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Top 10 QBs under pressure: Ryan Tannehill, Derek Carr shine

Under pressure.

Chances are, after you read that, this little tune will go through your head:

Dun, dun, dun, dun-dun-dun, dun. Dun, dun, dun, dun-dun-dun, dun.

And chances are, after you're done mentally rocking out to that bass line from the hit Queen and David Bowie song, you'll think of Ice Ice Baby, which sampled said bass line en route to becoming the first hip-hop single to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was a silky smooth dance track that transcended setting (and Vanilla Ice's very early '90s delivery), playable within the walls of the club or beneath the soft top of that slick Chrysler LeBaron convertible you absolutely had to have in red.

(My older sister was disappointed when my dad wouldn't let her buy your LeBaron 14 years later.)

The Ice connection is appropriate, though, because a quarterback under pressure needs to be calm, cool and collected -- some might even say that a QB who completes a long pass under duress has, yes, ice in his veins.

And, in the way that Ice was at one point stingy with the attribution to Queen and Bowie (But my song has an extra ding!), quarterbacks who thrive under pressure aren't always given the credit they're due. Well, we're here to fix that.

To organize our list of the top 10 QBs under pressure in 2019, we're going to rely on two specific numbers tracked by Next Gen Stats. The first is passer rating under pressure, a slightly modified version of a traditional metric that most football fans should understand (158.3 is perfect, while anything 100 or better is pretty darn good, etc.). The second is completion percentage above expectation while under pressure, which might be the best indicator of all. How effective are you in the most trying moments on the football field? That statistic attempts to answer that question.

The criteria for this is simple: Quarterbacks must have thrown a minimum of 250 pass attempts. That's going to loop in some quarterbacks who only played half of a season, like Matthew Stafford and Ryan Tannehill, for example. Yes, this means you'll see some names here that didn't qualify for my earlier ranking of the top 10 deep passers -- but that ranking required a larger sample size to provide an accurate picture.

Enough of the introduction. Let's sort this out.

Ryan Tannehill
Tennessee Titans · QB

UNDER PRESSURE: 112.4 passer rating, +8.7% completion rate above expectation, 64.2% completion rate.

Tannehill's return to a starting gig came at an unexpected turning point in the Titans' season. Coach Mike Vrabel needed a spark at the most important position on the field, and he found it in Tannehill in Week 7. The one-time first-round pick by the Dolphins teamed with Derrick Henry to resurrect Tennessee's offense and help the Titans sprint to the AFC Championship Game, recording a pair of stunning playoff victories in the process. Tannehill did it by performing masterfully under pressure, posting the only passer rating above 110 in such circumstances in the entire league (among those with a minimum of 250 total pass attempts) while also targeting receivers in tight windows on 23.9 percent of such attempts. He pushed the ball under pressure more than any other quarterback, becoming the only qualified passer to average 10-plus yards per attempt under pressure in a season since 2016. His completion percentage above expectation of +8.7 punctuated his stellar campaign, which was good enough to earn him NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors -- and a new contract for four years and $118 million, with $62 million guaranteed. As Robert Griffin III loves to say, no pressure, no diamonds.

Drew Brees
New Orleans Saints · QB

UNDER PRESSURE: 105.9 passer rating, +4.4% completion rate above expectation, 63.3% completion rate.

Brees' numbers aren't too far off of Tannehill's, though Brees wasn't pressured as often (72 times) as Tannehill (98). Brees would have been the best quarterback of this entire ranking had it not been for Tannehill's remarkable play in less than a full season. Brees' 105.9 passer rating under pressure is the second-best mark in a single season since 2016, trailing only Tannehill's rating. In keeping with the theme of Michael Thomas' productivity (which we covered earlier in this series), Brees found success under pressure by getting the ball out quickly (3.01 seconds on average per pressured throw) to targets who were nearby, averaging 9.6 air yards per pressured attempt. That helped boost his success rate on pressured pass attempts, which led all the players on this list at 41.7 percent. The numbers are great, Brees is great, and we shouldn't be too surprised. That about sums it up.

