If only Major Applewhite and Brian Johnson had known that their best quarterback was playing receiver, instead the Cougars spent the first seven games of 2017 going 4-3 while using Kyle Allen and Kyle Postma as their signal caller. When the Cougars traveled to ranked South Florida, Applewhite had an epiphany and threw D'Eriq King into the starting lineup, at quarterback.
The Coogs beat South Florida in Tampa and went 3-1 to end the regular season all with D'Eriq King taking snaps. Keep Greg Ward Jr. in your memory banks because for all the excitement that Patrick Mahomes and Trevone Boykin created in the past few years; Ward Jr. was as productive and explosive. Those are big shoes for King to fill, but if anything, given his limited time as the starter for Houston in 2017, he more than laced them up.
We track quarterbacks through 8-10 criteria the most important of which (and we stole this from Bill Connelly over at Football Study Hall) are completion percentage, interception rate, sack rate, yards per attempt, TD percentage and yards per play (taking into account passing, sack, and rushing yardage). We take those six indicators and every quarterback with 90 or attempts and give each quarterback a percentile rank amongst his peers. Is it flawless? Nope. Does it give us a pretty good indicator of how efficient a quarterback is? You bet. If you rank in the top 75 in terms of percentile, you're terrific, probably elite. If you rank in the top 50% that's a decent number. Below that and we've got some work to do. From a visual perspective, we'd like to see a big, broad coverage. The wider the radar graph, the more efficient a quarterback is at a number of efficiency measurables.
Here's King's Radar Graph for 2017. It's beautiful.
Let's deal with the bad news first, cause there isn't a lot to deal with; King struggled with sack avoidance. Opponents sacked King on almost eight percent of his dropbacks. Sacks aren't solely on the quarterback, good coverage, inadequate protection, schemes, all play a role in sacks, but as Bill Bilichek points out, there's nothing wrong with an incompletion. Negative plays, however, those are drive killers. If King can cut that number to five or six percent, he'll be right in the meaty part of the curve.
Every other category, from a percentile rank, King played at an elite level, real elite. King's interception avoidance came in the 98th percentile, his yards per attempt and touchdown percentile rank were both above the 97th percentile. We started incorporating touchdowns accounted for over the past season, basically taking the number of total touchdowns, running and passing, and look at the number of plays to get a percentile rank of point production per play. In almost 10% of his snaps, King played a role in producing points. That percentile rank puts King in Baker Mayfield, Drew Locke, and Mason Rudolph's neighborhood.
Another area we'd like to highlight is interception avoidance, which is a fancy way of saying King didn't throw a lot of picks. King threw interceptions on just 1% of his dropbacks. We heard a lot about Jalen Hurts throwing just two picks in 2017, King's interception rate sat in that ballpark, better than Heisman winner Mayfield, Heisman runner-up Lamar Jackson, and 96% percent of all quarterbacks who threw 90 or more passes last season.
Finally, and this surprised us a bit, King's completion percentage hit 69.8%. That's elite level efficiency and combined with his yards per attempt shows that he wasn't a dink and dunker. Kyle Allen led all FBS quarterbacks in completion percentage, but his completions went for five yards less per completion that King and three yards less per attempt. King threw accurately and downfield better than 98% of his peers.
His 2017 season gives D'Eriq King an elite foundation to build on as he heads into the offseason as the incumbent starter for the Cougars. If he can stay healthy and the Cougars can find replacements for Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar, King should put up big numbers in 2018.