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Can you spot the GOAT?

Can you spot the GOAT?

In 2006, I took a stab at ranking every quarterback in NFL history. Two years later, I acquired more data and made enough improvements to merit publishing an updated and more accurate list of the best quarterbacks the league has ever seen. In 2009, I tweaked the formula again, and published a set of career rankings, along with a set of strength of schedule, era and weather adjustments, and finally career rankings which include those adjustments and playoff performances.  And two years ago, I revised the formula and produced a new set of career rankings.

This time around, I’m not going to tweak the formula much (that’s for GQBOAT VI), but I do have one big change that I suspect will be well-received.  Let’s review the methodology.


We start with plain old yards per attempt. I then incorporate sack data by removing sack yards from the numerator and adding sacks to the denominator.1 To include touchdowns and interceptions, I gave a quarterback 20 yards for each passing touchdown and subtracted 45 yards for each interception. This calculation — (Pass Yards + 20 * PTD – 45 * INT – Sack Yards Lost) / (Sacks + Pass Attempts) forms the basis for Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, one of the key metrics I use to evaluate quarterbacks. For purposes of this study, I did some further tweaking. I’m including rushing touchdowns, because our goal is to measure quarterbacks as players. There’s no reason to separate rushing and passing touchdowns from a value standpoint, so all passing and rushing touchdowns are worth 20 yards and are calculated in the numerator of Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. To be consistent, I also include rushing touchdowns in the denominator of the equation. This won’t change anything for most quarterbacks, but feels right to me. A touchdown is a touchdown.

Now, here comes the twist.  In past year, I’ve compared each quarterback’s “ANY/A” — I put that term in quotes because what we’re really using is ANY/A with a rushing touchdowns modifier — and then calculated a value over average statistic after comparing that rate to the league average. For example, if a QB has an “ANY/A” of 7.0 and the NFL average “ANY/A” is 5.0, and the quarterback has 500 “dropbacks” — i.e., pass attempts plus sacks plus rushing touchdowns — then the quarterback gets credit for 1,000 yards above average.

This time around, I’m going to incorporate strength of schedule by comparing each quarterback in each game not to league average, but to the “ANY/A” allowed by the opposing team in each of their other games.  Add up the Value relative to the defense in each game of each season, and you get season grades.  This step combines a SOS and era adjustment all in one, and frankly, I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to this.2

There are three final steps. After creating season grades, we need to include two more statistics and then make one last adjustment. First, we subtract for “net fumbles” lost by the quarterback, which represents the number of fumbles by a quarterback minus the number of fumbles he recovered.  Based on prior research, a net fumble is worth about -30 yards, so -30 is subtracted for each net fumble. I calculated the average fumbles lost per “Dropback” by quarterbacks in each year (which was just north of 1.0% for most years) and then gave each quarterback credit (or a penalty) for their net fumbles above/below average.3

We also must add a rushing component. I have never figured out a good way to handle quarterback rushing, but what I’ve done in the past is to add all quarterback rushing yards over 4.0 yards per carry.  So 500 yards on 100 carries goes down as +100. That’s not very scientific, but the results have been noncontroversial, so I’ll continue to use it until someone suggests something better.

Finally, I made adjustments for non-16 game NFL seasons.  For seasons with fewer than 16 games, all stats have been pro-rated to 16 games.  And for the first five years of the AFL, I reduced the value of quarterback statistics.4

Last time around, Tom Brady’s 2007 season ranked not just third, but a somewhat distant third to Dan Marino 1984 and Peyton Manning 2004. As it turns out, the SOS adjustment changes that. The table below shows the top 100 quarterback seasons since 1960. Let’s walk through Brady’s ’07 to guide you through the table. In 2007, Brady threw for 4,806 yards and 50 touchdowns, while recording just 8 interceptions, 21 sacks, and 128 sack yards lost. He had a “Relative ANY/A” of +3.63 (this includes the rushing TD bonus). He had a harder than average schedule, although that’s already been factored into his “RANY/A” (I’m including the SOS column for reference only). Brady had 601 dropbacks, and since he had fewer fumbles than average, gets an 88 yard fumble value bonus (but no rushing bonus). Add it up, and Brady produced 2,270 yards of VALUE over average, the most of any quarterback in any season since 1960.

