Regular Season QBGOAT X: Career Index Scores and Abstract Value

steve youngWelcome to part ten of the measured and methodical series on the greatest regular season quarterbacks in history. Today, we’ll be looking at career Index Scores and Abstract Values. If you’re unfamiliar with Index Scores, you may want to check out Pro Football Reference’s explanation of their advanced passing tables.1 Essentially, we’re just measuring standard scores and scaling them in a more palatable format.2

As for Abstract Values, you can find the original explanation in my article for Football Perspective. Basically, I’m just multiplying a quarterback’s TAY/P Z-score by his number of plays.3 The result is a number that should give you a pretty good idea of how far above average a quarterback was over the course of his career. However, the number doesn’t really mean anything (like VAL tells us how many Total Adjusted Yards a QB provided over an average player or DYAR provides a QB’s yards above a replacement player). That’s why I called it abstract.

Career Index Scores and Abstract Value

This table contains the Career Index Scores and Abstract Values for every quarterback with at least 750 plays4 since 1932, and it is sorted by career TAY/P+ score. Since the NFL’s official qualifying minimum for career stats is 1500 attempts, I have added an asterisk to everyone with 1500+ plays. If you want to only sort by those players, simply type “*” in the table’s search bar. Read the table thus: Steve Young had 5229 plays at 6.56 TAY/P. His TAY/P+ score is 120, which gives him an abstract value of 6843.

PlayerPlyTAY/PTAY/P+ABS
Steve Young*52296.561206843
Peyton Manning*101146.7811812015
Joe Montana*61616.231176871
Aaron Rodgers*47877.051175509
Otto Graham*30316.691173400
Cecil Isbell12405.281161301
Sid Luckman*18735.391151862
Dan Marino*89296.051148496
Roger Staubach*36815.431143513
Norm Van Brocklin*29975.771142733
Johnny Lujack8605.50114831
Dutch Clark8564.50114771
Bernie Masterson5174.62114467
Drew Brees*88006.431137462
Tom Brady*86986.441137594
Russell Wilson*23106.651131927
Tony Romo*48176.491123943
Dan Fouts*61475.371114669
Ken Anderson*52705.321113969
Sonny Jurgensen*46835.511113283
Kurt Warner*45035.971113261
Jeff Garcia*43255.831113103
Cliff Battles7684.17111566
Philip Rivers*59676.291103832
Trent Green*42425.781102840
Sammy Baugh*33194.641102130
Daryle Lamonica*28235.261101892
Bob Monnett6903.99110451
Fran Tarkenton*76255.101094438
Ben Roethlisberger*62556.151093866
Len Dawson*42515.341092659
Bert Jones*30305.091091884
Johnny Unitas*58665.321083255
Arnie Herber12393.76108628
Tuffy Leemans4104.21108218
Steve McNair*54675.441072486
Jim Kelly*54065.401072664
Rich Gannon*50295.341072266
John Brodie*48684.991072233
Joe Namath*39834.831071748
Bart Starr*36315.121071623
Mark Rypien*28375.411071356
Chad Pennington*28135.541071251
Doug Williams*28115.071071222
Bob Waterfield*16924.23107804
Brett Favre*112965.431064797
John Elway*85405.171063165
Donovan McNabb*64005.581062771
Carson Palmer*59945.801062520
Troy Aikman*53015.261062033
Matt Ryan*50336.021061998
Y.A. Tittle*48215.061062002
Bob Griese*40254.501061575
Matt Schaub*36365.931061438
Cam Newton*32026.091061258
Tom Flores*18065.29106747
Ed Danowski10723.57106449
Kirk Cousins10326.13106413
Tony Canadeo5203.96106211
Boomer Esiason*59705.161052025
Mark Brunell*55435.291052023
Jim Everett*54375.191051884
John Hadl*52364.621051666
Terry Bradshaw*46524.491051542
Joe Theismann*42974.781051494
Steve Grogan*42854.671051358
Daunte Culpepper*40115.351051401
Jim McMahon*31375.091051069
Earl Morrall*30144.751051000
Doug Flutie*25965.23105845
Frank Ryan*25934.87105791
Virgil Carter9444.54105321
Butch Songin7175.11105257
Warren Moon*78245.041042037
Roman Gabriel*52044.481041405
Craig Morton*44064.381041160
Brian Sipe*38864.541041062
Bernie Kosar*38185.051041009
Neil Lomax*37374.91104956
Marc Bulger*35435.25104840
Billy Kilmer*34464.441041002
Jeff Hostetler*28615.06104723
Elvis Grbac*27375.09104686
Frankie Albert*18935.10104503
Tommy Thompson*17173.90104505
George Ratterman*15025.14104419
Ace Parker12163.74104320
Doug Russell3183.0910481
Randall Cunningham*55484.971031017
Jim Hart*55174.411031238
Brad Johnson*48535.05103871
Bobby Layne*43114.30103992
Neil O'Donnell*37034.96103700
Danny White*32264.83103750
Charlie Conerly*31034.30103721
Greg Landry*30464.24103633
Andy Dalton*29005.81103613
Billy Wade*28884.70103533
David Garrard*28405.36103549
Don Meredith*27684.60103486
Bill Kenney*27484.82103605
Andrew Luck*24435.81103444
Bill Nelsen*21354.40103416
Pat Haden*16024.34103277
Bobby Thomason14404.08103277
Frank Filchock11543.29103216
Glenn Presnell7222.96103131
Eli Manning*67975.47102845
Phil Simms*54734.75102784
Ron Jaworski*47374.42102619
Michael Vick*44065.37102731
Matthew Stafford*41015.68102526
Charley Johnson*38304.39102571
Jim Zorn*36844.32102498
Bobby Hebert*34944.84102453
Milt Plum*27104.61102289
Gary Danielson*23014.52102376
Colin Kaepernick*18015.79102194
Nick Foles14025.80102167
Spec Sanders9585.35102124
Jacky Lee9184.73102131
George Grosvenor4673.0510269
Matt Hasselbeck*60555.19101541
Jay Cutler*50015.42101211
Jeff George*44934.79101314
Ken Stabler*41924.26101294
Tommy Kramer*41144.49101181
Jeff Blake*39074.86101292
Jake Delhomme*32755.07101248
Stan Humphries*28104.80101192
Erik Kramer*25744.72101104
Jay Fiedler*20504.8110192
Tony Eason*18754.63101174
Cotton Davidson*18044.5810178
Bob Berry14754.0310197
Robert Griffin14085.6710176
Paul Christman12253.1710170
Steve Pelluer11974.74101109
Bill Dudley5813.0810154
Paul Governali5793.2310126
Charlie O'Rourke5374.5610120
Vinny Testaverde*75484.74100137
Steve DeBerg*55244.4910080
Jim Harbaugh*48404.68100-45
Norm Snead*48354.12100-47
Ken O'Brien*41294.65100137
Steve Bartkowski*39904.1910086
Steve Beuerlein*38854.73100-23
George Blanda*37614.40100120
Aaron Brooks*35604.87100112
Tobin Rote*35423.83100-67
Jay Schroeder*32584.6510062
Brian Griese*32274.79100-38
Wade Wilson*28844.65100-17
Scott Mitchell*26734.68100-61
Bill Munson*23044.0110070
Ed Brown*22464.2510060
Byron Leftwich*18344.9610022
James Harris13713.77100-39
Craig Erickson12514.67100-17
Rob Johnson10864.74100-29
Don Strock8734.21100-26
Johnny Clement8483.62100-18
Don Trull7934.20100-24
Drew Bledsoe*75694.6499-702
Dave Krieg*62224.5599-349
Joe Ferguson*51844.0599-322
Jake Plummer*50624.7099-399
