25 College Football Quarterbacks Who Throw the Best Deep Balls

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIJune 20, 2013

25 College Football Quarterbacks Who Throw the Best Deep Balls

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    The 25 quarterbacks who throw the best deep ball are from a varied group of conferences, and they are from many different levels of success. Some teams on this list finished near the bottom of the FBS, yet others appeared in BCS bowls.

    There are many ways to measure a quarterback, but the deep ball is one of the most fun. When a crowd sees a receiver wide open downfield, there is a moment of silence as everyone holds their breath.

    When the quarterback recognizes the opportunity and heaves the ball toward the long target, there is a fleeting period of audible recognition. When the football finally hits the receiver, everyone goes nuts.

    While it's great to see your team march down the field like a steamroller, there is nothing quite like seeing the big play unfold. It's a special sight, unless you're a fan of any team whose passer made this list.

    In the world of collectors, there is a saying: "It's only worth what someone will pay." While the grammar isn't completely sound, the principle is. You may have a Beanie Baby that's valued at $10,000 by a price guide, but if you're offering to sell it to a 3-year-old for a dollar, you're either getting a dollar or a sad toddler.

    The same principle applies to ranking quarterbacks. While one quarterback may have the prettiest long ball, it doesn't mean it's the best. To determine the best, three criteria must be considered:

    1. The quarterback's ability to use it in a game.

    2. The frequency of use.

    3. The success of the long passes.

    To find the best deep ball, the total number of passes over 20 yards was taken into account. Then, quarterbacks were subjected to an eye test. The ones who consistently threw for more than just 20-29 yards were given priority.

    Lastly, the final set of contenders were sorted by a simple equation:

    Number of deep completions/total number of completions = "slugging" percentage.

    In order to have a high deep-to-total completion ratio, a quarterback must be trusted by his coach. Without the trust of the coach, long attempts are not going to be possible. Secondly, if he is rarely hitting the deep pass, his ratio is going to plummet.

    This ratio tells us who succeeds at hitting the deep ball consistently. YouTube provided verification in almost all cases.

    Some slides do not have videos. Either they were grossly outdated (from high school) or their accompanying music had profanity.

25. Rakeem Cato, Marshall Thundering Herd

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    Passes over 20 yards: 73

    Completions: 406

    Percentage: 17.98

    Rakeem Cato is one of the best passers in the nation, but this isn't about overall ability. This is specifically about his prowess at tossing the deep ball.

    Cato's percentage of deep completions was about 18. That means that roughly one out of every five of his passes went for over 20 yards. He was great at recognizing opportunities, and he was pretty good at cashing in on them, too.

24. Brett Hundley, UCLA Bruins

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    Passes over 20 yards: 77

    Completions: 318

    Percentage: 24.21

    Brett Hundley does appear a bit low on this list, and that's due to his being a freshman last season. As you can see from the highlight video, he had a little issue with timing throughout the season, but that will straighten out over the next few seasons.

    He'll have to improve, but that's true of any rookie.

23. Shane Carden, East Carolina Pirates

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    Passes over 20 yards: 75

    Completions: 273

    Percentage: 27.47

    Shane Carden is an underrated quarterback, and this may be the first time you're hearing about him. If you aren't an East Carolina fan, chances are you first saw him this past bowl season.

    He is the first passer on this list to cross the 25 percent barrier. More than one quarter of his completions were for over 20 yards. That's not too shabby at all, especially considering ECU's upcoming move to the American Athletic Conference.

    Keeping quarterbacks like Carden coming through the program will be essential for the Pirates' future success.

22. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville Cardinals

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    Passes over 20 yards: 91

    Completions: 287

    Percentage: 31.71

    Just because he's No. 22 here doesn't mean that Louisville won't do much better than that in the final BCS rankings. Louisville is commanded by one of the best quarterbacks of this bunch, and Bridgewater has an elite arm.

    The issue isn't with strength; it's with his ability to make it completely effective in a game. Part of being successful with the deep ball is having people open so you can use it. Bridgewater runs into minor issues with missing (as in, not seeing) open receivers downfield, and he sometimes struggles with his touch.

    When he's on, though, he's almost unstoppable (as the Florida Gators saw quite well this past January.)

