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In 2013, the average completion went for 11.63 yards. That’s a pretty low number historically, although it’s actually a bit higher than some of the recent NFL seasons. Take a look at how Yards per Completion has generally been declining throughout NFL history:


If you want to discuss the quarterbacks who excelled in this metric, controlling for era is crucial. One simple way to measure the best passers when it comes to YPC is to measure how they fare in this metric relative to league average, and multiply that difference by the player’s number of attempts. For example, Nick Foles averaged 14.2 YPC last year, which was 2.6 YPC above average. Over the course of his 317 pass attempts, we could say he provided 529 yards above the average completion. That was the highest in the NFL last year, while Matt Ryan produced the lowest average.

1Nick Folesphi203289114.24529
2Colin Kaepernicksfo243319713.16370
3Russell Wilsonsea257335713.06367
4Matthew Stafforddet371465012.53333
5Michael Vickphi77121515.78319
6Aaron Rodgersgnb193253613.14290
7Peyton Manningden450547712.17241
8Matt McGloinrai118154713.11174
9Geno Smithnyj247304612.33172
10Case Keenumhtx137176012.85166
11Eli Manningnyg317381812.04130
12Josh McCownchi149182912.2895
13Brandon Weedencle141173112.2890
14Philip Riverssdg378447811.8580
15Andy Daltoncin363429311.8369
16Carson Palmercrd362427411.8162
17Josh Freeman2tm6376112.0828
18Matt Casselmin153180711.8127
19Kellen Clemensram142167311.7821
20Robert Griffin IIIwas274320311.6915
21Jay Cutlerchi224262111.715
22Thaddeus Lewisbuf93109211.7410
23Terrelle Pryorrai156179811.53-17
24Cam Newtoncar292337911.57-19
25Drew Breesnor446516211.57-27
26Jake Lockeroti111125611.32-36
27Matt Flynn2tm124139211.23-51
28Ryan Fitzpatrickoti217245411.31-71
29Tom Bradynwe380434311.43-78
30Jason Campbellcle180201511.19-79
31Kirk Cousinswas8185410.54-88
32Ben Roethlisbergerpit375426111.36-102
33Christian Pondermin152164810.84-121
34EJ Manuelbuf180197210.96-122
35Tony Romodal342382811.19-151
36Sam Bradfordram159168710.61-163
37Andrew Luckclt343382211.14-169
38Ryan Tannehillmia355391311.02-218
39Matt Schaubhtx219231010.55-238
40Mike Glennontam247260810.56-266
41Alex Smithkan308331310.76-271
42Joe Flaccorav362391210.81-300
43Chad Hennejax305324110.63-308
44Matt Ryanatl439451510.28-593

Yards per completion is not as much about ability or talent as it is about style. One can be very good when it comes to yards per completion but be a bad quarterback (Matt McGloin!), or a passer could have a very low yards per completion average but still be very good (Matt Ryan!). But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to occasionally focus on a passer’s style rather than his effectiveness.

I used that same formula to create a list of the quarterbacks who produced the most yards over expectation — based on their number of completions and the league average yards per completion rate — over the course of their careers. The top name on the list is Steve Grogan, who easily takes the crown of YPC king. Rounding out the top five: Jay Schroeder, Joe Namath, Ben Roethlisberger, and Trent Green. The table below lists the 100 quarterbacks with the most yards over expectation (based purely on completions and league average YPC rates) since 1950:

