Top QB 2021 Draft Deep Ball Zach Wilson

Which QB Has the Best Deep Ball in the 2021 NFL Draft?

  • 2021 Draft
  • 2021 NFL Draft
  • Deep Ball
  • Draft
  • Football
  • Ian Book
  • Justin Fields
  • Kyle Trask
  • Mac Jones
  • NFL
  • QBs
  • Trevor Lawrence
  • Zach Wilson
By Kyle Fahey February 23, 2021 2 Comment
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Which 2021 NFL Draft QBs can really sling the deep ball?

The deep ball truly took over the NFL sometime in the early ’90s and ever since then, NFL teams have been scrambling for a quarterback with the biggest and most accurate arm. Among the QBs in the 2021 NFL Draft, deep ball strength and accuracy is at a premium.

The biggest arm doesn’t mean the best prospect by any means; look at Joe Burrow in 2020 as an example. But the biggest arm usually does mean a couple of things: big play ability, a diverse offense, and a respect factor on every snap to go deep.

Jamarcus Russell, Josh Allen, Blaine Gabbert, Matthew Stafford, and Patrick Mahomes all come to mind when talking about deep ball quarterbacks. Some work out, some don’t. So, who is the best deep-ball passer in the 2021 quarterback class? Let’s look at it based on their 2020 stats and how they have improved through the years.

Legend: Deep Ball Passes are any pass over 20 yards in the air

All data is via Pro Football Focus: Deep Ball % is CMP/ATT, Deep Ball ADJ % is CMP + Dropped Passes/ATT, Deep Ball TD % is TD/ATT

The Top Arms of the QB 2021 Draft by the Numbers

Justin Fields

Justin Fields might end up being the best of the 2021 NFL Draft QBs if he winds up with the right team. His arm is unlimited and his deep ball stats are impressive.

19 completions on 32 attempts gives Fields an eye-popping 59.3% completion percentage with 9 TDs and 2 INTs. Along with that, he also had zero passes dropped in 2020, which I believe is an indication of how selective and accurate Fields’ passes are. Fields posted a 28.1% TD percentage on deep passes which would have ranked him near the top of the NFL in 2020.  Improvement as a passer has come with time from Fields. In 2019, he was a fine deep-ball passer: 46% completion percentage with 20 TDs and 2 INTs on 36 of 78 attempts. His completion percentage has jumped nearly 15 points in just one year! That’s incredible growth from someone who statistically didn’t need to grow that much.

READ MORE: Vogel’s 2021 NFL Mock Draft 1.1

Overall, Justin Fields is effective and accurate when he chooses to go deep. Fields only threw deep on about 14% of his total passes, meaning either his system doesn’t call for it often or he’s leery of the chances even though he excels at it. The Ohio State season was shortened because of COVID-19 so we lost the opportunity to see Fields throw more deep passes like the rest of the QBs. But rest assured that Fields is among the best in college football.

I want to use this time to put to bed the Dwayne Haskins/Justin Fields comparisons. Yes, they both went to Ohio State and are black. No, they are not comparable as QBs. Haskins posted a 43% deep ball completion percentage in his final season at Ohio State… nearly 17 whole points behind Fields in his final season. Haskins was a perfectly fine college QB who excelled in a similar system that Justin Fields did. But Fields performed much better as a deep ball passer and as a QB in general.

Zach Wilson

Zach Wilson is this year’s Cinderella story at the QB position. I mean that not as a slight at Zach, but frankly it’s true. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed, underrated prospect who is now the star of the ball; Zach Wilson is literally the plot of Cinderella.

Fairy tales aside, Zach Wilson was a deep ball machine in 2020. 35 completions on 56 attempts to be exact, which was good enough for second in the nation in completions only behind Florida’s Kyle Trask. Wilson’s 35 of 56 gives him a 62.5% completion percentage, which blows away the likes of Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, and is a big improvement over Wilson’s 2019 percentage of 34%. Wilson’s adjusted percentage is obviously even more impressive when you add back the three drops that were held against him, 38 of 56 gives him a whopping 67.8 completion percentage! Mix that with a 21% touchdown percentage on deep passes and you can see why some scouts have compared Wilson’s arm talent to the likes of Patrick Mahomes.

