Earlier this week, we looked at the most common routes in the 2019 season from a receiver's perspective -- how much production, or lack thereof, the most commonly targeted receivers could produce on a given route. That's only half the story, however. Today, we'll look at every qualified quarterback from 2019.
We're still looking at small sample sizes here, of course -- even on the most common route in football, the curl, several qualified quarterbacks had fewer than 50 attempts -- but larger sample sizes help give a clearer picture of which routes teams and quarterbacks prefer to throw, as well as how effectively they actually throw them. Only one player was targeted on more than 30 curl routes, for example, but 22 players threw at least 50 curls last season. We can more accurately measure Mitchell Trubisky's ability to throw the curl route than we can Allen Robinson's ability to catch it. Obviously, there's a lot of overlap between the success of a quarterback and his receiver, but you can look at the differences between, say, Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater to see that the quarterback has a lot of impact on both the frequency and effectiveness of any given route.
It's worth noting that, due to the way the data is collected, we are looking at receiving DYAR and DVOA, not passing. One big difference is that sacks aren't included -- obviously, if you're tackled to the ground, you're not throwing any particular route. Also -- and this is very, very important this year -- interceptions are not penalized below more than any other incomplete pass. The number of passes includes defensive pass interference penalties. Each table is sorted by descending DYAR.
To qualify for these tables, quarterbacks must be listed with at least 200 total targets in 2019. We also included three other players -- Bridgewater, Washington's Dwayne Haskins, and Denver's Drew Lock -- who threw at least 150 targets and are expected to start in 2020. This left us with 35 qualified passers. We already covered league-wide trends and notable plays in our receivers piece, so today we're going to focus solely on passing production in 2019.
There's a very common theme in these routes: naturally, the leading receiver and passer often play on the same team. So is the case with the curl, where Julio Jones led the league as a receiver, and Matt Ryan led the league as a passer.
|Curl Route Leaders, 2019|
It's a funny thing about Matt Ryan and the curl -- in 2016 when he was MVP and led the Falcons to the Super Bowl, he was dreadful on curl routes, finishing with exactly zero DYAR. Only five qualifying quarterbacks that season were worse. Since then, he has led the league in curl DYAR every year, but neither he nor his team have been as successful overall. Perhaps performance on the curl is simply not a critical part of Kyle Shanahan's offense -- it certainly wasn't for Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco.
The worst passer on the curl was Philadelphia's Carson Wentz, whose teammate Zach Ertz was last in receiving DYAR on the route. Wentz's struggles went beyond Ertz, however -- he threw curls to 13 different players last year, and only four of them had positive DYAR. Considering how effective the curl was for most passers, that's distressing. The Eagles' best receiver on the curl was tight end Joshua Perkins, who accumulated 12 DYAR on all of two targets.
No quarterback threw more curls than Dallas' Dak Prescott, though he wasn't especially accurate on them, ranking 25th out of 35 qualifiers in catch rate.
Perhaps the curl is not a critical part of Kyle Shanahan's offense. Apparently, however, the out is, because that's where the coach and his quarterback shined most brightly.
|Out Route Leaders, 2019|
Jimmy Garoppolo led the NFL in DYAR and DVOA on out routes, and unlike Matt Ryan and the curl, he didn't get to play with the league's best target on the route. Only one 49ers receiver -- Emmanuel Sanders -- qualified for the receiving leaderboards on the out, and he only saw nine out targets in San Francisco after arriving there via midseason trade. Garoppolo's preferred receiver on the out was tight end George Kittle. Kittle only saw 13 out targets himself, so he failed to qualify for the receivers' leaderboard, but he produced 56 DYAR on those 13 targets, catching 12 of them for 182 yards. Other notable out targets in San Francisco included Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, and Ross Dwelley, who combined for 78 DYAR on 19 targets.
