By KYLE RODEMANN
Deep passes are true game changers for the teams completing them. Not only does that offense gain valuable field position, but chunk plays often lead to a shift in momentum. Even just the possibility of a deep throw makes the defense honest by forcing them to play their safeties deep. This can open things up for the offense in the run game and allow for short, easy, completions to receivers and tight ends. Which NFL Quarterbacks are the best at throwing the deep ball? This article will look to find out.
For our purposes, we’re referring to balls thrown at least 20 yards downfield, unless otherwise stated.
Most Deep Balls Attempted
A QB who is known as a risk taker will always keep a defense honest. That defense has to plan around the deep shots, leaving safeties back and loading the box at a lower rate. Which Quarterbacks have thrown deep the most so far in the 2020 season?
Tom Brady is leading the league in number of throws that travel at least 20 yards downfield. Joining Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay has made Brady more of a risk taker than he was last year with the Patriots. Last year, Brady ended the year 10th in the NFL in deep passes attempted with 61. He is on pace to demolish that number this year.
Aside from Brady, there are a couple of surprises on this list, such as Nick Foles and rookie Justin Herbert. Both players didn’t begin the season as starters, with Foles starting halfway through week 3 and Herbert making his first start in week 2.
Highest On-Target Percentage
It is one thing to attempt deep passes, it is a whole other thing to be accurate on deep passes. On-Target Percentage looks at the percentage of passes that should be caught by the receiver based on where the pass is placed. Below is a table of the season leaders in On-Target Percentage on deep balls so far during the 2020 season (minimum 10 deep pass attempts):
|Quarterback||On-Target % (Attempts)|
|Cam Newton||86% (14)|
|Kirk Cousins||71% (35)|
|Derek Carr||67% (27)|
|Ryan Fitzpatrick||67% (15)|
|Russell Wilson||62% (34)|
|Deshaun Watson||61% (23)|
|Aaron Rodgers||60% (45)|
Two names return from the first table: Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers. These two players not only take deep shots at a high rate, but they are accurate when they throw downfield. A surprising player leads the league in this category: Cam Newton, though we raise the small sample size alert here.
In 2018, the last time Newton started for the majority of the season, he was accurate on only 41% of his deep pass attempts.
Highest Touchdown Percentage
Touchdown percentage not only can tell you how successful a QB is at throwing deep, but also how successful their receivers are at finishing the explosive plays by scoring. These Quarterbacks throw a touchdown at the highest rate when throwing the ball 20 or more yards downfield (minimum 10 deep pass attempts):
|Quarterback||TD% (TDs Thrown)|
|Russell Wilson||21% (7)|
|Justin Herbert||20% (7)|
|Patrick Mahomes||19% (7)|
|Derek Carr||19% (5)|
|Ben Roethlisberger||17% (5)|
|Kyler Murray||16% (5)|
|Daniel Jones||16% (3)|
Russell Wilson has thrown a touchdown on 21% of his deep pass attempts. It helps when you’re throwing to D.K. Metcalf, but that percentage is still very impressive. Herbert makes his second appearance of the article with an impressive 20% touchdown rate, and Daniel Jones makes his first appearance by cashing in on 16% of his deep passes (although he has only thrown 3 such touchdowns). It will be interesting to see if these quarterbacks can continue scoring at such a high rate on these explosive plays.
Most Points Earned
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 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 his team win the most when throwing the deep ball.
Of the lists we’ve shown, this is the most important one. Check out the league leaders below:
Wilson once again proves just how dominant he is throwing the deep ball, but Aaron Rodgers top the list in Points earned with 24.5. You can see there is a large drop off from Derek Carr’s 18.9 to Kirk Cousins’ 13.8, which is notable given the fact that Carr has thrown eight fewer deep passes (27) than Cousins (35). Patrick Mahomes makes another list on this article, cementing his arm talent and ability to beat opponents deep.
Wilson, Mahomes, Carr, Rodgers, and Cousins are re the five quarterbacks who appear on at least three of the tables above. They are the premier quarterbacks when it comes to throwing the ball downfield. From attempts, to on-target percentage, to Points Earned, these quarterbacks are the ones to watch on Thursday, Sunday, or Monday if you are looking for the thrilling feeling of the ball traveling downfield.
Will these trends continue? Will these quarterbacks continue to dominate defenses by throwing the ball downfield? Check back at the end of the season to find out!