Published: Dec. 5, 2019 at 10:58 a.m.

Next Gen Stats: Compelling figures of NFL’s most improved players

Want to see the numbers behind the numbers? NFL Research's Joseph Ferraiola dives into a fresh batch of Next Gen Stats and identifies the driving factors fueling the NFL’s most improved players of 2019.

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  • Josh Allen was a polarizing QB prospect coming out of Wyoming in 2018, and his rookie season numbers (67.9 passer rating) didn't do him any favors with his doubters. But Allen has shown significant improvement in Year 2, notably in key areas for QB development: inside the tackle box and vs. the blitz. Allen attempted just 76.3% of passes from inside the tackle box in 2018 (second-lowest rate in the NFL), but this season, Allen has increased that figure to 82.8 (seventh-lowest). Despite some chaotic tendencies, Allen's maturation from inside the tackle box has been remarkable (2018: 9 TDs, 9 INTs, 75.9 passer rating; 2019: 12 TDs, 5 INTs, 93.3 passer rating). Allen's split from inside the tackles looks more impressive since Week 5, throwing 10 TDs, 1 INT with a 103.2 rating on such passes. Allen has also improved vs. blitzes (2018: 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 58.1 passer rating; 2019: 8 TDs, 4 INTs, 83.6 passer rating) with a 7:0 TD-INT ratio and 109.0 passer rating vs. the blitz since Week 5. 6

    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Josh Allen silencing his doubters?

    Josh Allen was a polarizing QB prospect coming out of Wyoming in 2018, and his rookie season numbers (67.9 passer rating) didn't do him any favors with his doubters. But Allen has shown significant improvement in Year 2, notably in key areas for QB development: inside the tackle box and vs. the blitz. Allen attempted just 76.3% of passes from inside the tackle box in 2018 (second-lowest rate in the NFL), but this season, Allen has increased that figure to 82.8 (seventh-lowest). Despite some chaotic tendencies, Allen's maturation from inside the tackle box has been remarkable (2018: 9 TDs, 9 INTs, 75.9 passer rating; 2019: 12 TDs, 5 INTs, 93.3 passer rating). Allen's split from inside the tackles looks more impressive since Week 5, throwing 10 TDs, 1 INT with a 103.2 rating on such passes. Allen has also improved vs. blitzes (2018: 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 58.1 passer rating; 2019: 8 TDs, 4 INTs, 83.6 passer rating) with a 7:0 TD-INT ratio and 109.0 passer rating vs. the blitz since Week 5.

  • Ryan Tannehill is garnering strong consideration for Comeback Player of the Year honors. The Titans are 5-1 since he took over the starting QB spot for Marcus Mariota in Week 7. A key part in Tannehill's turnaround is his response to pressure. He had a rough 2018 season with the Dolphins, facing pressure on 38.2% of dropbacks (highest rate in NFL) and completed just 48.2% of passes under pressure. The former Dolphins' QB is still facing a considerable amount of pressure (33.0%, sixth-highest in NFL), but has completed 64.3% of passes under pressure (second-highest in NFL). Additionally, Tannehill is averaging 9.0 yards per attempt when pressured, the most on such attempts this season. And because performance under pressure is a highly volatile split, I'll just mention that Tannehill has completed 72.7% of passes this season, +9.6% above expected (highest +/- in NFL). 5

    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Tannehill performing under pressure

    Ryan Tannehill is garnering strong consideration for Comeback Player of the Year honors. The Titans are 5-1 since he took over the starting QB spot for Marcus Mariota in Week 7. A key part in Tannehill's turnaround is his response to pressure. He had a rough 2018 season with the Dolphins, facing pressure on 38.2% of dropbacks (highest rate in NFL) and completed just 48.2% of passes under pressure. The former Dolphins' QB is still facing a considerable amount of pressure (33.0%, sixth-highest in NFL), but has completed 64.3% of passes under pressure (second-highest in NFL). Additionally, Tannehill is averaging 9.0 yards per attempt when pressured, the most on such attempts this season. And because performance under pressure is a highly volatile split, I'll just mention that Tannehill has completed 72.7% of passes this season, +9.6% above expected (highest +/- in NFL).

  • After totaling 28 pressures in Weeks 1-4, Shaquil Barrett's production slowed in Weeks 5-11, when he generated just 11 pressures. But Barrett has seemingly picked it back up in his two most recent games with 13 QB pressures on 65 pass rushes (20% pressure rate). Despite the midseason slump, Barrett is having an incredible season applying heat on opposing QBs. He has 52 QB pressures this year (T-second most in NFL), 6.5 times as many as he had a season ago. Six of those 52 pressures have resulted in turnovers, tied for the most in the NFL with Pittsburgh's Bud Dupree. Barrett's performance should earn him a hefty payday in the coming months, after betting on himself with a one-year deal this past offseason. 4

    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Big bucks to come for Barrett?

