As the NFL tries to digest last night’s Alex Smith trade (and we’ll certainly talk about that in greater detail a bit later, particularly about how the dominoes might fall as the Jaguars choose what to do under center in 2018), this is a fine time to wrap yourself in the warm, glowing, warming glow that Deshaun Watson is the quarterback for your Houston Texans.
Deshaun Watson led all NFL QBs in Big-Time Throw percentage in his rookie season pic.twitter.com/DWiM9pQFDP— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 31, 2018
From PFF’s article on “QB Superlatives” in 2017, with the text in bold done so for emphasis by yours truly:
Watson takes the award for highest percentage of big-time throws, as he led the league at 7.49 percent. He was one of the league’s best downfield throwers and was deadly accurate in the red zone, tying for the league lead in big-time red-zone throws despite no playing a game in the last two months of the season.
Oh, that’s the stuff. Here’s how PFF explains “big-time throws”:
In its simplest terms, a big-time throw is on the highest end of both difficulty and value. While the value is easy to see statistically, the difficulty has more to do with passes that have a lower completion percentage the further the ball is thrown down the field. Therefore, the big-time throw is best described as a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window.
The idea of the tight window can often bog people down as they ask, “Why do you want your quarterback to make riskier throws?” But it’s less about taking a risk and more about executing a pass that perhaps makes up for a deficiency on the offense. If a receiver can only create a tiny window of separation and the quarterback can put the ball in an optimum spot, he’s now created a big-play opportunity despite the receiver, not because of him. “Throwing receivers open” is a necessary skill at the NFL level, and big-time throws are just one way to capture it statistically. Sometimes difficult throws are necessary, because every offense will end up in unfavorable down-and-distance situations at times, and completing a regulation 3-yard out doesn’t help on 3rd-and-15.
Furthermore, we may see big-time throws under heavy pressure, turning a negative play into a positive, making a tight-window throw in the red zone where all passing windows are compressed, or perhaps throwing the beautiful 50-yard bomb down the field with good ball location. Hitting receivers #InStride is also important and more difficult to achieve the further the ball is thrown down the field. Well-thrown downfield passes that allow for further catch-and-run opportunities fall into the big-time throw category.
PFF says it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for DW4 in 2017, though:
Deshaun Watson’s rookie season was enigmatic and remarkable while it lasted. He led the league in big-time throw percentage, but one cause for concern was how inaccurate he was with the ball in general. Watson posted an adjusted completion percentage of just 65.6, a figure so low that it was exceeded by the traditional completion percentage of seven quarterbacks. As suspect as the supporting cast was in Houston over the year, Watson also saw just two passes dropped, giving him the best drop rate in the league by a considerable margin. His numbers seemed primed for regression, but we never saw them get the opportunity to do so because of his injury.
PFF’s “adjusted completion percentage” “...credits passers for on-target throws that are dropped by receivers, but also removes passes that are thrown away (i.e., not targeting any receiver), batted at the line of scrimmage, spiked or even passes thrown when the quarterback was hit as he threw.”
Did you think Watson struggled with accuracy last year? I’ll readily admit it could be battle red colored glasses clouding my vision, but I really don’t recall that being a glaring issue from the Clemson rookie. That’s not to say there weren’t misses, but I don’t remember agonizing over Watson’s inaccuracy before Fate took its pound of flesh for the Astros’ World Series triumph. What say you about that and/or the rest of PFF’s analysis?