Stat Analysis
Advanced analytics on player and team performance

2019-20 Deep Ball Project

Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Guest column by John Kinsley

When it comes to the most exciting parts of football, few things can compare to the downfield pass. The simple act of quarterbacks launching the ball into the sky like a cannon can be downright mesmerizing at times, so it's no surprise that some of the most memorable plays of the 2019 season happened to be on deep throws.

When it comes to measuring a player's quality on these throws, people seem to be split. Some favor completion percentage, touchdowns, yards, or deep passer rating. All these uses are perfectly fine, but I wanted to know how accurate quarterbacks were on these plays.

As a result of these thoughts, I decided to create what I like to call The Deep Ball Project, which takes a look at the accuracy of quarterbacks on throws of 21-plus air yards past the line of scrimmage. Recently I released the sixth annual edition of the project, which covers the 2019 season (which you can check here and here), and for the third time Football Outsiders has kindly allowed me to write a follow-up.

For as long as I've written these articles, I've had various questions on what I consider to be an accurate deep pass, measured by Accuracy Percentage (which differentiates from the normally used completion percentage in that it looks the accuracy of throws regardless of whether they're caught or not). Obviously, straight-up drops are counted as accurate passes, which in turn boost the quarterback's accuracy percentage, but it doesn't stop there.

Certain sideline/back-shoulder plays where the receiver can't get two feet in bounds (with varying adjustments), most Hail Marys that reach the end zone, and certain plays where the pass was disrupted (depending on the effort from the receiver at the catch point) can also help boost a quarterback's accuracy percentage. Going further, I use Accurate Incompletions to label these plays.

On the flip side, Inaccurate Completions are counted on plays where the pass was completed but wasn't necessarily accurate. These include plays where the receiver was forced to make an unnecessary adjustment on the ball (See also: DeAndre Hopkins for the first four years of his career), but in the latest edition of the Deep Ball Project these were less frequent because I found fewer plays of this category. As a result, no quarterback has more than a few inaccurate completions from 2019.

A question I've gotten occasionally is how air yards fit into the equation on red zone plays. Any throw 20 yards or less from the end zone does not qualify. These are throws of 21-plus yards in the air past the line of scrimmage, including the beginning of the end zone.

As with last year's edition of the Deep Ball Project, accuracy on throws from the left, middle, and right areas of the field are included as stats, as are distances of the field (21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40, and 41-plus air yards); pressure splits (clean vs. pressure); open- and tight-window throws; air yards; and yards after the catch (YAC).

New to this year's edition are under center vs. shotgun; throws inside and outside the pocket; and throws against interior and edge pressure.

Keep in mind that more accurate deep passers aren't always better deep passers (and that there are numerous outliers in these projects, so certain quarterbacks don't have sustainable success on deep accuracy). Accuracy percentage docks for misses but doesn't grade poor throws, and decision-making isn't factored into it either. I use it because it's a more convenient metric for me to use than yards, touchdowns, completions, attempts, etc.

Lastly, throwaways and plays nullified by penalties are excluded from deep-pass charting.


League Averages

Let's dive right into the numbers behind the 2019-20 Deep Ball Project and how quarterbacks from last season fared. First, here's a look at the average of the numbers of each raw statistic in this year's Deep Ball Project.

2019 Deep Ball Project Totals
Stat Total Team
Average
Accurate Passes 712 22.3
Attemps 1492 46.6
ACC%   47.7%
Yards 20096 628.0
TD 152 4.75
INT 76 2.38
Air Yards 16278 508.7
YAC 3880 121.3

In this year's study, 12 out of 32 quarterbacks had an above-average accuracy percentage, meaning a higher rate than at least 47.7%. In comparison, 19 of 35 quarterbacks finished above average in the 2018-19 Deep Ball Project (which was 46.6%). The main reason the rate finished slightly higher this year is because three quarterbacks had an accuracy percentage of at least 60%, whereas only one reached that mark in the 2018-19 edition.

Most of the stat averages are about the same as well. Accurate passes (19.0 in 2018 to 22.3 in 2019), attempts (43.4 to 46.6), yards (627.1 to 628.0), touchdowns (4.54 to 4.75), interceptions (2.37 to 2.38), and YAC (124.3 to 121.3) reflect this, but there was a significant difference between 2018 and 2019 in air yards (477.7 to 508.7). One reason for this is that only two quarterbacks finished with over 800 air yards in 2018, while five managed to do that in 2019.


2019 Deep Ball Accuracy

Let's look at how everyone did in accuracy on all throws of 21-plus yards, ranked from first to last out of 32 quarterbacks.

2019 Deep Balls, Overall Accuracy
Name Team ACC ATT ACC%
Kyler Murray ARI 30 49 61.2%
Patrick Mahomes KC 37 61 60.7%
Deshaun Watson HOU 42 70 60.0%
Matt Ryan ATL 27 47 57.4%
Baker Mayfield CLE 32 58 55.2%
Dak Prescott DAL 29 53 54.7%
Gardner Minshew JAX 20 37 54.1%
Russell Wilson SEA 41 77 53.2%
Carson Wentz PHI 27 52 51.9%
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 14 27 51.9%
Kirk Cousins MIN 29 56 51.8%
Lamar Jackson BAL 24 47 51.1%
Derek Carr OAK 16 34 47.1%
Case Keenum WAS 8 17 47.1%
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 22 47 46.8%
Tom Brady NE 23 50 46.0%
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 21 46 45.7%
Philip Rivers LAC 28 62 45.2%
Matthew Stafford DET 19 43 44.2%
Jared Goff LAR 19 43 44.2%
Jameis Winston TB 37 84 44.0%
Aaron Rodgers GB 35 80 43.8%
Daniel Jones NYG 19 44 43.2%
Andy Dalton CIN 15 35 42.9%
Jacoby Brissett IND 12 28 42.9%
Sam Darnold NYJ 14 33 42.4%
Drew Brees NO 10 25 40.0%
Ryan Tannehill TEN 13 37 35.1%
Josh Allen BUF 19 57 33.3%
Joe Flacco DEN 7 21 33.3%
Mason Rudolph PIT 10 31 32.3%
Kyle Allen CAR 13 41 31.7%

There is a lot to digest from this chart, so let's tackle these rankings.

