Click here to go to the 2015 Deep Ball Edition.
If you’re like me, you’re tired of the constant narratives NFL media pushes on a daily basis. One such narrative is the “weapons” a quarterback has. And what can determine if a passer has great weapons or not? There are plenty of small factors that can determine this, but there is one that I in particular find interesting.
The deep ball.
Recently I watched deep ball film of 32 quarterbacks from 2014, and created various charts and statistics for said passers. And now, I’m giving my grade of each QB that I reviewed.
Before I get to the grades, I’ll take the time to answer some FAQ’s that I received over the course of my research.
Q: What do you consider a deep ball? A: Any pass that travels 16 yards or more in the air. Needless to say, my deep ball charting is different from, say, Pro Football Focus. The reason I do so is because sites like ESPN and pro-football-reference chart deep passes the same way in their play-by-play sections.
Q: How does a QB qualify for your deep ball research? A: To qualify for my research, a QB must start a minimum of 8 games. Each team except the Titans and Redskins has at least one quarterback that qualifies. Sorry, Washington and Tennessee, maybe next year.
Q: Do you take notes on each deep ball? A: Yes, and that’s how I was able to summarize the grades for each quarterback listed. Similar to the people that chart for ESPN’s QBR stat and the guys at Pro Football Focus, I use film to give a proper context of how truly good quarterbacks were at deep ball passing in 2014.
Q: Can deep ball stats mislead? A: Absolutely, and you’ll see that once I give my grades for each QB. Completion percentage misses as much as it swings, so you’ll occasionally see some quarterbacks get generous CMP%, despite inaccurate throws (that mainly has to do with having a wide receiver make an athletic play or playmaking skills that can create a larger margin of error).
Q: How do you grade each QB? A: I grade based on how well the deep ball was for the QB. I weight great passes higher than bad passes, but completed passes that are more about the receiver making an excellent adjustment catch don’t impress me at all. For example, if you have a lot of terrific passes and a lot of bad passes, the terrific passes get weighed higher.
Q: Do you ignore certain parts of a deep ball that show up on film? A: Yes. I do not count passes wiped out by penalty (incomplete passes where the penalty on the offense is accepted count however), as well as passes intentionally thrown away.
Q: Why do you have splits from games 1-6 and 7-16? A: This list originated from when I was watching film of Philip Rivers. When the Chargers started out 5-1, Rivers was the favorite for MVP, and his deep ball was insane in his first 6 games. So from there, I decided to review deep ball film of all that qualified using this split.
Q: Does this include the postseason? A: It does not. Doing that would be unfair, and this is because that leaves out a lot of quarterbacks, and can inflate the statistics of a QB.
Now, let’s get to the reason why you guys are here. My grading is simple: Reviews of each quarterback summarized into 2 paragraphs, their raw stats, and their best deep ball throw. At the end, I’ll list a chart of all surveyed quarterbacks, and cite who had the best deep ball (though by the grades it should be obvious).
This article will be divided into 3 parts. This section will look at the first 16 quarterbacks on the list. The 2nd will look at the next 12, and the 3rd part will look at the last 4, as well as the charts for each QB as a whole.
So without further delay, and after a month and a half of research, blood, sweat, and tears, I present (in alphabetical order from last name): The grades of each deep ball passer from 2014.
Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars)
The first QB on this list is a rookie; what are the odds? While Bortles wasn’t good by any means in his rookie season, he showed signs of promise when it came to deep ball passing. No, he didn’t have the amazing passes of the veterans, but on occasion he extended the play a la Ben Roethlisberger and fired down the field.
Of course, there were times where Bortles just simply made a “WTF” kind of throw (in a bad way), and while that can be blamed on pass protection, there were plenty of missed opportunities (Week 7 vs. CLE). It’s something that needs much work, but the hits are good enough to inflate his grade.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 3 vs. IND, 7:50 3Q: His debut featured perhaps the most Roethlisbergerish play from the rookie. Doing a fantastic job of avoiding an incoming sack, Bortles somehow got out of trouble and delivered to Will Ta’ufo’ou for 26 yards.
Tom Brady (New England Patriots)
Here’s one that always gets resurrected each year; is Tom Brady a good deep ball passer? The answer to that riddle is no. Even when he cleaned up after that Monday Night Football disaster against the Chiefs, his deep ball in general left me extremely unimpressed. In fact, his is the weakest of the elite quarterbacks. In fact, a significant number of 2nd and 3rd tier quarterbacks have a better deep ball than Brady.
