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23 Apr 2018

The Deep Ball Project

Guest column by John Kinsley

It has been no secret that Alex Smith's career, for the most part, has been defined by his safe style of playing quarterback. Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar even named a specific statistic after Smith, measuring how aggressive or conservative quarterbacks were on third down.

But something changed in 2017. Suddenly, Smith was throwing the ball downfield more consistently. Not only that, he was also phenomenal. Infamous in prior seasons for checking the ball down, Alex Smith's 2017 saw him throw the deep ball with better touch than ever before.

Even then, however, Smith wasn't the most surprisingly good downfield passer of 2017. I know this from experience because of my research on downfield throws.

Every offseason, I independently chart quarterbacks on what I like to call the Deep Ball Project. What's the catch? Every throw that reaches at least 16 yards in the air is constituted as a downfield pass. For this year's edition, Football Outsiders has been kind enough to give me a platform to further spread the word of mouth.

You can find the link to the 2017-18 Deep Ball Project here. Clicking on player names below will bring you to a more expanded section with more stats over at the Deep Ball Project website.

This is the fourth edition of the Deep Ball Project, which of course means I have been doing this since 2014. There has been a lot of numerical analysis of many parts of football and especially of quarterbacking, but there has generally been very little dedicated to analyzing downfield passes.

That's where the Deep Ball Project comes in, and it makes an effort to differentiate accuracy from completions. Completion percentage is a highly valued stat in football, and while that's included in the Deep Ball Project, a greater emphasis is played on accuracy percentage. Accuracy percentage takes a look at whether the pass was or wasn't accurate, regardless whether it was caught.

There is a wider variety of scenarios that play into accurate passes aside from the typical uncontested drop. These include:

     

  • Typical drops.
  • Plays where the receiver fails to win at the catch point despite being given a reasonable angle to catch the ball.
  • Plays where the receiver fails to keep two feet in bounds or in the end zone.
  • Plays where the receiver stops or runs the wrong route. (These can be subjective or hard to dissect from miscommunications at first glance.)
  • Plays where the receiver catches the ball but can't control the ball as he hits the ground.
  • Plays where the receiver catches the ball but has it knocked out of his hands.

For every edition of the Deep Ball Project, I have added in new stats to allow for more context. The 2017-18 edition includes much more than previous editions, but the most significant stat is Efficiency Score. Efficiency Score uses a points system that rewards accurate passes and docks points away for inaccurate completions (plays where a pass is inaccurate but caught thanks to a receiver who bails out the quarterback), interceptions where the quarterback is at fault, and dropped interceptions where the quarterback is at fault.

So how are the points handled, you might ask? Well, the further the accurate pass is thrown, the more points will be handed out. So here's how each area of the field is handled in that regard:

  • 16 to 19 yards = 1 point
  • 20 to 24 yards = 2 points
  • 25 to 29 yards = 3 points
  • 30 to 34 yards = 4 points
  • 35 to 39 yards = 5 points
  • 40-plus yards = 6 points

One additional point will be handed out if the accurate pass was delivered under pressure or in a tight window (where the quarterback has much less margin for error). If the pass was delivered while under pressure AND in a tight window, two bonus points are rewarded. For instance, suppose a quarterback throws an accurate pass of 40-plus yards. That's six points already. Making it under pressure or in a tight window adds one point to make it seven. Making that throw under both scenarios adds two points to make the throw worth eight total points.

Three points are docked if:

  • The pass is completed but the throw is inaccurate and forces the receiver to adjust.
  • The pass is intercepted and the quarterback is at fault. (Matt Ryan is proof that quarterbacks can throw interceptions that aren't on them.)
  • The pass is dropped by the defense and the quarterback is at fault.

After all the passes are tallied up, the final number of points is divided by the amount of downfield passes. That results in the quarterback's efficiency score.

With this in mind, let's take a look at the final raw numbers for all 35 quarterbacks that were charted. Please note that the four most important stats to consider are accuracy percentage (ACC%), Inaccurate Completions (INACC CMP), Accurate Incompletions (ACC INCMP), and Efficiency Score.


