23. Eli Manning (New York Giants)
New York sports media must be having constant field days of screwing with its readers by blaming Odell Beckham for the Giants’ problems instead of Eli Manning. The offensive line deserves some of that blame, but Eli is no longer a league average quarterback and serves as more of a ball and chain to the team.
On downfield passes, Eli’s accuracy was not good, but not quite as not good as I expected it to be. Outside of his numbers on throws to the 21-25 range (31st with an accuracy percentage of 35.29%), there’s nothing truly awful about Eli’s accuracy splits. It’s just that his lack of mobility, declining arm strength and accuracy are hinderances to the Giants offense, which is why they’ve been linked to Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins.
Manning was actually at his best on throws of 41+ yards, finishing tied for sixth in accuracy (50.0%, in case you haven’t seen the rest of the quarterbacks who have been tied with Eli in this area up to this point). Surprisingly, Eli was ninth in accuracy on throws of 31-35 yards (50.0%, again), 36-40 yards (50.0%, once again), and was even 10th on throws to his right (52.29%). And while Manning had 12 of his passes defensed (third highest), none of them resulted in dropped interceptions.
Still, I’m not real convinced Eli Manning can return to his prime days, but I don’t expect media to believe that even when his time in New York eventually runs out. With a better offensive line he could be a semi-functional passer, but not with the pass protection he has in front of him.
Best Throw (Week 5 at Carolina)
You can’t place it any better than Eli did to Beckham on this touchdown dime. This is the kind of throws the pro-Eli Manning crowd says he could do all the time if he had serviceable pass protection.
22. Nick Foles (Philadelphia Eagles)
Nick Foles’ time in Philadelphia may be coming to an end yet again, but this time around he’ll be remembered as a legend in the city’s sports legacy. Foles contributed two playoff runs filling in for an injured Carson Wentz, one of which resulted in the Eagles’ first Super Bowl title and Foles receiving Super Bowl MVP.
So that nickname that Foles has (which I can’t say because I’m sure there are younger readers out there) is there for a reason. Like any good backup, Foles is constantly thinking big play, and has developed a reputation for such come playoff time.
However, I’m weary of starting him without Doug Peterson by his side. Even with that addition Foles was hot and cold in his second stint with the Eagles, and this was true at the beginning o the 2018 season. In terms of deep accuracy, Foles finished tied for last on throws to the left (16.67%), 31st into tight windows (21.43%), and was one of two quarterbacks to have zero accurate incompletions (he also had zero inaccurate completions to his credit).
Foles was the most accurate quarterback on throws into open windows, where he was accurate on every single one of his passes there. He was also great on throws to the middle (third in accuracy at 75.0%), and tied for sixth on throws under pressure (50.0%).
Nick Foles will always have a spot in Philadelphia for what he helped contribute, and his return to the city is a great story. Like Case Keenum and Ryan Fitzpatrick, he works best as a backup, but I don’t expect teams that need quarterbacks to follow this logic, so he’ll probably get showered with cash.
Best Throw (Wild Card Round at Chicago)
Watch the direction this throw to Golden Tate travels. This looks like a curveball, and it also happens to be the best throw I’ve ever seen Foles make. To be honest I can’t stop watching it. The placement on this throw is just perfect.
21. Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago Bears)
So a lot of people in Chicago view Mitchell Trubisky as a franchise quarterback, while a lot of people outside Chicago do not. Personally, I enjoyed his rookie season, but felt that his sophomore season was uneven in quality.
The offense around Trubisky improved drastically, so his numbers sky rocketed in comparison to his rookie season. And there are some things to like about Trubisky’s deep passing ability in terms of accuracy. He was at his best under pressure, where he was fourth in accuracy (52.63%). He also did very well on throws to the left (seventh, 54.17%, despite the narrative that he was a bad passer when throwing to his left), 36-40 yards (sixth, 55.56%), and 41+ yards (fifth, 60.0%).
The main issue with Trubisky right now is in how consistent his accuracy is. He was 28th in accuracy in clean pockets (42.22%) and 23rd throwing into tight windows (30.0%). His accuracy into open windows did better than I expected, as his 70.83% accuracy percentage ranked 14th.
An improved Trubisky in 2019 should help get the Bears to the playoffs for a second straight season. They have more than enough talent on both sides of the ball to make a deep playoff run to do so if Mitch steps up his game.
