Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Top Ten QBs of the last 3 decades

In honor of the Peyton Manning v Drew Brees clash this Sunday in the 44th Superbowl, I decided to do a top 10 list of QBs.

Of course, all top 10 QBs of all time lists must include legends like Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham or Sammy Baugh.  But what do I really know about those who played before my time?  Not much.  Definitely not enough to do a legitimate ranking.  So I'm going to do a top 10 list of QBs since I've been around, starting about 1980.  These would be the QBs that I watched with my own eyes and cheered for, or against.

If I could play any position in all of sports, I would want to be a NFL QB.  I think its the most difficult position in all of team sports to do well.  It requires intelligence, leadership, poise, adaptability, accuracy, athleticism and the ability to perform under extreme pressure.

Value Criterion

In comparing the great ones, we'll look at how many rings he has, MVPs he's won, Pro Bowls he's gone to, overall record, QB rating, pass completion %, TD/INT ratio, yards, playoff stats, and lastly, and most importantly: my opinion.

While some fans put way too much credence on the number of championships a player has since football is the ultimate team game (just ask Marino), it obviously matters a great deal in considering one's greatness.  The player of all time cannot be ring-less.  Plus, if everyone is aiming for a championship above any other accolade every year, then the who meets his goal often must be awarded thusly.  His overall record can also be taken into account.

The MVP trophy helps us understand how the player is viewed by sportwriters during that season.  I think a QB who wins the MVP and the Superbowl in the same season should be viewed in higher regard.  Pro Bowls are not always the best measure but it shows how good a QB was in relation to his peers.  Special consideration goes to being a first team All-Pro as well.

I couldn't actually explain to you what a QB rating actually is, but everyone is rated by the same scale, so it is what it is.  I also picked out these two stats specifically since I think they're ultra important in evaluating a QB:  pass completion percentage will highlight accuracy while TD/INT ratio will reveal decision making skills.  Total career yards gives proof to longevity which is an important measure but not the paramount value of a QB's greatness.

While most look at just regular season stats, we'll also look at playoff numbers - including win-loss record, QB rating, passing percentage and TD/INT ratio.   It is in no way equal to the regular season numbers simply because of the smaller sample size but also because the level of competition is ratcheted way up during the postseason.  Still its worth seeing how a QB performs with much more pressure and against much better defenses.

Top 10 Quarterbacks since 1980

1) Joe Montana

4 rings (3 Superbowl MVPs).  2 MVPs.  8 Pro Bowls (3 All-Pro).
Regular Season: 117-47.  92.3 QB rating.  63.2% completion rate.  273 TD, 139 INT - 1.96 ratio.  40,551 yards.
Playoffs: 23-16.  95.6 QB rating, 62.7% completion rate.  45 TD, 21 INT - 2.14 ratio.

Montana's clearly the most clutch QB of all time.  With 4 Superbowls to his name, he is unsurpassed in this generation.  Also, its interesting that his QB rating and TD/INT ratio actually improved in the playoffs.  Many critics point to the fact that he played before the salary cap era, under the guidance of the genius of Bill Walsh and with all-time greats like Jerry Rice.  However, it was also before the era of free agency which limited team's to building through the draft and trades.  Secondly, we will never know to what degree Walsh's genius and Montana and Rice's excellence truly contributed to the 49ers success.  In my view, all three are the best there ever was at their respective position.

2) Peyton Manning

1 ring (1 SB MVP).  4 MVPs (a standalone record).  10 Pro Bowls (5 All-Pro).
Regular Season: 131-61.  95.2 QB rating.  64.8% completion rate.  366 TD, 181 INT -   2.02 ratio.  50,128 yards.
Playoffs: 9-8.  87.5 QB rating.  62.4% completion rate.  27 TD, 18 INT - 1.50 ratio.

If Peyton wins his 2nd SB on Sunday, he will seal his legacy as one of the greatest of all time.  In the end, Peyton will have played the position of quarterback perhaps better than anyone has ever played it.  He has more MVPs than anyone in history and inevitably he'll end up with more Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams than anyone including Favre.  At this rate, assuming he's injury free, he could have all of Favre's volume records (career yards and TDs but not INTs) as well, the difference with Favre being the fact that Peyton actually played the position of QB WELL throughout his entire career.