2017-18 Deep Ball Project: Throws of 16-Plus Air Yards
Rk Name G CMP/ATT CMP% ACC/ATT ACC% Yards TD INT INACC CMP ACC INCMP Score
1 J.Brissett 16 22/60 36.7% 39/60 65.0% 674 4 1 2 19 1.85
2 D.Prescott 16 31/68 45.6% 41/68 60.3% 818 5 1 0 10 1.76
3 A.Rodgers 7 13/29 44.8% 18/29 62.1% 468 3 4 0 5 1.72
4 M.Ryan 18 39/95 41.1% 54/95 56.8% 1,069 4 5 3 18 1.57
5 D.Kizer 15 38/90 42.2% 54/90 60.0% 1,006 3 5 1 18 1.50
6 A.Smith 16 44/84 52.4% 45/84 53.6% 1,587 13 1 8 9 1.50
7 T.Taylor 16 24/68 35.3% 33/68 48.5% 699 3 1 0 9 1.48
8 C.Newton 17 38/93 40.9% 56/93 60.2% 1,059 6 4 1 19 1.39
9 D.Brees 18 53/91 58.2% 55/91 60.4% 1,534 6 5 5 7 1.38
10 M.Mariota 17 42/93 45.2% 58/93 62.4% 1,018 5 6 0 15 1.34
11 J.Winston 13 38/89 42.7% 48/89 53.9% 923 9 2 1 11 1.28
12 N.Foles 7 12/33 36.4% 14/33 42.4% 359 4 2 0 2 1.27
13 P.Rivers 16 39/91 42.9% 49/91 53.8% 1,182 10 5 3 13 1.21
14 R.Wilson 16 48/113 42.5% 56/113 49.5% 1,437 14 5 6 11 1.20
15 T.Savage 7 16/44 36.4% 22/44 50.0% 466 2 1 3 9 1.02
16 C.Palmer 7 18/42 42.9% 20/42 47.6% 472 2 4 1 3 1.00
17 J.Goff 16 36/83 43.4% 37/83 44.6% 1,065 4 1 8 9 0.99
18 B.Roethlisberger 16 48/124 38.7% 52/124 41.9% 1,418 10 6 8 12 0.99
Rk Name G CMP/ATT CMP% ACC/ATT ACC% Yards TD INT INACC CMP ACC INCMP Score
19 M.Trubisky 12 26/52 50.0% 26/52 50.0% 634 3 1 4 4 0.96
20 J.Cutler 14 24/70 34.3% 28/70 40.0% 634 3 3 4 8 0.91
21 J.Garoppolo 6 11/28 39.3% 16/28 57.1% 277 0 2 0 5 0.89
22 T.Brady 19 67/138 48.6% 64/138 47.1% 1,909 8 4 10 7 0.86
23 A.Dalton 16 24/72 33.3% 28/72 38.9% 743 6 1 3 7 0.78
24 T.Siemian 11 20/52 38.5% 23/52 44.2% 518 3 5 6 9 0.75
25 C.Wentz 13 34/83 41.0% 36/83 43.4% 1,088 11 3 5 7 0.70
26 D.Carr 15 29/76 38.2% 30/76 39.5% 916 8 6 1 2 0.70
27 M.Stafford 16 47/86 54.7% 39/86 45.3% 1,484 11 2 12 4 0.67
28 B.Bortles 19 37/92 40.2% 38/92 41.3% 1,110 3 3 6 7 0.64
29 E.Manning 15 21/65 32.3% 27/65 41.5% 548 4 5 4 10 0.63
30 K.Cousins 16 30/74 40.5% 30/74 40.5% 959 10 3 5 5 0.53
31 D.Watson 7 22/51 43.1% 20/51 39.2% 649 7 5 6 3 0.49
32 B.Hundley 11 14/47 29.8% 15/47 31.9% 404 4 3 4 5 0.30
33 J.McCown 13 31/55 56.4% 23/55 41.8% 912 12 3 8 0 0.20
34 J.Flacco 16 23/67 34.3% 23/67 34.3% 635 5 8 4 4 0.19
35 C.Keenum 17 41/84 48.8% 30/84 35.7% 1,120 8 4 15 4 0.12
BrickWallBlitz.com

The average accuracy rate for this year's Deep Ball Project was 48.1 percent, while the average efficiency score was 0.99. Sixteen quarterbacks finished above the average for accuracy percentage, and the same number finished above the average for efficiency score.

Yes, that is Jacoby Brissett on the top. He was the best downfield passer of 2017, as well as the most accurate. His accuracy was sensational both under pressure and on passes into tight windows, and because he had a high number of accurate incompletions (tied with Cam Newton for the most in 19) with minimal interceptions and dropped picks, he had the highest efficiency score of any quarterback in 2017. In short, he was a lot of fun to watch and chart, as his accuracy across the boards was phenomenal.

Coming in at No. 2 is Dak Prescott. Prescott's sophomore season has gotten a reputation as being a step down from his rookie campaign, but his downfield accuracy was actually terrific. He had zero inaccurate completions, and his accuracy was extremely successful against pressure and into tight windows. He took a massive step up on downfield passing in Year Número Dos.

Surprises like Matt Ryan and DeShone Kizer are at the top. Ryan lacked the stellar stats of his MVP year in 2016, but that's because the departure of Kyle Shanahan produced far fewer open windows and he had 18 accurate incompletions (accurate passes that the receiver failed to catch). The crazy thing is that Julio Jones had 12 of those 18 accurate incompletions. You don't expect a top receiver to let down his quarterback that many times. Kizer also had 18 accurate incompletions, and also had a high efficiency score because he took care of the ball much better than expected.

(Ed. Note: Kizer taking care of the ball better than expected on deep passes is particularly notable since he very obviously had no ability to take care of the ball in the red zone, when the field got shorter. Kizer had six red zone interceptions, twice as many as any other quarterback, even though he had only 43 red zone attempts, 28th in the league. -- Aaron Schatz)

Alex Smith's efficiency score was sixth. His overall accuracy wasn't spectacular, but it was still good. What really helped him was that he took good care of the football and had solid all-around accuracy percentages, which means he wasn't punished outside of the inaccurate completions.

     

Tyrod Taylor, like Smith, wasn't spectacular in accuracy but took outrageously good care of the football despite playing with arguably the worst receiving corps in the league, poor pass protection, and the second-highest rate of tight windows in the league.

Marcus Mariota was the 10th most efficient passer. The six interceptions dragged his efficiency down, but he was the second-most accurate overall downfield passer. He managed this despite playing with some of the least efficient receivers of 2017 (even Delanie Walker let him down) as well as being in a Mike Mularkey offense that gave him great protection but very few open windows.

Russell Wilson was solid, but not nearly as efficient as in previous seasons. His accuracy into open windows was horrible and he took poor care of the ball downfield, getting lucky on passes that should have been picked off. What saved his grade was his solid accuracy on throws of 40-plus yards, under pressure, and into tight windows.

Recent stars like Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson don't grade out nearly as well as people think due to the fact that both had poor accuracy on deep passes, to all depths.

Matthew Stafford has the totals but lacks in accuracy. He forced the second-most inaccurate completions with 12, and Marvin Jones caught seven of those passes.

Case Keenum was the least efficient downfield passer, surprising since he led the league in overall passing DVOA. He forced the highest amount of inaccurate completions with 15, and constantly threw the ball to defenders, getting away with dropped interceptions. Though he didn't have the lowest accuracy percentage, the inaccurate completions, interceptions, and dropped picks severely lowered Keenum's efficiency score.

Now let's get to the accuracy percentages on every distance of deep passes.