Best Throw (Week 6 at Miami)
This tight window throw to Taylor Gabriel is beautiful. Considering Gabriel’s size and how good the coverage is makes this all the more impressive. And I’m still not sure how the Dolphins won this game.
20. Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys)
Dak Prescott did excellent as a deep passer in 2017, so his ranking here a season later is a pretty big disappointment, but isn’t all that surprising. The amount of throws Prescott missed was a constant topic of discussion, and his deep accuracy splits reflect that.
Prescott was 26th in accuracy in clean pockets (42.86%) and 29th into open windows (57.89%). He left Amari Cooper hanging on a few deep throws down the stretch, affecting Cooper’s yardage totals. Only four of his passes were disrupted by defenders, which isn’t bad at all.
Prescott finished first in accuracy on throws of 36-40 yards and throws to the middle (both at 100%), but the sample sizes on both were limited. Instead, I thought he was more impressive under pressure, where he was third in accuracy percentage 53.85%. Prescott finished eighth in accuracy on throws of 31-35 yards (53.85%) as well.
The offense Scott Linehan provided Prescott, to me, was a bigger issue than how many plays the quarterback left on the field, but it was still a pressing issue nonetheless. Prescott has shown he can do enough to lead the Cowboys to the playoffs, but he needs to refine his accuracy entering year four. That or Jason Garrett needs to be replaced with a coach that doesn’t embrace mediocrity and the art of wasting an extremely cheap rookie contract.
Best Throw (Week 17 at New York Giants)
You knew this was coming, right? This ultimately didn’t matter since Dallas already clinched the NFC East in Week 16 and could not compete for a bye, but this fourth down, game deciding touchdown throw to Cole Beasley is a specular pressure play by Prescott. If you replace the 4 Dak wears on his jersey with a 9 you could mistake him for (gets smacked).
19. Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals)
The Prince of Mediocrity himself, Andy Dalton is finally going to see what it’s like to have a second head coach (I think, if he’s not traded). That’s for better or worse for the Bengals, most likely the latter.
In terms of deep accuracy, Dalton wasn’t good or bad. He was awful throwing the middle, finishing 32nd in a accuracy percentage with 20.0%, and was almost as bad throwing to his left (30th, 36.36%). Tight window throws weren’t much better, as Dalton finished 26th in accuracy percentage with a total of 29.41%.
Dalton was at his best in two spots, believe it or not. He finished second on both throws to his right (66.67%) and on throws of 21-25 yards (75.0%). In addition he finished 11th in accuracy throwing into open windows with an accuracy percentage of 72.73%.
I honestly don’t have that much to say about Dalton. He did about as well as I expected him to, so there’s really no point in going on about this summary.
Best Throw (Week 3 at Carolina)
Dalton is capable of one outlandish throw a season, and this one against the Panthers fills that case perfectly. Dalton throws A.J. Green open on this play, which is amazing not only because Green is usually the guy that carries Dalton on his back, but the sideline placement of this pass into a tight window is sensational. I wish we could see this Andy Dalton more often.
18. Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans)
Considering he played behind arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL, Deshaun Watson didn’t do a bad job at all. While his per game numbers regressed from his rookie season, I felt Watson grew as a passer in the pocket, showing more decisiveness and less off balance footwork.
Watson did well throwing to his left and right (12th in both areas with an accuracy percentage of 47.37% and 50.0% respectfully), and was 10th in accuracy percentage under pressure (47.62%). His impressed most throwing 36-40 yards, as he finished third in accuracy percentage (66.67%). He was also fifth in accuracy in both 21-25 and 26-30 distances (68.75% and 66.67% respectfully).
Watson could definitely improve throwing into tight windows, as he finished 30th in accuracy percentage with 22.73%. He threw 13 throws of at least 41 yards in the air yet ranked 31st in accuracy percentage in that area (13.33%).
Overall I don’t consider Watson to be a great downfield passer yet, but he’s taking steps in the right direction and has improved significantly over his rookie season.
Best Throw (Week 16 at Philadelphia)
I don’t have much to say about this play to Jordan Akins (one of two rookie tight ends named Jordan). This is just a phenomenal play and vintage Deshaun Watson.
17. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)
Yeah, this one hurts. There’s a section of Packers fans that won’t be surprised by Aaron Rodgers’ placement, but in comparison to previous years where he constantly finished in the top five in deep accuracy, seeing him rank 17th in accuracy percentage sucks.
Right when Rodgers suffered that knee injury in Week 1 against the Bears his accuracy looked off. He was fifth in accuracy to open receivers (76.19%), but was 19th throwing to tight windows (34.69%), a disappointing ranking. He also ranked 26th throwing into the 21-25 range (41.94%) and 27th throwing to the middle of the field (33.33%). To his credit, however, Rodgers was tied with the most accurate incompletions in 2018 with 10.
There’s enough from Rodgers where his deep accuracy in 2018 was slightly above average. He was at his best on throws of 26-30 yards, where he finished fourth in accuracy percentage with a nice 69.23%. He was accurate on 50% of his passes to the 36-40 and 41+ ranges, ranking seventh and sixth respectfully. Rodgers also finished fifth in deep passing yards (935) and air yards (712) and became the first quarterback in Deep Ball Project history to throw zero interceptions downfield.
For a quarterback with the legacy of Aaron Rodgers, this was a massive disappointment to watch. But from any regular QB, there’s still plenty of highlight reel throws from the Future Hall of Fame Packer.
Best Throw (Week 11 at Seattle)
This seems like the third time a quarterback’s best throw came against the Seahawks, and like the other two times it came in a loss. Nevertheless, this touchdown bomb to Robert Tonyan is truly spectacular. A very limited amount of quarterbacks could make this throw work, and Rodgers did it at a time where he clearly wasn’t at full health.
16. Alex Smith (Washington Redskins)
It’s time for part five of “Alex Smith is not a bad downfield passer.” But considering how he might not be able to play again due to the gruesome leg injury he suffered against the Texans, I hope he gets back to full health and has a clear peace of mind.
Anyway, let’s get to the charting. Smith did not experience the success downfield that he had in 2017, but he still did a solid job. He was at his best on throws to the middle, as he tied for third in accuracy with a percentile of 75.0%. As well as finishing in the top 10 on throws of 26-30 and 31-35 yards (fifth, 66.67% and seventh, 60.0% respectfully), Smith was 14th throwing into tight windows (37.5%).
An issue with Smith’s play was how limited his decision making was, a flaw that impacted his time in Kansas City and eventually became his undoing. He had the fifth fewest yards after catch (56), but did come away with only three passes defensed and zero inaccurate completions.
If 2018 was the last time we will see Alex Smith in the NFL, he left on a solid note in terms of deep accuracy. The problem for Washington is what they’re going to do at quarterback in 2019 considering Smith likely won’t play this year at all.
Best Throw (Week 5 at New Orleans)
This is just a simple pressure play with a perfectly thrown ball to Paul Richardson. Here’s hoping Smith recovers and gets to walk again.
15. Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars)
What the hell is going on?
Yeah, I’m not sure what is going on here either. Blake Bortles finishing 15th in downfield accuracy is not something I expected to find, and I was staring in shock when I saw his final accuracy numbers.
There’s no sugarcoating that Bortles is perhaps the worst starting quarterback in the league. His slow processing and limited style of play proved to be a dagger in Jacksonville’s hopes of making a Super Bowl run in 2017, and cost them many wins in 2018 when the defense regressed. And somehow, he’s 15th in downfield accuracy.
Bortles was at his best on throws to his right, where he was the most accurate quarterback throwing to the area (69.23%, nice). He was surprisingly great under pressure, accurate on 50.0% of his passes (tied for sixth). Most improbably, he finished 11th in accuracy throwing to open windows (72.73%). He was terrible throwing to his left though (27th, 37.5%).
To this day I’m still mind blown by how high Bortles’ accuracy percentage was on deep passes. Maybe I’m just overthinking it, maybe I’m not, but no quarterback this atrocious should be having an accuracy percentage this decent.
Best Throw (Week 6 at Dallas)
How the hell does a QB like Bortles make a throw this good to DeDe Westbrook? By the way, this resulted in a touchdown. I’m confused. This is supposed to be Blake Bortles, right?
14. Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings)
I’m not much of a Kirk Cousins fan. He’s a better pocket passer than Case Keenum, but his limited mobility proved to be a hinderance behind the Vikings offensive line, and he left a lot of plays on the field in his first season in Minnesota.
