Regular Season QBGOAT IX: Career Soft Inflation Adjustment

otto stiffarmWelcome to part nine in the greatest regular season quarterback series, where we will use a career soft inflation adjustment to modify player values. The hope is that, by using the softer adjustment, we will put older players on a level playing field while not giving them too much credit for plays they never actually made. Many low-volume players from the league’s Stone Age showed up shockingly high on our last list, and the softer multiplier should mitigate the effects of a straight one-to-one conversion of ancient to modern stats.

The method for applying the career soft inflation adjustment is simple:

  1. Find the career hard inflation adjustment (formula here)
  2. Take the average of that number and 100%
  3. Use the result as a multiplier to increase or decrease a player’s value

So, for example, if a player from 1932 receives a hard adjustment of 2.151, his soft adjustment will be 1.576.1 The hard adjustment for 2015 is 0.851, so the soft adjustment is 0.925.2 Like I said, super simple. Using these inflation adjustments will essentially artificially inflate the number of plays a quarterback ran in his career and, consequently, the overall values his career produced.

What do I mean by “values?” Specifically, I mean Total Adjusted Yards over an established baseline. There are two primary ways of ranking quarterback’s careers: value over average and value above replacement. Value over average tells us who was the most dominant. Average play is a pretty high threshold, and only quarterbacks who consistently play well will put up big numbers in that category. Replacement-level is a much lower threshold,3 meaning that quarterbacks who played for a longer period of time, but may not have been quite as dominant, will feature higher on the list. Some quarterbacks played at a very high level and did it for a very long time. They are the ones who tend to occupy the top ten, regardless of the methods we use to measure them.

With that in mind, let’s check out the results.

Career Soft Inflation Adjustment

The table below displays the career stats for every quarterback since 1932 who met the following conditions: at least 750 plays, at least 3000 Total Adjusted Yards, or an absolute value of at least 750 in the “VAL” column.4 Read it thus: Peyton Manning had 9614 plays for 65181 Total Adjusted Yards, at 6.78 TAY/P. He was 1.71 TAY/P better than average for his career. He was also 2.98 or 3.13 better than replacement, depending on the baseline you use for replacement-level.5 His value above average is 16491, while his replacement values are 28669 and 30180.

PlayerPLYTAYTAY/PVal/P75Rep/PSDRep/PVal75RepSDRep
Peyton Manning9614651816.781.712.983.13164912866930180
Dan Marino8655523486.051.412.572.88122222226225005
Otto Graham4254284756.692.573.604.80108511522320311
Joe Montana6329394596.231.662.803.14104141765119819
Tom Brady8251531156.441.252.542.64102982099821838
Fran Tarkenton9123465195.101.102.102.95101441926526995
Drew Brees8350536696.431.202.512.61100272092621843
Steve Young5039330506.561.893.063.3595891546516920
Johnny Unitas7544401585.321.102.153.0085401650722918
Sammy Baugh5428251854.641.532.313.7783121250220493
Ken Anderson6119325375.321.312.313.0082741439118713
Norm Van Brocklin4372252455.771.902.873.9482161245517098
Dan Fouts6671358275.371.152.202.7478411485718536
Sid Luckman3123168295.392.393.144.7878341016215325
Sonny Jurgensen5669312595.511.312.363.1974401339818068
Aaron Rodgers4506317597.051.632.983.0373201342513666
Roger Staubach4316234405.431.672.613.4671171117014888
Brett Favre10825588065.430.601.812.0564641954222149
Len Dawson5040268945.341.182.223.0657491096915221
Tony Romo4556295576.491.172.502.5953611141111836
Philip Rivers5632354566.290.942.282.3453281286213215
Y.A. Tittle6632335335.060.831.892.8652141219418735
Ben Roethlisberger5925364116.150.862.182.2750671289413464
Cecil Isbell2050108225.282.273.024.37465762008967
John Brodie5997299364.990.811.852.6846011087715859
Kurt Warner4315257505.971.052.282.524503980810841
Daryle Lamonica3353176385.261.352.333.314475775111033
John Elway8283428325.170.531.692.0044161401816596
Joe Namath4732228744.830.911.892.884233887113567
Jeff Garcia4138241445.830.992.202.42408490959993
Bert Jones3497177925.091.132.122.873948738610089
Jim Kelly5265284325.400.741.912.2239381007011717
Donovan McNabb6129342155.580.641.872.1039291151012919
Trent Green4068234915.780.952.162.39387787839732
John Hadl6231288164.620.611.612.533709995015634
Bart Starr4588234995.120.861.932.763676856412387
Bob Griese4722212294.500.711.662.603418788012362
Jim Hart6370280884.410.471.452.223378962714573
Steve McNair5229284215.440.641.842.073336960410794
Carson Palmer5690329855.800.551.861.9731151057411222
Roman Gabriel6274281244.480.491.492.353104935914778
Bobby Layne6184265664.300.471.432.513052896015667
Boomer Esiason5811299825.160.521.681.992994973811539
Warren Moon7593382355.040.391.551.8529781180114082
Dutch Clark166875004.501.812.483.73294140616141
Rich Gannon4830258035.340.611.792.04290786209805
Bob Waterfield2567108564.231.061.853.35284448608765
Troy Aikman5106268675.260.551.731.992814882310171
Mark Brunell5287279665.290.511.711.932695901010190
Matt Ryan4724284376.020.561.931.95266291039215
Jim Everett5287274335.190.501.671.972642883910400
Johnny Lujack123267725.502.132.974.30263236695311
Terry Bradshaw5458244994.490.521.512.212591799411827
Charlie Conerly4498193544.300.531.472.622510675911912
Steve Grogan4631216484.670.511.552.122490728610017
Joe Theismann4623221014.780.531.592.07244573489615
Billy Kilmer4183185714.440.551.522.392343641010064
Matt Schaub3450204715.930.641.972.12224668067343
Cliff Battles163868244.171.392.093.24224233775265
Russell Wilson2141142326.651.032.432.28220652124885
Arnie Herber226185013.760.981.682.98215137156684
Craig Morton5067221744.380.421.412.152068705510901
Mark Rypien2767149695.410.731.902.20205952926126
Earl Morrall3806180974.750.591.632.47196059259149
Daunte Culpepper3846205645.350.501.711.93192365847427
Doug Williams3080156015.070.661.762.16184852436485
Chad Pennington2709150195.540.641.862.11171250375700
Frankie Albert2626134055.100.671.783.01169946037849
Tommy Thompson2650103403.900.721.513.05168537837875
Frank Ryan3155153774.870.581.652.51167450657787
Jim McMahon3269166245.090.521.662.02166954006579
Bernie Kosar3744189235.050.431.591.93166359917271
Ed Danowski198070763.570.801.492.72164330095461
Bernie Masterson91942424.621.692.423.53157622463271
Bob Monnett130852173.991.211.903.10156824734051
Ken Stabler4762202624.260.241.251.92155963149608
Greg Landry3586152164.240.391.352.13155650037843
Cam Newton2979181316.090.521.911.81154556935398
Randall Cunningham5396267984.970.291.461.76154078549498
Tom Flores2073109595.290.711.852.48147038425137
Milt Plum3503161444.610.261.352.21144052498306
Billy Wade3842180504.700.351.442.28135955188763
Charley Johnson4612202504.390.281.312.15133060629948
George Ratterman2094107595.140.601.742.91128236466106
Ray Mallouf52129545.682.463.264.76126916842462
Brian Sipe4239192314.540.381.421.98124656328048
Neil Lomax3862189464.910.401.521.92123955937126
Danny White3399164064.830.341.461.85116749796292
Doug Flutie2479129605.230.471.661.91116141094736
Phil Simms5373255324.750.221.351.70114672369122
Brad Johnson4636233925.050.251.451.67114667057745
Michael Vick4194225265.370.261.541.69111964697108
Eli Manning6440351985.470.181.501.591116962310230
Marc Bulger3415179465.250.321.561.81110753186191
Jeff Hostetler2758139665.060.371.541.80102342624975
Tony Canadeo91336203.961.021.763.5397316463264
Neil O'Donnell3558176534.960.261.441.7092851076040
Don Meredith3304152094.600.311.382.2291644647222
Elvis Grbac2599132255.090.341.531.7488039664524
Ace Parker198874403.740.471.292.4786124634797
Bobby Thomason208385024.080.451.362.4586027545025
