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Welcome to The 2019-20 Deep Ball Project, the sixth annual installment in the series. Click here to go to Part 2, and you can also click here if you want to see Part 3 for the ten most accurate deep passers in this year’s edition.
If you want to see the 2018-19 Deep Ball Project, click here. With that out of the way, let’s get down to business!
For six years I’ve charted how accurate quarterbacks are throwing the ball down the field (21+ air yards past the line of scrimmage). Some quarterbacks have consistently remained at or near the top, while others have mainly been anomalies. Like any statistic, the Deep Ball Project varies and this alone can’t explain how quarterbacks process in the pocket or survey down the field, so it can’t account for that kind of data.
What it can account for, however, is constantly adding new statistics. Returning this year are the total distances (21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40, and 41+ air yards), areas of the field (Left, Middle, Right), accuracy in clean pockets vs. pressure, and open windows vs. tight windows. This time, there are six new statistics to account for.
New to the 2019-20 Deep Ball Project are the following stats: Under Center, Shotgun, Interior Pressure, Edge Pressure, Inside the Pocket, and Outside the Pocket. These six stats have been added in an attempt to provide a little more context for deep passing even if the full picture can’t be provided by data alone. Most of these are self-explanatory, and of course interior pressure looks at inside pressure while edge pressure looks at pressure on the outer part of the offensive line.
Less important but other stats used are Air Yards, Yards after the Catch (YAC), Passes Defensed (PD) and Dropped Interceptions (Dropped INT). Two key statistics are Accurate Incompletions (looking at passes that should’ve been caught but weren’t) and Inaccurate Completions (plays where the receiver was forced to make an unnecessary adjustment on the ball). As you probably have figured out based on your teams, some quarterbacks have a ton more Accurate Incompletions than others.
Finally, let’s survey how all 32 quarterbacks’ charts will look for this 2019-20 installment.
Completions, attempts, and completion percentage have all been included as a frame of reference. Keep in mind that yards, touchdowns, and interceptions are carefully looked at, but Completion Percentage is not nearly as important as Accuracy Percentage, the main stat of the Deep Ball Project. Accuracy Percentage looks at all deep throws and judges how accurate they were regardless if the ball was caught or not.
You may have noticed that each deep passing stat has a small number in parentheses next to them. This is a ranking out of 32. For example, the quarterback here had a total Accuracy Percentage of 61.22% (at the top of the chart), ranking him first (1) out of 32.
Keep in mind that some statistics tie at the bottom, so not every stat will rank at the bottom. For example, If three quarterbacks tied for last place, that would mean the lowest ranking would be tied for 30th. Also while Accuracy Percentage is the main statistic used for this article, I don’t discourage people from using yards, touchdowns, and interceptions as the main variables of interest, and I encourage using this project as a tool for your own research.
With that out of the way, let’s get things started! This is the 2019-20 Deep Ball Project, and these are the 32 quarterbacks ranked in deep accuracy from worst to best. Each team has one quarterback on this year’s installment, so let’s begin at 32.
32. Kyle Allen (Carolina Panthers)
To be fair, it’s not like Kyle Allen deserved this fate. He was an undrafted kid just trying to live his dream and found that once he helped lead the Panthers to four straight victories in relief of Cam Newton. That’s something he should always be proud of.
It was then that NFL media immediately crowning him as the Panthers’ next franchise quarterback. And then the Panthers lost 9 of their last 10 games to ultimately destroy that narrative.
Charting Allen was difficult to do not just because his accuracy was the worst of any quarterback on this year’s Deep Ball Project, but also because of how he was missing receivers. When targeting open receivers, the other 31 quarterbacks had an accuracy percentage of at least 45.45 percent. Allen struggled to even hit 35 percent of his deep passes to open receivers.
Dead last in overall accuracy, throwing to open receivers, throwing to the middle of the field, and consistently near the bottom in most statistics, Allen made things more difficult for the promising duo of D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. This has come to a degree where many Panthers fans blame Allen for single handedly destroying Samuel’s 2019 season, a harsh but warranted take.
