On Monday. ESPN analyst Bill Barnwell published an article listing seven things you shouldn’t be surprised to see happen in the 2019 NFL season — ranging from Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon taking a step back to New England Patriots running back Sony Michel taking a step forward.
But Barnwell also thinks Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will improve in his deep passes this season. After first noting that Mahomes’ 50-touchdown 5,000-yard performance in 2018 is unlikely to be repeated this year “because so many things have to go right” for it to happen, Barnwell turned to the subject of Mahomes’ deep passes.
In terms of deep passes, though, Mahomes left a fair number of big-play opportunities on the table. The first half of the regular-season loss to the Patriots comes to mind as a place where Mahomes narrowly missed scores. He more than made up for the misses, of course, but it’s scary to say that there might even be more chances for him to make magic happen in 2019.
Barnwell pointed out that Mahomes attempted more deep passes to open receivers than any other quarterback in football in 2018, but was substantially behind the rest of the field in completing them.
The NFL’s Next-Gen Stats define deep passes as throws traveling 20 or more yards in the air and open targets as receivers with three or more yards of separation between themselves and the closest defender. Mahomes attempted 28 deep passes to open receivers last season, 11 more than anybody else in football. He completed 14 of those passes for an even 50%; the rest of the league completed just over 62% of those same throws. Next-Gen Stats also estimates the likelihood of Mahomes completing each of those attempts and projected a completion percentage of 59.3% on those passes, much closer to the league average than his actual mark.
The key thing to note here are the specifics of the NFL Next-Gen parameters, where a deep pass is only counted if it is thrown to an open receiver — one with three or more yards of separation from the nearest defender. Other deep passing statistics could tell a different story.
For example, the football analytics site Pro Football Focus uses a different standard. PFF counts all aimed passes thrown for more than 20 yards in the air — regardless of whether the receiver is open or not. Mahomes attempted 92 such passes in 2018 — again tops in the league — completing 44 of them. But after adjusting for drops, Mahomes completion percentage on these passes was 51.1% — just slightly (but not significantly) behind Drew Brees and Baker Mayfield among passers attempting at least 50% of the deep passes Mahomes tried.
Per PFF, Mahomes led this group with 16.5 yards per attempt, but half of his 12 interceptions on the season were on deep passes. His interception percentage of 6.5% on deep attempts ranked 13th among the leaders in deep passing attempts. Seven quarterbacks — Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady — all had deep pass interception percentages less than half than that of Mahomes in 2018.
So it depends on how you look at it. There is definitely room for improvement in Mahomes’ deep passing game. If Mahomes can clean up the interceptions on his deep attempts, Barnwell might be on to something.
What do you think?
Will Patrick Mahomes improve his deep passing in 2019?
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