Chris Chandler*47564.5999-397
Babe Parilli*37454.1999-238
Jack Kemp*34884.2199-263
Chris Miller*32794.6499-190
Kyle Orton*30035.1499-280
Charlie Batch*19374.7799-97
Steve Bono*19024.6199-121
Vince Ferragamo*17694.3399-123
Jim Finks14733.4399-142
Charlie Trippi5223.1699-30
Joe Flacco*46075.2998-535
Archie Manning*44223.6898-588
Jim Plunkett*44043.8798-484
Lynn Dickey*35624.0398-362
Gus Frerotte*35094.6498-428
Kordell Stewart*30884.5398-438
Jason Campbell*29285.0398-357
Mike Tomczak*26494.5098-347
John Friesz14914.4698-203
Shaun Hill13595.1298-196
Steve Spurrier12323.4698-170
Glenn Dobbs11964.7898-142
Brian Hoyer11305.4798-140
Parker Hall10582.6698-107
Steve Tensi9883.4998-155
George Shaw9323.9798-131
Scott Hunter9013.4398-139
Jake Locker8645.3698-132
Harry Newman5942.2398-94
Bob Snyder3672.7198-45
Alex Smith*43655.0997-745
Richard Todd*34903.9297-722
Mike Livingston*20603.4697-363
Eddie LeBaron*20073.7297-371
Gary Hogeboom*15264.2997-318
Jeff Kemp10934.2497-195
Ty Detmer10854.4897-218
Joe Geri6913.0197-136
Dwight Sloan4202.7597-74
Kerry Collins*69724.5196-1657
Ryan Fitzpatrick*40835.0496-956
Josh Freeman*23655.0096-696
Vince Young*16694.7096-450
Pete Beathard14833.3996-406
Steve Ramsey10643.2596-274
Pete Liske8833.4196-246
Roy Zimmerman8822.4596-215
Bud Schwenk8073.2196-239
Irv Comp7742.2796-211
Frankie Sinkwich6222.6396-185
M.C. Reynolds5383.9496-129
Jon Kitna*50784.3695-1834
Ryan Tannehill*26095.1695-924
Don Majkowski*23334.2195-755
Lamar McHan*16973.4095-580
David Woodley*15854.0195-501
Gary Cuozzo13723.4395-422
Jim Miller11414.3695-351
Damon Huard10924.4295-341
Teddy Bridgewater10235.3295-338
Marty Domres10183.1395-317
Jim Hardy9642.6795-318
Shaun King9124.2395-319
Tim Rattay8224.4095-249
Johnny Green6703.9395-242
Benny Friedman3192.2995-96
Rodney Peete*28604.2194-1054
Bubby Brister*25964.1294-1052
Marc Wilson*24323.9494-1010
Eric Hipple*18513.8494-786
Bobby Douglass*17683.0194-754
Mike Pagel*17603.9394-709
Vince Evans*17203.9194-705
Derek Anderson*17174.4794-698
Kent Graham*15604.1094-671
Al Dorow14553.6094-559
Rudy Bukich13693.4294-575
Dick Wood12203.9094-525
Adrian Burk11022.7794-471
Shane Matthews9164.2194-374
Seneca Wallace9154.6094-345
Bob Hoernschemeyer8944.0094-355
Bob Lee7922.9494-313
Pat Ryan7603.8894-324
Al Woodall6233.0694-269
Matt Cassel*30314.7293-1426
Sam Bradford*25624.8593-1177
Mark Malone*18933.8293-834
Tommy Maddox13624.1393-609
Tarvaris Jackson13344.5693-611
Derek Carr12895.1093-644
Jim Ninowski11673.5393-509
Trent Edwards10764.4293-487
Harry Gilmer6222.5093-308
Dan Pastorini*35172.9192-1866
Tony Banks*28294.0092-1486
Joey Harrington*28044.0992-1525
Chad Henne*22194.6592-1181
Billy Joe Tolliver*19313.9592-1063
Steve Walsh14373.9692-795
Steve Fuller14043.6392-722
Quincy Carter11924.1192-624
David Whitehurst11563.1392-649
Frank Reich10913.9292-606
Patrick Ramsey10394.0392-582
Fred Enke8592.2692-487
Jack Jacobs6461.9992-345
Mike Boryla6112.6592-321
Josh McCown*23244.3791-1414
Tim Couch*20043.9791-1171
Rex Grossman*17354.2391-1021
Jack Concannon14182.9991-825
Joe Kapp11462.9891-725
Whizzer White6022.0691-343
Emmett Mortell4162.0691-245
Trent Dilfer*36833.8490-2441
Mark Sanchez*25904.4390-1797
Mike Phipps*22252.6090-1539
Frank Tripucka*17882.9990-1162
Zeke Bratkowski*16212.9790-1107
Bob Avellini13242.6790-859
Hugh Millen11193.6290-753
Steve Dils10973.4790-718
Brandon Weeden10924.7090-695
Kelly Holcomb10073.8490-687
Kevin Kolb9014.3590-609
Matt Moore8974.3090-624
Dick Shiner8882.8190-611
Cody Carlson7943.7290-527
Davey O'Brien6861.6890-475
Joe Reed6562.4390-447
Dave Brown*20073.6989-1527
Blake Bortles12954.8389-939
Joe Pisarcik10752.7089-814
Colt McCoy10374.4389-733
David Archer8853.3989-652
Paul McDonald8823.3389-672
Todd Collins8513.6989-631
John Reaves7232.4689-546
Ed Matesic4211.0489-301
David Carr*28393.7888-2199
Rick Mirer*24843.6088-2000
Randy Johnson*15522.4988-1249
Randy Wright12593.3588-968
Dave Wilson11833.2588-970
J.P. Losman11653.6888-956
Dennis Shaw11432.3988-930
Cliff Stoudt8823.2388-713
A.J. Feeley8433.7488-655
Jack Trudeau*18443.3787-1569
Christian Ponder12784.3687-1066
Todd Blackledge10353.1887-931
Jack Thompson10003.1687-848
King Hill9202.4687-822
Karl Sweetan6942.4687-605
Mickey Slaughter6543.2587-583
Scott Brunner11893.0586-1135
Geno Smith10594.4186-1007
Bob Davis5251.7286-503
Kyle Boller*18183.4285-1840
David Klingler8793.1584-947
Charlie Frye8273.3384-887
Kellen Clemens7733.7684-833
Mike Taliaferro10772.0383-1189
Danny Kanell10633.0983-1223
Bruce Gradkowski8503.4083-950
Chris Weinke8103.3183-896
Kent Nix7351.9883-831
Blaine Gabbert12733.7581-1655
Gary Huff9201.2481-1181
Ralph Guglielmi8141.8681-1008
JaMarcus Russell7903.1981-991
Joe Lillard2660.2779-373
Ryan Leaf7791.8970-1573

