aDOT-adjusted Completion Percentage

Mike Clay weights completion percentage based on each quarterback's average depth of throw.

| 4 years ago
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aDOT-adjusted Completion Percentage


“Alex Smith has such a high completion percentage because he throws so many short passes.”

“Joe Flacco doesn’t complete many passes because of all those long bombs to Torrey Smith.”

Over the years, you’ve heard some variation of the above excuses for a good chunk of the league’s quarterbacks. Although “aDOT” (average depth of throw) is not yet a household statistic, fans usually have a decent idea of which quarterbacks like to chuck it deep, and which are overly conservative.

Today, I ran a test that weighted each quarterback’s completion percentage based on the depth of his throws. First, I examined five years of NFL-wide completion percentage data on throws made from each possible depth. This gave me an “expected” completion rate for each depth, which I was able to compare to the “actual” for each player. My sample was 83,631 aimed throws.

Before I dive into the numbers, let me explain the adjusted completion percentage used for this experiment.

Adjusted Completion Percentage = (Completions + Drops) / (Pass Attempts – Spikes – Throwaways – Batted Balls – Balls disrupted by a QB hit)

Because we’re trying to come up with the most accurate representation of a quarterback’s ability to complete a pass, I don’t want my numbers distorted by drops and “non-aimed throws.”

This article will include 10 charts. We’ll look at the best and worst Actual vs. Expected marks in five categories: All Throws, Behind the Line of Scrimmage, 0-to-9 yards, 10-to-19 yards, and 20+ yard throws.

All Throws

Rk

Quarterback

Aim

Actual

Expected

+/-

1

Alex D. Smith

203

81%

74%

7.4%

2

Aaron Rodgers

585

80%

73%

7.2%

3

Russell Wilson

414

77%

70%

6.9%

4

Peyton Manning

601

78%

72%

6.2%

5

Robert Griffin III

386

78%

73%

5.0%

6

Colin Kaepernick

283

73%

69%

4.9%

7

Drew Brees

618

76%

72%

4.6%

8

Ben Roethlisberger

409

76%

72%

3.8%

9

Matt Ryan

667

76%

72%

3.6%

10

Matt Cassel

248

74%

71%

3.4%

Throughout this article, you’re going to notice what seems like a general lack of volatility in the “expected” column. Although some quarterbacks tend to throw deeper than others, there’s rarely going to be an earth-shattering difference between the league’s lowest and highest marks. That may seem to make this exercise pointless, but our goal of improving on your standard completion percentage is achieved. Additionally, in the final eight charts, we’re splitting up throws by chunks of yardage. Although we’re weighting those throws, as well, the primary goal becomes determining which quarterbacks are most effective in each zone.

Colin Kaepernick’s 68.6 percent “expected” aC% is the lowest in the league. Remember, this in itself is not an indictment on his passing skills. What it means is that, in terms of the depth of his throws, he had the biggest challenge among all NFL quarterbacks. The good news for 49ers fans is that Kaepernick’s actual aC% was nearly 5 percent above his expected mark. As you can see from the chart, that’s the league’s sixth-best improvement.

Speaking of the 49ers, we see Alex Smith atop our chart. Smith’s 81 percent aC% was tops in the league. As impressive as that is, his 74 percent expected mark is near the league basement, which is a result of a high number of conservative throws. Still, even when we weight his completion percentage, we get a league-best mark.

Panning over our top 10, there aren’t many shockers. Nine of the 10 are projected 2013 starters and eight will be with the team they started for in 2012. The clear exception is Matt Cassel, who actually had a decent completion percentage when you consider the challenging throws he made. Cassel made a lot of critical mistakes during the 2012 season, but completing passes wasn’t one of his issues.

Rk

Quarterback

Aim

Actual

Expected

+/-

39

Ryan Lindley

159

64%

72%

-8.5%

38

John Skelton

187

65%

73%

-8.2%

37

Mark Sanchez

422

66%

71%

-5.0%

36

Brady Quinn

180

68%

73%

-4.3%

35

Chad Henne

283

67%

71%

-3.7%

34

Kevin Kolb

171

70%

73%

-3.5%

33

Christian Ponder

452

72%

75%

-3.0%

32

Blaine Gabbert

268

71%

73%

-2.7%

31

Josh Freeman

508

67%

69%

-2.4%

30

Ryan Fitzpatrick

483

71%

73%

-2.2%

Our next chart shows the 10 largest drops between actual and expected aC%.

To no one in Arizona’s surprise, Ryan Lindley and John Skelton rank one-two in this department. Additionally, Kevin Kolb comes in with the sixth-worst mark. Unfortunately, things may not improve much in 2013 with Drew Stanton and/or Brian Hoyer under center. (Editor’s note: Arizona traded for Carson Palmer on April 2.)

Christian Ponder’s 75.1 percent “expected” aC% is an NFL-high. He tossed a ton of underneath throws to Percy Harvin and all but avoided long balls during the 2012 season en route to the league’s lowest aDOT. Unfortunately for Vikings’ fans, Ponder did a poor job completing passes despite so many “easy” throws. His actual aC% was a full 3 percent below his expected.

Although he doesn’t show up in the bottom 10, it’s worth pointing out that Joe Flacco sits 29th on this list. The NFL’s highest-paid quarterback completed 68 percent of his passes in 2012, which is 1.9 percent below his 70 percent expected mark. Needless to say, that’s not good. The “Torrey Smith deep-ball” argument has some validity, but not enough to fully excuse Flacco’s struggles.

Behind LOS

Rk

Quarterback

Aim

Actual

Expected

+/-

1

John Skelton

20

100%

92%

8.0%

2

Chad Henne

16

100%

92%

7.8%

3

Tom Brady

77

97%

92%

5.4%

4

Nick Foles

53

96%

92%

4.6%

5

Matt Hasselbeck

29

97%

92%

4.6%

6

Russell Wilson

47

96%

92%

4.0%

7

Robert Griffin III

73

96%

92%

3.8%

8

Andrew Luck

67

96%

92%

3.7%

9

Alex D. Smith

22

95%

92%

3.5%

10

Aaron Rodgers

85

95%

92%

3.5%

As mentioned earlier, going forward, we’re splitting up throws into four tiers. That makes the “expected” column less relevant. Instead, our goal is now to look at the quarterbacks who are accurate/inaccurate in each zone.

Interestingly, Skelton’s name has popped up again. He and Chad Henne completed every throw they made behind the line of scrimmage last season. Four rookies make our list. Of course, completing passes behind the line of scrimmage is obviously pretty easy (92 percent NFL mark).

Rk

Quarterback

Aim

Actual

Expected

+/-

39

Mark Sanchez

31

77%

92%

-14.4%

38

Kevin Kolb

16

81%

92%

-10.5%

37

Brady Quinn

22

82%

92%

-10.3%

36

Jake Locker

30

83%

92%

-8.8%

35

Ryan Tannehill

46

85%

92%

-6.9%

34

Sam Bradford

63

87%

92%

-4.5%

33

Tony Romo

49

88%

92%

-3.9%

32

Cam Newton

70

89%

92%

-3.4%

31

Matthew Stafford

79

89%

92%

-3.2%

30

Blaine Gabbert

27

89%

92%

-3.0%

How Mark Sanchez is even a candidate to start in 2013 is beyond me. The Jets’ overpaid bust completed a pathetic 20-of-31 passes behind the line of scrimmage last season, which was easily the league’s worst mark. It’s easy to blame Shonn Greene’s bad hands, but remember, we’re not even including drops here.

0-to-9 yards

Rk

Quarterback

Aim

Actual

Expected

+/-

1

Alex D. Smith

120

88%

80%

8.1%

2

Aaron Rodgers

303

87%

80%

7.4%

3

Russell Wilson

192

87%

80%

6.7%

4

Matt Cassel

115

85%

79%

6.6%

5

Ben Roethlisberger

181

85%

79%

5.2%

6

Peyton Manning

330

85%

80%

4.5%

7

Tom Brady

383

82%

78%

3.9%

8

Colin Kaepernick

138

83%

79%

3.4%

9

Tony Romo

358

83%

80%

3.3%

10

Drew Brees

306

83%

79%

3.2%

Here’s where Alex Smith really does his damage. The former No. 1 overall pick put up a league-best 88 percent aC% in the 0-to-9 range. Interestingly, he heads to Kansas City where he’ll replace No. 4 on the list, Matt Cassel. Hey kid, want to be an NFL quarterback? Take note of this chart. It’s the only one in the article that includes Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees, arguably the four best quarterbacks in the league.

Rk

Quarterback

Aim

Actual

Expected

+/-

39

John Skelton

103

72%

79%

-7.4%

38

Ryan Lindley

97

72%

79%

-7.1%

37

Cam Newton

179

73%

79%

-5.5%

36

Nick Foles

104

75%

79%

-4.4%

35

Matthew Stafford

364

76%

80%

-4.3%

34

Mark Sanchez

227

75%

79%

-4.1%

33

Andrew Luck

276

75%

79%

-3.7%

32

Joe Flacco

305

76%

79%

-3.3%

31

Josh Freeman

243

76%

79%

-3.3%

30

Kevin Kolb

97

76%

79%

-3.1%

Of our five “bad” charts, one of Skelton or Lindley ranks first in four of them. You get the point. They aren’t good. Going forward, I’ll stop commenting on them. Many are skeptical of Matthew Stafford’s abilities because of his heavy reliance on Calvin Johnson. This chart showing Stafford’s struggles in the 0-to-9 yard range gives his doubters additional ammunition.