Pat Haden172574844.340.401.382.0285625463671
Bill Kenney2849137224.820.331.451.8583840375178
Bill Nelsen2558112494.400.331.352.1583534335484
Tuffy Leemans70729784.211.262.003.6683413572535
David Garrard2729146285.360.281.551.8176342304945
Matt Hasselbeck5787300555.190.121.391.5774880799140
Bobby Hebert3407164994.840.211.361.7074446935823
Frank Filchock197064843.290.331.072.4869621544949
Virgil Carter115152264.540.591.582.3268618232682
Andy Dalton2698156605.810.241.631.5465144024153
Jim Zorn4097176804.320.201.231.7960748167162
Matthew Stafford3829217445.680.151.531.4857058595672
Ron Jaworski5084224764.420.161.231.7156159568460
Glenn Presnell150344522.960.300.972.2554615483456
Andrew Luck2266131725.810.231.621.5051336773402
Butch Songin82442125.110.551.692.2845113901875
Kirk Cousins95558566.130.441.861.6442317811565
Spec Sanders126667735.350.311.572.7839619893525
Tommy Kramer4346195174.490.071.181.5637451766850
Jake Delhomme3155159925.070.101.351.6234142575118
Jeff Blake3719180794.860.091.291.5033847705560
Colin Kaepernick166996645.790.181.581.4330626462396
Jay Cutler4725255995.420.061.401.4730266246989
George Grosvenor88326923.050.310.992.212798841960
Jacky Lee105649914.730.271.382.0527914562159
Jeff George4326207044.790.071.251.5127253676490
Bill Dudley97229913.080.260.962.772549372700
Stan Humphries2700129534.800.091.271.5124734224077
Nick Foles130075325.800.181.591.4423820621866
Tony Eason182184384.630.131.261.6222922782938
Bob Berry180272594.030.101.081.8621419833395
James Harris164962233.770.081.001.9621217343319
Ed Brown3073130484.250.021.071.9520734476145
Gary Danielson2498112924.520.221.301.7419828823996
Paul Christman192260833.170.130.892.5019416344760
Steve Pelluer116655324.740.161.301.7119415312008
Ken O'Brien4049188144.650.051.201.5518148376273
Robert Griffin130774135.670.131.511.4417319841884
George Blanda4581201674.400.041.131.8817151198684
Paul Governali89428853.230.120.892.451448372232
Aaron Brooks3415166174.870.041.251.4713942585007
Jay Schroeder3188148194.650.031.191.5311737944901
Charlie O'Rourke75534424.560.101.222.601129412006
Vince Ferragamo191282734.33-0.101.011.4010522212966
Wade Wilson2822131324.650.031.181.529833634309
Byron Leftwich176987684.960.031.271.536722432715
Bill Munson2757110704.010.021.021.896028145222
Jay Fiedler195594144.810.021.221.423223752760
Steve Beuerlein3721175934.730.001.191.442144155356
Erik Kramer2476116894.720.011.191.46929233586
Rob Johnson103148904.74-0.011.181.37-812161412
Vinny Testaverde7280345154.740.011.191.46-23859310538
Craig Erickson120156124.67-0.031.141.36-4513681631
Cotton Davidson207795204.58-0.021.131.73-5123393590
Don Trull91438384.20-0.080.991.88-719051719
Charlie Batch183987674.77-0.051.151.36-9321232511
Jim Harbaugh4668218374.68-0.021.151.43-11253756674
Scott Mitchell2546119274.68-0.051.141.35-11728953447
Johnny Clement129846953.62-0.100.832.25-12210782932
Jake Locker80343085.36-0.171.221.16-129981937
Brian Griese3086147734.79-0.041.171.38-13635904265
Don Strock94539734.21-0.021.041.57-1488481356
Norm Snead5834240084.12-0.021.011.84-153588310712
Steve Bono182884314.61-0.101.081.33-18119722445
Steve DeBerg5659253804.490.011.131.51-18861408299
Brian Hoyer104857265.47-0.181.231.04-19412851092
George Shaw132252463.97-0.230.821.68-21011742315
Chris Miller3191148094.64-0.071.111.39-21735404459
Shaun Hill129166095.12-0.171.151.33-21814891718
Ty Detmer103146164.48-0.260.931.17-2659551202
Jeff Kemp106845284.24-0.290.851.24-3049041324
John Friesz144464414.46-0.220.951.24-33613541776
Joe Geri98929733.01-0.360.481.80-3474841787
Scott Hunter110437823.43-0.300.631.51-3556731646
Kyle Orton2858146895.14-0.121.201.37-35933973893
Tim Rattay79434954.40-0.450.761.03-360603821
Teddy Bridgewater94650305.32-0.391.040.79-368981747
Jake Plummer4843227814.70-0.091.111.35-38454166552
Jim Finks211072423.43-0.180.731.89-38815163961
Steve Tensi115340203.49-0.350.611.80-4037022069
Steve Spurrier151052313.46-0.280.651.60-40810062439
Pat Ryan75729393.88-0.630.500.89-434420714
Jim Miller108447304.36-0.410.780.95-4428521032
Shaun King86736714.23-0.520.670.88-455575759
Tobin Rote5019192323.83-0.070.901.86-45844239296
Jason Campbell2794140665.03-0.171.131.33-46031723723
Mike Tomczak2572115714.50-0.180.991.30-46925383338
Seneca Wallace87640314.60-0.540.750.98-471655862
Shane Matthews87136684.21-0.550.640.84-474562730
Harry Newman111824892.23-0.380.271.60-4742531754
Damon Huard104846354.42-0.470.750.99-4887941037
Johnny Green77330413.93-0.640.511.18-490393912
Pete Liske107936763.41-0.470.501.32-4915541433
Gary Hogeboom150164344.29-0.290.861.20-49412231734
Steve Bartkowski4337181704.19-0.041.021.54-51740556337
Glenn Dobbs161677224.78-0.300.972.19-51815333510
Mike Livingston243784263.46-0.250.681.61-52117344021
Dave Krieg6128278864.55-0.061.091.41-57664908440
Al Woodall76623413.06-0.780.181.02-590144787
Steve Ramsey130442373.25-0.460.471.43-6016071857
Vince Young160375284.70-0.380.891.11-60214291777
Gus Frerotte3352155574.64-0.181.031.26-61434264218
Joe Flacco4330229115.29-0.151.211.26-62152605454
Parker Hall172645942.66-0.370.391.73-6276762985
Irv Comp140231822.27-0.620.101.88-6433702870
Joe Ferguson5751233054.05-0.080.961.56-65352528826
