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Terry Bradshaw finished his career with 212 touchdowns, 210 interceptions and a 70.9 passer rating. Kurt Warner threw 208 touchdowns against only 128 interceptions, and his 93.7 passer rating ranks 8th in NFL history and 2nd among retired players. But Bradshaw played from 1970 to 1982, while Warner played from 1998 to 2009. As a result, comparing their raw statistics holds very little meaning. Comparing across eras is very challenging, but not impossible. And in this case, once you place the numbers in the proper context, Bradshaw’s numbers were arguably more impressive than Warner’s numbers.

Let’s start with Bradshaw and begin by looking at his Relative ANY/A for each year of his career. For new readers, ANY/A stands for Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, defined as

(Gross Pass Yards + 20 * PTDs – 45 * INTs – Sack Yds)/(Attempts + Sacks)

Relative ANY/A simply compares a quarterback’s ANY/A average to league average, a necessary element when comparing quarterbacks across eras. In the graph below, the size of the bubble corresponds to how many attempts Bradshaw had in each season, while the Y-Axis shows Bradshaw’s Relative ANY/A (by definition, 0 is equal to league average).  The graph shows a clear story: for the first five years of his career, Bradshaw was a below-average quarterback, but over the rest of his career, he was one of the best in football. His best year came in 1978 when Bradshaw finished with a RANY/A of +2.0, which was the third best mark in football (only a hair behind Roger Staubach and Dan Fouts). Those stats, combined with a 14-2 record, led to Bradshaw being named the AP’s MVP that season.

Bradshaw career

Now, let’s do the same for Warner. We can see that he had several years with low pass attempts numbers — mainly 1998, 2003, and 2006 — but what really stands out is the odd shape of his career.  His best RANY/A years were his first, as the chief executive officer of the Greatest Show on Turf.  But from 2002 to 2006, Warner never started more than 10 games in a season (due to injuries, Eli Manning, and Matt Leinart), although his RANY/A was good the last three of those seasons.  Later on, like Bradshaw, Warner retired while still being a solidly above-average passer.

warner career

The reason to use RANY/A and not ANY/A is that by adjusting for era, we can compare apples to apples. So let’s combine our two bubble graphs and look at Warner’s and Bradshaw’s careers together, with the X-Axis now showing “year of career” instead of simply year.

Warner Bradshaw comparison

Early on, Warner was the much better passer, but that edge doesn’t hold up for very long. Once we move past Warner’s scorched-earth GSOT days — where, admittedly, Bradshaw simply can’t compare — the old Steelers quarterback holds the edge for the remainder of their two careers.

After the era adjustment, Warner still holds an edge due to his run from 1999-2001 but there are other adjustments to be made. Consider that Warner played nearly his entire career in the NFC West when that division was one of the worst in football. As we’ll soon see, a strength-of-schedule adjustment will narrow the gap between these two quarterbacks.

But first, I’m going to make another adjustment that will put Bradshaw in a more positive light. I’m going to exclude his horrendous rookie season, which drags down his career averages considerably. Is that fair? I leave that up to the reader to decide. Bradshaw was the number one overall pick in the draft, while Warner went undrafted in 1994, was cut from Packers camp that same year, played in the Arena Football League for four seasons, and made it on to the 1998 Rams as the third stringer. In that context, I think it’s fair to give Bradshaw a pass for miserable stats at age 22 when he was handed the starting job even though he clearly wasn’t ready to play, since Warner’s career stats don’t reflect his level of play at a young age.

Like all players, Bradshaw's performance must be judged in the proper context

Like all players, Bradshaw's performance must be judged in the proper context.

Now, on to the strength of schedule adjustment. We can compare schedules, but the easier method is actually to combine the era and schedule adjustment in one step by simply looking at the average defense each passer faced. In Warner’s 12 seasons, his average opponent (weighted for the number of pass attempts thrown by Warner) allowed 6.54 AY/A1, while Warner averaged 7.55 AY/A; this means Warner was 1.02 AY/A better than average over the course of his career. For Bradshaw, he averaged 6.06 AY/A in his final twelve seasons while facing opponents that allowed, on average, 5.43 AY/A; this gives Bradshaw a grade of +0.64 AY/A. (For those curious, the “league average” AY/A during the Bradshaw years (weighted by the number of attempts he threw in each season) was 5.37, meaning Bradshaw faced a slightly easier than average schedule; for Warner, it was 6.26, meaning he faced a much easier schedule.)