Yes, Kyler Murray, in his rookie season, was the most accurate deep passer in the 2019-20 Deep Ball Project. He was even more accurate than the top-ranked deep passer in 2018, which was Andrew Luck (60.0%). I'm not ready to confirm Murray as the best deep passer since he has one season in him, but he's off to a tremendous start.

Two quarterbacks from the 2017 draft class fill up the rest of the top three. Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were both incredible in deep accuracy, and Watson showed incredible improvement in this area, jumping from 18th in 2018 to third in 2019. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan finds himself in the top five once again; in spite of a shaky start to the season, his accuracy shined downfield.

Surprisingly, Baker Mayfield returned to the top five in deep accuracy even after a sophomore slump. He saw an increase in turnovers and his decision-making was worse, but 10 accurate incompletions from his receivers boosted his accuracy percentage. Perhaps a change with new head coach Kevin Stefanski will get him back on track after a 2019 Browns season riddled with problems sank a talented offense on paper.

Dak Prescott starts the bottom end of the top 10. His accuracy downfield was just 20th in 2018, but he found himself in much better shape this time around. God only knows how much better he'll be with CeeDee Lamb joining a group of receivers that already includes Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.

Kyler Murray wasn't the only rookie to find himself in the top 10, as Gardner Minshew came in at seventh in deep accuracy. His combination of mobility, deep passing, and an iconic moustache are enticing for a late Day 3 rookie, and Jacksonville appears to wisely be sticking with him to see what he can offer in 2020.

This does not mean I'd rather have Minshew as a deep passer over Russell Wilson, who would've ranked higher than eighth had it not been for a streaky second-half stretch. Even still, he's arguably the best deep passer in the league with an awe-inspiring play style, and at least his receivers didn't screw him over to the extent Carson Wentz's did. Eagles' fans' complaints of the receivers dropping everything coming their way were valid, as the corps forced 12 accurate incompletions, tied for the most in the 2019-20 Deep Ball Project. As you may have guessed, this helped benefit Wentz's accuracy percentage, and he finished ninth for the second consecutive season.

Jimmy Garoppolo didn't throw downfield as often as the other nine quarterbacks in the top 10, but at least it's not worse. Much like Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins is a polarizing quarterback who generates all sorts of opinions. I've never been a huge fan of his, but his accuracy was solid down the field in 2019, as he just missed the top 10.

Lamar Jackson's deep accuracy isn't consistently great just yet, but it's coming together for one of the league's most exciting players, and a sophomore leap from Marquise Brown should help. Derek Carr himself has been talked about as a quality deep passer, and there's no argument here as he landed 13th in accuracy.

It can't all be positive though. Jared Goff fell from eighth in deep accuracy in 2018 to tied for 19th in 2019. A worse performance from the offensive line contributed to his struggles, and it's not a good look for the player with the most guaranteed money in league history. Jameis Winston climbed from dead-last in 2018 to 21st in 2019, but it wasn't enough for him to keep his job in Tampa Bay. Fortunately for him, his LASIK surgery and landing spot with the Saints could prove useful for his football career.

Aaron Rodgers' spot at No. 22 is heavily inflated by arguably the worst performance of his career: a Week 17 slopfest against the Lions where he was only accurate on three of 14 passes of 21-plus air yards. Without that, his outlook on the chart would look significantly more in his favor. On the bright side, his fall wasn't as far as Drew Brees'. The New Orleans legend barely threw down the field, and when he did it was clear that something was off.

Considering the season he had, Ryan Tannehill's placement here is a surprise. He enjoyed some big plays off deep throws in 2019, so it's not like the year was a complete loss. Still, consistent accuracy wasn't there in my charting.

Josh Allen and Sam Darnold have much work to do in terms of deep accuracy, but they're further along than Kyle Allen, who finished dead last in the entire project. Allen's 31.7% accuracy percentage was even worse than Cam Newton's 37.9% mark in 2018, and this was with a stark contrast in health between the two.


Improvements and Declines

From last year's edition on Football Outsiders, you may recall a chart where I took a look at the splits between quarterbacks who appeared in the 2017 and 2018 Deep Ball Projects. This time, we're going to look at the accuracy splits of the 25 quarterbacks who appeared on the 2018 and 2019 editions. Any differentials that show up as green are positive, and those in red are negative.

2018 vs. 2019 Deep Ball Accuracy
Name Team 2018
ACC%
2019
ACC%
Diff
Jameis Winston TB 29.4% 44.1% +14.6%
Deshaun Watson HOU 46.7% 60.0% +13.3%
Dak Prescott DAL 45.8% 54.7% +8.9%
Tom Brady NE 37.5% 46.0% +8.5%
Sam Darnold NYJ 35.4% 42.4% +7.0%
Patrick Mahomes KC 54.3% 60.7% +6.3%
Case Keenum WAS 42.0% 47.1% +5.1%
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 42.3% 46.8% +4.5%
Ryan Tannehill TEN 31.3% 35.1% +3.9%
Matthew Stafford DET 40.9% 44.2% +3.3%
Kirk Cousins MIN 48.9% 51.8% +2.9%
Matt Ryan ATL 55.2% 57.4% +2.3%
Lamar Jackson BAL 50.0% 51.1% +1.1%
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 45.3% 45.7% +0.3%
Baker Mayfield CLE 54.9% 55.2% +0.3%
Carson Wentz PHI 52.8% 51.9% -0.9%
Derek Carr OAK 50.0% 47.1% -2.9%
Aaron Rodgers GB 47.1% 43.8% -3.4%
Andy Dalton CIN 46.4% 42.9% -3.6%
Joe Flacco DEN 37.1% 33.3% -3.8%
Russell Wilson SEA 59.0% 53.3% -5.8%
Josh Allen BUF 40.0% 33.3% -6.7%
Jared Goff LAR 52.8% 44.2% -8.6%
Philip Rivers LAC 53.9% 45.2% -8.7%
Drew Brees NO 52.1% 40.0% -12.1%

Starting from the top, Jameis Winston took a step in the right direction with the highest accuracy percentage differential. His deep accuracy still wasn't particularly good, but at least it wasn't an absolute trainwreck like it was in 2018.

