How good was Tom Brady at throwing the deep ball in his 20th season in the NFL? Better than you might expect.
In fact, he was better than what should have been expected, as NFL.com's Nick Shook recently explained in an article utilizing Next Gen Stats. (Shook also included Buccaneers' outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett among the NFL's top 10 "disruptors in 2019; here's more on that.)
There's obviously a lot more that goes into completing a deep pass than how far a quarterback can heave the pigskin. Seattle's Russell Wilson has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the NFL's best downfield throwers because he so frequently tosses high-arcing passes that drop down perfectly into his targets' hands, and because we all understand how hard that is when the defense is doing everything it can to prevent it.
Put Tom Brady on an empty practice field and ask him to complete a 50-yard bomb to, say, Mike Evans, and the two will hook up with ease. If you're watching from the sideline, you expect those two to make that play. Now add in an NFL-caliber cornerback covering Evans; your expectations are going to go down a little bit. Now let Shaquil Barrett come steaming into the backfield as Brady is trying to get off his pass; the chances for completion are going to go down even more.
Those are the types of things that the NFL's Next Gen Stats take into account when determining how effective a quarterback is during game play. In this case, we're talking about expected completion percentage, which looks at every play and factors in such things as how far the pass travels in the air, how much pressure there was on the quarterback, how much separation his receiver got from defenders, and how much room there is to the sideline.
If you want a more detailed explanation of expected completion percentage, click here. Bonus: The embedded video demonstrated a completion in which the expectation was very low highlights a pass from Brady to his once and current teammate, Rob Gronkowski. For a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, it's rather…uplifting.
View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster as it currently stands.
So what Shook did was take the Next Gen Stats' expected completion percentage for every NFL quarterback and compared it to those quarterbacks' actual completion percentage. But not on all passes, only deep balls, in this case only passes that traveled at least 20 yards downfield in the air. The idea is simple – quarterbacks who completed more passes than should have been expected were better at throwing the deep ball.
Tom Brady was the NFL's fourth-best quarterback in this category in 2019.
As Shook noted, Brady had an expected completion rate of 31.4% on all his deep passes but he actually completed 38.9% of them. That's a positive difference of 7.5 percentage points; the only quarterbacks who had a higher positive difference were Dallas's Dak Prescott (+13.4), Wilson, naturally (+12.8) and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes (+9.0).
Overall Brady threw seven touchdown passes and two interceptions on deep passes, helping produce a passer rating of 107.6.
Rounding out the top in this category were Kyler Murray (+6.6), Deshaun Watson (+6.6), Kirk Cousins (+6.4), Ryan Fitzpatrick (+5.4), Matt Ryan (+5.3) and Baker Mayfield (+3.9). Among those 10 passers, Brady faced some of the most difficult circumstances in trying to connect on deep throws. For instance, as Shook explained, Brady faced a pressure rate (40.7%) that was the highest of any passer on the list. Shook also noted the Patriots' "revolving cast of characters at receiver."
With Brady leaving the Patriots to join the Buccaneers and work within a Bruce Arians' offense, this issue of downfield accuracy quickly came to a fore. Considering what Next Gen Stats tell us about how well Brady aired it out last year, it's no surprise that Arians answered that question by saying, "[H]e can do everything that we want to do in our offense."