≡ Menu

Passing By Uniform Number

Namath BearMost people know about quarterbacks and the number 12. Even if you didn’t know where it started — Al Dorow of the New York Titans made the Pro Bowl in ’61 wearing number 12, while Charley Johnson of the St. Louis Cardinals was the first #12 to throw for 3,000 yards, doing so in 1963 and 1964 — you can probably recite most of the history from there. John Brodie, who entered the NFL in 1957, was the first great #12, while Joe Namath took the number to iconic status in the late ’60s. It was popularized by Roger Staubach (who also wore 12 at Navy in the early ’60s), Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, and Ken Stabler in the ’70s.1 That means the Super Bowl winning quarterback wore #12 for nine straight years, beginning with Super Bowl VI. Doug Williams even wore it in Tampa Bay, although punter Steve Cox forced Williams to don #17 when in Washington.

Lynn Dickey wore it for the Packers in the early ’80s, while Randall Cunningham and Jim Kelly repped #12 later in the decade. Stan Humphries made it to the Super Bowl wearing #12 with the Chargers, while Erik Kramer set the still-standing franchise records for passing yards and passing touchdowns in a season while wearing #12 for the Bears in 1995. The only time a Ravens quarterback threw for 4,000 yards or 30 touchdowns was when Vinny Testaverde wore #12 in 1996. Chris Chandler took the Falcons to the Super Bowl in 1998 wearing #12, while Rich Gannon became the second great Raiders quarterback to wear twelve a year later.

And since then, three guys you might have heard of have worn #12: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Andrew Luck.

Since 1950, players wearing #12 have thrown for 675,044 yards. No other number has yet to hit the 500,000-yard mark. But that brings us to today’s trivia: Which number has produced the second most passing yards since 1950? [click to continue…]

  1. And, sadly, not popularized by Greg Cook. []
{ 10 comments }

In 2012 and 2013, I looked at which passers were most effective on third and fourth downs; today, we examine those numbers for 2014. Throughout this article, when I refer to “third downs” or “third down performance”, note that such language is just shorthand for third and fourth downs.

To grade third down performance, I included sacks but discarded rushing data (in the interest of time, not because I thought that to be the better approach). The first step in evaluating third down performance is to calculate the league average conversion rate on third downs for each distance. Here were the conversion rates in 2014, along with the smoothed (linear) best-fit rates: [click to continue…]

{ 30 comments }

There are 23 quarterbacks who have won both a championship (as a starter) and a Most Valuable Player award in professional football history. Can you name them? First, let’s get to the fine print:

  • To determine championships, I began in 1936. I awarded half a ring to each of the championship quarterbacks in the AAFC and NFL from 1946 to 1949, and half a ring to the two championship quarterbacks in the AFL and NFL from 1960 to 1965. For purposes of this post, I am including all quarterbacks with “half a ring”, but when I list career totals, keep the half-ring idea in mind.
  • Based on sharing of quarterback duties, I awarded half-rings to the quarterbacks on the NFL champions in 1939, 1951, 1972, and 1990. For the NFL champion in 1970, I also awarded half a ring to that team’s top two quarterbacks, since the starter left while trailing in the Super Bowl. If you disagree with my awarding of half rings in this manner, don’t worry about.  I’ve spelled out the relevant information in the post below, so feel free to manipulate the system as you desire.  If so inclined, you can dismiss the early AFL years or give full credit to both MVPs in a particular season, for example.
  • For MVPs, I used the Joseph F. Carr award from ’38 to ’46. Then I used the UPI for the next ten years, or the Washington D.C. Touchdown Club award when the UPI didn’t name an MVP. Those years were 1947 (which, as it turns out, was one of the easiest seasons to identify), 1949, 1950, and 1952. Then I used the AP for every year since for simplicity’s sake (i.e., just using what is listed on PFR, not out of a misguided notion that the AP is the end-all, be-all source for MVP voting). I gave the AFL and NFL MVP half an award in each year from 1960 to 1969, and I also assigned only half credit to the shared MVPs in ’97 and ’03 (the award was also split in ’49).

[click to continue…]

{ 29 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows are Brad’s thoughts on a stat-based quarterback ranking system.


I recently concluded an eight-part series on the greatest quarterbacks in the history of professional football. Those rankings were subjective, based on everything I know about the players: stats, awards and honors, coaching and teammates, team success and postseason performance, reputation, the eye test, and so forth.

But I also have a method for classifying quarterbacks statistically. I actually published the results of this formula three months ago, but without revealing the process that produced those results. A number of readers were curious about my methodology, and in this post, I’ll finally explain how the sausage gets made. The math is not complicated — you don’t need a stats background to understand this — but there’s a lot of it: you could calculate most of this with a pencil and paper, but by the end, you’re going to want a spreadsheet. [click to continue…]

{ 33 comments }

What was the most dominant fantasy season of all time? You might think Peyton Manning 2013, but let me throw out another candidate: Steve Young, 1998.

I am using the following scoring system throughout this series: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 4 points per passing TD, 6 points per rushing/receiving TD, 0.5 points per reception.

In 2013, Manning threw for 5,477 yards and 55 TDs with just 10 interceptions, while rushing for -31 yards but with one TD. That comes out to 486.75 fantasy points. In 1998, Young threw for 4,170 yards with 36 TDs and 12 INTs, but also ran for 454 yards and 6 TDs. That is equal to 421.90 fantasy points. So, advantage Manning.

But we measure fantasy dominance “not by the number of points he scores[, but] by how much he outscores his peers at his particular position.” Those are the words of Joe Bryant in his famous VBD article, and I’ll make an appendix to that for historical purposes: the key is how much a player outscores his peers at his particular position in that particular year.

