In terms of plays per turnover, how does Drew Lock compare to other NFL QBs?
Turnovers were happening at the lowest frequency in history in 2020. There were only 665 in the regular season and that came out to one every 49.5 plays. That was the best rate in league history (from the perspective of the offense) or the worst in league history (from the defensive perspective). The highest rate happened in 1971 – one turnover every 23.1 plays.
This graph shows that taking care of the ball has gotten much better throughout the history of the NFL since the merger. This century the trend is accelerating. The lowest in lg history was 23.1 in 1971, compare to 49.5 in 2020. pic.twitter.com/6yTfFIUBl2
— Joseph Mahoney (@ndjomo76) February 5, 2021
To answer the question in the title I looked at the players who have turned the ball over ten or more times over the past two regular seasons. I then added up the total number of offensive plays that they have played and divided by the number of turnovers that they have committed. Total turnovers committed is fumbles lost plus interceptions thrown. I did not look at total fumbles or interceptions dropped. There are instances where a fumble or an interception is not the fault of the QB, but that is a topic for another article – not this one.
Fumbles lost data can be found here. The data can also be dug out at stathead.com but it is more difficult to find and behind a paywall. You can also pull the data from player pages at pro-football-reference.com.
Twenty four players have turned the ball over twenty or more times in the past two seasons. These players are all quarterbacks and they accounted for 655 of the 1376 total turnovers during the past two seasons (47.6 percent). Thirty-nine players turned that ball over 10 or more times in the past two seasons. Those thirty-nine players account for 865 of the 1376 turnovers (62.8 percent). Again all 39 are QBs.
Anyone else notice a trend this century? pic.twitter.com/ycz9aL2HBL
— Joseph Mahoney (@ndjomo76) February 4, 2021
Two players were tied for the most turnovers in 2019 and 2020 combined – Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff. Both turned the ball over 38 times.
Drew Lock is one of seven quarterbacks who had a rate worse than one turnover per fifty plays over the last two seasons. The others are Kyle Allen, Dwayne Haskins, Mason Rudolph, Nick Mullens, Devlin Hodges and Jameis Winston. The full table is below. Aaron Rodgers had an amazing one turnover for every 159.5 plays.
|Player||Total Turnovers 2019+2020||Offensive Snaps 2019+2020||Snaps/ Turnover|
|Gardner Minshew II||17||1464||86.1|
On the bottom of this list besides Lock, only Jameis Winston is probably going to be a starter in 2021 (due to the retirement of Drew Brees). The rest of the QBs who were poor at taking care of the ball are all planning to carry a clipboard on Sundays next season.
Over the course of his NFL career, former first overall pick, Jameis Winston, has been responsible for 111 turnovers (88 interceptions and 23 lost fumbles). He has played 4869 offensive snaps, so he has had one turnover for every 43.9 plays during his career. This is double the rate of the elite QBs in the league and is a big reason that Tampa Bay let him walk after the 2019 season.
Drew Lock is currently at 46.1 for his career. Lock was tied with Carson Wentz for the NFL high in interceptions in 2020 at fifteen. Leading the league in interceptions thrown is not necessarily a bad thing. Fifteen picks was the lowest number to ever lead the league (see table below). If you look at the list of guys who have led the league in picks thrown over the past eleven seasons, there are some good QBs on the list. There are also some bad ones.
QB(s) with most interceptions thrown by season 2010-2020.
|2020||Drew Lock/Carson Wentz||15|
|2014||Philip Rivers/Jay Cutler||18|
|2012||Drew Brees/Tony Romo||19|
Lock has lost four fumbles over the past two seasons. That total would not have led the league for any season going back to 2010. In 2020 Derek Carr was the league “leader” in fumbles lost with eight. Recently the fewest fumbles lost to lead the league was six. I didn’t go back beyond 2010 in this stat.
|2018||Derek Carr/Kirk Cousins||7|
|2016||Blake Bortles/Jameis Winston||6|
There are some who think Drew Lock was getting better at protecting the ball in his most recent games. Was he? In his first twelve starts he threw thirteen interceptions and lost two fumbles – more than one turnover per game (15 TOs in 12 games or 1.25 per game). In his next six starts he threw five interceptions and lost two fumbles (1.17 per game). That is progress, albeit small progress.
For comparison, Derek Carr turned the ball over seventeen times in 2020 (9 picks, 8 fumbles lost) in sixteen starts. That’s 1.06 turnovers per game (or per start). Patrick Mahomes turned the ball over eight times in fifteen starts – 0.53 turnovers per game. Justin Herbert turned the ball over eleven times (or ten depending upon which source of fumbles lost data you use) in his fifteen starts. If we use the eleven (ten picks, one fumble lost) number, Herbert had 0.73 turnovers per game as a rookie.
As you might expect Lock was the worst starting QB in the AFC West in terms of turnovers, he was also near the bottom of the league among the 35 qualifying starting QBs. His 1.38 turnovers per game this season was 32nd. Only Carson Wentz, Dwayne Haskins and Nick Mullens were worse in 2020.
|26||Gardner Minshew II||8||5||4||9||1.13|
For those who want to use Lock’s last four starts as proof that he has gotten better as an NFL QB, he still turned the ball over four times in those final four games. The only game this season where he did not turn the ball over was the final game of the year. That game was against a Raider defense that had ten interceptions and five fumbles recovered in 2020. Those fifteen turnovers ranked the Raiders 30th in the league at taking the ball away. Only the Lions with twelve and the Texans with nine were worse.
The four interceptions that Lock threw in his first game against the Raiders would account for forty percent of their team interceptions for the year. I would also be the only game in 2020 where the Raider defense would have more than one pick.
For Lock to continue in the NFL as a starting QB, he will need to turn the ball over less. Quarterbacks can improve on their interception rate. Of the fifty-seven QBs who have started 48 or more games at QB this century, they had an average interception rate (picks/dropbacks) of 2.72 percent in their first sixteen starts and 2.68 percent in the next sixteen starts. That’s a tiny improvement. The big change came in their third block of sixteen starts where the average interception rate was 2.47 percent. It should be noted that some QBs got significantly better in interception rate in their second block of sixteen starts, while others got significantly worse. Drew Lock has an interception rate of 2.89 percent at this point in his career. The league had an interception rate of 2.06 percent in 2020 (395 INTs on 19153 dropbacks).
In their second sixteen starts, there were two guys who improved their interception rate by 50 relative percent or more: Deshaun Watson and Kirk Cousins. Watson threw a pick on 2.97 percent of his dropbacks in his first 16 starts and only 1.02 percent in his next sixteen. Cousins went from 3.67 to 1.58. Two quarterbacks who went the other direction are Nick Foles and Chad Pennington. Both got more than 100 percent worse in their second sixteen starts. Foles went from 1.06 to 2.72 and Pennington from 1.39 to 3.19.
Only one QB made a 50 percent or greater improvement in interception rate from his second to his third block of sixteen games. That was Aaron Brooks. He was good in first sixteen, terrible in his second, and good again in his third. He threw a pick on 4.46 percent of his dropbacks in his second sixteen starts and then improved to 1.83 percent in his third block.