Go Long! The Best Deep Passers In 2018
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By Jon Becker
There are plenty of exciting things to observe during a game of football: long runs for touchdowns, long interception returns, and long field goal kicks, just to name a few. Seeing strength and stamina get pushed to its limits is fun! And so, I thought it’d be fun to revisit my colleague Mark Simon’s post from December on which quarterbacks performed the best on long passes, with the new season soon to come.
For our purposes, we’re referring to balls thrown at least 20 yards downfield, unless otherwise stated.
Who attempted the long pass the most?
As you’d expect, the leader was walking highlight reel and reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, who attempted 82 such passes. He didn’t lead by all that much, though, with Aaron Rodgers (78) of the Green Bay Packers and Ben Roethlisberger (77) of the Pittsburgh Steelers close behind. Here’s the top 10:
Who’s the most successful with them?
It takes a ton of arm strength to throw the long pass consistently; it might take even more precision to be successful with it consistently. 31 quarterbacks attempted at least 30 deep passes, but only 11 of them were at at least 40%–it’s obviously quite a bit harder to complete a long pass than a short one! The ageless New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees (52%) was the only field general to have more completions than incompletions on the deep ball. Here’s the top 10 of those 31 with at least 30 attempts:
Who was at the bottom of this list? The three with the lowest completion percentage on deep balls were Cam Newton (23.5%), Sam Darnold (23.6%) and Joe Flacco (25%).
Who threw the most catchable deep balls?
Our Video Scouts evaluate whether passes are thrown on-target. The leaderboard is similar to the completion percentage leaderboard with a few exceptions. Drew Brees (66%) and Jared Goff (64%) rank 1-2. Philip Rivers, who ranked No. 10 in completion percentage, moves to No. 3 in throwing catchable balls (63%). Case Keenum of the Washington Redskins, who ranked No. 18 in completion percentage, slots in at No. 4 (59%). Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan (59%) are No. 5 and 6.
Who Went The Deepest on Average?
In our closest competition yet, Prescott just barely edged out Roethlisberger in most yards per deep completion last season. Prescott averaged 41.67 yards per completion, whereas Roethlisberger was at 41.63 yards. Not far behind were Ryan Tannehill (39 Y/C) and Carson Wentz (38 Y/C).
Who Got the Best Results?
Roethlisberger narrowly missed being atop a couple of the above leaderboards, but he leads in perhaps the most important: touchdowns. Roethlisberger was alone at the top of the list with 11 touchdowns on deep passes, with Mahomes and Wilson one behind him. Roethlisberger did have three interceptions on such attempts, though; the only QB with a perfect ratio and at least 30 deep pass attempts was Rodgers, whose 8 touchdowns came without an interception.
Who Was Best Overall?
Roethlisberger would be a good choice, as would Mahomes or Rodgers. But our Total Points metric determines that Wilson was, in fact, the most valuable passer on deep balls. Here’s our Alex Vigderman explaining Total Points for QBs:
The core assumption of passing Points Earned is that each throw has a certain expected outcome based on information like the route, the depth, and the coverage. From that point, the passer and receiver split responsibility for how well they perform above that expectation. Throwing off-target passes and deserved interceptions (caught or not) will bury a signal-caller, while he will be rewarded for leading receivers to more yards after catch and making something out of a broken pocket.
Here’s every quarterback with a positive Points Earned on deep passes. Notice Big Ben’s placement: