The 2015 NFL Season in Non-Quarterback Passes Thus Far

Seven non-quarterbacks have attempted a pass in the NFL this season. How have those plays gone?

Each week in the NFL, we see a lot of passes from a lot of players. Through nine weeks of the 2015 season, 59 players have dropped back to pass a combined 10,096 times. 99.92 percent of those drop backs have come from players who play quarterback as their primary position. 

What we’re here for today is the other 0.08 percent, arguably the most fun 0.08 percent. We’re here to look at the process and the impact of each play this season featuring a passing attempt from a non-quarterback. To judge the results, we’ll be using our Net Expected Points metric (NEP) and breaking down the plays.

NEP factors in on-field variables such as down-and-distance in order to compare a team or player’s production to historical expectation levels.

Johnny Hekker - 1/2, 20 yards | Passing NEP: 1.07

Pass 1: Week 3 vs. Pittsburgh
Situation: 8:20 remaining in second quarter, 4th-and-3 on PIT 48, down 9-0

Johnny Hekker is pretty much the king on non-quarterback passes. In the past, Cincinnati receiver Mohamed Sanu may have been flashier, but Sanu has not attempted a pass yet this year. The way Andy Dalton has been playing, the need for a trick play has been greatly diminished in the Bengals offense.

That need is always there in the Rams offense, though -- especially in the pre- Todd Gurley phase. If the Rams are an underdog playing against one of the league’s better teams, it’s almost assured there will be a fake punt somewhere. In this Week 3 game against Pittsburgh, it came in the second quarter. Now here’s how advanced Hekker and the Rams are on fake punts: they ran a timing play. Stedman Bailey lined out to the left of the formation and ran a comeback once the ball was snapped, Hekker threw the ball before Bailey broke in his route. Reminder: he’s a punter. Unfortunately, Hekker underthrew the ball and the pass landed incomplete.

Hekker Fake Punt

Pass 2: Week 5 vs Green Bay
Situation: 6:33 remaining in third quarter, 4th-and-2 on STL 43, down 21-10

This play is why the Rams trust Hekker on these fakes, and might have been the best piece of quarterbacking by St. Louis in 2015. Again, the Rams were trailing the Packers in the second half and Hekker was called on around midfield.

Hekker’s initial option falls down on the route, so the punter is able to scramble to the right, direct some traffic while keeping his eyes downfield, find the initial receiver open again, throw across his body and pick up 20 yards on a completion. Meanwhile, Nick Foles ranks last among all quarterbacks this season in Passing NEP.

Hekker Punt 2

Jarvis Landry - 1/1, 9 yards | Passing NEP: 1.01

Week 9 vs Buffalo
Situation: 11:02 remaining in third quarter, 1st-and-10 on BUF 23, down 19-7

One of the fun things about non-quarterbacks throwing passes is the surprise element. No one is expecting it because no one else is supposed to be throwing the ball. A few times there are surprises even within that first surprise, and none is better than the left-handed reveal. A team runs an innocent looking play to the left side, which in the defense’s mind eliminates the possibility of a fake pass because a right-handed player would have to turn and throw across his body. Except, there’s the reveal that the player is left-handed and it’s a pretty simple throw.

Miami used this trick around the red zone against Buffalo. Jarvis Landry lined up next to Ryan Tannehill offset in shotgun and received a pitch to run left like a typical running play. This isn’t all that surprising, as Landry has received a few rushing attempts this season -- 12 in total, 4 alone against Buffalo. But instead of cutting up the field, Landry stops and throws left-handed back across the field to Tannehill, who had sneaked out on the right side.

Landry underthrew the pass, which cancelled some of the effectiveness, but Tannehill was able to draw an unnecessary roughness penalty on Jerry Hughes while running out of bounds. The Dolphins would score a touchdown two plays later.

Landry Pass

Chris Hogan - 1/1, 4 yards | Passing NEP: -0.10

Week 5 vs Tennessee
Situation: 6:14 remaining in fourth quarter, 2nd-and-6 on TEN 6, down 13-7

Chris Hogan, also left-handed. The Bills ran a similar concept to the Dolphins play above, but with a few more bells and whistles. Tyrod Taylor starts the play walking along the offensive line, acting as if he’s calling out shifts in the protection. He eventually ends up in-line to the left and the ball is snapped directly to Anthony Dixon at running back.