1Tom BradyNWE20074806-50-8-21-1283.630.266018802270
2Dan MarinoMIA19845084-48-17-13-1203.76-0.135779502267
3Peyton ManningIND20044557-49-10-13-1013.88-0.2351015202132
4Dan FoutsSDG19822883-17-11-12-942.72-0.2234316201946
5Aaron RodgersGNB20114643-45-6-36-2193.28-0.2254187171879
6Peyton ManningDEN20135477-55-10-18-1202.72-0.26678-6401780
7Steve YoungSFO19923465-25-7-29-1523.540.2343582331779
8Peyton ManningIND20064397-31-9-14-862.680.0957519301735
9Tom BradyNWE20115235-39-12-32-1732.440.0964612201696
10Tom BradyNWE20103900-36-4-25-1752.970.465189501632
11Drew BreesNOR20115476-46-14-24-1582.08-0.2268219421615
12Bert JonesBAL19763104-24-9-29-2843.32-0.3837465621564
13Tom BradyNWE20094398-28-13-16-862.50.785828401538
14Tom BradyNWE20124827-34-8-27-1822.040.4766816901532
15Steve YoungSFO19943969-35-10-31-1632.73-0.27499100611522
16Peyton ManningIND20034267-29-10-18-1072.290.1958418701522
17John BrodieSFO19702941-24-10-8-673.23-0.163887301517
18Ken AndersonCIN19753169-21-11-32-2473.150.224113301516
19Sonny JurgensenPHI19613723-32-24-25-2162.810.464417801504
20Johnny UnitasBAL19642824-19-6-35-2453.25-0.05342146141452
21Daunte CulpepperMIN20044717-39-11-46-2382.36-0.04596-22541438
22Daunte CulpepperMIN20003937-33-16-34-1812.550.3651521141432
23Randall CunninghamMIN19983704-34-10-20-1322.97-0.2544610141430
24Dan FoutsSDG19814802-33-17-19-1342.21-0.02628701393
25Drew BreesNOR20135162-39-12-37-2442.010.36690-101384
26John HadlSDG19673365-24-22-11-1072.770.42441-901384
27Drew BreesNOR20094388-34-11-20-1352.680.01536-5201383
28John BrodieSFO19653112-30-16-14-1002.750.644069401382
29Mark RypienWAS19913564-28-11-7-593.230.07429-1101373
30Ken AndersonCIN19813754-29-10-25-1402.27-0.14505851361369
31Jeff GarciaSFO20004278-31-10-24-1551.9-0.275891191261364
32Philip RiversSDG20094254-28-9-25-1672.59-0.055122901355
33Johnny UnitasBAL19673428-20-16-25-1982.330.446110611351
34Peyton ManningIND20004413-33-15-20-1312.130.145929001350
35Ken StablerOAK19762737-27-17-19-2033.840.5311-1601345
36Steve YoungSFO19984170-36-12-48-2342.110.04571-331741344
37Roger StaubachDAL19793586-27-11-36-2402.460.349789241337
38Joe MontanaSFO19843630-28-10-22-1382.65-0.2945611001318
39Milt PlumCLE19602297-21-5-29-2703.37-0.462814101317
40Matt SchaubHOU20094770-29-15-25-1491.890.1260815301299
41Joe MontanaSFO19893521-26-8-33-1983.09-0.01422-38311297
42Tony RomoDAL20094483-26-9-34-1962.070.195858501293
43Kurt WarnerSTL19994353-41-13-29-2012.54-0.57529-6301280
44Donovan McNabbPHI20043875-31-8-32-1922.430.155040561280
45Neil LomaxSTL19844614-28-16-49-3772.080.37612-42441277
46Carson PalmerCIN20053836-32-12-19-1052.150.2552913801274
47Joe NamathNYJ19674007-26-28-27-2701.830.0651816601273
48Fran TarkentonMIN19762961-17-8-25-2212.350.244388601272
49Ken AndersonCIN19742667-18-10-36-2922.490.12366591421272
50Dan FoutsSDG19804715-30-24-32-2102.090.49623-2901272
51Boomer EsiasonCIN19883572-28-14-30-2452.6-0.1541999761264
52Steve YoungSFO19934023-29-16-31-1602.24-0.22495101311250
53Drew BreesNOR20085069-34-17-13-921.75-0.0664811601249
54Jim HartSTL19762946-18-13-17-1322.580.344054501248
55Peyton ManningIND19994135-26-15-14-1162.090.25499401244
56Roger StaubachDAL19783190-25-16-32-2192.580.4444677141243
57Joe TheismannWAS19833714-29-11-34-2422.03-0.17494150861240
58Peyton ManningIND20074040-31-14-21-1242.060.2553912301231
59Peyton ManningIND20094500-33-16-10-741.870.0358114301227
60Drew BreesNOR20064418-26-11-18-1052.07-0.15724201227
61Brett FavreMIN20094202-33-7-34-2471.92056513801224
62Sonny JurgensenWAS19673747-31-16-19-1572.01-0.28529601224
63Dan MarinoMIA19864746-44-23-17-1191.73-0.2664011301224
64Kurt WarnerSTL20014830-36-22-38-2332.08-0.08584-301213
65Vinny TestaverdeNYJ19983256-29-7-19-1402.620.264414081202
66Y.A. TittleNYG19633145-36-14-26-2362.26-0.49395121271192
67Joe MontanaSFO19833910-26-12-33-2241.890.19550111401188
