There isn’t a more exciting moment in football than when an offense dials up a deep pass. It’s a game-changing play, and having a quarterback who can reliably hit on deep attempts is vital in building a potent offense.
With the help of PFF’s database that all 32 NFL teams and 81 FBS programs use, we can name the college football quarterbacks who best deliver deep bombs. These are the top 10 highest-graded quarterbacks from the 2019 season when throwing 20-plus yards downfield who are returning to college football.
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Remember — as PFF Senior Analyst Sam Monson said when ranking the NFL’s deep passers — deep passing success isn’t about arm strength; rather, it's about accuracy, timing and anticipation.
42.2% completion percentage, 14.9 yards per attempt, 115.0 passer rating
Howell has some of the best pure arm strength in the entire country. In 2019, he threw it 40 yards downfield consistently like it was nothing and wouldn’t lose any zip on the ball when throwing on the run. Howell's six touchdowns on 40-plus yard throws led the FBS, and his 15 touchdowns on 30-plus yard throws were five more than the next-highest player.
And if you didn’t know, he did this as a true freshman last year. His clean pocket deep passing was near perfect, but there is some gunslinger in him when he gets under pressure, which is why he ranks 10th in grade and not closer to the top of this list. Howell’s 31 big-time throws on 20-plus yard throws tied for second with Justin Fields, sitting behind Joe Burrow. However, his seven turnover-worthy plays on those same throws tied for the 10th most. Regardless, Howell is one of the rising stars in college football.
9. SKYLAR THOMPSON, KANSAS STATE
38.9% completion percentage, 12.5 yards per attempt, 86.4 passer rating
Thompson was one of the most improved deep passers we saw from 2018 to 2019 — raising his grade rank on such throws from 90th in 2018 to 17th in 2019 (and obviously ninth among those returning). You might wonder why that is the case, considering his relatively average completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating listed above, but Thompson threw numerous catchable deep balls that his receivers couldn’t close on. In fact, Thompson threw the second-most dropped deep passes (six) and owned the fifth-highest rate of accurate passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield.