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NVB loved to go deep

NVB loved to go deep

During the 2013 season, I crunched the numbers to determine that Chris Johnson was the career leader in average length of rushing touchdown (since then, his average has dropped to 25.8, allowing Robert Smith to regain the top spot). Last year, I did the same analaysis to show that Homer Jones is the career leader in average length of receiving touchdown. Today, we look at the average length of passing touchdowns for over a hundred quarterbacks.

The table below shows the average and median length of touchdown passes for each quarterback with at least 125 career passing touchdowns. Playoff touchdowns are included in this data set. Norm Van Brocklin is your career leader, although it is Otto Graham who is the leader in median touchdown length; as such, the Van Brocklin/Graham debate must rage on.

1Norm Van Brocklin17531.226
2Otto Graham18830.527.5
3Sid Luckman14629.426
4Bart Starr16727.822
5Jim Hart21127.721
6Earl Morrall16427.421
7Tobin Rote15627.321
8Babe Parilli18027.221.5
9Daryle Lamonica18327.223
10John Hadl24526.920
11Len Dawson24626.820
12Y.A. Tittle24826.720
13Charley Johnson17026.619
14Johnny Unitas29726.620
15Bobby Layne19726.523
16Joe Namath17626.320
17Sammy Baugh19126.124
18John Brodie21825.820.5
19Chris Chandler17425.418.5
20Norm Snead19625.319
21Frank Ryan15525.220
22George Blanda24224.817
23Sonny Jurgensen25524.717
24Charlie Conerly17724.621
25Steve Grogan18524.620
26Jim Plunkett17524.619
27Craig Morton19224.518
28Don Meredith13824.216.5
29Roman Gabriel20423.916
30Bernie Kosar14023.716
31Ken O'Brien13023.716.5
32Chris Miller12623.619
33Steve Bartkowski16123.518
34Ken Anderson20623.316
35Randall Cunningham2192316
36Fran Tarkenton35322.917
37Roger Staubach17722.818
38Joe Montana31822.815
39Jeff Garcia16822.515.5
40Richard Todd12822.518.5
41Jim Kelly25822.215
42Jeff George16322.216
43Jim Harbaugh13522.114
44Ron Jaworski18922.116
45Daunte Culpepper15721.916
46Terry Bradshaw24221.917
47Bert Jones12521.816
48Jake Delhomme13821.815
49Dan Fouts26621.718
50Lynn Dickey14621.613.5
51Archie Manning12521.415
52Jeff Blake13421.413
53John Elway32721.417
54Tony Romo25021.314
55Tommy Kramer16221.215
56Joe Ferguson20221.215
57Jim Everett21021.217
58Ken Stabler21320.916
59Joe Flacco17320.815
60Steve Young25220.712.5
61Trent Green16420.715.5
62Neil Lomax13820.715
63Kerry Collins22020.414
64Danny White17020.414.5
65Neil O'Donnell12920.314
66Warren Moon30820.314
67Brad Johnson17320.314
68Boomer Esiason25120.315
69Aaron Rodgers24920.211
70Billy Kilmer1602013.5
71Carson Palmer2252012
72Brian Sipe15419.917
73Alex Smith13119.914
74Steve Beuerlein14819.813
75Joe Theismann17119.814
76Vinny Testaverde28119.815
77Phil Simms20919.716
78Eli Manning27619.512
79Bob Griese20219.413
80Aaron Brooks12919.315
81Drew Brees42019.313
82Dan Marino45219.212
83Steve McNair18019.212.5
84Ben Roethlisberger27019.212
85Dave Krieg27219.214
85Michael Vick13619.212
87Donovan McNabb25819.110
88Philip Rivers2631913
89Peyton Manning5681913
90Steve DeBerg19918.811
91Troy Aikman18818.711.5
92Brett Favre55218.713
93Marc Bulger12618.714
94Mark Brunell19518.612
95Kurt Warner23918.411
96Matthew Stafford13518.311
97Rich Gannon19118.314
98Matt Schaub13218.210.5
99Jon Kitna17118.211
100Bobby Hebert13818.111
101Matt Ryan1901810
102Jake Plummer16817.710
103Drew Bledsoe25717.711
104Matt Hasselbeck22117.514
105Jay Cutler18517.211
106Tom Brady44516.89
  • As you can see, Tom Brady is last on the list in both average and median touchdown length. Among players with more than 80 touchdown passes, Brady is the only one who has thrown at least half (225 of 445) his touchdown passes from inside of 10 yards. Last year, 18 of Brady’s 33 regular season touchdown passes were 9 yards or shorter, as were 5 of his 9 touchdown throws (all five came from inside the 5-yard line).
  • If we drop the minimum to 25 touchdown passes, Christian Ponder and Ryan Tannehill would replace Brady; each has an average passing touchdown length of just 13.8 yards. Tannehill does have a slightly more respectable median length of 10 yards, at least relative to Ponder’s 8.5 yards. But Sam Bradford takes the cake, with a median touchdown length of just 7.0 yards!
  • Take a minute to bask in the verticalness of Chris Chandler. There are 21 quarterbacks with an average passing touchdown length of at least 25 yards. Only two played in the ’80s: Jim Hart, who retired in 1984, and Chandler, who retired in 2004. If we were to era-adjust things, Chandler would surely stand out as one of the leaders in this metric (as would Hart, who ranks 5th despite playing into the ’80s).
  • Among active players with at least 40 touchdown passes, here are the quarterbacks with an average passing touchdown length of at least 20 yards: RGIII (22.8, but median of just 10.5), Nick Foles (21.8, 15.5), Newton (21.4, 16.0), Tony Romo (21.3, 14.0), Luck (20.9, 13.0), Joe Flacco (20.8, 15.0), Colin Kaepernick (20.5, 12.0), Aaron Rodgers (20.2, 11.0), and Carson Palmer (20.0, 12.0).