The worst quarterback on the out was Joe Flacco, and keep in mind he only started eight games in 2019. His completion rate of 45% on those throws was dreadful, and a sign of waning arm strength for a quarterback whose powerful delivery has always been his calling card. On the other hand, Drew Lock, Flacco's replacement in Denver, was no great shakes on the out himself, so this may be a problem that goes deeper than the quarterback.
No passer threw more out routes than Jared Goff of the Rams. Sean McVay often rolls his quarterback out of the pocket, so it makes sense Goff would try a lot of those sideline throws.
Drew Brees, as you may have heard, is a very, very good quarterback. His DYAR took a hit because he missed five games, but throw-for-throw, nobody was better -- he finished first in passing DVOA with a career-best mark of 39.8%. He led the league in DVOA on curls and was second on outs. It's the slant, though, where he dominated.
|Slant Route Leaders, 2019|
Brees led the NFL in slant DYAR despite those five missed games, and he blew away the field in DVOA. It certainly helps that Michael Thomas led the league in receiving DVOA on slants, but that includes 103 DYAR on 26 throws from Brees and only 29 DYAR on 10 throws from Teddy Bridgewater. To say that Thomas was Brees' favorite target on the slant would be a wild understatement -- Brees only threw three other slants all year, two to Jared Cook and one to Taysom Hill.
Two playoff quarterbacks bring up the back of the pack here: Kirk Cousins and, stunningly, Patrick Mahomes. Cousins was actually worse by a decimal point (-39.7 DYAR to -39.6) Both are victims, however, of a bug in the system. Remember, these statistics are based on receiving numbers, which means Cousins and Mahomes are being blamed here for their receivers' fumbles -- two by Minnesota's Stefon Diggs, one by Kansas City's Sammy Watkins. That said, neither quarterback fared especially well in either catch rate or yards per pass on the throw. They may not have been the league's worst passers on out routes, but they weren't particularly good at them either.
Speaking of Cousins, his former offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski is now the head coach in Cleveland, where Baker Mayfield threw a league-high 59 slants. That's likely to change in 2020, considering Cousins only threw 21.
Well, we have put this off for as long as possible, because we are really, really, really sick of discussing Jameis Winston. And yet we must discuss him again, because no quarterback had better results on the dig route.
|Dig Route Leaders, 2019|
A lot of conversation in Tampa Bay last year (and, in a related note, conversation about how the Bucs will fare with Tom Brady this year) has focused on separating Winston's performance from that of his receivers. It's noteworthy that Winston finished first in this category as a passer while only one of his wideouts (Mike Evans) made the tables in the same category as a receiver -- and he was pretty much in the middle of that table too. It is also noteworthy, however, that receiving numbers do not include interceptions. Winston, as you may have heard, threw 30 interceptions last year, including three on his 47 dig routes (two of them on throws to Evans). That wasn't the most in the league -- Baker Mayfield threw four -- but it is enough to question whether Winston should really be considered the top passer here. Regardless, we should point out the stellar performance of Tampa Bay's Chris Godwin on the dig: eight catches in nine targets for 158 yards, three touchdowns, and 91 DYAR.
Not faring so well was Arizona's Kyler Murray, the lowest-ranked passer on digs. He average only 5.3 yards on dig throws, worst in this table, and his completion rate wasn't much better.
A trio of veteran quarterbacks -- Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan -- tied for the lead with 54 dig throws. Brady's teammate Julian Edelman led the league with 23 targets on dig routes; Rivers' teammate Keenan Allen (21) and Ryan's teammate Julio Jones (20) were right behind.
When you think of Russell Wilson's greatest strengths, you probably think of his scrambling ability and laser-accurate deep balls. Touch passes to running backs? Not so much, but that's where he outshined everyone else in 2019.
|Flat Route Leaders, 2019|
Chris Carson was third in receiving DYAR on flat routes, but on only nine targets. So who was Wilson targeting on flat routes? Well, everyone -- Carson was one of seven Seahawks with multiple targets on flat routes, including usual downfield threats Tyler Lockett and Will Dissly. Regardless of his intended receiver, though, Wilson was nearly perfect on the throw, completing 28 of 29 passes for 216 yards. He wasn't just checking down in long yardage, either -- 21 of those completions were successful plays, with three touchdowns and eight other first downs.