On the bright side, Allen tied for 7th in accuracy on throws 21-25 air yards. That’s about the best I can say for his season as a deep passer. Just the fact that Carolina started 5-3 with this guy at quarterback serves as a bittersweet reminder of what could have been had Cam Newton had a healthy throwing shoulder.
Best Throw (Week 14 at Atlanta, D.J. Moore)
One of the rare Kyle Allen completions that made it into a tight window, he’s able to fit in this bullet to D.J. Moore just inside the numbers. Great pass, all around.
31. Mason Rudolph (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Best known for getting drilled in the dome by Myles Garrett, that Week 10 incident made many people outside of Pittsburgh forget how terrible Mason Rudolph was in 2019.
Rudolph wasn’t expected to start until the Leader of Men himself Ben Roethlisberger missed 14 games for injuring his elbow. Roethlisberger’s deep accuracy has declined rapidly over the last two years, so perhaps Rudolph could install some deep passing excitement back into the Steelers offense.
Let’s just say that wasn’t even close to being a reasonable reality.
Rudolph finished dead last in accuracy throwing 21-25 yards, as well as dead last in accuracy from clean pockets. He surprised in a few areas such as finishing in the top ten under pressure, under edge pressure, and on throws of 36-40 yards, but his lack of quality helped destroy a Steelers season where the defense was one of the league’s absolute best.
Question marks remain at quarterback for Pittsburgh in 2019 (Do they bring Roethlisberger back at the age of 38 coming off majow elbow surgery, or do the enter free agency or the draft for a quarterback? Realistically I expect them to remain all in on Big Ben.), and Rudolph cemented himself as one of the league’s worst starters in 2019. Lacking in accuracy in most deep statistics, this was not only bad, but easily forgettable as well.
Best Throw (Week 8 vs. Miami, JuJu Smith-Schuster)
Rudolph finished 26th in tight window accuracy in 2019, but with that in mind this is a beautiful throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster on Monday Night against the Dolphins.
T-29. Joe Flacco (Denver Broncos)
At least Kyle Allen was a first-year starter. At least Mason Rudolph was a first year starter. What’s Joe Flacco’s excuse for not only playing like garbage in year 12 but getting outplayed by a rookie quarterback for the second-year in a row?
Since winning Super Bowl MVP back in 2012, Flacco has been best known for holding back a Ravens team that on paper was a consistent playoff contender. His total lack of regard for his mechanics, play under pressure, and overall discipline as a pocket passer are even more insulting when you consider Baltimore gave him a second contract extension after 2015. For as roasted as Lamar Jackson’s accuracy was in 2018, Baltimore sure seemed to play a million times better with him than the anchor they previously employed.
That continued in Denver. John Elway’s attempts to convince the NFL that Flacco was still in his prime tricked absolutely no one, and he was easily outplayed by Drew Lock, who could only start the last five games of the season due to a thumb injury that kept him on injury reserve for a large part of 2019.
Are there any positives? Well he was first in accuracy on throws of 36-40 yards with two pass attempts. Awesome. He was also second in accuracy to the middle with three pass attempts. Sweet.
The checkdown sultan of the NFL and the league’s equivalent of mailing it in, most of Flacco’s career since 2013 has consisted of going through the motions and boring NFL audiences everywhere. One benefit he does offer is he always starts in front of a rookie quarterback that’s actually light years better than him.
Best Throw (Week 7 vs. Kansas City, Noah Fant)
There’s very little to appreciate from Flacco’s 2019 season, so the best we have is a drop from rookie tight end Noah Fant in Week 7 against the Chiefs. This is an outstanding throw that ultimately goes through the hands of the tight end, who had some struggles with catching consistency.
T-29. Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills)
No one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills, and no playoff QB amazed and baffled quite like Josh Allen.
Josh Allen is the Russian Roulette of the NFL. You never know what the hell is going to happen when the ball is out of his hands, making him a lot of fun to watch because of that reason. For the sake of the Bills offense, his mobility and otherworldly arm strength have helped them win games, while his poor accuracy and boneheaded decision making have also cost them at the same time.