Chris Chandler4560209244.59-0.141.041.30-66647205893
Kordell Stewart2940133204.53-0.230.961.19-67528233488
Roy Zimmerman151036972.45-0.550.201.89-6904333003
Trent Edwards103445764.42-0.690.590.85-714609885
Cody Carlson77228703.72-0.940.230.54-715183426
Derek Carr119260735.10-0.610.820.57-725975683
Bob Lee96628382.94-0.780.151.09-7441541067
Emmett Mortell73915202.06-1.00-0.240.72-753-188520
Marty Domres124939093.13-0.620.321.28-7564141613
Ray Evans3484951.42-2.17-1.270.22-756-44477
Spergon Wynn176820.47-4.30-3.11-2.95-757-547-519
Frankie Sinkwich113829872.63-0.740.101.78-7591742114
Curtis Painter3119182.95-2.46-1.11-1.03-767-346-323
Stoney Case39611122.81-1.94-0.75-0.51-768-298-201
Rusty Lisch150-99-0.66-5.12-4.01-3.65-771-603-549
Angelo Bertelli2433811.57-3.24-2.04-0.75-775-483-169
David Woodley173069344.01-0.460.651.02-78311521780
Chuck Ortmann3152500.79-2.53-1.70-0.55-798-536-173
Tony Adams57814212.46-1.40-0.440.39-809-254232
Bob Waters2512611.04-3.40-2.29-1.53-815-535-344
Patrick Ramsey100040324.03-0.820.400.63-817395634
Harry Hopp223-161-0.72-3.71-2.96-1.10-825-659-245
Chris Cagle4984910.99-1.68-1.020.25-826-493135
Frank Reich104741083.92-0.790.380.64-827408675
Tarvaris Jackson127257954.56-0.650.650.81-8278281031
Quincy Carter114246924.11-0.730.480.69-830551786
Chuck Long69123243.36-1.22-0.080.36-837-45261
George Herring2603271.26-3.23-2.11-1.44-840-548-376
Terry Nofsinger3716861.85-2.30-1.27-0.34-850-464-121
Ted Marchibroda65817082.60-1.31-0.330.49-855-212326
Cotton Price5148501.66-1.64-0.820.66-858-445324
Matt Moore85136634.30-1.010.310.46-859272397
Brandon Weeden101547644.70-0.850.540.46-864543470
Chris Simms57419403.38-1.51-0.29-0.02-865-164-7
Boley Dancewicz4576081.33-1.88-1.080.42-867-500188
Tommy Wade109-408-3.72-7.92-6.87-5.95-867-752-651
Kevin Kolb85137004.35-1.020.320.46-871270388
Billy Patterson4153670.88-2.15-1.39-0.17-890-575-70
Josh Freeman2228111365.00-0.400.951.06-89021152366
Ryan Lindley2756332.30-3.24-1.85-1.92-892-511-529
Todd Collins81329983.69-1.110.090.34-89381282
Tommy Maddox131054104.13-0.680.520.75-895679976
Art Schlichter2763731.35-3.11-1.99-1.64-902-594-495
Jack Kemp4025169354.21-0.210.891.66-90635376620
Sam Vacanti52117583.37-1.75-0.470.72-908-241379
Pat Sullivan3132430.78-2.91-1.99-0.97-914-625-308
Bobby Scott68816202.36-1.40-0.460.44-919-277357
Randy Hedberg140-431-3.09-6.64-5.75-4.78-927-803-667
David Archer85529013.39-1.080.040.40-92927335
Danny Wuerffel41810442.50-2.23-1.05-0.81-932-438-338
Kent Graham148760914.10-0.620.560.82-9338211210
Harry Gilmer90122562.50-1.05-0.161.01-934-133918
Jeff Rutledge62819223.06-1.47-0.340.08-941-22935
Brady Quinn60322433.72-1.58-0.25-0.07-945-147-36
Jim Plunkett5150199263.87-0.180.831.52-94942387859
Gary Cuozzo165356683.43-0.570.431.25-9556962050
A.J. Feeley81130313.74-1.180.050.28-95838222
Gary Marangi4366131.41-2.21-1.30-0.27-963-569-118
Pete Beathard174459143.39-0.550.441.50-9687482599
Drew Bledsoe7235335654.64-0.131.061.29-97376599300
Colt McCoy97543224.43-1.010.350.42-982344410
Chad Hutchinson47712982.72-2.06-0.87-0.66-983-413-315
Kelly Holcomb97037283.84-1.020.200.44-987192428
Bill Troup4205811.38-2.36-1.42-0.74-992-599-311
Jerry Golsteyn2791440.52-3.49-2.49-1.82-995-719-526
Jim Hardy140637522.67-0.700.151.54-9961852157
Bud Schwenk120438633.21-0.770.231.77-10041582055
Stan Heath167-433-2.59-6.00-5.14-3.63-1004-862-608
Donald Hollas47011792.51-2.17-1.00-0.68-1021-472-319
Joe Reed79319272.43-1.28-0.350.64-1022-287502
Whizzer White100220602.06-1.00-0.240.93-1024-257905
Frank Patrick218-330-1.52-4.74-3.93-2.97-1024-851-639
Don Jackson150-629-4.19-6.85-6.18-4.89-1030-930-735
Matt Robinson68016432.42-1.56-0.570.00-1031-35736
Blake Bortles119857894.83-0.880.550.30-1048662362
Mark Herrmann68019992.94-1.55-0.43-0.06-1048-285-31
Steve Walsh139655313.96-0.780.410.66-1066588945
Mickey Slaughter75024363.25-1.43-0.260.27-1067-190207
Bobby Hoying53614462.70-2.02-0.84-0.56-1077-446-296
Browning Nagle48811432.34-2.23-1.08-0.72-1081-523-345
Babe Parilli4546190684.19-0.150.941.73-108538187509
Dick Wood140254643.90-0.770.390.97-10865511357
Scott Bull307360.12-3.56-2.64-1.84-1087-805-557
Ken Dorsey43010192.37-2.53-1.31-0.99-1087-560-425
Steve Romanik65311471.76-1.69-0.830.41-1102-540271
Ryan Tannehill2418124735.16-0.460.950.80-110322911927
Derek Anderson164473494.47-0.680.610.82-110910051353
Steve Fuller148854073.63-0.750.350.71-11165161062
Don Majkowski228296104.21-0.500.680.98-111915652259
Kellen Clemens73227513.76-1.53-0.21-0.14-1125-158-110
Dave Ryan5172690.52-2.18-1.500.26-1131-784132
Hugh Millen109639733.62-1.030.130.48-1135141517
Paul McDonald98732903.33-1.14-0.020.35-1139-35332
Terry Hanratty59211701.98-1.95-0.97-0.17-1144-564-91
Mike McMahon62618793.00-1.83-0.62-0.42-1146-390-263
David Whitehurst125339193.13-0.890.120.67-1147111817
Richard Todd3811149373.92-0.350.721.21-114929074818
Bob Hoernschemeyer118747524.00-0.980.271.50-11523261787
Steve Dils109838113.47-1.040.090.52-115582555
Chris Weinke77125493.31-1.50-0.30-0.14-1156-230-105
John Reaves84620792.46-1.35-0.400.40-1161-360327
George Terlep259560.21-4.52-3.34-2.03-1165-858-519
Jack Scarbath4605161.12-2.52-1.61-0.44-1168-749-215
