Which QB is best at throwing the intermediate pass?

We’ve been writing about quarterbacks and long passes and receivers and long passes recently, so this week, we’re taking a look at another type of QB throw.

By Kyle Rodemann

Watching your team complete a 15-yard pass on 2nd-and-10 feels pretty good. The drive continues, the QB is looking sharp, and the chance to score increases. While most quarterbacks can make these kinds of throws in their sleep, some excel in certain categories when it comes to “intermediate passes.” This article will look into which QBs have excelled at these throws so far during the 2019 NFL season.

For our purposes, intermediate passes are balls that are thrown between 11 and 19 yards downfield, unless otherwise stated.

 Most Attempts

Some quarterbacks prefer to throw the deep ball, while others like to game manage and throw the ball closer to the line of scrimmage. Other QBs have the weapons and tools to attack defenses in the middle of the field, in-between the linebackers and the safeties.

Below is a table that displays which current starting quarterbacks have thrown the intermediate pass the most:

Quarterback Number of Throws
Jameis Winston 95
Jared Goff 95
Philip Rivers 94
Matt Ryan 71
Dak Prescott 68
Kyle Allen 67
Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz 66

Andy Dalton also belongs on this list, with 83 intermediate passes, but has been removed since he no longer starts in the NFL.

If there is one thing that all these quarterbacks have in common, besides their ability to attack the middle of the field, it’s the fact that they each have specific receivers that are chain-movers. The top three passers in this list enjoy throwing the ball to: Chris Godwin, Cooper Kupp, and Keenan Allen, respectively. With talent like that to throw to, it’s no wonder these QBs throw the intermediate ball so often.

Most Accurate

Just because a QB throws the intermediate pass the most, doesn’t necessarily mean they are the most accurate on those attempts. That’s a spoiler for this next table that looks at the highest Catchable Throw Percentage among QBs who throw the ball 11 to 19 yards down the field.

Check out the table below:

Quarterback Catchable Throw %
Dak Prescott 85% (58 of 68)
Aaron Rodgers 82% (37 of 45)
Derek Carr 81% (39 of 48)
Josh Allen 77% (46 of 60)
Ryan Fitzpatrick 75% (35 of 47)
Jimmy Garoppolo 74% (46 of 62)
Matt Ryan 73% (52 of 71)

Jameis Winston, leading the league in these pass attempts, doesn’t even make an appearance on this list. In fact, Winston is throwing an accurate ball on 72% of his intermediate throws, just missing the cut behind Matt Ryan’s 73%.

One surprise on this list is Josh Allen, who was seen as an inaccurate QB during his rookie season last year. Cole Beasley sure makes a difference and helped raise Allen’s Catchable Throw Percentage from 63% last season to 77% this season.

Highest IQR

“Independent Quarterback Rating” is a metric that removes blame on the quarterback when he does not deserve it. This means that when a pass is dropped, he will not be blamed and his IQR will be boosted. On the other hand, if an interception is dropped, he will be blamed and his IQR will take a hit.

The table below shows the highest IQR among QBs for intermediate passes:

Quarterback IQR
Derek Carr 135.8
Lamar Jackson 133.4
Patrick Mahomes 128.5
Ryan Fitzpatrick 123.8
Kirk Cousins 121.9
Aaron Rodgers 118.6
Drew Brees 114.3

Derek Carr tops the list of QBs in IQR on intermediate passes. He has been very accurate (81% Catchable Pass Percentage as seen above) and has made few mistakes (1 interception). Ryan Fitzpatrick makes his second appearance in this article with an impressive IQR of 123.8.

 Most Impactful

Points Earned is one way to determine which quarterbacks have made the largest positive impact while throwing the ball between 11 and 19 yards down the field. Here is a quick explanation of Points Earned, as explained by Alex Vigderman:

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.

A more in-depth explanation can be found here. This stat shows which quarterback has helped their team win the most while throwing the intermediate pass.

 Check out the league leaders below:

Quarterback Points Earned
Dak Prescott 35.9
Philip Rivers 35.5
Ryan Fitzpatrick 29.7
Derek Carr 27.9
Jameis Winston 26.7
Carson Wentz 25.1
Patrick Mahomes 25.0

 Prescott has added the most when throwing the intermediate pass. This is his third appearance in this article, making him one of the best passers in the league at throwing the ball 11 to 19 yards downfield. Fitzpatrick and Carr, two QBs who are seen as lower-end starters, also show their value when throwing this type of pass.

Conclusion

The intermediate pass is not always easy. It often comes with throwing over the linebacker and in front of the safety. Not all QBs are great at these passes. Prescott, Carr, and Fitzpatrick are three quarterbacks who excel at these throws. Look for these successful passers to continue attacking the middle of the field, targeting their talented receivers to help move the chains.

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