2017-18 Deep Ball Project: Accuracy Percentage by Distance (Ranking in Parentheses)
Rk QB Name
Total 16-19 Yds 20-24 Yds 25-29 Yds 30-34 Yds 35-39 Yds 40+ Yds Score
1 J.Brissett 65.0% (1) 73.1% (3) 54.5% (16) 100.0% (1) 50.0% (7) 100.0% (1) 54.5% (3) 1.85
2 D.Prescott 60.3% (5) 76.7% (2) 60.0% (10) 33.3% (21) 28.6% (22) 66.7% (7) 60.0% (1) 1.76
3 A.Rodgers 62.1% (3) 66.7% (9) 57.1% (12) 60.0% (4) 80.0% (1) 50.0% (12) 50.0% (4) 1.72
4 M.Ryan 56.8% (9) 57.9% (21) 64.0% (7) 62.5% (3) 40.0% (14) 75.0% (6) 29.4% (19) 1.57
5 D.Kizer 60.0% (7) 63.9% (12) 89.5% (1) 42.9% (14) 42.9% (13) 66.7% (7) 12.5% (29) 1.50
6 A.Smith 53.6% (12) 70.8% (5) 64.0% (7) 42.9% (14) 45.5% (10) 62.5% (10) 30.0% (18) 1.50
7 T.Taylor 48.5% (16) 62.5% (15) 50.0% (20) 54.5% (6) 57.1% (6) 12.5% (27) 28.6% (20) 1.48
8 C.Newton 60.2% (6) 68.4% (7) 79.2% (2) 50.0% (8) 33.3% (16) 28.6% (19) 28.6% (20) 1.39
9 D.Brees 60.4% (4) 81.5% (1) 69.0% (5) 57.1% (5) 44.4% (11) 50.0% (12) 15.4% (28) 1.38
10 M.Mariota 62.4% (2) 66.0% (11) 72.7% (3) 25.0% (27) 60.0% (5) 57.1% (11) 50.0% (4) 1.34
11 J.Winston 53.9% (10) 73.0% (4) 60.0% (10) 42.9% (14) 37.5% (15) 20.0% (25) 20.0% (26) 1.28
12 N.Foles 42.4% (23) 40.0% (33) 50.0% (20) 33.3% (21) 33.3% (16) 0.0% (30) 50.0% (4) 1.27
13 P.Rivers 53.8% (11) 63.3% (13) 61.9% (9) 45.5% (13) 0.0% (33) 25.0% (22) 58.8% (2) 1.21
14 R.Wilson 49.5% (15) 62.1% (15) 40.6% (28) 53.7% (7) 44.4% (11) 37.5% (17) 50.0% (4) 1.20
15 T.Savage 50.0% (13) 47.1% (28) 50.0% (20) 28.6% (26) 66.7% (2) 100.0% (1) 0.0% (30) 1.02
16 C.Palmer 47.6% (17) 52.9% (23) 50.0% (20) 33.3% (21) 50.0% (7) 25.0% (22) 50.0% (4) 1.00
17 J.Goff 44.6% (20) 46.4% (29) 56.0% (15) 11.1% (32) 66.7% (2) 0.0% (30) 50.0% (4) 0.99
18 B.Roethlisberger 41.9% (24) 50.0% (26) 37.9% (31) 36.4% (19) 18.2% (29) 44.4% (15) 50.0% (4) 0.99
Rk QB Name
Total 16-19 Yds 20-24 Yds 25-29 Yds 30-34 Yds 35-39 Yds 40+ Yds Score
19 M.Trubisky 50.0% (13) 59.1% (20) 37.5% (32) 80.0% (2) 0.0% (33) 80.0% (5) 0.0% (30) 0.96
20 J.Cutler 40.0% (29) 38.9% (34) 50.0% (20) 30.0% (25) 62.5% (4) 28.6% (19) 22.2% (25) 0.91
21 J.Garoppolo 57.1% (8) 66.7% (9) 57.1% (12) 50.0% (8) 33.3% (16) 0.0% (30) 0.0% (30) 0.89
22 T.Brady 47.1% (18) 59.6% (19) 45.9% (25) 46.7% (11) 33.3% (16) 25.0% (22) 33.3% (15) 0.86
23 A.Dalton 38.9% (32) 60.0% (18) 31.2% (35) 37.5% (18) 33.3% (16) 11.1% (29) 20.0% (26) 0.78
24 T.Siemian 44.2% (21) 52.9% (23) 64.3% (6) 10.0% (33) 20.0% (28) 100.0% (1) 25.0% (24) 0.75
25 C.Wentz 43.4% (22) 50.0% (26) 70.6% (4) 50.0% (8) 12.5% (31) 12.5% (27) 28.6% (20) 0.70
26 D.Carr 39.5% (30) 70.6% (6) 35.0% (33) 18.8% (30) 12.5% (31) 66.7% (7) 41.7% (13) 0.70
27 M.Stafford 45.3% (19) 63.3% (13) 53.3% (17) 23.5% (28) 16.7% (30) 40.0% (16) 38.5% (14) 0.67
28 B.Bortles 41.3% (27) 51.5% (25) 32.0% (34) 46.7% (11) 28.6% (22) 28.6% (19) 28.6% (20) 0.64
29 E.Manning 41.5% (26) 68.4% (7) 41.7% (27) 35.7% (20) 27.3% (25) 100.0% (1) 0.0% (30) 0.63
30 K.Cousins 40.5% (28) 54.2% (22) 53.3% (17) 42.9% (14) 22.2% (27) 14.3% (26) 0.0% (30) 0.53
31 D.Watson 39.2% (31) 38.5% (35) 57.1% (20) 0.0% (34) 50.0% (7) 37.5% (17) 42.9% (12) 0.49
32 B.Hundley 31.9% (35) 41.2% (32) 62.5% (8) 16.7% (31) 33.3% (16) 0.0% (30) 0.0% (30) 0.30
33 J.McCown 41.8% (25) 61.9% (17) 44.4% (26) 30.8% (24) 0.0% (33) 0.0% (30) 50.0% (4) 0.20
34 J.Flacco 34.3% (34) 44.8% (30) 38.5% (30) 0.0% (34) 28.6% (22) 50.0% (12) 33.3% (15) 0.19
35 C.Keenum 35.7% (33) 43.8% (31) 39.1% (29) 22.2% (29) 25.0% (26) 0.0% (30) 30.8% (17) 0.12
BrickWallBlitz.com

As you may have guessed from Jacoby Brissett's high accuracy percentage, his accuracy to all distances was just absurd. The only area he struggled in was on throws of 20 to 24 yards, where he finished 16th. Even then, his accuracy in that area was still above average. The success Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers had should not be a surprise, as they have consistently ranked as two of the absolute best downfield passers in the Deep Ball Project's history.

