Which receivers are best at catching long passes?

By Kyle Rodemann

Deep threats can change how a defense plays a team. Instead of consistently loading the box to stop the run, safeties will have to play back to stop certain players from taking the top off the defense. There are certain receivers that excel at “going long.” These receivers are coveted by teams and often sought after. Players with rare speed are taken early in drafts even if they aren’t the best prospect at the position.

This holds true with receivers, as teams are always looking for those burners that can change the momentum of the game in one play. This article will dive into which receivers are excelling at corralling deep throws so far during the 2019 season.

For our purposes, we’re referring to balls thrown at least 20 yards downfield, unless otherwise stated.

The Opportunists

Receivers can’t do anything if their quarterback isn’t throwing them the ball. When a quarterback trusts their receiver, they are more likely to throw one deep in order to flip the field. There have been many deep balls thrown so far in 2019, but which receiver is targeted most downfield? The table below shows the highest targeted receivers on throws at least 20 yards downfield:

Receiver Deep Targets
Kenny Golladay 25
Mike Evans 21
Curtis Samuel 19
Keenan Allen 18
Amari Cooper 17
DJ Chark Jr. 17
Will Fuller V 17

Kenny Golladay leads the pack with a healthy 25 deep targets. Matthew Stafford chucks the ball downfield to Golladay on 35% of his targets! One receiver making a surprise appearance on this list is route-running technician Keenan Allen. He is normally seen as the safety net for Rivers, so it is surprising to see him on this list with 18 deep targets. Will Fuller V has seen 17 targets downfield even though he has missed part of the season due to injury. Look for his numbers to rise once he returns to the field.

Taking Advantage

Getting targets downfield is one thing, turning them into receptions is another. Some receivers excel at tracking the ball deep downfield, while others excel at winning 50/50 balls at the point of attack. Either style of play leads to receptions for chunk gains. The table below shows which receivers convert targets into receptions at the highest rate (minimum 10 deep targets):

Receiver Completion %
DJ Chark Jr. 65% (11-of-17)
Amari Cooper 65% (11-of-17)
Tyler Lockett 62% (8-of-13)
DK Metcalf 62% (8-of-13)
Larry Fitzgerald 60% (6-of-10)
Stefon Diggs 56% (9-of-16)
Allen Robinson 54% (7-of-13)

DJ Chark Jr. and Amari Cooper are tied for the lead, catching 64.7% of the deep balls thrown their way. It comes as no surprise, as both receivers are elite at creating separation deep downfield. It should come as no surprise that Russell Wilson found his way into our deep throw leaders article (which can be found here), seeing how two of his top receivers catch 61.5% of the throws he sends their way.

An interesting tidbit: while Allen has seen a large number of deep targets (18), he is actually last in completion percentage among receivers with at least 10 deep targets; he catches only 16.7% of those targets (3-of-18).

Helping the QB Look Good

A quarterback’s Rating can help put the success of a quarterback into a concrete number. This number can vary depending on the receiver that is targeted, and the depth of the target. Certain receivers help their quarterback by returning a high Rating when they are targeted on deep throws. The table below shows league leaders when receiving at least 10 deep throw targets:

Receiver Receiver Rating
DJ Chark Jr. 147.7
Amari Cooper 147.7
DK Metcalf 145.0
Demarcus Robinson 135.4
Adam Thielen 135.4
Tyreek Hill 132.6
Tyler Lockett 131.1

Chark Jr. and Cooper again lead the pack with a 147.7 Rec. Rating. This means the quarterback throwing them the ball has a Rating of 147.7 when throwing them the deep ball. Wilson’s top targets, Metcalf and Lockett, are again both found on this list. It also comes as no surprise that Allen has a Rec. Rating of 25, second to last among receivers with at least 10 deep ball targets.

The Most Impactful

Points Earned is one way to determine which receivers have made the largest positive impact while catching the deep ball. Here is a quick explanation of Points Earned, as written by Alex Vigderman:

The core assumption of receiving Points Earned is that each catch 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. Dropping a pass will bury a receiver, while making contested catches will result in a higher Points Earned.

A more in-depth explanation can be found here. This stat shows which receivers have helped their team win the most while catching the deep ball:

Receiver Points Earned
Kenny Golladay 16.0
Tyreek Hill 14.8
DJ Chark Jr. 14.7
Amari Cooper 10.1
Marquise Brown 9.9
Terry McLaurin 9.9
Mike Evans 8.9

Golladay has had the largest positive impact among receivers when catching the ball downfield, with 16 Points Earned. Chark Jr. and Amari Cooper find themselves in another table, solidifying how dominant they have been while going long. Marquise Brown and Terry McLaurin both make their first appearance on this table. Maybe this means their teams should be giving them more opportunities to catch deep bombs.

Conclusion

Successful field-stretching receivers are hard to come by. Those that excel at chasing down deep balls are nearly impossible to find. Chark Jr. and Cooper are two prime examples of receivers that are consistently targeted deep, and that consistently catch those deep targets.

Other receivers who perform well when going long, such as Brown and  McLaurin, aren’t afforded the chance to display their talent at a high enough rate to truly take advantage of the deep ball. It will be interesting to see if these teams continue their deep ball tendencies, and it will be interesting to see how these leaderboards change from now until the end of the season.

QB Leaderboards:

Here’s an updated look at how quarterbacks are faring in on-target percentage and completion percentage on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield.

Highest Catchable % – Passes 20+ Yards Downfield
Name Catchable % Attempts
Jacoby Brissett 74% 19
Jimmy Garoppolo 65% 23
Matt Ryan 63% 32
Kirk Cousin 62% 37
Deshaun Watson 62% 42
Gardner Minshew 62% 34
Aaron Rodgers 62% 52
Russell Wilson 61% 44
Daniel Jones 59% 32
Dak Prescott 58% 48
Highest Completion % – Passes 20+ Yards Downfield
Name Comp % Attempts
Russell Wilson 52% 44
Jimmy Garoppolo 52% 23
Tom Brady 51% 37
Gardner Minshew 50% 34
Dak Prescott 48% 48
Kirk Cousins 46% 37
Deshaun Watson 45% 42
Kyler Murray 43% 42
Patrick Mahomes 42% 42
Matthew Stafford 41% 54
Mitchell Trubisky 41% 27

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