Allen finished dead last in accuracy inside the pocket, as well as near the bottom on throws to the middle, in clean pockets, and to tight windows. Things improve a little bit under pressure, and he did decently throwing outside the pocket as well. Throwing eight Accurate Incompletions benefits his Accuracy Percentage as well, as does getting away with four dropped interceptions down the field.
Allen is an incredible physical talent but feels more raw than refined. If he ever puts together a foundation as a decision maker and develops more touch, he’d very well be among the absolute best young quarterbacks in the league. But until then he has a couple of major issues to clean up as a passer.
Best Throw (Week 16 at New England, Dawson Knox)
Allen lays this one beautifully in the bucket to rookie tight end Dawson Knox, who had a promising first year in the NFL.
28. Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee Titans)
Something tells me Titans fans did not expect Ryan Tannehill to show up this early on the Deep Ball Project.
Since replacing Marcus Mariota after a 2-4 start, Tannehill guided the Titans to a 7-3 finish, which was enough for the new Tennessee signal caller to make the postseason for the first time in his career. He then proceeded to make magic happen by throwing for under 100 yards in two playoff wins while somehow playing efficiently against the Patriots and Ravens at the same time.
This formula wasn’t enough to beat the Chiefs for a second time, but it signaled the best finish for the Titans in ages. It was a damn good year for Tannehill, just not from a consistent deep accuracy perspective.
I expected Tannehill to finish way better than he actually did, so seeing him at the 28th spot is extremely surprising. He was absolute money throwing the middle (finishing first in accuracy), but was lackluster in most other statistics. This is not to say he didn’t have success as a deep passer, as he was able to hit several massive throws that were the key in some Titans victories, but the consistent accuracy just wasn’t there.
This is especially hard to process considering Tannehill was a top five deep passer on the 2016-17 edition of The Deep Ball Project. What’s stranger is Mariota actually finished with a higher deep accuracy than him (54.55%, but on 11 attempts). Ultimately it didn’t matter too much since the Titans made the AFC Championship with him at the helm on his way to his first Pro Bowl invitation, but I’ve personally seen significantly better from Tannehill as a deep passer.
Best Throw (Week 13 at Indianapolis, Kalif Raymond)
This late third down bomb from Tannehill to Kalif Raymond supplied the first touchdown catch of the receiver’s NFL career, helping propel the Titans to a much needed road victory against the Colts.
27. Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)
Drew Brees’ deep accuracy was once a joy to watch. At the age of 40 however it’s fallen off a cliff.
The Saints were able to finish 5-0 with Teddy Bridgewater temporarily replacing Brees while he nursed a thumb injury, and in the following nine games the former Super Bowl MVP was able to throw 25 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions. Very little of that success, however, came as a deep passer. In fact Brees only threw six pass attempts of 31+ air yards, a ridiculously small sample in comparison to peers such as Tom Brady (17) and Philip Rivers (28?!?!?!).
Of course, the Saints offense was able to execute at a high level so it’s not like they needed to throw deep in order to win games (in the regular season anyway), but this is still disappointing to see from what used to be one of the league’s premiere deep passers. The signs were there to a degree in 2018, when Brees only attempted 9 passes of 31+ yards all season, but with far less consistency in between 21-30 yards he experienced a decline as a downfield passer in 2019.
Granted, Brees still finished sixth in accuracy on throws of 21-25 air yards, so he still has the goods in that area. Elsewhere, however, Brees has been more reliant as a shorter area passer. This is especially apparent considering Michael Thomas was only targeted three times on throws of 21+ yards.
Remaining a great deep passer at the age of 40 is a near impossible accomplishment, so it’s only natural that a player as old as Brees has some struggles. But as an admirer of his deep passing ability for years this is still a tough pill for me to swallow.
Best Throw (Week 12 vs. Carolina, Tedd Ginn)
There isn’t much to look at, so once again a QB’s best throw is a drop. This is a beautiful throw from Brees to Ted Ginn as he steps up in the pocket. Ginn, as he’s been known to do a few times, has the seed go through his hands and wastes a perfect throw.