Derek Carr
Las Vegas Raiders · QB

UNDER PRESSURE: 103.7 passer rating, +5.9% completion rate above expectation, 66.7% completion rate.

Now here we can be surprised. We just spent four months listening to folks openly wonder whether Carr's days as a Raider were numbered, as if the team's struggles were his fault and not a product of a thin receiving corps hamstrung by the absence of Antonio Brown (and the volatile nature of his brief time with the team), as well as a somewhat porous defense. A "heck of a player" in the eyes of Raiders coach Jon Gruden, Carr demonstrated skill under pressure in 2019, posting the third-best passer rating in such situations in 2019. Carr's completion percentage of 66.7 under pressure was the best of any qualifying quarterback in the entire NFL in 2019, and his completion percentage above expectation of +5.9 further emphasizes how effective he was under duress. A big reason for his achievement under pressure: Carr targeted open receivers often, doing so at a rate of 56.9 percent. No other quarterback on this list was even close. Logically, it seems simple and might serve as an indication that Gruden's offense is capable of providing Carr a safety valve. Whatever the broader implications are, Carr did keep things moving, nonetheless. That's ultimately what a quarterback needs to do to be successful, right? Carr did so when things were toughest in 2019.

Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · QB

UNDER PRESSURE: 93.1 passer rating, +5.5% completion rate above expectation, 49.2% completion rate.

Jackson set a new bar for dual-threat quarterbacks in 2019, setting the single-season rushing record for signal-callers -- but as his numbers here show, escaping with his legs is not his only option under pressure. The most intriguing statistic was the touchdown-to-interception ratio Jackson posted while under pressure -- 8:3 -- which tells us nearly a quarter (22 percent) of Jackson's 36 touchdown passes came under duress. Only one other quarterback on this list matched Jackson's touchdown total under pressure (Daniel Jones). Interestingly, Jackson gained less than 470 passing yards under pressure while also completing 49.2 percent of his 65 attempts, which makes us think coordinator Greg Roman's offense took advantage of its ever-present running threat to create passing windows deep in opposing territory, helping explain the eight touchdowns. Regardless, it's just another set of numbers that illustrate how Jackson is one of the league's most exciting players.

Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings · QB

UNDER PRESSURE: 91.5 passer rating, +3.8% completion rate above expectation, 58.1% completion rate.

Cousins was a stud under pressure in the earliest years of NGS tracking, which helped destroy a narrative of him being average at the absolute best. But thanks to a play-action offense built out of an emphatic rushing attack led by Dalvin Cook, Cousins doesn't face as much pressure as he once did. Even with that considered, he still lands in the top five of most under-pressure metrics. His passer rating under pressure was fifth-best, his completion percentage under pressure was fourth-best and his completion percentage above expectation while pressured was also in the top five. You won't often see Cousins' name mentioned among the Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes of the league, but he has the numbers to back it up.

Matthew Stafford
Detroit Lions · QB

UNDER PRESSURE: 84.2 passer rating, +2.2% completion rate above expectation, 49.1% completion rate.

Stafford was limited to just eight games in 2019, but he capitalized while his health still allowed it. Most of Stafford's placement here depends on his passer rating and completion percentage above expectation, especially when you consider he's the only player on this list who threw more than 30 percent of his under-pressure throws into tight windows. Stafford is another who has proven over the last four seasons he is a man of consistency under pressure. His combined passer rating under pressure of 83.8 is the third-best mark of any qualified NFL quarterback since 2016, trailing only Matt Ryan (87.9) and Alex Smith (86.3). While his 3:1 TD-to-INT ratio under pressure from 2019 isn't awe-inspiring, the combination of his advanced passing statistics under pressure earns him this position.

Matt Ryan
Atlanta Falcons · QB

UNDER PRESSURE: 78.4 passer rating, +2.9% completion rate above expectation, 57.1% completion rate.

