up for this exercise. First, I only looked at quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2019. Next, I only looked at the team rankings if the quarterback started at least nine games in each of his first two seasons. If the quarterback did not start more than half the games in a season, it’s difficult to say that their time on the field led to the given offensive production.

The different things that I compared over the first two years for these quarterbacks was their win-loss record in games they started, NFL rank in points scored, and NFL rank in yards gained. The record of the quarterbacks is included simply because it’s a good gauge as to how the other numbers affected the overall record. Sometimes an offense can improve but it has a worse record because of issues with the defense, or vice versa.

So here are the numbers for the nine quarterbacks and their change in the offensive rankings for their first two seasons. They will be listed with the most recent draftees first for the 2021 NFL draft and are in order in which they were selected.

Trevor Lawrence:
Record: 3-14 to 9-8
Points rank: 32nd to 10th
Yardage rank: 27th to 10th

Zach Wilson:
Record: 3-10 to 5-4
Points rank: 28th to 29th
Yardage rank: 26th to 25th

Justin Fields:
Record: 2-8 to 3-12
Points rank: 27th to 23rd
Yardage rank: 24th to 28th

Mac Jones:
Record: 10-7 to 6-8
Points rank: 6th to 17th
Yardage rank: 15th to 26th

Joe Burrow:
Record: 2-7-1 to 10-6
Points rank: 29th to 7th
Yardage rank: 29th to 13th

Tua Tagovailoa:
Record: 6-3 to 7-5
Points rank: 15th to 22nd
Yardage rank: 22nd to 25th

Justin Herbert:
Record: 6-9 to 9-8
Points rank: 19th to 5th
Yardage rank: 9th to 4th

Kylar Murray:
Record: 5-10-1 to 8-8
Points rank: 16th to 13th
Yardage rank: 21st to 6th

Daniel Jones:
Record: 3-9 to 5-9
Points rank: 19th to 31st
Yardage rank: 23rd to 31st

For the sake of comparison, here are the numbers for Kenny Pickett in just his first season:

Kenny Pickett:
Record: 7-5
Points rank: 26th
Yardage rank: 23rd

In looking at some of the overall trends of these quarterbacks, it is easy to see that Trevor Lawrence and Joe Burrow stood out the most when it came to their team’s offensive improvement. While it is encouraging to think that Kenny Pickett could have a jump with the offensive production much like these two players saw, it should also be noted that both of these players had something in common as they were the first overall pick in the NFL draft.

The other first overall pick in the NFL draft from 2019 in Kyler Murray also saw significant jumps in team offensive rankings the second season but not quite to the level of Lawrence and Burrow. Another player who fits in this category is Justin Herbert where his team’s offensive ranks both increased with one of the two being of a double-digit variety much like Murray.

Two different quarterbacks had about the same amount of production when it came to the team’s offensive ranks as they moved up slightly in one category and down the same amount in the other. Justin Fields showed an increase in ranking in points and a decrease in ranking in yards while his low winning percentage stayed exactly the same from year one to year two. Zach Wilson saw hardly any change in his team’s offensive rankings and had a better winning percentage in the second season, but after winning four-straight games things got rough for the rest of the season where Wilson did not even finish as the starter.

The player with the biggest drop off from his first season to his second was also the only quarterback on the list with double-digit wins his first season. Mac Jones not only went from a winning record to a losing record, his offense dropped 11 spots in both points and yardage. Daniel Jones was another who saw his team’s offensive ranks plummet to the bottom of the NFL in his second season despite winning two more games with the same number of losses. Tua Tagovailoa also had a drop off in team offensive rankings but not to the degree of the Joneses.

Sometimes when looking at the data, an answer jumps off the page. Other times, it really goes to show how much things are individualized and can’t be predicted. For Kenny Pickett in his second season as the Steelers quarterback, it could go a number of different ways with the success of the Steelers offense. While some saw a huge jump in the offensive ranks in points and yardage, other quarterbacks saw a step back.

If anything is to be drawn, eight of the nine quarterbacks had more wins in their second season than they did in the first even if their winning percentage decreased. Looking at the average of all nine players, there was an increase of 2.44 games in the win column without looking at the number of total games played.

The best comparison for the 2023 version of Kenny Pickett is going to be Kenny Pickett’s own story. Whether that story falls closer to a Trevor Lawrence or a Mac Jones is why we’ll have to tune in each week to our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers.

To listen to the entire break down from the Steelers Stat Geek podcast, it can be heard in the player below:

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