There are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to passing offenses: you either chuck the ball down the field or you get the ball to your receivers so they can generate yards after the catch.
Cardinals QB Carson Palmer and Bills QB Tyrod Taylor use the deep ball strategy, with the idea that a couple big plays can blow open a game. Patriots QB Tom Brady and Chiefs QB Alex Smith come to mind when looking at yards after the catch.
Many talking head quarterback connoisseurs view the former as the prototypical quarterback that wins with their arm, while the latter is labeled “dink and dunk.” The former evokes visions of Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers, while the latter is nothing but a game manager that benefits from his receivers, as if the quarterback had nothing to do with pre-snap reads or delivering the ball to a spot that allowed the receiver to take advantage of momentum.
But regardless of your opinion, offenses aren’t supposed to be able to attack down the field and pick up yards after the catch. That would just be unfair if quarterbacks could hit receivers deep down the field as if they were running a simple low crossing pattern.
This graph shows that the further down the field the quarterback throws the ball, the less yards after the catch the offense will generate.
Patriots QB Tom Brady doesn’t care about the graph. He’s too busy being the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL.
Brady is currently averaging 4.86 air yards per pass (AYP), which is the 5th highest mark over the past three seasons and trails only Falcons QB Matt Ryan (5.16 AYP) in 2016. He also trails 2015 Carson Palmer, 2015 Ben Roethlisberger, and 2015 Tyrod Taylor, and ranks one place ahead of 2015 Cam Newton.
Roughly 62.3% of the passing yards generated by Palmer, Roethlisberger, Taylor, and Newton came through the air, meaning just 37.7% of those passing attacks were yards after the catch.
Brady bucks the trend with a ridiculous 50.6% of his yards coming after the catch, nearly 12% more yards after the catch (YAC) than expected based on his throwing depth- the most YAC above expectation over the past three years. For Ryan’s part, he ranks 3rd, just a hair behind 2014 Robert Griffin III.
The 50.6% YAC rate for Brady isn’t just extraordinary because of his average depth; it’s an impressive rate for quarterbacks known for checking down.
Only four players generate more YAC than Brady: Lions QB Matthew Stafford (55.7%), Giants QB Eli Manning (54.0%), Eagles QB Carson Wentz (53.1%), and Chiefs QB Alex Smith (52.1%). These four players rank in the bottom five of air yards in 2016, meaning they’re getting the ball to their receivers and letting the skill players pick up the yards.
The fifth player is Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, with the 2nd lowest air yards mark in the NFL (3.31).
What might be even more impressive is that Brady has been improving his deep ball over the past few years. Brady is joined by the likes of Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Andy Dalton, Kirk Cousins, and, surprisingly, Alex Smith and Ryan Tannehill as quarterbacks that have thrown the ball further down the field in each of the past three seasons.
So not only is Brady connecting with his receivers deeper down the field than almost any other quarterback in the NFL, his receivers are also picking up more yards after the catch than almost any other skill group in the NFL.
The success of Brady and the offense might slip a bit as the weather gets colder, but the NFL hasn’t seen an offense as efficient as the Patriots in recent memory.