The worst quarterback on flat routes -- and this is jaw-dropping -- was Patrick Mahomes. Yes! That Patrick Mahomes! He only completed 24 of 33 throws. What happened on those nine incompletions? One was underthrown. Three were tipped by a defensive player at the line or in coverage. The other five were all dropped. That's part of the problem, but even the 24 passes he did complete only averaged 5.3 yards apiece and picked up seven first downs.
No player threw more flats than Aaron Rodgers, and as you'll recall, both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams were effective targets on the play. Gardner Minshew was right behind him because the Jacksonville offense was often reduced to "crap, I dunno, just dump it off to Fournette."
Derek Carr quietly had a very good year in 2019, ranking sixth in passing DYAR and eighth in DVOA. That was fueled by his excellence on the drag route, where he produced more value than any other quarterback.
|Drag Route Leaders, 2019|
Carr completed 25 of his 27 throws on drags, tied with Lamar Jackson for the most completions on this route. One of those incompletions was dropped. Sixteen of those completions picked up first downs, including eight third-down conversions. Hunter Renfrow, Tyrell Williams, and Darren Waller each had 20-plus DYAR on drags.
Carr's counterpart was Sam Darnold, last in this category by a mile despite missing three starts. Darnold only completed 14 of his 22 drags, and only four of those completions picked up first downs. His numbers are also hurt because Robby Anderson fumbled on one of those completions, but he would have been in last place even without that play.
Philip Rivers threw a league-high 38 drags. He'll fit in well in his new home in Indianapolis, where Jacoby Brissett was third with 34 drags.
We mentioned this in the receivers article, but wide receiver screens were way down last year despite the fact that Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid offense threw a ton of them. The average team threw 31.3 wide receiver screens in 2018, an average that fell to 24.0 in 2019. But that includes Kingsbury's Cardinals, an extreme outlier with 66 screens (including one thrown by Brett Hundley); the Bears were a distant second with 47. Take Arizona out of the equation and the 2019 average drops to 22.6. And, to be fair to Kingsbury, the tactic worked better in Arizona than it did in most other cities -- Kyler Murray was one of eight qualified passers to finish above replacement level on wide receiver screens. He wasn't the top rookie in this category, however; Denver's Drew Lock was third, and Daniel Jones of the Giants was first.
|WR Screen Leaders, 2019|
Only three of Jones' completions picked up first downs, but he had a 61-yard touchdown to Golden Tate and a 51-yard completion to Saquon Barkley. Lock only threw five wide receiver screens, but two picked up first downs and two more were successful plays.
Jacoby Brissett of the Colts had the worst luck on WR screens (and since WR screens suck, that's saying quite a bit). It's not his fault that Parris Campbell and Nyheim Hines fumbled on two of those plays, but only five of his 33 screens picked up first downs. It's also surprising to see Jimmy Garoppolo next to last, considering how much the San Francisco offense depends on yards after the catch. Again, though, that's in part due to fumbles on the part of his receivers (one by Deebo Samuel, one by George Kittle).
This is one of the most dangerous routes in football, and no quarterback used it more effectively in 2019 than Kirk Cousins.
|Deep Cross Leaders, 2019|
It's funny that Cousins led all passers in deep cross DYAR because none of his teammates hit the six targets needed to qualify for our receiving table. But he completed 16 of his 19 deep crosses for 396 yards. Every one of those completions picked up a first down, including four touchdowns. Adam Thielen caught all four of his targets for 120 yards and two scores; Stefon Diggs caught all three of his for 112 yards and another score. Even the tight ends got involved -- Kyle Rudolph had a 32-yard touchdown; Irv Smith had a 28-yard gain. How much of this was Kirk Cousins, and how much was Kevin Stefanski? If the latter, it could mean big changes for Stefanski's new quarterback -- Baker Mayfield only threw four deep crosses all season. Compare that to Teddy Bridgewater, hardly known for his downfield aggression, who five deep crosses in less than 200 total passes.
