SITE NEWS: We are moving all of our site and company news into a single blog for Sports-Reference.com. We'll tag all PFR content, so you can quickly and easily find the content you want.

Also, our existing PFR blog rss feed will be redirected to the new site's feed.

Pro-Football-Reference.com ยป Sports Reference

For more from Chase and Jason, check out their work at Football Perspective and The Big Lead.

All-Time NFL QBs: The Best Overall QBs Ever

Posted by Chase Stuart on June 27, 2008

On Tuesday, I looked at the best regular season QBs ever. On Wednesday, I looked at the best playoff QBs ever. On Thursday, I looked at the best SB QBs ever. Today, I'm going to combine that all into a look at the best "Overall" QBs ever.

As I noted yesterday, I only have the post-season data for QBs from 1967 to 2006, and I don't have any sack data for any QB in any playoff game. That's going to make for some incomplete analysis, but I figure something is better than nothing.

We can take a look at the "new" 50 best seasons by a QB in NFL history. I calculated that by taking a QB's regular season adjusted net yards above average rating, and then added in his weighted playoff adjusted net yards above average rating. The list does change a bit -- Joe Montana's 1989 season vaults into the top two. (I manually calculated Brady's 2007 playoffs numbers since I knew his season would be high on the list, but I didn't do it for any other QB's 2007 post-season). Troy Aikman now has three spots in the top 50, and Mark Rypien's 1991 jumps into the top ten.

			year	Reg	Post	Ovr
Dan Marino		1984	2098	328	2426
Joe Montana		1989	1277	916	2193
Steve Young		1994	1407	721	2128
Peyton Manning		2004	1885	199	2084
Kurt Warner		1999	1490	531	2021
Joe Montana		1984	1267	581	1848
Otto Graham		1953	1808	  0	1808
Steve Young		1992	1611	181	1791
Mark Rypien		1991	1257	503	1760
Tom Brady		2007	1817   - 86	1730
Ken Anderson		1981	1318	398	1716
Troy Aikman		1992	 713	885	1598
Daryle Lamonica		1968	1012	562	1574
Daunte Culpepper	2004	1388	150	1538
Sid Luckman		1943	1499	  0	1499
John Brodie		1970	1360	137	1496
Bert Jones		1976	1506   - 58	1448
Roger Staubach		1971	1144	296	1439
Ken Stabler		1976	 985	447	1433
Dan Fouts		1981	1399	 33	1432
Steve Young		1993	1262	149	1411
Drew Brees		2006	1248	162	1410
Randall Cunningham	1998	1324	 80	1405
Kurt Warner		2001	1189	214	1403
Roger Staubach		1977	1031	369	1400
Joe Montana		1988	 503	887	1390
Ken Anderson		1975	1292	 94	1387
Terry Bradshaw		1978	 669	712	1381
Jeff Garcia		2000	1354	  0	1354
Milt Plum		1960	1344	  0	1344
George Blanda		1961	1342	  0	1342
Troy Aikman		1995	 833	504	1337
Joe Theismann		1983	1142	182	1323
Jim Kelly		1990	 733	572	1306
Len Dawson		1962	1297	  0	1297
Brett Favre		1996	 707	585	1292
Peyton Manning		2003	1220	 60	1280
Peyton Manning		2006	1396   -117	1279
Peyton Manning		2005	1189	 80	1269
Brett Favre		1995	1040	225	1265
Johnny Unitas		1964	1225	  0	1225
Warren Moon		1990	1214	  0	1214
Jim McMahon		1985	 504	707	1211
Dan Fouts		1982	1275   - 76	1198
Sammy Baugh		1947	1167	  0	1167
Len Dawson		1966	1164	  0	1164
Troy Aikman		1993	 852	307	1159
Bart Starr		1966	1158	  0	1158
Joe Montana		1983	 993	159	1152

In addition to Aikman's increased presence on the list, Joe Montana has four seasons in the top 50 now. Terry Bradshaw's 1978 rises up the list, too. It's probably not too surprising that those guys won a bunch of Super Bowls.

Of course, we can also calculate the career ratings for each QB using the same method. Once again, be cognizant that this list is incomplete for any QB that had a post-season game outside of 1967-2006, and to the extent that they were good at avoiding sacks in playoff games, they'll be slightly undervalued here. I put an asterisk next to guys who may have had some playoff games not counted. I also included the QB's regular season rank from Tuesday's list.