To put that arm comparison in context, Mahomes completed 35 deep passes on 91 attempts and had an adjusted completion percentage of just 44%. The numbers say that Wilson is far more deep ball accurate than Mahomes ever was in their respective final college seasons. Wilson also has the Mahomes ability to create and throw off platform deep passes that come from nearly any angle on the field with good accuracy. It’s a rare talent to have and is likely the biggest reason he will be selected in the top 10 come April.

Number One is Lacking

Trevor Lawrence

This year’s number one pick is no mystery. Regardless of stats or what happens leading up to April… Trevor Lawrence will be a Jacksonville Jaguar. He’s got a live arm, but he is not the best deep-ball passer in this class per se.

Lawrence was 22 of 51 on passes over 20 yards in the air according to PFF. That roughly gets him a 43.1% deep ball completion percentage. In Lawrence’s defense, there were 4 dropped accurate passes that hurt his percentages. The corrected 26 of 51 passes gives him a 51% adjusted completion percentage which is probably closer to what he will be tossing at the next level. On top of that, Lawrence tossed 10 touchdowns on those passes and only threw 2 interceptions to go with it. 10 of 51 is roughly a 20% touchdown percentage, which is well in line with the NFL average.

Though he is not the best deep-ball passer in this draft, Lawrence is still the best overall prospect in this draft by a large margin in my opinion. Look at it like this: Lawrence’s 51% completion percentage would have placed him 4th in the NFL last season behind Derek Carr, Baker Mayfield, and Deshaun Watson. Pretty good company to be around.

Productive but Questionable

Mac Jones

Mac Jones is going to be the second Alabama QB in as many years to be drafted in the first round.

Jones has earned his first-round claim: 33 of 56 on deep passes with 4 drops held against him. A 66% adjusted deep ball completion percentage ranks Mac Jones 4th in the nation and notably above the likes of Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence.

Jones’s deep ball passing is much like Kyle Trask, impressive, but needs to be held in context. Jones has a good arm, it’s NFL quality, but he dominated college football because of the people around him. And the same principle that I used for Trask should be applied to Mac Jones.

Don’t doubt him because of the talent around him, he could have easily squandered his chance. Jones is not the best deep-ball passer in this class, but he certainly has the ability to create at the next level.

Kyle Trask

Kyle Trask was the leader of Florida’s potent offense in 2020. His stats are eye-popping and make you wonder if this success can be replicated at the next level. Let’s start with this, Trask’s natural arm strength is a big question mark going into the draft process. At times, Trask was bailed out by his WRs and top talents like Kadarius Toney and Kyle Pitts, but Trask still got the job done. There’s no need to discredit him for playing with NFL talent seeing as he will have more of it wherever he ends up.

Trask was first in deep ball completions among all college QBs in 2020 with 38 on 69 attempts (nice). This gives Trask a 55% deep ball completion percentage which puts him behind Fields and Wilson but ahead of the top dog Lawrence. Trask had three dropped passes weighed against him in 2020 so his adjusted completion percentage is 59.4%. Trask was as efficient on deep-ball passes as you’ll ever see; 16 TD passes and 0 interceptions earned him a 23.1% deep ball touchdown percentage.

Trask deserves as much credit as Fields and Lawrence get for his decisiveness and ability to create big plays despite his lack of natural arm talent, but he is clearly not the best deep-ball QB in the 2021 NFL draft.

The Other Guys

Trey Lance

What the hell even is a Trey Lance? Nobody knows at this point. We do know this: He’s talented and has only played a handful of games. In 2020 he was 0 of 6 on deep-ball passes with 0 TDs and 1 INT, clearly not ideal, though it is a very small sample size. In 2019 Lance was 20 of 53, good enough for a 37.7% completion percentage. Lance threw 12 TDs and 0 INTs on those 20 completions, so even though statistically he’s not great at throwing deep balls he’s at least pretty effective with a 22.6% deep-ball TD rate.