While far from the worst deep ball QB in 2014, Brady more times than not overthrew his targets, which explains why the Patriots’ style of offense is intermediate. While he’s made a very few amount of perfect throws, he does not have the arm strength to fire an accurate bomb, and even a few of his deep ball completions came because the receiver was left uncovered by a mile (Week 7 against the Jets, 13:40 1Q).
Overall, the future Hall of Famer is obviously great at what he does. Just not as a deep passer.
Best Throw: Week 15 vs. MIA, 9:38 4Q: A perfect bucket right pass to Julian Edelman that could not be thrown any better for 31 yards.
Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)
Speaking of future Hall of Famers, Drew Brees is up next. Despite his small size, Brees has always been one of the premiere downfield passers in the league, and in 2014 he continued that stretch. While he had a few ugly moments (Week 2 at CLE, Week 17 at TB) that prevent him from getting an A+, Brees was consistently on target in 2014, firing perfect bucket dimes and some of the smoothest deep mechanics I’ve ever witnessed.
We mustn’t look any further than week 12 against the Ravens, where Brees completed all 6 of his deep passes despite the loss. And while Brees got fortunate on a 33-yard 50/50 ball to Kenny Stills, who made an excellent catch (5:42 2Q), the rest were legit.
Overall, another outstanding deep ball year for Brees.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 12 vs. BAL, 4:58 1Q: An absolute rainbow to Joe Morgan, perfectly placed on a huge 63-yard play.
Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota Vikings)
We often talk about how our expectations should be lowered for rookie quarterbacks. With that said, I was pleased by the accuracy of Bridgewater’s deep ball. While nothing spectacular, Teddy climbed through the growing pains of a rookie and significantly improved his accuracy in the 2nd half of 2014.
Though that one miss to a ridiculously wide open Cordarelle Patterson has been discussed (5:02 1Q: Week 9 vs. WAS), this is something that Teddy improved on, with perfect sideline passes that at times led to touchdowns. This was done in spite of terrible pass protection and an inconsistent receiving core.
As with any rookie, there’s work that needs to be done, but Bridgewater was not too shabby on the downfield throw in his first year.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 14 vs. NYJ, 6:02 1Q: This is where Bridgewater looked his most impressive, firing a sensational dime to Charles Johnson for a 56-yard touchdown.
Raiders fans are starving for a good quarterback, and have been since the end of the Rich Gannon era. 2014 rookie Derek Carr has shown promise, but his deep ball just wasn’t cutting it. People bash the supposedly “terrible” receivers he had, but it’s hard to make catches on the long ball when your QB constantly forces you to make big plays that would be considered SportsCenter Top 10 Nominees.
While some slack is given because of Carr’s rookie status, he was shockingly inaccurate in clean pockets. As with Tom Brady, there’s plenty of overthrows on wide-open targets and ill advised decision-making. With that said, there are 2 games (Week 6 vs. SD, Week 14 vs. SF) where his deep ball showed the promise the Raiders organization saw in him. These 2 performances are enough to prevent Carr from receiving an F.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 6 vs. SD: 14:18 1Q: The first of 4 TDs on the day, Carr threw a perfect pass to Andre Holmes, who took it all the way for 77-yard touchdown.
I honestly can’t tell you a final opinion on Jay Cutler. He can look extremely impressive while at the same time make an absolutely abysmal play. 2014 was perhaps the pinnacle of such. He was screwed over by a few miscommunications early, but over the course of the season, was surprisingly inaccurate despite his skill-set. A few of Cutler’s touchdowns on deep passes even required spectacular grabs by Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett.
Still, Cutler at times looked brilliant on the deep ball, the kind of pass the old school QBs from the 50s and 60s would be proud of. Said brilliance at times is enough to help his grade.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 11 vs. MIN, 2:58 2Q: This is where Cutler showed off his deep ball the best, doing a wonderful job of throwing a dime under pressure to Brandon Marshall for a 44-yard touchdown.
Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals)
Andy Dalton has shown an incredible lack of progression in his first 4 years in the NFL, but, amazingly, he isn’t close to being the worst deep ball passer on the list. Like Jay Cutler, early on he was the victim of a few bad drops and miscommunications, and at times fired beautiful bucket passes to his receivers. Most of his touchdowns were perfectly on target in addition.
