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.
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|
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.
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)
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
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
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
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).
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.