Only one qualified passer had negative DYAR on deep crosses: Andy Dalton, who is unlikely to qualify in 2020 as the backup behind Dak Prescott. Dalton only completed four deep crosses all year, all to Tyler Boyd. How long will it take Joe Burrow to top that number? Week 4? Maybe Week 3?
Jared Goff threw 44 deep crosses, seven more than anyone else. His 10.6-yard average on those throws was relatively poor, but his willingness to go to this highly effective route so often boosted his overall stats significantly -- nearly 10% of his total yardage on the year came on the deep cross.
Well, if you read our receivers piece, you know that broken plays mean it's time to talk about Jameis Winston again.
|Broken Play Leaders, 2019|
Winston lapped the field here, with more than twice as much DYAR as anyone else. Nobody was better last year at escaping pressure and making a big play downfield. And right about now you're probably asking, sure, but how many interceptions did he throw on those broken plays? And that is a very important question, with a very surprising answer: zero. Seriously. His broken play statline: 18-of-23 for 302 yards with six touchdowns, no interceptions, and a perfect NFL passer rating of 158.3. Winston was significantly better throwing the ball when everything went wrong than he was when everything went right. This is not to say the Bucs should have just surrendered pressure every play -- Winston was sacked 47 times, more than twice as often as he attempted a pass on broken plays -- but it's another weird detail of one of the weirder seasons we'll ever see.
In contrast, Buffalo's Josh Allen was much worse on broken plays than he was overall (and he was no great shakes when plays went according to plan, either). Allen only completed six of his 24 broken play throws for 124 yards and one touchdown. And while Winston managed to avoid throwing any interceptions on his broken plays, Allen threw three of them. That's a passer rating of 22.9.
Your leader in broken plays was Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. That's nothing new -- he had the most broken plays in 2018 too. Despite all that practice, his performance has left a lot to be desired -- he had zero DYAR in 2018 and -38 last year.
When teammates lead the passing and receiving tables in the same category, it raises an obvious chicken-or-egg question: who is more responsible for that success, the quarterback or his wideout? For better or worse, the Houston Texans are about to find out.
|Post Route Leaders, 2019|
DeAndre Hopkins led all receivers in targets and DYAR on post routes, and his quarterback Deshaun Watson leads all players at his position in DYAR on the same pattern (though two quarterbacks had more attempts). What happens if we take away Watson's throws to Hopkins? The bad news is that his targets and DYAR plummet to 10 and 129, respectively. The good news is that his DVOA on the throw goes up -- on post throws to Kenny Stills, Will Fuller, and DeAndre Carter, he went 7-of-10 for 279 yards and two touchdowns. (He did throw one interception on a pass to Stills.) For what it's worth, the newest Texans receiver, Brandin Cooks, had 15 DYAR on three post targets last year with the Rams; he was first in post DYAR in 2018.
The worst quarterback on posts was Philadelphia's Carson Wentz. That would have been a huge disappointment coming into the year, because Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson finished second and third in post route DYAR in 2018. Both were injured in 2019, however, with Jackson only playing 65 offensive snaps and Jeffrey fewer than 500. Jackson did not see a single post target all year; Jeffrey saw one, an incompletion, for -2 DYAR. Wentz was left forcing post targets to tight end Zach Ertz (-15 DYAR on nine targets) and rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (-32 on four, all incomplete).
Philip Rivers and Jameis Winston tied for the lead with 24 passes on deep routes. They were not especially high in DYAR, however, and would rank even lower if we accounted for the two interceptions each passer threw on the play.
Fade routes aren't usually effective, but Patrick Mahomes made them work.
|Fade Route Leaders, 2019|
Mahomes only threw nine fade routes all season (we hope you are enjoying tonight's presentation of Small Sample Size Theater…), but he made them count, completing four of them for 119 yards and adding a pair of DPIs for 37 more yards. And yes, it's reassuring to see Mahomes on top of one of these tables.