When calculating VBD scores, the standard is to use the 12th-ranked quarterback. In 2013, the 12th=-ranked QB scored 309.2 fantasy points, which means Manning outscored him by 177.55 fantasy points (or we could say that Manning produced 178 points of VBD). In 1998, the 12th-ranked quarterback scored just 235.6 fantasy points, which means Young finished with 186.3 points of VBD. So, advantage, Young.

But there’s another piece of the puzzle that tips the scales even more towards the 49ers quarterback. In 1998, Young missed one game. For fantasy purposes, it’s more valuable to have a quarterback produced X points in 15 games than it is for him to produce X points in 16 games, because you can play someone else during that 16th game. [click to continue…]

{ 34 comments }

On Sunday, I calculated the average number of pass attempts (including sacks) per game for each season since 1950, and then looked at which were the highest era-adjusted passing games in football history. On Monday, I looked at the single seasons that were the most and least pass-happy, from the perspective of each quarterback and after adjusting for era. Today, career grades.

How much do you know about Frank Tripucka? Probably not that much. If you’re a younger fan, you might know him because Denver “unretired” his #18 when Peyton Manning came to town, or because his son Kelly played in the NBA.

If you’re a Football Perspective regular, you may recall that he was the first quarterback in pro football history to throw for 3,000 yards in a season.1 Well, after today, you’re never going to forget about Tripucka.

I looked at all quarterbacks who started at least 48 regular season games since 1950.2 As a reminder about the methodology, I then calculated the league average dropbacks per game (i.e., pass attempts + sacks) in each season. Then, I determined the number of dropbacks by each quarterback’s team in each game started by that quarterback.

Then, I compared that number to league average to determine the ratio. Do this for every game of a quarterback’s career, and viola, career ratings! Here’s how to read the table below. Tripucka started 50 games in his career since 1950. In those games, his teams averaged 38.5 dropbacks per game, while the league average was 31 dropbacks. As a result, Tripucka’s teams in games he started finished with 124% as many pass attempts as the average team, or 7.5 more attempts per game. That makes him the most pass-happy quarterback ever. The final column shows whether the quarterback is in, or very likely to wind up in, the Hall of Fame.3 [click to continue…]

  1. And by first, I mean that in the most literal sense: in 1960, Tripucka, playing in the AFL and a 14-game season, crossed the 3,000 yard mark in the final game of the season. For Denver, that happened to be a Saturday. The next day, another AFL quarterback, Jack Kemp, crossed the 3,000-yard threshold with the Chargers. The AFL opened with a 14-game schedule to get a jump on the NFL, which was still playing a 12-game schedule in 1960. The NFL’s regular season ended at the same time, and Johnny Unitas became the first NFL passer to hit 3,000 yards on the same day as Kemp. []
  2. For quarterbacks who played prior to 1950, like Tripucka, they are included, but only their post-1950 stats are counted. []
  3. Note that I have included Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, and Aaron Rodgers as HOF quarterbacks for these purposes. This is not based on my subjective opinion of those players, but based on my subjective opinion of their likelihoods of enshrinement. If one was to sort by the HOF category, I thought it would be more useful to have them as a “Yes” than as a “No.” Your mileage may vary. []
{ 25 comments }

Yesterday, we looked at which teams had the most pass attempts (including sacks) in individual games relative to league average. Today, we will analyze things on the season level.

Let’s use Tobin Rote as an example. As Brad Oremland noted, Rote was stuck playing for terrible Packers teams in the ’50s that were weak on defense and light at running back. In 1951, Green Bay ranked 12th in the 12-team NFL in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns, and 11th in points allowed and yards allowed. The Packers often went with just one running back in the backfield — a rarity in those days — which is a sign that the emphasis on the passing game wasn’t just a result of the team’s losing record. Green Bay also went with a quarterback-by-committee approach: Rote started 11 of 12 games, but he finished the year with 256 pass attempts, while backup Bobby Thomason had 221. Individually, neither had great numbers, but together, they helped Green Bay finish with 50 more pass attempts than any other team in football.

The method I used yesterday, and will be using throughout this series, is to give the starting quarterback credit for all team pass attempts in that game. The reason? If a quarterback gets injured and finishes a game with just 5 attempts, that will kill his average in a misleading way. That would do more harm, I think, than giving him credit for all attempts in the game. But that decision has its drawbacks, and in particular, it seems ill-suited for teams in the early ’50s that employed a QBBC approach. This is particularly relevant here, because “Rote’s” 1951 season checks in as the most pass-happy on our list.

So the Rote line for ’51 should really be thought of as Rote and Thomason. Rote’s 1956 season also makes the top ten, and there’s no fine print necessary there. Rote started 11 of 12 games and threw 308 passes, while Bart Starr started the remaining game and had just 44 attempts that season. The ’56 Packers were not very good, ranking last in both points and yards allowed, and last in rushing attempts, too.

The table below shows the top 300 seasons (minimum 7 games started) in terms of pass attempts relative to league average. You can use the search function to see that Rote’s season in 1954 with Green Bay also makes the cut. To explain what’s in the table below, let’s use season #15 on the list, Shane Matthews in 1999, as an example. That year, Matthews started 7 games, but in those games, the Bears averaged an incredible 47.1 dropbacks per game, the second highest rate ever. Matthews shared some snaps with rookie Cade McNown that year, so you wouldn’t know it just by looking at Matthews’ raw numbers, but the ’99 Bears were insanely pass-happy under Gary Crowton. The league average was 36.3 dropbacks per game, so the Bears in “Matthews games” were 10.8 attempts above average, and 129.8% above league average. [click to continue…]

{ 6 comments }

Let’s take a look at the league average dropbacks (pass attempts + sacks) per game for each year from 1950 to 2014.

dropback per game [click to continue…]

{ 23 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


I’ve been studying NFL history my whole life, but until this year, I never published my list of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. This is the final installment in an eight-part series, so let’s review the list thus far.

