Welcome to The Ringer’s weekly NFL rankings, where we’ll break down the good, the bad, and the absurd of the 2019 season. Every Tuesday, we’ll have a ranking of the moments, players, or story lines that are driving the conversation around the league. This week, we’re exploring the wildest throws through the first seven weeks of the season.
Great throws in the NFL often come on unremarkable plays. They can happen on quick 10-yard outs that require more arm strength than expected, checkdowns when nothing else is available, or simple, on-schedule tosses that keep an offense marching down the field. In short, greatness is often banal.
That’s why we’re not here to celebrate great throws. We’re here to celebrate logic-defying ones. These are the throws that make you scratch your head and ask how in the world the quarterback did that. These are the throws that scream: These people are superhuman.
With that in mind, here are the 10 best logic-defying throws we’ve seen so far this season, plus two honorable mentions:
Honorable Mention: Deshaun Watson to DeAndre Hopkins, Week 7
It’s a damn shame this has to be an honorable mention. The officials blew Watson down, so even though replays showed those whistles were premature, the touchdown didn’t count.
Honorable Mention: Odell Beckham Jr. to Damion Ratley, Week 4
This pass wasn’t completed, so it doesn’t count for the official list. But it’s fun to imagine Damion Ratley snatching this ball out of the air to make what arguably would have been the play of the year. I hope this isn’t the last time the Browns attempt something like this.
10. Daniel Jones to Golden Tate, Week 6
Contrary to his Danny Dimes moniker, Jones has mostly stunk this year. He has more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (six), is averaging just 6.5 yards per attempt, and he’s gone 0-3 in his last three outings. (To be fair to Jones, this Giants offense isn’t exactly a quarterback’s paradise, and no one expected the rookie to set the league on fire.) So it was a shock when Jones recorded the first passing touchdown given up by the Patriots’ ferocious defense all year. This ball was perfectly placed. You could even call it a dime.
9. Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce, Week 2
Perhaps this throw isn’t technically “logic defying,” because we’ve come to expect Mahomes to make plays like this multiple times per game. But I am mesmerized by how casually he drops this ball into coverage. Just another day at the office for the best passer in the league.
8. Lamar Jackson to Willie Snead, Week 3
This pass is logic defying in all the worst ways, because Jackson went against all common sense by even attempting it. The throw is off-balance, it travels across the field, it hangs in the air forever, and there’s seemingly no receiver in the area when Jackson launches it. What the hell was he thinking?
In Jackson’s defense, the Ravens were down 11 points with 8:13 left in the game, and this throw came on third down: He simply had to try to make something happen. This attempt had only a 19 percent chance of being completed, per Next Gen NFL Stats. You have to think that the chances of it being intercepted were at least double that. But at that point, even a low-probability prayer was better than a throwaway or a sack.
7. Kyler Murray to Larry Fitzgerald, Week 6
Some quarterbacks are at their best when they’re working within an established system. Think of Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Tom Brady—and also Sam Bradford. Then there are the quarterbacks who can just create. These are the guys who have a chance to make something happen when all hell breaks loose: Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson—and also Johnny Manziel. Neither type of passer is inherently better than the other, but through the first seven weeks of his career, Murray is unsurprisingly showing flashes of being the latter.
On this play, Murray seems to run in a spiral, flipping and switching directions like he’s in a washing machine. Somehow, he generates so much space and time that he’s able to direct Larry Fitzgerald downfield before resetting his feet and rocketing a ball to the trusty veteran wideout. It goes down as a relatively mundane 18-yard completion on the stat sheet, but it’s one of those plays when Murray got no help and was able to make something happen anyway. This guy is starting to look special.
6. Aaron Rodgers to Allen Lazard, Week 6
Yes, he’s Aaron freaking Rodgers, but no one expected him to find his form in the past two weeks with Davante Adams out, and Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling playing in limited roles as they nurse injuries. Rodgers has relied on relative no-name receivers like Lazard. Yet he’s been an alien, and completed 49 of 70 passes for 712 yards, seven touchdowns, and one interception in back-to-back wins against the Lions and Raiders.
