Evaluating The Downfield Aggression Of Quarterbacks

By JOHN SHIRLEY

Quarterbacks are often labeled by their propensity for taking risks down the field. Throw it deep often and you get labeled a “Gunslinger.” Throw it short and rely on your receivers to make plays and you get labeled a “Game Manager.”

These designations are usually only provided by anecdotal evidence and fans’ feelings towards different players. But, the underlying principle of analyzing quarterback aggression by using throw depth can be a useful tool when predicting certain quarterback metrics and playing styles.   

Throw depth has been shown to be a major driver in quarterback accuracy metrics and to be relatively stable year to year. Intuitively this makes perfect sense due to the fact that shorter throws are generally easier than throws down the field. This is why throw depth is a key factor in our metrics such as pComp and why average depth of target (ADoT) has been used to compare similarity between college quarterbacks.

Factoring throw depth into these types of analysis is extremely important, but using raw ADoT to evaluate a quarterback’s downfield aggression ignores the fact that all offensive schemes are not the same. Some offenses are predicated on a quick passing game, while others incorporate more field stretching concepts. This can skew ADoT in either direction and our view of certain quarterback’s downfield aggression.

In the NFL

By using ADoT +/- we can see which NFL quarterbacks were the most aggressive (the first five QBs listed on this leaderboard) and which were most conservative (the last five QBs) this past season.

2019 NFL Quarterbacks by ADoT +/- (Minimum 250 Attempts)

RankPlayerTeamADoTADoT +/-
1Ryan TannehillTitans9.51.6
2Matthew StaffordLions10.81.6
3Jameis WinstonBuccaneers10.41.4
4Dak PrescottCowboys9.40.9
5Baker MayfieldBrowns8.40.8
    
26Jimmy Garoppolo49ers6.5-0.6
27Tom BradyPatriots7.5-0.6
28Lamar JacksonRavens8.6-0.7
29Derek CarrRaiders6.6-1.2
30Drew BreesSaints6.5-1.4

This provides an interesting look at the new quarterback situation in Tampa Bay, as the Buccaneers’ previous starter, Jameis Winston, has consistently been among the league’s most aggressive passers and their new starter, Tom Brady, has consistently been among the league’s most conservative.  

It also provides nice examples of why ADoT can be misleading in AFC North quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson. These are two players who have very similar ADoT’s, with Mayfield averaging 8.4 yards and Jackson averaging 8.6. However, based on their downfield opportunities, Mayfield is the more aggressive passer, as his ADoT +/- is 1.5 yards higher. 

The 2020 Draft Class

The same analysis done in the NFL can also be done for college quarterback prospects. Shown here are the ADoT +/- numbers for the Top 10 quarterbacks in this year’s SIS Football Rookie Handbook.  

Top 10 SIS Football Rookie Handbook Quarterbacks by ADoT +/- 

PlayerSchoolADoTADoT +/-
Jordan LoveUtah State9.61.5
Jalen HurtsOklahoma10.61.3
Tua TagovailoaAlabama8.31.0
Justin HerbertOregon8.41.0
Jake FrommGeorgia9.70.9
Jacob EasonWashington8.70.5
Tyler HuntleyUtah8.40.3
Steven MontezColorado8.0-0.1
Joe BurrowLSU9.1-0.2
Anthony GordonWashington State6.7-1.2

This is one of the few times you will see LSU’s Joe Burrow near the bottom of a leader board. Although he had a relatively high ADoT, his almost even ADoT +/- suggests he was not airing it out or taking risks more than you would expect. The offense he was playing in simply called deeper routes on average. Not surprising considering LSU coaches could put their trust into one of the best offensive lines in the country, high-level NFL prospects at all skill positions, and a historically-accurate quarterback.

On opposite ends of the spectrum we have Utah State’s Jordan Love and Washington State’s Anthony Gordon. Love aired the ball out more than any other prospect. Though, this aggressive style for Love resulted in the worst On-Target% of the 17 quarterback prospects within the Rookie Handbook at 68%. Gordon was ultra-conservative within the Air Raid offense, which led to the fourth highest On-Target% in the Rookie Handbook at 80%.

One comment

  1. You wrote a post about the utility of ADOT+/- without ever explaining what it is, how to calculate, where to see it, or really, anything about it.

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