21. Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins)
You must be confused. Yes, Ryan Fitzpatrick is nowhere to be seen, as he didn’t throw for enough attempts to qualify. This upsets me as much as it upsets you, but at least Tua Tagovailoa didn’t do awful on downfield passes.
To be honest I’m surprised he even had 23 attempts, as I expected a lot less. But as the only left handed starter in football, Tua is of an endangered species, one that we must preserve and be inn awe of. In terms of deep passing, there were some great moments such as on throws of 21-25 and 26-30 yards, as well as into tight windows where he finished 9th.
Tua was also the second most accurate passer throwing into clean pockets, impressive considering the Dolphins didn’t have clean pockets in 2019. Sadly, he did not finish in the top 10 in accuracy to his left, which sucks because (again) he’s the only left handed starter in the NFL. But being tied for 13th isn’t so bad for a rookie either, so there’s that consolation.
Compared to Burrow, Tua’s deep accuracy looked much better. There’s still ways to go (especially in terms of arm strength), and who knows if Miami keeps him or finds a way to trade for Deshaun Watson, but for a rookie his deep passing wasn’t too bad.
Longest Pass Completion: 39 air yards, 0 YAC (Week 17 at BUF, 2:39 3rd Quarter)
Best Deep Throw: Week 13 vs. CIN (9:28 2nd Quarter)
You can’t throw a bomb like this any better, and you can’t disappoint a quarterback like this any worse by not hauling it in. Shame on you, Jakeem Grant. Accurate Incompletion.
20. Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens)
Lamar Jackson’s placement this low will no doubt fuel the fire for his detractors, as he was more uneven in deep accuracy than in his first two seasons.
I had a feeling Jackson wasn’t going to repeat as MVP in 2020, but to say he’s taken a deep dive is doing a disservice to his skill set. Playing under some of the worst pass coordinators I’ve ever seen and a receiving corps that needs star power badly, he still did more than enough to guide the Ravens to 11-5 thanks to his sensational running ability and some key throws.
He was weak in throws to tight windows, but Jackson was also the most accurate passer under pressure and on throws of 26-30 yards. It’s further down the field and down the middle where he’s shown struggles as a passer. Outside the pocket, as you may have guessed, he was tremendous, and he’s often had to make plays on the fly because of how archaic Greg Roman is in the pass game.
I’m conflicted with Jackson’s 2020 season in deep passing. It’s not as bad as his detractors say it is, but that also doesn’t make it good. But Ravens fans should be happy with him as their starter, even if it may not show up in the raw passing statistics.
Longest Pass Completion: 51 air yards, 4 YAC (Week 1 at CLE, 1:34 1st Quarter)
Best Deep Throw: Week 11 vs. TEN (9:40 3rd Quarter)
Naturally as I mention Jackson’s struggles throwing to the middle, his best deep pass is this beauty down the middle to Mark Andrews. Simply phenomenal. 37 air yards, 2 YAC.
19. Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)
Remember when Matt Ryan was perceived to have a noodle arm? Looks like it became a bit of a reality in 2020.
Ryan was a regular in the top 10 for previous Deep Ball Projects, but a rough start to the season helped pave the way for an 0-5 start. Once again, the Falcons could not climb out of that early ditch, and now their franchise quarterback’s future in Atlanta is in question, even with a second half improvement in deep accuracy. Being 30th in throws to open windows might not be a path I’d go down either.
There are some good components, however. Ryan finished just outside the top 10 in accuracy into tight windows, was inside the top 10 under pressure, and was also the fifth most accurate passer throwing to the right. Let’s not confuse his deep struggles as being reliant on Julio Jones either, as it might just be a case of getting old for the 2016 MVP.
We’ve seen worse from quarterbacks down the field in 2020, but in Matt Ryan’s case I’ve seen much better.
Longest Pass Completion: 56 air yards, 4 YAC (Week 11 at NO, 14:22 1st Quarter)
Best Deep Throw: Week 9 vs. DEN (1:33 1st Quarter)
Pressure bomb to Olamide Zaccheaus. Unreal. 56 air yards, 0 YAC.
T-17. Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys)
Somehow, some way, Dak Prescott found a way to make it onto this year’s Deep Ball Project despite only playing in five games.
What was supposed to be another great season for the Cowboys quarterback came to a sad end against the Giants in Week 5. Prescott’s accuracy has always been impressive, but very few games to show for in 2020 his deep accuracy was never able to get a chance to go off before it started. That didn’t stop him from being the most accurate deep passer inside the pocket, but it did stop him from truly creating something special, because he looked to be on that path.
Talented as his receiving corps has been, they’ve been nothing without Dak. Mike McCarthy has apparently learned nothing from his absence from coaching, and Dallas had one of the worst starts on defense in NFL history. That led to Dak playing from behind a lot, but he was able to keep the team in games against the Falcons, Seahawks, and Browns that Dalton never would have.
Overall, my evaluation of Prescott’s 2020 is incomplete. There was never any good traction in the path his accuracy was going to go down, so in Satan spawned NFC East we’re stuck with what could have been.