As for the debate between the QB giants of this generation (Manning and Brady), NBC sideline reporter Andrea Kramer took a poll of living Hall of Fame QBs which was quite revelatory. When asked who they would rather have as their QB, 13 members chose Manning, while only 2 chose Brady (Elway and Bradshaw did so on the strength of Brady's 3 titles) and 5 (including Montana, disappointingly) abstained. Thirteen of the 15 most qualified judges of QB talent has more respect for Manning's ability than Brady.

3) Tom Brady

3 rings (2 SB MVPs). 1 MVP. 5 Pro Bowls (1 All-Pro)
Regular Season: 97-30. 93.3 QB rating. 63.3% completion rate. 225 TD, 99 INT - 2.27 ratio. 30,844 yards.
Playoffs: 14-4. 85.5 QB rating. 62.0% completion rate. 28 TD, 15 INT - 1.87 ratio.

I don't have a ton of respect for Tom Brady as I still think that the Patriots first championship was won through Belicheat's cheating ways. Still, with the aid of Belicheat, Brady won 2 more and with superfreak Randy Moss, Brady put up record numbers in 2007. It is ultimately fitting that they fatefully lost that Superbowl on that miraculous David Tyree helmet play. Otherwise, the comparisons to Montana would have been nauseating.

4) Brett Favre

1 ring (0 SB MVP). 3 MVPs. 11 Pro Bowls (3 All-Pro).
Regular Season: 181-104.  86.6 QB rating. 62.0% completion rate. 497 TD, 317 INT - 1.57 ratio. 69,329 yards.
Playoffs: 13-11. 86.3 QB rating. 60.8% completion rate. 44 TD, 30 INT - 1.47 ratio.

Owner of almost every volume record out there, Favre has amassed stat after stat in his 19 years.  However, the fact that he has only won 1 SB in 19 tries is still a pockmark on his resume and it is clearly the driving force behind his unwillingness to retire.  Had he won another this year, he could then perhaps lay claim to the title of the greatest of all time.  Invariably, his penchant for throwing bone-headed interceptions in the most critical of moments drops him on the greatness scale.  In the end, just because he's played a long time doesn't mean that he's played WELL the entire time.  In fact, some years he was one of the worst, such as in 2005 when he lead the league in INTs with 29 (the next highest was 17).

5) Dan Marino

0 rings. 1 MVP. 9 Pro Bowls (3 All-Pro).
Regular Season: 147-93. 86.4 QB rating. 59.4% completion rate. 420 TD, 252 INT - 1.67 ratio. 61,361 yards.
Playoffs: 8-10. 77.1 QB rating. 56.0% completion rate. 32 TD, 24 INT - 1.33 ratio.

Besides Peyton, there may not ever be a more pure passer than Marino. Though he never won a championship (losing to Montana early on), it is clearly attributable to the dearth of a running game as well as defensive talent on his teams. Besides Peyton, never has a team relied more on their QB's arm.  Sadly, he drops beneath Favre as he became the former holder of volume records.

6) Kurt Warner

1 ring (1 SB MVP). 2 MVPs. 5 Pro Bowls (3 All-Pro).
Regular Season: 67-49.  93.7 QB rating. 65.5% completion rate. 208 TD, 128 INT - 1.62 ratio. 32,344 yards.
Playoffs: 9-4. 102.8 QB rating. 66.5% completion rate. 31 TD, 14 INT - 2.21 ratio.

Kurt is ranked slightly above Steve Young simply because he lifted two of the most defunct franchises to the Superbowl, winning one, being cheated out of another by Belicheat, and losing a 3rd to an incredible last minute TD catch.  As only two others on this top 10 list had done, he raised his level of play in the postseason, and his improvement, nearly 10 points higher on his QB rating, is astonishing.  Unfortunately, only a lull in the middle of his career due to injury and inane coaching keeps him from being considered among the greatest.

7) Steve Young

1 ring (1 SB MVP).  2 MVPs.  7 Pro Bowls (3 All-Pro).
Regular Season: 94-49.  96.8 QB rating.  64.3% completion rate.  232 TD, 107 INT - 2.17 ratio.  33,124 yards.
Playoffs: 12-8.  85.8 QB rating.  62.0% completion rate.  20 TD, 13 INT - 1.54 ratio.