As you can expect, however, Dalton also threw some awful passes, leading to interceptions and overthrows. I’m also not convinced that the Red Rifle has done enough to be a long-term option for Cincinnati. However, his deep ball, while inconsistent, has the edge over several other passers on this list.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 1 at BAL, 5:10 4Q: AJ Green made this catch a lot more difficult that it needed to be, as he juggled a beautiful bomb by Dalton. Nevertheless, it was still a catch, and ended up being a game winning 77-yard touchdown.
I don’t sugarcoat anything I analyze, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I was extremely unimpressed with Austin Davis’ deep ball in 2014. Undrafted, Davis came on the scene in week 1 for Shaun Hill, and not much else. There’s some nice throws, but, incredibly, a huge chunk of Davis’ completions came on inaccurate passes.
Seriously. We’re talking consistent stretches of 50/50 shots, and completions that should not have been caught at all. As a result, Davis’ 41.5 CMP% is a lot more generous than it needs to be.
I’m very happy that an undrafted guy like Davis made it into the NFL, and I wish more undrafted QBs could start in the NFL. That still doesn’t detract from the fact that his deep ball was terrible last year.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 10 at ARI, 2:01 2Q: A perfect dime to tight end Jared Cook, who made it last for a 59-yard touchdown.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (Houston Texans, now with the New York Jets)
If you’re expecting me to rip apart a journeyman quarterback like Ryan Fitzpatrick, think again. Fitzpatrick was a pleasant surprise to watch when it came to the downfield pass, and while he looks like a hobo that lives in the urban side of town, His throws (for the most part) were beauty.
Don’t get the wrong idea, there are some terrible passes in Fitz’s film, but also some sensational ones. A monster when he was on point, you’d think that by the film Fitzpatrick was an elite QB.
Some things are too good to be true, but there was a lot to like from Ryan Fitzpatrick on the deep ball in 2014.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 13 vs. TEN, 0:47 2Q: The greatest game of his career also featured Fitzpatrick’s finest deep ball throw of 2014, a 58-yard dime to DeAndre Hopkins for a 58-yard touchdown.
The playoff god of the 2010s’, Joe Flacco can fire a mean deep ball whenever he decides to get on target. In fact, Flacco had the highest percentage of attempts resulting in a deep ball touchdown, with 15.2% of his shots eventually crossing the pylon. Thus, Flacco was a touchdown machine on the long ball in 2014.
So what’s not to like? Well, Flacco led the league in throws leading to defensive pass interference, a vast majority being on the deep ball. That doesn’t get by me at all. In addition, there’s plenty of misses by the former Super Bowl MVP. Still, Flacco’s connections were very spectacular, and that’s a big reason why he’s so loved in the city of Baltimore.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 6 at TB, 14:09 2Q: This was prime Joe Flacco, air mailing a beautiful bomb to Steve Smith SR for a 56-yard TD. And yes, this was the 5-touchdown game.
Nick Foles (Philadelphia Eagles, now with the St. Louis Rams)
What a bizarre change of fortune. From 27 TD and 2 INT in 2013 to regression and getting traded at the speed of light, Nick Foles has seen it all. And as you can guess, his deep ball was all over the place in 2014. There’s certainly some bright spots, but not nearly as much as there is ugly ones. His week 4 performance against the 49ers remains the worst deep ball game I have ever seen. Raw stats sometimes don’t do justice, but Foles was 1/14 for 17 yards, an INT, and 1.2 yards per attempt.
That game summed up Foles’ entire deep ball season; inaccurate, scared in the pocket, indecisive. His sole completion on the downfield pass came on a diving catch by Jeremy Maclin. And we wonder why Chip Kelly traded him. Eventually, Foles improved on his terrible start with several unspectacular but decent enough games. And his touchdown throws were a thing of beauty, so I guess that keeps him from being the worst deep ball QB of 2014.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 8 at ARI, 2:31 3Q: Beautiful. On target bomb to Maclin for the 54-yard touchdown.
Shaun Hill (St. Louis Rams, now with the Minnesota Vikings)
When compared to former teammate Austin Davis (another undrafted QB), Hill’s deep ball is an improvement. Of course, that shouldn’t say much since Davis’ deep ball accuracy was awful. Hill didn’t do anything worth writing home to (or in this era, texting), but the fact that he only got away with 1 pick says something, as he’s 1 of 3 quarterbacks from 2014 to do this.