21. David Fales, San Jose State Spartans

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    Passes over 20 yards: 105

    Completions: 327

    Percentage: 32.11

    David Fales is entering his final season with the San Jose State Spartans, and he was extremely close to an undefeated season in 2012. Other than a 22-point beating by the Utah State Aggies, Fales' only loss was by three points to Stanford.

    Fales has a nice touch to his deep passes, and if his receivers can find ways around the Stanford, Utah State and Minnesota defenses, a BCS bowl isn't out of the question in 2013.

20. Corey Robinson, Troy Trojans

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    Passes over 20 yards: 87

    Completions: 258

    Percentage: 33.72

    Troy may have won only five games last season, but five of its six losses were by just one possession. Those losses were to teams like Mississippi State, Tennessee, Arkansas State and Western Kentucky.

    It's not like Troy was getting manhandled in 2012. A large part of the Trojans' ability to compete was Corey Robinson's ability to make secondaries pay when protection broke down. In many cases, protection didn't even have to break down. He simply threaded an incredible pass through the eye of a needle.

19. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Passes over 20 yards: 77

    Completions: 228

    Percentage: 33.77

    Taylor Martinez has a great shot at the Big Ten title in 2013. All he really needs to do is concentrate on consistency. Granted, a lot of those problems would go away with consistency from the 'Huskers offensive line, but Martinez does have a good bit of talent around him.

    Martinez is effective from the pocket, and he's equally effective when the pocket breaks down. Look for Nebraska to make a run for the BCS next season, and look for Martinez's name on the list of Heisman finalists.

18. Tyler Tettleton, Ohio Bobcats

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    Passes over 20 yards: 78

    Completions: 228

    Percentage: 34.21

    Tyler Tettleton is one of the most impressive quarterbacks in the country, and he's easily the most complete in the Mid-American Conference. What's even more appealing is that the Ohio Bobcats open the 2013 season against the Louisville Cardinals.

    Two of the best overall quarterbacks who are also equally adept at striking deep will be going toe-to-toe in Week 1. It isn't the best opening game in the nation, but it's close.

17. Bryn Renner, UNC Tar Heels

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    Passes over 20 yards: 95

    Completions: 276

    Percentage: 34.42

    Bryn Renner will be missing his award-winning tailback, Giovani Bernard, in 2013, but Renner is still capable of leading UNC to the postseason. In fact, the Tar Heels shouldn't be counted out of the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game just yet.

    Renner's prowess under center is undeniable, and all it takes is a few key ACC teams to have some busted coverages in the secondary. Renner is easily able to take advantage of any opportunity.

    The question really is on his offensive line: Will they give him enough time to keep his timing and distance down?

16. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State Aggies

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    Passes over 20 yards: 95

    Completions: 275

    Percentage: 34.55

    The Utah State Aggies' quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, dismantled some big-name teams in 2012. Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and Toledo were the biggest ones.

    However, the most impressive fact is that the Aggies lost to Wisconsin and BYU by a combined five points. Utah State's 11-win season was made possible by its defense, of course, but also by Keeton's ability to strike almost anywhere on the field at a moment's notice.

15. Terrance Owens, Toledo Rockets

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    Passes over 20 yards: 75

    Completions: 215

    Percentage: 34.88

    Terrance Owens took apart nine of the 13 teams he faced last year. Three of those four losses were by a single possession. With a couple of lucky bounces, Toledo could have been the BCS buster out of the MAC.

    Owens has an excellent "slugging percentage" of 34.9, meaning he averaged a deep ball on every third pass. Maybe Toledo should have just gone to a completely aerial offense.

14. David Ash, Texas Longhorns

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    Passes over 20 yards: 75

    Completions: 214

    Percentage: 35.05

    David Ash turned a corner against Oregon State after he had lost his touch periodically throughout the season. In 2012, he didn't have the finesse to throw the ball into extremely tight windows, but he easily took advantage of streaking receivers.

    Far more often than not, he hit them in-stride and won football games.

13. Derek Carr, Fresno State Bulldogs

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    Passes over 20 yards: 124

    Completions: 344

    Percentage: 36.05

    Derek Carr accomplished some impressive feats with the Fresno State Bulldogs on the way to the 2012 Hawaii Bowl. The Bulldogs fell to Oregon by only 17 points, Tulsa by one and Boise State by 10.