Geno Smith98143254.41-1.190.210.05-117120352
Bob Davis71812331.72-1.94-1.030.13-1174-530347
Heath Shuler67220082.99-1.78-0.59-0.39-1195-394-263
Lynn Dickey3903157424.03-0.220.841.37-120029305044
John Skelton65023163.57-1.85-0.50-0.41-1201-321-262
Rusty Hilger53912832.38-2.24-1.09-0.65-1205-583-350
Bill Mackrides5537031.27-2.18-1.320.02-1208-7316
Eddie LeBaron2832105313.72-0.400.631.57-122116864380
Vince Evans172167293.91-0.610.520.87-12227221320
Jack Jacobs98619611.99-1.29-0.471.10-1233-4281126
Doug Pederson59215712.65-2.10-0.91-0.68-1242-539-402
Alex Smith4113209175.09-0.291.061.08-124342764406
John McCormick62716652.66-1.98-0.82-0.16-1243-516-103
Jack Thompson98731223.16-1.26-0.160.25-1253-161240
John Roach53910241.90-2.44-1.36-0.43-1255-670-164
Charlie Frye79826583.33-1.58-0.35-0.11-1263-283-86
Jeff Komlo5339561.79-2.40-1.35-0.93-1271-713-490
Mike Pagel190774853.93-0.590.540.91-12778761588
Adrian Burk157943792.77-0.800.091.20-12821311875
Andrew Walter3896151.58-3.30-2.08-1.84-1282-807-714
David Klingler84826703.15-1.52-0.35-0.11-1289-299-88
Ed Matesic8689051.04-1.50-0.860.56-1303-754485
Cliff Stoudt89628973.23-1.27-0.140.29-1308-29987
Jimmy Clausen51915062.90-2.56-1.19-1.12-1331-623-585
Todd Blackledge100431903.18-1.33-0.200.16-1338-207160
Christian Ponder119252034.36-1.120.250.24-1341295287
Mark Malone185770853.82-0.700.430.82-13447541496
Karl Sweetan81520052.46-1.66-0.630.28-1351-512223
Craig Whelihan59514522.44-2.27-1.10-0.81-1353-652-484
Bruce Gradkowski81527753.40-1.66-0.39-0.16-1354-322-130
Sam Etcheverry4306341.48-3.15-2.00-1.30-1355-857-558
Eric Hipple188172243.84-0.640.480.87-13577501480
Dick Shiner106529912.81-1.29-0.260.53-1367-276567
Don Panciera3803700.97-3.58-2.44-1.17-1368-933-449
Anthony Wright71120822.93-1.93-0.72-0.48-1368-504-338
Rodney Peete2762116194.21-0.510.670.91-137918742544
J.P. Losman112541393.68-1.24-0.010.23-1392-9263
Dave Wilson114837333.25-1.22-0.100.28-1394-111326
Akili Smith56012482.23-2.51-1.32-1.12-1405-742-627
Marc Wilson238894003.94-0.600.530.89-141112992155
Stan Gelbaugh4576791.49-3.09-1.95-1.56-1415-892-716
Rex Grossman166070244.23-0.860.410.60-14246881003
Jim Ninowski151053273.53-0.880.221.05-14552091483
Joe Pisarcik115831232.70-1.24-0.250.38-1457-327437
Randy Wright123441333.35-1.18-0.050.36-1458-60450
Billy Joe Tolliver186773733.95-0.780.400.67-14617471244
Bubby Brister2523103864.12-0.580.600.89-146215002253
Al Dorow179764663.60-0.750.331.03-14644761756
JaMarcus Russell76024243.19-1.94-0.66-0.37-1475-500-280
Davey O'Brien111618721.68-1.35-0.590.56-1505-660633
Ronnie Cahill324-546-1.68-4.69-3.94-2.17-1520-1277-704
Joe Kapp137140792.98-1.11-0.090.69-1524-125934
Dean McAdams6554530.69-2.28-1.540.22-1527-1040114
George Izo4162460.59-3.74-2.66-1.81-1532-1081-728
Fred Enke123927952.26-1.25-0.371.03-1534-4491292
Ryan Fitzpatrick3839193525.04-0.390.971.00-153736723822
Rudy Bukich167257223.42-0.810.251.15-15392301742
Lamar McHan242982543.40-0.680.341.25-15489223130
Tim Couch190775623.97-0.820.380.57-15557251085
Chad Henne209097154.65-0.750.600.70-156512551462
Sam Bradford2398116184.85-0.650.720.72-157017241733
Bob Avellini153640962.67-1.07-0.140.70-1592-1591146
Joe Lillard6311680.27-2.55-1.85-0.74-1594-1150-457
Kelly Stouffer5057441.47-3.15-2.00-1.61-1596-1012-819
Scott Brunner142143273.05-1.44-0.320.09-1599-5559
Bobby Douglass217365343.01-0.770.171.06-16653892329
Danny Kanell101331263.09-1.65-0.47-0.21-1674-474-208
Dan Darragh414-112-0.27-4.08-3.13-1.99-1690-1296-824
Matt Cassel2871135434.72-0.620.720.85-176020682472
Jack Concannon170150922.99-1.03-0.030.77-1763-501302
Kent Nix88317461.98-2.04-1.04-0.20-1817-930-196
Johnny Gildea490-625-1.27-3.89-3.23-1.87-1916-1596-926
Josh McCown220596254.37-0.860.440.51-19309491102
Archie Manning5090187213.68-0.290.701.39-193530986699
Tony Banks2690107594.00-0.750.440.68-200611861832
Dennis Shaw141233782.39-1.45-0.490.29-2045-691409
Dave Brown190770293.69-1.070.120.32-2050220605
Ryan Leaf73914001.89-2.84-1.65-1.44-2098-1223-1064
Joey Harrington2704110454.09-0.780.440.67-210711821823
Rick Norton513-119-0.23-4.14-3.16-1.98-2115-1615-1009
Blaine Gabbert118844623.75-1.78-0.40-0.46-2126-481-548
Kim McQuilken391-713-1.83-5.47-4.56-3.54-2130-1774-1374
Hugh McCullough634-234-0.37-3.37-2.62-1.41-2154-1680-916
Jack Trudeau180760843.37-1.26-0.100.23-2244-155435
King Hill116928802.46-1.80-0.730.18-2245-100072
Kerry Collins6663300484.51-0.350.871.10-230857837320
Mark Sanchez2438108044.43-0.990.360.44-24188861083
Jon Kitna4856211934.36-0.500.710.93-244034704516
Mike Taliaferro126525722.03-2.01-1.00-0.06-2552-1275-87
Kyle Boller175560063.42-1.52-0.29-0.02-2663-494-30
Gary Huff111713821.24-2.43-1.51-0.51-2703-1679-559
Rick Mirer237585553.60-1.140.040.26-2716101622
Randy Johnson185746312.49-1.51-0.510.38-2760-904744
Frank Tripucka219865772.99-1.24-0.180.68-2787-4931465
Ralph Guglielmi114921361.86-2.47-1.39-0.47-2832-1591-528
Zeke Bratkowski211462732.97-1.33-0.250.60-2898-6321198
David Carr2737103403.78-1.080.130.37-29513731025
Mike Phipps262168272.60-1.23-0.270.55-3185-6831528
Trent Dilfer3513134923.84-0.940.260.48-33018971696
Dan Pastorini4102119212.91-0.910.050.86-36812143624