But more so than Davis, Hill was able to get on target with throws, featuring less 50/50 shots and more precision. There’s nothing absolutely eye popping, but also nothing shockingly bad, putting Hill around middle territory.
Best Deep Ball Pass: Week 12 at SD, 1:15 4Q: Hill is able to fire a dime to Kenny Britt, who makes it a 27-yard play.
Brian Hoyer (Cleveland Browns, now with the Houston Texans)
The Hometown Hero is no more, but, remarkably, Hoyer’s first 6 games revealed incredible deep ball accuracy. A 57.5 CMP% (highest for any QB in their first 6 games) is an indicator of many things going right, and such was the case early on for Brian Hoyer. There was also the lucky dropped interception.
Eventually, this came back to bite Hoyer in the butt, as he fell from grace in the 2nd half of the season, missing his targets on a regular basis and dishing out bad throws, revealing him as a boom or bust passer, and eventually, his benching. His game at home against the Steelers is phenomenal, while his back-to-back games against Atlanta and Buffalo were ugly. There’s a lot of good and bad, but trust me, it could be worse than Brian.
Best Deep Ball Pass: Week vs. PIT, 14:27 3Q: Doing an excellent job of avoiding pressure, Hoyer delivered to Travis Benjamin for a 31-yard play.
Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco 49ers)
“I truly believe Colin Kaepernick could be one of the most confusing quarterbacks ever.” –Me framing Ron Jaworski. Week 1 looked like Kap would further progress and build on his strong 2012 and 2013 seasons. So what the hell happened? I guess Kap isn’t a good pocket passer.
We know about the velocity Kaepernick puts on his passes, and that comes from his background in baseball (ANTONIO GATES PLAYED BASKETBALL IN COLLEGE). Such style has led to some terrific plays, and Tattooed Squidward could deliver these when asked to. The problem is he’ll also make some truly boneheaded throws that you don’t ask him to make, and his decision-making has actually gotten worse as opposed to better. Ask him to face Seattle and you can guarantee his goose is cooked.
Colin Kaepernick can make stupendous plays and plays that will make you punch a hole through your TV. Thus, his play is a mixed bag. Depending on if you want the goodies, you’ll have to search through all the filth to get to them.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 10 at NO, 1:34 4Q: This one was obvious. On 4th down, with the season on the line, Kaepernick somehow stayed alive in the pocket for an eternity before firing an amazing fastball to Michael Crabtree for 51 yards. Easily one of the best throws I’ve seen from 2014, made even more impressive when you consider Kap zip-linned the hell out of it.
Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts)
The progression of young quarterbacks can vary, but Andrew Luck has done so at a ridiculously rapid pace. He led the league in deep ball attempts (but not by much), and yards, and if you’re expecting loads of picks, look elsewhere (4 INT).
There’s a few garbage time moments and a few boneheaded plays, but Luck’s accuracy and skilled playmaking more than make up for these errors. His deep passing under pressure was also a thing of beauty, something not even a few veterans can accomplish.
Who knows how good Luck can become in his prime, but 2014 was an indication that he hasn’t hit his ceiling. The kind of QB you’d want on your team any time, any day, Andrew Luck is the future of the NFL at this rate, and his deep passing is a big reason for it.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 13 vs. WSH, 10:13 3Q: Despite being under pressure, Luck fires a terrific dime to Donte Moncrief for the 48-yard touchdown.
From a horribly unlucky and screwed over 2013 to a comeback 2014, Eli Manning proved he could still be a quality starter in the NFL.
So let’s work on that deep ball.
I’m not going to give a specifically detailed review of Eli’s deep ball, because he was terrific at it in years’ past. Besides, there’s a certain rookie sensation that helped him out significantly.
When throwing to Odell Beckham Jr, Eli made a constant amount of inaccurate passes made up for by ODB’s amazing skill set and playmaking. This, in a nutshell, results in the wide splits in the stats.
It’s clear that Eli made his share of solid throws in 2014, and we should expect that to continue with Beckham Jr being the primary target. However, the accuracy is lacking in comparison to recent years, something that needs to get fixed.
Best Deep Ball Throw: Week 4 at WSH, 0:07 2Q: With the first half winding down, Eli delivered a perfect pass to Victor Cruz for 29 yards, who got out of bounds. With 1 second left, Eli’s excellent decision allowed the Giants to increase their lead with a field goal kick to end the first half.
You can find Part 2 here.