Top 10 NFL quarterbacks by targeted depth in 2023

2TCADY4 San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy reacts during an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vasquez)

• Brock Purdy's deep ball earned him a 99.9 passing grade: On balls targeted 20 or more yards downfield, Purdy completed 30-of-53 passes for 956 yards, 11 touchdowns and only one interception.

• Patrick Mahomes produced big time on short throws: The three-time Super Bowl MVP led the NFL in passing yards on short-yardage throws, with 2,447, and threw a league-high 18 touchdown passes.

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There are a variety of ways quarterbacks get the ball to their playmakers. Some specialize in short, quick passes that allow receivers to do damage with the ball in their hands. Others like to test the first-down markers and keep the defense honest. Then there are those who like the home-run ball, delivering passes deep downfield for explosive plays.

We’re looking at the top 10 quarterbacks from the 2023 regular season in the short, intermediate and deep passing games.

Short Passing (Under 10 yards, min. 200 attempts)

Rank Player Team Passing Grade Passing Yards
1 Josh Allen Buffalo Bills 84.1 2,274
2 Justin Herbert Los Angeles Chargers 83.8 1,779
T-3 Trevor Lawrence Jacksonville Jaguars 82.1 2,148
T-3 Kirk Cousins Minnesota Vikings 82.1 1,171
5 Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs 81.1 2,447
6 Jordan Love Green Bay Packers 80.9 2,077
7 Jared Goff Detroit Lions 79.3 2,385
8 Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys 78.8 2,275
9 Joe Burrow Cincinnati Bengals 78.6 1,409
10 Baker Mayfield Tampa Bay Buccaneers 77.0 2,114

Arguably the most successful quarterback on short passes was Patrick Mahomes. The three-time Super Bowl MVP led the NFL in passing yards on short-yardage throws, with 2,447, and threw a league-high 18 touchdown passes. Only Jared Goff attempted more short passes (396) than Mahomes (395). Speaking of Goff, he finished second to Mahomes in short passing yardage, but those numbers could have been significantly higher, as only Dak Prescott had more passes dropped at this distance (25) than Goff (23).

A breakout star from the 2023 season, Jordan Love threw the second-most short-yardage touchdowns (16). Even more impressive is that Love did so despite not throwing a single interception on such plays. The only other qualifying quarterback to do so was Joe Burrow, who attempted 105 fewer short passes due to injury and had half the touchdowns.

An interesting anomaly on this list is that, despite having the third-highest passing grade on short throws, Trevor Lawrence threw more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (four). The only other qualifying quarterback to achieve this distinction is his new teammate Mac Jones, who ranked dead last out of 29 qualifying quarterbacks in short passing grade (57.0). Of note is that three of Lawrence’s six interceptions were the result of drops by receivers that landed in defenders’ arms and another was the result of an uncalled defensive pass interference.

Intermediate Passing (10-19 yards, min. 50 attempts)

While 2023 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson was the highest-graded passer on intermediate throws, Jalen Hurts may have been the most efficient. Hurts is the only member of the 35 qualifying quarterbacks to not have a turnover-worthy play despite making 99 intermediate attempts. Hurts did throw an interception, but the pass was deemed a miscommunication between him and the receiver, disqualifying the play from being turnover-worthy since the fault can’t be definitively assigned.

While C.J. Stroud had the most dropped intermediate passes (12), his receivers were far from being the worst offenders. Kirk Cousins’ receivers were the only others to drop double-digit intermediate throws (10), even though Cousins missed half of the season due to injury and made 68 fewer such attempts, resulting in a troubling 12.7% drop rate. Stroud’s receivers had an 8.1% drop rate, which is closer to the league average, as Stroud’s 147 intermediate attempts trailed only Tua Tagovailoa’s 152.

Despite being the lowest-graded quarterback on intermediate throws (54.6), Will Levis is also the only qualifier not to have thrown an interception on such plays. Part of the low grade is Levis’ lack of explosive plays, as he recorded just one touchdown on intermediate throws while also sporting the lowest completion percentage (42.3%).

Deep Passing (20 yards or more, min. 50 attempts)

A popular narrative among Brock Purdy’s detractors is that he gets by on dink-and-dunk passes while letting his skilled teammates do all the work. However, Purdy ranked just 18th in short passing grade (73.0). His deep ball, on the other hand, was nearly perfect, resulting in a seemingly impossible 99.9 mark. On balls targeted 20 or more yards downfield, Purdy completed 30-of-53 passes for 956 yards, 11 touchdowns and only one interception while having a big-time throw to turnover-worthy play ratio of 17-to-2.

One of the more shocking discoveries while compiling this list is that Patrick Mahomes was the second-lowest-graded passer on deep balls, as only Baker Mayfield had a lower deep-ball grade than Mahomes’ 71.9. Mahomes completed just 20 out of 71 deep ball attempts for 695 yards with one touchdown and eight interceptions. Mahomes also had the most turnover-worthy plays (10) and the highest turnover-worthy play rate (13.9%) of the 24 qualifiers.

Jared Goff and Dak Prescott were the only quarterbacks to feature on all three lists, and they finished close to each other in ranking. Goff ranked seventh in short passes, eighth in intermediate and ninth in deep passes, while Prescott ranked eighth, ninth and seventh in those categories, respectively. On the whole, Goff and Prescott were extremely productive, as Prescott ranked second in overall regular-season passing grade, at 89.2, while Goff finished sixth, at 84.3.


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