Deshaun Watson finished with the second-highest differential. In general, his 2019 season was a lot of fun to watch, and it was a joy to watch him sling the ball downfield. Dak Prescott also showed significant improvement in 2019, as did Tom Brady, who did well in accuracy considering his age.

Less successful was Drew Brees, who had the worst differential of any quarterback here. It's not realistic to expect a player in his early 40s to sustain a good level of success as a deep passer, and Brees clearly had another quality year anyway, but it is disappointing to see a normally fantastic player in this category show decline. Even more glaring is that Michael Thomas, in the midst of a career year, was only targeted on three passes of 21-plus air yards.

Keep in mind that negative differentials aren't necessarily bad. For instance, while Carson Wentz had a negative differential between 2018 and 2019, he still finished with the same accuracy ranking as he had in 2018. Similarly, Russell Wilson dropped from second in deep accuracy in 2018 to eighth, which is still really damn good. The opposite is also true for certain players with positive differentials. Sam Darnold and Ryan Tannehill both finished low in accuracy in spite of an increase from 2018 to 2019.


Distance

For the next segment, let's take a look at distance splits. Last year, we used accuracy splits of 21-30 and 31-plus air yards, so we'll do the same here.

2019 Deep Balls by Distance
    21-30 Yards 31-plus Yards
Name Team ACC ATT ACC% ACC ATT ACC%
Dak Prescott DAL 22 30 73.3% 7 23 30.4%
Patrick Mahomes KC 24 35 68.6% 13 26 50.0%
Matt Ryan ATL 19 29 65.5% 8 18 44.4%
Case Keenum WAS 7 11 63.6% 1 6 16.7%
Deshaun Watson HOU 22 36 61.1% 20 34 58.8%
Sam Darnold NYJ 11 18 61.1% 6 15 40.0%
Tom Brady NE 18 31 58.1% 5 19 26.3%
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 11 19 57.9% 3 8 37.5%
Baker Mayfield CLE 19 34 55.9% 13 22 59.1%
Andy Dalton CIN 11 20 55.0% 4 15 26.7%
Kyle Allen CAR 11 20 55.0% 2 21 9.5%
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 17 31 54.8% 4 15 26.7%
Gardner Minshew JAX 14 26 53.8% 6 13 46.2%
Jacoby Brissett IND 7 13 53.8% 5 15 33.3%
Carson Wentz PHI 17 32 53.1% 10 20 50.0%
Kirk Cousins MIN 17 32 53.1% 12 24 50.0%
Russell Wilson SEA 25 48 52.1% 16 29 55.2%
Kyler Murray ARI 18 35 51.4% 12 14 85.7%
Lamar Jackson BAL 14 28 50.0% 10 19 52.6%
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 14 29 48.3% 8 18 44.4%
Jameis Winston TB 22 46 47.8% 15 38 39.5%
Jared Goff LAR 16 34 47.1% 3 9 33.3%
Aaron Rodgers GB 18 40 45.0% 17 40 42.5%
Drew Brees NO 9 20 45.0% 1 5 20.0%
Philip Rivers LAC 15 34 44.1% 13 28 46.4%
Josh Allen BUF 13 30 43.3% 6 27 22.2%
Daniel Jones NYG 12 28 42.9% 7 16 43.8%
Derek Carr OAK 10 24 41.7% 6 10 60.0%
Matthew Stafford DET 10 27 37.0% 9 16 56.3%
Ryan Tannehill TEN 6 17 35.3% 7 20 35.0%
Mason Rudolph PIT 4 13 30.8% 6 18 33.3%
Joe Flacco DEN 4 15 26.7% 3 6 50.0%

Yes, Drew Brees only threw five passes of 31-plus yards. Missing five games to injury affected this area as well, but it says a lot about the style of passing the Saints offense has assumed with an aging quarterback. Compare this to guys like Aaron Rodgers and Jameis Winston, who had 38 and 40 attempts, respectively.

While Kyler Murray wasn't fantastic throwing between 21 and 30 yards, he was sensational past 31-plus, with the highest accuracy percentage in this split (and it wasn't even close, though some might be less impressed with his 14 attempts here). Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson was the only quarterback to finish in the top five in both; he was joined by Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield as the only quarterbacks inside the top 10 of both. Also joining the top 10 between 21 and 30 is Gardner Minshew, who was quite promising in that area.

There's a significant contrast in Dak Prescott's splits here; His accuracy past 31-plus yards was lacking, but he was the most accurate passer between 21 and 30 air yards. The opposite was true for Derek Carr; he was only 28th between 21 and 30 yards, but was the second most accurate passer in the 31-plus category. Matt Ryan (who finished third between 21 and 30) was seen as having a noodle arm when throwing the ball significantly far down the field, though it wasn't all bad as he finished 14th on throws of 31-plus.

Matthew Stafford tied for 19th in overall accuracy, but his placement in the 2019-20 Deep Ball Project is a little misleading. His consistent accuracy couldn't meet the standards of guys like Mahomes or Watson, but in an offense that prioritized more downfield throws, he had one of the best seasons of his career. This is evidenced by the fact that he was fifth in accuracy on throws of 31-plus yards.

Case Keenum is in the project instead of Dwayne Haskins because he had more deep passing attempts. Still, no one's gonna be that impressed by his top-five ranking in throws of 21 to 30 yards considering he only threw 11 passes in that range. On the other hand, Tom Brady was seventh in the same area, and Kyle Allen (surprisingly) finished tied for 10th.


By Direction

Next, let's take a look at how each quarterback fared throwing to the left, middle, and right areas of the field.