The best pre-Modern Era quarterbacks: Sammy Baugh, Dutch Clark, Ed Danowski, Paddy Driscoll, Benny Friedman, Arnie Herber, Cecil Isbell, Sid Luckman, Bernie Masterson, Ace Parker, and Bob Waterfield. [click to continue…]

{ 484 comments }

A couple of years ago on the July 4th holiday, I looked at each team’s franchise nemesis in a number of statistics. Let’s revisit that, beginning today with passing yards and passing touchdowns.

You won’t be surprised to know that John Elway has thrown for more yards against the Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders, and Seahawks — his four division rivals — than any other player has gained against those four teams. Similarly, Dan Marino has thrown for more yards against the Bills, Jets, Patriots, and Colts than any other quarterback. Brett Favre threw for more yards than anyone else against the Lions, Bears, and Vikings (but not the Bucs), and Peyton Manning is the top nemesis for the Oilers/Titans franchise, the Jaguars, and the Texans.

Drew Brees is the big enemy of the Bucs, Panthers, and Falcons, while Ben Roethlisberger is the top passer against the Ravens, Bengals, and Browns. Perhaps more surprising is that Eli Manning has already thrown for more yards against Philadelphia, Washington, and Dallas than any other quarterback: that’s particularly surprising since he wasn’t #1 against any of those teams two years ago.

One that always kind of surprises me is seeing Johnny Unitas as number 1 against the 49ers, but it does make some sense. My guess is you could win quite a few bar bets with that one. Here’s the full list, which includes all passing yards thrown by each quarterback against each of the 32 teams (and includes playoff games): [click to continue…]

{ 9 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


This week, I’m profiling the players who rank 6-10 on my list, counting down toward number one. Please note: at this point, we’re talking about the best of the best QBs. When I mention a player’s weaknesses, I’m not trying to insult him, just explaining why he doesn’t rate even higher.

10. Roger Staubach
Dallas Cowboys, 1969-79
22,700 yards, 153 TD, 109 INT, 83.4 rating

Roger Staubach was the best quarterback of the 1970s. He led all passers in rating and in TD/INT differential (+45), the latter nearly doubling a second-place tie between Fran Tarkenton and Kenny Anderson (+24). Despite playing only eight full seasons, Staubach also ranked among the top three QBs of the ’70s in both passing yards and rushing yards. He was the first-team QB on the NFL’s All-1970s Team.

Staubach’s statistics are exceptional. He led the league in passer rating four times, and retired with the highest rating in NFL history. Staubach was distinguished by his combination of short-range and downfield accuracy. Throwing underneath, he hit the receiver in stride, but he was also a great downfield passer. A dangerous dual-threat, Staubach was also known for his running, an ability that earned him the nickname “Roger the Dodger.” Staubach rushed for 2,204 yards and 19 TDs, ranking among the top 10 rushing QBs every full season of his career. [click to continue…]

{ 187 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


This week, I’m profiling the players who rank 11-20 on my list, counting down toward number one. Please note: at this point, we’re talking about the best of the best QBs. When I mention a player’s weaknesses, I’m not trying to insult him, just explaining why he doesn’t rate even higher.

20. Y.A. Tittle
Baltimore Colts, 1948-50; San Francisco 49ers, 1951-60; New York Giants, 1961-64
33,070 yards, 242 TD, 248 INT, 74.3 rating

Y.A. Tittle retired as the all-time leader in passing yards and passing TDs. Those are holy marks, passed from Tittle to Johnny Unitas, then to Fran Tarkenton and Dan Marino, on to Brett Favre and now on their way to Peyton Manning. Tittle led the NFL in passing touchdowns three times — including 36 in 1963, a record that lasted more than 20 years. [click to continue…]

{ 76 comments }

Three years ago on Father’s Day, I posted a trivia question about the first quarterback to get to 100 losses. I won’t spoil that for new readers, and older readers have bad memories so you can try your hand at that trivia question again.

Today, a different trivia question: Who was the first quarterback to get to 100 wins?

Trivia hint 1 Show


Trivia hint 2 Show


Trivia hint 3 Show


Click 'Show' for the Answer Show

Unitas was the career record holder for about nine years. Then, on October 1st, 1978, Fran Tarkenton and the Vikings beat the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. That marked the 119th victory of Tarkenton’s career, breaking the tie with Unitas set one week earlier. Tarkenton would win five more games in ’78, his final season in the NFL.

Tarkenton was the NFL’s winningest quarterback for 18 years. On December 1st, 1996, John Elway and the Broncos crushed the Seahawks, 34-7. In the process, Elway picked up his 125th career victory. When he set the record, Elway held only a narrow lead in the wins department over Dan Marino. But the ’97 and ’98 seasons were good to him, and Elway retired with 148 career wins. Marino played for one more year, but retired one shy, with 147 career wins.

Elway held the record for just over ten years. That was until Brett Favre, in a 35-13 win over the Giants, won his 149th career game.

Favre retired with 186 wins. And right now, Peyton Manning enters the 2015 season with 178 wins. It would be a surprise if Manning doesn’t edge out Favre this season, which would make Favre — at 8 years — the man who held the title of ‘winningest quarterback’ for the shortest amount of time. How long will Manning hold the record? That will depend on Tom Brady, who has 160 wins. Will Brady play long enough to eclipse Manning? Whichever of the two winds up on top will hold the record for the foreseeable future, especially if they extend it out to 200 wins.