Longest Pass Completion: 51 air yards, 15 YAC (Week 2 vs. ATL, 6:30 2nd Quarter)
Best Deep Throw: Week 3 at SEA (6:26 3rd Quarter)
From the back of his end zone, this bomb to Michael Gallup frustratingly shows what we could have seen from Dak in a 16-game season. At least we could have 17 games of Dak in 2021. 49 air yards, 3 YAC.
T-17. Gardner Minshew (Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Jaguars refused to build around Gardner Minshew, and look where that’s gotten them. Not satisfied with 1-0, they became the second team in NFL history to finish 1-15 after starting off 1-0, and though Minshew’s mechanics were the opposite of good, he was thrown to the fire as part of a team that was designed to tank for Trevor Lawrence.
As a result, Minshew’s deep accuracy is not in the top 10 this time around. Impressively, his placement under pressure was, as he finished second under duress. Tight windows were no problem for him, and he finished eighth there. Outside of his accuracy in clean pockets, there is plenty to like about his accuracy stats overall.
It just might not be enough to keep a job in Jacksonville, but it could be good enough to play as a backup. Minshew already has the cult hero status that’s part of a backup job, and enough mobility to boot. That still doesn’t change that he finished 17th in deep accuracy in 2020, a regression from his success in 2019.
Longest Pass Completion: 50 air yards, 4 YAC (Week 5 at HOU, 11:23 4th Quarter)
Best Deep Throw: Week 7 at LAC (3:00 3rd Quarter)
Right in the bucket to Chris Conley, this Gardner rainbow sprouted for a 28-yard touchdown. 31 air yards, 0 YAC.
16. Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Do not be fooled. This is a case where the deep passer was way better than his ranking would indicate, and Tom Brady’s first season outside of New England resulted in an extremely impressive season of downfield passing.
That’s something impossible to decipher when looking at the film of a 43-yard quarterback. Brady should be done, but here he is coming off another Super Bowl victory and another Super Bowl MVP. He finished with the second most deep passing yards, the second most touchdowns, and the most air yards of any quarterback on the 2020-21 Deep Ball Project. Bruce Arians made him pass deep 88 times, and there were games when sitting down where it seemed like the attempts would never end!
So why is Brady 16th instead of much higher? It has to do with a terrible stretch of deep passing from the middle of the season. Between Week 7 and Week 12, he threw 13 straight incompletions, with only one of those passes being accurate. If not for that stretch, Brady might have come out of this study as the No. 1 deep passer. At least he finished with 10 Accurate Incompletions, tied for third most among all deep passers.
To see him squeeze inside the top 10 in accuracy to tight windows despite that stretch is baffling. How is this quarterback still in the NFL? How is this a thing that is allowed to happen and in spectacular fashion? Maybe that TB12 program really does work, or maybe Brady sold his soul to the devil long ago to play in the NFL for eternity. I think I’ll buy the latter, as it seems much more realistic.
Longest Pass Completion: 55 air yards, 5 YAC (Championship Round at GB, 13:20 2nd Quarter)
Best Deep Throw: Week 12 vs. KC (5:48 3Q)
43 YEARS OLD AND YOU’RE MAKING THIS THROW TO CHRIS GODWIN?!?! 49 air yards, 5 YAC.
15. Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, and Jameis Winston (New Orleans Saints)
I hate this. You probably hate this as well, so let’s get this over with.
Much like the 49ers, no one on the Saints threw enough attempts to individually qualify for the Deep Ball Project, so again I had to combine Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, and Jameis Winston’s one pass from the Divisional Round into one quarterback. Would you believe the Saints still only combined for 21 attempts?
Of course, the main focus for this is Brees, who is on the verge of retirement after a disappointing end to a Hall of Fame career. He was accurate on 7 of 15 deep passes in 2020, a 46.67% rate. So why on God’s green Earth are the Saints 15th on this list?
Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston’s one pass in the Divisional Round have something to say about that. Hill was accurate on 60% of his 5 passes (so 3), while Winston was accurate on his one pass in the Divisional Round. Those 4 accurate passes boosted the overall percentage of the group beyond 50%, so now I’m stuck with this mess.
Let me be perfectly clear: There is no way in hell I’m taking this group over Tom Brady in a contest of deep passing. Brady was way better as a deep passer and the stats and tape show that. This just exists, making it the most frustrating “good” deep passing season I’ve ever charted.
Longest Pass Completion: (Drew Brees) 48 air yards, 13 YAC (Week 15 vs. KC, 11:38 2nd Quarter)
Best Deep Throw: (Drew Brees) Week 17 at CAR (14:55 3rd Quarter)
Brees physically cannot throw the ball downfield at this point, and that shows when the Saints were the only team to not have a single pass of 41+ yards. So I’ll take what I can get, and this pass to Mickey Callaway has the vintage pinpoint accuracy prime Brees often showcased. 27 air yards, 6 YAC.