2019 Deep Balls by Direction
    Left Middle Right
Name Team ACC ATT ACC% ACC ATT ACC% ACC ATT ACC%
Case Keenum WAS 5 6 83.3% 2 5 40.0% 1 6 16.7%
Carson Wentz PHI 19 24 79.2% 1 6 16.7% 7 22 31.8%
Matt Ryan ATL 9 13 69.2% 6 11 54.5% 12 12 100.0%
Deshaun Watson HOU 22 32 68.8% 6 13 46.2% 14 25 56.0%
Kyler Murray ARI 10 15 66.7% 8 12 66.7% 12 22 54.5%
Patrick Mahomes KC 13 20 65.0% 6 10 60.0% 18 31 58.1%
Jameis Winston TB 13 20 65.0% 6 10 60.0% 18 31 58.1%
Dak Prescott DAL 11 17 64.7% 8 14 57.1% 10 22 45.5%
Derek Carr OAK 9 15 60.0% 3 6 50.0% 4 13 30.8%
Tom Brady NE 10 18 55.6% 2 11 18.2% 11 21 52.4%
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 10 18 55.6% 2 8 25.0% 9 20 45.0%
Andy Dalton CIN 10 18 55.6% 3 8 37.5% 2 9 22.2%
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 13 24 54.2% 3 7 42.9% 6 16 37.5%
Baker Mayfield CLE 11 21 52.4% 5 8 62.5% 16 29 55.2%
Russell Wilson SEA 19 37 51.4% 9 15 60.0% 13 25 52.0%
Kirk Cousins MIN 10 21 47.6% 5 9 55.6% 14 26 53.8%
Philip Rivers LAC 14 30 46.7% 3 9 33.3% 11 23 47.8%
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 6 13 46.2% 4 6 66.7% 4 8 50.0%
Drew Brees NO 5 11 45.5% 1 6 16.7% 4 8 50.0%
Jared Goff LAR 9 20 45.0% 2 4 50.0% 8 19 42.1%
Gardner Minshew JAX 8 18 44.4% 2 5 40.0% 10 14 71.4%
Lamar Jackson BAL 7 16 43.8% 5 13 38.5% 12 18 66.7%
Matthew Stafford DET 6 14 42.9% 5 9 55.6% 8 20 40.0%
Mason Rudolph PIT 6 14 42.9% 2 5 40.0% 2 12 16.7%
Daniel Jones NYG 8 19 42.1% 4 7 57.1% 7 18 38.9%
Josh Allen BUF 6 16 37.5% 1 13 7.7% 12 28 42.9%
Aaron Rodgers GB 12 33 36.4% 6 16 37.5% 17 31 54.8%
Kyle Allen CAR 7 22 31.8% 0 4 0.0% 6 15 40.0%
Sam Darnold NYJ 3 10 30.0% 1 5 20.0% 10 18 55.6%
Ryan Tannehill TEN 4 14 28.6% 6 7 85.7% 3 16 18.8%
Joe Flacco DEN 2 8 25.0% 2 3 66.7% 3 10 30.0%
Jacoby Brissett IND 2 9 22.2% 1 3 33.3% 9 16 56.3%

Every stat Case Keenum appears in this article is without much of a sample size, but since he had more deep passing attempts than Dwayne Haskins, he's here. That said, while he finished first on throws to the left, he only threw six passes, so take that with a grain of salt. Contrarily, Carson Wentz finished second in accuracy to the left with 24 attempts. (Oddly enough, his accuracy didn't come close to that when throwing to the middle or to the right). Mitchell Trubisky also tied for ninth in this area, so comprehend that however you can.

Ryan Tannehill was the most accurate passer throwing deep passes to the middle of the field, and though he threw just seven passes, no quarterback had more than 16 attempts (Aaron Rodgers) to this area. Three quarterbacks (Kyler Murray, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Joe Flacco) tied for second, but it's Murray with the highest sample size of the three.

On throws to the right, Gardner Minshew led the pack, one spot ahead of Lamar Jackson. Patrick Mahomes threw almost as many attempts as Minshew and Jackson combined and still managed to come in at third. No quarterback finished in the top five in accuracy in all three areas, but Murray and Mahomes were in the proximity of doing so.


Shotgun vs. Under Center

Next, let's look at accuracy splits throwing under center and in the shotgun.

2019 Deep Balls, Under Center vs. Shotgun
    Under Center Shotgun
Name Team ACC ATT ACC% ACC ATT ACC%
Deshaun Watson HOU 15 19 78.9% 27 51 52.9%
Russell Wilson SEA 7 9 77.8% 34 68 50.0%
Gardner Minshew JAX 6 8 75.0% 14 29 48.3%
Baker Mayfield CLE 10 14 71.4% 22 44 50.0%
Philip Rivers LAC 7 10 70.0% 21 52 40.4%
Jacoby Brissett IND 2 3 66.7% 10 25 40.0%
Jameis Winston TB 19 29 65.5% 18 55 32.7%
Matt Ryan ATL 11 19 57.9% 16 28 57.1%
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 4 7 57.1% 17 39 43.6%
Carson Wentz PHI 6 11 54.5% 21 41 51.2%
Matthew Stafford DET 8 15 53.3% 11 28 39.3%
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 6 12 50.0% 8 15 53.3%
Kirk Cousins MIN 10 20 50.0% 19 36 52.8%
Aaron Rodgers GB 9 19 47.4% 26 61 42.6%
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 5 11 45.5% 17 36 47.2%
Case Keenum WAS 4 9 44.4% 4 8 50.0%
Drew Brees NO 3 7 42.9% 7 18 38.9%
Derek Carr OAK 3 8 37.5% 13 26 50.0%
Andy Dalton CIN 3 8 37.5% 12 27 44.4%
Dak Prescott DAL 4 11 36.4% 25 42 59.5%
Ryan Tannehill TEN 4 11 36.4% 9 26 34.6%
Patrick Mahomes KC 2 6 33.3% 35 55 63.6%
Sam Darnold NYJ 4 12 33.3% 10 21 47.6%
Joe Flacco DEN 3 9 33.3% 4 12 33.3%
Mason Rudolph PIT 2 6 33.3% 10 25 40.0%
Daniel Jones NYG 1 4 25.0% 18 40 45.0%
Josh Allen BUF 3 12 25.0% 16 45 35.6%
Kyle Allen CAR 2 8 25.0% 11 33 33.3%
Jared Goff LAR 3 13 23.1% 16 30 53.3%
Tom Brady NE 2 11 18.2% 21 39 53.8%
Kyler Murray ARI 0 3 0.0% 30 46 65.2%
Lamar Jackson BAL 0 1 0.0% 24 46 52.2%

Deshaun Watson ranking No. 1 in deep accuracy under center is kind of a big deal considering there were questions about his ability to play under center coming out of college; he also remained in the top 10 passing from the shotgun. Just behind him were Russell Wilson and Gardner Minshew, who finished second and third under center respectively.

