Siemian? Lynch? Neither? We asked a football analyst who charted 17,000 passes last year about the Broncos QB situation

“I think they’re making a mistake by having only these QBs on the roster,” Fahey said.
6 min. read
Trevor Siemian, right, and Paxton Lynch, center, are competing for the Broncos starting QB gig. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch?

The question has been asked ad nauseam by the local media in Denver this offseason. One radio station in town even created a poll that let listeners declare their allegiance to #TeamPaxton or #TeamTrevor, breathlessly covering the quarterback competition like it was a bad reality TV show.

To get some clear-headed analysis on the Broncos QB situation, I asked Cian Fahey, the creator of the Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue, to weigh in on the matter. Fahey, who lives in Southern Ireland, analyzed more than 17,000 passes 33 different quarterbacks threw to create this year's version of his e-book.

Fahey was inspired to analyze quarterbacks starting in 2010, when he noticed that despite the gaudy numbers then-Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman was putting up, the tape suggested that Freeman actually wasn't performing well.

"He was throwing the ball to defenders all the time, and they were dropping it," Fahey said. "I just started to notice, ‘Hey, he doesn’t really control the results of these plays.’ I charted that, and tried to figure out how that was going for every quarterback in the league."

Fahey's instinct — that people were valuing results over process when evaluating Freeman — was spot-on. Freeman's numbers did a nose dive after the 2010 season.

This year, Fahey will host an NFL podcast for ESPN. The project is expected to debut in about two weeks. Before it gets going, here are Fahey's thoughts on the QBs in Denver.

Denverite: I checked out your chapter on Siemian in this year’s book. Your read on him after charting all his attempts was that he has good athleticism, particularly evading defenders behind the line of scrimmage, and he’ll take chances. But your big knock on him is that he’s not very accurate. Is that a fair synopsis? 

Fahey: Yeah, he doesn’t really have an NFL arm. And if you don’t really have an NFL arm, you have to be able to make up for it with the rest of your skill set. He’s just not consistent enough doing that. He will miss open receivers too often. He will make bad decisions with the football. He doesn’t have the extreme positives to make up for the consistent negatives. That’s kind of why the Broncos are stuck with a guy who they probably shouldn’t be starting. But that's where they are at the moment. You’re hoping Paxton Lynch develops and takes his job, really.

Fahey: One of the most damning things you charted about Siemian was that he ranked 26th in accuracy percentage. How do you calculate accuracy percentage? 

Fahey: It’s about the placement of the ball. If a wide receiver runs an out route — if he runs a five-yard out route — he’s expecting to catch the ball by the sideline and at his chest or at his face. If he has to reach back for the ball, it’s away from his body, if it's a position that favors the defender, it’s considered inaccurate. It’s all about the placement of the ball. It’s not about the results of the play. It’s not about if it’s caught or dropped or whatever. it’s about the placement of the ball. You can stop the tape right as the ball’s about to get to the wide receiver and make a determination on the placement of the ball.

Denverite: What’s the precedent for a guy being an inaccurate passer in his first year as a starter and then turning into an accurate passer as time goes on? 

Fahey: I can’t think of one. Then again, I haven’t been covering the NFL for decades. I’ve only been covering it for the last 10 years or so. There hasn’t really been someone. Accuracy in general is kind of a thing you either have or don’t have. And the guys who do get better tend to be guys who fix their footwork rather than actually fix their ability to put the ball in the right spot.

Denverite: Paxton Lynch threw the ball 83 times last year. Are you able to conclude anything at all about his game based on that sample size? 

Fahey: That’s enough of a sample to judge, but that doesn’t mean you can take away what he’s going to be moving forward. He didn’t really show you anything to be optimistic about when he played. The big issue for me is less that he couldn’t read defenses and stuff like that because that stuff he’ll learn and get better at the more he plays. The bigger issue for me is that he was lifting throws and was looking at receivers who were open and didn’t pull the trigger. And that bothered me a lot. But I think 83 throws, you’re not going to take too much from that. But if you want to judge him and say was this good or bad, you have to say it was bad.

Denverite: Do you have an opinion one way or the other who the Broncos should roll out this year? 

Fahey: I think they’re probably doing the right thing based on who they’ve got on the roster by letting Siemian handle it and letting Lynch try to come take it from him, because Siemian has probably done enough to show he's better than Lynch. I thought it was telling last year when Lynch came in and then went to the bench. I think they’re making a mistake by having only these QBs on the roster. They didn’t go out and try to get anyone better in the offseason. I think the smart thing to do now is roll with Siemian and if Lynch gets better in the background, if he plays better in the preseason, then you give him a chance. But for the moment, it’s Siemian.

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