Outside of throws of 40-plus yards, Nick Foles' accuracy was lacking. The reason he ranked so high was his success on those 40-plus-yard plays, as well as the fact that he took really good care of the ball, limiting interceptions and dangerous throws.

Mitchell Trubisky is a work in progress, but he finished 13th in overall accuracy. He also showed impressive touch on passes of 25 to 29 yards and on passes of 35 to 39 yards, ranking in the top five in both ranges.

Amazingly, Brett Hundley ranked eighth in accuracy on throws of 20 to 24 yards. Outside of that, though, his accuracy to every other distance was dismal. And as expected, he couldn't even compare to Aaron Rodgers.

Next is how accurate each quarterback fared in certain scenarios such as clean pockets, pressure, off-balance throws, into open windows, and into tight windows, while also looking at inaccurate completions and accurate incompletions.


2017-18 Deep Ball Project: Accuracy Percentage by Scenarios (Ranking in Parentheses)
Rk QB
Name
Clean
Pocket
Pressure Play-
Action
Off-
Balance
Open
Window
Tight
Window
INACC
CMP
INACC% ACC
INC
ACC
INC%
1 J.Brissett 67.6% (2) 60.9% (3) 66.7% (6) N/A 63.2% (20) 65.9% (1) 2 (24) 3.3% (22) 19 (1) 31.7% (1)
2 D.Prescott 60.5% (7) 60.0% (4) 82.1% (1) 0.0% (14) 89.5% (4) 50.6% (6) 0 (30) 0.0% (30) 10 (10) 14.7% (11)
3 A.Rodgers 70.0% (1) 44.4% (17) 80.0% (2) 0.0% (14) 87.5% (5) 52.4% (3) 0 (30) 0.0% (30) 5 (23) 17.2% (8)
4 M.Ryan 58.7% (8) 43.8% (20) 51.4% (17) 0.0% (14) 96.6% (2) 39.4% (15) 3 (20) 3.2% (24) 18 (3) 18.9% (5)
5 D.Kizer 65.7% (3) 40.0% (25) 54.5% (13) 100.% (1) 80.0% (7) 52.3% (4) 1 (25) 1.1% (27) 18 (3) 20.0% (4)
6 A.Smith 55.9% (13) 48.0% (15) 62.5% (9) 0.0% (14) 73.3% (12) 42.6% (14) 8 (4) 9.5% (7) 9 (12) 10.7% (17)
7 T.Taylor 47.5% (21) 50.0% (11) 68.2% (4) N/A 100.0% (1) 36.4% (20) 0 (30) 0.0% (30) 9 (12) 13.2% (13)
8 C.Newton 62.0% (4) 54.5% (7) 58.3% (11) 100.0% (1) 72.7% (14) 50.0% (6) 1 (25) 1.1% (27) 19 (1) 20.4% (3)
9 D.Brees 61.8% (5) 56.4% (6) 62.5% (9) N/A 79.2% (8) 53.7% (2) 5 (12) 5.5% (19) 7 (18) 7.7% (23)
10 M.Mariota 60.8% (6) 71.4% (2) 67.7% (5) N/A 92.3% (3) 50.7% (5) 0 (30) 0.0% (30) 15 (5) 16.1% (9)
11 J.Winston 58.1% (9) 48.0% (15) 39.1% (29) 0.0% (14) 70.8% (15) 47.5% (8) 1 (25) 1.1% (27) 11 (8) 12.4% (14)
12 N.Foles 36.8% (33) 50.0% (11) 46.2% (21) N/A 60.0% (24) 34.8% (22) 0 (30) 0.0% (30) 2 (33) 6.1% (28)
13 P.Rivers 56.4% (10) 50.0% (11) 45.0% (25) 33.3% (8) 78.9% (9) 35.8% (21) 3 (20) 3.3% (22) 13 (6) 14.3% (12)
14 R.Wilson 48.8% (20) 51.6% (10) 50.0% (18) 50.0% (5) 55.3% (31) 43.9% (13) 6 (7) 5.3% (20) 11 (8) 9.7% (21)
15 T.Savage 46.7% (23) 57.1% (5) 28.6% (34) 0.0% (14) 75.0% (11) 44.4% (11) 3 (20) 6.8% (11) 9 (12) 20.5% (2)
16 C.Palmer 55.0% (14) 40.9% (23) 66.7% (6) 0.0% (14) 53.3% (31) 44.4% (11) 1 (25) 2.4% (25) 3 (31) 7.1% (26)
17 J.Goff 50.9% (17) 30.8% (30) 53.8% (15) 0.0% (14) 62.2% (22) 30.4% (24) 8 (4) 9.6% (6) 9 (12) 10.8% (16)
18 B.Roethlisberger 52.9% (16) 17.9% (35) 50.0% (19) 33.3% (8) 35.4% (35) 46.1% (9) 8 (4) 6.5% (13) 12 (7) 9.7% (19)
Rk QB
Name
Clean
Pocket
Pressure Play-
Action
Off-
Balance
Open
Window
Tight
Window
INACC
CMP
INACC% ACC
INC
ACC
INC%
19 M.Trubisky 56.3% (11) 40.0% (25) 45.5% (23) 0.0% (14) 62.5% (21) 39.3% (16) 4 (15) 7.7% (9) 4 (27) 7.7% (23)
20 J.Cutler 37.8% (29) 42.4% (21) 35.0% (31) 22.2% (12) 56.5% (28) 31.9% (23) 4 (15) 5.7% (18) 8 (17) 11.4% (15)
21 J.Garoppolo 50.0% (18) 100.0% (1) 54.5% (13) N/A 87.5% (5) 45.0% (10) 0 (30) 0.0% (30) 5 (23) 17.9% (6)
22 T.Brady 42.7% (26) 51.8% (9) 41.9% (27) 66.7% (3) 66.2% (17) 25.4% (30) 10 (3) 7.2% (10) 7 (18) 5.1% (31)
23 A.Dalton 37.8% (29) 40.7% (24) 47.1% (20) 0.0% (4) 53.4% (30) 29.5% (26) 3 (20) 4.2% (21) 7 (18) 9.7% (20)
24 T.Siemian 56.0% (12) 33.3% (29) 46.2% (21) 66.7% (3) 58.8% (27) 37.1% (19) 6 (7) 11.5% (4) 9 (12) 17.3% (7)
25 C.Wentz 43.1% (25) 44.4% (17) 33.2% (32) 0.0% (14) 48.8% (33) 38.5% (17) 5 (12) 6.0% (15) 7 (18) 8.4% (22)
26 D.Carr 53.2% (15) 26.3% (34) 57.1% (12) 27.3% (10) 73.1% (13) 22.0% (31) 1 (25) 1.3% (26) 2 (33) 2.6% (34)
27 M.Stafford 47.3% (22) 41.9% (22) 45.5% (23) 0.0% (14) 65.2% (18) 38.1% (18) 12 (2) 14.0% (2) 4 (27) 4.7% (33)
28 B.Bortles 49.1% (19) 28.6% (33) 53.6% (16) 25.0% (11) 60.5% (23) 27.8% (27) 6 (7) 6.5% (13) 7 (18) 7.6% (25)
29 E.Manning 45.2% (24) 34.8% (28) 75.0% (3) 50.0% (5) 60.0% (24) 30.0% (25) 4 (15) 6.2% (15) 10 (10) 15.4% (10)
30 K.Cousins 38.8% (28) 44.0% (19) 42.9% (26) 0.0% (14) 75.9% (10) 17.8% (33) 5 (12) 6.8% (11) 5 (23) 6.8% (26)
31 D.Watson 37.5% (31) 45.5% (16) 31.3% (33) 0.0% (14) 60.0% (24) 25.8% (29) 6 (7) 11.8% (3) 3 (31) 5.9% (30)
32 B.Hundley 29.4% (15) 38.5% (27) 26.7% (35) N/A 43.8% (34) 25.8% (28) 4 (15) 8.5% (8) 5 (23) 10.7% (17)
33 J.McCown 32.1% (34) 51.9% (8) 66.7% (6) N/A 70.0% (16) 21.9% (32) 8 (7) 14.5% (5) 0 (35) 0.0% (35)
34 J.Flacco 37.0% (32) 28.7% (32) 40.9% (28) 50.0% (5) 64.0% (19) 16.7% (35) 4 (15) 6.0% (16) 4 (27) 6.0% (29)
35 C.Keenum 40.4% (27) 29.7% (31) 37.9% (30) 14.3% (13) 57.9% (28) 17.4% (34) 15 (1) 17.9% (1) 4 (27) 4.8% (32)
BrickWallBlitz.com