Certain quarterbacks rarely threw under center, so their rankings here are meaningless. Most notably, this includes Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray; the two of them ranked low in accuracy in this area, but they combined for only four passes. Murray was the most accurate deep passer from the shotgun, while Jackson ranked 10th. (Jackson's season was interesting because a good portion of his passes were from the pistol, a similar formation to the shotgun.)

Speaking of shotgun, Patrick Mahomes ranked second in this category, and guys like Dak Prescott and Matt Ryanfared well here, scooching inside the top five. Tom Brady's deep accuracy from the shotgun was also great, as he finished fifth. Jameis Winston was the least accurate deep passer in this area, but he finished seventh under center.


In vs. Out of Pocket

Now let's transition to inside and outside the pocket.

2019 Deep Balls, In and Out of Pocket
    Inside The Pocket Outside The Pocket
Name Team ACC ATT ACC% ACC ATT ACC%
Kyler Murray ARI 25 39 64.1% 5 10 50.0%
Patrick Mahomes KC 31 51 60.8% 6 10 60.0%
Deshaun Watson HOU 35 60 58.3% 7 10 70.0%
Matt Ryan ATL 25 43 58.1% 2 4 50.0%
Baker Mayfield CLE 28 50 56.0% 4 4 100.0%
Gardner Minshew JAX 20 36 55.6% 1 1 100.0%
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 14 27 51.9% N/A N/A N/A
Lamar Jackson BAL 22 43 51.2% 2 4 50.0%
Russell Wilson SEA 32 63 50.8% 9 14 64.3%
Carson Wentz PHI 23 47 48.9% 4 5 80.0%
Derek Carr OAK 16 33 48.5% 0 1 0.0%
Dak Prescott DAL 25 52 48.1% 1 1 100.0%
Kirk Cousins MIN 24 50 48.0% 5 6 83.3%
Tom Brady NE 23 48 47.9% 0 2 0.0%
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 21 45 46.7% 1 2 50.0%
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 19 42 45.2% 2 4 50.0%
Daniel Jones NYG 19 42 45.2% 0 2 0.0%
Aaron Rodgers GB 31 70 44.3% 4 10 40.0%
Andy Dalton CIN 15 34 44.1% 0 1 0.0%
Matthew Stafford DET 18 41 43.9% 1 2 50.0%
Case Keenum WAS 7 16 43.8% 1 1 100.0%
Philip Rivers LAC 26 60 43.3% 1 2 50.0%
Jared Goff LAR 18 42 42.9% 1 1 100.0%
Jameis Winston TB 33 77 42.9% 4 7 57.1%
Jacoby Brissett IND 9 22 40.9% 3 6 50.0%
Sam Darnold NYJ 9 22 40.9% 12 29 41.4%
Drew Brees NO 9 24 37.5% 1 1 100.0%
Ryan Tannehill TEN 13 35 37.1% 0 2 0.0%
Joe Flacco DEN 7 19 36.8% 0 2 0.0%
Kyle Allen CAR 13 38 34.2% 0 3 0.0%
Mason Rudolph PIT 10 31 32.3% N/A N/A N/A
Josh Allen BUF 14 48 29.2% 5 9 55.6%

This is tricky because while four quarterbacks technically tied for first in accuracy outside the pocket, Kirk Cousins, who finished fifth, had a higher sample size than those four quarterbacks combined. In other words, the data is extremely unreliable for the top four. Jimmy Garoppolo and Mason Rudolph were the only two quarterbacks to have zero attempts outside the pocket.

Obviously, the more mobile quarterbacks have more of a sample size of plays outside the pocket, but this is yet another category where Kyler Murray ranked No. 1 in accuracy. In fact, the seven most accurate deep passers from this year's project are in the exact same order in this category.

This was one area where Josh Allen really struggled with precision, as he was the least accurate quarterback inside the pocket, the only quarterback under 30%. His accuracy outside the pocket was much better, however. Inside the pocket was also an area where Lamar Jackson fared better than outside, ranking ninth and 12th respectfully.


Pressure

Next let's look at arguably the most important part of playing quarterback: playing under pressure. The stats we'll use here are Clean (or Without Pressure), Pressure, Interior Pressure, and Edge Pressure.

2019 Deep Balls With and Without Pressure
    Clean Pressure
Name Team ACC ATT ACC% ACC ATT ACC%
Baker Mayfield CLE 26 41 63.4% 6 17 35.3%
Patrick Mahomes KC 23 37 62.2% 14 24 58.3%
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 12 20 60.0% 2 7 28.6%
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 16 27 59.3% 6 20 30.0%
Deshaun Watson HOU 27 46 58.7% 15 24 62.5%
Gardner Minshew JAX 15 27 55.6% 5 10 50.0%
Kyler Murray ARI 17 31 54.8% 14 18 77.8%
Matt Ryan ATL 17 31 54.8% 10 16 62.5%
Dak Prescott DAL 22 41 53.7% 7 12 58.3%
Carson Wentz PHI 21 40 52.5% 6 12 50.0%
Kirk Cousins MIN 23 44 52.3% 6 12 50.0%
Tom Brady NE 22 43 51.2% 1 7 14.3%
Case Keenum WAS 6 12 50.0% 2 5 40.0%
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 17 34 50.0% 4 12 33.3%
Matthew Stafford DET 16 32 50.0% 3 11 27.3%
Jameis Winston TB 22 45 48.9% 15 39 38.5%
Jared Goff LAR 16 33 48.5% 3 10 30.0%
Russell Wilson SEA 26 54 48.1% 15 23 65.2%
Lamar Jackson BAL 18 38 47.4% 6 9 66.7%
Joe Flacco DEN 7 15 46.7% 0 6 0.0%
Derek Carr OAK 13 28 46.4% 3 6 50.0%
Drew Brees NO 10 22 45.5% 0 3 0.0%
Aaron Rodgers GB 29 64 45.3% 6 16 37.5%
Daniel Jones NYG 12 28 42.9% 7 16 43.8%
Ryan Tannehill TEN 12 28 42.9% 1 9 11.1%
Andy Dalton CIN 12 29 41.4% 3 6 50.0%
Sam Darnold NYJ 9 22 40.9% 5 11 45.5%
Jacoby Brissett IND 7 18 38.9% 5 10 50.0%
Kyle Allen CAR 12 31 38.7% 1 10 10.0%
Philip Rivers LAC 12 33 36.4% 16 29 55.2%
Josh Allen BUF 12 38 31.6% 7 19 36.8%
Mason Rudolph PIT 8 27 29.6% 2 4 50.0%

One player that comes to mind when contrasting accuracy with and without pressure is Baker Mayfield. In his sophomore season he was the most accurate deep passer without pressure, but with pressure his accuracy fell to 22nd. On the other hand, quarterbacks such as Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, and Philip Rivers fared much better in the rankings under pressure than they did without.

