Eli Manning (New York Giants)
The 2nd part of the 2015 Deep Ball Project starts with a great and somewhat underrated quarterback in Eli Manning.
We know Eli is not the most consistent or accurate passer, but his A-game is as good as anyone who’s played the game. He’s able to make excellent decisions, make his players better, and always give them chances to catch the ball.
In 2015 this was especially true. Many of his hits were fantastically thrown and it resulted in 11 TD passes to 3 interceptions. Not bad for someone considered a turnover machine by many.
Eli is a far better QB than people are willing to give him credit for, and he had a great year throwing deep in 2015, despite limited weapons outside of that one guy…
FINAL GRADE: B+
Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos, now retired)
Peyton Manning may have sucked in 2015 all around, but it was actually a perfect ending to the career of quite possibly the greatest quarterback to play the game. Once being asked to carry everyone around him, Manning found himself carried by an elite defense into the Super Bowl, where he took home with him a 2nd trophy.
Needless to say, it was a rock bottom collapse from the A-grade Manning received on the deep ball in 2014. The decision making struggled, and the accuracy was no longer there because the arm strength was long gone. Home against the Chiefs, he was at his worse.
It’s a bittersweet ending, and while it was horrible, we can at least thank Peyton Manning for his wonderful career. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t have fun roasting him.
FINAL GRADE: F
Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans)
One of the more anticipated young quarterbacks in recent memory, Mariota hasn’t gained a reputation for being a solid deep QB just yet, but there’s plenty of promise.
Despite unimpressive stats, Mariota actually ended up getting the short end of the stick on several occasions, whether it be drops, miscommunications, or failures at the catch. At the end of the day, Mariota’s decision making was excellent downfield, but it’s the accuracy that needs to be worked on.
All things considered, Mariota has given the Titans plenty of hope to work with.
FINAL GRADE: C
Josh McCown (Cleveland Browns)
How Josh McCown continues to get starting jobs in the NFL is a treasure in of itself.
Football Outsiders’ Cian Fahey once wrote that Josh McCown would lose you games without elevating any of your teammates. After watching his deep film, I can validate this statement. Granted, it’s a little better than his 2014 season, but it’s a slight difference in terms of accuracy and consistency.
FINAL GRADE: D
Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers)
2015’s MVP, Cam Newton didn’t have the greatest deep ball season of 2015, but it’s still one that’s high in quality.
If you follow me on Twitter (@BrickWallBlitz, of course), I consider Cam Newton a mobile Eli Manning; not the most accurate or consistent, but deadly at his best. Newton had plenty of misses and overthrows in 2015, and a few boneheaded passes in the 2nd half of the season, but his best throws easily justify his grade.
Newton is able to fit the ball into tight windows despite limited pass protection, as his pocket movement has substantially improved. It was fun to watch him sling the ball downfield, as with favorable outcomes he was able to put up big time stats.
A fine downfield year.
FINAL GRADE: B
Carson Palmer (Arizona Cardinals)
This is it. This, to me, is the gold standard for deep quarterbacks.
No one really expected Carson Palmer to have the MVP-caliber season he did last year, but he did, and his downfield passing was a huge part of it. Palmer finished with the most completed passes (81) and the highest accuracy percentage (63.8%) in 2015.
Stats aside, Palmer was a consistent monster throughout in downfield passing. None of the misses are really worth mentioning, because the spectacularity of his makes just wipes it all out. The ball placement was unreal in 2015, and it seemed like Carson rarely missed a beat.
There really wasn’t a time where Palmer was struggling to throw downfield. Even at his lowest in 2015 he was still throwing deep with relative ease. This even edges out Aaron Rodgers’ fantastic 2014 deep ball season, but just barely.
Either way, Carson Palmer’s 2015 season is as good as it gets. This is the new standard for deep passing heading into the 2016 season and beyond.
FINAL GRADE: A+
Philip Rivers (San Diego Chargers)
Coming off a 4-12 season, Philip Rivers has the terrible fate of being a great QB on an awful team going nowhere.
While it’s been suggesting his downfield accuracy may be on the decline, I actually thought it was a bit better than 2014’s results (B+). Rivers’ receivers made too many mistakes at the catch point, despite brilliant passing, resulting in his 37.9 completion percentage.
At his best, Rivers has made some fantastic throws from the pocket, and this was apparent in the first half of the 2014 season. Despite a terrible cast, Rivers had another terrific downfield year. Here’s to a successful 2016.
FINAL GRADE: A-
Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)
If you’ve listened to the Bayless/Cowherd types, you’ve heard nothing but Aaron Rodgers slander as of recent.
And none of it makes any sense.
With a god awful receiving cast, Rodgers’ stats may have declined, but he was still able to put up a fantastic deep year. Like Rivers, his receivers provided so many missed opportunities (Adams being the biggest offender), gaining zero separation and dropping seemingly every pass thrown at them.
The fact that Rodgers was still able to make jaw dropping plays in spite of this is remarkable. When his receivers weren’t dropping passes, he was busy throwing with amazing consistency. Rodgers is still the best QB in the league in my opinion, and his 2015 deep ball is another hidden gem.
FINAL GRADE: A
Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Coming off perhaps the best season of his career, Ben Roethlisberger only played 12 games, but he made those count with spectacular deep passing displays.
Ben finished with the most picks of any QB in 2015 (11), but he also had a high accuracy percentage of 60.2%, as well as the most deep yards per game (134.0). Like Palmer, Ben’s best throws were many, and easily offset the bad throws he made (most of his poor throws came when he wasn’t close to being healthy).
The receiving cast is great, but Ben’s ability to have his weapons rely on him is the real story. When healthy, the offense was purely dominant, and the accuracy, as stated before, was amazing.
I consider Ben the 2nd best QB heading into the 2016 (behind Rodgers), and it would be great to see what a completely healthy Ben can do with his current receiving cast.
FINAL GRADE: A
Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)
Here’s another QB that’s getting ripped to shreds seemingly everywhere, but despite a few ill-timed turnovers, Ryan is far from Atlanta’s problem.
Though not spectacular (I’m a broken record at this point), Ryan was consistently accurate, and only witnessed a few plays where he had to rely on his receivers to make plays. Most of the time his “mistakes” came from poor route running. Even Julio Jones witnessed inconsistency at the catch point despite a monster statistical season.
So don’t believe what you’ve heard. Matt Ryan doesn’t have the strongest arm, but he’s a quality deep passer nonetheless.
FINAL GRADE: B