68Don MeredithDAL19662805-24-12-35-2512.38038431901183
69Joe NamathNYJ19683147-15-17-16-1152.320.0439810601176
70Aaron RodgersGNB20103922-28-11-31-1931.980.15510631001172
71Bernie KosarCLE19873033-22-9-22-1292.370.2841212101171
72Len DawsonKAN19662527-26-10-22-2083.17-0.06306-19711167
73Bart StarrGNB19662257-14-3-26-1913.950.24279-101201165
74Tom BradyNWE20054110-26-14-26-1881.820.3255715201165
75Aaron RodgersGNB20124295-39-8-51-2931.750.3660560431163
76Peyton ManningDEN20124659-37-11-21-1371.67-0.2460415001159
77Ken StablerOAK19742469-26-12-18-1412.94-0.153294701158
78Roman GabrielPHI19733219-23-12-31-2191.93-0.094926201157
79Roger StaubachDAL19772620-18-9-30-2192.620.11394-2301155
80Ron JaworskiPHI19803529-27-12-27-2132.180.1447910201147
81Peyton ManningIND20053747-28-10-17-812.27-0.394708001147
82Daryle LamonicaOAK19683245-25-15-26-2172.07-0.1444362221146
83John BrodieSFO19612588-14-12-20-1912.840.330513701146
84Tommy KramerMIN19863000-24-10-31-1782.760.654042701143
85Joe MontanaSFO19853653-27-13-35-2461.840.3153216301142
86Greg LandryDET19712237-16-13-29-2322.440.3293582261141
87Jim EverettRAM19894310-29-17-29-2141.75-0.1454818501141
88George BlandaHOU19613330-36-22-7-964.180.1136911801138
89Philip RiversSDG20084009-34-11-25-1512.25-0.04503301135
90Lynn DickeyGNB19834458-32-29-40-3071.960.2752710201134
91Fran TarkentonMIN19742598-17-12-17-1422.40.1837061361128
92Erik KramerCHI19953838-29-10-15-951.950.165387801125
93Dan MarinoMIA19873245-26-13-9-772.010.2245413601118
94Steve YoungSFO19912517-17-8-13-793.05-0.17296571511111
95Richard ToddNYJ19821961-14-8-23-2062.231.08285-1001110
96Trent GreenKAN20023690-26-13-26-1411.660.014971791011104
97Brian SipeCLE19804132-30-14-23-2171.67-0.1657813601100
98Philip RiversSDG20134478-32-11-30-1501.71-0.1657411401098
99Steve YoungSFO19973029-19-6-35-2202.520.1639410401095
100Johnny UnitasBAL19633481-20-12-34-2962.370.45444-130361095
101John ElwayDEN19934030-25-10-39-2931.610.3459013601089
102Boomer EsiasonCIN19863959-24-17-26-1942.250.19496-2901085
103Dan MarinoMIA19884434-28-23-6-311.560.2261212801082
104Brett FavreGNB19963899-39-13-40-2411.730.255856501079
105Trent GreenKAN20034039-24-12-20-1301.83-0.055458101078
106Roger StaubachDAL19711882-15-4-23-1753.57-0.34236-791791077
107Aaron RodgersGNB20094434-30-7-50-3061.6-0.2959629841066
108Roman GabrielRAM19672779-25-13-25-2072.220.12402-2261049
109Tony RomoDAL20114184-31-10-36-2271.60.1355915301046
110Len DawsonKAN19682109-17-9-19-1663.550.082435301046
111Brett FavreGNB19954413-38-13-33-2171.71-0.15606-17251043
112Nick FolesPHI20132891-27-2-28-1732.95-0.423481601041
113Fran TarkentonNYG19673088-29-19-33-3001.890.0741211301037
114Joe MontanaSFO19873054-31-13-22-1582.010.0942112411035
115Roman GabrielRAM19692549-24-7-14-1121.960.2141867161032
116Archie ManningNOR19783416-17-16-37-3011.790.4550971501031
117Dan MarinoMIA19924116-24-16-28-1731.490.0558216101030
118Tom FloresOAK19662638-24-14-27-2192.340.0633484301021
119Rich GannonOAK20024689-26-10-36-2141.47-0.136575601020
120Eli ManningNYG20114933-29-16-28-1991.610.096182301016
121Steve McNairTEN20013350-21-12-37-2511.750.48473721141013
122Steve DeBergKAN19903444-23-4-22-1912.13-0.1246670999
123Philip RiversSDG20104710-30-13-38-2271.68-0.32579230997
124Brett FavreGNB20074155-28-15-15-931.680.05550680992
125Steve McNairTEN20033215-24-7-19-1082.56-0.11423-910991
126Warren MoonHOU19904689-33-13-36-2521.85-0.13622-1700983
127Scott MitchellDET19954338-32-12-31-1451.56-0.06618180982
128Sonny JurgensenWAS19702354-23-10-25-2142.30.52363715979
129Frank RyanCLE19662974-29-14-28-2302.03-0.164101112979
130Daryle LamonicaOAK19693302-34-25-11-1001.74-0.31438900972
131Daryle LamonicaOAK19673228-30-20-36-3131.59-0.194658922972
132Earl MorrallBAL19682909-26-17-27-2042.6-0.05345-530962
133John ElwayDEN19873198-19-12-20-1381.75-0.024349940961
134Chad PenningtonNYJ20023120-22-6-22-1351.98-0.174231220960
135Boomer EsiasonCIN19853443-27-12-32-2891.970.03464440959
136Troy AikmanDAL19953304-16-7-14-891.970.18447750957
137Dan FoutsSDG19853638-27-20-18-1352.180.07448-230954
138Bert JonesBAL19772686-17-11-26-2211.64-0.3242110634951
139Billy WadeCHI19612258-22-13-27-2532.550.362793675941
140John HadlRAM19732008-22-11-17-1262.730.04275720941
141Tony RomoDAL20074211-36-19-24-1761.58-0.09546665934
142Sonny JurgensenWAS19663209-28-19-27-2121.630.16463610931
143Dan FoutsSDG19832975-20-15-14-1072.50.18355390928
144Randall CunninghamPHI19903466-30-13-49-4310.830.0951929470928
145Tom BradyNWE20043692-28-14-26-1621.770.51500280913
146David GarrardJAX20072509-18-3-21-992.480.37347470907
147Craig MortonDAL19701819-15-7-20-1663.230.2227610906
148Brett FavreGNB19973867-35-16-25-1761.6-0.04539440905
149Fran TarkentonMIN19652609-19-11-30-2761.530.39360103132899
150Michael VickPHI20103018-21-6-34-2101.7-0.09415-86276898
151Ken AndersonCIN19732428-18-12-24-1632.030.07353700898
152Vinny TestaverdeBAL19964177-33-19-34-2701.490.25585-2552897
153Tommy KramerMIN19822037-15-12-21-1301.310.91332680893
154Troy AikmanDAL19933100-15-6-26-1532.040.06418400892
155Norm Van BrocklinPHI19602471-24-17-14-1182.39-0.33298-430892
156Daryle LamonicaOAK19702516-22-15-15-1271.750.143711290889
157Fran TarkentonMIN19732113-15-7-31-2702.420.34306-738883
158Ken AndersonCIN19822495-12-9-26-1541.17-0.683391010883
159Donovan McNabbPHI20062647-18-6-21-1402.09-0.313409084882
160Peyton ManningIND20084002-27-12-14-861.230.075701780879
161Johnny UnitasBAL19652530-23-12-30-2292.480.39313-80878
162Boomer EsiasonCIN19893525-28-11-36-2881.620.19491-1590872
163Dan MarinoMIA19944453-30-17-18-1131.270.07634620869
164Fran TarkentonNYG19702777-19-12-36-2491.36-0.0942711464867
165Drew BreesNOR20125177-43-19-26-1901.07-0.146971180863
166Billy KilmerWAS19752440-23-16-23-1381.890.42370510859
167Y.A. TittleNYG19623224-33-20-14-1281.7-0.63914340858
168Babe ParilliBOS19621988-18-8-12-993.830.47267-1257855
169Robert GriffinWAS20123200-20-5-30-2171.47-0.22430-112335855
170Doug FlutieBUF19982711-20-11-12-781.730.1236716356855
171Warren MoonHOU19893631-23-14-35-2671.660.44503190854
172Carson PalmerCIN20064035-28-13-36-2331.80.42556-1450853
173John ElwayDEN19982806-22-10-18-1352.310.51375-140852
174Dan MarinoMIA19854137-30-21-18-1571.40.08585350851
175Mark BrunellJAX19973281-18-7-33-1891.51-0.044707565850
176Milt PlumCLE19612416-18-10-18-1592.420.22321-350849
177Ken O'BrienNYJ19853888-25-8-62-3991.67-0.03550-700849
178Russell WilsonSEA20123118-26-10-33-2031.610.4743038113844
179Joe FergusonBUF19752426-25-17-20-1531.950.11342720843
180Jake PlummerDEN20053366-18-7-22-1351.45-0.084801440840
181Matt HasselbeckSEA20053459-24-9-24-1541.54-0.264741120840
182Josh FreemanTAM20103451-25-6-28-1951.370.195026092839
183Dan FoutsSDG19782999-24-20-22-1302.210.13405-580835
184Steve BartkowskiATL19803544-31-16-35-3241.570.17500490834
185Jim EverettRAM19883964-31-18-28-1971.610.12545-420833
186Brett FavreGNB20013921-32-15-22-1511.72-0.09533-840831
187Kurt WarnerSTL20003429-21-18-20-1152.23-0.48367100829
188Johnny UnitasBAL19603099-25-24-24-2081.5-0.03402-3651824
189Drew BreesSDG20043159-27-7-18-1311.83-0.34420550824
190Fran TarkentonMIN19722651-18-13-26-2031.430.34046972822
191Rich GannonOAK19993840-24-14-49-2411.230.2956611114821
192Jeff GeorgeATL19954143-24-11-43-2701.20.226001010821
193Ben RoethlisbergerPIT20052385-17-9-23-1292.380.12941140814
194Brian GrieseDEN20002688-19-4-17-1392.19-0.37354350811
195Doug WilliamsTAM19813563-19-14-18-1351.630.06493-917811
196John BrodieSFO19683020-22-21-25-1661.440.51429910810
197Steve YoungSFO19962410-14-6-34-1601.750.3235488102810
198Ben RoethlisbergerPIT20094328-26-12-50-3481.37-0.12558450809
199Joe NamathNYJ19722816-19-21-11-1011.97-0.07335470808
200Joe NamathNYJ19692734-19-17-13-1171.760376430803

The table is fully sortable and searchable. Some thoughts:

  • San Francisco leads the way with 17 top-200 seasons: seven by Young, five by Joe Montana, four by Brodie, and one by Jeff Garcia. The Chargers are second with 12 such seasons, with Brees and John Hadl (!) each contributing one year, and Fouts and Philip Rivers delivering the rest.

And now, the huge caveat: It’s important to remember that this is just a measure of each team’s passing game, assigned to the quarterback on the field for those plays. Obviously the quality of the offensive line, the ability of the receivers, the versatility of the tight ends and running backs, the philosophy of the coaches, the strength of the schedule, and good old randomness have a significant impact on the above numbers. The reason for these posts is to accurately measure quarterback statistics, and nothing else. Once we have strong measures of QB performance, we can then judge QBs based on how much of their success (or lack thereof) we want to assign to the QB and how much to other people/factors.

And, of course, even if supporting casts are the same, numbers don’t tell the full story. The point here is simply to get the most out of the numbers we have. Anyway, I’m sure this gives you more than enough to chew on. Leave your thoughts on the methodology and the single-season leaders here; tomorrow, we get to the career list.

  1. I have individual game sack data for every quarterback back to 2008. For seasons between 1969 and 2007, I have season sack data and team game sack data, so I was able to derive best-fit estimates for each quarterback in each game. For seasons between 1960 and 1969, I gave each quarterback an approximate number of sacks, giving him the pro-rated portion of sacks allowed by the percentage of pass attempts he threw for the team. []
  2. Ideally, I would iterate the strength of schedule adjustment. That’s for GQBOAT VI, I suppose. []
  3. If I had net fumbles lost on a per-game basis, I would simply include them in the prior step. But I don’t think much changes by simply including them in the aggregate on the season-level. []
  4. In 1960, the final grade gets multiplied by 0.5; in 1961, by 0.6, in 1962 by 0.7, and so on. []
  • Arif

    Will this include a small modifier for each season for the AV of his offensive teammates? Presumably, getting a better “ANY/A” and therefore more yard value with “weaker” teammates is more worthy of praise.

    Obviously it would have to be small because of the problem of interrelated effects and the reliance on postseason honors for offensive linemen.

    • Arif

      Just realized that the “QB help” work you did may contribute to this.

    • Chase Stuart

      Nah, not yet. That is something that will take a lot of work to do; realistically, it’s probably in GQBOAT VII or later. I think for now, we’ll have to be content with our subjective modifiers based on supporting cast.

  • Brian Griese’s 2000 season is in the top 200 even with the SOS adjustment dragging him down. I still wonder how differently his career would have turned out without that weird shoulder injury and the accompanying bizarreness.

    If you sort by the SOS adjustment, the two highest positive adjustments are Richard Todd and Tommy Kramer in 1982. They did play nearly the same schedule, so it makes sense for them to be close. If you sort for the highest negative adjustment, you get Ken Anderson in 1982. 1982 was of course a strike-shortened season. It could just be by chance that those guys ended up on the extremes, but I’m wondering if the vagaries of that season, since it’s obviously an oddity, are to blame. Did the smaller number of games lead to wider variation in teams’ defensive ANY/A? Was there something else?

    • Chase Stuart

      My guess is that it’s just the small number of games combined with the unbalanced schedule. For example, the ’82 Dolphins had a great pass defense, and Todd played them in 2 of his 9 games. The Oilers pass defense was a joke — 18 TDs, 3 INTS!!! — and Anderson played them twice.

  • Red

    The SOS adjustments are illuminating. Tom Brady has apparently played his entire career against tough schedules, which changes my view of his legacy. I’ve long believed Brady to be somewhat overrated, but now I must reconsider that notion. On the other hand, Kurt Warner faced a comically easy schedule during his GSoT years (and played in a dome) so his best seasons weren’t as great as they seemed at the time. In 2013, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Nick Foles’ terrific season was smoke and mirrors, and his super easy schedule lends some credence to that. I really hope you apply SOS to playoff stats as well…

    I am strongly against fully prorated numbers for 1982. Dan Fouts essentially played half a great year, and you’re saying it’s the fourth best season of all time? Sorry, that’s just plain wrong.

    Are you going to include pre-1960 seasons in the career rankings? If so, I’m hoping you include adjustments for the 1940’s seasons that had weakened rosters because of WWII.

    I don’t understand why your sack data only goes back to 2008 for individual players. Game level QB sack data is readily available on many other websites going to back to the merger, including nfl.com and footballdb.com.

    Most underappreciated season ever: John Brodie 1970. Sack rate of 2% in the dead ball era seems borderline impossible.

    More proof that RINGZ are overrated: Eli’s best season ranks 120th, Big Ben’s is 193rd, while Plunkett and Flacco don’t even crack the top 200.

    Dan Marino only had one truly awesome year, which is surprising given his career totals. I checked out his p-f-r page and was shocked to see his career YPA was only 7.2. Perhaps Marino’s “stat stuffer” rep needs to be re-examined?

    Interesting that Peyton’s 2013 is the only top 20 season with negative fumble value, especially since he’s usually great at avoiding fumbles.

    Are you going to publish a list of the worst QB seasons of all time? Kim McQuilken will be offended if you don’t.

    • Malene, CPH

      Apropos RINGZ, the 5 Brady seasons in top 14 obviously all came long after last ring. We might laugh about the Jets circus, but apparently facing 2xJets D, Ravens D and Steelers D every year is fairly tough on average.

      • Chase Stuart

        Yeah, Brady’s schedules have been pretty tough. Certainly an underrated element.