Not only was Kyler Murray the most accurate deep passer under pressure, he was the most accurate by a significant margin (77.8% compared to second-place Lamar Jackson at 66.7%). It just goes to show how incredible Murray's accuracy was under duress behind an offensive line that certainly gave him enough practice.

2019 Deep Balls, Interior vs. Edge Pressure
    Interior Pressure Edge Pressure
Name Team ACC ATT ACC% ACC ATT ACC%
Deshaun Watson HOU 4 5 80.0% 11 19 57.9%
Russell Wilson SEA 10 13 76.9% 5 10 50.0%
Jacoby Brissett IND 5 7 71.4% 0 3 0.0%
Andy Dalton CIN 2 3 66.7% 1 3 33.3%
Lamar Jackson BAL 4 6 66.7% 2 3 66.7%
Jameis Winston TB 7 11 63.6% 8 28 28.6%
Patrick Mahomes KC 6 10 60.0% 8 14 57.1%
Matt Ryan ATL 7 12 58.3% 3 4 75.0%
Kyler Murray ARI 4 7 57.1% 10 11 90.9%
Gardner Minshew JAX 4 8 50.0% 1 2 50.0%
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 1 2 50.0% 3 10 30.0%
Aaron Rodgers GB 3 6 50.0% 3 10 30.0%
Derek Carr OAK 2 4 50.0% 1 2 50.0%
Philip Rivers LAC 7 15 46.7% 9 14 64.3%
Carson Wentz PHI 4 9 44.4% 2 3 66.7%
Kirk Cousins MIN 3 8 37.5% 3 4 75.0%
Josh Allen BUF 5 14 35.7% 2 5 40.0%
Baker Mayfield CLE 1 3 33.3% 5 14 35.7%
Case Keenum WAS 1 3 33.3% 1 2 50.0%
Dak Prescott DAL 1 4 25.0% 6 8 75.0%
Tom Brady NE 1 4 25.0% 0 3 0.0%
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 1 4 25.0% 1 3 33.3%
Jared Goff LAR 1 4 25.0% 2 6 33.3%
Matthew Stafford DET 1 4 25.0% 2 7 28.6%
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 2 9 22.2% 4 11 36.4%
Kyle Allen CAR 1 5 20.0% 0 5 0.0%
Sam Darnold NYJ 1 5 20.0% 4 6 66.7%
Daniel Jones NYG 1 8 12.5% 6 8 75.0%
Drew Brees NO 0 3 0.0% N/A N/A N/A
Ryan Tannehill TEN 0 5 0.0% 1 4 25.0%
Mason Rudolph PIT 0 1 0.0% 2 3 66.7%
Joe Flacco DEN 0 4 0.0% 0 2 0.0%

In terms of play against interior pressure, Deshaun Watson was the most accurate deep passer (though with only three attempts). A much larger sample comes from Russell Wilson, in second place with 10 accurate passes on 13 attempts. Lamar Jackson, who was the second-most accurate deep passer under pressure, was also the fourth-most accurate under interior pressure, while Jacoby Brissett was a pleasant surprise at No. 3.

Yet again, Kyler Murray leads another stat, this time in deep accuracy against edge pressure. No one was close to touching his 90.9% accuracy rate, though fellow rookie Daniel Jones impressed by tying for second with the largest sample size of the three quarterbacks that finished in that same spot. If you needed any indication as to why the Buccaneers drafted tackle Tristan Wirfs, consider that Jameis Winston faced edge pressure on 28 of his deep attempts (Watson was second with 19).


Open and Tight Windows

Finally, let's look at open-window and tight-window passing. Open-window throws essentially include plays where the receivers provided clear separation and more room for error for the quarterback, whereas tight-window throws include plays with extremely tight coverage without much in the way of separation.

2019 Deep Balls, Open and Tight Windows
    Open Windows Tight Windows
Name Team ACC ATT ACC% ACC ATT ACC%
Patrick Mahomes KC 28 32 87.5% 9 29 31.0%
Baker Mayfield CLE 19 22 86.4% 13 36 36.1%
Matthew Stafford DET 12 14 85.7% 7 29 24.1%
Deshaun Watson HOU 23 27 85.2% 19 43 44.2%
Gardner Minshew JAX 9 11 81.8% 11 26 42.3%
Kyler Murray ARI 16 20 80.0% 14 29 48.3%
Jacoby Brissett IND 7 9 77.8% 5 19 26.3%
Carson Wentz PHI 18 24 75.0% 9 28 32.1%
Dak Prescott DAL 15 21 71.4% 14 32 43.8%
Tom Brady NE 12 17 70.6% 11 33 33.3%
Case Keenum WAS 7 10 70.0% 1 7 14.3%
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 10 15 66.7% 11 31 35.5%
Russell Wilson SEA 16 24 66.7% 25 53 47.2%
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 10 15 66.7% 12 32 37.5%
Joe Flacco DEN 4 6 66.7% 3 15 20.0%
Aaron Rodgers GB 19 29 65.5% 16 51 31.4%
Philip Rivers LAC 15 23 65.2% 13 39 33.3%
Sam Darnold NYJ 9 14 64.3% 5 19 26.3%
Derek Carr OAK 9 14 64.3% 7 20 35.0%
Kirk Cousins MIN 15 24 62.5% 14 32 43.8%
Matt Ryan ATL 16 26 61.5% 11 21 52.4%
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 11 18 61.1% 3 9 33.3%
Daniel Jones NYG 11 18 61.1% 8 26 30.8%
Lamar Jackson BAL 10 17 58.8% 14 30 46.7%
Ryan Tannehill TEN 7 12 58.3% 6 25 24.0%
Jameis Winston TB 18 32 56.3% 19 52 36.5%
Andy Dalton CIN 10 18 55.6% 5 17 29.4%
Drew Brees NO 6 11 54.5% 4 14 28.6%
Josh Allen BUF 13 24 54.2% 6 33 18.2%
Jared Goff LAR 11 21 52.4% 8 22 36.4%
Mason Rudolph PIT 5 11 45.5% 5 20 25.0%
Kyle Allen CAR 5 15 33.3% 8 26 30.8%