What stands out to you?

  • Anders

    I have to be honest that McNabb is very low on that list consider Reid’s more vertical offenses, but I suppose all those shuffle passes to RBs even some of all the bombs to TO, Stallworth and Jackson out.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Chris Chandler was a QB out of Washington who had a stronger arm than Mark Brunell, but nowhere close to Brunell’s career. I think the scouts felt Chandler’s pro career would be more productive than his college days, but it never happened. Brunell was at Washington after Chandler, who turned out to be a journeyman.

    • Kibbles

      Was Chandler’s career really “nowhere close” to Brunell’s? Brunell played 193 games with 151 starts. Chandler played 180 games with 152 starts. Brunell passed for 32,000 career yards. Chandler passed for 28,000. Brunell made three pro bowls. Chandler made two pro bowls. Brunell had 8 above-average seasons according to ANY/A+. Chandler had 7. Brunell was a much better runner, but Chandler wasn’t totally hapless- he finished with 1300/12 rushing to Brunell’s 2400/15. Brunell was more likely to be good and less likely to be bad in any given game or any given season, but the two best seasons by ANY/A both belonged to Chandler, including one of the best seasons in modern NFL history in 1998 (Chandler’s absurd 9.6 yards per attempt that year is the 7th-highest figure in history; since 1954, it’s been topped only by 2000 Kurt Warner).

      Brunell was clearly a better QB, but I wouldn’t say that Chandler was “nowhere close”. Chandler’s Atlanta statistics were better than Brunell’s Jacksonville statistics, (though Brunell’s stats covered 9 years, vs. 5 years for Chandler). And this is despite the fact that Brunell played with what was clearly the better supporting cast (Brunell was the starter in Jacksonville basically from 1995 to 2002; Tony Boselli guarded his blindside from 1995 to 2000; Jimmy Smith caught passes from his for his entire Jacksonville career; Keenan McCardell was around from 1996 to 2001; and Fred Taylor played pretty much all of 1998, 2000, and 2002, plus half of 2001.)