Manning still reigns supreme as the NFL’s regular season stat king.6 He has one of the most statistically dominant peaks of any quarterback in history, and he had arguably the longest sustained peak of any player at any position. Tom Brady and Drew Brees, who both show little sign of slowing down soon, are probably not in position to catch Manning. However, it is reasonable to assume they can secure the second and third spots by the time they call it quits.7

Looking at the rest of the top 25 in value over average, we see a who’s who of legendary passers. Of the top 25, twenty are either in the Hall of Fame or headed there.8 Ken Anderson, as usual, is the highest rated quarterback not in the Hall. He was among the steadiest hands of his generation, but contemporaries contend that he was never feared in the way that someone like Terry Bradshaw or Joe Namath was.

john brodieToday’s candidates for best-quarterback-not-in-the-Hall-of-Fame are Tony Romo and Philip Rivers. They have produced consistently for often middling franchises, and their lack of championship clout will keep them from the immortal ranks of the quarterback pantheon. Also in the top 25 are two older passers who most fans seem to have forgotten about (or never knew of). Cecil Isbell had a very brief but high peak throwing passes to Don Hutson while a sizable portion of the NFL was fighting in World War Two. He led the NFL in touchdowns and yards twice apiece before abruptly retiring and becoming a collegiate coach. John Brodie led the NFL in yards thrice and touchdowns twice, even taking home MVP honors in 1970. At the time he retired, he trailed only Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton in passing yards. Despite his prowess as a passer, he ended with a losing record and a low opinion among many of the 49ers faithful.9