No surprise that the league's best quarterback ranked first in deep throws to open receivers. Patrick Mahomes just barely finished ahead of second-place Baker Mayfield, who finished a hair above third-place Matthew Stafford. Not far behind is Deshaun Watson at fourth, and other quality deep passers such as Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz finished inside the top 10 as well.

Somehow, this was a stat where Kyle Allen exceeded expectations, but in the worst way possible. Not only was Allen the least accurate deep passer to open receivers, he was the least accurate by a long shot, being the only quarterback to fail to reach a 45% accuracy rate. Mason Rudolph was also quite bad; he was the only other passer with an accurate rate under 50% on open-window throws.

Tight-window throws are where this gets a little more interesting. While Carson Wentz ranked much lower than expected, I don't think throwing to receivers who offered extremely little in the way of separation gave him any favors. Hopefully the addition of rookie Jalen Reagor and the return of DeSean Jackson help fix that. Patrick Mahomessurprisingly finished 19th in this area, though playing hurt for a good portion of the season clearly had an effect on him.

Matt Ryan was the most accurate deep passer into tight windows, with the help of someone as great as Julio Jones. Kyler Murray finished second in this area, proving the quality of his season as a deep passer wasn't just the product of many open looks. The top two MVP candidates, Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson, also finished inside the top four, and Deshaun Watson was the only quarterback to finish in the top five in accuracy in both open- and tight-window throws.

While Case Keenum finished as the least accurate tight-window passer, second-to-last Josh Allen with a much larger sample. Allen has been the target of heavy criticism for his accuracy, especially his deep passing, but the addition of Stefon Diggs will hopefully alleviate some of his accuracy woes. On the other hand, Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott both excelled here, as the two tied for sixth in accuracy.

John Kinsley writes for Dynasty League Football. He also covers the Panthers for The Riot Report, the 49ers for 49ers Hub, and the Dolphins for The Phinsider.

Comments

29 comments, Last at 17 Jun 2020, 9:38am

1 With and Without Pressure…

With and Without Pressure stats are the most interesting, to me.

Given a clean pocket, professional QBs are - surprise, surprise! - pretty accurate throwers.

Those under pressure stats, on the other hand, match in many ways the "eye test" of top quality throwers versus journeymen.

Not that this stat can't be misleading in it's own right.  For starters, sample sizes are pretty small in some instances.  Then there's also QB behaviour.  For example, how many of Brady's 7 "under pressure" deep ball throws were actually throw aways to avoid a sack, launched in the general vicinity of somewhere where football is occasionally played, regardless of the presence of any current football players? (Cue "my guy ran the wrong route".) 

Such factors aside, I think it's this With Pressure stat that really tells the story of who are the most dangerous deep ball throwers in the NFL.

4 Kyler Murray.

This confirms that Murray had a great year, especially considering how bad the O-line was.

Look for a near MVP type year with better weapons and more experience.

Also, who would have thought Brees would have been so poor in long passing attempts?  Even NO fans probably wouldn't have noticed that.

The trend seems to be that Murray, Maholmes and Watson are the top 3.  Bodes well for Murray going forward.

6 I only really get to watch…

In reply to by DIVISION

I only really get to watch the Saints when they're in primetime or the late afternoon slot, but I've thought it's pretty clear that Brees can barely throw downfield at this point, and that the Saints basically don't ask him to. I'm glad to see charting stats confirm that I'm not just seeing things, or that it's not confirmation bias, etc.

Brees deserves tremendous credit though for maintaining remarkable accuracy and timing on the throws he does still make. Like, Peyton Manning is possibly the greatest QB of all time, but when his arm was shot he was bad to all areas of the field.

10 It would be interesting to…

It would be interesting to look at the velocity+accuracy stats for Manning pre-neck surgery, post-neck surgery, and after the leg injuries in 2014-2015 (torn quad, torn plantar fascia) that finished him.

14 Brees' deep ball

I wonder if his injury had anything to do with it. It would be pretty hard to tell, since he was injured early in week 2--he would have had only a couple of attempts in week 1, so small sample size and all. My worry--and that of many Saints fans--is that I seem to remember the misses being underthrows--which means that his arm strength is going. However, since like Manning, Brady, and others, his accuracy and knowledge is more important than his arm strength, we will see if it really affects him this year. It could be that allowing his hand to completely heal or (more likely) his brain knowing and trusting that his hand is completely healed will allow him to be more accurate on those deep passes. They aren't really a feature of the Saints game plan, anyway--but those 10-20 yard passes to Michael Thomas are.

28 maybe I'm remembering it…

maybe I'm remembering it wrong, but I thought the crazy MNF game against the Texans from week one involved him hitting some deep shots (Texans scored to take the lead with virtually no time left, then the Saints somehow got in field goal range at the gun- a kind of comeback I hardly ever remember seeing until fairly recently, but seems a lot more common nowadays;  same thing happened to the Seahawks against the Falcons in Russell Wilson's rookie season, and almost happened with Mahomes against the Pats in the AFC title game last season).  Regardless, the Saints were clearly avoiding having Brees throw deep in the playoff game against the Vikings, Taysom Hill came in the one time they took a shot at one

5 reliability??

Bill James way back early in his career had the best comment here. "Any measurement that shows so-and-so is good/bad at such-and-such when all other stats and every eyeball test tell us that so-and-so is actually bad/good at such-and-such is by definition a faulty measurement". (OK, paraphrasing, but only slightly) One clear sign that such-and-such actually is truly measuring such-and-such is that the same guys will measure pretty much the relative same season-in, season-out.

