Josh Freeman has been incredibly productive over the past three weeks, but it's much too early to say he's turned a corner.
Rumors of Josh Freeman's resurrection are greatly exaggerated. Oh, sure, the Tampa Bay quarterback is ranked second in yards per attempt, second in adjusted yards per attempt (accounting for touchdowns and turnovers), and second when taking sacks into account. Sure, he's ranked ninth in expected points added per play, 14th by DVOA, eighth by passer rating and has the sixth-best touchdown to interception ratio in the league.
And yet, he's not good enough. The Tampa Bay Times says he's possibly emerging as a star. Based on his statistics over the past three games, you could be forgiven for thinking that. Through the past three games, he leads the league in yards and is second in yards per attempt. Only Aaron Rodgers has managed more touchdowns over the past three games. In fact, the past three games make up most of the argument for Freeman's resurgence as a top 10 quarterback.
And yet, the argument is flawed. Freeman has been productive these past games, there's no arguing that. At times he has made some outstanding throws. But here's one sobering fact: the last time Josh Freeman led the league in a lot of statistical categories over multiple games was December of 2010 - which was then followed by a horrid 2011 season.
In large part, his statistics over the past few games have been a consequence of facing poor pass defenses and having some outstanding wide receiver play on his side. His throws have somtimes been off-target, or late to arrive (especially over the middle) - but Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson have consistently made tough catches, beaten defenders and given Freeman large windows to throw to. Even with that, he misses too many easy, routine throws.
Freeman is completing just 56% of his throws, not only over those three games, but on the season as a whole. That's not good enough in today's NFL. Completion percentage is a flawed statistic and not a holy grail -- but the statistic agrees with casual observation: Freeman is not a very accurate quarterback right now, and misses too many throws. We can see this in the advanced statistics, too, which consistently rate Freeman lower than more conventional stats do. A negative outlier is ESPN's Total QBR, which has the Buccaneer 25th in the NFL.
Part of the low completion percentage is a consequence of the system. Eli Manning has consistently had a completion percentage that significantly underrates his performance, although he hasn't dipped below 57% since 2007. When you throw deep and don't get a lot of easy, short throws your completion percentage will suffer, even if you connect on a lot of those deep throws. Still, Freeman has been too inaccurate to say that he has turned a corner. He has simply managed to connect more on deep balls.
Freeman is no Eli Manning, but the Giants quarterback makes for an interesting comparison. Like Freeman, he took over as the starter in the middle of his first year. Like Freeman, he struggled as a rookie, but had a very encouraging second season (6.8 yards per attempt, 24 touchdowns, 17 interceptions). He then had a disappointing third season. In his fourth season, he was inconsistent once again, completing 56% of his passes for just 6.3 yards per attempt and leading the league in interceptions. And yet, he did help the Giants win a Super Bowl that season, catching fire in the playoffs, and turned into a real star starting in his fifth season.
That's certainly a career path the Bucs would like to see for Josh Freeman. So far, though, he's simply too inconsistent to be considered a star. That doesn't mean he won't turn into one in the future. There's no real reason why he couldn't start hitting a few more of those easy throws, and he should come to understand this offense better as he has more experience in it. But he's not out of the woods yet, despite the euphoria over the recent numbers put up by the fourth-year quarterback.