Jacoby Brissett's accuracy was below average to open windows, but he was easily the best tight-window passer downfield, with an incredible 65.9 percent of his passes to tight windows being accurate.

Tyrod Taylor was the only quarterback to be accurate on all of his passes to open windows. He was also fourth on play-action, only behind Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers, and Eli Manning.

Jimmy Garoppolo was the most accurate quarterback under pressure, making an accurate pass on every single pressure play on downfield attempts. Marcus Mariota is right behind him at No. 2. The reason his efficiency score doesn't rank higher is because he forced a giant amount of dropped picks for his sample size. Still, he can say he ranked one spot higher in efficiency than Tom Brady.

Ben Roethlisberger was the least accurate passer under pressure and into tight windows. In comparison to previous years when he was a downfield passing master, Roethlisberger's decision-making was awful last year, constantly making questionable throws to the point where he looked like he was chucking the ball up regardless if the receiver was open or not.

Tom Brady was slightly below average, which isn't really that surprising. He has not been a great downfield passer for a while, lacking the precision he has shown in the short and intermediate areas of the field. For what it's worth, though, he handled the change to a vertical offense really well. His accuracy was really good under pressure (ranking ninth-highest), and he had the most passing attempts and yards of any quarterback.

Derek Carr's quality of play takes a massive drop when he is not given clean pockets. His accuracy was 15th with good pass protection, but was second-to-last under pressure. Joe Flacco was 32nd in both clean pockets and under pressure. (This is where the "elite" jokes come in.)

Accuracy on off-balance throws doesn't mean too much considering the small sample size, but DeShone Kizer and Cam Newton (who had a great year passing the deep ball despite his health) ranked at the top.

Only six quarterbacks went the entire season without throwing a single inaccurate completion: Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers, Tyrod Taylor, Marcus Mariota, Nick Foles, and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Finally, let's look at the percentage of situations each quarterback was in. This takes a look at each quarterback's rate of scenarios out of the total amount of downfield passes. For example, let's say a quarterback threw 75 passes downfield, and on 56 of those passes he had a clean pocket. We would say that 74.7 percent of said quarterback's passes would have had clean pockets.

Please note that the rankings for clean pockets, pressure, play-action, off-balance, open windows, and tight windows DO NOT REFLECT ACCURACY FOR THIS CHART, just how frequently each quarterback was in each scenario. Again, rankings out of 35 are in parentheses.