No one on this list faced more pressures in 2019 than Ryan's 216, with the next closest total belonging to rookie signal-caller Daniel Jones, sitting 31 pressures away with 185. Even in his team's worst season in recent memory, Ryan still posted a passer rating under pressure that was more than 12 points higher than the league average of 66.2. 

We shouldn't be all that surprised. No one in the NFL owns a higher passer rating under pressure in every season combined since 2016 than Ryan, whose mark of 87.9 puts him at the head of a top-five list that also includes Stafford, Alex Smith, Tom Brady (82.9) and Mahomes (81.2). Only Brady has thrown more touchdown passes while under pressure (30) than Ryan (27) since 2016. Ryan owns the highest passer rating that didn't occur in 2019, too, with his 104.9 mark from 2016 sitting third in the top five passer ratings under pressure since 2016. And for those who will say most of these combined numbers are inflated by that memorable run to Super Bowl LI in 2016, here's the numerical retort you weren't seeking: Ryan tied for the third most touchdown passes thrown under pressure in a single season with nine, and he did so in 2018.

Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · QB

UNDER PRESSURE: 80.5 passer rating. +0.0% completion rate above expectation, 49.3% completion rate.

As you can see, we're organizing by a combination of passer rating under pressure and completion percentage above expectation while under pressure, but Prescott is a unique member of this group in that he completed exactly the amount of pressured passes as was expected. He was satisfactory under pressure, you might say. But then, if you dive deeper into the numbers, you see Prescott attempted the third-most pressured passes (144) of anyone on this list. And you see he's one of just two on this list to break 1,000 passing yards under pressure. And then you see his 7:3 TD-INT ratio while under pressure, and his 167 pressures recorded and his three DIMES completed on pressured attempts. And you sit back and say, "You know, that's quite all right." THEN you dive deeper into the NGS record books and see Prescott is tied with Philip Rivers for the fourth-most touchdown passes completed under pressure since 2016 (19), whereupon you flip the page to discover Prescott has the highest single-season completion percentage above expectation under pressure in a single season since 2016, which for whatever reason was a banner year for that metric in the history of Next-Gen Stats. I'm sure other less fortunate franchises would be happy to secure this man's services for years to come.

Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills · QB

UNDER PRESSURE: 80 passer rating, -0.2% completion rate above expectation, 47.1% completion rate.

We've come to know Allen as a bit of a magician within the madness in the first two years of his promising career, so I guess we shouldn't be all that surprised. He is, of course, the only player on this list who posted a negative completion percentage above (or in his case, below) expectation while under pressure, but his passer rating shines enough to land him here, as does his TD-to-INT ratio of 5:2 (yes, the two are related). Allen takes exactly three and a half seconds on average to throw the ball when under pressure -- something Allen face 125 times, through which Allen attempted 87 passes -- yet he still managed to finish mighty close to expectation. We know he still has kinks to work out, but an ability to find success under duress is a very big plus mark on a player's resume.

Daniel Jones
New York Giants · QB

UNDER PRESSURE: 73.3 passer rating, +0.2% completion rate above expectation, 53.1% completion rate.

Welcome to Next Gen Stats, rookie! Jones was a surprise pick, but only because, well, he's Daniel Jones, a first-year pro forced in by a lame-duck coach as Eli Manning's successor -- and he somehow made the most of it while playing behind a sieve of an offensive line (that doesn't include you, Kevin Zeitler). Jones' numbers were comparable to those of Matt Ryan, which should signal to Giants fans that, hey, they might have another guy like Eli! Manning secured two Super Bowl rings, of course, while so far we're talking here about Jones' 8:6 TD-INT ratio under pressure and nearly 1,000 passing yards. Many rookies have fared much worse when the blindingly fast NFL pass rush threatens to swallow them whole on a per-down basis. Kudos to the kid from Duke. Who'd have thought this khaki-wearing fella would've been so cool amid the heat?

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter@TheNickShook.

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