The Best, Worst, and Most Prolific Quarterbacks by Route Type in 2022
The 2022 NFL regular season is in the books. What an incredible season, with records shattered and legends bowing out from the scene. We will look back on the season in years to come and remark on what a time we had between September 2022 and February 2023.
But the NFL teams have already begun to break down and look back on the last season of action, and we at numberFire are no different.
At numberFire, our play-by-play tracker records 12 different types of pass routes. I have taken a look at each of them from the 2021 season to try and find out which quarterbacks enjoyed throwing which routes and who enjoyed the most success and efficiency on a per-play basis. For ease of reading (and researching), I have combined the returns for wide receiver screens and all screens. The results have made for interesting reading.
Quarterbacks must have attempted at least 10 passes on the various routes to be included in the dataset, and all route data comes from Sportradar. Let's dive in.
The Curl Route
The league MVP Patrick Mahomes led all quarterbacks when it came to throwing curl routes. Mahomes unfurled 95 such passes in 2022, seven more than his nearest challenger Justin Herbert. Mahomes was one of seven quarterbacks with two touchdowns on the route, but he trailed Tom Brady in yards gained by 615-613. In terms of efficiency, Brock Purdy averaged 0.83 Net Expected Points (NEP) per play on curls, a long way ahead of Dak Prescott in second place. Prescott averaged a still impressive 0.59.
It was not a money route for Matt Ryan, who led the way with four interceptions on his 72 attempts. Nor was it an efficient way to move the ball for Jameis Winston. Winston could only muster -0.44 NEP on his 17 attempts.
The Crossing Route
Mahomes led the way once again, with 42 crossers tossed for 317 yards and seven touchdowns. Geno Smith was second with 39 attempts, but he led the way with 188 Air Yards on his attempts. From an efficiency point of view, Andy Dalton was a clear leader, with 1.28 NEP on his 13 attempts. Perhaps the New Orleans Saints should have called more of these plays...
Speaking of Saints quarterbacks, Derek Carr led the league with two interceptions on crossing routes (while also throwing two touchdowns). It was not an efficient route for Cooper Rush. Rush completed 10 of his 13 attempts, but mustered just 53 yards and a mere -0.25 NEP. Only Russell Wilson managed a lower Success Rate than Rush, posting 29.41% to Rush's 30%.
The Flat Route
Finally, we have a category in which Mahomes was not the league leader. But we still have to look to the AFC West, with Justin Herbert managing an impressive 105 completions on his 126 attempts. Herbert racked up 665 yards and six touchdowns, with only Mahomes and Prescott managing more scoring passes (seven each). While not leading in total attempts, Mahomes was out ahead with 0.47 NEP ahead of Josh Allen (0.33).
Allen and Smith led the pack with two interceptions into the flats, but it was another Allen who really shouldn't have bothered throwing passes that way. Kyle Allen of the Houston Texans went 11/14 for 79 yards on the route, averaging -0.4 NEP in doing so.
The Post Route
The Prince of the Post Route in 2022 was Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa led the way with 37 attempts, 21 completions, and 594 yards. He also managed four touchdowns, one behind the five tossed by Geno Smith. Tua was third in NEP on this particular route with 1.11, trailing Rush (1.28) and Ryan Tannehill (1.20). But they both only attempted 10 such passes, it should be said.
Aaron Rodgers managed three touchdown passes on the post and a league-leading three interceptions. It was also not a profitable use of Dak Prescott's time and efforts, with Prescott managing a league-low -0.22 NEP. He was the only quarterback in this dataset with a negative NEP mark for this route.
The Comeback Route
Josh Allen made more comebacks than Frank Sinatra in 2022, with 42 attempts for 310 yards and four touchdowns. Geno Smith led the way with 28 completions, while Joe Burrow paced the league with 339 yards. But it was Kyler Murray who led the way from an efficiency point of view, with a 0.73 NEP mark after his 13/17-163 efforts for the Arizona Cardinals
Dak Prescott was at his most generous when throwing comebacks, with four interceptions and just a single touchdown to show from his 26 attempts. But even he could not live up (or down) to Baker Mayfield from an efficiency point of view. Mayfield went 4/10 for 47 yards with two interceptions, earning a mere -1.14 NEP on this route.
