We’re comparing pickable pass percentage and actual interception rate to determine which quarterbacks were the most and least fortunate during the 2023 season. Some of the results might surprise you.

In 2023, NFL quarterbacks threw 668 “pickable” passes.

Defenders intercepted 429 of those passes – most of them on throws defined as pickable, though not all. (Sometimes, a defensive back makes an absurd play on a good throw, or the ball ricochets, or a receiver falls down.)

The league-wide pickable pass rate was 3.7%, but the actual interception rate was 2.3%. What does that tell us? Well, it’s good to be lucky. 

Defenders will never pick off every pickable pass. That’s why they’re called “pickable,” not “guaranteed to be picked.” But if a QB throws a pickable pass and the defender doesn’t intercept it, that’s not because of anything special the quarterback did. It’s because of some combination of luck, a poor attempt to catch the ball by the defender in the area, and strong defensive work by his own receiving target. 

So just looking at the number of interceptions thrown by a signal caller can be misleading. And pickable pass percentage and interception rate will almost never converge perfectly. In 2023, only Jared Goff of the Detroit Lions had a pickable rate within 0.1% of his real-life interception rate. And only two QBs, Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills and Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles, posted a higher pickable rate than INT rate. (What was going on in Philly?)

But over time, QBs should struggle to be outliers. Quarterbacks who throw lots of pickable passes should throw lots of interceptions and vice versa.

What does that tell us about 2024’s crop of NFL quarterbacks? 

luckiest 2023 QBs

Meet the 10 QBs whose pickable pass rates were at least 2.0% higher than their actual interception rates. The headliner, of course, is Will Levis, the Tennessee Titans rookie who served as one of the franchise’s few bright spots last season.

The second-round pick did a nice job pushing the ball down the field, posting 7.1 yards per attempt in nine starts and showing off real athleticism for a 6-foot-4, 230-pounder. But Levis’ greatest strength was that he didn’t throw interceptions – four of them in total on 255 throws, giving him one of the lowest INT rates in football.

He was extremely fortunate in that regard, posting the widest delta between pickable and intercepted rate of any QB with 200-plus attempts. Levis had the fifth-worst pickable pass rate and the ninth-best interception rate, a hard split to replicate. 

This list also raises a bit of a red flag on Baker Mayfield’s comeback season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and whether Jordan Love is on the verge of stardom with the Green Bay Packers. It raises outright horror about Bryce Young in Carolina, given that Young had a disastrous rookie season and arguably should’ve been picked off more than the 10 times he actually was.

Meanwhile, Houston Texans QB C.J. Stroud (12th on this list with 2.86 pickable pass percentage and a 1.00 interception rate) is a surefire future superstar, but if his sophomore season is less of a smashing success than his rookie year, there’s a good chance that a marginal increase in interceptions will be the reason why. 

But what about the quarterbacks whose worst passes didn’t fall innocently to the ground? 

unluckiest QBs

In 2022, Hurts was the toast of Philadelphia. In his second year as the starter, Hurts made the leap from toolsy second-round pick to one of the best players in football. He went 14-1 as a starter while flashing his usual strong running ability and progressing rapidly as a passer.

One of Hurts’ defining qualities that year was how well he took care of the ball: His interception rate was 1.3% – fifth in the NFL – and he paired it with an impressive ability to keep the ball moving down the field. Hurts ended up finishing second in MVP voting and got the contract to ensure he’ll be the Eagles’ QB for years. 

In 2023, a lot went wrong. But the main thing that went wrong was that Hurts’ interception rate more than doubled to 2.8%. Drives that continued apace the year before were suddenly ending with the opponent taking great field position, as Hurts went from one of the least-intercepted QBs to one of the most. 

But did Hurts play that much differently? Well, yes, but maybe not how you think. In 2022, his pickable pass percentage was 4.1% – one of the highest marks in the league. Defenders simply didn’t convert pickable opportunities against Hurts that year. In 2023, Hurts actually improved in throwing passes that were harder for defenders to get to – but get to them they did, and in fact, this variance punished Hurts last year more than any QB in football.

He went from a guy whose interceptable passes didn’t get intercepted to a guy whose perfectly fine passes were suddenly going the other way. 

jalen hurts 2023 stats

What does that tell us? Nothing ironclad, as there’s no rule that says a QB can’t get lucky or unlucky with his pickable passes for two years in a row. But if Hurts throws the same types of passes in 2024 that he did in 2023, he’s got a good chance of not throwing anywhere near 15 interceptions again. 

Hurts is the mega-outlier on this list, but you might find encouragement as well in Trevor Lawrence (fresh off a huge extension in Jacksonville) and Russell Wilson (hoping for a bounce-back season in Pittsburgh) having been among the league’s most-picked QBs relative to the quality of their passes.

Or you could notice Patrick Mahomes was a bit unlucky last year and shudder about what happens if the football gods finally give him and the rest of the Chiefs a break.

In that case, the rest of this may not even matter.

Research support provided by Stats Perform’s Josiah Sukumaran. Be sure to check out all our MLBNBA, college football and NFL coverage. And follow us on X and Instagram for more!