Rk                              Rating  RegRk
 1	Joe Montana 		9586	 5
 2	Steve Young 		8775	 3
 3	Dan Marino 		8737	 1
 4	Peyton Manning*		8100	 2
 5	Fran Tarkenton*		6735	 4
 6	Dan Fouts 		6661	 6
 7	Roger Staubach 		6483	 9
 8	Ken Anderson 		6468	 8
 9	Johnny Unitas*		6269	 7
10	Brett Favre*		5793	11
11	Len Dawson*		5683	10
12	John Elway 		5040	15
13	Kurt Warner		4778	18
14	Norm Van Brocklin*	4688	12
15	Bart Starr*		4570	16
16	Sonny Jurgensen*	4448	13
17	Terry Bradshaw 		4410	39
18	Tom Brady		4307	19
19	Troy Aikman 		4304	37
20	Otto Graham*		4250	14
21	Daryle Lamonica*	4083	27
22	Warren Moon 		3909	21
23	Boomer Esiason 		3857	17
24	Roman Gabriel*		3826	20
25	Trent Green		3693	22
26	Sid Luckman*		3667	23
27	Y.A. Tittle*		3632	25
28	John Hadl*		3620	24
29	Jim Hart*		3579	26
30	Steve McNair		3475	28
31	Joe Namath*		3427	30
32	Jeff Garcia*		3344	29
33	Sammy Baugh*		3305	32
34	Daunte Culpepper	3149	33
35	Ken Stabler 		3098	49
36	Bob Griese 		3096	40
37	John Brodie*		3030	35
38	Rich Gannon 		3019	31
39	Bert Jones 		2997	36
40	Donovan McNabb		2702	38
41	Mark Rypien 		2697	50
42	Randall Cunningham 	2644	45
43	Earl Morrall*		2453	41
44	Drew Brees*		2435	51
45	Billy Kilmer*		2421	43
46	Jim Kelly 		2407	34
47	Bobby Layne*		2396	48
48	Joe Theismann 		2352	55
49	Bernie Kosar 		2297	53
50	Mark Brunell 		2293	42
51	Vinny Testaverde	2174	52
52	Steve Grogan 		2140	47
53	Matt Hasselbeck*	2119	56
54	Phil Simms 		2064	60
55	Doug Williams 		1985	58
56	Jim Everett 		1983	46
57	Charlie Conerly*	1900	57
58	Don Meredith*		1879	54
59	Jim McMahon 		1876	79
60	Greg Landry 		1798	61
61	Jake Delhomme		1793	92
62	Milt Plum*		1766	62
63	Jeff Hostetler 		1751	87
64	Carson Palmer		1726	65
65	Craig Morton*		1717	44
66	George Blanda*		1693	63
67	Neil Lomax 		1684	69
68	Frank Ryan*		1675	67
69	Brad Johnson		1663	59
70	Steve DeBerg 		1607	70
71	Johnny Lujack*		1584	71
72	Marc Bulger		1545	74
73	Brian Sipe 		1525	64
74	Billy Wade*		1501	73
75	Dave Krieg 		1499	66

Not a lot of surprises here. Who moves up the most? Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman. Well, duh. Jim Plunkett, Jake Delhomme and Steve Young get some nice boosts, too. Ken Stabler, Kurt Warner, Jeff Hostetler, Jim McMahon, Roger Staubach, Daryl Lamonica, John Elway and Mark Rypien move up as well.

One interesting note -- Tom Brady just moves up one spot. That's because his post-season numbers haven't been great, although that's arguably unfair to him. He's had to play a bunch of post-season games in some pretty rough conditions.

Who moves down the most? Drew Bledsoe (not listed) drops a ton because including the post-season actually makes his career below average. As we saw on Wednesday, he's been the second worst playoff QB since the merger. Stan Humphries and Kordell Stewart suffer similar fates, falling from just above average to slightly below. Obviously, Dan Marino drops from #1 to #3, and Peyton Manning drops from #2 to #4. Otto Graham drops, almost certainly because I don't have his playoff stats handy (I suspect he played just fine in the post-season). Unitas drops a couple of spots for the same reason. Tarkenton drops, too, but we've only got a portion of his career post-season data included. Boomer Esiason and Jim Kelly drop a good chunk of spots, and those falls are, at least statistically, deserved. Trent Green, Rich Gannon, Mark Brunell, Ron Jaworski, Brian Sipe and Dave Krieg drop slightly, as well.

