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Throw distance and proficiency by distance among starting quarterbacks in 2020

Drew Lock had the highest percentage of deep passing attempts among starters in 2020, but was he any good on those deep throws?

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In front of the paywall at sisdatahub.com there is a treasure trove of data available about QB play that I have not been able to find for free anywhere else. It used to be available for free from footballoutsiders.com, but it is no longer. That data is tabulated by throw distance and direction data for every starting QB in the league, but I am going to focus this on distance, not distance AND direction.

Let’s start with the trends and then we will look at the entire group of 36 starting QBs breaking down throw proficiency by distance.

Throw Distance

Short throws are defined as 1-9 yards from the LOS. Intermediate throws are defined as 10-19 yards from the LOS. Deep throws land 20 or farther yards from the LOS. LOS is line of scrimmage. BLOS is behind the LOS.

% ATT BLOS % ATT Short % ATT Intermediate % ATT Long
MAX 26.5% 61.1% 28.1% 15.2%
MIN 10.0% 46.3% 10.1% 4.2%
AVERAGE 15.7% 52.2% 21.4% 10.6%

The average NFL starting QB threw about one sixth of their passing attempts BLOS, about half of his passes short, one fifth of his passes middle distance (10-19 yards) and one ninth deep. The guy who had the highest percentage of screen passes in 2020 was Alex Smith (not surprisingly) - 26.5 percent. The QB with the highest percentage of short passes was Daniel Jones - 61.1 percent. The highest percentage of middle distance passes belonged to Ryan Tannehill - 28.1 percent. The highest percentage of deep throws came from Drew Lock - 15.2 percent. Lock had 65 deep passing attempts and 18 completions for a completion percentage of 27.6 percent. That was below average but far from the worst deep completion percentage.

Completion percentage by distance is shown below.

BLOS Short Intermediate Deep
MAX 86.5% 72.1% 65.3% 42.2%
MIN 83.9% 71.4% 62.5% 18.8%
AVERAGE 84.8% 74.0% 57.2% 39.1%

The average NFL QB was very good at completing screen passes (85 percent). Average completion percentage decreased as you progressed further from the LOS. The average starting QB in the NFL completed 39.1 percent of his deep passes in 2020. There were some QBs who just were not very good at certain distance throws. Ryan Tannehill had the worst completion percentage among starters on screen passes - 65.4 percent, while Derek Carr literally had two incompletions on screen passes in 73 attempts and one of those was a drop. His 97.3 percent completion percentage is astounding. On short passes Aaron Rodgers was deadly completing 85.4 percent of his throws (205 of 240) while Nick Mullens was terrible completing only 65.0 percent of his short throws. The best completion percentage on intermediate throws belonged to Alex Smith- 70.8 percent - while the worst among starting QBs belonged to Dwayne Haskins - 34.1 percent.

The most accurate deep passer among starters (if you want to use completion percentage as a measure of accuracy) was Ryan Fitzpatrick. He only had twenty deep passing attempts, but he completed twelve of them. The starting QB who completed the lowest percentage of his deep throws was Dwayne Haskins at 12.5 percent. When you are the worst at both intermediate and deep throws, you tend to lose your starting QB job.

From a volume perspective Tom Brady had the largest number of deep throws (83) among starters while Drew Brees had the smallest (16). Lock’s 65 deep attempts were tied for 7th among starters (with Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes), but because he had fewer total attempts he led the league in percentage of passes that were deep throws.

Three of Lock’s eighteen deep completions resulted in touchdowns. Those three were the two to KJ Hamler against Carolina and the 20 yard TD pass to Jerry Jeudy against Atlanta. His other two long TD passes in 2020 were both catch and run plays where the ball was caught in the intermediate distance and DaeSean Hamilton and Jeudy turned them into 40 yard and 92 yard touchdown passes respectively.

Fun with IQR

SIS has a proprietary stat to rate QB performance which they call IQR.

IQR: Sports Info Solutions’ proprietary quarterback metric builds on the traditional Passer Rating formula by considering the value of a quarterback independent of results outside of his control such as dropped passes, dropped interceptions, throwaways, etc.

They show IQR by distance, so while we can’t see TD/INT for every starter by distance we can so the IQR value 36 QBs in terms of their ability to throw various distances. I will sort the data by distance and IQR to show the rankings of the 36 starters.