2017-18 Deep Ball Project: Situational Rate Splits (Ranking in Parentheses)
Rk QB Name Clean Pocket Pressure Play-Action Off-Balance Tight Window Open Window
1 J.Brissett 61.7% (25) 38.3% (11) 40.0% (1) 0.0% (28) 68.3% (12) 31.7% (24)
2 D.Prescott 63.2% (22) 36.8% (14) 25.0% (20) 1.5% (21) 70.6% (9) 29.4% (27)
3 A.Rodgers 69.0% (13) 31.0% (23) 17.2% (28) 3.4% (10) 72.4% (5) 27.6% (31)
4 M.Ryan 66.3% (18) 33.7% (18) 38.9% (4) 2.1% (17) 69.5% (11) 30.5% (25)
5 D.Kizer 77.8% (5) 22.2% (31) 24.4% (21) 1.1% (25) 72.2% (6) 27.8% (30)
6 A.Smith 70.2% (11) 29.8% (25) 28.6% (14) 3.6% (9) 64.3% (19) 35.7% (17)
7 T.Taylor 58.8% (29) 41.2% (7) 32.4% (8) 0.0% (28) 80.9% (2) 19.1% (34)
8 C.Newton 76.3% (6) 23.7% (30) 12.9% (31) 1.1% (25) 64.5% (18) 35.5% (18)
9 D.Brees 74.7% (8) 25.3% (28) 26.4% (16) 0.0% (28) 73.6% (3) 26.4% (33)
10 M.Mariota 84.9% (2) 15.1% (34) 33.3% (6) 0.0% (28) 72.0% (7) 28.0% (29)
11 J.Winston 69.7% (12) 30.3% (24) 25.8% (17) 1.1% (25) 66.3% (15) 33.7% (21)
12 N.Foles 57.6% (30) 42.4% (6) 39.4% (2) 0.0% (28) 69.7% (10) 30.3% (26)
13 P.Rivers 60.4% (27) 39.6% (9) 22.0% (24) 3.3% (11) 58.2% (28) 41.8% (7)
14 R.Wilson 72.6% (9) 27.4% (27) 31.9% (9) 1.8% (20) 57.5% (30) 42.5% (6)
15 T.Savage 68.2% (17) 31.8% (19) 15.9% (29) 2.3% (15) 81.8% (1) 18.2% (35)
16 C.Palmer 47.6% (35) 52.4% (1) 14.3% (30) 7.1% (6) 64.3% (19) 35.7% (15)
17 J.Goff 68.7% (14) 31.3% (21) 31.3% (12) 1.2% (23) 55.4% (31) 44.6% (4)
18 B.Roethlisberger 68.5% (16) 31.5% (20) 11.3% (33) 2.4% (14) 61.3% (23) 38.7% (13)
Rk QB Name Clean Pocket Pressure Play-Action Off-Balance Tight Window Open Window
19 M.Trubisky 61.5% (26) 38.5% (10) 21.2% (26) 1.9% (19) 53.8% (33) 46.2% (3)
20 J.Cutler 52.9% (32) 47.1% (4) 28.6% (14) 12.9% (3) 67.1% (14) 32.9% (22)
21 J.Garoppolo 85.7% (1) 14.3% (35) 39.3% (3) 0.0% (28) 71.4% (8) 28.6% (28)
22 T.Brady 59.4% (28) 40.6% (8) 22.5% (23) 2.2% (17) 48.6% (34) 51.4% (2)
23 A.Dalton 62.5% (23) 37.5% (13) 23.6% (22) 4.2% (8) 61.1% (24) 38.9% (12)
24 T.Siemian 48.1% (34) 51.9% (2) 25.0% (19) 5.8% (7) 67.3% (130 32.7% (23)
25 C.Wentz 78.3% (4) 21.7% (32) 21.7% (25) 1.2% (23) 47.0% (35) 51.8% (1)
26 D.Carr 75.0% (7) 25.0% (29) 9.2% (35) 14.5% (2) 65.8% (17) 34.2% (19)
27 M.Stafford 64.0% (21) 36.0% (15) 25.6% (18) 2.3% (15) 73.4% (4) 26.7% (32)
28 B.Bortles 62.0% (24) 38.0% (12) 30.4% (13) 8.7% (4) 58.7% (27) 41.3% (9)
29 E.Manning 64.6% (20) 35.4% (16) 12.3% (32) 3.1% (12) 61.5% (22) 38.5% (14)
30 K.Cousins 66.2% (19) 33.8% (17) 18.9% (27) 1.4% (22) 60.8% (25) 39.2% (10)
31 D.Watson 78.4% (3) 21.6% (33) 31.4% (11) 17.6% (1) 60.8% (25) 39.2% (10)
32 B.Hundley 72.3% (10) 27.7% (26) 31.9% (9) 0.0% (28) 66.0% (16) 34.0% (20)
33 J.McCown 50.9% (33) 49.1% (3) 10.9% (34) 0.0% (28) 58.2% (28) 41.8% (7)
34 J.Flacco 68.7% (14) 31.3% (21) 32.8% (7) 3.0% (13) 62.7% (21) 37.3% (16)
35 C.Keenum 56.0% (31) 44.0% (5) 34.5% (5) 8.3% (5) 54.8% (32) 45.2% (5)
BrickWallBlitz.com

Carson Wentz had the highest percentage of open-window passes to throw to (51.8 percent), yet he was third-to-last in accuracy to those areas (48.8 percent). Tom Brady saw the second-highest rate of open-window passes. Big shock coming from a Bill Belichick-coached offense, I know.

Carson Palmer's swan-song year was a shadow of his phenomenal 2015 season, but he faced the highest rate of pressure on downfield throws. Trevor Siemian trailed him with the second-highest rate, which is not surprising considering how poor the Denver Broncos' offensive line is.

Jimmy Garoppolo had the highest percentage of clean pockets. While this is a surprise considering how bad the 49ers offensive line was last year, Kyle Shanahan's creative use of play-action and misdirection kept defenses guessing and made the pass protection look much better than it had any right to be.

Jared Goff's friendly percentages aren't a surprise, as Sean McVay was historically sensational as a rookie head coach. The quality of Sammy Watkins, Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee, and Gerald Everett meant that he was constantly throwing to open receivers as well.

The big shock comes from the different situations faced by Texans quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Tom Savage. Watson had the third-highest rate of clean pockets, the 11th-highest rate of play-action, the 11th-lowest rate of tight windows, and the 10th-highest rate of open windows. A concern for Watson is that he had the highest rate of off-balance throws (and the second-highest total of off-balance throws to Derek Carr). He needs to work on his mechanics in 2018.

