10. Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)
Like Tom Brady, Drew Brees seems to get better with age. His quick passing style, intelligence pre snap, and world famous accuracy have allowed him to keep playing great football this late in his career. And like most years in the Deep Ball Project era, he finishes in the top 10 in accuracy, though just barely making the cut at 10.
Brees’ accuracy dropped drastically when throwing at least 31 yards in the air. He was at his best throwing to the 21-25 range (seventh, 62.5%), and he finished 10th in the 26-30 range at 60.0%, but he was accurate on one of his passes thrown 31 yards or more, and that’s a little concerning.
Brees’ accuracy under pressure was also surprisingly bad, as he finished 30th in accuracy at 30.0%, So there’s reason to be concerned heading into his next season, but Brees also provided the high quality we’ve come to expect from him. He finished in the top ten in accuracy in clean pockets and throwing to the middle of the field, and he probably would’ve been MVP if not for the excellence of Patrick Mahomes.
There’s no doubt Brees will be in Canton when he hangs his career up, and he put yet another high quality season on his resume.
Best Throw (Week 12 vs. Atlanta)
Drew Brees seems to turn it up a notch on primetime at the Superdome. Case in point, this touchdown throw to Dan Arnold (not to be confused with Sam Darnold) showcases the vintage Drew Brees accuracy. Beautifully done.
9. Carson Wentz (Philadelphia Eagles)
I haven’t hidden my criticism of Wentz’s downfield accuracy from his first two seasons, but in 2018 that all changed. This is what I’m talking about.
A lot of people have said Wentz was not the dominant player he was in 2017 and regressed, though to tell you the truth, I don’t think he regressed all that much. The situation he was in was much worse, as the offensive line was nowhere near the quality it was in 2017 and the coaching wasn’t up to par in the first half of the season.
Wentz’s downfield accuracy stood out in many areas. most notably in the 26-30 range, being the most accurate deep passer in that area (83.33%). He was third in accuracy both throwing to his left (64.71%) and into open windows (81.82%), and finished eighth throwing in clean pockets and tight windows (59.26% and 40.0% respectfully). He was also second in accuracy on throws of 41+ yards at 66.67%.
Wentz saw issues throwing to the 21-25 range (24th, 46.67%), the middle of the field (27th, 33.33%) and against pressure (tied for 22nd at 33.33%), but otherwise showed tremendous growth as a downfield passer. I’d trust him far more as a long term option than I would Nick Foles, and the drastic improvement in deep accuracy was one reason why.
Best Throw (Week 5 vs. Carolina)
You can’t throw it any better than Wentz did on this laser to Zach Ertz, who himself had a phenomenal season. This is tight window accuracy at some of its finest.
8. Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams)
Say what you want about Jared Goff, but I was impressed by his downfield accuracy, as a lot of his fans seem to be. His Super Bowl performance had a ton of criticism, and deservedly so, but going throw his deep passing film I found a lot to like.
For as much help as Goff gets from Sean McVay, I think it’s safe to say his deep passing ability is the most appealing part of his game, as he finished eighth in overall accuracy. He was at his best in three areas, finishing fifth in accuracy percentage in the 26-30 range (66.7%), in clean pockets (60.0%) and throwing into tight windows (42.11%). Goff also finished in the top ten in accuracy on throws of 36-40 yards, to the middle of the field and the right of the field.
The main problem a lot of people have with Goff is how his play decreased drastically under pressure compared to his peers. He was 28th in accuracy percentage under pressure, and was 27th in accuracy to open windows. This has caused a few people to question whether the Rams should move on from him once his rookie deal is up, so opinions on him are polarizing to say the least.
(On a side note, Goff threw the most disrupted passes of any quarterback with 16 of them.)
With that said, Goff has proven he belongs in the NFL after a dismal rookie season. He also had 958 deep passing yards, the fourth most in 2018. Much like Wentz, his downfield accuracy looked greatly refined in his third season.
Best Throw (Week 3 vs. Los Angeles Chargers)
For as much slack as Goff gets for his play under pressure, this touchdown throw to Cooper Kupp is awesome. He’s able to escape a condensing pocket and get this rifle off to Kupp before he gets drilled. This came prior to his career day against the Vikings.
7. Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans)
The biggest concern with Marcus Mariota has less to do with his actual play (though some would argue that’s the case) and more on his durability. Following off a great 2017 season in downfield accuracy, Mariota continued that despite numerous setbacks for another great deep passing year in 2018.
Mariota finished in the top five in accuracy percentage in five areas: 31-35, 41+, throws to the middle, throws in clean pockets, and throws into tight windows. He was terrific on throws of 41+ yards, throws to the middle and throws into tight windows, as he finished second in accuracy percentage in all three areas.
An issue with Mariota was how bad his accuracy percentage was into open windows, as he finished 28th in that department. He also struggled on throws of 26-30 yards, finishing 27th in accuracy percentage there. His raw stats aren’t going to please those who craves yards and touchdowns either, which is understandable.
Still, Mariota’s accuracy was once again terrific in 2018. I think he’s a better passer than people give him credit for, and hopefully he stays on the field for a full season so that he can prove that to people.
Best Throw (Week 9 at Dallas)
Throws like this are precisely why Mariota finished second in tight window accuracy. He throws this with Darius Jennings’ back facing the quarterback, essentially throwing Jennings open against triple coverage. It’s reminiscent of that throw Mariota made to Delanie Walker in quadruple coverage a season prior.
6. Philip Rivers (Los Angeles Chargers)
At long last Philip Rivers made it back to the postseason and proved he’s still one of the league’s top quarterbacks, putting together one of his best seasons to date and leading the Chargers to a 12-4 record. His deep passing ability also improved from seasons prior, making him one of the best in that department.
Truth be told, Rivers was a much better deep passer in the first half of the season, as his accuracy fell off a bit in the second half. He still did enough to warrant a spot in the top seven, and was tremendous throwing into clean pockets, where he had the fourth highest accuracy percentage.
Other areas where Rivers impressed include throws of 26-30 yards, throws of 41+ yards, and throws to the middle, as he finished fifth, sixth, and fifth in accuracy percentage respectfully. His eight passing touchdowns were fourth among all quarterbacks and he finished ninth in passing yards.
It was a phenomenal season from Rivers, and as a deep passer he put together an impressive display.
Best Throw (Week 6 at Cleveland)
It was tough to pick between this touchdown throw to Tyrell Williams or the bomb to him the play before, but this throw to triple coverage takes my vote. This is a sensational throw any way you look at it.
5. Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs)
So many young quarterbacks get all the hype in the world, and for good reason; Football fans want to see a new generation of stud QBs take over and define their era of watching the NFL. But few have deserved the amount of hype Patrick Mahomes has gotten.
The reigning MVP, Mahomes put together one of the greatest quarterbacked seasons we will ever see, so you know damn well he put together a phenomenal year of downfield passing. His combination of outrageous unstructured playmaking, deep passing ability and talent to make new kinds of throws a reality made him a sensation in 2018.
Mahomes was particularly deadly throwing to his left, where he was the most accurate quarterback in that area. It’s safe to say he was also terrific against pressure, finishing tied for sixth in accuracy percentage in that area. And to the surprise of no one, Mahomes threw for the most deep passing yards, air yards, and touchdowns, while tying for the most accurate incompletions on the season with 10 of them.
Mahomes was surprisingly bad throwing to his right, finishing 29th in accuracy in that area, and his accuracy into tight windows downfield didn’t look as good as I hoped it would be, but considering he’s coming off his first full season as a starter (and an all-time great one at that), it’s more of a nitpick.
Patrick Mahomes is the kind of quarterback I look forward to every time he has another new performance under his belt. He’s the kind of quarterback that makes looking at raw statistics fun again, and the kind of quarterback with a captivating style of play few quarterbacks could emulate. Whether he’ll continue this phenomenal display of passing will be determined, but for now I’m enjoying the moment watching the best young quarterback in the league.
Best Throw (Week 14 Vs. Baltimore)
Honestly, what else was I going to put? Mahomes made loads of phenomenal throws in his MVP season, but none looked as impressive as this fourth down pass to Tyreek Hill across the field. Arrowhead’s version of Aaron Rodgers.
4. Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns)
Once again the Browns missed out on the playoffs, but this time it’s a little more bearable for fans to deal with, and the reason for that is because Cleveland has a franchise quarterback (For the moment anyway). Baker Mayfield put together one of the finest seasons from a rookie quarterback in league history, and how funny is it to see a Browns QB break the rookie touchdown pass record?
Mayfield’s only weak spot as a deep passer came when throwing to the 26-30 range, as his accuracy percentage here ranked 21st. Otherwise, he delivered everywhere else, ranking inside the top 10 in accuracy percentage in eight areas. He was also eighth in deep passing yards (820) and tied for seventh in touchdown passes (7).
Mayfield especially delivered on throws of 21-25 yards, where like his overall accuracy percentage he finished fourth overall. He had no problems throwing to his left, middle, or right, and looked superb against pressure, throwing into open windows, and throwing into tight windows.
As you may know, I did a lot of charting on quarterback hits in the offseason, and since Week 9 (when now head coach Freddie Kitchens replaced Hue Jackson and Todd Haley as the head of the offense), Mayfield was only hit nine times, easily the fewest in that span. Of course, he still faced a decent amount of pressure in that time, and did more than enough to offset it.
Mayfield could definitely do better as a passer in the pocket, but his ability to create on unstructured plays stands out, and his accuracy for a rookie looked fantastic. Being a Browns fan hasn’t been this exciting in decades, and with a young quarterback with plenty of promise, there’s good reason for that.
Best Throw (Week 14 vs. Carolina)
I’m not sure how Mayfield was able to fit this into the hands of Jarvis Landry. What makes this throw even more impressive is how it was aimed on third and long, though it’s still weird seeing a Browns quarterback play competent. Hopefully I can get used to it.
3. Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)
Matt Ryan arguably had the greatest season from a Pro Bowl snubbed quarterback ever (Research would be necessary for me to be 110% confident in this take). There’s no way he shouldn’t have made the Pro Bowl the first try, and yet he wasn’t even selected as an alternate at all. Just goes to show that people value wins over QB performance in regards to voting.
Anyway, Ryan has been on a freaking roll recently, putting up great season after great season and slowly making a case for himself to have a bust in Canton. While he’s not the most mobile quarterback and doesn’t have the most jaw dropping arm strength, his accuracy is otherworldly, and that’s true on deep passes as well.
The biggest problem with Ryan’s deep passing game was on throws of 41+ yards (where he looked like he was throwing a football made of styrofoam), and his accuracy percentage in this area (23rd) reflects that. But Ryan’s accuracy was consistently excellent in most areas, including throws of 31-35 yards, where he finished third in accuracy percentage.
Ryan’s accuracy was impressive regardless if his windows were open or tight, ranking in the top five in both categories. While his accuracy under pressure wasn’t great, he was fifth in accuracy in clean pockets, finished in the top five in accuracy on throws to his left and right, and was seventh in deep passing yards with 835 of them.
The injuries from his offensive line and the Falcons defense proved to be the team’s undoing, forcing Ryan to constantly put up 30 points just to have the slightest chance at winning a game. So there was a lot on his plate, but Ryan still put together a terrific season and he was sensational throwing the deep ball in 2018.
Best Throw (Week 17 at Tampa Bay)
Much like Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan’s best throw comes from a touchdown drop by Austin Hooper (who was voted into the Pro Bowl as an alternate). This is is a rainbow and it should’ve been caught by Hooper, while also showcasing that Ryan tied with Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes for the most accurate incompletions with 10.
2. Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks)
There’s no excuse for the Seahawks to let Russell Wilson walk after 2019, because he’s a sensational quarterback with a sensational ability to deliver dimes down the field. Outside of throws of 26-30 yards, Wilson delivered the goods, ranking second in deep passing yards (1,121) and touchdowns (9).
Wilson ranked in the top three in accuracy percentage in five areas (31-35 yards, 36-40 yards, throws to the left, throws in clean pockets, and throws into tight windows). He was the most accurate deep passer throwing into clean pockets, being accurate on 66.7% of his passes there. He was also second in accuracy on throws to his left and into tight windows.