So if Tom Brady actually has a good upcoming season throwing deep balls in Arians' offense this year, I will eat crow next year. And apologize.

I expect I won't.

7 It's interesting to me that…

In reply to by BigRichie

It's interesting to me that Brady bounced back from a very poor season throwing deep in 2018 to be league average in accuracy '19. It's so hard to make projections due to his age, and maybe he needs to worry about his pitch count, but... if he's league average in terms of deep accuracy again next season with those receivers, and he makes better decisions than Jameis, he could have a pretty damn good year, no?

8 Could be.  Brady didn't have…

Could be.  Brady didn't have a good downfield target in 2019 after Josh Gordon imploded again, so better personnel could change his numbers quite a bit.

On the other hand, the With/Without Pressure and <30yds/>30yds splits aren't encouraging.  You could read those as suggesting that when he had time to set and step into a throw and was targeting a receiver under 30 yards away, Brady was fine, but otherwise he's below average.  Not saying that's reality because football's complicated and scheme and player personnel matter.

Anyway, I doubt Arians will be looking for Brady to throw a lot of home run shots.  He may throw a few more in there than McDaniels because I recall the deep ball is something Arians tries to work into the game plan a few times every game, but that's not Brady's strength and I'm sure Arians' smart enough to use Brady for what he's best at, reading D's pre-snap and getting the ball to guys quickly.

16 Historically, Brady has…

In reply to by BigRichie

Historically, Brady has actually been a reasonably good deep-ball passer when he has good deep-ball receivers (e.g. Moss or Cooks). 

Obviously it’s impossible to predict exactly how much age-related decline he will experience this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brady improve simply because he’ll be targeting Mike Evans deep downfield instead of a one-legged Mohammed Sanu.

17 Deep Ball Brady.

In reply to by BigRichie

Brady hasn't had good touch on his deep ball in over five years, maybe more.  He just can't get it there with accuracy and zip anymore.

I'm an Arizona fan and knowing Arians, he'll adjust his scheme to fit Brady's strengths, short and intermediate passes.  Brady will be fine.  It's more a matter of his skill position players holding up their end of the bargain and the defense making leads stand up.

At least Brady will have a competent offense to work with this year.  He should have left NE years ago and maybe he'd have more fun.

Belichick will struggle this year with a project QB and lackluster supporting cast in a weak AFC Least.  I'll actually be happy for Brady this year.

18 Game Score.

In reply to by BigRichie

There are faults within James' system.

 

If you know what MLB pitcher games scores are, I believe Kerry Woods' 20K game is the highest rated game ever.  I'm sorry, but having watched Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez in the 90's, that Kerry Woods game is nowhere near as dominant as what those two did.  For argument's sake, you could throw in Greg Maddux or Roger Clemens in there as well.

 

20 Saw Maddux throw a 2 hit…

In reply to by DIVISION

Saw Maddux throw a 2 hit shutout once in Atlanta, on less than a 100 pitches, iirc. Took about an hour and forty five minutes, and I don't think he needed a shower.

9 The sample sizes are too…

The sample sizes are too small to provide any notable confidence in any conclusion.  A few inFopportune gusts of wind on a couple Sundays can have pretty pronounced effects.1

 

23 I do agree that the sample sizes are pretty small

But that's also what's fun about this. Certain QBs don't rank as high in accuracy the next season, so there are major outliers, but you can also expect consistency from guys like Wilson, Ryan, and now Mahomes since he's established himself as a top QB through his first three seasons. It can be random, but there's something about surprise QB rankings that I like.

As for weather effects, I do try to keep those in mind, though unfortunately when it comes to adjusting accuracy rankings there's not much I can do with those. Fortunately, the data I've come across is pretty consistent in that no QB's accuracy percentage was greatly affected by one sloppy weather game, so if there ever comes a point where that comes into play and does significantly affect accuracy rankings, I'll make a note about that and add context to the QB's rankings.

27 This is a good point

I think one game where I saw that have an effect was in 2017 when the Chiefs and Jets played. Alex Smith's passes were noticeably way off, and the wind there indeed played a part in how the passes would come out.

I can't remember if any game like that happened last year, or at least as consistently as that aforementioned game.

12 Philip Rivers

.. is going to be a test case for this project for sure.  Time running short, and he goes to a better (?) o-line and a significantly poorer receiving corps.

19 Rivers.

In reply to by TreyKelso

At this point, I don't think it matters.  Rivers' health and ability to perform at a high level are now in question.

He hasn't been "good" in years, even when he had weapons in San Diego.

Brady at this point is a better option, even though he's older.  He takes care of his body to the point that he's probably as healthy as a 32-year old.

21 Accuracy vs receiver adjustment?

Just curious: can you distinguish between "QB made accurate deep throw" and "QB made bad throw but receiver made adjustment to reach it"?

22 Sure

So suppose a QB makes a regular throw in stride down the field. That alone is an accurate pass. Of course, that description can come with a variety of passes. Adjustments don't necessarily mean the passes were inaccurate. For example, back shoulder throws on the sideline, for the most part, will be marked as accurate passes. It's really for plays where the receiver has a lot of room to run in open space yet has to go out of his way to make an adjustment on a ball when he could've been led more. Accuracy can be subjective so not everyone will have the same criteria, but really adjustments are perfectly fine as long as it's not limiting how many yards the receiver can get after the catch.

25 Can I translate this article?

Hello. I’m big fan of football in korea. I really love this analysis. So I want to share it with korean fans. It’s not for any commercial reasons, just for share this interesting article. 
And what’s the matter with drew Brees? He’s just getting old and lose his arm strength? Or saints has no deep threat was the matter?

26 Thanks, go for it if you can!

Michael Thomas' average depth of target was also extremely low in 2019, lower than literally all of his peers, so the way he's been used affects that. Can say Brees didn't really have anyone close to Thomas' level on the rest of the receiving corps. At the same time however, yeah, he's getting old. And it's perfectly fine. You're not expected to even be a starting caliber player at the age of 41 and yet he's still hanging around as the starter in New Orleans. A decline in arm strength is natural for someone his age, though it does suck to see a great deep passer in the past decline in accuracy.