There are an infinite number of ways to slice and dice quarterback statistics, but there’s one we often overlook one of the most comprehensible stats available: Passing by direction.
No matter the down and distance, no matter the opponent, no matter the field position — a pass must always go either left, right, or down the middle.
So how do all quarterbacks stack up against one another based on passing direction? And how do defenses fare when defending passes based on direction?
We dove into 2017 passing data to find the answers.
League averages: Quarterbacks find about half of their success over the middle
After studying every pass from the 2017 NFL season, the data paints a clear picture: Quarterbacks like to throw over the middle.
In fact, quarterbacks gained just under half of their yards throwing over the middle, scored just under half of their touchdowns with over-the-middle throws, and (as you’d expect) scored just under half of their fantasy points passing over the middle.
The other half of their production was split fairly evenly between the left and right side of the field (with the right side of the field a few percentage points ahead). Below are the exact breakdowns.
- QBs passing left:
- Gained 23.6 percent of their fantasy points
- Gained 24.7 percent of their passing yards
- Scored 23.5 percent of their passing touchdowns
- QBs passing middle:
- Gained 49.3 percent of their fantasy points
- Gained 49.3 percent of their passing yards
- Scored 45.3 percent of their passing touchdowns
- QBs passing right:
- Gained 27.1 percent of their fantasy points
- Gained 25.9 percent of their passing yards
- Scored 31.2 percent of their passing touchdowns
The most (and least) successful when throwing left
Among quarterbacks that gained at least 1,500 passing yards, only one gained more than one-third of his total passing fantasy points (e.g. excluding rushing points) on throws to the left — Cam Newton, at 36.6 percent.