RkQBFirst YrLast YrAttYards Ov Avg CmpYOAC/Att
1Steve Grogan19751990359330690.85
2Jay Schroeder19851994280824350.87
3Joe Namath19651977376224200.64
4Ben Roethlisberger20042013434623300.54
5Trent Green19972008374023230.62
6Terry Bradshaw19701983390121460.55
7Ed Brown19541965198719961
8Philip Rivers20042013410817990.44
9Michael Vick20012013303017780.59
10Kurt Warner19982009407017080.42
11Daryle Lamonica19631974260116750.64
12Aaron Rodgers20052013295516420.56
13John Hadl19621977468716400.35
14Boomer Esiason19841997520516200.31
15Steve Beuerlein19882003332816140.48
16Gus Frerotte19942008310616110.52
17Eli Manning20042013500815360.31
18Earl Morrall19561976268914650.54
19Craig Morton19651982378614020.37
20Tony Romo20062013377513960.37
21Dan Fouts19731987560413090.23
22Doug Williams19781989250713030.52
23Norm Van Brocklin19501960283712880.45
24Roger Staubach19691979295812780.43
25Steve Young19851999414912610.3
26Jim Hart19661984507612390.24
27Bobby Layne19501962334912380.37
28Lynn Dickey19711985312512270.39
29Jim Plunkett19711986370112060.33
30Vinny Testaverde19872007670111870.18
31Phil Simms19791993464711670.25
32John Elway19831998725011550.16
33Peyton Manning19982013845211460.14
34Otto Graham19501955156510870.69
35Aaron Brooks20002006296310760.36
36Tom Brady20002013658610380.16
37Bill Nelsen19631972190510340.54
38Daunte Culpepper20002009319910240.32
39Chris Chandler19882004400510090.25
40Jake Delhomme1999201129329750.33
41Mike Tomczak1985199923379520.41
42Jack Kemp1957196930739460.31
43Cam Newton2011201314759330.63
44Donovan McNabb1999201153748780.16
45Warren Moon1984200068238040.12
46Cotton Davidson1954196817527890.45
47Matt Schaub2004201331817740.24
48Doug Flutie1986200521517690.36
49Vince Evans1978199513907570.54
50Craig Erickson1992199710927560.69
51Lamar McHan1954196314427110.49
52Jay Cutler2006201333106950.21
53Charley Johnson1961197533926930.2
54Mark Rypien1988200126136510.25
55Babe Parilli1952196933306440.19
56Don Meredith1960196823086100.26
57Colin Kaepernick201120136396010.94
58Marc Wilson1980199020815980.29
59Kerry Collins1995201162615960.1
60Steve Ramsey197019769215810.63
61Frank Ryan1958197021335790.27
62Derek Anderson2006201214405690.39
63Jim Kelly1986199647795590.12
64Russell Wilson201220138005550.69
65Eddie LeBaron1952196317965530.31
66Steve Tensi196619708625170.6
67Tom Tracy19581963675117.62
68Ron Jaworski1974198941174900.12
69Jeff Blake1992200532414820.15
70Dan Marino1983199983584740.06
71Scott Mitchell1992200123464740.2
72Charlie Batch1998201216044640.29
73Jeff Hostetler1988199723384620.2
74Matt Cavanaugh197919895794600.79
75Jack Scarbath195319562794531.63
76Matt Robinson197719825234440.85
77Scott Hunter197119797484270.57
78Rodney Peete1989200423464200.18
79Greg Cook196919732004172.09
80Bob Berry1965197511734170.36
81Bill Kenney1980198824304140.17
82James Harris1969197911494120.36
83Frank Gifford19521964634096.49
84Jeff George1990200139674070.1
85Johnny Unitas1956197351863970.08
86Jim Everett1986199749233910.08
87Jake Plummer1997200643503830.09
88Tim Tebow201020123613701.03
89Tommy O'Connell195319614233640.86
90Stan Humphries1989199725163590.14
91Nick Foles201220135823560.61
92Joe Geri195019512033541.75
93Troy Smith200720102343521.51
94Bob Lee196919797303500.48
95Bob Celeri195119523133481.11
96Marlin Briscoe196819762333441.48
97Terry Hanratty196919764313410.79
98Pete Beathard1964197312823360.26
99Vince Young2006201113043310.25
100Warren Rabb196119622513181.27

What about the quarterbacks with the fewest yards per completion? You might think this list would be dominated by a bunch of checkdown specialists, but by using career completions as part of the numerator, we exclude a lot of lesser passers. That just serves to make the top of this list more interesting, with the perennially underrated John Brodie, the becoming-more-underrated-by-the-week Fran Tarkenton, the original #18 in Denver, Roman Gabriel, and Joe Montana all ranking in the top five.

