While the importance of getting the ball vertically down the field may hold greater importance for some teams based on their offensive schemes/philosophy, chunk plays are an integral part for any offense to move effectively. With teams using the quick-passing attack more and more to supplement the run, completing a deep shot—with efficiency—when the opportunity presents itself is a must.
Here are the top five deep-ball passers (throws traveling 20+ yards in the air) through the first half of the 2016 NFL season.
1. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan focused on improving his deep ball this past offseason, and it’s paid off in a big way. He sits among the top NFL quarterbacks in every major deep-ball category, is the current leader in deep-passing yards, with 721, and is tied for first in deep-passing TDs, at seven. Ryan’s 58.8 adjusted completion percentage on deep throws puts him at fifth in that regard, and his 140.3 quarterback rating on deep passes is second only to Tom Brady.
The chemistry between Matt Ryan and Julio Jones has consistently been there, as Jones is responsible for 39 percent of Ryan’s deep-passing yards. Ryan has yet to throw an interception on passes over 20 yards, and has been particularly impressive between the numbers, where he is 7-of-10 for 228 yards and three TDs, recording a 152.1 passer rating. Kyle Shanahan boasts some of the best play-action deep-throw concepts in the NFL, and seems to find the perfect route combinations week after week to attack the opponent, and Ryan is connecting.
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Even though he's played in just four games this season, it’s hard to leave Tom Brady off the list, as he has surpassed many players already in key categories. Like he has been in every part of his game, Brady has been extremely efficient with the deep ball, sitting at first in adjusted completion percentage, at 66.7, and passer rating on deep throws, at 143.8. Despite the fewest deep attempts (15), Brady is 14th in deep-passing yards, at 383, and his average yards per deep completion has been 42.5, second only to Ryan Tannehill. With the addition of Chris Hogan (currently ninth in deep-receiving yards, with 220) on the outside, and a healthy Rob Gronkowski continuously able to beat coverage down the middle, the league’s best offense is attacking vertically in every direction of the field.
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees has been as consistent of a deep-ball thrower there is throughout his career, ranking in the top five in deep-passing accuracy in six of the last eight seasons. This season is no different, as Brees is second in adjusted completion percentage, at 60.0. Brandin Cooks' speed and ability to get down the field has been tough to stop for opposing defenses, as the WR has accounted for 35 percent of Brees’s 660 deep-passing yards (third-most). Brees has been most efficient deep when throwing outside the numbers to his left, where he is seven-of-nine for 295 yards a TD, as well as a near-perfect passer rating of 155.8. The Saints get in their fair share of shootouts, and with a running game ranking near the bottom in a majority of statistical categories, deep throws will continue to be critical if New Orleans hopes to make a playoff push over the latter half of the season.
4. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
The urgency to get the ball downfield to A.J. Green started early in the season, and has not slowed down for Andy Dalton through eight weeks. He’s currently second in deep-passing yards, with 697, as 56 percent of his deep-throw completions have found Green, who’s shown to be the game’s best deep-ball threat this season (first in deep-receiving yards, with 379). Dalton has been efficient on his 39 attempts, sitting in the top 10 in both adjusted completion percentage on deep passes, at 51.3, and quarterback rating, at 120.4. Ken Zampese’s aggressive play calls to push the ball vertically have Dalton tied for the sixth-highest deep-attempt percentage, at 13.5. What's been most impressive, though, is that Dalton has done all of this without the presence of a true No. 2 receiver. Having a healthy Tyler Eifert back in the mix—with the tight ends' ability to stretch the field from a number of positions—will help this offense attack in ways it would prefer to, as it appears the unit will need to carry the load down the stretch for a defense that is currently struggling.
5. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
While Carr holds the third-lowest deep-ball attempt percentage, placing just 8.4 percent of his throws beyond 20 yards downfield, his accuracy and efficiency pull him to No. 5 on this list. Carr is fourth in adjusted completion percentage on deep attempts, at 59.3, and is tied for fourth with five deep TDs. His 469 deep-passing yards currently puts him at eighth among QBs in that regard, with him being on the wrong end of a couple of dropped passes that could spike those numbers. Carr is the best over-the-shoulder fade ball thrower in the game currently, with a number of his 14 completions coming on those throws. The Raiders' aggressive, high-flying attack does a great job with route dispersion, with some unconventional route concepts that aren't found in most NFL offenses. While a majority of that work comes at the intermediate level of the field, when Carr does takes deep shots, he’s as good as any.