Two other guys worth mentioning. Kurt Warner jumps up to the #13 QB of all time. I don't think he's got quite the Hall of Fame resume in most people's eyes, but he's awfully close at this point. He had three excellent seasons, but probably not enough good seasons to warrant inclusion. If you use 3/4 of the league average, he drops a bit, which shows he's been more elite than a compiler. It's a tough case.

Ken Anderson, on the other hand, doesn't drop at all when you include post-season numbers. In fact, he rises slightly (although doesn't change in rank). Usually if a QB has incredible statistics but a less than incredible reputation, it's because he bombed in the post-season. But Anderson had a terrific post-season in '81, and was above average in two of his other three playoff appearances. Just a crime that he hasn't been invited to Canton.

Final note:

This has been a very fun week. Thanks to all the great comments and responses, both from this edition and the 2006 version. Your thoughts have helped shape my views, and crunching all this data has taught me a lot. I thought I'd share with you guys some of the things I've learned.

  • Sack data matters. Check this out:

    att  	cmp  	yards  	td  	int   	ay/a  	
    500 	300 	3500 	18 	14 	6.10 	
    550 	310 	3600 	18 	24 	4.91 	
    
    
  • If that's all you knew about the two QBs, the guy on the top line looks much better than the guy on the second line. It's not very close. But now imagine the first QB was sacked 60 times for 420 yards, and the second QB sacked 10 times for 70 yards. They'd both average 4.70 net adjusted yards per attempt, making them even. And that's how they should be ranked. Obviously the strength of the OL matters, but being sacked 50 fewer times is a huge deal. If on 50 plays where a QB would get sacked but he instead throws the ball, assume he completes 10 of the passes for 100 yards and throws 10 INT. That sounds really bad -- being 10/50 with 10 INT -- but that's statistically equivalent to taking 50 sacks.
  • This is part of the reason Joe Namath is underrated. He was terrific at avoiding sacks, but that comes hand in hand with throwing incompletions and interceptions. Yes, part of the reason his numbers look bad is because of the era, but a big part of the reason is because he was compiling some "positive" incompletions and interceptions instead of being sacked. Similarly, Dan Marino deserves a ton of credit for avoiding the sack as often as he did, while still putting up great numbers.
  • Yes, for Namath, era matters, too. Ignoring sack data, here's how his 1967 numbers (the top line) would look if we normalized them to the 2007 NFL season (bottom line):
    gs	cmp	att	pyd	ptd	icp
    14	258	491	4007	26	28
    16      329	509	4219	23	16
    
  • Sack data really matters with running QBs. It's easy to be impressed with Randall Cunningham's big seasons, but he got sacked a ton. Just like low sack rates are tied to high incompletion and interception rates (that is, a QB could certainly take a sack instead of his riskiest passes to increase his non-sack related metrics), sacks are inextricably tied with running data, too. Now the link doesn't run both ways -- Jeff George was sacked a ton and not because he scrambled a lot -- but it certainly runs one way. Randall Cunningham had 540 rushing yards in 1986... and lost 489 yards due to sacks (that's the most in NFL history). Even in 1990, when Cunningham had 942 rushing yards, he still was sacked 49 times for 431 yards. Those are significant numbers. Steve Young had a marvelous season running and passing in 1998, but he also was sacked 48 times. If you want to give Young credit for scrambling and running for 460 yards, and for throwing only 12 interceptions, remember that he cost his team three sacks a game, too.
  • I want to clear up something about the "worst QB ever" post. The Giants cut Jared Lorenzen, partially because New York has Manning, David Carr, Anthony Wright, and Andre' Woodson. Now you might think -- hey, David Carr is the thrid worst QB ever, why would they keep him! Well, not really. If I had to choose between David Carr or Jared Lorenzen to QB my team, I'd take David Carr. But that doesn't disqualify him for ranking lower on the career list of "value added to a team" than Lorenzen. Carr should be considered the third biggest damager to team value of all time. Or the third least valuable QB of all time. For example, if I was forced to see my team have David Carr for 2,206 attempts or Jared Lorenzen for 8 attempts and a roll of the dice for 2,198 attempts, I'd take the roll of the dice. But if I had to choose Carr or Lorenzen, I'd still choose Carr. And that's why the 3/4 of league average list is useful. Carr ranks as the 180th best QB of all time, Lorenzen the 511th. So just always keep in mind what each list is measuring.

This entry was posted on Friday, June 27th, 2008 at 6:14 am and is filed under History, Statgeekery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.