What could be more improbable than rookie former practice squad elevation Tommy DeVito throwing three touchdown passes with no interceptions, despite nine sacks, in leading the New York Giants to a 31-19 victory over the Washington Commanders on Sunday? Here are the current statistics of all the rookie quarterbacks who have appeared in regular season games this year, ranked by passing yards:
All of them were drafted except for DeVito and Tyson Bagent. Take away C.J. Stroud, who is having one of the best rookie seasons ever by an NFL quarterback, and DeVito frankly compares pretty favorably to the rest of them:
- His 6 TD passes are exceeded only by Bryce Young’s 9 even though five other rookies have thrown more passes.
- His 6.3 yards per attempt are comparable to or better than every other QB except Jaren Hall, who only threw 10 passes before suffering a concussion.
- His PFF passing grade is higher than all of them except Hall.
- His NFL passer rating (88.9, not shown) is exceeded only by Hall’s 108.8 (in only 10 passes), Stroud’s 99.3, and Will Levis’ 89.2.
- His fumbling grade is higher than every other rookie QB because he is the only one who has not fumbled (for your information, Stroud has 7 fumbles, Young 5, Aidan O’Connell 4).
DeVito’s performance won him the NFL Rookie of the Week award. His touchdown celebration on Sunday was molto bene and has elevated the Twitter pinched finger emoji to iconic status:
This Tommy DeVito touchdown celebration pic.twitter.com/ifVO3bSwXC— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) November 19, 2023
Yet DeVito was on virtually no one’s radar this spring as the 2023 NFL Draft approached. Good luck trying to find a pre-draft profile of DeVito:
- NFL.com graded 20 QB prospects. DeVito was not one of them, even though they graded six QBs who wound up being undrafted free agents.
- Matt Waldman, who does exhaustive research into skill position prospects each year for his Rookie Scouting Portfolio, evaluated 14 QB prospects. DeVito was not among them.
- Pro Football Focus evaluated 10 QB prospects. DeVito was not one of them.
- DeVito was QB19 (No. 432 overall) in the NFL Mock Draft Database consensus big board and never rose above No. 400 during the buildup to the draft:
I’ve only managed to find a few pre-draft/pre-season evaluations of DeVito. Each is instructive to look at:
Dane Brugler of The Athletic does comprehensive research on college prospects at all positions for his annual document The Beast. To his credit, Brugler evaluated 22 QBs, ranking DeVito No. 16 in the class. (No. 15 was Malik Cunningham, now a New England Patriot, who could possibly start against the Giants.). Here’s what he had to say:
Brugler mentions that DeVito is “timely in his reads and puts the ball out in front of receivers to let them make plays away from defenders,” things we saw on Sunday. He also highlights things Giants fans might not want to hear: His injury history (which ultimately was what led him to transfer from Syracuse to Illinois), and degradation of his footwork and arm slots when pressured (which I don’t think we saw much of on Sunday).
The University of Illinois SB Nation site The Champaign Room of course noted DeVito’s signing by the Giants back in May. Here are some things they had to say about his play:
“The Giants will be getting a key attribute from the Illini signal caller that every professional quarterback needs: consistent efficiency. In 2022, he was one of the most efficient QBs in the country, ranking fourth in completion percentage (69.6%).”
“Another one of DeVito’s biggest strengths is avoiding mistakes. His four interceptions were sixth lowest among QBs in the nation (min. 200 passing att.), while he also ranked top 10 in interception percentage (1.1% of throws were interceptions).”
“DeVito’s passing attack in OC Barry Lunney Jr.’s system didn’t utilize the deep ball much. He often had eyes for the first-down chains, which — combined with Brown’s high usage on the ground — led to long, methodical drives into the red zone. Because of this play style, DeVito’s explosive capabilities weren’t tested much at Illinois. His 10.31 passing yards per completion last season ranked 100th in the nation. However, the year at Illinois adds to his experience in a big-play Syracuse offense for three years, which gives him extensive knowledge of two very different offensive systems.”
Props to Ian Valentino of Pro Football Network for the most extensive pre-draft evaluation of DeVito’s pros and cons I’ve seen anywhere:
Tell me that you didn’t see at least half of those bullet points in action on Sunday - consistent accuracy, avoids turnovers while not being overly cautious, delivers passes in rhythm, doesn’t hesitate when he sees an open receiver, throws past the chains rather than checking down, will take a hit and pop back up.
There are red flags, too, e.g., breakdowns in mechanics that cause passes to wobble, and lack of full-field reads, among others:
DeVito appeared on Good Morning Football before Day 3 of the draft. It’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it. He’s personable, humble yet confident. Kyle Brandt seemed sure he’d go on Day 3. We know now that didn’t happen, but perhaps working with Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll was best for his development. We don’t know how he got from his kept-in-bubble-wrap debut against the Jets to his jaw-dropping performance in Washington. Maybe it was just gaining familiarity with the playbook. Maybe Daboll and Kafka didn’t trust him passing against the Jets defense in the rain. Whatever, the things he showed last Sunday don’t seem like an anomaly - they’re all there in Valentino’s pre-draft assessment.
It will take time to find out whether DeVito can move past the teachable part of the limitations Valentino describes above. This coming Sunday may give us some insight. Bill Belichick has been known to frustrate more than one quarterback with disguised defenses, and the Patriots’ pass rush may be more potent than the post-Chase Young, post-Montez Sweat version DeVito faced in Washington.
If he can deliver another victory, then he can certainly be QB3 in 2024 and possibly even QB2. A lot depends on what the Giants decide to do in the draft, what decision they make about Tyrod Taylor (whose only mistake was getting injured, he was playing well), how soon Daniel Jones returns to the field after his ACL surgery, and whether 2024 Jones looks like the 2022 version more than the 2023 version. Ironically, if there was one play that epitomized Jones’ regression this season, it was the pick-six interception at the goal line in the Seattle game in which he failed to target an open Darren Waller in the back of the end zone. The player who intercepted the ball was Devon Witherspoon, whom DeVito faced every week in practice at Illinois last season.