{ 4 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. He’s contributed today’s guest post, and we thank him for that. This one is certainly thought-provoking.



I recently ranked Doug Flutie 31st among the greatest quarterbacks of all time, ahead of accomplished players like Kurt Warner, Boomer Esiason, and Ben Roethlisberger. Perhaps predictably, the unconventional ranking for Flutie generated questions, comments, and plain disagreement. I hope this follow-up will clear some of the confusion and help readers understand my reasoning.

I was attempting to rank the greatest quarterbacks ever — not just the best NFL quarterbacks — and this was not a stat-based evaluation. Statistics play a large role in the assessment of players, but they do not form an exclusive basis for it. When I rated Flutie ahead of Warner and company, I wasn’t suggesting that he had a better NFL career than those players, just that he was a better quarterback.

Here’s a breakdown of Flutie’s career:

* New Jersey Generals, 1985 (USFL)
* Chicago Bears, 1986-87
* New England Patriots, 1987-89
* BC Lions, 1990-91 (CFL)
* Calgary Stampeders, 1992-95 (CFL)
* Toronto Argonauts, 1996-97 (CFL)
* Buffalo Bills, 1998-2000
* San Diego Chargers, 2001-04
* New England Patriots, 2005 [click to continue…]

{ 39 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


This week, I’m profiling the players who rank 21-30 on my list. The players are ranked in order, but please don’t read too much into that: I consider this a group of quarterbacks, all roughly the same level. If you’re outraged that #26 is higher than #29, you have my blessing to flip them.

30. John Brodie
San Francisco 49ers, 1957-73
31,548 yards, 214 TD, 224 INT, 72.3 rating
[click to continue…]

{ 115 comments }

There were 220 touchdown passes thrown during the 1950 season. Let’s break down who threw those scores into three categories:

  • 22 were thrown by players who were not playing professional football in 1949, including rookies like Tobin Rote and Adrian Burk.

Now, for some perspective, note that in 1949, there were 10 NFL teams and 7 AAFC teams.1 All else being equal, with just one merged league in 1950, you might expect the splits to be along the lines of 59% NFL, 41% AAFC. The above data looks as though this would support the widely-held notion that the NFL was the superior league.2 But if you dive a little bit deeper into the analysis, you get a slightly different picture: [click to continue…]

  1. Historians might recall that the AAFC was an 8-team league. That’s generally true, but the Brooklyn Dodgers merged with the New York Yankees prior to the ’49 season. And yes, both of those teams were AAFC teams, not MLB teams. []
  2. Although, frankly, I’m not even sure if this would support the case nearly as much as many would suggest, since discarding the AAFC entirely is acceptable to some observers. []
{ 7 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


This week, I’m profiling the players who rank about 30-40 on my list. The players are ranked in order, but please don’t read too much into that: I consider this a group of quarterbacks, all roughly the same level. If you’re furious that #34 is higher than #37, you have my blessing to flip them.

39. Steve McNair
Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Titans, 1995-2005; Baltimore Ravens, 2006-07
31,304 yards, 174 TD, 119 INT, 82.8 rating

Mark Brunell, Rich Gannon, Jeff Garcia, and Steve McNair all played in the late ’90s and early ’00s, with low INT rates and excellent running. They’re easy to compare. The stats below include sacks:

QuarterbackAttYdsTDINTRatingNY/ARushYdsTD
Brunell503029,67718410884.05.90513242115
Gannon450827,05418010484.76.00521244921
Garcia385724,5901618387.56.38468214026
McNair479829,73717411982.86.20669359037

McNair has the lowest passer rating, but the most net yards (33,327) and the most total touchdowns (211). He and Brunell had the most good seasons, he and Gannon were named NFL MVP, and McNair stands alone as a playmaking scrambler. Only five players in NFL history have 30,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards: John Elway, Donovan McNabb, Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young, and Steve McNair. As a dual-threat QB, McNair was one of the finest ever to play. His 64 rushing yards in Super Bowl XXXIV is the record for quarterbacks. [click to continue…]

{ 101 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5


This week, I’m profiling the players who rank about 40-48 on my list, in alphabetical order:

Charlie Conerly
New York Giants, 1948-61
19,488 yards, 173 TD, 167 INT, 68.2 rating

The hype was always there for Chuck Conerly. He was a star at Ole Miss, and he was the Giants’ quarterback when they were the only team in New York. Playing for a coaching staff that included Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi, alongside Hall of Fame players like Rosey Brown, Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Andy Robustelli, and Emlen Tunnell, Conerly was set up for success. The Giants were competitive every season, and they won an NFL championship in 1956. [click to continue…]

{ 16 comments }

Quarterback Rushing Data Since 1950

The 2007 season was the ultimate fantasy of the immobile quarterback lover. No quarterback rushed for 400 yards, after at least one quarterback did so in each of the ten prior seasons. Just as importantly, the top quarterbacks were all pocket passers: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Tony Romo (only 129 rushing yards that season), Brett Favre, Jon Kitna, Peyton Manning, Matt Hasselbeck, Derek Anderson, Jay Cutler, Kurt Warner, and Eli Manning were the top 12 leaders in passing yards. As a group, those dozen quarterbacks rushed for just 67 yards, led by Cutler’s staggering 205 rushing yards.

But it was only seven years earlier that the mobile quarterback wave was taking the NFL by storm. Six quarterbacks hit the 400-yard rushing mark: Donovan McNabb (629), Rich Gannon (529), Daunte Culpepper (470), Kordell Stewart (436), Jeff Garcia (414), and Steve McNair (403). Of the top ten leaders in passing yards, only Vinny Testaverde and Kerry Collins failed to rush for at least 100 yards, and the top 12 leaders in passing yards rushed for an average of 236 yards.