    • I just want to point out that someone else made a Marion Campbell reference and I did not. 😉

      • Chase Stuart


      • Arif

        Historic moment

      • Red

        You mean Marion Campbell was lil’ Kim’s coach in Atlanta? I did not know that. But how fitting 🙂

    • Chase Stuart

      I don’t think most places have individual QB sack data on the game level going back before 1999. If they do, hey, please send it to me 🙂

      Yes, I will include pre-1960 seasons in the career rankings. But nothing has changed for those grades since I ran this two years ago 🙂 And yes, there was an adjustment for the WWII years.

      Agreed that Brodie’s 1970 season was outstanding.

      I have also noticed that Marino’s ’84 really was an outlier. It is kind of surprising.

      I probably am not going to do a worst QB season of all time list this time around. I don’t think too much will have changed in the past couple of years.

    • Richie

      Yep, as a Marino fan, most of these analyses are disappointing to me. Clearly his 84 season was an all-time great one. In 86 he was really good. 85 he was pretty good, and it was really the last time the Dolphins were a really good team. (In 92 they made the AFCG, but it was kind of fluky and as the final score shows, Buffalo was a much better team.)

      So he had a 3-year run where he was historically good, and after that he was still very good, but never really close to the dominance from 84-86.

      That just got me thinking. If you removed the best 2-year (or maybe 3-year) run from every player’s career, it might be interesting to see how they rate out. There might be a handful of guys who built a large part of their reputations during a small piece of their careers.

      • Robin

        Just thought I would chime in and say that I find this to be a really interesting question!

  • Jeff

    Should Dropbacks be adjusted for era as well if we are looking for the greatest QB of all time, rather than the most valuable. I find it hard to believe that 13 of the 25 greatest statistical seasons since 1960 happened in the past 10 years when truly adjusted for era. If Unitas played now would he really pass less than 50% of the time, and conversely. would Drew Brees have nearly 700 dropbacks in any other era?

    • Chase Stuart

      This is the million dollar question. In theory, I think yes, but in practice, it leads to some strange results. Nobody wants to see a 250-attempt season that was kind of fluky grade out as better than some of Drew Brees’ best seasons. I’ve run some era adjustments for dropbacks before, and it never really passes the eyeball test. But I agree with your main point. It’s something to think about.

      And while not entirely the same thing, the 2nd table here gets to some of that: http://www.footballperspective.com/checkdowns-judging-qbs-by-their-top-5-seasons/

      • Rob Harrison

        What methods have you used to make those adjustments? (I ask on the off chance that someone might think of an approach you haven’t yet tried.)

        • Chase Stuart

          Basically…. if a QB plays in a year where the number of dropbacks was 80% of the average number of QB dropbacks from 1932 to 2013, then that QB gets his numbers prorated by 125%.

  • Rob Harrison

    I might suggest that you call your modified ANY/A something like Total Adjusted Net Yards Above Average, or TANY/A . . .

    • Chase Stuart

      Don’t like the word value in ALL CAPS? #CMONMAN

    • Richie

      Remove the slash and call it “Tanya”. LOL

  • Tom

    Great read, and the “huge caveat” at the end is perfect. Although the aim for these types of lists is to get us closer to the truth, they’re main benefit is that they provide context and are a baseline for further discussion. As you state there are all manner of other factors that go into a QB having a great season, but this list covers the most important ones. Looking forward to the next installment!

  • Ever thought of splitting home/away SOS adjustments? I used to do that for some scoring categories . Just quickly looking at the numbers Id imagine that Marino and Bradys top 2 would rank even better while Peytons would take a hit.

  • Richie

    Drew Brees has thrown for 5,000+ yards four times! I guess I never really thought about that before.

    Rk Player Year Yds TD
    1 Peyton Manning 2013 5477 55
    2 Drew Brees 2011 5476 46
    3 Tom Brady 2011 5235 39
    4 Drew Brees 2012 5177 43
    5 Drew Brees 2013 5162 39
    6 Dan Marino* 1984 5084 48
    7 Drew Brees 2008 5069 34
    8 Matthew Stafford 2011 5038 41

    It kind of reminds me of Sammy Sosa hitting 60+ HR three times, yet not really being considered the best HR hitter of his time.

  • YW

    I’d like to request some background reading on the basis for the coefficients in ANY/A. 20 yards for a TD and -45 yards for an INT seems arbitrary, and even if there is a basis for their use in the raw ANY/A I don’t know if those numbers are approrpiate for a more holistic analysis such as this. Even if those coefficients are not arbitrary they seem to be fairly imperfect as they punish QBs on teams with good short-yardage run games (fewer passing TDs) and QBs on teams that often play from behind necessitating late-game high-variance throws (such as hail marries) that will more often result in INTs

    I am aware from Chase’s previous work that ANY/A correlates as well as any basic QB stat with team wins but I wonder if it isn’t possible to devise a formula with different coefficients for this expanded exercise that correlates even better with wins.

    • Richie

      YW, I believe that the book “Hidden Game of Football” calculated the value of an interception to be -45 yards, and a TD to be +10 yards. Later, Chase ran some calculations that adjusted a TD to be worth 20 points. (Actually, he said a TD is worth 19.3 points.) http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=633

  • This is awesome. Thanks for this. A nice adjustment. And nice that Bert Jones’s ’76 season gets its due.