IQR BLOS (screen passes)

Rank Quarterback IQR
1 Patrick Mahomes 112
2 Mitchell Trubisky 112
3 Drew Brees 109
4 Nick Mullens 106
5 Kirk Cousins 104
6 Philip Rivers 103
7 Teddy Bridgewater 103
8 Tua Tagovailoa 103
9 Josh Allen 101
10 Russell Wilson 100
11 Aaron Rodgers 98
12 Baker Mayfield 97
13 Ryan Fitzpatrick 95
14 Justin Herbert 95
15 Dak Prescott 93
16 Jared Goff 93
17 Derek Carr 90
18 Gardner Minshew 90
19 Drew Lock 88
20 Deshaun Watson 86
21 Tom Brady 85
22 Ben Roethlisberger 85
23 Matt Ryan 85
24 Joe Burrow 85
25 Dwayne Haskins 85
26 Cam Newton 84
27 Andy Dalton 83
28 Lamar Jackson 82
29 Kyler Murray 80
30 Daniel Jones 79
31 Ryan Tannehill 79
32 Nick Foles 79
33 Matthew Stafford 77
34 Carson Wentz 72
35 Alex Smith 72
36 Sam Darnold 65
MAX 112
MIN 65
AVERAGE 90

The best starting QB in the league on screen passes was Patrick Mahomes. The worst was Sam Darnold. Drew Lock’s IQR was 19th. Teddy Bridgewater’s was 7th. The standard deviation on this data is 11.8. There were eight QBs who were outliers on the high side and only four who were outliers on the low side in this data set.

IQR on Short Throws

Rank Quarterback IQR
1 Aaron Rodgers 126
2 Tom Brady 119
3 Deshaun Watson 116
4 Josh Allen 115
5 Kirk Cousins 113
6 Baker Mayfield 111
7 Patrick Mahomes 110
8 Russell Wilson 109
9 Ryan Tannehill 107
10 Derek Carr 103
11 Joe Burrow 103
12 Gardner Minshew 102
13 Lamar Jackson 102
14 Kyler Murray 102
15 Teddy Bridgewater 101
16 Ryan Fitzpatrick 101
17 Mitchell Trubisky 100
18 Philip Rivers 100
19 Matt Ryan 100
20 Drew Lock 98
21 Justin Herbert 97
22 Matthew Stafford 97
23 Drew Brees 96
24 Andy Dalton 96
25 Ben Roethlisberger 95
26 Tua Tagovailoa 92
27 Jared Goff 92
28 Nick Foles 92
29 Dwayne Haskins 91
30 Carson Wentz 90
31 Dak Prescott 86
32 Alex Smith 83
33 Cam Newton 81
34 Nick Mullens 79
35 Sam Darnold 75
36 Daniel Jones 74
MAX 126
MIN 74
AVERAGE 99

The best QB on short throws (1-9 yards from LOS) was Aaron Rodgers who had an IQR of 126. The worst in 2020 was Daniel Jones with an IQR of 74. The average among starters was 99. Drew Lock was 20th but he was just below average at 98. Bridgewater was 15th at 101. There were some outliers in this data.

The standard deviation on this data set was 12.0 so to be an outlier on the high side you need an IQR better than 111 (five QBs) and two be an outlier on the low side you have to have an IQR below 87 (six QBs). Twenty-five of the thirty-six starting QBs in 2020 were within one standard deviation of the mean in IQR on short throws.

Intermediate throw IQR

Rank Quarterback IQR
1 Russell Wilson 120
2 Kirk Cousins 118
3 Ryan Tannehill 116
4 Deshaun Watson 114
5 Drew Brees 112
6 Lamar Jackson 112
7 Patrick Mahomes 109
8 Gardner Minshew 108
9 Matthew Stafford 107
10 Josh Allen 106
11 Jared Goff 106
12 Tom Brady 105
13 Justin Herbert 104
14 Aaron Rodgers 102
15 Matt Ryan 100
16 Derek Carr 98
17 Alex Smith 95
18 Andy Dalton 94
19 Philip Rivers 85
20 Ben Roethlisberger 85
21 Cam Newton 81
22 Kyler Murray 77
23 Baker Mayfield 75
24 Joe Burrow 75
25 Nick Mullens 74
26 Dak Prescott 74
27 Mitchell Trubisky 72
28 Daniel Jones 69
29 Sam Darnold 63
30 Drew Lock 62
31 Ryan Fitzpatrick 61
32 Dwayne Haskins 61
33 Nick Foles 61
34 Carson Wentz 55
35 Tua Tagovailoa 52
36 Teddy Bridgewater 50
MAX 120
MIN 50
AVERAGE 88

The QB with the highest IQR on middle distance throws was Russell Wilson in 2020. Wilson had an IQR of 120. The worst QB on these throws was Teddy Bridgewater who had an IQR of 50. The league average was 88 and the standard deviation was 21.6. There were six outliers on the high side and eight on the low side. Drew Lock had an IQR of 62 on these throws. He was one of the outliers on the low side.