      Like I said, I think Brunell was pretty unambiguously better, but I’d say Chandler is at least in the rough ballpark.

      • Clint

        Btw, Chris Chandler had an average of 30.8 yards per td pass and a median of 27 in ’98. Crazy.

  • Upnorth

    Between Kelly’s apparent drive for a running game and Bradfords impressive 7 yards median td pass what will be considered deep coverage for the Eagles opponents defensive backs? I look forward to seeing this teams YPA.

  • Clint

    Brandon Weeden averages 25.8 yards per TD with a median of 20.5
    In a Thursday Night game against Buffalo, the Browns had the ball around the 25, then had a 10-15 yd penalty. Knowing that Weeden was awful inside the red zone, I half-jokingly said “great, maybe now we can score!” and he threw a 37yd td to Josh Gordon.
    In conclusion: Brandon’s td avg is so high because he was so inept inside the red zone.
    Also, Josh Gordon has 1 career td under 20 yards.

  • Kibbles

    Not the least bit surprised to see Tom Brady at the bottom of the list. On another site, I am regularly confronted by Patriots Fans / Manning Haters* who claim that the only reason Peyton Manning’s stats are better than Tom Brady’s is because Manning is a stat-whore who audibles to the pass every time his team nears the goal line. My typical response is to point out that, despite having 138 fewer career touchdowns than Manning overall, Tom Brady is the all-time leader in 1-2 yard passing touchdowns, (with 70 to Favre’s 66 and Manning’s 64).

    Now, personally, I tend to think that all those short touchdowns are a sign of intelligent offensive design. The team’s goal is to score touchdowns, and it doesn’t really matter whether those short ones are rushes or passes. If either Peyton or Tom wants to pass at the 1-yard line, I’m okay with that. But yeah, Tom Brady scores a lot of really short touchdowns. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/ptd_finder.cgi?request=1&match=career&year_min=1920&year_max=2014&league_id=&team_id=&opp_id=&game_type=&game_num_min=0&game_num_max=99&game_location=&game_result=&td_type=pass&group_by_pass=qb&distance_min=1&distance_max=2&quarter_min=1&quarter_max=5&diff_min=&diff_max=&scorer_age_min=0&scorer_age_max=99&scorer_is_active=&scorer_is_hof=&passer_age_min=0&passer_age_max=99&passer_is_active=&passer_is_hof=&order_by=distance

    *I do not mean to imply that all Patriots Fans are Manning Haters, or that all Manning Haters are Patriots Fans. Merely that there is substantial overlap between the two groups, and this particular pernicious argument almost always seems to come from somewhere within that overlap.

    • Adam Steele

      Haha Kibbles, looks like we’re on the same page with Brady’s short TD passes. I have also heard the audibles argument used against Manning, as if he cares about his stats more than winning the game. Ridiculous.

      • Kibbles

        It’s especially ridiculous when the argument is being made on a fantasy football message board, and Peyton Manning’s running backs are *legendary* for their production. (It’s also ridiculous because everyone knows that he’s many orders of magnitude more likely to audible from a pass into a run than he is to audible from a run into a pass). There’s a reason why an undrafted free agent with seven career starts is being drafted as the 10th RB off the board in fantasy football this year.

        Peyton Manning throws a lot of short touchdowns. He throws a lot of long ones, too. His running backs rush for a lot. Basically, Peyton Manning offenses score lots of touchdowns.

        And, to be crystal clear, the exact same is true of Tom Brady and his offenses. Peyton Manning has had seven seasons where his top RB rushed for double-digit scores, (plus near-misses in partial seasons from Dominic Rhodes and C.J. Anderson). Tom Brady has likewise had seven seasons where his RB rushed for 10+ touchdowns. Both guys lead offenses that put exorbitant point totals on the board. Criticizing either for how they score those points seems stupid; I would suggest the raw scoring totals suggest that the distribution each has settled on is probably pretty close to optimal.