Since 2012, the mobile quarterback has re-emerged. So how do we test how much each quarterback has run since 1950? Here’s what I did. [click to continue…]

{ 5 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5



I’ve been studying NFL history throughout my life. It’s a journey that began the first time I watched my dad’s copy of NFL’s Greatest Hits on VHS, accelerating when I read Total Football II, and continuing when I began sportswriting over a decade ago.

Something I’ve never done is publish my list of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. I’m finally stepping into the ring. But because I’ve done so much research over the years, this is not a simple list. Instead, I’ll present my choices as a series of articles, highlighting about 10 players per list, and counting down to number one. We began last week, with quarterbacks who preceded the Modern Era, like Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman. [click to continue…]

{ 49 comments }

You remember 2012, don’t you? Among quarterbacks with 200 pass attempts, Colin Kaepernick ranked 2nd in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, RG3 ranked 4th, and Cam Newton ranked a respectable 11th. The young quarterbacks — Kaepernick and Griffin were in their first years as starters, while Newton was just 23 — seemed poised to take over the NFL. If they were this good in 2012, how good would they be in 2014?

As it turns out, not all young quarterbacks improve gradually with age. Some even take a step back. Or, in the case of these three, two steps back. Take a look at their respective ANY/A ratings in each of the past three seasons:

Quarterback201220132014
Colin Kaepernick7.556.655.58
Robert Griffin7.475.485.17
Cam Newton6.655.695.45

In terms of Relative ANY/A — that is, ANY/A minus league average — Kaepernick has fallen from +1.6 to +0.8 to -0.6. Newton has had a similar decline but just from a lower starting point, dropping from +0.7 to -0.2 to finally -0.7. Griffin, of course, has seen the most dramatic change, going from +1.5 to -0.4 to -1.0 last year.

Each player has his own story. RG3 was lights out as a rookie, then struggled in 2013 seemingly as a result of tearing his ACL in the 2012 playoffs, a breakdown in his relationship with the Shanaclan, and [insert your other favorite reason here]. His descent continued in 2014, and he frankly looked like a lost quarterback, with this play being perhaps the most damning example.

For Newton, the issue seems to be entirely about a decline in his supporting cast, along with injury issues in 2014. I’m not particularly worried about Newton, who almost seems to make the cut (you’ll see what I mean below) on a technicality. I have little doubt that a healthy Newton with an improved supporting cast — you know, if we ever see that1 — would be a very productive quarterback. Kaepernick, to me, is the real wild card.

Kaepernick’s RANY/A dropped by 0.84 from 2012 to 2013, and then by 1.34 from 2013 to 2014.2 Which made me wonder: how often does a quarterback who is still in his 20s see a decline in RANY/A of at least 0.5 in consecutive years?

Since 1970, it has happened just 19 times, with Kaepernick, Newton, and Griffin being the most recent three. Newton and Griffin are also two of the three youngest, while Kaepernick is more in the middle of things (he was a sneaky old 27 in 2014).3 So what happened to the first 16?

Six of them did not retain their jobs, and you can read about them in this footnote.4 What about the other 10?

QuarterbackYear NTmYr N AgeYr N-2 RANY/AYr N-1 RANY/AYr N RANY/AYr N+1 RANY/A
Colin Kaepernick2014SFO271.620.78-0.56
Cam Newton2014CAR250.72-0.18-0.69
Robert Griffin2014WAS241.53-0.39-0.97
Daunte Culpepper2002MIN252.070.12-0.431.49
Dave Krieg1985SEA271.140.61-0.081.30
Neil O'Donnell1994PIT280.790.28-0.321.24
Neil Lomax1986STL271.690.01-0.890.79
Jim Everett1991RAM281.910.68-0.270.60
Ken O'Brien1987NYJ271.740.670.00-0.06
Jon Kitna2001CIN/SEA290.30-0.78-1.43-0.08
Boomer Esiason1990CIN292.771.480.07-0.09
Trent Dilfer1999TAM5270.30-0.26-0.90-0.74
Mark Malone1987PIT6290.46-0.76-2.19-1.21
Average1.320.20-0.640.32

There are some promising stories in here. Daunte Culpepper was great at age 23, decliend at age 24, was even worse at age 25, and then was great at age 26 and had a career year at age 27.

Dave Krieg had great efficiency numbers at age 25, pretty good (but worse) ones at age 26, and then struggled at age 27. But at age 28 he had a great season, and he had a great 9-game year at age 30.

Neil O’Donnell was a Pro Bowler in his first full year as a starter at age 26, but took steps backwards at ages 27 and 28. Then, at age 29, he had a career year and made it to the Super Bowl.

Neil Lomax was outstanding at age 25, then had RG3-like slides at ages 26 and 27. Then, at age 28, he had another great season, and followed it up with a great performance at age 29, too.

Jim Everett also took an RG3-like slide: he was unreal at age 26, but below average by age 28. He rebounded at age 29 and was above average during his age 31 and 32 seasons, too.

Ken O’Brien was lights out at age 25, worse at age 26, and then average at age 27. The age 25 year (1985) looks like the outlier, though: he stayed as a roughly league average quarterback from ages 28 through 31.

Jon Kitna looked completely washed up at age 29, but he rebounded with two solid statistical years at ages 30 and 31.

Boomer Esiason was the NFL MVP at age 27, still very good at age 28, and then just average at age 29. He had one more average year, then struggled at age 31 in his final year in Cincinnati, before a mini-resurrection with the Jets.

Trent Dilfer showed steadily decline from ages 25 to 27 during his final three years in Tampa Bay before… not really improving during his first year in Baltimore, despite you know, winning a Super Bowl. He did put up some impressive efficiency numbers over the next couple of seasons in part-time duty, however.

Mark Malone is an example of things not getting much better, but even he still rebounded at age 30 after declining at ages 28 and 29.

So What Does This Post Mean?

Well, let’s start with the obvious: it’s not common for a young quarterback to take consecutive steps backwards, and we have three of them that have done so since 2012. Kaepernick, at least to me, is the most intriguing of the bunch, as it’s harder (at least for me) to really understand what’s going on there. I have a pretty good idea of where Newton’s career is headed, and Griffin seems destined for failure in Washington (and perhaps beyond), while Kaepernick truly appears to be at a crossroads.

The table above presents overwhelmingly positive news if you are a 49ers fan. Could Kaepernick have a revival the way Culpepper did in 2003 and 2004? Could he turn into an above-average quarterback like Lomax or Everett? Eight of the ten quarterbacks who had declines like Kaepernick bounced back the following year. That’s promising.

Of course, it doesn’t mean all that much, either. Kaepernick is an individual, not an amalgamation of historical figures. And his struggles in San Francisco last year were very real, and didn’t appear to be a product of a poor supporting cast. And it’s not as though most of the news for the 49ers has been very positive this offseason, either.

But I guess if there’s one takeaway from this post, it’s this: even if a young quarterback struggles for a couple of years, the odds are in his favor that he’ll bounce back. For Newton, that seems like a safe bet. For Griffin, his ANY/A was so poor that an improvement seems very likely, too. For Kaepernick, the 2015 season looks like a real tipping point in his career, and one I can’t quite get a read on just yet.

  1. Carolina’s projected 2015 offensive line, from left to right: Michael Oher, who may be the worst starting left tackle in the NFL; Andrew Norwell, an undrafted free agent who was a rookie last year; Ryan Kalil, a Pro Bowl center; Trai Turner, a third round pick in 2014; and Mike Remmers, an undrafted free agent in 2012 who has been on six teams so far. At wide receiver, the Panthers have Kelvin Benjamin, who was tied for 2nd in the NFL in drops last year; Jerricho Cotchery, whom the Jets released in 2010 because he looked washed up; Ted Ginn, Jr., who had 14 catches last year; and second round rookie Devin Funchess. []
  2. The NFL ANY/A decreased slightly from 2012 to 2013, but then jumped by 0.26 last year, which is why you might not have noticed the true impact of the declines of Newton and Kaepernick based on just their raw numbers. []
  3. Note that Jon Kitna is the only one of the players on the list to switch teams, moving from the Seahawks to the Bengals. []
  4. Aaron Brooks declined with New Orleans from 2003 to 2005, and then joined the Raiders. He was an even bigger disaster there: he failed to reach 200 pass attempts, but produced career-low numbers and never played again in the NFL after 2006. Don Majkowski and his numbers dropped off with the Packers from ’89 to ’90 and then from ’90 to ’91; he entered ’92 as the starter, but was hurt early in the third game. That allowed Brett Favre to take the job and never look back. The Packers quarterback before the Majik Man also made the cut: Randy Wright saw his RANY/A drop off from ’86 to ’87 and then ’87 to ’88; he never played again in the NFL.

    Steve Grogan saw relatively modest drop offs in his RANY/A from ’79 to ’81; due to the strike and missing three games, he did not hit the 200 attempt cut-off in ’82, but he posted career-high efficiency numbers in ’82 and ’83. He’s our first success story. Pat Haden was excellent in 1977, declined in ’78, and then struggled at quarterback with the Rams in 1979; he lost the job to Vince Ferragamo, but after the ’80 season, Ferragamo went north to Canada. Haden played again in ’81, but posted career-low numbers. Haden started at least half his team’s games in five seasons, and incredibly, his ANY/A decreased in each year. And finally, Archie Manning saw his RANY/A drop from -0.1 in ’73 to -1.6 in ’74 and bottom out to -2.7 in ’75. He then missed all of ’76 due to shoulder surgery, but would turn in the best seasons of his career beginning in the late ’70s. He’s another promising sign, perhaps for Newton in particular, since both have been plagued with weak supporting casts. []

  5. Was on Baltimore in Year N+1. []
  6. Was on San Diego in Year N+1. []
{ 6 comments }

Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. You may recall that in April, he gave us a sneak peak at some quarterback rankings. Today, we begin seeing the words behind those numbers, starting with the pre-modern era quarterbacks.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5



I’ve been studying NFL history throughout my adult life. It’s a journey that began the first time I watched my dad’s copy of NFL’s Greatest Hits on VHS, accelerating when I read Total Football II, and continuing when I began sportswriting over a decade ago.

Something I’ve never done is to publish my list of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Sparked by Adam Steele’s crowd-sourcing project here at Football Perspective, I’m finally stepping into the ring. But because I’ve done so much research over the years, this is not a simple list. Instead, I’ll present my choices as a series of articles, highlighting about 10 players per list, and counting down to number one. [click to continue…]

{ 16 comments }

Quarterback Heat Maps

Since my running back heat maps post was so popular, I thought it made sense to perform the same analysis for quarterbacks. So here’s what I did. And as a reminder, BLUE means GOOD or above-average, while RED means BAD, or below-average.