Dixon briefly starts right then flips the ball to Hogan coming left from the right side of the formation on what looks to be an end-around, but Hogan then tosses the ball to Taylor, who had slipped out the left side after the ball was snapped. The play gained four yards and could have been a touchdown, but Perrish Cox read the play early, left his man in the end zone and made the stop on Taylor before he could score. Buffalo would switch roles back to normal on the next play as Taylor threw a touchdown pass to Hogan.

Chris Hogan Pass

Darren McFadden - 0/1 | Passing NEP: -0.53

Week 8 vs Seattle
Situation: 2:00 remaining in second quarter, 1st-and-10 on SEA 24, down 10-3

When flipping between Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel as a starting quarterback, it would be hard to fault anyone for trying to find someone else to throw the ball. The Cowboys tried that with Darren McFadden against the Seahawks and it didn’t quite work out.

McFadden took a pitch to the right, had his intended target James Hanna with a half step on the defender, but encountered something Dallas pass throwers rarely have to deal with -- a free rusher. Frank Clark came in from McFadden’s blindside, which could have impacted the throw just enough to never have a chance at being caught, not a far cry from any attempts by the active quarterbacks on the roster.

Darren McFadden Pass

Jamison Crowder - 0/1 | Passing NEP: -0.69

Week 6 vs New York
Situation: 2:35 remaining in second quarter, 2nd-and-5 on NYJ 36, down 10-7

Jamison Crowder is going to get hit with negative Passing NEP for his attempt, but given the circumstances, he fared much better than many non-quarterbacks would. Crowder lined up stacked with another receiver at the left side of the formation and started the play like it would be a receiver screen. Crowder ran back to the middle of the field, but the intended receiver on the play, Andre Roberts, was covered.

Crowder stops to throw, realizes his passing window is something only Kirk Cousins would try to throw into, continues running right, avoids a defender and throws the ball away.

Jamison Crowder Pass

Antonio Brown - 0/0 | Passing NEP: -1.56

Week 1 vs New England
Situation: 12:05 remaining in first quarter, 1st-and-10 on NE 24, tied 0-0

Here’s a bit of a statistical quirk. We have Antonio Brown for negative Passing NEP on a drop back when he never threw a pass. Check Brown’s stats on most sites, and there’s no record he ever tried to throw a ball this season -- a fun thing when trying to find this in the play-by-play.

Brown starts the play on the right side, catches a throw from Ben Roethlisberger, runs to the middle of the field, looks to throw somewhere -- also left-handed -- never gets a chance to throw the ball and gets tackled by Malcom Brown. Officially, Malcom Brown got credit for a sack in the pocket, so the play did not count as a reception or rushing attempt for Antonio Brown. That makes it a dropback in our book and that’s how Brown gets hit with negative Passing NEP without attempting a throw.

Antonio Brown Sack

Sam Koch - 1/1, -3 yards | Passing NEP: -2.93

Week 4 vs Pittsburgh
Situation: 4:27 remaining in third quarter, 4th-and-2 on PIT 20, down 20-14

The quickest way to negative expected points on a play? Take some guaranteed ones off the board. This isn’t a game theory argument about going for it on fourth down versus kicking a field goal on fourth and short, it’s the result of one of those decisions.

In Week 4 against Pittsburgh the Ravens went for it by pretending to take the points. Baltimore lined up for a field goal at Pittsburgh’s 20 and ran a fake. Punter Sam Koch was the holder and immediately pitched the ball forward to Nick Boyle, running from left to right, but he was chased down and immediately tackled by Sean Spence for a loss of three yards.

Going for it in a vacuum would not be a terrible move for Baltimore, but the way they went for it didn’t work and because the Ravens lined up for the field goal, it makes it feel that much worse and results in our worst Passing NEP for a non-quarterback so far this season.

Sam Koch Fake