Penn State Football

PFF ranks McSorley above OSU’s Dwayne Haskins — but neither is the Big Ten’s best

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley celebrates scoring a touchdown during a game against Kent State Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley celebrates scoring a touchdown during a game against Kent State Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 at Beaver Stadium. psheehan@centredaily.com

Penn State QB Trace McSorley is one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, so it wasn’t terribly surprising to see Pro Football Focus rank him Tuesday as the conference’s No. 2 quarterback.

What’s surprising is that Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is No. 3.

Let’s step back for a moment here. PFF grades every play in every game for every player — and, on Tuesday, it decided to crunch the numbers and come up with an aggregate score for each quarterback based on all those plays.

McSorley finished with a 90.8 on a scale of 1-100, with Haskins coming in a distant third at 83.9 and Michigan’s Shea Patterson in fourth with 83.5. The best quarterback? Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook with a 92.0.

We’ll let PFF explain this one:

“(Hornibrook) takes what the defense gives him and throws to the spot where only his receivers can bring in the ball repeatedly. In fact, 54.6% of his passes are targeted past the line to gain, the second-highest figure in the Big Ten and only 35.3% of his passing yards have come after the catch, which is the second-lowest percentage.”

Hornibrook is definitely not the name that usually springs to mind when talking about the Big Ten’s best. Penn State coach James Franklin has indirectly criticized PFF in the past, asking how companies can grade players when they don’t know the assignments. (“I don’t know how you do that,” he said. “You have no idea what’s being taught.”) But dismissing PFF altogether may not be the answer, either.

PFF took heat several years ago when it gave Christian Hackenberg an undraftable NFL grade for his accuracy issues. Others felt he should’ve been a first-rounder; the New York Jets took him in the second round.

PFF was right.

Hornibrook has an elite offensive line, and he’s not tasked with winning games by himself. Maybe that’s why his PFF numbers are a little inflated; after all, PFF did write, “Hornibrook may not ‘wow’ you at quarterback, but he also won’t put the ball in harm’s way very often either. He has just three turnover-worthy plays all season long.”

On the flip side, it didn’t penalize McSorley for his low completion percentage. PFF pointed out that he had the most dropped balls — 17! — among Big Ten quarterbacks. That’s not great.

Also not great? Haskins’ performance against Penn State, which may have somehow earned him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors and in which PFF gave him a grade of 44.1. (We’re on Team PFF on that one; screen passes aren’t that impressive.)

So who’s the best quarterback in the Big Ten right now? Even if it is Hornibrook, that takes nothing away from McSorley, who still boasts a 90.8 overall grade through five games. That’s an “A” by any measure, and we feel pretty confident in saying fans wouldn’t trade the undersized gunslinger for Hornibrook or any other Big Ten signal-caller.

An “A” grade isn’t too shabby.

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