        I mean, if this is how effective those guys are when they settle on a selfish, sub-optimal play distribution in the red zone, I shudder at the thought of what it would look like if they ever optimized their play selection.

    • Dave Archibald

      Brady throws a lot of touchdown passes from 1-2 yards out, but the Patriots score a lot of touchdowns from 1-2 yards out – since 2001, they have the most 1-2 yard passing TDs (64, one ahead of Denver) AND the most 1-2 yard rushing TDs (114, next-best 87). So it’s not a function of Brady padding his stats near the goal line; the Patriots just are in a ton of short goal-to-go situations. That’s because they have a high-functioning offense that doesn’t score a lot of long touchdowns, which kind of brings us back full circle.

      There’s also the matter of efficiency – Brady has 10 more 1-2 yard passing TDs from 2001 – 2014, but Manning actually has more attempts in that range (115 dropbacks vs Brady’s 102). That said, even as a Pats fan and a Brady fanboy, I agree the Manning audibles argument is pretty silly. Manning calling his own number is a high-percentage play.

      • Kibbles

        Yeah, like I said, I think the short touchdowns are a sign of intelligent design. Brady wouldn’t have thrown for so many TDs if he wasn’t good at throwing for TDs. Insofar as an offense’s job is to score points, it seems dumb to me to criticise a guy for scoring *too many* touchdowns of a certain type. I’m not about to approach the guys running two of the greatest sustained offenses in NFL history with pointers on how they should be doing things.

  • Adam Steele

    Even before you mentioned it, I noticed Chris Chandler and thought of the 98 Falcons. He really was a throwback to an earlier era.

    Funny how Peyton and Brees get criticized for padding their TD totals with short passes, yet Brady is the worst offender.

    I like sorting by median better than mean, as outlier plays have less of an effect. See RGIII for evidence.

  • James

    How in the world is Alex Smith between Carson Palmer and Eli Manning? Could his passing style be any different from theirs??

    • Kibbles

      One theory: Alex Smith reaches the red zone far less frequently than Palmer and Manning, and the ranking is a result of Simpson’s Paradox.

      Imagine a quarterback so good that his offense reached the red zone on every single drive. Now imagine a quarterback so bad that his offense never gained a first down unless it was also a touchdown. The former quarterback would, by definition, average fewer than 20 yards per touchdown pass. The latter quarterback would average nearly 80 yards per touchdown pass. Granted, the former quarterback would have a hell of a lot more touchdowns than the latter…

      I suspect that the general woefulness of Alex Smith’s offenses early in his career left him very few opportunities for short touchdown passes to bring down his average. (And, on the flip side, this partially explains the low average for many modern All Pro caliber QBs- they spend a disproportionately large percentage of the time passing on a short field.)

      • Clint

        Last year, Alex Smith averaged 14.3 yds per td pass with only 2 of 18 being over 20 yards. One, I know was a Knile Davis catch and run. Also had a median of 11. The 19.9 overall number is mostly from the Niners ineptitude on offense earlier in his career, rather than Alex Smith being a gunslinger. Haha.

  • Richie

    I guess the Eagles had trouble drawing a crowd in Norm’s time in Philadelphia?

  • Andropov

    Some of these results are, at first blush, very surprising. For instance, Cutler’s low average and median are fairly surprising considering his reputation as a big-armed gunslinger. Less surprising when one remembers the number of Brandon Marshall fade routes he’s thrown in the red zone, though. Also, Alex Smith’s high average feels strange, considering that he’s consistently been one of the quarterbacks with the shortest throws in the league (5.32 ANY/A for his career). He also hasn’t thrown many touchdowns to his receivers, whom one would expect to catch longer touchdowns than RBs and TEs. Maybe it’s a symptom of Jamaal Charles’ brilliance in the open field? I suppose it wouldn’t take many long touchdowns to drag up his average, either, considering that Smith only has 122 passing touchdowns in his career.