clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Calling Justin Thomas a Bad Passer is Lazy and Inaccurate

New, 26 comments

Just because he's an option quarterback doesn't mean he's a poor passer.

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

In Paul Johnson's tenure at Georgia Tech, Justin Thomas is the team's fourth prominent starting quarterback, joining Joshua Nesbitt, Tevin Washington, and Vad Lee. Being a run-heavy scheme that involves the quarterback as such, passing ability tends to be secondary in importance to things like rushing ability and capability at making reads on option plays. Those previous three quarterbacks were recruited with that in mind, and their stats reflect it -- between them, only Washington finished a season as the team's primary starter with 50% pass completion or better (56.4% as a senior in 2012).

Combine this with similar fortunes of several teams that have run similar systems over the last several years, and the narrative practically writes itself: Quarterbacks in this type of spread option system aren't very good passers.

Sadly, that narrative is being applied to Justin Thomas, a quarterback who in no way deserves that mantra.

The 2015 season was bad for Thomas statistically, as he completed only 41.7% of his 180 pass attempts. You'll remember, though, that Thomas's 105 incompletions were more than just inaccurate throws or poor decisions -- several times per game, he had no choice but to immediately throw the ball away thanks to totally ineffective protection from his offensive line. We'll never know, but in my eyes, it stands to reason that his numbers would have looked much more like the 153-for-295 (51.9%) numbers we've seen from him over the rest of his career.

Through 7 games this year, Thomas is completing 52.7% of his passes, a number that would easily have eclipsed 60% if he had always gotten proper protection and had not seen receivers drop several catchable passes. Since the end of the Clemson game, Thomas is completing 62.5% of his passes for 396 yards, 3 touchdowns, and only 1 interception. It's enough that it's actually had a lot of Georgia Tech fans asking for the team to pass more -- something you had hardly ever seen in the Johnson era before Thomas took over. He's consistently doing a good job of setting his feet and placing balls where they need to be, making sure his passes come out on time and are safe from potential to be intercepted. What more could we ask from him, or any quarterback?

On that note, there's an unmeasurable sign, to me, that Thomas is a good passer. Under previous quarterbacks, any time I saw them drop back to pass and then put the ball in the air, it was like my heart skipped a beat and time stood still. I never had any idea what was going to happen, and statistics tell us there was a better chance that the pass would be incomplete or intercepted than caught. I don't get that feeling when I see Thomas drop to pass. Ask yourself -- the feeling you got when Nesbitt, Washington, and Lee dropped back to pass...is it the same one you get when Thomas does? Because I, personally, trust Thomas's decision-making and arm accuracy far more than I did any of the other quarterbacks to play for Paul Johnson.

No, Thomas completing 53% of his passes isn't going to light up national leaderboards or get him any NFL Draft attention. It doesn't need to. In this system, where Thomas is starting every play from under center and is asked to throw "50/50"-type passes with regularity, his ability to make good decisions and place the ball where it needs to be to enable his receivers to make plays are the criteria by which his passing ability should be defined.

If Georgia Tech's passing game doesn't have good numbers, it's not because Justin Thomas isn't a good passer. Buying in to that narrative is just lazy and (unlike Thomas's arm) inaccurate.