  • Joseph Bryant

    Very much appreciate all the effort that has obviously gone into these interesting studies. Two questions come to mind (and I apologize if I missed the answers that might have already been provided elsewhere).

    One, it is not clear to me why QBs should be penalized for getting sacked? This seems to be primarily dependent on the quality of the offensive line, as indicated by the fact that sacks go down when the line is good, and go up when they are poor. Differently put, QBs are not generally sacked at consistent rates over their careers. Or think of the unfortunate Archie Manning, who had all the talent in the world to have a low sack rate — strong arm, quick release, great running ability — and yet he regularly got hammered most seasons because he played on weak teams with poor offensive lines. Just consider his 79 and 80 seasons. Saints were 8-8 in 79, and Archie was sacked only 17 times. Next year the Saints crashed to 1 and 15, and he was sacked 41 times. And oddly enough, Archie actually had a better statistical passing year in 1980! If you put Archie behind Bradshaw’s Steeler line, or behind Bart Starr’s Packer line, don’t you think he would be in the HOF?

    Second question concerns awarding 20 yards for every TD pass. Doesn’t this risk skewing the results rather dramatically in favor of contemporary QBs who pile up their stats with a very high and seemingly growing % of TD passes under 5 yards? Peyton Manning and Brees come easily to mind (~40% under 10 yards for both over their careers). Prior to the rule changes that opened the passing floodgates, runners were generally called upon to punch in from short yardage, and passing TDs more often came from mid range to longer distance. Perhaps this would be too complicated, but why not just add the actual distance for each TD pass, or pro-rate by short/medium/long. Just a thought.

    • Chase Stuart


      I, and several others, have done countless studies showing that sack rate is heavily tied to the quarterback. That doesn’t mean it’s not tied to the OL, but sacks are no more on the OL than say, passing touchdowns are on the receivers.

      Re: point two, the thing you are forgetting about is the unsuccessful pass. Y/A and cmp% are significantly depressed near the goal line. The average ANY/A gained on pass plays inside the 5 last year was only about 7.4. And that number is a bit skewed because the best QBs are more likely to be the ones passing inside the 5. Manning, for example, averaged 12.1 ANY/A inside the 5. And since he was responsible for nearly 6% of all such plays, the league average without Manning was only 7.1. That’s not far enough from the 5.9 league average to concern me.

      • Joseph Bryant


        Could you briefly explain why the sack is primarily on the QB? I appreciate that qualities like speed of reading defenses, quickness of set-up and throwing release, and basic mobility are crucial here, but when great QBs discuss the challenges of the position, they almost always come back to “time to throw.” And that’s why, historically, when coaches and GMs talk about improving their passing game, they usually say things like “we have to get Archie/Jim Plunkett/x… better protection”; or we have to “give Sonny a running game to keep defenses honest”, etc.

        I mentioned Archie Manning as a case in point — i.e., where talent is there and consistent, yet sacks fluctuate significantly — and looking at a couple of others just now, I hope you can understand why some might think that the variations in sacks do not appear to track QB ability so much as quality of team, the protection granted, and whether a poor or great ground game placed QBs in better or worse passing situations.

        Here is Aikman, including his 6 Pro Bowl years:
        1990 – 39 sacks, on a 7-9 team
        1991 – 32 sacks, on 11-5 team
        1992 – 23 sacks, 13-3 team
        1993 – 26 sacks, 12-4 team
        1994 – 14 sacks, 12-4 team
        1995 – 14 sacks, 12-4 team
        1996 – 18 sacks, 10-6 team
        1997 – 33 sacks, on 6-10 team

        Ken Anderson
        1979, sacked 46 times on 4-11 team, with an 81 QB passer rating
        1981, sacked 25 times on 12-4 team, with a 98 QB passer rating

        It’s hard for me to see how Aikman or Anderson either improved or declined in their set-up speed, release, or defensive reads over this time — their talents had “settled”, I would say. Of course injuries play a key role, but that would be devilish to quantify.

        One might also reflect on game to game variability. How many times is it said that a QB had a bad passing game because he was harried and rushed hard all day, yet follows up with great passing next week when his offensive line stops the defenders from crashing in? Even at the college and high school levels, QB passing effectiveness seems to depend crucially on whether the QB has enough time to set and throw.

        So, yes, I do agree that QB skills make a difference, but few QBs will pass equally well against a great defensive rush as against a weak one, and that QBs with a great line and strong ground games have a passing advantage over those without.

        On the passing TD question, I was thinking more about the contrast between the so-called “Dead Ball era”, when “pounding it in” with the running backs seemed more common near the goal line, whereas today I think the 1 to 5 yard TD pass is much more in play. The average length of TD pass has dropped significantly over this time, hasn’t it, or am I mistaken?

  • Ty

    5 of the top 25 seasons had Randy Moss on the team (I didn’t count 2010 Tom Brady).