I looked at all quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks (i.e., pass attempts + sacks) in 2014, and then measured on what percent of their dropbacks did each quarterback gain at least 0 yards1, at least 1 yard2, at least 2 yards, etc., up to 10 yards. I also calculated the percentage of runs that went for at least 15+, 20+, 25+, and 30+ yards. [click to continue…]

  1. This is essentially a proxy for percentage of times the quarterback wasn’t sacked. []
  2. This is a decent proxy for completion percentage, or, frankly, an improvement on completion percentage. []
{ 6 comments }

Previously on “take away his X [best/worst]” plays:

In April, I noted that you would need to take away Peyton Manning’s best 19 passes in order to bring his stellar Net Yards per Attempt average to below league average. Today, we look at the reverse question: How many of Derek Carr’s worst dropbacks would we need to erase to bring his NY/A above league average? I’ll give you a moment to think about the answer. [click to continue…]

{ 8 comments }

In 2002, Rich Gannon, a former 4th round pick, led the NFL in passing yards. That year, Tom Brady (6th round), Trent Green (8th round), Aaron Brooks (4th round), and Jeff Garcia (undrafted) were in the top 11 in passing yards, while Jon Kitna (undrafted), Matt Hasselbeck (6th), and Brad Johnson (9th) all gained at least 3,000 passing yards, too.  You can find all that information here.  So in a year where only 17 quarterbacks threw for 3,000 yards, nearly half of them were drafted in the 4th round or later.

Ten years later, the quarterback landscape was very different. Other than Tony Romo, Brady, and Matt Schaub, all of the top 17 leaders in passing yards were drafted inside the top 35. Last year, Brady, Romo, and Russell Wilson were the only quarterbacks in the top 20 in passing yards not taken inside the first 36 picks (#36 was the draft slot for both Bay area quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick and Derek Carr).

But those are just three isolated years.  How does the trend look over time? Here’s what I did.

1) Convert each player’s draft pick selection to its draft value.

2) For each player with passing yards in a season since 1970, calculate their percentage of league-wide total passing yards.

3) Multiply that number by each player’s draft value. Then sum those values to get a weighted-average of the draft value for each quarterback.

Here are the results: the number on the Y-Axis may not mean much to you in the abstract (it’s the weighted average draft value), but it’s the shape of the curve that’s important.

draft val QBs

As a general rule, the modern passing attack barely resembles what was going on in the early ’70s, but there is at least one exception: an emphasis on quarterbacks that were highly drafted.  For example, an overwhelming number of early draft picks are at the top of the passing charts from 19721  That trend didn’t hold for very long, though.  Then, in the early ’90s, things peaked again for highly drafted quarterback.  In 1994, five of the top seven passers were former top 3 picks, with the other two going in the top 33 selections.

My hunch is that this trend is going to stick around this time: once Brady and Romo retire, there may not be much out there other than Wilson (and perhaps Nick Foles) when it comes to quarterbacks drafted outside of the top 40.  This year, Buffalo, Houston, and Cleveland may be going with quarterbacks that were not highly drafted, but those appear to be short-term solutions, anyway.   And, at least for 2015, we have four top-2 picks that should boost the average. Carson Palmer should be back in Arizona after starting just 6 games last year, while Sam Bradford is a projected starter after missing all of 2014.  And we should also see Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota helping to bring up last year’s average.

  1. Note that for players who went in both the AFL and NFL drafts, I assigned the better pick to them. []
{ 6 comments }

Yesterday, I was a guest on the Wharton Moneyball show on SiriusXM Channel 111 (@BizRadio111), discussing the NFL draft. As always, it was a lot of fun, but the hosts threw me a curveball in the final seconds:

Which will produce the best quarterback from the 2015 Draft — the Jameis Winston/Marcus Mariota group, or the field?

Now I am quite familiar with the value of taking the field in these sort of bets. We are prone to being overconfident in our ability to predict things, especially when it comes to the NFL Draft. But I still said I’d take Winston/Mariota and leave you with everyone else, and be reasonably confident that I would end up with the draft’s best quarterback.

But am I right? How far down the quarterback slots do you have to go in the average draft to find the best QB? Would taking the top two generally be enough?

This is, of course, a question without a clear answer because there is no objective answer to the question “who was the best quarterback in the [__] Draft?” It’s much too early to grade the 2013 or 2014 drafts, and you will get no shortage of debate as to whether Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson is the best quarterback from the 2012 draft. In 2011, Cam Newton was the first overall pick, but Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick were the 5th and 6th quarterbacks taken.

In 2010, Sam Bradford does appear to have been the best quarterback from that draft, and should be remembered that way absent Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, or Jimmy Clausen having a magical career turnaround.

In 2009, getting the top two quarterbacks would give you Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, while the field would give you…. Josh Freeman and Curtis Painter.

In 2008, the top two quarterbacks were Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. The book is not yet written on which one of them will be remembered as the best, but we can say that both will wind up being better than the field of Chad Henne, Matt Flynn, and Josh Johnson.

In 2007, the quarterback class was… ugly. The top guy will probably go down as one of Trent Edwards (most starts, most wins, most yards), Kevin Kolb (a positive TD/INT ratio!), or Drew Stanton (highest ANY/A but only 12 starts). Although for our purposes, we don’t need to finely split hairs. That’s because it’s clear the top quarterback was not JaMarcus Russell or Brady Quinn, the top two quarterbacks in that draft. Score one for the field.

Say what you want about Jay Cutler, but he was the clear top quarterback of 2006. In fact, he has thrown for more touchdowns than the rest of the class combined! As the 11th overall pick, he doesn’t quite meet the spirit of today’s question, but he is part of the field technically. That’s because Vince Young and Matt Leinart were the 3rd and 10th selections.

We need not spend much time on 2005. It was Aaron Rodgers, the second quarterback selected. Although Rodgers was much closer to the field (Jason Campbell was taken 25th overall, one pick after Rodgers) than being the first pick (Alex Smith).