So after adjusting for strength of schedule and era (and removing Bradshaw’s rookie year), we get a much different picture. Remember, the raw stats show that Warner had a career 7.55 AY/A average, while Bradshaw was at just 5.83, which results in a large difference of 1.72 Adjusted Yards per Attempt. But after these adjustments, Warner comes out as just 0.38 AY/A ahead of Bradshaw. We can quantify exactly how much of that gap was closed by each adjustment: most of it comes from the era adjustment (+0.89), with the rest split between eliminating 1970 from Bradshaw’s line (+0.22), and the SOS adjustment (+0.23).

But we’re not done yet. We have acknowledged that Warner played in a much more pass-friendly environment, that he wasn’t put on the field as an unprepared 22-year-old, and that he had an easier schedule. But Warner also benefited from playing the majority of his games in a dome or in Arizona’s retractable-roof facility. I looked at Warner’s and Bradshaw’s statistics in dome games, in outdoor games, and in games with half-domes or retractable roofs (for Bradshaw, this consists of two games in Dallas; for Warner, it’s his games in University of Phoenix Stadium, and one game each in Dallas and Houston). Here’s how to read the table below. For Warner, he had 1,246 regular season pass attempts in domes. His Expected AY/A based on the defenses he faced was 6.84 (this is the combined SOS/era adjustment), while he actually averaged 8.98 AY/A. Therefore, in dome games, Warner averaged 2.14 AY/A over expectation.

QBStadiumAttExp AY/AAct AY/ADiff

Warner was much, much better in dome games than he was outside, and that must be part of the discussion when comparing him to a player like Bradshaw. Now remember — and this is something the Peyton Manning detractors often forget — the numbers here overstate the advantage Warner gained from playing in a dome. That’s because nearly all of his outdoor games were road games (and most of his dome games were home games), where we would expect his AY/A be lower. And we must remember that most of Warner’s dome games came when he had the best supporting cast of his career, so the high average in dome games is largely a result of having Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace, and the rest of the one of the most talent-rich offenses ever. So it would be wrong to look at this table and say playing in a dome made Warner. For Bradshaw, his performance in dome games all came on the road, of course, with the vast majority coming in the Astrodome against the Oilers. But in outdoors games, he provided +0.85 AY/A better than expectation.

So where does this leave us? It’s up to the reader to decide which is more impressive: being +1.02 AY/A better than average with 47% of your passes coming outdoors, or +0.64 AY/A better than average with 90% of your passes coming outdoors. Certainly some penalty must be given to Warner since his numbers came in friendly environments and he was far from dominant in outdoor games. One must also remember that Bradshaw wasn’t just playing outdoors: a fair number of his games were in cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Cincinnati in November and December, which probably provided worse conditions than the average Warner outdoors game, too.

For me, the journey here is more important than the destination. On the surface, Warner’s career stats look significantly better than Bradshaw’s. But the entire point of the analytics movement is to put statistics in proper perspective. After adjusting for era, strength of schedule, different career arcs, and weather, we can see that their numbers look very similar. And honestly, that’s how it should be, since we’re talking about two Hall of Fame caliber quarterbacks. Much of football analytics can be shortened to “putting everyone on the same playing field.” The idea that analytics can’t solve everything is true, but this is still a much better method of comparing quarterbacks than simply throwing out the stats because you can’t judge quarterbacks from different eras.

We must also remember that determining which quarterback was better involves a different level of discussion than what is in today’s post, where I simply compared their statistics in the proper light. In a broader debate, you’d also want to include playoff performances. In this regard, both were outstanding: I ranked Bradshaw number two and Warner number four on my Super Bowl era list of best playoff passers. You’d also want to take into account the supporting cast of both players, although again, both have similar arguments here. Bradshaw had Hall of Fame caliber receivers in Lynn Swann and John Stallworth; Warner had that in St. Louis (Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt) and in Arizona (Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald). I encourage you to discuss in the comments which quarterback you think was better, along with your thoughts on this method of analysis.

  1. Note that I am now using Adjusted Yards per Attempt instead of ANY/A, as we don’t have reliable game-by-game sack data going back to 1970.  This is not a big issue, in my view, since the players had similar (era-adjusted) sack numbers. To the extent it is an issue, it’s to Bradshaw’s detriment, as he was slightly better at avoiding sacks. []
  • Red

    Interesting stuff, Chase.

