Young Quarterbacks, part 2: Deep, short, and medium

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Note: All numbers are from the 2013 regular season. The numbers included might not be 100% accurate but they should be within 1 pass of the actual and the longer throws should be perfect.

I'm following along with the quarterbacks from the previous part, except this time looking to find the "average throw". The most common way is probably to take the total yards and divide by the attempts. A more advanced approach might be to take sacks, interceptions, touchdowns, yards, and attempts throw them together in a formula and get a single number back out. Neither the common nor advanced approach really gives the "average" throw I'm looking for, so something different will have to do. There might be something wrong with the single number idea so instead of looking for the "average" pass to start out with, I'll look at the "average" passes and see if it says anything about the "average" pass.

Since there are more than a single average pass to find, I'll have to break the data into groups. How should one go about breaking up a few hundred passes into groups? There are the failed passes (incomplete, no gain, negative yards, interception), those don't really interest me so I'll just get rid of them. Before anyone starts complaining that I just threw away the passes that look Wilson look good, jump down to "The Unlisted Plays" to see my reasons for leaving them off.

Note: All "passes" from now on are actually completions for positive yards. That leaves pass plays that cover 1-99 yards. There aren't really that many passes that go over 50 yards so I'll just look at pass plays covering 1-50 yards and treat anything over 50 as a 50 yard throw. I could break these 50 yards into 5 groups where each group looked at 10 yards, but most passes in the NFL travel less than 11 yards. Instead, I'll break the passes into groups by percentage of passes. 5 groups still sounds good, so each group will have 20 percent of the passes. (Note: passes are including YAC, I'm not just talking about how far the throws travel in the air.)

Quantiles - Positive passes 20 percent 40 percent 60 percent 80 percent
Luck 5 7 11 17
Wilson 5 8 12 19
Newton 5 9 12 17
Kaepernick 6 9 12 19
Dalton 5 8 11 18
Tannehill 5 7 11 16

This is something different, but it doesn't look that interesting. All the quarterbacks have pretty similar numbers. All but Kaepernick throw 20 percent of their passes 5 yards or fewer. It might be interesting that Wilson and Kaepernick are different from the rest in regards to deep throws with 80 percent of their passes traveling 19 yards or more. A similar pattern appears for Newton and Kaep at 40 percent of throws, this might have something to do with them possibly replacing some of the short throws with runs. Combine the numbers together, and one might guess that Luck throws more short throws, Newton and Kaep throw more intermediate throws, and Wilson throws more long throws, but that is probably more due to seeing them play than looking at the table. The table doesn't give much data.

How can the table be improved? The longer passes are fewer but should have more impact on stats like yards and yards/attempt so maybe we should look at where yards come from as opposed to where passes go. Percentage of yards instead of percentage of passes seems like the next thing to try.

Quantiles - Yards 20 percent 40 percent 60 percent 80 percent
Luck 8 13 21 27
Wilson 9 15 23 31
Newton 9 13 17 27
Kaepernick 9 14 20 30
Dalton 9 13 20 31
Tannehill 8 13 18 28

Here, there is finally some separation between the quarterbacks with the deep balls clobbering the rest of the passes and stretching out the top end. Together with the earlier table, it becomes evident that 40 percent of passes travel 9 yards or fewer, but only 20 percent of the yards are accounted for by these less than 10 yard passes. This leaves passes good enough over 10 yards (good enough for most first downs) to account for almost 80 percent of the yards

These tables are nice, they tell us about the quarterbacks but something is missing. The original goal was to get the "average" pass for each quarterback but these tables mainly just give some interesting numbers about passes in general. Maybe the title will lead the way. Time to break throws into short, medium, and deep passes. Short passes can be 1-9 yards since it is a common pass, but doesn't account for many of the yards. Medium passes can be 10-24 yards; this doesn't seem to leave much more than 10 percent of the passes for the deep ball, but deep balls will still make up more than 20 percent of the total yards so it should work.

Short Passes (1-9 yards):

Short passes, the backbone of any good west coast offense and getting the ball out with a terrible offensive line. 9/3 = 3 groups: 1-3 yards (super short), 4-6 yards (kinda short), and 7-9 yards (almost medium). 1-3 yard passes should be running play replacements. 4-6 yarders are probably either west coast offense related or getting rid of the ball early due to a bad Oline. It was already shown that short passes don't account for a large percentage of the yards, so let's go back to percentage of passes.