Feleipe Franks

Feleipe Franks is going to get drafted because of his natural arm strength. Not much of his game is impressive besides his arm. 16 completions on 25 deep attempts in 2020, that’s a very impressive 64% completion percentage that produced 7 TDs and 0 INTs. Find a coach who can make Franks do that more often and you have a star in the making, but no coach has been able to yet.

Ian Book

Ian Book has always been a game manager, a good one at that, but his deep ball passing is concerning from a scout’s perspective. In 2020 Book completed 16 of his 41 deep attempts, that’s a not-great 39% completion percentage that only created 5 TDs and lead to 2 INTs.

Kellen Mond

Kellen Mond impressed at the Senior Bowl and captained a great year at Texas A&M. He’s an intriguing late-round target who could be good if coached up, but his deep ball passes are not good. Mond was 13 of 32 on deep passes in 2020 for 4 TDs and 0 INTs. Mond’s 40% deep completion percentage is better than some, but poor in general. One of the bottom deep-ball passers in this draft class.

The Rankings

By the Numbers

  • Zach Wilson
  • Mac Jones
  • Kyle Trask
  • Feleipe Franks
  • Justin Fields
  • Trevor Lawrence
  • Trey Lance
  • Kellen Mond
  • Ian Book

These one-through-nine rankings are based on an average of where these nine QBs in the 2021 Draft rank amongst their peers and then averaged out to a score.

Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, and Kyle Trask are in a league of their own statistically. All three happen to be the QBs of the top eight ranked passing offenses in 2020, according to ESPN metrics.

Franks, Fields, and Lawrence are all above NCAA average by most metrics. They are all good deep ball passers who lacked in a column.

Lance, Mond, and Book are statistically not good deep ball passers, no way around it. Ian Book is bad, very bad. Lance is a guy who has an arm but has never gotten the job done, and Kellen Mond is somewhere in between that.

In My Opinion

  • Zach Wilson
  • Justin Fields
  • Mac Jones
  • Trevor Lawrence
  • Kyle Trask
  • Feleipe Franks
  • Trey Lance
  • Kellen Mond
  • Ian Book

Zach Wilson is—by far—the best of the deep-ball QBs in the 2021 NFL Draft. Crazy arm strength, good accuracy, and year-to-year improvement make his case for him—very Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes-esque.

Justin Fields, Mac Jones, and Trevor Lawrence are a lot closer than people think. I have Fields over Jones for a few reasons; the first being that Fields has a naturally stronger arm and the second is that Fields didn’t have Devonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle. Jones is better statistically, but I feel like Fields is just the better passer. Lawrence is the third amigo in this trio, he’s never been a consistently great deep ball passer. His 2019 completion percentage was 41% and it only jumped to 43% in 2020. There’s been no real improvement or decline. He’s perfectly fine at it and has the arm to do so. At the end of the day, Trevor Lawrence doesn’t have to throw deep, he will kill you somewhere else.

READ MORE: 2021 NFL DRAFT RANKINGS: QUARTERBACKS, PART 1

Kyle Trask is in a very odd league of his own. He is insanely productive despite not having the typical arm talent that you usually find in guys who have done it at this high of a level. The numbers say he’s great; the eyes and gut say otherwise. I would implore the readers to watch some of his tape and take notes about his deep passes; they often flutter, lag, or lead to jump balls, hence why I have him ranked 5th.

Feleipe Franks, Trey Lance, and Kellen Mond all have good arms, much better than a guy like Kyle Trask per se. But none of them have ever consistently put it together and all of them have lacked at times. Franks puts up good numbers, but the sample size is limited. Lance has a cannon but has never proved how useful it can be, and Mond is a mix of lower talent and low production.

Ian Book is bottom tier. Sorry, Notre Dame fans, numbers and eyes don’t lie.

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2 Comments

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Michael Schottey

February 23, 2021

Love this level of breakdown. Good work, Kyle.

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Phil

February 23, 2021

Nice article. I am more informed and have a clearer picture of these QB's now. I like the kid out of BYU ,Wilson. He is going to very exciting to watch at the next level.

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