    Has there ever been a comprehensive study of weather effects on passing stats? I remember on the PFR blog, someone concluded that domes inflate Y/A by 0.4, and cold supresses Y/A by 0.6, but those were very rough estimates. Now that you have more detailed historical weather data, it would be illuminating to see a more thorough study, especially in regard to the often overlooked effects of wind.

    There is one factor you left out that would help Warner: he threw more passes per game than Bradshaw, and those extra passes probably came in less favorable game situations. Bradshaw was backed by the Steel Curtain for much of his career, so he rarely had to force passes while playing from behind, or take many risks to keep up in shootouts. He benefitted from a top 5 scoring defense in SEVEN different seasons, and his worst defense ranked 17th. Conversely, Warner was shackled with some pretty awful defenses, which probably led him to throwing more INT’s than he would have otherwise. In 2000, he threw 18 picks in 11 games, but his Rams allowed 471 points, worst in the league. In 2007, his Cards allowed 399 points, 27th in the league. In the 2008 SB year, they coughed up 426 points, 28th in the NFL.

    I believe Warner was the better player. The era/schedule/weather factors narrow the gap considerably, but Warner did more to carry his teams than Bradshaw. Plus, his three year peak was so dominant that IMO it outweighs five or six very good years from Bradshaw.

    • James

      Sounds like we need a game script adjustment! Chase, I expect you’ll get right on that. =)

      • Chase Stuart

        Heh, coming up with Game Script numbers for all QBs is a good offseason project.

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks, Red. Glad you enjoyed. And yes, more detailed weather effects articles are coming.

      You bring up a good point re: volume. I was focused on efficiency, but yes, Warner deserves some credit for that. But we must remember that part of the reason for Bradshaw’s lower volume was the era and the better defense he had, so we can’t go overboard. From a game script perspective, we simply wouldn’t expect an efficient quarterback with a great defense and great running game to throw a ton of passes, and that’s what Bradshaw was for several years.

      (To your point about the efficiency numbers being biased against Warner because of his bad defense… well, I understand your point, but I think that one is tough to prove empirically. I haven’t seen proof that having a bad defense leads to worse efficiency numbers.)

    • Richie

      Has there ever been a comprehensive study of weather effects on passing stats?

      I was going to ask the same question. There is always an assumption that playing a game in Cleveland in December makes passing harder. But is it true, and to what degree?

      I don’t think there are as many bad weather games played as we assume, and sometimes QB’s have big passing games in the bad weather games anyway.

    • Wil Masisak

      I think the narrative that Bradshaw was carried by a great defense is common, but the facts don’t really support that argument. After Joe Greene suffered a career-altering neck injury in 1976, and injuries took a big toll on defensive starters, the Steelers morphed from being a team that was winning from dominating defense (1975) to a balanced team (1976) to an offensive juggernaut with a rebuilt D in 1977-80. I saw every snap the team played during that era, and there is no doubt that Bradshaw carried that team from being a great team to being a dynastic championship team. He never would have gotten there without Joe Greene-Mel Blount-Lambert-Ham-Greenwood-Shell, but they win 1 or maybe 2 without Bradshaw elevating the team. Don’t forget that they rivaled for championships with two other juggernauts (Dallas & Oakland) in a division with strong rivals, including a potential champion Houston, that just had the misfortune of playing the Steelers 2 or 3 times per year. Passer rating is never going to show what Bradshaw meant; that era viewed INTs as acceptable setbacks, not much different from how we now view punts today. The TDs were just so damn hard that the risks were worth it, if you could throw it downfield and lead to TDs.

  • Jp

    What program did you use to create the bubble plots?

    Great article. Much closer results than expected, which I suppose us the entire point, isn’t it?

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks, Jp. I simply used Excel 2010.

      Insert –> Other Charts –> Bubble –> then right click on the blank chart and click “select data” –> Add –> then input the X-values, Y-Values, and bubble size values.

      • Jonpaul

        Considering Bradshaw is in the Hall of Fame, and Warner will be eligible in two years, do you feel Warner will be elected (I see you describe him as “Hall of Fame caliber” above)?
        I think the general perception is that Bradshaw was enshrined largely because of his four Super Bowl titles. That he did play with one the best defensive teams annually is true, but your article does a nice job of elucidating his value as well.

