The NFL is in the midst of what could become known as the Decade of the Pass, in large part because of the development of top-shelf quarterbacks. But the leaguewide passing frenzy is also coming about due to how quickly teams with lower-end aerial attacks are able to turn that part of their offense around.
This was the case with many teams last year, yet none of them reached that goal in the same manner. Carolina drafted Cam Newton and let him cut loose with 216 vertical passes (aerials thrown 11 or more yards downfield), a total that ranked tied for third most in that category. Detroit got there by finally getting a full season out of the formerly oft-injured Matthew Stafford. San Francisco did it by signing head coach Jim Harbaugh and thus giving Alex Smith the best quarterback coaching of his six-year NFL career.
These and other recent instances of relatively quick quarterback turnarounds should give hope to the teams that ranked at or near the bottom of the quarterback rankings (score of under 5) in the recent ESPN Insider NFL Future Power Rankings.
Five teams in particular come to mind as candidates who could dramatically raise their score in that area over the next three years.
Ponder's poor overall metric showing in 2011 -- 6.3 yards per attempt (YPA), ranked 30th in the league -- was largely due to the lack of a quality downfield passing attack, as his 8.4 vertical YPA (VYPA) ranked 33rd and his 7.1 stretch vertical YPA (SVYPA, which rates passing productivity on throws 20 or more yards from the line of scrimmage) ranked dead last. (Note: All YPA totals are inclusive of penalty plays such as pass interference, defensive holding, etc.)
Some of the fault for the low vertical metric totals certainly has to be placed on Ponder being a rookie adjusting to the NFL, but a lot of it also has to fall on the fact that the Vikings' primary downfield target last year was Devin Aromashodu. Minnesota passers targeted him for 56 vertical passes last year (23rd most in the league) and Aromashodu rewarded them with a 7.2 VYPA that ranked next to last among wideouts with at least 50 vertical targets.