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Thursday, November 25, 2004

Talking Turkey About Quarterbacks

I was talking with my father-in-law today about quarterbacks, as he spent more time watching the Colts dismantle the Lions than I did, which is very big of him given that he's from Baltimore and has really never forgiven the Irsays for moving the team out of town to that gridiron hotbed of Indianapolis in the middle of the night many years ago. I chalk up his watching to the fact that on Thanksgiving you watch the teams that the networks give you. Nothing more, nothing less. (The average Baltimorean still bristles at the loss of the beloved Colts in the mid-1980s).

That said, he asked a question which I'll answer at the end of this post, which is which QB has the highest single-season rating for a QB?

This question caused me to go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's website to check out all-time QB ratings, and what you will find there is so surprising if you're not an intense fan that you'll question the overall wisdom of the rating system. Well, at least I will.

Here are the top 10, at least going into this season, with 1500 attempts required to make the list:

1. Kurt Warner 97.2
2. Steve Young, 96.8
3. Joe Montana, 92.3
4. Jeff Garcia, 88.3
5. Peyton Manning, 88.1
6. Daunte Culpepper, 88.0
7. Brett Favre, 86.9
8. Otto Graham, 86.6
9. Dan Marino, 86.4
10. Trent Green, 86.1.

Is there something wrong with this picture?

Of course.

It's probably the case that Kurt Warner is no longer #1 after this season's performance, and there wouldn't be a lot of grid justice if Warner were to have retired after last season with "rated" as the #1 QB ever. Well, maybe I'm overstating the case, because no professional or amateur pro football pundit would dare have Warner anywhere close to his top 10. Ditto for Jeff Garcia and Trent Green. Ironically, Otto Graham, who won more championships than probably the next 2 or 3 guys put together, rates only as #8.

But it gets worse.

Johnny Unitas, who some rate as the best ever, comes in at #48. It's hard to name 5 QBs you would rather have had ahead of Unitas, let alone 47. And among those 47 are Mark Brunell (#12), Aaron Brooks (#22), Neil O'Donnell (#25), Ken O'Brien (#34), Jeff George (#35), Steve Beurlein (#37), Tony Eason (#41), Elvis Grbac (#42), Mark Rypien (#44) and Jim Everett (#45).

Aaron Brooks? He could lose his starting job after this season. Ken O'Brien and Tony Eason? Yes, they were part of that great QB class of 1983 that had 6 QBs drafted in the first round. The others were John Elway (and we'll get to him in the next paragraph), Todd Blackledge (who, taken at #7, eclipses O'Brien and Eason as the worst QB taken in the first round that year), Jim Kelly and Marino, who, ironically, was the last QB taken that year after an interception-laden senior season at Pitt. O'Brien had a few good years with the Jets, and Eason never really got it going in New England. Grbac ahead of Unitas? You have to be kidding.

That's bad enough, but John Elway comes in at #39, right behind Dan Fouts, who is rated #38. Quite frankly, it's hard to think of 10 QBs you'd rather have than Elway, and 15 you'd rather have than Fouts, who I still contend was the best pure passer I had seen until Peyton Manning, and that includes Dan Marino.

Now, Joe Namath comes in at #123, and I think that there's some merit to a low ranking for Namath. Charismatic as he was and is, Namath had more career interceptions than TDs, and he get all-time QB points for having helped put the old American Football League on the map, which is unfair to the other QBs. Namath was certainly an American original, but I could name 40 QBs I would rather have had than him. And I like Joe Namath.

Other interesting names among the Top 100 are Jeff Blake (#50, which is just hard to figure), Jay Fiedler (#51), Bill Kenney (#57), Erik Kramer (#59), Gary Danielson (#60), Jon Kitna (#64), Wade Wilson (#65), Scott Mitchell (#69, just behind Ken Stabler), Steve Bono (#70), Tim Couch (#71, right ahead of Sid Luckman and Norm Van Brocklin), Rodney Peete (#82, right behind Earl Morrall), Tony Banks (#89), Bubby Brister (#90), Jay Schroeder (#95) and Trent Dilfer (#99).

Sorry, whoever created this stat, but it fails simply because Bubby Brister is in the Top 100. And if that's not enough evidence, then Rodney Peete at #82 is Exhibit B. And Steve Bono, a perennial (good) backup at #70 is Exhibit C. You get the idea.

Read the whole thing, and you can comment as to what you think. But the bottom line is that an all-time Top 10 has to include Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Elway, Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, Otto Graham, Brett Favre and Roger Staubach. And my guess is that Messrs. (Peyton) Manning, Culpepper, McNabb and others might enter into the conversation before they're done. Somehow, the figures just don't tell the whole story here.

And the best single-season passing rating -- Steve Young, a gaudy 112.8 in 1994. Click here to read the best single-season QB ratings.

You can click on Sports Blah for some good hot-stove baseball talk, but this stuff is great fodder for hot-stove football talk.

And remember, unlike baseball, where the numbers tell a lot of the story, in football, the numbers don't tell you nearly as much.

At least the ones that they show us in the MSM and beyond.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The QB ratings are skewed just like pitching stats from 1968 or hitting stats from 1930 in baseball. It depends on the era -- the way the game was played strategically, the rules of the era and the conditions. Playing outside in Baltimore is a lot different than playing in sunny Miami or in climate-controlled Indianapolis.

No one would argue that Elvis Grbac was a better pro QB than Unitas. How does Unitas stack up against his contemporaries?

Also, the QB rating is only a passing rating. It doesn't begin to take into account the leadership qualities necessary for the position or other factors, like Elway's ability to scramble.

All that being said, Peyton Manning is amazing. As a Lions fan since birth (and I was born AFTER the Lions' last championship in 1957) it was hard to watch yesterday. The Lions have a long way to go, but there arent too many who have a great defense and a high-octane offense to match up with the Colts offense. The Colts are a lot of fun to watch.


9:39 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...


I'm not sure that the QB ratings are like the stats you compared them to, though. And, while ERAs were low in the 1960's, you still would want Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson on your team the same way you'd want Chuck Klein, Lou Gehrig and others on your team. Good point about the ratings being passing ratings, although even then it's somewhat confounding that Elway's and Unitas's are so low. Needless to say, football needs a Bill James or two (or three) to come up with more meaningful statistics. As for your Lions, it may be that Mr. Harrington has worn out his welcome in Motown.


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