Short 1 to 3 4 to 6 7 to 9 Total
Luck 11.52% (38) 20.91% (69) 22.42% (74) 54.85% (181)
Tannehill 9.71% (33) 23.24% (79) 18.82% (64) 51.76% (176)
Dalton 11.53% (40) 18.73% (65) 20.46% (71) 50.72% (176)
Wilson 9.92% (25) 18.25% (46) 19.84% (50) 48.02% (121)
Kaepernick 7.85% (19) 17.77% (43) 20.25% (49) 45.87% (111)
Newton 9.64% (27) 16.79% (47) 18.21% (51) 44.64% (125)

Passes are shown in parentheses and quarterbacks are sorted by the total percentage of throws.

Some interesting things appear. All three AFC quarterbacks are in the top half of the table, whereas the more mobile NFC quarterbacks seem to use their legs to either buy time or replace the shorter throws. It could also be due to the fact that the NFC quarterbacks have strong defenses, and strong running games, this changes the formations they see and probably opens up some slightly longer throws.. A byproduct of a lower percentage of short passes might be an increased sack percentage; Seattle, San Fran, and Carolina all find themselves in the bottom half of teams in Football Outsiders "adjusted sack percentage". Some would argue that Seattle just had a terrible line for parts of last year, but Colts fans looking at Richardson runs might say a similar thing about their line. There is still a long way to go, moving on to medium passes.

Medium Passes (10-24 yards):

Medium passes, necessary for converting those longer 3rd and longs and a necessarily part of any team wanting to get down the field consistently. For just this reason, 10-14 yard passes are some of the more common passes. The passes are now becoming a more meaningful chunk of the yards, so I'll look at not only the percentage of passes, but also the percentage of yards as well.

Medium - Passes 10 to 14 15 to 19 20 to 24 Total
Newton 30% (84) 13.57% (38) 3.93% (11) 47.5% (133)
Kaepernick 23.55% (57) 11.57% (28) 8.68% (21) 43.80% (106)
Tannehill 24.41% (83) 10.29% (35) 6.76% (23) 41.47% (141)
Dalton 22.48% (78) 10.37% (36) 6.05% (21) 38.90% (135)
Wilson 21.03% (53) 11.51% (29) 5.16% (13) 37.70% (95)
Luck 21.21% (70) 10.91% (36) 5.45% (18) 37.58% (124)

The "average" pass picture is starting to be filled in. Naturally since the Newton and Kaep had the fewest short passes, they were bound to be near the top in medium passes. Interesting that Wilson didn't join them,but instead is basically has the fewest. This leads to the realization that Russell Wilson throws a lower percentage of passes that go for less than 24 yards than any other young quarterback, that I have here, and yet he has the highest completion percentage; I guess the Seahawks must have a pretty amazing offense. As was stated earlier, Newton and Kaep possibly replace short throws with runs (by themselves or running backs) and instead have all these intermediate throws. I'm guessing they have atleast average protection so their coordinators draw up more intermediate routes.

As I stated earlier, a table with yard percentages is soon to follow. The table will show that maybe 10-24 was perhaps too large of a chunk to have in one grouping, but it will also show that an "average" average pass probably belongs in the 10-14 group (I;ll leave that up to you all).

Medium - Yards 10 to 14 15 to 19 20 to 24 Total
Newton 29.31 (987) 19.27 (649) 7.27 (245) 55.85 (1881)
Tannehill 25.21 (988) 15.00 (588) 12.63 (495) 52.85 (2071)
Kaepernick 21.31 (903) 14.91 (471) 14.38 (454) 50.60 (1598)
Luck 22.48 (850) 16.40 (620) 10.26 (388) 49.14 (1858)
Dalton 21.14 (903) 14.31 (611) 10.70 (457) 46.15 (1971)
Wilson 18.89 (630) 14.99 (500) 8.79 (293) 42.67 (1423)

Yards are shown in parentheses and quarterbacks are sorted by the total percentage of yards.

This seems to be the heart of passing for most of the quarterbacks. With 20-30 percent of the yards coming from 10-14 yard passes for quarterbacks (that aren't part robot). Let's call this one a sort of "average" pass. Also, half the quarterbacks get most of their yards from medium passes so this seems to be the sweet spot for passing plays. Since we now have tables for percentage of passes and percentage of yards, we can say fun things like, "Just over a third of Luck's passes gained 10-24 yards, but almost 50 percent of his yards come these type of passes". Medium passes might be the "average" pass, but the real excitement comes from the deep ball, onward.

