By KYLE RODEMANN
Completing a deep pass can be a vital turning point in a game. In Week 17 of the 2020 NFL season, the Titans needed to secure a victory against the Texans. They were tied with less than a minute left and it looked like the game would go into overtime. Then Ryan Tannehill completed a deep pass to A.J. Brown that allowed the team to kick a field goal and win the game.
That wasn’t the only such meaningful deep throw of 2020. There were plenty of them.
Who were the best NFL QBs at completing the long pass this season? This article will take a look at different stats ranging from usage to overall effectiveness.
For our purposes, we’re referring to balls thrown at least 20 yards downfield, unless otherwise stated. Minimum of 25 deep pass attempts.
Most Deep Balls Attempted
A quarterback who is known as a risk taker will always keep a defense honest. That defense has to plan around the deep shots, leaving safeties back and loading the box at a lower rate.
Which quarterbacks have thrown deep the most so far in the 2020 season? The answer is in the table below:
|Quarterback||Number of Throws|
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady ends the year as the league-leader in deep passes attempted. With a head coach in Bruce Arians who loves to take deep shots, and a supporting cast of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown, this does not come as a surprise.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan ended the 2020 season with an NFL-high 626 pass attempts and he likes to throw long, so it’s not shocking that he’s second on this list. Perhaps a surprise in the top eight is Drew Lock of the Broncos, a second-year signal caller, though he was known for his arm in college. While he threw the ball deep often, his on-target percentage of 50% was below league-average (52%) and ranked tied for 19th among our 32 qualifiers.
Highest On-Target Percentage
It is one thing to attempt deep passes; it is a whole other thing to be accurate on them. On-Target Percentage looks at the percentage of passes that hit the receiver in stride.
Below is a table of the season leaders in On-Target Percentage on deep balls for 2020.
Patriots quarterback Cam Newton tops this list partly because of where we set our qualifier (25 attempts). He had 28 deep attempts in 2020 and had an on-target percentage of 70% on them. Among the more prolific deep throwers, it was tight at the top of the leaderboard. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers displayed MVP-like accuracy, while Baker Mayfield of the Browns and Kyler Murray of the Cardinals showed us that their future in this area looks bright.
For those wondering, Mitchell Trubisky (32%), Joe Flacco (39%) and Carson Wentz (39%) were the bottom three quarterbacks on the list. And for those looking for how each player’s completion percentage compares, check out this tweet from Dan Pizzuta of Sharp Football Analysis.
Highest Touchdown Percentage
Touchdown percentage not only can tell you how successful a QB is at throwing deep, but also how successful their receivers are at finishing the explosive plays by scoring.
These QBs threw a touchdown at the highest rate when throwing the ball 20 or more yards downfield:
|Quarterback||TD% (TDs Thrown)|
|Patrick Mahomes||18% (12)|
|Aaron Rodgers||17% (12)|
|Derek Carr||16% (9)|
|Deshaun Watson||16% (9)|
|Dak Prescott||15% (4)|
|Russell Wilson||15% (9)|
|Justin Herbert||15% (9)|
Having Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to throw to has helped Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes top the NFL in TD percentage on long passes. Rodgers makes another appearance on a deep ball leaderboard, and he and Mahomes share the distinction of their receivers being in the top 10 in the league in dropped deep passes, so there were even more touchdowns left on the table.
A surprising name on this list is Dak Prescott, who missed most of the season due to injury but was incredibly prolific in the early going, leveraging his excellent receiver group and terrible defense.
Points Earned is one way to determine which quarterbacks have made the largest positive impact while throwing the deep ball. Here is a quick explanation of Points Earned, as shared by Alex Vigderman:
The core assumption of passing Points Earned is that each throw has a certain expected outcome based on information like the route, the depth, and the coverage. From that point, the passer and receiver split responsibility for how well they perform above that expectation. Throwing off-target passes and deserved interceptions (caught or not) will bury a signal-caller, while he will be rewarded for leading receivers to more yards after catch and making something out of a broken pocket.
A more in-depth explanation can be found here. This stat shows which quarterback has helped his team win the most when throwing the deep ball.
Of the lists we’ve shown, this is the one that best reflects overall value on long passes. Check out the league leaders below:
If the MVP race was determined by the deep ball, Rodgers would probably win it. He has been lights-out this season when throwing deep, making every leaderboard in this article.
Who do you think will make this list next year? Any under-the-radar names come to mind? Check back next season to find out!