On this throw, Lazard isn’t able to gain any meaningful separation, but it doesn’t matter. When Rodgers is feeling himself like this, you could imagine him dropping a ball into a basketball hoop from 50 yards away. This ball is just perfectly placed. Rodgers is turning the clock back five years, and in the last two weeks, he’s looked like the 2014 MVP.
5. Nick Foles to DJ Chark, Week 1
It’s a massive shame that this throw resulted in a broken collarbone for Foles. This is a perfectly placed rainbow into Chark’s hands—Foles couldn’t have dropped it in better if the two were 6 inches apart. Foles has not been a special quarterback, but he has a remarkable ability to deliver magic in small doses. This is a classic that will likely be forgotten with the rise of Minshew Mania. Speaking of which …
4. Gardner Minshew II to Ryquell Armstead, Week 4
THE MINSHEW MAGIC IS REAL.— NFL (@NFL) September 29, 2019
He avoids the sack multiple times and throws for the TD! @GardnerMinshew5 #JAXvsDEN #DUUUVAL
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Somehow we ended up with two Jaguars quarterbacks on this list. It’s worth getting excited about Minshew, who has shown remarkable accuracy and poise in six games as a starter for Jacksonville. He’s fallen off some the past two weeks, but he may have already done enough to keep the starting job when Foles returns.
But they don’t call it Minshew Mania just because he can hit receivers in stride. It’s because he’s able to thrive in absolute chaos. On this play, the pocket rapidly collapses, but instead of rolling out, Minshew evades tacklers like he’s playing dodgeball. Finally, he somehow finds Armstead in the corner of the end zone.
3. Mitchell Trubisky to Taylor Gabriel, Week 3
This is certainly not the best throw on this list, but then again, that’s not what we’re here to rank. While Trubisky could have put the ball slightly more inside to make this catch easier for Gabriel, he also had to evade pressure and make this throw on the move. Per Next Gen NFL Stats, this play had just a 10.4 percent chance of ending with a completed pass, the second-least likely completion of the year. The replay shows just how hard Gabriel had to work to get this ball while keeping his feet inbounds:
2. Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay, Week 4
Purely from a throwing perspective, this play has as high a degree of difficulty as any pass made by a quarterback this year. If Stafford is even a few inches off in any direction, this ball drops incomplete. Off by much more than that, and it could be intercepted. The slow-motion replay shows just how tight of window Stafford had to work with here:
It’s not even clear what Stafford saw that prompted him to unload this ball as a sea of white and red stood between him and Golladay. But the football pops out of his hands and sails with almost supernatural speed to his receiver. This pass is the definition of a “dart.”
1. Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett, Week 5
The no. 1 logic-defying pass couldn’t have been anything else. No play this season was more unbelievable than this miracle to Lockett, which is still difficult for me to wrap my mind around no matter how many camera angles I see. Here’s one of the better replays illustrating the magic Wilson created on this play:
Though Wilson has all day to throw, no one is open. The middle of the field is vacated, and you can almost see the QB consider taking off before realizing the Rams defensive line and the Seahawks offensive line have formed a messy wall. So with no other options, Wilson drifts left —which is not the way right-armed passers generally want to go—and finds himself facing down Dante Fowler Jr. off the edge.
Now Wilson is really out of options. He’s held onto the ball for an eternity thanks to solid initial blocking from his offensive line, but there are still no open receivers. Instead of throwing the ball away, which would have been a perfectly logical move on a first-and-10 play in the first quarter of the game, Wilson chucks it. With one flick of the wrist, he somehow finds Lockett in what can be described only as the corner of the corner of the end zone. This is a Death-Star-exhaust-port type of pass: one in a million.