    Boise State was ranked No. 24 at the time, and Oregon was No. 4. On the other side of the coin, the Bulldogs pretty much demolished everyone else during the regular season.

    Carr's ability to recognize and hit the deep receiver scored Fresno State nine wins. Next season, Fresno should be able to ride Carr's skill to a MWC title and a potential marquee bowl.

12. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M Aggies

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    Passes over 20 yards: 107

    Completions: 295

    Percentage: 36.27

    Johnny Manziel is well known for both his scrambling ability and his ability to pass. As Alabama found out in 2012, Manziel should also be recognized for his ability to tag defenses with the long ball.

    Manziel tagged the reigning national champion for 66 yards in two passes (42 and 24) for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

    Manziel has an excellent eye for the open receiver, and the Aggies get a lot of open receivers. Between Ben Malena and Manziel, the entire front seven of any opponent has to stay close to the line. If not, Texas A&M is likely to break off a devastating run.

    This is where Manziel's deep ball comes into play. If he wasn't good at it, then teams would simply cover the run and let him take his chances downfield.

11. Austin Brown, UAB Blazers

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    Passes over 20 yards: 80

    Completions: 205

    Percentage: 39.02

    Austin Brown stands under center for UAB, and he does a wonderful job hitting the deep passes. In fact, if not for the second quarter explosion by Ohio State's Braxton Miller in 2012, the Buckeyes would have fallen victim to Brown and the Blazers.

    As you can see in the highlight video, Brown has a knack for striking his targets in perfect rhythm. They don't have to change speed or anything. He simply slips it right into the window for an effortless completion.

10. Andrew Manley, New Mexico State Aggies

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    Passes over 20 yards: 81

    Completions: 207

    Percentage: 39.13

    Andrew Manley may play for an underachieving squad, but there is nothing sub-par about Manley's skill. The New Mexico State Aggies have no defense (except against Louisiana Tech, whaaaaat?), and that led to a one-win season last year.

    Fortunately for the Aggies, Manley has the touch to put balls exactly where they need to go. Of course, talent can't win games without time to throw, open receivers and a defense to back the offense up. Luckily for Manley, this is a deep-ball list, not a quarterback power ranking.

9. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois Huskies

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    Passes over 20 yards: 93

    Completions: 237

    Percentage: 39.24

    Jordan Lynch led the Northern Illinois Huskies to the Orange Bowl last season, and he did it on the ground and through the air. Lynch racked up 3,138 passing yards and 1,815 rushing yards on the way to a 12-2 record.

    Lynch's percentage of deep passes versus all passes ended up at 39.24. While that's impressively effective, all the remaining players on this list broke the 40 percent barrier. Lynch is an amazing talent overall, but he can't be the best at everything.

8. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss Rebels

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    Passes over 20 yards: 97

    Completions: 235

    Percentage: 41.28

    Ole Miss seems to have taken on a completely different personality since Hugh Freeze took over. He made some adjustments upon arrival, and putting Bo Wallace in place of Randall Mackey at quarterback was one of them.

    Mackey turned out to be a lethal weapon as an offensive wild card, and Wallace happened to be a sleeping dragon. Wallace turned around and led the Rebels to a seven-win season that ended on a complete decimation of the Pittsburgh Panthers.

    Wallace has a knack for striking deep, and that was the last thing any of his opponents expected. Ole Miss had won only two games in 2011, but Wallace's talent with the long pass kept the Rebels within reach of almost every one of their foes in 2012.

7. AJ McCarron, Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Passes over 20 yards: 90

    Completions: 211

    Percentage: 42.65

    AJ McCarron is surrounded by a wealth of talent, and that takes a lot of the pressure off of him. Unfortunately for the gunslinger, the Alabama style steps on his natural skills a little. He isn't able to strike deep as often as he'd like, but if he keeps doing what he's supposed to, he will walk away with three championship rings to show for three years as a starter.

    What McCarron has that the Tide don't always take advantage of is a laser cannon in place of a throwing arm. He can put the ball inside of a football-sized window from over 100 feet away from his receiver. The evidence is in the featured video, and it is indisputable. (If he had missed that pass by six inches, Kenny Bell would not have scored.)