In comparison, Savage had 17th-highest rate of clean pockets, the seventh-lowest rate of play-action, the highest rate of tight windows, and the lowest rate of open windows. This came with the same supporting cast, so what happened? Well, head coach Bill O'Brien went away from the play-action, read-option offense he provided to Watson and gave Savage an offense that forced him to throw tight-window passes at the rate of Aaron Rodgers.

Let's consider that the Eagles gave Nick Foles the second-highest rate of play-action when Wentz was lost for the season. Though he faced more pressure downfield, Foles was still able to get friendly reads because of the variety of play-calling that Doug Pederson provided. There was also a large amount of read-option. Bill O'Brien had zero excuses for taking away those calls from Savage.

John Kinsley is on Twitter @brickwallblitz. He covers the Tennessee Titans for Music City Miracles on SB Nation, and also writes for the Minnesota Vikings website Purple PTSD. Again, you can find an even larger amount of information on the actual Deep Ball Project at this link.

Posted by: Guest on 23 Apr 2018

24 comments, Last at 05 May 2018, 11:43pm by LionInAZ

Comments

1
by PaddyPat :: Mon, 04/23/2018 - 2:43pm

Tom Brady's relatively poor rating surprises me a bit, given what I perceived as one of his better downfield seasons. I wonder how his splits look over the course of the season. Did he peak in October or so and then decline?

2
by dank067 :: Mon, 04/23/2018 - 3:23pm

Really enjoyed these numbers and the commentary. In addition to the efficiency score, are the situational splits (play action, open window, tight window, etc.) also new for 2017-18?

3
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 04/23/2018 - 4:31pm

Looking at Savage vs Watson and Foles vs Wentz, it would appear the price of mobility is increasing rates of throwing on the move, but with the bump of less pressure and more open windows.

4
by ramirez :: Mon, 04/23/2018 - 6:53pm

It would be great if the author would reveal which specific throws by quarterbacks were graded as accurate incompletions, or inaccurate completions. Because some of the accuracy percentages achieved by the subjective grading system are radically different from the percentages based on straightforward completions/attempts. For example, Brisett goes from 22/60 to 39/60 because he gets credited with 19 accurate incompletions.

7
by Toner :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 7:46am

There are 2-3 gif examples for every QB at his full website, including each QB's best downfield throw in his opinion:

https://brickwallblitz.com/2018/03/28/the-2017-18-deep-ball-project/

10
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 9:12am

The problem is that you can't even come close to evaluating the strength of the study with 2-3 gifs per QB.

15
by Toner :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 4:22pm

You don’t think ~90 gifs are enough for you to evaluate his opinion on what’s an accurate vs inaccurate throw? That’s quite a large sample size. If that’s not enough, there are another three years of gifs/studies to consider.

I don’t get it. It’s not like he just presented his results, he showed his methodology on how he got there. Are you equally skeptical of FO’s other semi-subjective charting on broken tackles, drops, and pressures? Do you also question all Film Room pieces as they only have 3-5 gifs per subject?

But if that’s not good enough, you can also compare his results with others. The only other comprehensive accuracy charting I know of is Cian Fahey’s Pre-Snap Reads books (if you know of more, I love this stuff so let me know). The correlation between Kinsley’s ACC% on throws 16+ yards downfield and Fahey’s ACC% on throws 21+ yards downfield is 0.76, so I think it’s reasonable to conclude they are onto something here even if their results don’t line up exactly.

19
by The Ninjalectual :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 4:10pm

No, 90 gifs are unquestionably NOT sufficient when they're spread out over 30+ players. Is the reviewer a Colts fan, for instance? Is there some other bias we can't possibly see with a couple of potentially cherry picked examples? Maybe he's favoring any player in a white jersey, we cannot possibly know without more information.

The only valid argument you make is the correlation to Fahey's numbers. I haven't actually thought much about it, but it makes sense on the surface so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt there. It appears to be a strong argument, unlike everything else you said. I'd advise editing out the childish "are you skeptical of this unrelated thing too?" for example. Your bad arguments and bad attitude undermine a potentially valid point.

5
by hoegher :: Mon, 04/23/2018 - 7:15pm

That inaccurate completions number is a perfect illustration of Keenum's luck last year and why the Vikings were right to let him go.

20
by The Ninjalectual :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 4:42pm

This is an anecdote, this isn't analysis. Keenum was #1 in DYAR. If his "inaccurate completions" were only completed at a league average rate, how much would his DYAR actually change?

6
by JohnxMorgan :: Mon, 04/23/2018 - 7:23pm

but Brissett's ranking is very difficult to accept, especially considering:

According to ESPN, he completed 10 of 35 attempts over 20 yards in 2017. Luck, in 2016 and throwing to many of the same receivers (Hilton, Moncrief, Doyle), completed 26 of 55 attempts over 20 yards.

Brissett ranked 30th in completion percentage among qualified starters, or whatever Pro Football Reference deems "qualified," ahead of only CJ Beathard and DeShone Kizer.

Brissett was known for his poor deep passing in college. From his Combine profile:

"Struggles with deep ball accuracy completing just 23.1 percent on attempts of 21-plus yards. Had several overthrows when tasked with deep throws down sideline versus man coverage. Failed to recognize receivers running wide open down the seam."

And, just looking through Stampede Blue a Colts fan site, I could find no praise of Brissett as a deep passer and a fair amount of criticism. I only skimmed a few results from a site search, but all the same.

These subjective to objective metrics never seem very accurate to me. The data, which are the film analyses themselves, are reduced to a number and therefore indisputable. I applaud the time you put into this, and I am not suggesting my few minutes of research trump your stats, but claiming Brissett is the most accurate deep passer in the NFL is a tough row to hoe. It doesn't smell right, it doesn't match his profile, it's not reflected in his performance, and it's not corroborated by the fans. I am unconvinced.

8
by Toner :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 7:56am

Cian Fahey, who charted every single pass every QB threw and used to write for FO, had this to say about Brissett:

"Jacoby Brissett was the best deep sideline passer in the NFL in 2017, second best to the left sideline and fourth best to the right sideline.