    Brett Favre’s best season being 2009 looks like it has a lot of merit (it is also somewhat surprising that his highest rank is at 61). Brett Favre was a great player, though quite overrated. He was arguably the best QB in the mid-90s, but there were circumstances that made that happen during that time (Steve Young kept getting hurt, Montana retired, Marino, Kelly and Elway were declining, then Elway revitalized his career, Moon was old). Even with all that, Favre still put up some great seasons in Green Bay, before Holmgren left.

    When Daunte Culpepper was on his game, he was unbelievable. I’m not too surprised that he is on the top 25. He never really learned how to play the QB position, and he got hurt. Randy Moss definitely helped Culpepper a lot, but I think Culpepper had a lot of ability in him as well.

    Manning and Brady are amazing, Young was, too; it is a shame that Young kept getting hurt in the mid-90s… and how his career ended. He would definitely rank higher (career-wise), otherwise.

  • BringBackTheFlex

    “I’m including rushing touchdowns, because our goal is to measure quarterbacks as players. ”

    This makes no sense to me. You aren’t evaluating them as players. Are you taking into account any tackles they might have made? Fumble recoveries? Receptions? Those are all things offensive PLAYERS do as well.

    A running QB is a QB who doesn’t know how to read defenses. It should be a penalty in your calculations for rushing yards – a QB isn’t doing his job if he’s running all over the field.

    • Ty

      QBs aren’t in a position to tackle, and if they are, then it is because they made a mistake (or their teammates did, so they shouldn’t be blamed for that), QBs obviously don’t catch passes, and fumble recovery rates are pretty fluky (I would understand if you had said actual fumbles).

      QBs are able to do 2 things when in a passing situation, pass and run. As long as you are efficient (with passing weighted more heavily), then what is the problem? Obviously you would want your QB to be great at passing, and anything else is a bonus. I would assume that this metric weights passing QBs much more heavily than running QBs, which is why statues like Manning, Brady, Marino, and Fouts are at the top. If a running QB can’t throw, his stats will reflect that, and he won’t usually be playing for long. If you want a QB that is good at both, there is Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers.

  • BringBackTheFlex

    The fact that Michael Vick, Sonny Jurgensen, Ron Jaworski, Roman Gabriel, Nick Foles, and Randall Cunningham are on this list proves how invalid it actually is. Whatever you are using to calculate this it woefully inadequate.

  • Paul Venturi

    You can’t rank a quarterback’s season just based on his regular season statistics, alone. You have to include playoffs, and most importantly, if they won the Super Bowl. That is why Brady’s 2007 season is practically null & void, along with Rodgers’ 2011 season and Manning’s 2004 disappointment.

    In short, the greatest season by a quarterback is Joe Montana’s 1989 season.

    That year, Joe set the all-time passing record with a rating of 112.4, then played even better than that in the playoffs. He threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in those 3 playoff games. His cumulative quarterback rating in the post season was over 130.

    Who can possibly match that?

    Steve Young’s 1994 season comes the closest. He edged Joe’s regular season mark of 112.4 by finishing with a 112.8 rating. In the playoffs Steve threw 9 TDs and no interceptions and his cumulative rating was just a little over 100. Still phenomenally good, but not as good as Joe.

    Joe and Steve have one feat that no one else in history: setting the passing record and winning the Super Bowl that very same year.

    When Manning broke Steve’s mark in 2004, Peyton fell well-short in the playoffs with a pathetic loss to the Patriots. Manning took three 1000+ yard receivers and a 1200+ yard running back and amassed a total of 3 points. Sad.

    Rodgers in 2011 broke Manning’s mark, put together a 15-1 regular season record, then lost his first playoff game to a mediocre 9-7 Giants.

    Greatness is about winning the big game. Sure, maybe there can be some luck involved, but a great quarterback steps up at the most important time and prevails. That is why Joe Montana is number one and someone like Peyton Manning or Steve Young fall outside the top-10.

    As many touchdowns and regular season wins that Manning has amassed, anybody knows he would happily trade his accomplishments for 2 Super Bowl rings. Instead, Manning is 11-12 in the playoffs, threw a game-deciding interception against the Saints in the 2009 Super Bowl, and lost 43-8 just this last year.

    Ever notice how Manning never smiles? It’s because he is extremely unsatisfied. He knows he has failed and underachieved.

    Lastly, if you rank quarterbacks based on true “greatness,” it would look like this:

    1. Joe Montana
    2. Terry Bradshaw
    3. Bart Starr
    4. Otto Graham
    5. Tom Brady
    6. Troy Aikman
    7. Roger Staubach
    8. Ben Roethlisberger
    9. John Elway
    10. Jim Plunkett

    Great players lead and win the big games.

  • William Berry

    I don’t know you, or anyone, can compensate for the following.
    Bob Greise, he of like 8 attempts in Super Bowl VIII, called his own plays.* When it was 2nd and goal from the two he could either throw a TD or take the ball out of his hands and give it to Czonka.

    * According to Terry Bradshaw, it does not mean a QB was like a coach. There were like six options; long pass left, medium pass left, long pass right, medium pass right, run left, and run right. Probably slightly more complicated than that with 6 holes to run at and two RBs, but still.

    BTW, your base stats are always arguable. Why 50 yard and not 49.6? 🙂

  • john

    Does anyone know how they come up with the multipliers ’20’ for passing TD’s and ’45’ for interceptions?
    why 20 and 45 ?