Steve Young's championship was one of the great sports moments of my life.  Having lived under the shadow of Montana and the Cowboys for so long, he finally emerged victorious in one of the greatest performances in SB history.  He is also the most accurate QB of all time.  Too bad he only won 1.

8) John Elway

2 rings (1 SB MVP). 1 MVP. 9 Pro Bowls (5 All-Pro)
Regular Season: 148-82-1. 79.9 QB rating. 56.9% completion rate. 300 TD, 226 INT - 1.33 ratio. 51,475 yards.
Playoffs: 14-8. 79.7 QB rating. 54.4% completion rate. 27 TD, 21 INT - 1.29 ratio.

John's numbers are poor compared to most others on this list. However, after a disappointing career of postseason failure, including a drubbing at the hands of Montana, he won 2 consecutive SBs (including one head to head vs Favre) and retired on top.

9) Troy Aikman

3 rings (1 SB MVP).  0 MVPs.  6 Pro Bowls (1 All-Pro).
Regular Season: 94-71.  81.6 QB rating.  61.5% completion rate.  165 TD, 141 INT - 1.17 ratio.  32,942 yards.
Playoffs: 11-5.  88.3 QB rating.  63.7% completion rate.  23 TD, 17 INT - 1.35 ratio.

Aikman was perhaps the exact opposite of Marino.  He was the direct recipient of being on the most well-rounded and talented teams.  However, 3 SB rings alone earn him the right to be on this list.  Plus, he's a Bruin.

10) Jim Kelly

0 rings (4 SB appearances).  0 MVPs.  5 Pro Bowls (1 All-Pro).
Regular Season: 101-59.  84.4 QB rating.  60.1% completion rate.  237 TD, 175 INT - 1.35 ratio.  35,467 yards.
Playoffs: 9-8.  72.3 QB rating.  59.1% completion rate.  21 TD, 28 INT - 0.75 ratio.

This last name was more difficult. I ended up deciding between Kelly, Warren Moon and Donovan McNabb. Jim Kelly won out simply because he had taken his team to the Superbowl FOUR times.  Though Moon was a 9 time pro bowler, he never even made an appearance in the conference championship.  McNabb only got to the SB once though he was a frequent NFC title game visitor.

Extra Point:

In honor of Drew Brees' SB debut, here are his stats as of today.

Drew Brees
0 rings (1 SB appearance).  0 MVPs.  4 Pro Bowls.
Regular Season: 68-53.  91.9 QB rating.  64.8% completion rate.  202 TD, 110 INT - 1.84 ratio.  30,646 yards.
Playoffs: 3-2.  100.6 QB rating.  63.8% completion rate.  1 TD, 2 INT - 5.50 ratio.

If Brees can keep up his production with the Saints for another handful of years and be a regular fixture in the playoffs, he can definitely make his mark among the greats.  It will have to start with a victory on Sunday.

So I got to wondering, who are the Hall of Fame Quarterbacks anyway?

I highlighted the standouts, in my eyes.

Pre-Modern Era
John (Paddy) Driscoll 1920-1929
Jimmy Conzelman 1920-1929
Arnie Herber 1930-1940, 1944-1945
Earl (Dutch) Clark 1931-1938
Clarence (Ace) Parker 1937-141, 1945-1946
Sammy Baugh 1937-1952
Sid Luckman 1939-1950

Modern Era
Bob Waterfield 1945-1952
Otto Graham 1946-1955
Bobby Layne 1948-1962
Y.A. Tittle 1948-1964
Norm Van Brocklin 1949-1960
George Blanda 1949-1975
Bart Starr 1956-1971
Johnny Unitas 1956-1973
Sonny Jurgensen 1957-1974
Len Dawson 1957-1975
Fran Tarkenton 1961-1978
Joe Namath 1965-1977
Bob Griese 1967-1980
Roger Staubach 1969-1979
Terry Bradshaw 1970-1983
Dan Fouts 1973-1987
Joe Montana 1979-1994
John Elway 1983-1998
Dan Marino 1983-1999
Warren Moon 1984-2000
Steve Young 1985-1999
Jim Kelly 1986-1996
Troy Aikman 1989-2000

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