14. Cam Newton (New England Patriots)
I just want to talk to Josh McDaniels.
The Patriots get blessed with one of the modern game’s best deep passers in Cam Newton and the offensive coordinator schemes up 19 deep passes on the entire year. This is not prime Newton and a battle with COVID did not help his comfort, but while this was just barely enough to prevent me from adding Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham to this project it’s still disgusting seeing this small of a sample size. I resent this and you should too.
At the very least, what we’re given was good. Newton didn’t place horribly in any statistic, and he finished inside the top 5 on throws of 26-30 yards, to the right and under center. It’s just a shame that the play calling and lack of weapons didn’t give him much of a chance to throw the ball down the field.
To sum up his deep passing season, Newton was disappointing, but for reasons beyond his control. But he did the most with the shots he was given, reminding us of the good old days in Charlotte where he was slinging precision passes endless yards down the field.
Longest Pass Completion: 55 air yards, 3 YAC (Week 2 at SEA, 1:55 3rd Quarter)
Best Deep Throw: Week 11 at HOU (8:21 3rd Quarter)
There is no window. Damiere Byrd is not open. This pass should not exist. To say I appreciate that it does is an understatement vaster than the seven seas. 48 air yards, 2 YAC.
13. Daniel Jones (New York Giants)
At last we are at the portion of the study where the good stuff is reflected by the tape, the stats, and the accuracy rankings. Who could’ve guessed this would start with Daniel Jones of all quarterbacks?
Sure, his processing is extremely slow and he’s a stiff athlete when it comes to doing anything other than running 90 MPH in a straight line. But here Jones is at No. 13 in deep accuracy on the Deep Ball Project after finishing 23rd in his rookie season. Isn’t it glorious?
Jones was most impressive on throws to his right and in distances of 26-30 and 31-35 yards, and despite his reputation as a turnover machine he came away with zero interceptions and just one dropped interception down the field. Less thrilling is that he had zero attempts outside the pocket, not that I was expecting him to have a lot anyway.
Overall, Jones’ deep accuracy was a pleasant surprise. As a pocket passer he’s not good by any means, but his downfield game took a big step in the right direction in 2020.
Longest Pass Completion: 46 air yards, 1 YAC (Week 1 vs. PIT, 13:54 2nd Quarter)
Best Deep Throw: Week 5 at DAL, 15:00 4th Quarter
I like Darius Slayton, and I also like plays where Darius Slayton doesn’t get overthrown by his quarterback. This is one of those plays, and a great one at that. 34 air yards, 13 YAC.
12. Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee Titans)
After placing near the bottom in deep accuracy in his previous two appearances in the Deep Ball Project, it’s great to see Ryan Tannehill in familiar territory once again.
I’m not sure where this improvement came from, however. Perhaps I’ll chalk it up to Tannehill being more comfortable in his second year in a system, that theory makes the most sense to me. With that comfort he excelled in areas such as tight windows, on throws of 26-30 yards, and 12th overall in deep accuracy.
I have fond memories of Tannehill’s 2016 season, as I feel that’s where he was at his most fun launching cannons down the field behind a bad Dolphins offensive line. The pass protection has improved, and that’s not fun because we have to resort to him playing in the pocket instead of making plays outside of structure.
Petty grudges aside, Tannehill’s 2020 season was a return to normalcy. There’s several sensational throws in his tape, and there’s a reason why he’s so beloved amongst Titans fans.
Longest Pass Completion: 54 air yards, 7 YAC (Week 17 at HOU, 0:18 4th Quarter)
Best Deep Throw: Week 17 at HOU (0:18 4th Quarter)
His longest pass was also Tannehill’s best, and this was a monster dime to A.J. Brown that set up the game winning field goal to clinch Tennessee’s first division title since 2008. 54 air yards, 7 YAC.
11. Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings)
Each season with the Vikings, Kirk Cousins is on the outside looking in when it comes to the top 10 in deep accuracy. In Washington his deep passing was by no means this good, yet when he travelled to the land of a thousand lakes a different story occurred.
Cousins finished with the highest accuracy percentage of any quarterback that came away with no dropped interceptions, which should tell you what the rest of the top 10 will look like. He was incredible throwing to his left, finished No. 1 in that area as well as second under center and fourth to open receivers. My unproven theory of quarterbacks playing better under pressure with the Vikings continues to grow, as he finished inside the top 10 under pressure, interior pressure, and edge pressure.
Outside of the interceptions, there isn’t a lot to complain about. Even if you’re not a fan of Cousins, the growth he’s taken as a passer after looking atrocious in the first have of 2015 is admirable. I still think the Vikings can do better at the position, but at least from a deep accuracy perspective it’s inches from hitting the top 10.
Longest Pass Completion: 48 air yards, 0 YAC (Week 11 vs. DAL, 9:44 4th Quarter)
Best Deep Throw: Week 13 vs. JAX (11:41 3rd Quarter)
Great placement to Justin Jefferson down the sideline. This one went for 40 yards past the line of scrimmage. 41 air yards, 6 YAC.