But all things considered, he did well enough throwing down the field. He was accurate on all of his throws of 31-35 yards, but I think he was at his best under pressure, where his accuracy was outstanding (second, 54.55%). He was also tied for second throwing into tight windows with an accuracy percentage of 50.0%.
On throws of 41+ yards, Cousins threw 12 attempts and was sixth in accuracy (50.0%), proving that the narrative that you get less accurate the more you throw isn’t always true. His eight touchdown passes were also tied for fourth most in 2018. One area where he struggled was throwing into open windows, where he finish fourth last in accuracy percentage (46.15%).
For the most part, Cousins’ accuracy splits were pretty solid, sometimes incredible. I still think he needs to play better, as I don’t think he was as good as his raw stats suggested he was, but he did step up his deep passing ability in 2018.
Best Throw (Week 5 at Philadelphia)
The operating crew on the Eagles’ end zone angles really irritate me in how late they are in following downfield passes, so they just barely manage to track down this excellent throw to Adam Thielen as Cousins gets drilled in the end zone by interior defensive master Fletcher Cox. Needless to say, this is a phenomenal pressure play.
T-11. Nick Mullens (San Francisco 49ers)
There isn’t much of a sample size to choose from when it comes to Nick Mullens, but at least what’s available isn’t bad at all! Tied for 11th in overall deep accuracy, Mullens did as well as a undrafted backup could have, perhaps better.
Unfortunately, Mullens is the only quarterback to go without throwing a single deep touchdown, a trait shared with fellow 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo on last year’s Deep Ball Project. His was at his best throwing to 21-25 yards, where he ranked seventh in overall accuracy at 62.5%. It should be noted he did not have any attempts of 31-35 and 36-40 yards.
What’s available doesn’t tell us much, but Mullens is a fascinating quarterback that certainly appears to be one of the best backups in the league.
Best Throw (Week 16 vs. Chicago)
Who else would this amazing throw be completed to but George Kittle? That’s what’s so fun about guys like Mullens; You don’t expect much from them due to their limited skill sets, but they end up being aggressive and more fun than you’d think.
T-11. Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens)
Like Mullens, Lamar Jackson’s sample size is limited but still fascinating. Replacing Joe Flacco for the remainder of the season, his running ability gave the offense an edge it needed, and he’s not as awful of a passer as his reputation suggests.
Jackson was the most accurate passer in the 21-25 range (80.0%), and the most accurate quarterback under pressure (66.67%, though it should be noted he only threw three passes). When it came to throwing to the middle of the field, he finished seventh in accuracy at 66.7%. He was at his best in that 21-25 range.
Like most rookies, tight window accuracy (27th, 28.57%) is a work in progress. He was also 22nd in accuracy in clean pockets at 45.45%. He didn’t officially qualify for ranking in the 36-40 area, as he had zero attempts there.
All things considered, Jackson is an intriguing quarterback to keep an eye on, and I look forward to seeing what he does in 2019.
Best Throw (Week 16 at Los Angeles Chargers)
Mark Andrews returns once again to catch another seed, this time from Jackson. The level of accuracy here is phenomenal, as Jackson’s placement is enough to give Andrews loads of yards after the catch and the touchdown.
T-11. Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders)
Considering how critical I’ve been of Derek Carr’s recent play, you’re probably surprised by his ranking. And while he tied with Jackson and Mullens for 11th in accuracy, his sample size was by far the largest of the three, giving him the “higher spot” even though they’re all tied.
Indeed, Carr did better than I expected him to accuracy wise, even ranking 11th in accuracy into tight windows (39.13%). He was solid throwing into clean pockets (13th, 52.95%), but as you’d probably guess, was much less so against pressure (22nd, 33.33%).
Carr was excellent when throwing to his right, as he finished third in accuracy percentage at 60.0%. So while I’m not the biggest fan of his play (his pocket presence could definitely be better), I must say he was pretty good throwing the deep ball in 2018, giving us his best season in that area since 2016.
Best Throw (Week 14 vs. Pittsburgh)
This is a gorgeous throw to Seth Roberts on the Raiders’ game winning drive against Pittsburgh. As aforementioned, Carr’s accuracy looked good throwing into tight windows, and the placement on this pass to double coverage was sublime.