Top 15 Deep-Ball QBs of the Last 5 Years

Dec 20, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) during warmups before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Passing the ball in the NFL – and passing it deep – has spiked over the last decade. The average quarterback that started all 16 games in 2010 tallied about 3,400 passing yards and 24 passing touchdowns. Ten seasons later, 2020, median passers that started all 16 games registered on averaged 3,900 passing yards and 27 passing touchdowns.

The game is changing.

The emphasis on quarterbacking is paramount, although it was never unimportant. Signal-callers are netting gargantuan paydays that increase each offseason.

Here are the Top 15 deep-ball passers of the last five seasons (since 2016). The minimum requirement for the parameter is 1,500 pass attempts. Notable players that failed to qualify by a smidgen include Ryan Tannehill, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, and Sam Darnold.

The criteria is the number of 40+ yards completions divided by total pass attempts since 2016. Below are the top players ranked by those percentages.

15. Tom Brady (1.56%)

Brady has won three Super Bowls during the last five seasons, so let’s not forget that. He’s also a mid-tier thrower of the deep-ball. That will probably spike during the next few seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because his weaponry is enhanced.

14. Matt Ryan (1.70%)

One of Brady’s victims in those Super Bowls, Ryan is also a commendable deep passer. Thank you, Julio Jones; thank you, Calvin Ridley. Ryan’s future with the Atlanta Falcons is uncertain – the team will likely draft a rookie in 2021 to succeed the soon-to-be 36-year-old.

13. Drew Brees (1.61%)

Brees’ propensity to throw the ball short distances is a recent ordeal. He tossed the ball downfield in the mid-2010s fairly often. That’s why he outpaces Brady and Ryan in this metric. And — oh by the way — Brees retired on Sunday capping a 20-year career.

12. Derek Carr (1.73%)

Derek Carr quietly does his deep damage. He is not renowned for chucking the ball deep, but players like the now-departed Tyrell Williams aided in his downfield success.

11. Kirk Cousins (1.73%)

There is a narrative that follows Cousins that he dinks-and-dunks. It’s false. Otherwise, he would not place at #11 on this countdown. Cousins has distributed the football aptly down the field with players like Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, and DeSean Jackson throughout his career.

10. Ben Roethlisberger (1.73%)

He’s been a staple of the AFC for a decade-and-a-half. Roethlisberger also flings the ball deep with purpose. His deep-ball prowess declined a bit when Antonio Brown flipped out and things, but stuff happens.

9. Alex Smith (1.77%)

Thank you, Andy Reid. Smith is another guy beset by a checkdown reputation, but the numbers disagree. With the Chiefs, the offense was innovative – even before Patrick Mahomes showed up. More on that later.

8. Case Keenum (1.82%)

Are you flummoxed yet? The numbers cannot be wiggled around – Keenum deserves placement on the list. Most of his productivity in this regard occurred with the Minnesota Vikings in 2017. And why should that be subtracted? Just because he doesn’t start anymore? That’s not how it works.

7. Deshaun Watson (1.88%)

Bedfellows with Keenum via deep passing – if that can be believed – is Deshaun Watson. He broke into the NFL in 2017 and since vaulted to a Top 3 quarterback designation. His tenure with the Houston Texans may be over, but his down-the-field talent will live on.

6. Matthew Stafford (1.89%)

Stafford will begin launching it deep to assets like Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods in 2021. His pass-catchers in Detroit were not deficient with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, though. That’s the reason for his Top 6 placement on the list. Onward with a new Hollywood cast for Stafford.

5. Dak Prescott (2.04%)

It’s fitting that there is a stark numerical jump from #6 to #5. Call it separating the men from the boys. Prescott – now a rich, rich man – is the fifth-best deep thrower of the last five years. And he’s got gobs of dudes to keep him on top with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup. Maybe the Cowboys will draft another wide receiver in 2021 just to piss folks off.

4. Philip Rivers (2.07%)

He won’t play in the NFL again, but Rivers did leave an electric thumbprint on the league. Even with his herky-jerky throwing motion, he managed to force the ball downfield. Rivers’ talent in this capacity was diminished in 2020 – and that’s probably why he left the game.

3. Russell Wilson (2.19%)

Mister Moonball and Mister Unlimited is also Mister Deep-Ball. Wilson is among the NFL’s Top 3 in cannonizing his arm. This one should be a no-brainer. Virtually every time onlookers tune into Seahawks football, Wilson slings the ball to the stars. Now – he may do that in a place not nicknamed Emerald City.

2. Aaron Rodgers (2.20%)

This should confirm your eye test soundly. Rodgers is the 2nd-best merchant of deep throws during the last half-decade. His team can’t seem to get over its NFC Championship demons, but individually, Rogers is pretty marvelous.

1. Patrick Mahomes (2.30%)

Although the young king was abused by the old king, Brady, in Super Bowl LV – Mahomes has the world at his fingertips. He became a starter in the league in 2018 and since demolished everything in his path outside of the Buccaneers. He’s the standard-bearer for deep passing in 2021.

**Side note: The worst deep-passers per the criteria of this metric are Blake Bortles (0.90%), Mitchell Trubisky (1.01%), Cam Newton (1.08%), and Carson Wentz (1.28%).