        With that said, considering Warner certainly didn’t benefit from the same defensive consistency and excellence that Bradshaw did, yet still managed to appear in three Super Bowls, all of which were decided in the final minute, I think his Hall of Fame candidacy gains a measure of support in your article as well. Also, his setting the Super Bowl passing yards record successively in all three Super Bowls puts a feather in his cap the way Bradshaw’s strong Super Bowl performances in 1978 and 1975 (or 1979?) do for him.

        Just curious.

        • sacramento gold miners

          I’m a supporter of Kurt Warner for the HOF as well. But don’t know if passing yards in the Super Bowl is very significant. Warner’s turnovers played a role in those losses, and unlike Bradshaw, he wasn’t able to overcome those mistakes.

  • Quinton

    Can’t say I get too into “Which guy was better debates” especially when they are each as spectacular as Bradshaw and Warner but I do genuinely appreciate the respect this analysis gives Bradshaw. He’s a greatly under-appreciated player and I’m happy to find this analysis rewards him. Of course, that comment could just mean I have a terrible case of confirmation bias.

    Outside of statistical analysis, I think each guy was very well-suited to their era. Bradshaw’s size and arm strength matched up perfectly with what QBs of that time were asked to do (take punishment and throw deep). I think Warner would’ve still succeeded in the 70’s but his quick release and processing made him excellent for the Rams offense.

    I’ll also note 1978 was a year of significant rule changes making it easier for the passing game to succeed. The era adjustment captures this of course but I wonder if Bradshaw and Noll were able to incorporate those changes into the Steelers offense faster than other teams.

    Great stuff as always Chase!

    • mrh

      1978 saw the Steelers only average 3.6 yards per rushing attempt (23rd out of 28 teams), the weakest PIT rushing attack of Bradshaw’s career. That may have been a factor in Noll et al needing to rely more on Bradshaw, who was up to the task.

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks, Quinton. I agree that Bradshaw was well-suited for that era.

    • Tom

      Quinton – interesting you bring up the rules changes in 1978. In the Super Bowl that year, there was that controversial pass interference call on Benny Barnes when he collided with Lynn Swann…gave the Steelers 33 yards and a 1st-and-10 on the Dallas 10. Of course, this wasn’t “planned”, but it is interesting to think that maybe the call wouldn’t have been made without the rules changes.

      Chase (or anyone) – do QB’s get “credit” for yards gained on pass interference plays? Just curious…

      • Tom

        Correction – the play gave the Steelers the ball at the Dallas 23.

  • Michael

    Chase, will you be running another article on the greatest QB’s of all-time? Will you be adding opponent and weather adjustments to it? PFR has detailed weather stats so that could be incorporated somehow in the stats.

    • Chase Stuart

      Yes, both of those are on the offseason to-do list.

      • Wil Masisak

        Postseason comparisons, thank you in advance! 😉

  • James

    Simple process question: When you adjusted for defenses, did you remove the impact Warner’s and Bradshaw’s offenses had on those defenses’ AY/A?

    • Chase Stuart

      I did not. It would be better to do so, of course, but it didn’t seem worth the extra work.

  • mrh

    Great article. I wouldn’t throw out Bradshaw’s rookie numbers. I understand the reasoning, but Warner is “punished” in this comparison because it took until he was 27 for a coach to recognize his talent. Why shouldn’t Bradshaw be “punished” for a coach over-estimating his readiness while Warner is for coach(es) under-estimating his?

    A couple of other subjective factors that you could have considered (age and running game) might have added a bit to the Warner side of the ledger.

    Age – Both QB’s best years came roughly from age 27-30; I think both “broke out” at age 27 and both had one down season in those prime years. Warner continued to put up stellar numbers from age 36-38, when Bradshaw was retired. I’d suspect Warner’s age-adjusted performance might be very strong.

    Running game – the worst running game for a team QB’d by Bradshaw was 3.6 Y/A, 23rd out of 28 teams (1978). 7 out of his 13 teams had rushing attacks that ranked in the top quartile in Y/A; 10 out of 13 were in the top half, and only one in the bottom quartile. Warner had five teams with Y/A of 3.6 or less. Only 4 of 11 were in the top quartile (including his NYG year), in fact those were the only teams that ranked in the top half in Y/A. He had five teams in the bottom quartile – his 1st four years in ARI the Cards ranked 32nd, 32nd, 30th, and 31st in Y/A. I realize there is an argument that QB-play can make a running game appear better than it is, but my opinion is that the strong Steeler running game helped Bradshaw throughout his career, and while Warner benefited from the strong Ram running in ’99-’01 (2nd, 2nd, 1st), he was hurt by weak rushing attacks the rest of his career.