I felt Wilson’s deep accuracy in 2017 wasn’t as good as it had been in previous years, but he bounced back in 2018 in a big way. His arm trajectory makes even the tightest of windows open, as his passes will drop down safely into his receivers’ hands without any interference from the defender. It’s also safe to say his mobility is first class and has also helped enhance his already terrific skill set.
It’s a shame Wilson plays with a staff that is convinced running the ball first and foremost wins games, because as the team’s franchise quarterback he’s the big reason why Seattle has managed to stay competitive and in the playoff hunt every season he’s been in the league. Wilson is a sensational deep passer and just came up a little short from finishing as the best in 2018.
Best Throw (Week 16 vs. Kansas City)
Cris Collinsworth pointed out the trajectory of this throw allowed it to drop down instead of zip line through the air, making it easier for Tyler Lockett (who had an amazing season of efficiency) to make a clean catch. And for what it’s worth this might be the best throw inside the pocket I’ve seen Russell Wilson make (He has a lot of throws on the run that can compete with this one).
1. Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts)
The quarterback that literally could not throw the football at all in 2017 is the most accurate deep passer on the 2018-19 Deep Ball Project.
Andrew Luck’s return to the NFL resulted in an outstanding season, bringing the Colts back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and earning the team a playoff win and Luck the Comeback Player of the Year award. At full health Luck has always been an amazing quarterback, but most of us had doubts that he would return to that level in 2018.
Thankfully, Frank Reich turned out to be a perfect match, and a vastly improved offensive line gave Luck actual pass protection, something he didn’t have all that much from 2012-16. And with the most cap space going into the offseason, the Colts can very well make another leap going into the season.
Luck ranked at or near the top in the 2014-15 and 2016-17 editions of the Deep Ball Project, and at 100% this season he followed those performances up with an even better display of deep passing. He was at least above average in accuracy percentage in every category, with his lowest ranking being 17th in accuracy throwing into open windows.
Impressing with his accuracy in many areas, Luck finished second in accuracy throwing to clean pockets, fifth throwing against pressure, fifth throwing to his left, fourth throwing to his right, and third throwing 26-30 yard passes. He was also third in both passing yards (970) and air yards (777), and tied for fifth in accurate incompletions with eight of them.
But by far Luck’s most impressive accomplishment on deep passing was having the highest accuracy percentage throwing into tight windows, being accurate on 53.13% of such passes. This alone is extremely impressive, but again consider that Luck’s shoulder injuries the previous prevented him from even seeing a snap on the field, and it’s even more astounding.
As a fan of the sport, few quarterbacks deliver the level of excitement that Andrew Luck brings. He has the playmaking ability outside of structure of guys like Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes, and the precision deep passing of those guys as well. He was dangerously close to fading away from relevance and responded to that in a big way by being the best deep passing quarterback of 2018.
If I could have one wish, it would be to keep Luck healthy for the rest of his career, because we owe it to see a player of his caliber on the field. He’s the kind of quarterback we should only get once or twice a decade, and his deep passing ability was nothing short of spectacular.
Best Throw (Wild Card Round at Houston)
I’ve missed Luck so much, and this sensational pass to T.Y. Hilton is reason enough. Despite facing pressure, Luck is still able to throw Hilton open and the resulting pass goes for 38 yards.
I would like to thank all of you guys for staying patient and for reading this year’s edition of The Deep Ball Project. I had a lot of fun making this year’s edition, as it seemed like the further I got into charting, the more fun I was having.
Below are the list of charts used to help make this project, including every deep pass from every QB charted, throws to all distances, all situational stats, and a few raw stats added for good measure.
All Throws of 21+ Air Yards
All Throws of 21-25 yards
All Throws of 26-30 Yards
All Throws of 31-35 Yards
All Throws of 36-40 Yards
All Throws of 41+ Yards
All Throws to the Left
All Throws to the Middle
All Throws to the Right
All Throws with Clean Pockets
All Throws Under Pressure
All Throws into Open Windows
All Throws into Tight Windows
Yards After the Catch
Thanks again for viewing and here’s to 2019 being an even better display of downfield passing!