    McCarron is an excellent example of a wonderful arm that is simply underused. Of course, he's two-for-two in national championships, so we will assume he's more than happy with the current scheme.

6. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech Hookies

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    Passes over 20 yards: 95

    Completions: 220

    Percentage: 43.18

    Virginia Tech and Logan Thomas slipped backwards a little bit in 2012, but Thomas still had one of the best arms in the land. He didn't use it consistently, and the Virginia Tech defense didn't back him up, so the final record was disappointing.

    Thomas has a great arm, and the near-wins against Florida State and Cincinnati proved that the Hokies still have that 2011 beast inside of them.

    Thomas is magic when his receivers are open downfield.

5. Tajh Boyd, Clemson Tigers

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    Passes over 20 yards: 124

    Completions: 287

    Percentage: 43.21

    Tajh Boyd is another quarterback who benefits from talent surrounding him. He also has a defense backing him up, so that's how he is getting wins that other quarterbacks on this list simply can't.

    Boyd crushed defenses for 124 passes over 20 yards, and 62 (exactly half) were for more than 30 yards. Boyd can tag you for well over a first down at any given moment. If your defense isn't tight, then he'll take advantage of the weakness.

    In fact, some of the throws in the highlight videos were into tight coverage, so your team isn't even safe when it's playing well. He's simply that good.

4. Brett Smith, Wyoming Cowboys

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    Passes over 20 yards: 93

    Completions: 205

    Percentage: 43.37

    Brett Smith nabbed a 43.37 percent mark for this list, and he missed two of Wyoming's games in 2012. He had some fits of inconsistency, especially against Texas, but he didn't even wait until after the game to get his composure back.

    As you can see in the video, he got his head back on straight in the fourth quarter. If he'd shaken off his mistakes in the third quarter, that game may have ended differently. He has a superb arm, and even against a healthy Texas defense, he looked good.

    If the offensive line had stood up to Texas' stellar defense, the Cowboys would have made some serious headlines.

3. Terrance Broadway, Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

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    Passes over 20 yards: 90

    Completions: 206

    Percentage: 43.69

    Terrance Broadway is another heralded quarterback, and he hails from the Sun Belt's Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns. Broadway's second play in that highlight video is a fine example of his ability to put the ball no shorter or longer than it needs to be when he's going for distance.

    Broadway is underrated because of the conference in which he plays, but fans will always wonder if there are more quarterbacks like Joe Flacco in the "lesser" groups. After all, if a guy can make tight throws, does it matter whom he did it against?

2. Stephen Morris, Miami Hurricanes

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    Passes over 20 yards: 109

    Completions: 245

    Percentage: 44.49

    Stephen Morris is half of the reason that Miami will contend for the ACC title in 2013. Duke Johnson is the other half, and the other 20 men on the field are the third half. (Hey, if people want their employees/subordinates to give 110 percent, there are plenty of impossible percentage points to dole out.)

    Miami could make a convincing run for the national championship this winter, and it would be a surprise to millions of high school kids who haven't been alive long enough to remember the Hurricanes' heyday.

    Morris completed almost half of his passes for over 20 yards, and he is one of only six returning passers to eclipse 100 bombs last season. Morris is incredible, and he'll have another offseason of timing drills under his belt when the Hurricanes take on the Florida Gators in Week 2.

    This highlight video is even more impressive because the plays are all in one game. It was against NC State, the team that derailed Florida State's national title run.

1. Aaron Murray, Georgia Bulldogs

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    Passes over 20 yards: 132

    Completions: 249

    Percentage: 53.01

    Aaron Murray is the only quarterback on the list to cross the 50 percent barrier. Surrounded by decoys like Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley to keep defenses honest, Murray landed 53.01 percent of his passes past the 20-yard mark.

    That's incredible. His deep passes are astoundingly effective, and they are beautiful. In fact, if the Georgia Bulldogs had been further away from the goal line for the last play of the 2012 SEC Championship Game, they may have won it.

    Murray's short throw was slightly lower than it needed to be. With his effectiveness over 20 yards, one can only wonder. Of course, 2013 is a new season, and the SEC is wide open on both sides of the league.

    Murray's deep ball might be his most valuable asset, and the video shows exactly why that is.