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Tight Windows: Evaluating Performance at the NFL’s Most Critical Spot

 

Because stats like completion percentage and QB rating don’t tell the whole story, we examine what Well Thrown% and Pickable Pass% tell us about which quarterbacks make the most on-target throws, which are the best at avoiding pickable passes and Ryan Tannehill’s rise. 

By: Greg Gifford

Not only is quarterback considered to be the most valuable position in the NFL, some believe it’s the most important in all of sports.

As with most traditional counting stats, there can be a number of factors that make it difficult to compare players. The most notable ones being a team’s offensive system and the talent surrounding the quarterback on the field. As always, Stats Perform strives to remove all extraneous factors and use event-based analysis to evaluate a player’s skill and performance.

In this case, we’ve developed two metrics that evaluate a quarterback’s arm talent. The first measures how well he can make on-target throws, and the second assesses how effective he is at keeping the ball out of the hands of defenders.

Well Thrown%

One of the most revealing QB metrics is Well Thrown% (WT%), which uses Stats Perform’s extensive, accurate data to measure how often quarterbacks make an on-target throw.

WT% is completely independent of the result of the play and doesn’t consider the decision-making ability of the quarterback at all. In other words, a QB can throw an interception on a well-thrown ball that was placed into heavy coverage, just as the QB can pick up a completion on a poorly thrown ball that forced his receiver to make a one-handed catch.

When we pair WT% with a quarterback’s average air yards (how far downfield they throw the ball), we’re able to see how various passers (min. 160 throws) performed in the 2019 season. (Note: The dotted lines indicate the averages for WT% and average air yards – 75.5% and 8.4, respectively.)

(click to enlarge)

Two names initially stand out at the bottom right of the chart as the most accurate throwers in the league. And the second highest should be no surprise.

Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints is widely considered the most accurate passer in NFL history, and an 84.6 WT% in his age-40 season shows he still hasn’t lost his touch. The only man to top Brees in WT% in 2019 was the Raiders’ Derek Carr at 84.8. Carr is probably wishing he had a guy like Michael Thomas running routes for him.

Though new $500 million man Patrick Mahomes finished third in WT% in 2019, the Kansas City Chiefs star stands out over the two guys ahead of him. Carr and Brees accomplished their elite WT% through a large number of quick, easier passes. And although the Chiefs still run a large number of quick RPOs and screens that bring Mahomes’ air yards down, the Super Bowl LIV MVP still threw the ball almost two yards further on average than Carr and Brees.

Other notable names that are well above average in both WT% and average air yards are the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, a perennial MVP candidate, and Ryan Tannehill, the man that helped turn the Tennessee Titans season around and got them one win away from a surprise Super Bowl appearance.

Pickable Pass%

Much like WT%, Pickable Pass% (PKP%) removes the result of the play and only looks at how often a QB throws a pass that could be intercepted.

Passes are considered “pickable” any time a quarterback makes a throw that could or should have been intercepted by the defense, regardless of if it was actually intercepted, incomplete, or caught by the receiver. Note that this does NOT count throws that are deflected, dropped, or could otherwise lead to an interception that isn’t the quarterback’s fault.

On average, about 4.5% of passes thrown in the NFL are deemed pickable.

PercentilePlayerTeamPKP%
100Ryan TannehillTitans1.80
75Deshaun WatsonTexans3.35
50Dak PrescottCowboys4.33
25Jared GoffRams5.35

The rest of the top five (Carr, Kirk Cousins, Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers) wouldn’t have been a shock going into 2019, but Tannehill topping this list certainly would have raised some eyebrows. Combine Tannehill’s elite PKP% with the fifth-best WT% and the third-longest average throw in the league, and it appears Tannehill’s success after taking over under center last year wasn’t a fluke at all.

The emerging Titans certainly didn’t think so, as they locked up Tannehill on a four-year extension worth $118 million in the offseason.