Josh Freeman had a fantastic statistical game last Sunday. He completed 75% of his passes, threw for 241 yards and 10 yards per attempt, scored two touchdowns and added a first down on the ground to his statistics. He had a Passer Rating of 134.2, and Football Outsiders listed his day as the 5th best of the weekend, which is quite an accomplishment on a weekend where Tom Brady, Michael Vick and Kyle Orton had 3 of the best games of the year. And that production led to what was the 5th best game in terms of yards per offensive play in Buccaneers history, and the best such game since 2000.
That kind of game is a credit to Josh Freeman and the work he put in to improve during the offseason. This year he's started 9 games so far, just as many as he started last year, but he's looked like a completely different quarterback this year. Coming into the year I expected improvement, but he's surpassed any expectation I may have had. So let's look at that improvement, how much better do the numbers really say he is?
We'll start with the conventional numbers from Pro Football Reference, you'll find his rank among all NFL QBs with at least 100 pass attempts in parentheses:
|Year||Completions||Attempts||Completion %||Yards||Yards/Attempt||TDs||INTs||Passer Rating||Sacks||Sack Yardage||Fumbles||Recovered|
The interesting thing here is how good he is relative to the rest of the league. Where in 2009 he ranked somewhere in the high 20s or 30s on most of these traditional rankings, now he's ranked somewhere between 15th and 20th for most of these stats. Freeman was one of the worst QBs in the league last year, and now he's a top-20 quarterback now. The biggest improvement may have come in the number of turnovers. Not only has he cut down on the interceptions, but he's fumbled the ball far less on a comparable number of sacks. While Freeman has been lucky this season with a few dropped interceptions, that happens to every quarterback and ball security was a focus for him in the offseason. Josh Freeman isn't close to the top of the league right now, but he's certainly on the right path.
While those numbers show a pretty big improvement, the traditional statistics are limited in their meaning. They don't take into account the schedule, and they fail to incorporate different game situations. Which is why we'll take a look at the advanced statistics as well.
First, a quick explanation of these statistics. AY/A and ANY/A stand for Adjusted Yards per Attempt and Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt respectively. Both of those stats are tracked by Pro Football Reference and explained here. Basically, AY/A measures yards per attempt, with touchdowns being worth 20 yards and interceptions -45 yards. ANY/A does the same thing, but includes yards lost on sacks. WPA/G and EPA/P stand for Win Probability Added per Game and Expected Points Added per Play respectively. These stats are courtesy of Advanced NFL Stats. Basically, WPA attempts to measure how much your quarterback's play moved the team towards a win, while EPA measures how many points his play was expected to produce. Lastly, DVOA and DYAR are stats invented by Football Outsiders to measure the efficiency of an offense, taking into account the game situation and the opponent. DVOA expresses in a percentage how much better than replacement level a quarterback has been playing, while DYAR expresses the same thing in yardage. DVOA is a per play measure, so a high volume will not effect this statistic. DYAR measures the sum of a quarterback's contribution over a season, so that statistic is affected by the number of passes thrown. On to the numbers!
Well that's pretty clearly a humongous improvement. What's interesting here is that Freeman's advanced statistics don't just look better than his regular statistics this year, but that his 2009 season looks much worse when examined with advanced statistics. Clearly the advanced statistics say he was a disastrously bad quarterback in 2009. But the 2010 version of Josh Freeman's is seen as a top-15 quarterback all around, with WPA/G even rating him the 4th best quarterback in the league. However, one thing about that statistic really stands out to me: he's just 10th in EPA/P. This means that he's very good at getting the team in position to win games, but not necessarily as good at getting the team in position to score points. That's an odd anomaly I can't really explain, my knowledge of these statistics isn't good enough for that. Still, whether you look at WPA or EPA, 2010 Josh Freeman is vastly better than 2009 Josh Freeman.
Finally, there's one more thing I want to note. The most amazing thing about this improvement is that he's the second youngest QB in the league, behind Matt Stafford. Yes, he's younger than Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen or any other QB drafted in 2010. Not only has he improved a lot from his first to his second year, he's far from a finished product and there's a lot of room for improvement. If he continues to improve like this it won't take long for him to become a top-5 quarterback in this league.