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Russell Wilson

Wilson brings deep-ball ability to Denver

Russell Wilson is headed to the Broncos. This makes me a lot more interested in Denver’s wide receivers. They’ve got some talent, and Wilson is a lot better at delivering deep passes than anybody who’s played for that franchise in a long time.

To me, Wilson is one of the very best deep ball passers in the game, with unusual ability to drop the ball in and long-range rainbows. On those kind of throws, the first two guys I think of are Wilson and Jeff Blake (who was an underrated quarterback with the Bengals in the ‘90s, with the same kind of knack on those throws). To me, Wilson without question is one of the top half-dozen deep ball passers in the game right now.

With player chip technology, the league now publishes “Next Gen Stats” that weren’t available in the past. One number they list for each quarterback is his longest pass each season. Not the actual yards gained on the play, but the distance the ball traveled in the air. On these, they don’t factor in the distance the ball travels across the field or how far the quarterback has retreated in the pocket. Instead, they look at how far downfield (from the line of scrimmage) the receiver is when the ball lands in his hands.

Wilson in 2020 had the league’s longest throw (64.4 yards by their technology). Last year he had the 3rd-longest completion (62.2 yards). Wilson is short (5-foot-11), but he’s got a strong arm, along with good mobility, giving time for those opportunities to develop. On the chart below, you’re seeing only the longest completion from each quarterback from each of those seasons (if a quarterback dominated this category, with 10 completions of 60-plus yards, it wouldn’t be represented in this chart – just the longest for each guy).

LONGEST THROWS (last 2 yrs)
2021Baker Mayfield, Cle.66.4
2020Russell Wilson, Sea.64.4
2021Justin Herbert, LAC63.8
2020Deshaun Watson, Hou.63.4
2020Justin Herbert, LAC63.2
2020Josh Allen, Buff.62.8
2021Russell Wilson, Sea.62.0
2020Matthew Stafford, Det.61.8
2020Patrick Mahomes, K.C.60.9
2021Lamar Jackson, Balt.60.8
2020Aaron Rodgers, G.B.60.3
2021Taylor Heinicke, Was.58.5
2021Matthew Stafford, LAR58.4
2021Aaron Rodgers, G.B.58.3
2021Carson Wentz, Ind.58.2
2020Cam Newton, N.E.58.0
2020Carson Wentz, Phil.57.4
2021Zach Wilson, NYJ56.8
2020Derek Carr, L.V.56.8
2020Jared Goff, LAR56.7
2020Matt Ryan, Atl.56.7
2020Mitchell Trubisky, Chi.56.4
2020Kyler Murray, Ariz.56.2
2020Kirk Cousins, Min.55.6
2021Derek Carr, L.V.55.6
2021Joe Burrow, Cin.55.6
2020Tom Brady, T.B.55.5
2021Teddy Bridgewater, Den.55.4
2021Kirk Cousins, Min.55.2
2021Tua Tagovailoa, Mia.55.1
2021Josh Allen, Buff.55.1
2021Patrick Mahomes, K.C.54.7
2020Ryan Tannehill, Ten.54.6
2021Kyler Murray, Ariz.54.3
2020Nick Mullens, S.F.54.1
2021Daniel Jones, NYG53.5
2020Baker Mayfield, Cle.53.4
2020Philip Rivers, Ind.53.3
2021Jimmy Garoppolo, S.F.53.1
2021Ben Roethlisberger, Pitt.53.1
2020Lamar Jackson, Balt.53.1
2021Ryan Tannehill, Ten.53.0
2021Justin Fields, Chi.52.5
2021Jalen Hurts, Phil.52.3
2021Mac Jones, N.E.52.2
2021Matt Ryan, Atl.52.0
2020Ben Roethlisberger, Pitt.51.9
2021Tom Brady, T.B.51.8
2020Teddy Bridgewater, Car.51.4
2020Drew Lock, Den.51.2
2021Trevor Lawrence, Jac.51.0
2021Dak Prescott, Dall.51.0
2020Daniel Jones, NYG50.9
2020Drew Brees, N.O.50.8
2020Gardner Minshew, Jac.50.6
2021Sam Darnold, Car.50.5
2021Davis Mills, Hou.50.4
2020Andy Dalton, Dall.48.3
2020Sam Darnold, NYJ47.6
2020Joe Burrow, Cin.45.6
2021Jared Goff, Det.44.8
2020Tua Tagovailoa, Mia.44.6

On another stat chart I have in front of me, I see that Wilson last year produced completions of 40-plus yards on 3.9 percent of his completions (about 1 out of each 25). That ranked 3rd, behind only the two quarterbacks who started in the Super Bowl. He’s always looking for those deep balls.

The deep ball is a quality that’s been missing from Denver’s offense. Over the last five years, the Broncos have had only 10 completions of 50-plus yards. In the same time period, Wilson has had 28 of those plays – about three times as many.

In the charts below, touchdowns are tagged with black dots.

DENVER: 50-YARD PASSES (last 5 yrs)
2021L.V.• Lock to Jeudy 92 TD92
2019Clev.• B.Allen to Fant TD75
2019LAC• Flacco to Sutton, TD70
2018Ariz.• Keenum to Sanders TD64
2021Phil.Bridgewater to Okwuegbunam64
2020Mia.Lock to Patrick61
2021Jac.Bridgewater to Sutton55
2017Ind.• Osweiler to Heuerman TD54
2019Oak.Flacco to Sanders53
2019G.B.Flacco to Sutton 52
WILSON: 50-YARD PASSES (last 5 yrs)
2017Jac.• Tyler Lockett TD74
2021Ind.• Tyler Lockett TD69
2021Tenn.• Freddie Swain TD68
2017Hou.Tre Madden66
2018Den.Will Dissly66
2021Tenn.• Tyler Lockett TD63
2020Dall.DK Metcalf62
2017Jac.• Paul Richardson TD61
2019Min.• David Moore TD60
2019Car.Josh Gordon58
2021Det.Freddie Swain58
2020Mia.David Moore57
2020Buff.• David Moore TD55
2021Hou.• Tyler Lockett TD55
2021Was.Tyler Lockett55
2020N.E.• DK Metcalf TD54
2018Car.David Moore54
2019N.O.DK Metcalf54
2017Ariz.Doug Baldwin54
2017Hou.Tyler Lockett54
2019T.B.• DK Metcalf TD53
2017Hou.Tanner McEvoy53
2018S.F.• Tyler Lockett TD52
2018Dall.• Tyler Lockett TD52
2020Phil.DK Metcalf52
2018Den.• Tyler Lockett TD51
2021Tenn.Tyler Lockett51
2020Buff.Travis Homer50

Statistics compiled using search tools at

The fit here with Denver looks nice. The Broncos are well stocked with wide receivers who can get downfield. They haven’t quite gotten Jerry Jeudy going yet, but he’s got considerable potential. Big Courtland Sutton looked like he might be developing into another Demaryius Thomas before injuring his knee in 2020 (Sutton didn’t look quite as good last year). Tim Patrick is also large and has done some good things for them. And KJ Hamler looked like he was going to be their best deep threw last year until missing most of the season with a knee injury.

I’m not sure that there will be a heavily featured guy who’ll dominate the targets, but Wilson should do a better job of bringing these guys to life.

—Ian Allan

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