The act of prorating schedules and employing the career soft inflation adjustment cause several dominant players of the past to move up in the career rankings. However, it is a mistake to think that this benefits everyone from long ago or huts everyone from today. I’ll explain what I mean. Great quarterbacks like Sammy Baugh, Otto Graham, Sid Luckman, Bobby Layne, and Charlie Conerly all move up at least ten places in the VAL rankings from their original ranks. However, bad players have their poor play prorated as well. For instance, Ronnie Cahill, who had one bad season for the Cardinals in 1943, drops 104 spots after adjustments. Similarly, modern players who have below average stats, such as Blake Bortles, move up in the rankings.10 So for every Cliff Battles, who gets his positive value doubled, there’s a Johnny Gildea, who gets his negative value doubled. It works itself out in the end.11

Limitations and Food for Thought

It’s trendy to make bombastic claims without providing for the fact that there are limitations and opposing paradigms. I’m not just talking about people who write sports; visit almost any popular media site about almost any topic (politics, health, even science) and you’re likely to see bold pronouncements with little heed paid to contrary viewpoints or considerations beyond the purview of the article at hand. I get it. It drives clicks, and clicks drive revenue. On the altar of riches, the first sacrifices are often reason and truth. Fortunately, I don’t do this for money. I am willing to admit that there are copious limitations to this series – perhaps even ones I have failed to recognize myself. I’d like to discuss some of them.

There are three important factors this series has not accounted for yet: strength of opposing defenses, weather and playing conditions, and supporting cast and coaching. Those are all necessary adjustments, but I don’t believe I’m anywhere near having a solution worth publishing. While Pro Football Reference’s query system makes it easy to find opposing passer rating allowed or ANY/A allowed, there is no way to determine TAY/P allowed yet. It’s not just that TAY/P isn’t a metric they produce, it’s that some of the inputs (particularly fumbles and sacks) are hard to parse on a level as granular as individual players in individual games. I am working on building my own database to account for this, but it’s far from complete.