26. Sam Darnold (New York Jets)
Sam Darnold’s first season with Adam Gase went about as well as we expected it to: A promising talent getting hosed by a retread head coach that seems to call plays that create the fewest yards imaginable on purpose.
Of course, Darnold didn’t take the leap I expected him to in terms of deep accuracy, but outside of the Deep Ball Project I actually thought he had a decent sophomore season. Returning from mono is brutal for anyone, and the combination of awful performances against the Patriots and Jaguars didn’t help matters either, but outside of those games I felt he played well.
Darnold managed to finish inside the top 10 in accuracy on throws of 21-25 yards, 31-35 yards, to the right of the field, and under edge pressure. He only threw one deep interception as well, which is nice. But I have doubts as to if his success in these areas will be enough to overcome the overwhelming goggle eyes of Adam Gase.
I never thought Gase was a good hire last year, and even when the Jets finished 7-9 after a 1-7 start, I thought it had more to do with the quarterback and an easy schedule than it did the head coach. Gase’s presence has been so bad it actually made Darnold see ghosts on live TV at one point.
So in terms of deep accuracy, Darnold has done exceptional in a few areas, but work needs to be done before he can compare with the best of the best in deep passing.
Best Throw (Week 16 vs. Pittsburgh, Robby Anderson)
Playing in an Adam Gase offense gives you few options to throw down the field, so this 22-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson is as good as it gets. Fortunately, this is an amazing throw, fit into the tiniest of windows to a receiver going up against double coverage.
T-24. Jacoby Brissett (Indianapolis Colts)
The last time Brissett made The Deep Ball Project he finished as the most accurate deep passer of 2017. So how did he compare here? He wasn’t even close.
After the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck, Brissett was put into position as a bridge quarterback to the next heir of the throne. That’s exactly what he was, but he was not the quarterback that could return this cast to the playoffs. Close losses thanks to special teams and injuries to a few of his skill players didn’t help matters either, but Brissett’s deep accuracy regressed significantly from his 2017 campaign.
Brissett did exceptional throwing to his right, under center, under pressure, against interior pressure, and managed to minimize the amount of wasted throws to open receivers, but across most distances of the field he was well below average as a deep passer.
That’s pretty much all I have to say about his season as a deep passer: He had some impressive plays but in a sea of mediocrity.
Best Throw (Week 8 vs. Denver, T.Y. Hilton)
Brissett wasn’t at his best against the Broncos, but when needed most he delivered on the game winning drive, juking Von Miller in the end zone and finding T.Y. Hilton down the field for the deep connection.
T-24. Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals)
The prince of mediocrity is no more in Cincinnati.
For years Andy Dalton was the quarterback people loved to use as the definition of average; If you were below him, it was time to get a new QB, but if you were above him, you should be proud. With the era of Joe Burrow looking more and more likely, the Buffalo Bills legend will most likely be a trade target around March.
Dalton’s efforts were enough to embarrass the teams of Adam Gase and Freddie Kitchens, even getting the latter fired in his final game as a Bengal. He even manage to terrify the city of Cincinnati into thinking they wouldn’t get the #1 draft pick with a meaningless comeback against the Dolphins in Week 16.
Anyway, Dalton had some bright spots as a deep passer in 2019, finishing second on throws of 26-30 yards, tied for fourth against interior pressure, and inside the top ten on throws to his left. But the rest of his deep passing ability just existed, nothing bad, but nothing particularly special either.
I’m surprised and unsurprised that Dalton lasted as long as he did in Cincinnati. His consistent mediocrity held back the Bengals in a few of their playoff seasons, but he also wasn’t bad enough to convince ownership to ignore their loyalty to him and was enough to keep Cincinnati competitive with their more talented teams.
On the bright side at least he’s nowhere near as painful to watch as Joe Flacco.
Best Throw (Week 16 at Miami, Tyler Eifert)
It’s his luckiest play of the year, but also one where he was able to find Tyler Eifert on a Hail Mary touchdown to tie the Tank Bowl against the Dolphins and send this game into overtime. The Bengals would end up victorious by losing, securing the #1 pick for good, but Dalton made a valiant attempt of screwing the team over for a moment.
