(Editor's note: Every day, we're offering our Crazy Fantasy Stat of the Day, something that catches our eye and helps us learn something for fantasy for 2016.)
Kansas City’s Alex Smith and, after a coaching change, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford became the poster boys for short passing games last year. They were the bottom two quarterbacks in average depth of target in 2015, the only two to average under 7.0 yards. Per overall adjusted completion percentage (completions plus drops per aimed throws), Stafford and Smith both ranked fairly well in 2015 (10th and 13th, respectively), largely because they weren’t throwing it deep.
When throwing it deep, neither guy had as much success, both finishing at 35 percent completion or lower. Smith and Stafford had the two biggest drops from their ranking in overall adjusted completion percentage and the percentage on deep passes of all quarterbacks. The third-biggest drop was Brock Osweiler, now the quarterback for the Houston Texans.
In fact, Osweiler is the inspiration for our Fantasy Stat of the Day: In 2015, Brock Osweiler had the second-lowest adjusted completion percentage on pass attempts of 20-plus yards despite averaging almost four such attempts per game. Smith, Stafford and the only quarterback lower than Osweiler on the list, Marcus Mariota, all averaged around three attempts a game (fewer in the case of Smith).
Whereas Stafford and Smith kept their aDOTs low and focused on short passes, Osweiler had the 13th-highest aDOT in the NFL in 2015, at 9.2 yards. In summary, he threw the ball deeper than he could do so successfully as the Broncos’ quarterback. That kept wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in check in Denver, and is a factor in why Sanders could have a bounceback in 2016.
Now in Houston, Osweiler’s struggles with deep passes could have a negative effect on incumbent No. 1 wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins gained 492 yards on passes 20-plus yards downfield in 2015, fifth in the NFL. He had 44 deep targets, nearly a quarter of his total. While Brian Hoyer wasn’t any great shakes as a quarterback, he was more capable with the deep ball than Osweiler. Meanwhile, the team’s slot receiver, whether it ends up being Cecil Shorts III, rookie draftee Braxton Miller or another candidate, could have more success, if Osweiler’s deep troubles continue and he has to settle for shorter passes like Stafford and Smith have done.
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Currently, Hopkins is the No. 4 wide receiver in our staff rankings, while Miller and Shorts sit in the low 100s. (Jaelen Strong is 85th and rookie Will Fuller is 59th, but neither is a likely candidate for the slot.) We'll see if Osweiler’s struggles continue, and what impact that has on Hopkins, Miller and Shorts.