The Slant Route
Tua led the league in throwing the route made famous (or infamous) by Michael Thomas in 2022. Tagovailoa attempted 59 slants, completing 40 for 627 yards and five touchdowns. Burrow and Ryan notched 42 and 41 completions, while Marcus Mariota tied Tua with five scoring passes. It was Mariota who led the way with a 0.79 NEP mark, ahead of Justin Fields (0.75) and Trevor Lawrence (0.72).
Derek Carr was credited with a league-high three interceptions on the slant route, while Justin Herbert led all-comers with a mere -0.21 NEP on the route. Incidentally, the 2022 "Slant Boy Award" goes to Michael Pittman Jr., who was targeted a league-leading 26 times on slants this past season.
The In Route
It's been a while, but we finally return to Patrick Mahomes dominating a particular route. Mahomes attempted 58 passes on in-breaking routes, completing 37 of them for 526 yards and five touchdowns. But Mahomes, with a 0.53 NEP on the in-route, can only dream of being as efficient on the play as Jared Goff. The Detroit Lions quarterback was comfortably out in front with a whopping 0.93 NEP on this particular route.
Mahomes was one of four quarterbacks to throw three interceptions on the in route, with Dalton another. It was the Saints quarterback who enjoyed the least down-to-down success with this play, averaging a distinctly ordinary -0.6 NEP.
The Out Route
The cousin of the In Route was dominated by Kirk Cousins in 2022. The Minnesota Vikings signal caller led the way with 84 attempts, 61 completions, 602 yards, and four touchdowns. Mahomes also managed four scores on out breakers. Mahomes was third with 0.59 NEP on the route behind Sam Darnold (0.70) and Bailey Zappe (0.62). So it's official, Darnold and Zappe > Mahomes.
Mahomes was one of his six quarterbacks to throw two interceptions on out routes, but the plaudits for least efficient user goes to Mayfield. Mayfield averaged just -0.31 NEP, going 15/25 for 125 yards and an interception.
The Go Route
Similar to the message he received from the Raiders towards the end of the 2022 season, Derek Carr was the leader of the Go movement last season. Carr led the league with 71 attempts, 25 completions, 677 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Carr also racked up the most Air Yards with 1,759. But from an efficiency point of view, there was no one to touch Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts went 13/28 for 492 yards and five touchdowns, posting a whopping 1.31 NEP on the Go route. This was an area of significant improvement for Hurts, who led the league with four picks on go balls in 2021.
Carr was one of five quarterbacks with four interceptions on this route, but they all trailed Mariota, who tossed five against two touchdowns. But from an efficiency point of view, it was a painful experience watching both Brett Rypien and Deshaun Watson attempt the route in 2022. They went a combined 1/21 for three yards, with Rypien "leading" the league with -0.94 NEP and Watson not far behind with -0.79.
The Corner Route
Nobody puts Baby in the corner, we were told by "Dirty Dancing" many years ago. But you can put Josh Allen onto throwing the corner quite happily, with the Bills quarterback leading the league with 35 attempts, 17 completions, 367 yards, and six touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers also managed six scores on this route. Dak Prescott was the efficiency king with a 1.29 NEP mark, but he attempted the eighth-fewest such passes all season with just 13.
Ryan, Geno Smith, and Jacoby Brissett all tossed a pair of picks while targetting the corner, but they could not hope to match the inefficiency shown by Zach Wilson on this particular route. Wilson went 3/12 for 79 yards and an interception, averaging -0.20 NEP while doing so.
Screens were on the increase in 2022, with seven different quarterbacks attempting at least 50 screen passes compared to just three in 2021. Trevor Lawrence led all quarterbacks with 77 screen passes and 68 completions. He trailed Mahomes in yards 478-504 but failed to lodge a single touchdown pass on these throws. Mahomes managed a league-leading four. Screens were an efficienct weapon for Matthew Stafford in a largely inefficient season, with Stafford leading the league with 0.60 NEP on screen passes.
Carr, P.J. Walker, and Matt Ryan all managed the dubious honor of throwing an interception on a screen, while Ryan was also able to showcase an impressive lack of efficiency with the screen game. He managed a whopping -0.51 NEP on screens.