Was Max Johnson the 4th-Best Quarterback for Texas A&M Football in 2023?

Due to horrendous luck with injuries, Texas A&M football fans saw four QBs get extended time. Was Max Johnson really the second-best?

Tennessee defensive lineman Roman Harrison (30) face masks Texas A&M quarterback Max Johnson
Tennessee defensive lineman Roman Harrison (30) face masks Texas A&M quarterback Max Johnson / Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY
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Was Max Johnson Really the Second-Best Signal Caller on the Roster for Texas A&M Football?

One thing you commonly heard from Texas A&M football fans before the year began, hearkening back to the poor injury luck at the signal-caller position that had resided in College Station for the past two years, was that the Aggies had the best backup quarterback in the league in Max Johnson. Thus, when Conner Weigman went down in the fourth game, the Maroon and White faithful knew who was up next.

Max Johnson's extended time at signal caller for the Aggies, though, brought a lot of frustration. He was inconsistent against Arkansas, downright bad against Alabama and Tennessee, and passable against South Carolina. He did a good job against Ole Miss, but an injury in that game kncoked him out for the rest of the season.

The surprising lift that Jaylen Henderson brought the Aggies was an immediate topic of discussion among fans. Texas A&M football put up a quick 51 points against Mississippi State in his first start; they lagged a bit against ACU, but they came back to put up a decent performance against LSU in Death Valley.

Henderson's performance in those final three games was an area of optimism when considering how the offense might look in the bowl game; of course, as we all saw, he only logged one play due to injury. Marcel Reed, though, went off: he looked explosive, he made good reads, and he used his legs well.

So with how well the third and fourth string guys played, many Texas A&M football fans have been wondering: should Max really have been the backup? Would Henderson or Reed have been better? To answer that question, let's start by looking at the numbers. I'll consider the W-L record for games in which one QB took the majority of the snaps (so I'm counting Auburn for Max and the bowl for Marcel, even though neither of them started those games).

Max Johnson: 3-3, 190 ATT, 62.1% COMP, 7.6 Y/A, 11 TD (9 pass, 2 rush), 5 INT, 245.2 Yds/G
Jaylen Henderson: 2-1, 78 ATT, 67.9% COMP, 9.2 Y/A, 8 TD (6 pass, 2 rush), 2 INT, 234.7 Yds/G
Marcel Reed: 0-1, 36 ATT, 58.3% COMP, 10.4 Y/A, 2 TD (1 pass, 1 rush), 1 INT, 374 Yds*


*1-game sample size, essentially, so I defaulted to just yards to not dilute the data.

Now, it should be said that Johnson faced by far the toughest slate of these three guys. Is that enough to overcome what appears to be a manifestly better statline from Jaylen Henderson? Possibly. Let's try to give some context.

The aspect that both Reed and Henderson bring to the table that Johnson lacks is a true dual-threat component. Johnson is sneaky athletic, but he can't run like either of the other two guys. Is it crazy to say that I think Jimbo prefers QBs that don't pull the ball down and run as much? Compare how much we saw Kellen Mond scrambling for yardage in 2017 vs. 2018 on. Was that simply maturation as a player, or a dogged determination to not scramble?

That said, though, I think it's clear that Johnson knew the offense much better than either Henderson or Reed (though the latter player apparently has been very quick on the uptake). But when the offense was so challenged in its execution, is that really an advantage in a vacuum?

I'm not sure there's a world in which Jimbo chooses one of the other two guys over Max, if for nothing else than that simple fact. That said, if I'm being completely honest, I do think Henderson might have been more effective, and who knows how Reed might have developed?

The biggest gripe about Max was that he was way too indecisive; that he failed to pull the trigger in key moments where he had a receiver open downfield. I think we saw from Henderson and especially Reed that they are not afraid to take those opportunities. The added dual-threat dimension would have helped the Aggies at several points this season as well.

I understand the calculus of putting Johnson out there, especially against Auburn given the game situation at that point. Then you only have a one-game buffer before Alabama rolls into town. I think the outcry would have been massive had Reed or Henderson been the pick at that point. In retrospect, however, I think if the Aggies had gone with one of those two guys instead, then the offense might have been more effective overall.

Next. link. 3 Takeaways for 2024 from Texas Bowl. dark