Who were the best quarterbacks throwing long passes in 2019?

By: Kyle Rodemann

The deep ball is one of the most exciting plays in the NFL. Momentum can change at the drop of a hat the instant the football leaves the quarterback’s hand. Some quarterbacks are known as deep ball throwers, and this was noted during Sunday’s NFC Wild Card game  when Cris Collinsworth stated that Russell Wilson is the best deep passer in the NFL during the game’s broadcast. Was he right? This article will answer that question.

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

The Precision Passers

Which quarterbacks are most accurate with their deep throws? The table below shows the players with the highest Catchable Percentage on passes that travel at least 20 yards down the field (minimum 30 attempts). This stat looks at the passes that should be caught by the receiver based on where the pass is placed. Keep track of the players on this list, and compare this list to the “gunslinger” table that follows.

QuarterbackCatchable %
Jimmy Garoppolo72%
Matt Ryan67%
Gardner Minshew60%
Drew Brees60%
Daniel Jones60%
Kirk Cousins59%
Carson Wentz/Baker Mayfield58%

 This list shows how dominant Jimmy Garoppolo has been when throwing the deep ball, throwing an accurate pass 72% of the time. Compare that to Jameis Winston’s 54%, and you can see why Winston was prone to interceptions.

In terms of who is completing deep passes most often, Garoppolo leads the league with a 59% completion percentage (19-of-32). He’s followed by Gardner Minshew (22-of-45, 49%), Patrick Mahomes (29-of-62, 47%), Drew Brees (14-of-30, 47%) and Dak Prescott (33-of-74, 45%). 

The Gunslingers

A “gunslinger” is a quarterback that takes chances downfield by taking deep shots to their receivers. These quarterbacks are notorious for throwing the deep ball. The 2019 season had plenty of these quarterbacks, with the top gunslinger being known as a risk-taker. Here are the 2019 deep ball attempt leaders:

QuarterbackNumber of Throws
Jameis Winston101
Aaron Rodgers88
Dak Prescott74
Philip Rivers73
Russell Wilson71
Carson Wentz69
Deshaun Watson67

Jameis Winston was a very aggressive quarterback in 2019. He threw 13 more deep balls than the second quarterback on the list, Aaron Rodgers. This comes as no surprise since Winston is known to chuck the ball deep to his top receivers, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Carson Wentz makes a surprise appearance on this list with 69 deep throws. This is a surprise considering most of his starting receivers were injured for a large part of the season. 

The Touchdown Machines

Touchdown percentage looks at the percentage of deep throws that result in a touchdown. The following list can help determine where negative regression is possible, as a high touchdown percentage is often unsustainable. Here is the table (minimum 30 attempts):

QuarterbackTD%
Jimmy Garoppolo22%
Patrick Mahomes19%
Daniel Jones17%
Kirk Cousins14%
Drew Brees13%
Lamar Jackson13%
Dak Prescott12%
Tom Brady12%

Garoppolo again leads this list of deep ball passers. He not only is throwing an accurate ball, but is finding success scoring touchdowns on such plays. Maybe this means Kyle Shanahan will draw up more shots for his quarterback in the postseason? Daniel Jones also makes it on his second list, showing that the rookie has a knack for throwing deep. Keep an eye on him in 2020.

The Most Impactful

Points Earned is one way to determine which quarterbacks have made the largest positive impact while throwing the deep ball. Here is a quick explanation of Points Earned, as written 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 deep ball. Check out the league leaders below:

QuarterbackPoints Earned
Russell Wilson31.4
Kirk Cousins28.0
Dak Prescott23.3
Gardner Minshew22.3
Jimmy Garoppolo22.1
Kyler Murray19.6
Patrick Mahomes18.6

Wilson rates best. His 31.4 points is three higher than Kirk Cousins’ 28.0 at number two. This stat shows how impactful Wilson has been on his deep throws.

Getting specific, Wilson was 30-of-71 (42%) with six touchdowns, two interceptions and 40 catchable throws (56% of throws were catchable). Wilson averaged just over 30 air yards per completion, which ranked second to Ryan Tannehill’s 31 among quarterbacks who completed at least 10 such passes.

Kyler Murray is a surprise name on this list. The exciting rookie has room to grow in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.

Conclusion

Collinsworth was right in this regard: Wilson is definitely the most impactful deep passer. But there are plenty of other quarterbacks right there with him, including a few who we’ll see this weekend in the Divisional Round. We’ll see which one comes out on top.

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