23. Daniel Jones (New York Giants)
The selection of Daniel Jones at #6 of the 2019 draft treated the Giants to an overwhelmingly negative response at a time when Dave Gettleman wasn’t concentrating at hiring computer folks. But Jones dazzled in his rookie season with a dangerous combination of touchdowns and turnovers.
With the rotting corpse of what once was Eli Manning retiring off in the sunset, Jones is now the Big Blue signal caller. His decision making and turnovers are worthy criticisms, but there are a few things to like about him: He finished second in accuracy under edge pressure, and 8th on throws both of 36-40 yards and to the middle of the field. As a whole he made several impressive plays under pressure behind an offensive line that tries its hardest to look like one.
On the other hand, there’s still enough growing pains where Jones isn’t at the level of a league average QB just yet, let alone an average deep passer. At least he managed to throw seven deep touchdown passes along the way (tied for 5th), an impressive mark for a rookie.
Jones isn’t as much of an athlete as guys like Kyler Murray and Gardner Minshew, so reasons for improvement will mainly have to come from his ability as a pocket passer. In the meantime, however, I’ll look forward to seeing how he can replicate the sacred Manning face.
Best Throw (Week 3 at Tampa Bay, Darius Slayton)
I still can’t get enough of this play. Jones wisely slides left of the pocket and manages to get out a great throw to Darius Slayton just before he’s laid with the smackdown.
22. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)
I figured Rodgers’ mediocre deep accuracy in 2018 (17th of 35 quarterbacks) was largely due to an injury he suffered in Week 1 of that season, but things only got worse in 2019.
Actually, a large part of that can be blamed on a Week 17 performance against the Lions where Rodgers was only accurate on 3 of 14 deep pass attempts. It was the worst game I’ve ever seen him play, so in typical Detroit Lions fashion the Packers won the game anyway.
If not for that performance Rodgers would’ve likely finished inside the top 15, which is still a disappointing mark in comparison to previous years of deep passing excellence. This still wasn’t enough to stop the Packers from getting many lucky breaks on their way to a first-round bye and an NFC Championship appearance, but against the 49ers, Rodgers and company were easily overwhelmed.
I don’t know if Matt LaFleur will be as consistently mediocre as Mike McCarthy was during his last years in Green Bay, but having a version of Rodgers that is no longer in his prime isn’t giving him any favors. Rodgers did manage to finish inside the top ten on throws of 36-40 yards, to the right of the field, and against interior pressure, but was less successful as a tight window passer and threw four dropped interceptions (he also threw the most disrupted passes in the league with 21).
Much like seeing Drew Brees, watching Rodgers’ deep ability wither away is in no way fun, unless you happen to be an NFC North fan of course. At least he hit the 1,000 yard mark, though.
Best Throw (Week 8 at Kansas City, Jake Kumerow)
This is vintage Aaron Rodgers; Make an incredible play out of the pocket and into a tight window down the field in a way few quarterbacks can even accomplish.
21. Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The almighty lord of turnovers finds his way at #21 of the 2019-20 Deep Ball Project after finishing dead last in the 2018-19 edition.
Jameis Winston managed to become the first quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a single season, but only threw three of them downfield in 2019. His accuracy fared much better than it did in 2018, but this only goes to show the maddening yet visually satisfying inconsistency of this quarterback. His 84 deep attempts were also the most of any quarterback this season.
Winston’s ability as a tight window passer was enough to land him inside the top 10 in that area, and he also played exceptional against interior pressure, under center, and especially on throws of 26-30 yards. But he’s still missing way too many open receivers, finishing 26th in accuracy in that category.
On the plus side, Winston threw for eight touchdowns and was one of five quarterbacks to amass at least 1,000 yards of deep passing. And hey, perhaps getting Lasik surgery means we will all be wrong about his abilities as a deep passer. It remains unconfirmed whether that’ll be a good enough excuse for Bruce Arians to keep him.
Best Throw (Week 12 at Atlanta, Chris Godwin)
This is peak Jameis Winston, in a good way anyway. You cannot throw it any better than he did on this seed to Chris Godwin, on his way for a long touchdown after the catch.