NFL News & Analysis

Ranking last season's starting QBs by deep passing performance: Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray lands at No. 1

1. Cardinals (1): Don't believe in the league's only unbeaten team? Arizona also boasts the NFL's largest point differential (+111), is the toughest team to score on (16.3 points allowed per game), is getting defensive reinforcements off the COVID-19 list -- including OLB Chandler Jones -- and is already effectively integrating new TE Zach Ertz, the first player to catch a TD pass in successive weeks ... for different teams. Oh yeah ... and Kyler Murray. Syndication Usa Today

In the modern NFL, teams need to have a quarterback who can hit explosive plays whenever the opportunity presents itself. It is no coincidence that the two Super Bowl 56 quarterbacks — Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford — ranked top-four in the league in yards from passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield in 2021.

With the 2022 NFL season around the corner, PFF ranked all 32 starters from a year ago in eight different deep-passing metrics, all of which can be found in PFF Premium Stats:

We then aggregated the ranks for each category to form a 1-32 list for deep-passing performance.

Note: For teams forced to start more than one QB, we went with the player who attempted more passes. 


1. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

2021 Passing Grade: 99.3 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 15.8 | 2021 Passer Rating: 117.2

Murray ranked top-10 in completion percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating and yards on passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield, notably leading starting quarterbacks in PFF grade on those throws.

According to PFF's ball-location data, the Oklahoma product also threw 48.5% of his deep attempts in the perfect spot for a receiver. He was the only quarterback to breach the 45.0% mark.

2. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers

2021 Passing Grade: 94.9 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 16.4 | 2021 Passer Rating: 108.1

Herbert's 48.4% completion rate ranked second among starters, while his 16.4 yards per attempt finished third. He went 31-of-64 for 1,051 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions throwing deep in 2021. 

Herbert produced the highest-graded deep throw of the year when he uncorked this bomb to WR Jalen Guyton — a throw that traveled 57 yards in the air.

3. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings

2021 Passing Grade: 96.2 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 14.7 | 2021 Passer Rating: 120.7

Cousins' 120.7 passer rating was the second-best of the 32 starters, and he ranked top-five in three other categories: passing grade (96.2), completion percentage (46.5%) and accuracy rate (44.3%).

4. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2021 Passing Grade: 97.7 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 12.8 | 2021 Passer Rating: 97.9

Nobody threw more 20-plus-yard passes than Brady (82) last season. The seven-time Super Bowl champion earned the top spot in deep-pass accuracy percentage, placing the ball in the right spot 52.1% of the time. He also ranked second in accuracy-plus percentage by placing 43.7% of his deep balls in the “perfect” spot for his receiver.

Brady completed 35 deep attempts for 1,048 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions. He had a league-high six deep passes dropped, too.

5. Davis Mills, Houston Texans

2021 Passing Grade: 89.4 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 15.3 | 2021 Passer Rating: 123.5

Mills' 123.5 passer rating on deep throws led the league last season. He completed 47.6% of his 42 attempts, earning an impressive 89.4 passing grade.

While turnovers can often be a problem for rookies, Mills' 4.1% turnover-worthy play rate on deep passes ranked fifth among starters last season — and he did this with a lackluster receiving corps.

6. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

2021 Passing Grade: 91.8 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 15.5 | 2021 Passer Rating: 113.3

The Chiefs signal-caller completed 31 of his 69 deep attempts for 1,071 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions, and just three of his deep attempts were graded as turnover-worthy.

Tyreek Hill caught two of Mahomes' touchdowns for 334 of his deep yards, so we'll have to wait and see whether the star quarterback can keep up his deep-passing prowess with Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman in 2022. 

7. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

2021 Passing Grade: 94.5 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 13.2 | 2021 Passer Rating: 104.4

Prescott earned a seventh-ranked 94.5 passing grade on his 73 deep attempts. He completed 32 of these attempts for 962 yards, eight touchdowns, and four interceptions during the regular season.

8. Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts

2021 Passing Grade: 90.7 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 14.3 | 2021 Passer Rating: 107.8

 The Colts-turned-Commanders quarterback ranked seventh among starters in both turnover-worthy play rate (4.5%) and passer rating (107.8) on deep passes last season. He went 25-of-59 for 842 yards, seven touchdowns and only three picks. 

9. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

2021 Passing Grade: 95.8 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 15.8 | 2021 Passer Rating: 97.4

The Super Bowl runner-up averaged 15.8 yards per deep pass attempt, fifth among the league's starters. He also led the league with 13 deep touchdowns and finished fourth in deep-passing grade.

10. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams

2021 Passing Grade: 90.1 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 19.0 | 2021 Passer Rating: 88.0

The 14-year pro and reigning Super Bowl champion averaged 19 yards per attempt and racked up 1,272 yards from deep passes, both of which led the NFL's starters last season.

The only thing pulling him down is his 29th-ranked turnover-worthy play rate: Only Washington's Taylor Heinicke threw more turnover-worthy passes on deep throws last season.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) in action against the San Francisco 49ers during the NFC Divisional playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

11. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

2021 Passing Grade: 91.6 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 13.6 | 2021 Passer Rating: 102.5

The 2021 NFL MVP ranked top-10 in passer rating and accuracy-plus percentage. Rodgers put the ball in a perfect spot on 35.8% of his deep passes, fifth among quarterbacks a season ago.

12. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

2021 Passing Grade: 89.7 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 14.5 | 2021 Passer Rating: 114.9

The now-Denver Bronco went 29-of-75 for 1,090 yards throwing deep last season. He finished third in passing yards and fourth in passer rating.

13. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

2021 Passing Grade: 95.7 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 13.6 | 2021 Passer Rating: 99.6

Allen finished the season with 77 deep-ball attempts, totaling 1,051 deep-passing yards and finishing fifth among starters in PFF grade throwing deep. He would be much further up this list if not for his underwhelming accuracy metrics: He finished 23rd in accuracy rate and 26th in accuracy-plus rate.

14. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

2021 Passing Grade: 91.4 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 14.9 | 2021 Passer Rating: 101.6

In his last season in Atlanta, Ryan completed 43.1% of his 51 deep attempts, the ninth-best completion rate among starters. The current Indianapolis quarterback's highest-ranked metric was his eighth-ranked 14.9 yards per deep attempt.

15. Daniel Jones, New York Giants

2021 Passing Grade: 80.7 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 14.0 | 2021 Passer Rating: 86.8

Jones attempted just 24 deep passes on the year, but he didn’t record a single turnover-worthy play. It wasn’t all roses, though — he completed less than a third of his deep passes.

16. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

2021 Passing Grade: 75.4 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 12.9 | 2021 Passer Rating: 83.0

Mayfield threw 40.8% of his deep passes accurately and 34.7% of his deep passes in the perfect spot, ninth and seventh among starters, respectively. However, he ranked 23rd in turnover-worthy play rate on these throws and, consequently, 24th in PFF grade.

17. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

2021 Passing Grade: 81.8 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 18.1 | 2021 Passer Rating: 77.2

The Dolphins signal-caller ranked third in completion percentage (48.3%) and second in yards per attempt (18.1) a season ago, but only Taylor Heinicke posted a worse turnover-worthy play rate on deep passes. Now, Tagovailoa will add Tyreek Hill to an already-great group of deep-ball options in Miami.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) signals from the field against the New York Jets during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

18. Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints

2021 Passing Grade: 83.9 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 12.4 | 2021 Passer Rating: 80.5

The 2015 No. 1 overall pick completed six of his 22 deep-ball attempts for 273 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions before his season-ending knee injury. He threw 44.4% of his deep passes accurately, and three of his deep passes were dropped by his intended receiver.

19. Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders

2021 Passing Grade: 83.2 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 13.3 | 2021 Passer Rating: 84.1

Carr's 1,036 deep-passing yards ranked 10th among starters a season ago. Unfortunately, he also recorded a 12.82% turnover-worthy play rate, 26th among his peers, and finished 18th in PFF grade.

20. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

2021 Passing Grade: 87.7 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 11.8 | 2021 Passer Rating: 62.9

The Bears quarterback completed 18 of his 43 attempts for 508 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. 

21. Mac Jones, New England Patriots

2021 Passing Grade: 87.7 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 11.9 | 2021 Passer Rating: 77.5

Jones earned a 16th-ranked 87.7 passing grade on deep throws last year, going 22-of-58 for 690 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. 

22. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

2021 Passing Grade: 82.8 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 12.2 | 2021 Passer Rating: 72.6

Hurts finished in the top half of the league in deep-passing yards (766) a season ago. Now, he gets A.J. Brown to throw to, in addition to DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert.

23. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans

2021 Passing Grade: 81.7 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 9.8 | 2021 Passer Rating: 71.2

The veteran quarterback finished 26th in accuracy rate and 29th in completion percentage on deep passes a season ago.

24. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

2021 Passing Grade: 68.3 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 10.3 | 2021 Passer Rating: 76.9

Big Ben went 19-of-63 for 651 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. His 30.2% completion percentage and 10.3 yards per attempt ranked 28th and 26th among starters, respectively.

25. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

2021 Passing Grade: 74.0 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 11.9 | 2021 Passer Rating: 71.8

Garropolo earned a 74.0 passing grade across 33 attempts last season, 25th among signal-callers. He threw an accurate deep ball 37.9% of the time, which ranked 16th.

26. Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos

2021 Passing Grade: 69.7 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 9.4 | 2021 Passer Rating: 63.7

Bridgewater completed only 30.8% of his 52 attempts for 489 yards last year. He earned a 28th-ranked passing grade.

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws the ball in the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

27. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

2021 Passing Grade: 73.6 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 8.8 | 2021 Passer Rating: 46.4

On deep balls in 2021, the 2021 first overall pick posted an ugly 46.4 passer rating and threw for just 548 yards on deep passes, both of which were bottom-five marks. He also averaged just 8.8 yards per deep attempt.

28. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

2021 Passing Grade: 77.7 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 11.5 | 2021 Passer Rating: 77.6

Jackson completed just 33.3% of his 20-plus-yard throws at 11.5 yards per attempt. He was dead last in accuracy rate, as only 22.6% of his deep balls were thrown accurately. 

29. Zach Wilson, New York Jets

2021 Passing Grade: 66.6 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 11.8 | 2021 Passer Rating: 80.2

Wilson ranked 25th or worse in five of the metrics measured for this list — deep-passing grade, turnover-worthy play rate, accuracy rate, accuracy-plus rate and yards — which echoes how his 2021 season went.

30. Jared Goff, Detroit Lions

2021 Passing Grade: 60.8 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 8.1 | 2021 Passer Rating: 88.5

Goff's 60.8 passing grade was second-to-last, and he only averaged 8.1 yards per attempt. Still, there was a bright spot — he only had a turnover-worthy play rate of 6.67%, eighth among starters.

31. Taylor Heinicke, Washington Commanders

2021 Passing Grade: 52.6 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 9.9 | 2021 Passer Rating: 70.8

Heinicke's 52.6 passing grade was 32nd of 32, and he had an ugly, last-place 17.91% turnover-worthy play rate. He finished 30th or worse in four categories: PFF grade, turnover-worthy play rate, accuracy rate and accuracy-plus rate. 

32. Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers

2021 Passing Grade: 71.8 | 2021 Yards per Attempt: 9.2 | 2021 Passer Rating: 42.5

Darnold completed only 27.5% of his 20-plus-yard pass attempts and ranked last in passer rating (42.5%). His 40 attempts resulted in only 368 yards.

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