    BTW, I’m a Chiefs fan who thinks Trent Green would have put up Warner-like numbers in ’99-’01 if given the chance.

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks mrh. Glad you enjoyed.

      I’m not sure why you think Warner is “punished” in this analysis. Presumably, his career numbers would be worse if he started at a younger age, no?

      That said, I agree that an age adjustment for Warner would help in light of the great numbers he put up at the end of his career.

      I also agree with you about Green. He’s a borderline HOF QB, IMO.

      • Richie

        Presumably, his career numbers would be worse if he started at a younger age, no?

        This kind of relates to my hypothetical question yesterday regarding Carson Palmer. How much was Warner able to hone his NFL skills by playing in the arena league? I assume some, but not as much as if he had been playing in the NFL at age 22. Surely if he had started as a 22-year old, he could have ramped up to his actual performance at age 27. But then he probably missed out on some pretty good age 26, 25, 24 seasons. I would guess that Warner at least gained some maturity by being a little older when he got his first starting season in the NFL than Bradshaw. But did he really have that much of a developmental advantage over Bradshaw in each of their first seasons?

        I find Warner to be such a fascinating study. How did major colleges and NFL teams miss out on his talent? Is it possible that he didn’t have the talent, and instead developed it in his early 20’s due to extra determination to prove the experts wrong? Maybe he was a late bloomer. If Trent Green didn’t get hurt, would Warner have ever gotten a real chance in the NFL?

        • Richie

          gah! I forgot I’m supposed to use the em tag instead of blockquote.

      • In an era where teammate Will Shields, with 12 Pro Bowls and 2 All Pro awards can’t get into the Hall, it’s hard for me to see Trent Green with 2 Pro Bowls and 0 playoff wins making the HoF.

        Boldin’s played a long time, but so did Marvin Harrison, and he’s couldn’t get in. Barring some miracle end to Boldin’s career, Harrison will have pretty clearly been the superior receiver. Clearly you are an optimist when it comes to fringe HoF candidates Chase!

        • Chase Stuart

          To be clear, I think Green is a borderline candidate in the “should he” HOF debate, not the “will he” one.

    • Archer

      Agree with every word you said.
      Admittedly, Warner is my favorite player of this era (past 15 years), and I liked Trent Green a lot and think he’s perhaps the most underrated QB of that time span.

    • Bradford’s injury got me thinking about Green. Like Chase, I couldn’t agree more. I just checked out Trent Green’s stats in the ’99 preseason. The preseason doesn’t mean a lot, but still these might be so good as to mean something:
      28-32 for 406, 1 TD.

      I don’t know if he had a pick in those 4 incompletions, but 14.5 Y/A. Yes, I think Green would have lit up the league, too, with those Rams.

    • Wil Masisak

      Bradshaw played in an era when pass game was completely primitive compared to what Warner worked with, and that run game advantage still was in an era where Brad did a lot more of his passing in more difficult down and distance situations. Not too many WR screens and spread formations in Terry’s day. Bradshaw is also as great relative to era a post-season QB as the league has ever seen… and I’m guessing those numbers were not included (fair to note that Warner is also a great post-season QB). I think post-season comparisons with era adjustment would be eye-opening. Generally, QBs are facing the better defenses, in a pressure-filled situation… I think the old-school TB would fare very, very well in an era and level of competition adjusted examination of post-season QB play.

  • mrh

    One other question: has any HoF QB had a worse five-year start to his career than Bradshaw using these metrics?

    • Chase Stuart

      I’d have to look into it, but maybe Fouts?

    • Richie

      It’s pretty rare for a QB to even get that many pass attempts and play that poorly. Bradshaw is one of just 11 QB’s to have 1,000+ attempts in their first 5 seasons, and ANY/A under 4. Archie Manning and Bradshaw tied for last with 2.81 ANY/A. Of those 11, only Steve DeBerg, Randy Wright, Scott Brunner and Bob Avellini were not drafted in the top 6. (Interestingly, all of those guys were drafted in the 6th round.)