10-to-19 yards

Rk

Quarterback

Aim

Actual

Expected

+/-

1

Robert Griffin III

95

77%

62%

14.9%

2

Matt Schaub

119

71%

62%

9.1%

3

Peyton Manning

147

71%

62%

8.9%

4

Drew Brees

149

70%

62%

8.5%

5

Ben Roethlisberger

113

70%

62%

8.2%

6

Matt Ryan

164

70%

62%

8.1%

7

Russell Wilson

102

70%

62%

7.6%

8

Alex D. Smith

42

69%

62%

6.7%

9

Aaron Rodgers

125

69%

62%

6.4%

10

Brandon Weeden

92

67%

62%

5.5%

Robert Griffin III was electric in the 10-to-19 range, completing 62-of-95 passes. His aC% was easily a league-best, and well above the 62 percent NFL average. Of our 10 charts, this is the only one where Brandon Weeden’s name appears. It was a rough rookie campaign for Cleveland’s first-round pick, but he did take advantage of his strong arm in the 10-to-19 range.

Rk

Quarterback

Aim

Actual

Expected

+/-

39

John Skelton

48

50%

62%

-12.1%

38

Chad Henne

78

53%

62%

-9.1%

37

Joe Flacco

116

55%

62%

-6.4%

36

Christian Ponder

100

55%

61%

-6.3%

35

Andy Dalton

106

58%

62%

-4.4%

34

Mark Sanchez

108

57%

61%

-4.1%

33

Eli Manning

150

59%

62%

-3.5%

32

Jay Cutler

101

58%

62%

-3.3%

31

Blaine Gabbert

48

58%

61%

-2.9%

30

Brady Quinn

36

58%

61%

-2.9%

The loss of Anquan Boldin could be very costly for Baltimore when you consider how bad Flacco was in the 10-to-19 range last season. You know you’re in trouble when you’re bookended in a stat category by Chad Henne and Christian Ponder. Eli Manning and Jay Cutler are two other notables here. A healthy Hakeem Nicks and the acquisition of Martellus Bennett, respectively, should help both improve in 2013.

20+

Rk

Quarterback

Aim

Actual

Expected

+/-

1

Colin Kaepernick

49

55%

40%

15.4%

2

Cam Newton

63

52%

39%

12.9%

3

Aaron Rodgers

72

53%

41%

12.2%

4

Peyton Manning

74

53%

41%

12.0%

5

Robert Griffin III

37

49%

38%

10.5%

6

Drew Brees

80

49%

39%

10.1%

7

Alex D. Smith

19

47%

39%

8.5%

8

Russell Wilson

73

48%

40%

8.2%

9

Matt Schaub

55

44%

39%

4.2%

10

Matt Ryan

80

44%

40%

4.1%

Finally, we have the long balls. Kaepernick proved to be an outstanding deep-ball passer during his rookie season, connecting on 25-of-49 throws 20-plus yards down field. In what is a good sign for Chiefs’ fans, Alex Smith shows up here. He didn’t throw a ton of deep balls, but did complete a strong 9-of-19 passes over 20 yards. Those concerned with Peyton Manning’s arm strength can breathe easy. In his first year with Denver, Manning was one of the most accurate deep-ball throwers in the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We already knew Ponder was ultra-conservative this past season, but our final chart of the day tells us that maybe there was a method to his madness. Ponder’s dreadful 25 percent aC% was fourth-worst in the league. The loss of Mike Wallace to the Dolphins certainly can’t help Ben Roethlisberger’s already-poor deep ball numbers.

 

Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL

  • thejasus

    This is an amazing breakdown. Thanks!

  • MosesZD

    First, I really love the article. It actually reads like a true investigation instead of a manipulation.
    Second, I suspect many of the QBs topping the 20+ chart in 2012 don’t/won’t do that on a regular basis because I have noticed, over-time, this particular completion percentage really fluctuates with most QBs because, in the end, it’s a pretty small sample size and just a few passes can make a huge swing in the percentage.
    Smith, for example, came in 7th. I know he’s had problems with pass-droppers most of his career. But his completion percentage, this year, was much higher than he’d been the previous two years.
    Last, I think some in-season trend analysis might be nice because three of the 20+ yard QBs were new and teams didn’t necessarily know how to defense them. For example, if I remember correctly, Kaepernick started off very hot. I think, at one time, his long-ball completion percentage was around 80%. It really tailed off as teams got better at dealing with his throwing tendencies.

  • caradoc

    Buc fans are already getting Butthurt about Freeman’s place on these lists.