    After totaling 28 pressures in Weeks 1-4, Shaquil Barrett's production slowed in Weeks 5-11, when he generated just 11 pressures. But Barrett has seemingly picked it back up in his two most recent games with 13 QB pressures on 65 pass rushes (20% pressure rate). Despite the midseason slump, Barrett is having an incredible season applying heat on opposing QBs. He has 52 QB pressures this year (T-second most in NFL), 6.5 times as many as he had a season ago. Six of those 52 pressures have resulted in turnovers, tied for the most in the NFL with Pittsburgh's Bud Dupree. Barrett's performance should earn him a hefty payday in the coming months, after betting on himself with a one-year deal this past offseason.

  • D.J. Chark's improvement is evident from his increase in playing time. Chark played just 28.2% of offensive snaps in 2018, his rookie season, the fourth-highest of Jaguars receivers. That number increased to 81.6% of offensive snaps in 2019, the highest rate for a Jaguars WR. Chark has also performed extremely well with increased playing time. The former LSU wideout has displayed his 4.34-second, 40-yard dash speed from the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine on deep targets, reeling in four of his 10 receptions on such targets for TDs (T-second most in NFL). Chark has also been Gardner Minshew's safety net on extended plays (4-plus seconds to throw) catching four of six receptions for 35 yards and two TDs from the first-year signal caller in such scenarios. Chark should be the staple of the Jaguars' vertical passing attack for years to come. 3

    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Jags find mainstay receiver with Chark

    D.J. Chark's improvement is evident from his increase in playing time. Chark played just 28.2% of offensive snaps in 2018, his rookie season, the fourth-highest of Jaguars receivers. That number increased to 81.6% of offensive snaps in 2019, the highest rate for a Jaguars WR. Chark has also performed extremely well with increased playing time. The former LSU wideout has displayed his 4.34-second, 40-yard dash speed from the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine on deep targets, reeling in four of his 10 receptions on such targets for TDs (T-second most in NFL). Chark has also been Gardner Minshew's safety net on extended plays (4-plus seconds to throw) catching four of six receptions for 35 yards and two TDs from the first-year signal caller in such scenarios. Chark should be the staple of the Jaguars' vertical passing attack for years to come.

  • Like Shaquil Barrett, Dante Fowler bet on himself this 2019 season by signing a one-year deal with the Rams last offseason. So far, the returns are looking good for Los Angeles and Fowler. Fowler has six more QB pressures in 12 games this season (34) than he had in all of 2018 (28). Fowler has proved to be an excellent complementary rusher to Aaron Donald with the two combining for 90 QB pressures and leading the Rams to the second-highest pressure rate in the NFL (31.4%). 2

    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Dante Fowler emerging opposite Aaron Donald

    Like Shaquil Barrett, Dante Fowler bet on himself this 2019 season by signing a one-year deal with the Rams last offseason. So far, the returns are looking good for Los Angeles and Fowler. Fowler has six more QB pressures in 12 games this season (34) than he had in all of 2018 (28). Fowler has proved to be an excellent complementary rusher to Aaron Donald with the two combining for 90 QB pressures and leading the Rams to the second-highest pressure rate in the NFL (31.4%).

  • Courtland Sutton has emerged as the Broncos' go-to wideout, receiving 25.1% (12th-highest) of Denver's targets and 44.7% of the team's air yards (highest in NFL). Sutton had himself a solid rookie season in 2018, catching 42 of 84 targets for 704 yards and four TDs, but he's already eclipsed each of those figures in 2019. Sutton has particularly outpaced his production on deep targets (20-plus air yards) this season when it comes to his reception total (2018: 8 deep receptions; 2019: 11, T-most in NFL) and yards (2018: 254; 2019: 427) on four fewer targets. Not only has Sutton been better on deep targets compared with his 2018 season, but he's been one of the best deep-ball receivers in the entire NFL. Sutton's 144.7 passer rating on deep targets is the highest in the league this season (min. 10 deep targets). 1

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Best deep threat in the NFL?

    Courtland Sutton has emerged as the Broncos' go-to wideout, receiving 25.1% (12th-highest) of Denver's targets and 44.7% of the team's air yards (highest in NFL). Sutton had himself a solid rookie season in 2018, catching 42 of 84 targets for 704 yards and four TDs, but he's already eclipsed each of those figures in 2019. Sutton has particularly outpaced his production on deep targets (20-plus air yards) this season when it comes to his reception total (2018: 8 deep receptions; 2019: 11, T-most in NFL) and yards (2018: 254; 2019: 427) on four fewer targets. Not only has Sutton been better on deep targets compared with his 2018 season, but he's been one of the best deep-ball receivers in the entire NFL. Sutton's 144.7 passer rating on deep targets is the highest in the league this season (min. 10 deep targets).