      If you drop the threshhold to 750 pass attempts, then you can add Dennis Shaw, Randy Johnson, Mike Phipps, Bobby Douglass and Gary Huff to the list of guys who worse than Bradshaw (and kept playing) in their first 5 seasons.

      It looks like Fouts, Griese and Steve Young would be the other HOF QB’s who were pretty bad in their first 5 seasons. All of them had ANY/A between 4 and 5 and at least 200 attempts.

      • mrh

        Thanks for doing the leg work Richie.

        To go back to why I think this analysis “punishes” Warner. That’s probably a bad choice of words. I guess I was objecting to throwing out Bradshaw’s terrible rookie year, which makes his career look better. Sure it’s thru no fault of his own that he wasn’t ready for a starting tole, but Warner probably was ready earlier than 1999/age 28 (I got Warner’s breakout age wrong above) and it was no fault of his own that he didn’t get a shot. I thought I’d take a look at what Warner MIGHT have done from age 24 when he first entered the pro ranks until he actually got substantial playing time.

        For comparable QBs, I picked all QBs since 1970 who had at least 2 seasons of RANY/A >2 between ages 27 and 31 on a minimum of 100 attempts. Warner had three such seasons, only a handful of attempts at age 27 and a bad year at age 31. To give a sense of what kind of year this is, Foles, Peyton, McCown, and Rodgers had RANY/A > 2 in 2013; only Rodgers was 27-31 years old.

        That gave me: Rodgers, Fouts, McNabb, Brees, James Harris, Stabler, Peyton (4 times), Rivers (3), Steve Young. Except as noted, all these QBs had 2 years of RANY/A > 2 between ages 27 and 31. This group includes QBs like Rodgers and Stabler who sat for quite a while before becoming starters and others like McNabb and Fouts who got substantial playing time right away.

        I then looked at this by age and by experience (years in the NFL). In my alternate universe, Warner makes the ’94 Packers as a 3rd stringer behind Favre and Brunnell, beating out Ty Detmer. He gets a couple of minutes playing time and a few attempts. So I pick up the story in 1995, with Warner 24 years old and in his 2nd year in the league.

        First by age (first column). The rest of the numbers are RANY/A from the group of comparables: mean/median and min to max. So the QBs listed above had a mean RANY/A of -0.61 at age 24, with a median of 0.41 and a range of outcomes from -2.92 to 2.05:
        24 — -0.61/-0.41 -2.92 to 2.05
        25 — 0.74/0.98 -1.27 to 1.64
        26 — 1.06/1.18 0.34 to 1.56
        27 — 1.54/1.95 -0.35 to 2.73

        By experience, with the first column indicating the number of years in the NFL:
        2 — 0.35/0.34 -1.27 to 2.15
        3 — 0.03/0.11 -2.92 to 2.05
        4 — 1.04/0.84 -0.35 to 2.73
        5 — 1.25/1.34 0.15 to 1.97

        I arbitrary averaged the two means to come up with estimates of how Warner might have performed from age 24-27 if given a chance.

        Notional Warner is now the backup on the ’95 Packers behind Favre and ahead of Jim McMahon (Brunell is gone to the Jaguars). When Favre has to enter re-hab early in the year, Warner is thrust into action and struggles with slightly below average numbers. Despite calls for Holmgren to go with the veteran McMahon, he sticks with Warner:

        24/2nd year in NFL — -0.13 (-0.29) — the number in parentheses is Bradshaw’s RANY/A at the same age. 2013 QBs with similar RANY/A: Henne, Manuel, Glennon, Tannehill; young QBs or replacement level backups. Kurt is about at where Bradshaw is at the same age. Note that Favre had a RANY/A of -0.74 at age 24, his 3rd year in the NFL and

        In the off-season leading into 1996, Holmgren and Wolfe decide that they are tired of dealing with Favre’s addictions off the field and wild streak on the field. Notional Warner has been steadier both personally and professionally and shown promise in his first extended playing time. When Al Davis offers a 1st and a 3rd for Favre, the Packers take the offer and hand the job to notional Warner.
        25/3rd yr — 0.39 (-1.34) — 2013 QBs with similar RANY/A: Roethlisberger, Dalton, Stafford, Cutler; young but established starters or solid veteran QBs.
        Notional Warner ranks 17th, just behind Troy Aikman in RANY/A in 1996. The Packers, who entered the year with Super Bowl hopes, fall just short. While Favre gets his act together in Oakland and has a career-year with a 1.51 RANY/A, Warner’s age 25 RANY/A is very close to Favre’s 0.68 at the same age, and well ahead of Terry Bradshaw at 25.

