....For each of these analyses, I have gotten my raw data from Pro-Football-Reference.com's leader boards
I started by pulling the data for players in the top 10 of every statistical category, which gave me a total of 63 QBs. But then, once I had done that, I saw that there were players that clearly should not be included in the analysis. Take, for example, Jim Miller, who played from 1995 to 2002. He played a total of 8 years, but only appeared in 37 of a possible 128 games, starting 27 of them. So, I decided I had to weed out some players...
I filtered out any QB who played since 1980 with fewer than 2000 yards per season. I figured that if they played in the modern era and had production that low, they likely spent a significant amount of time as a backup. This eliminated players such as Rich Gannon, Mark Rypien and Neal O'Donnell...It also eliminated some promising new starters: Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, and David Garrard. In these cases, they have not been starters long enough to establish themselves as one of the historical greats....
At that point, I began looking at the data and realized that it would be necessary to break this analysis up into two parts: Modern Era (ME) and Old School (OS). Since the passing games were so different between these two eras, it seemed to me that comparing players from the 40s, 50s and 60s with those from the 80s and 90s would not really be an accurate comparison. The older players had much lower completion percentages and yards/season or game, but also much higher yards/attempt than the Modern Era QBs. So I broke up the list into players that played before 1978 and since 1978. This seemed to be the logical break point since that is the year that major rules changes began to aid the passing game. However, I decided to include Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton in the Modern Era analysis because, of those QBs that played their entire career before the rule changes, they were the only two in the top 11 in career passing yards.
As with the previous analyses, I have tried to look at these players in terms of what they did in a per game and per attempt basis. But, because of the fact that there were so many other statistics available, I also included yards per season and career completion percentage in the analysis. I thought these were important to include because QBs are so often judged in a given year based on these statistics. Below are the categories that I used to analyze these players:
- Completion Percentage
- Touchdown Percentage (TDs/Attempt x 100)
- Passer Rating
- Net Yards/Attempt (Incorporates Sack Yards lost) - Not used for OS
- Sack Percentage (Sacks/Attempt x 100) - Not used for OS
- Sacks/Game - Not used for OS
- Interception Percentage (Interceptions/Attempt x 100)
For the Modern Era analysis, Peyton Manning is the pretty clear number 1. He in the top 3 in 9 of the 14 categories, top 5 in 11 of the 14 categories, and he's in the top half of 2 of the other 3 categories. His lowest ranking is 14, for yards/completion. By comparison, Johnny Unitas is ranked number 1 in more categories (4), but is in the bottom 5 in half of the categories. Dan Marino, ranked second in this analysis, is in the top 5 in 6 of the 14 categories, and he is also in the top half of 12 of the categories. Carson Palmer is ranked in the top 5 in 5 of the 14 categories and the top half in 11 of the categories.
After reviewing these two analyses, Otto Graham and Peyton Manning actually have a greater gap in overall ranking than Jim Brown and his next closest competitor, Ladainian Tomlinson. Since Graham's career, and those of his era, are all over, we can say more surely that he was the greatest QB of his time. Peyton Manning is still playing, and therefore may drop in production and hurt his rankings. But, up to this point in his career, he has clearly been the most productive QB of the Modern Era, at least in the regular season.
Again, here are a few points of interest that I wanted to highlight before wrapping up this post:
- Our own Big Ben ranked number 1 in two categories, and was in the top 10 in 8 of the categories. Unfortunately, as we know, he's been sacked a lot, and his ranking in the sack categories reflect that. But, overall, as a player entering the prime of his career, he stacks up favorably with some of the historic greats. His overall average ranking puts him at number 9 in the Modern Era analysis, with an average ranking of 12.21. As we've discussed here before, he looks like he could be a future HOFer.