The most critical play of any offensive series is third down. That’s when you either proceed down the field by making a first down, score a touchdown, or fail and force the offense to either punt or attempt a field goal. There are many variables on third down with distance and game situation, so only consider the higher level generalities.
For quarterbacks, let break it down a bit and then give it an all-over view. The following stats count the third downs that each player participated and their results. The first down stats include plays that scored touchdowns as they all gained yardage that would have been a first down.
Notable is that the two quarterbacks with the highest yards per attempt on third downs were Patrick Mahomes (8.5) and Josh Allen (8.2) though Allen led the league with third-down runs (23), followed by Jalen Hurts (22). It is a bit of a surprise that Lamar Jackson was only successful on 50% of his attempts and Dak Prescott’s lack of rushing in 2021 was evident on his bottom rankings on successful runs on third down. For the most part, there were only a couple of quarterbacks that averaged more than one per game.
If you need more proof as to the importance of the quarterback, consider that 12 of the Top-14 most successful passers on third down were all in the playoffs. If you’re trying to find the rookies, just look at the bottom. Tom Brady (17) and Josh Allen (15) were the best at scoring a touchdown on third down and not needing to kick a field goal.
The percentage of passing success is lower than rushing because the yards to gain were much more. There are also fewer rushing than passing attempts on third downs involving quarterbacks.
It should also be noted that while Joe Burrow managed success on over half of his third downs, his 21 sacks were second only to Zach Wilson (23). An upgrade to the blocking might make Zach Wilson flirt with being average, but the same improvement could vault Burrow into the top of this measurement.
It is also interesting that while Ryan Tannehill was successful running on third downs (while the defense followed Derrick Henry), but he wasn’t nearly as successful passing the ball. This single-play measurement is the best at determining the effectiveness of a quarterback.
Sort of telling how well playoff-bound quarterbacks fared on third down. This also shows the variation between what makes an NFL quarterback valuable to his team versus his fantasy value. Dak Prescott and Lamar Jackson were much better fantasy starters than they were third-down quarterbacks.
Mac Jones further shows his value as a rookie placing at No. 8 in this third-down metric. Losing his offensive coordinator probably won’t help this year, but the Patriots’ system will remain at least in part.
Kyler Murray did not fare as well here, but he was injured along with many of his teammates this year. But the young guns of the NFL all show up with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, and Joe Burrow well represented.