Deep Balls/Deep Passes (25+):

Deep balls, the passes that memories are made of. The passes continue to go for more yards, but the percentage of passes continues to dwindle, one wonders what the percentage of yards will look like. Don't forget that 50+ yard passes are treated as merely 50 yard passes so the tables below have passes grouped by 5, 10, and 10 yards.

Deep Ball - passes 25 to 29 30 to 39 40 to 50+ Total
Wilson 6.35% (16) 3.97% (10) 3.97% (10) 14.29% (36)
Dalton 4.03% (14) 2.02% (7) 4.32% (15) 10.37% (36)
Kaepernick 3.72% (9) 2.48% (6) 4.13% (10) 10.33% (25)
Newton 2.86% (8) 2.5% (7) 2.5% (7) 7.86% (22)
Luck 2.73% (9) 2.12% (7) 2.73% (9) 7.58% (25)
Tannehill 2.06% (7) 1.765% (6) 2.94% (10) 6.76% (23)

This has to be one of the most extreme tables yet. Although a much lower percentage of passes are create deep passes, a 7.5% gap still separates the top of the table from the bottom. Wilson has a much higher percentage of deep passes than his brethren, but he is also leading in the sheer quantity of deep passes (with 36). Dalton also throws quite a few deep balls, but his greater number of attempts allows Kaep to have basically the same percentage of deep balls. It would appear that deep balls are a result of good protection with the Miami's and Indianapolis' lines being worse than San Fran's and Cincinnati's; naturally Seattle is the exception due mostly to Wilson's scrambling ability.

Deep Ball - Yards 25 to 29 30 to 39 40+ Total
Wilson 12.83% (428) 9.75% (325) 14.18% (473) 36.76% (1226)
Dalton 8.94% (382) 5.31% (227) 16.34% (698) 30.60% (1307)
Kaepernick 7.60% (240) 6.17% (195) 14.72% (465) 28.50% (900)
Luck 6.32% (239) 6.27% (237) 10.92% (413) 23.51% (889)
Newton 6.38%(215) 7.04% (237) 9.59% (323) 23.01% (775)
Tannehill 4.82% (189) 5.28% (207) 11.89% (466) 22.00% (862)

This chart feels a bit awesome so I'll let it sink in and leave the analysis to the reader.

The Unlisted Passes (Failed Play):

Yes, these plays were left off. Why would I leave them off and not talk about them? I wanted to find the "average" throw, one thought of average is the average for a certain scheme; I don't know of any schemes whose goal is to lose yards and waste downs (except the victory formation). Also, the way I have it, all the percentages add up to 100 percent instead of the completion percentage. If you want, you can multiply all the numbers by the completion percentage and get roughly the same numbers as I would have if I had left failed plays in. Failed plays are usually a result forced by the defense, or bad throws/drops; seeing as I didn't account for drops or the defenses faced, it seems fair that I would leave off these plays. Besides, if you want to compare quarterbacks than jump over to Kenneth's new series.

If you still aren't satisfied, rest easy knowing that Wilson had 30+ fewer incomplete/no gain passes than Kaepernick and the rest of the young quarterbacks listed. Along with that, Dalton, Tannehill, and Newton had the most negative passes with between 9 and 11 of them.


Well you've through the whole article, but if you didn't want to look at numbers mushed together to form tables, there is another option. Someone made some graphs in a Google spreadsheet. The first column is the percentage of passes charted for each yard that a passing play might go. The second column is percentage of yards that are gained for each yard. After the first 12 tables, there are comparison tables. The first column of those is merely the percentage of passing tables put on top of each other, the lines are color coded based off of the 6 earlier tables (Wilson is green, Luck is blue, and so on).

There are a few other tables, those are just the percentage of passes mapped as difference between the two quarterbacks, either mapped by each yard like the previous tables or accumulated to show the where how the percentages differ over a larger area. There is also one that looks at the difference between the percentage of yards. Both types of the latter graphs are taken as Wilson's percentages - Other quarterbacks' percentages = number on graph. When you get confused by the later tables, just post a comment.

One last note with the graphs is that they are interactive, just hover over the line to see the percentage of passes/yards that make a certain node on the graph.

Next Time:

Let me know how you define "average" pass with the poll at the bottom. Will there be a part 3? While good things (quarterbacks) have the number 3, trilogies don't tend to be one of them.

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