The biggest surprise from charting the 2017 season was the quality of Jacoby Brissett’s play. Consistently excellent deep accuracy was a rare commodity last season but Brissett was one of the best at creating big plays with his arm. Brissett hit 51.5 percent of his deep throws (21+ yards), 16.1 percent above the league average (4th highest overall), but too often those big plays were ruined by one of his receivers.

Only Tyrod Taylor lost completions to receiver error more often than Brissett did. Only three quarterbacks lost more completions and only three quarterbacks lost more yards."

http://presnapreads.com/2018/03/25/quarterback-tiers-and-rankings-based-...

Cian and John are the only two writers I know that chart every QB's accuracy and publish their data like this. If there are others out there to compare to I'd love to read them to get a wider range of opinions.

9
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 9:09am

I'm not sure I disagree with your overall feeling - but the problem with your argument is its all based on completion percentage.

His scouting report says he struggles with the deep ball because he had a low completion percentage - its possible his receivers just stunk.

And using a fanboard of evidence of anything is silly.

11
by dank067 :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 10:23am

Playcalling and quality of offensive line are going to affect one's perception of deep accuracy too. If you look at the situation rate splits, Brissett threw a relatively low proportion of his deep passes from clean pockets and into open windows, and threw a relatively high proportion of his deep passes under pressure and into tight windows. Even within the subset of deep passes, it would appear that Brissett is throwing a high number of deep balls that are even less likely to be completed than average.

The aggressiveness of a QB could also affect this perception quite a bit. If a QB is more selective in picking their spots to go deep, they'll get their deep throw highlights without the accompanying misses on lower percentage deep throws. Of course a QB could also be overly-aggressive or a poor decision-maker.

13
by Ben :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 12:12pm

From a Colts fan perspective, I don't remember their being complaints about Brissett's deep ball. There were complaints about receivers not getting open, and about calling long developing plays with a terrible o-line, but not about Brissett's arm strength or accuracy.

If anything, the complaint was that he didn't know how to back off on the short throws. There were a number of times he threw 100 MPH fastball to back standing 10 yards away.

12
by ChrisS :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 11:48am

I'm not sure docking 3 points for an inaccurate completion makes sense, it seems like it would be too harsh in many cases. Sometimes the only way to have chance at a completion, due to the coverage, is to force the receiver to adjust to the ball. Or on sideline routes the QB might put it up high enough that the receiver catches it or it is OOB. Also if you know that your receiver is very good at catching contested balls (Gronk or Megatron) throwing a long jump ball can be a very smart play.

14
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 1:11pm

Right - this gets into a bit of trying to decide where the QB was trying to throw the ball - which seems like an exercise in futility.

16
by Toner :: Tue, 04/24/2018 - 4:28pm

I agree that the penalty seems overly harsh.

Although if you give the QB credit for throwing up jump balls to a very good receiver, you're essentially crediting the QB for having a good receiver when the whole point is trying to isolate the QB from his surroundings.

17
by eggwasp :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 3:44am

But you can't isolate a QB from his surroundings. If you have a receiver that wins the jump-ball regularly, then the QB SHOULD throw jump balls to him, he's an idiot if he doesn't. A massive part of being a great QB is knowing your receiver's strengths and playing to them.

18
by Toner :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 9:15am

I never said the QB shouldn't throw the jump ball. I just said you should give credit to the WR for allowing the QB to make an easier read and throw because when that WR gets hurt or leaves in free agency, that ability goes with him.

If you're scouting college players and see Manziel lobbing up passes to Mike Evans and want that on your team, you get it by drafting Mike Evans, not Manziel.

22
by The Ninjalectual :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 5:16pm

So you're saying that accurate measurement of QB performance isn't possible then, because the QB can't be credited or criticized for making the smart play? What's the point of that?

24
by LionInAZ :: Sat, 05/05/2018 - 11:43pm

The main question here is whether the pass was really off target or adjusted away from coverage. I haven't seen an explanation if how this is determined.

21
by The Ninjalectual :: Wed, 04/25/2018 - 5:14pm

Are these numbers consistent from year to year? Do they have predictive value? (I'm guessing no, otherwise Kinsley would have mentioned it.) Does this tell us anything the respective DVOA splits don't already?

Then there's the fact that the very *foundation* of this analysis is made of potentially dubious subjective judgement calls . Maybe Kinsley appraises film clinically, without being influenced by personal (or other) biases, but how are we supposed to know? Not to mention that "inaccurate completions" and "accurate incompletions" are not straightforward like "dropped interceptions." An "inaccurate" throw might be the QB prioritizing a safe throw instead of an "accurate" throw that's more likely to be intercepted as well as completed. Even with perfect and unbiased film charting, I don't think this can be tracked.

The "points" system here seems completely arbitrary. Is there any reason to believe it's not?

I'm really not seeing how anything useful can come from this. It's a rough draft at best.

23
by greybeard :: Mon, 04/30/2018 - 6:35pm

Let us assume for a second that Brisset actually had 39 completions and not 22. His adjusted yards for 22 completions is (674 + 4*20 - 1*45) = 709 yards. If we scale it by 39/22 that is 1257 yards. Good for 21 yards per deep ball attempt.

Tom Brady had 1889 adjusted yards. On 138 attempts. That is 13.7 yards/attemp. Or 1257 yards for the first 60 attempts and 8.1 yards per attemp for the remaining 78. That is as goosd as the top yards/attemp QB for the entire season (Drew Brees). So he is not only as productive as Brisset but additionally gets you another 650 yards at a great yards per attemp rate.

Alex Smith had 1802 adjusted yards. On 84 attempts. That is 21.4 yards/attemp. Not only he has better rate than Brisset, he gained an additional 550 yards in just 24 more attempts.

Stafford has 1614 adjusted yards in 86 attempts. 18.8 yards/attemp. Or 1257 yards for 60 attempts and then 13.7 yrds/attempt in the remaining 26 attempts.

It seems like those three were more productive than Brisset even when Brisset was compensated for external factors.