RkQBFirst YrLast YrAttYards Ov Avg CmpYOAC/Att
1John Brodie195719734491-2673-0.6
2Fran Tarkenton196119786467-2318-0.36
3Frank Tripucka195019631600-2268-1.42
4Roman Gabriel196219774498-2258-0.5
5Joe Montana197919945391-2131-0.4
6Y.A. Tittle195019643817-2002-0.52
7Brad Johnson199420084326-1776-0.41
8Steve DeBerg197819985024-1756-0.35
9Archie Manning197119843642-1646-0.45
10Joey Harrington200220072538-1564-0.62
11Troy Aikman198920004715-1522-0.32
12Sonny Jurgensen195719744262-1480-0.35
13Bernie Kosar198519963365-1470-0.44
14Bill Munson196419791982-1424-0.72
15Ken O'Brien198419933602-1384-0.38
16Dan Pastorini197119833055-1310-0.43
17Ryan Fitzpatrick200520132599-1300-0.5
18Jack Concannon196419751110-1268-1.14
19Jim Harbaugh198720003918-1194-0.3
20Billy Wade195419662523-1146-0.45
21Brett Favre1991201010169-1143-0.11
22Milt Plum195719692419-1128-0.47
23David Carr200220122267-1048-0.46
24Jon Kitna199720114442-990-0.22
25Sam Bradford201020131760-967-0.55
26Kyle Boller200320111519-963-0.63
27Rich Gannon198720044206-947-0.23
28Shane Matthews19962004839-940-1.12
29Alex Smith200520132685-929-0.35
30Brian Sipe197419833439-875-0.25
31Steve Spurrier196719761151-865-0.75
32Matt Ryan200820133288-846-0.26
33Bart Starr195619713149-836-0.27
34Ken Anderson197119864475-834-0.19
35Chad Pennington200020102471-808-0.33
36Mike Phipps197019811799-775-0.43
37Steve Walsh198919991317-768-0.58
38Ken Stabler197019843793-759-0.2
39Tommy Kramer197719903651-734-0.2
40Frankie Albert19501952601-734-1.22
41Brian Griese199820082796-732-0.26
42Christian Ponder201120131013-713-0.7
43Bobby Hebert198519963121-711-0.23
44Danny Kanell19962003956-688-0.72
45Joe Theismann197419853602-679-0.19
46Jim Finks195019551311-668-0.51
47Rick Mirer199320032043-661-0.32
48Tim Couch199920031714-654-0.38
49Kordell Stewart199520032358-651-0.28
50Charlie Frye20052009676-642-0.95
51Jim Miller199520021046-631-0.6
52Jason Campbell200620132499-602-0.24
53Mike Boryla19741978519-600-1.16
54Gary Huff19731978788-599-0.76
55Virgil Carter19681976785-594-0.76
56Jack Trudeau198619951644-589-0.36
57King Hill19581969881-588-0.67
58Doug Pederson19932004522-586-1.12
59Charlie Conerly195019612229-579-0.26
60Mickey Slaughter19631966584-570-0.98
61Steve Bono198519991701-569-0.33
62Steve Dils19801988972-562-0.58
63Len Dawson195719753741-562-0.15
64Kelly Holcomb19972007893-536-0.6
65David Klingler19921997718-535-0.74
66Drew Brees200120136799-532-0.08
67Blaine Gabbert20112013777-530-0.68
68Randy Wright198419881119-525-0.47
69Gary Cuozzo196319721182-522-0.44
70Chris Weinke20012007709-522-0.74
71Zeke Bratkowski195419711484-515-0.35
72Karl Sweetan19661970590-515-0.87
73Charlie Trippi19501954422-505-1.2
74Chad Henne200820131876-498-0.27
75Mike Taliaferro19641972966-485-0.5
76Steve Fuller197919861066-484-0.45
77Mark Malone198119891648-483-0.29
78Kent Nix19671972652-459-0.7
79Kelly Stouffer19881992437-457-1.04
80Chuck Long19861990607-456-0.75
81Colt McCoy20102013703-446-0.63
82Rudy Bukich195319681190-442-0.37
83Don Majkowski198719961905-437-0.23
84Seneca Wallace20052013788-436-0.55
85Jeff Garcia199920083676-424-0.12
86Al Dorow195419621207-424-0.35
87Tony Eason198319901564-420-0.27
88Oliver Luck19831986413-410-0.99
89Ken Dorsey20042008408-407-1
90Dan Darragh19681970296-403-1.36
91Norm Snead196119764353-401-0.09
92Kent Graham199220011339-393-0.29
93Greg Landry196819842300-391-0.17
94Jim McMahon198219962573-387-0.15
95Shaun Hill20072012954-385-0.4
96Bobby Hoying19962000456-383-0.84
97Brodie Croyle20062010319-373-1.17
98Trent Edwards20072012929-368-0.4
99Matt Cassel200520132298-367-0.16
100Randy Johnson196619761286-366-0.28

However, if you sort this list by “Last Yr”, then you do get a bit of checkdown specialists.

