Don’t call them trick games: Why NFL teams love non-QB passes and who is best at it

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tell a non-quarterback that he’s part of the game plan to throw a pass, or that he wants to catch a pass from someone other than QB, and the fun has just begun.

“For us, it’s a backyard game,” said veteran New England Patriots receiver Nelson Agholor. “It brings us back to our grassroots – just throwing it around. We enjoy it.”

Such fun has happened more in the NFL over the last many seasons, with Agholor and his Patriots calling them just as much as anyone else.

Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers is 2-of-2 for 45 yards this season, and co-receiver Kendrick Bourne has thrown a 25-yard TD pass – to Agholor.

Meyers, of course, threw two touchdown passes in the 2020 season, and former Patriots receiver Julian Edelman retired with a very impressive pass state line: 7-of-8 for 179 yards, two TDs and a 158.3 rating.

But the trend is going beyond the Patriots.

Through week 12 of the NFL season, non-quarterbacks have attempted 26 passes this season, completed 13, and are in the process of attempting 37 passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

In 2020, non-QBs attempted 44 passes. But the year before, they tried 33 passes, and the year before it was 31.

Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson is 2-for-3 for 35 yards this season.

“I get really excited. I try not to show it too much [but] I love every time I throw the ball, “he said. I just like being in the mix, especially with a difficult game. I certainly remember the days in the Little League where I played quarterback, ran around, threw it on the run, so that definitely brings me back to it. “

Dallas Cowboys receiver Cedrick Wilson leads all non-QBs in passing yardage this season, going 2-for-2 in 57 yards. He credits offensive coordinator Kellen Moore for his success.

“I feel like when Kellen prepares the plays, I think he knows it’s going to be open. He’s not really giving me a difficult decision,” Wilson said. As for the decision to call this type of play, it includes several considerations.

Practice makes perfect

In New England, the first thing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels points out is that they are not trick games.

“They may be a little different in terms of the scheme, but I usually tell the guys that we will represent them in practice long enough – sometimes for weeks – to the point where neither of us feels that it is a trick, “he said.

“That’s the biggest thing for me; if I do not feel secure in the scheme or the implementation of the scheme in practice, [and] If the players do not feel confident in what they are asked to do, then I do not think it is a safe thing to use. “

In Minnesota, under offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak, Jefferson describes a similar approach.

“Me and [receiver] Adam [Thielen] throw football every single day. It’s about practicing it, seeing it, making sure everyone is on the same page, “he said. [then] when it comes to the game, I’m confident enough to handle the game, make the throw. “

Kubiak could not remember the first time he was considering getting Jefferson to throw a pass in a match, but said, “I know Justin played a high school quarterback, and just watching him before he practiced in to throw it around so it looks pretty natural. “

In New England, when experimenting with different options, McDaniels added that he also measures the reactions of players when things are not going well in practice, which has implications for the decision-making about who they could have performed these games.

Once those obstacles are cleared, it comes down to where it fits into the game plan, and coach Bill Belichick said McDaniels appears to have an ability to strike.

“Josh does a great job of mixing games to take advantage of the defense’s over-aggressiveness, whether it’s chase or running strength, or whatever it is,” Belichick said. “Sometimes some of the plays are designed to really get everyone up [near the line of scrimmage], and then get behind them. “

McDaniels shared further insights into his thought process.


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