As far as weather adjustments go, I have a decent amount of data available, but I am not comfortable with any study I have seen that attempts to account for weather’s effects on passing. Add in the fact that TAY/P also includes rushing, and we’ve just made the problem that much trickier to solve. I am conducting my own research on weather’s effects on the passing game, but it is a rather arduous process and certainly won’t be complete (or as complete as this type of thing can ever be) in the near future. On top of the time consuming nature of the study, there is the fact that the weather data I have is far from perfect. It only goes back to 1960, there’s no guarantee the field temperature matches the recorded temperature, wind speed and humidity data are spotty, and there is no mention whatsoever of the integrity of the field itself.12 As you may imagine, this is a tedious process and is beyond the scope of the present study.

Perhaps Certainly, the most difficult aspect of quarterback play to measure is the supporting cast. Does having a great running back matter, statistically? If so, what is more helpful, a receiving phenom like Marshall Faulk or a pure runner with virtually no receiving ability like Adrian Peterson? Even if we determined the answer to that question, how would we solve the entanglement problem associated with great QB/RB pairings (i.e., how much of the runner’s efficiency is a byproduct of the quarterback’s own effect on both his offense and opposing defenses)? What is more preferable, an elite receiver with average backups or a deep receiving corps with no true number one? Does an elite offensive line really matter?13 If yes, how do you measure that? Pro Bowls are one way, but we’re often left with some chicken-and-egg, given that offensive linemen are (anecdotally) often selected based on the success of their offense. If a great quarterback makes the offense go and his linemen make the Pro Bowl because of that, it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, and we end up docking points from great quarterbacks who helped get their linemen votes.14

What about defense and special teams. Having a returner like Devin Hester gave Bears-QB-of-the-week short fields to work with (when he wasn’t just scoring the touchdowns himself), whether he was gaining big yards or scaring opponents into punting out of bounds. The same can be said of Gale Sayers on kickoffs. Strong defenses that force opponents to punt often provide their quarterbacks with both extra possessions and superior field position. Opportunistic defenses that get turnovers do the same thing and even score themselves. While a defensive touchdown robs the quarterback of the chance to get his own, it also may provide him with a better game script and the ability to play safer, more efficient football. The level of interplay is astounding.

If accounting for his supporting cast on offense and defense weren’t enough, there are also coaches to consider. Montana had Bill Walsh and the innovative West Coast Offense. There was a learning curve, given that the quarterback didn’t grow up learning WCO terminology as many young passers do today, but once he was on board, he and the 49ers had defenses at a disadvantage for years. Similar themes apply to Fouts and Don Coryell, Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi, Graham and Paul Brown, or even Brady and Bill Belichick. Then there are guys like Marino, Roger Staubach, and Terry Bradshaw. They played for legendary coaches, but those coaches weren’t known for their offensive prowess.15 How do we quantify any of that? I won’t say we can’t, because very few things in this world are impossible, but I am comfortable saying we won’t.

 

  1. That’s (2.151 + 1)/2.
  2. That’s (0.851 + 1)/2.
  3. I use two different methods for determining replacement-level. One is simply taking 75% of the league average TAY/P, while the other requires taking one full standard deviation below the league TAY/P.
  4. All numbers taken after prorating and providing the career soft inflation adjustment. The absolute value cutoff is to highlight some lower volume players who were either so good or so bad that they produced extreme values in limited playing time.
  5. As usual, the baselines I have chosen are 75% of league average TAY/P and one standard deviation below league average TAY/P.
  6. If the hard inflation adjustment didn’t knock him from his lofty perch, the soft one certainly wouldn’t either.
  7. I am referring to VAL here, but the same goes for both measures of replacement value.
  8. I’m including Ben Roethlisberger on that list. He has a pair of rings and a strong statistical foundation. I’m also including Aaron Rodgers, who has probably locked his place in Canton already.
  9. Part of his losing record can be attributed to facing arguably the most brutal schedule of any passer in history.
  10. Bortles shot up 39 spots after adjustments.
  11. The real victims here are modern above average passers. Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck only receive about 93% of their career value once we adjust for inflation.
  12. That matters. Ask RG3.
  13. In talks with Adam Harstad, we concluded that a terrible line probably hurts worse than a terrible receiving corps, but a great receiving corps probably helps more than a great line. We have no more than hunches based on years of observation to support this hypothesis.
  14. There is also the fact that many linemen go to the Pro Bowl on the strength of their run blocking ability. Others make the Pro Bowl on the strength of their reputations (see final year Jeff Saturday and rookie Maurkice Pouncey for modern examples).
  15. Marino, especially, is an interesting case. Don Shula has more wins than any coach in history and is on the shortlist of greatest coaches of all time, but he was past his coaching prime by the time Marino came around. How in the world do translate that into numbers?