        Despite criticism of the trade, the Packers sit tight and wait for notional Warner to breakout in 1997.

        26/4th yr — 1.05 (-0.98) — 2013 QBs with similar RANY/A: Russell Wilson
        Notional Warner climbs to 8th in the league in RANY/A, just ahead of Dan Marino and behind John Elway. Warner leads the Packers to the Super Bowl, where they lose to the Broncos. There is grumbling that although Warner is good, Favre and Brunell are better (4th and 5th in RANY/A) and that either of them would have won the SB. Bradshaw lags well behind Warner’s development.

        27/5th yr — 1.40 (1.43) — 2013 QBs with similiar RANY/A: between Wilson and Brees.
        Notional Warner remains around 8th in the league in RANY/A. While he passed up Favre and Brunell in RANY/A – Favre’s 23 INTs in ’98 have highlighted the differences between him and notional Warner – the latter is being criticized for not being elite as the Packers lose to the Falcons in the NFC championship game. Bradshaw and Warner are in exactly the same place in their development.

        Going into 1999, despite rumblings that Holmgren is unhappy not having more control over the roster, with only one Super Bowl appearance and no wins on his resume, he has limited options. He sticks with the Packers. Ron Wolf has bolstered the defense with the picks from the Favre trade. Both Wolf and Holmgren know that if notional Warner takes a big leap forward they have a squad that can win the Super Bowl…

        My best guess is that Warner missed a below average year (-0.13 RANY/A), a mediocre year (0.39), and 2 years as a very good starter (1.05 and 1.40) by not getting a shot before he was 28. If he had somehow been thrust in the lineup as a rookie at age 23, he would have been bad (-0.74) but not as bad as Bradshaw as a rookie. Of course, Warner could have gotten hurt and a million other things could have happened. The range of performance by the comparables I picked was pretty broad – Warner could have had a couple of terrible years and never gotten another chance, or he could have posted a +2 RANY/A in his 3rd season at age 25 and won the SB in ’96 instead of Favre.

        • Richie

          Good job. I always enjoy the “what ifs”. Reminds me of Dave Dameshek’s “N if L” on NFL.com.

        • Chase Stuart

          Fun stuff!

      • Chase Stuart

        One thing to remember — there was no ANY/A before 1969, as we don’t have sack data for that period.

  • Tom

    Great post Chase; completely agree that the “journey is more important than the destination”. Whether or not we all agree on who’s “better” (if that can ever really be accomplished anyway) doesn’t really matter, it’s the fact that through this process we can see that Bradshaw is undeniably much closer to Warner (or other more recent QB’s) than the standard numbers would suggest. Very cool post, thanks Chase.

  • Red

    Quarterback debates always generate the most comments. Maybe we should have more of them, hint hint…

    Come to think of it, since Trent Green was brought up, how about an analysis of his career? I always liked Trent and found his career arc fascinating.

  • Tim Truemper

    In reference to Bradshaw’s rookie year, let’s keep in mind that he was on a team that went 1-13 the year before. The Steelers other option was Terry Hanratty who was not a lights out talent at QB. Serviceable perhaps, but he was a rookie the year before Bradhsaw so the Steelers in 1970 had two neeophytes at QB. Guess one would have to look at newspaper archives to see why the Steelers started Bradshaw in as a starter. As marvelous a talent he was, he came from a small school and was not “coached up” in college to be NFL ready. In fact, rarely did rookie QB’s do well in that period because they were rarely NFL ready due to their college experience. Prior to Bradshaw the Steelers of the mid to late 60’s went through a plethora of QB’s that make for an interesting list of forgettable names. How many of you guys know who Kent Nix is? As an aside to this discussion, I kind of object to calling a player “bad” when their performance is below average or even poor. I guess its a shorthand to say something like “performed poorly” which is wordier. But still, the connotation of saying someone was “bad” (as in, incompetent, lacking thoroughly in meeting expectations) is misleading.

  • Lorne Bellazer

    Bradshaw played games in freezing cold, rain, snow and ice.
    Warner played in climate controlled domes and warm Arizona.
    I will never put dome QBs as all time greats and that includes Manning, Brees, Moon and Warner.