  • Malene, CPH

    Funny to see that Peyton and Brady have almost identical numbers here (no. 33 and 36) with about 1100/1000 YOA.

    OTH, Brees with -500 YOA is funny. I would imagine the average NFL fan would describe Brady stylistically as the short completion guy, Brees as the long bomber.

    • pqlqi

      Good point about the Brady/Brees comparison. It shows you how great Randy Moss was, and likely we all underestimate Gronk as a deep target.

    • James

      People, and this includes me, forget just how many short passes Brees throws. All those dump offs to RBs fade away while the bombs to Stills, Meachum, Henderson, etc. stand out.

  • “[Brady and Manning] consistently take the underneath routes when they are given to them and don’t ever think about going to another route until the defense takes the underneath route away.” -Matt Ryan (http://www.si.com/more-sports/2010/07/12/mmqb-mattryan)

    And then Ryan has a standout low YPC while Brady and Manning both rank in the top 40 in yards above expectation. I don’t know what that says (if anything), but it seems like an interesting group of facts.

    • Chase Stuart

      One thing about Ryan: he is trending in that direction. He was 14th in average length of pass in 2011, 25th in 2012, and 35th last year.

  • Nick Bradley

    Couple observations

    1. The Philly system takes a lot of downfield shots…Vick was at almost 16ypc.

    2. Today’s young quarterbacks arent afraid to take shots downfield.

    3. Greatest quarterback who never was, Greg Cook, had a YOAC/att of two!

    4. Colin Kaepernicks YOAC/att is generationally anomalous. They fit in more in the 1970s than anything else. With the drafting of Hyde and Lattimore, I think Harbaugh plans on keeping thid ridiculous play action game going. If he can keep up some underneath routes better, wow…

    • Nick Bradley

      Sorry for mobile typos

    • Richie

      Do you think the drafting of Lattimore really tells us much about SF’s intentions? Isn’t he just more of a high-reward gamble? Getting a first round talent in the 4th round, and hoping he can recover from injury?

      • Nick Bradley

        They’ve spent a 2nd rounder (2-61) on a running back (James) in 2012, a comp 4th in 2013 (4-131), and another 2nd rounder (2-57) in 2014, Hyde. They also spent a 2011 4th (4-113) on Kendall Hunter.

        They’ve invested more in running back than anyone else in the NFL, from what I gather.

    • John Charm

      Too small of a sample size with Cook, who only appeared in 11 games total in his career but yes, what could have been if he hadn’t have had his rotator cuff demolished halfway through the 3rd game of his career.

      • Nick Bradley

        Bill Walsh said he was the best quarterback he ever had, and he invented the west coast offense due to his backups weak arm.

  • I’m stunned that Joe Montana was not number one in lowest YOAC.

    • Chase Stuart

      Yeah, I found that whole table pretty interesting. I hadn’t really thought of Brodie and Tarkenton as dink-and-dunkers, but I guess if you weren’t a deep thrower in that era, that’s how you’re going to look.

      • Tarkenton makes sense if you think about it because his leading receiver, by a mile, was Chuck Foreman.

      • Zoyx

        Tarkenton, with Jerry Burns as his late career offensive coordinator, were innovators of passing to the running backs. Chuck Foreman led the NFL in receptions in 1975. Rickey Young led the NFL in reception in 1978.

        This pre-dates the west coast offense.

    • RustyHilgerReborn

      I’m not surprised at all…Montana’s ball placement always gave his receivers the opportunity to get lots of YAC. My lasting memory of him is throwing a quick slant or shallow cross to Rice/Taylor, and they wouldn’t get tackled until they were another 10-15 yards downfield.

  • Tim Truemper

    Tarkenton was definite “dink and dunker” with some exceptions in personnel that probably raised his YPC. See Homer Jones for his days in NY in the WR list in the later post on WR YPR over average.

  • John Sudzina

    Will never forget him trotting out against the Eagles in 1990 in that neckbrace, I still laugh about it to this day.