It's strange, however, to see Russell Wilson at the bottom of one of these tables. As mentioned when we looked at receivers, DK Metcalf was the worst target in the league on fades (one completion in 11 throws), which goes a long way in explaining Wilson's struggles here. Wilson attempted eight fades to other receivers, however, and he only completed one of those too. Well, at least both receptions resulted in touchdowns.
Miami's DeVante Parker had the most targets on fade routes, so naturally Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick led the league in fade throws with 27. Whatever success Fitzpatrick had, however, came on those throws to Parker (6-of-15, 180 yards, three touchdowns, one interception). Fitzpatrick's other 12 fade attempts resulted in just one completion for 14 yards and two DPIs for 37 more yards.
Kirk Cousins struggled on slants, but between the deep post and the go/fly, he was one hell of a mad bomber.
|Go/Fly Route Leaders, 2019|
Cousins' success, however, was almost entirely based on throws to Stefon Diggs. He only threw three other go/flies all year, completing just one, a 58-yard touchdown to Laquon Treadwell. With Diggs in Buffalo and Treadwell in Atlanta, Cousins only had two go/fly targets all year to players still on Minnesota's roster: one incompletion to Alexander Hollins and another to Olabisi Johnson.
This is the third route where the quarterback with the worst success was Philadelphia's Carson Wentz. Nelson Agholor was also the worst target on the route, but Wentz fared no better on throws to anyone else -- his nine other attempts resulted in zero completions, one 49-yard DPI (to Boston Scott, of all people), and one interception.
And oh, look, there's Jameis Winston with notable stats, throwing 16 more go/fly attempts than anyone else. Only Mason Rudolph (!) and Aaron Rodgers threw even half as many as Winston. Winston's staggering go/fly numbers: 10 completions for 458 yards and two touchdowns; two DPIs for 76 more yards; 25 incompletions; and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
All right, this article is about done, let's put Winston aside and move on to somebody else.
OH, COME ON.
|Seam Route Leaders, 2019|
Jameis Winston led all passers with 29 seam throws and 129 DYAR on the play. His full numbers on those throws: 18-of-28 for 390 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, plus a DPI for 20 more yards.
The seam was an effective route for almost everyone, but not for Mitchell Trubisky. He only completed three of his 14 seam throws for a total of 86 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Perhaps this is why Chicago added a gazillion tight ends this offseason -- Trubisky wasn't getting it done with the Trey Burtons and the Ben Brauneckers of the world.
We close with the corner, where Drew Brees was literally perfect.
|Corner Route Leaders, 2019|
Brees only threw eight corner passes in 2019, but every last one of them resulted in a first down. Seven were completed for 145 yards and four (!) touchdowns; the eighth was a DPI for 24 more yards.
You know who wasn't perfect on corner routes? Sam Darnold. He only completed two of his 11 throws, with as many touchdowns (one) as interceptions.
Philip Rivers led the NFL in corner attempts. He wasn't terribly effective on those attempts, but hey, good effort.
Winston vs. Brady
Since we've been talking about Jameis Winston all
year day, I wanted to devote just a little more space to his performance in 2019 and his replacement in 2020, Tom Brady. Looking at their performances on each route paints a picture of just what a radical change the Tampa Bay offense is about to undergo. Naturally, when you ignore interceptions, Winston's performance was better almost across the board -- Brady only had the edge in drags and deep crosses. But what's really striking is the differences in which routes each quarterback throws most frequently. If Brady plays true to form, you can expect a ton more drags in Raymond James Stadium this fall, with boosts in slants, digs, and flats as well. However, you're going to see far fewer go/flies, outs, posts, and broken plays … and, in good news for Bucs fans, fewer wide receiver screens.
|Tom Brady vs. Jameis Winston by Route, 2019|
|Tom Brady||Jameis Winston|