Bridgewater’s poor performance on middle distance throws may be one reason why the Panthers were keen to move on from him and to Same Darnold. Although Darnold was not much better in 2020. For Bridgewater 2020 was an outlier year in that SIS’ data (which only goes back to 2015) shows him with an IQR of 99 on middle distance throws in 2015 and an IQR of 82 on these throws in 2019.

Deep throw IQR

Rank Quarterback IQR
1 Daniel Jones 129
2 Derek Carr 119
3 Aaron Rodgers 117
4 Ryan Fitzpatrick 117
5 Cam Newton 107
6 Matthew Stafford 103
7 Deshaun Watson 101
8 Dak Prescott 100
9 Baker Mayfield 99
10 Drew Brees 96
11 Russell Wilson 95
12 Tom Brady 93
13 Josh Allen 92
14 Kyler Murray 92
15 Nick Mullens 91
16 Justin Herbert 91
17 Patrick Mahomes 89
18 Lamar Jackson 88
19 Ryan Tannehill 80
20 Kirk Cousins 77
21 Andy Dalton 77
22 Philip Rivers 74
23 Drew Lock 74
24 Ben Roethlisberger 74
25 Matt Ryan 72
26 Teddy Bridgewater 69
27 Tua Tagovailoa 69
28 Carson Wentz 68
29 Sam Darnold 67
30 Alex Smith 66
31 Jared Goff 64
32 Nick Foles 64
33 Gardner Minshew 62
34 Joe Burrow 58
35 Mitchell Trubisky 32
36 Dwayne Haskins 18
MAX 129
MIN 18
AVERAGE 83

The best IQR on deep passes was Daniel Jones at 129. The worst was Dwayne Haskins at 18. The average on this data set was 83 and the standard deviation was 23.0. Five guys were outliers on the high side here and only three on the low side. Drew Lock’s IQR of 74 was 23rd while Teddy Bridgewater’s IQR of 69 was 26th. The other two starters who were terrible on deep passes in 2020 are Joe Burrow and Mitch Trubisky.

I was surprised to see Burrow ranked so poorly since he was elite on deep throws at LSU with Joe Brady calling vertical routes all day and night.

Overview of IQR by Distance

No QB was an outlier on the high or low side for all four distances. There were a number of QBs who were very bad at one distance in 2020 and very good at another. Teddy Bridgewater was one of them. He was really good at throws behind the LOS, average on short throws, terrible on intermediate throws and below average on deep throws. This matches up fairly well with the heat grid for Bridgewater at NFL Next Gen Stats.

Mitch Trubisky was really good on screen passes and atrocious on deep balls.

For comparison Drew Lock was average on screen passes, average on short throws and below average on both intermediate and deep passes in 2020. His heat map from next gen stats is here.

The QB who was an outlier on the low side on the most distances was Sam Darnold. The only distance where he was not one of the worst in the league was on deep passes. His IQR on deep passes was 67. That was 29th among starters.

The QBs who were high side outliers for the most distances were Kirk Cousins (screen, short and intermediate), Aaron Rodgers (short and deep), Drew Brees (screen and intermediate), and Patrick Mahomes (screen and intermediate).

At least by IQR, Kirk Cousins appears to have been the “most complete” QB in the league in 2020. The only distance where he was not elite was on deep passing where his IQR of 77 ranked 20th. However, if you adjust for percentage of throws by distance, you find that Cousins was ranked 7th overall in IQR, behind Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Tom Brady. If you sort the starters by ESPN’s proprietary QBR, you find some interesting differences. See below (sorted by overall IQR).

Rank Quarterback Overall IQR QBR
1 Aaron Rodgers 127.7 121.5
2 Russell Wilson 118.1 105.1
3 Deshaun Watson 117.5 112.4
4 Patrick Mahomes 115.4 108.2
5 Josh Allen 114.4 107.2
6 Tom Brady 114.2 102.2
7 Kirk Cousins 111.4 105.0
8 Derek Carr 111.1 101.4
9 Ryan Tannehill 107.3 106.5
10 Drew Brees 106.1 106.4

FWIW Drew Lock was ranked 29th in overall IQR. Teddy Bridgewater was ranked 19th. If you sort by QBR, Lock was 29th and Bridgewater 17th.

I purposefully stayed away from throw direction discussion in this, but if there is enough interest I will do a follow-up piece looking at intermediate and deep directional accuracy.