For 2004, we can at least ignore the pretend Eli Manning/Philip Rivers debate, but that doesn’t help us when Ben Roethlisberger is in the mix, too. Call this one a push between top 2 and the field.

In 2003, it’s easy: it was Carson Palmer, the first overall pick. Nobody else comes close. Well, I guess that depends how you define class: Tony Romo went undrafted that year. Does the field include undrafted quarterbacks?

In 2002, not only is the answer David Garrard, but I think it’s Garrard by a wide margin. Garrard had a winning record, the most yards, the most TDs, and the best ANY/A out of the group with him, Patrick Ramsey, Josh McCown, and the first and third overall picks: David Carr and Joey Harrington. Score another one for the field.

In 2001, it’s Drew Brees, who was the second quarterback selected, albeit 31 picks after Michael Vick.

For 2000, let’s put that one down for the field.

1999 isn’t particularly close: Donovan McNabb made six Pro Bowls and started for 11 years; Daunte Culpepper is the runner up with three and five, respectively. And we know about 1998. So that’s two more for the top two. [click to continue…]

{ 14 comments }

Bryan Frye, owner and operator of the great site nflsgreatest.co.nf, is back for another guest post. You can also view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link, and follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.


Last week, I posted a quarterback performance metric that accounts for both passing and rushing. The base stat, Total Adjusted Yards per Play, is easy to comprehend and easy to figure out yourself with basic box score data. My original post only included performance that occurred during or after the 2002 season, because I don’t have spike and kneel data going back further than that. For the sake of consistency, I wanted to maintain the same parameters when calculating career values.

Before we get into the tables, I’d like to first briefly talk about what these numbers are and what they are not.

The formula, in case you forgot: [click to continue…]

{ 22 comments }

Teams that select quarterbacks in the first round of the draft generally struggled in the passing department prior year, although not as much as you might think. On average, these teams1 had a Relative ANY/A of -0.71, meaning those teams were 0.71 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt below average. For reference, that’s right about where the 2014 Bears finished, and Chicago ranked 27th in the NFL in ANY/A last year.

There have been 91 teams that have selected a quarterback in the first round of the regular NFL Draft since 1970; the Tampa Bay Bucs are almost certainly going to be the 92nd.2 Every once in awhile, a good passing team will dip its toes into the quarterback waters and select a passer in the first round. Over this time period, there have been eight teams that had a RANY/A of at least +1.0 and then selected a quarterback in the draft.

The 2005 Packers are not that team. In ’04, Green Bay behind Brett Favre had a RANY/A of +1.42, which didn’t stop the franchise from drafting Aaron Rodgers in the first round in the following draft. But there are four other teams that had an even better RANY/A the year before selecting a quarterback in the first round during this period. Can you name the team with the best RANY/A? [click to continue…]

  1. Since 1970, excluding quarterbacks taken in the supplemental draft, and including the 2015 Bucs. []
  2. Note: Kerry Collins, Tim Couch, and David Carr all were drafted by expansion teams in the first round. These examples are being deliberately excluded in this analysis. []
{ 1 comment }

Bryan Frye, owner and operator of the great site nflsgreatest.co.nf, is back for another guest post. You can also view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link, and follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.



I spent a few weeks this offseason parsing out quarterback spike and kneel numbers from post-2002 play by play data. Chase published the findings, which I believe are a useful resource when trying to assess a QB’s stats.1 Since I have the data available, I thought it would be good to use it.

Regular readers know Chase uses Adjusted Net Yards per pass Attempt as the primary stat for measuring quarterback performance.2 I am going to do something similar, but I am going to incorporate rushing contribution as well. This is something Chase talked about doing awhile ago, but we didn’t have the kneel or spike data available.3 I’ll call the end product Total Adjusted Yards per Play (TAY/P). The formula, for those curious:4

[Yards + Touchdowns*20 – Interceptions*45 – Fumbles*25 + First Downs*9] / Plays, where

Yards = pass yards + rush yards – sack yards + yards lost on kneels
Touchdowns = pass touchdowns + rush touchdowns
First Downs = (pass first downs + rush first downs) – touchdowns
Plays = pass attempts + sacks + rush attempts – spikes – kneels [click to continue…]

  1. For instance, 180 of Peyton Manning’s 303 rush attempts since 2002 have been kneels. He has lost 185 yard on those plays. Why in the world should we include those in his total output? Similarly, Ben Roethlisberger has spiked the ball 44 times, by far the most in the league since 2002. Why count those 44 “incomplete passes” in his completion rate? []
  2. It’s not perfect, but it’s at least easy to understand and calculate, and is not proprietary like DVOA, ESPN’s QBR, or PFF’s quarterback grades. []
  3. For another thing Chase wrote on combining rushing and passing data — while (gasp) analyzing Tim Tebow — click here. []
  4. I use 25 as the modifier for fumbles based on the idea that a QB fumble is worth roughly -50 yards, and fumble recovery is a 50/50 proposition. []
{ 35 comments }

Quarterback Trivia: Going 1-2 in the NFL Draft

It seems likely that Florida State’s Jameis Winston will be the first pick in the 2015 Draft. And if he isn’t the first pick, that will probably be because Oregon’s Marcus Mariota went first overall.

It’s been three years since Andrew Luck and RG3 went 1-2 at the top of the draft; in fact, Luck is the last quarterback to go first overall, with Jadeveon Clowney and Eric Fisher being selected at the top of the last two drafts. The graph below shows what draft pick was used on the first (in blue) and second (in red) quarterbacks drafted in each year since 1967. [click to continue…]

{ 7 comments }
Previous Posts