Only six quarterbacks maintained a TAY/P a full standard deviation above average over their entire careers (career index score of 115+). I’m not counting Sid Luckman here because he would actually have a score below 115 if we didn’t round to the nearest whole number. If you were so inclined, you could also remove Cecil Isbell, who only ran 1240 plays in his short career. That leaves just Steve Young, Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, Aaron Rodgers, and Otto Graham. Those five men combined for sixteen league MVP awards and fifteen championships, and they were undeniably the most efficient quarterbacks of their respective eras.5

How about some other Hall of Famers and their rankings?

Dan Marino, Roger Staubach, and Norm Van Brocklin all finished their careers with 114 TAY/P+ scores, while future inductees Drew Brees and Tom Brady are currently close behind with scores of 113. Dan Fouts, Sonny Jurgensen, and Kurt Warner each posted 111 career Index Scores, but they are generally better remembered for their sheer volume rather than their clinical efficiency.

Sammy Baugh, Fran Tarkenton, Len Dawson, and Johnny Unitas probably rate lower than you’d expect. The primary reason for this is that their whole careers are accounted for, and they all had really long tenures in the league. If we only look at their primes (you know, the part of their careers where they cemented themselves as legends), all four quarterbacks would rate much higher.6

Possibly the most interesting ranking is that of Joe Namath. Derided by modern fans for not having modern stats, Namath’s TAY/P+ score actually rivals those of Bart Starr and Jim Kelly, and it even outstrips those of Brett Farve and John Elway. Much of this can be chalked up to Broadway Joe’s ability to avoid sacks and, consequently, avoid fumbles.

Y.A. Tittle, Troy Aikman, and Terry Bradshaw had high highs, but they also had pretty low lows. Their triumphs made them legends, but their failures drop them on this list. Hovering around those men on the list are Bob Griese and Warren Moon, nearly opposites in their statistical profiles. Griese was usually highly efficient but had an incredibly low volume, even for the dead ball era. His low volume meant that his few bad seasons were able to have a greater impact on his totals. Moon usually maintained slightly above average rate stats but did so with a tremendous workload, so by the time he hit the downturn in his career he had played enough to gain a decent amount of statistical inertia.

Bobby Layne and Ken Stabler were inconsistent, but they were as good as anyone ever when they were on their game. Both men were known to party hard off the field and play the position with rare ferocity on the field. Their seasons of poor play bring down their career numbers, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they weren’t greats.

The only quarterback in Canton who can’t be described as great is George Blanda. His career numbers are precisely average, and that is with his outlier 1961 season against terrible early AFL defenses skewing his numbers. He played for a really long time and was a popular player, both with fans and with peers. He’s an interesting player, but he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame.

You may notice that modern players seem over-represented near the top of the list. This is because the standard deviation in TAY/P has decreased significantly since the early years of the league. Let’s say there are two quarterbacks, both of which have a TAY/P 2.00 above average. The first played in 1946, and the second played in 2015. Player one has a Z-score of 0.84, while player two has a Z-score of 1.74. That’s a huge difference (TAY/P+ scores of 113 and 126, respectively). You can see that using Index Scores penalizes quarterbacks who played in the high variance early age of pro football, and it gives preference to the men who succeed in an era of increased parity. Whether you think that’s fair is up to you. I’ve given you Val/P, and I’ve given you career Index Scores; you can decide for yourself which you prefer.

 

  1. There are slight differences in how we arrive at our numbers. I use weighted standard deviations to include all passers, and I believe they just use the standard deviation of all quarterbacks who meet a minimum attempt threshold. Consequently, you’re not going to see TAY/P+ numbers quite as high as you’d see for ANY/A+ at PFR.
  2.  Z-score 2.035 might not impress many people not used to seeing such numbers, but the number 131 (100 + 2.035*15) should register as familiar to football fans.
  3. The biggest difference between what I have done here and what I did in the linked article is that for this series I have calculated each quarterback’s Abstract Value for every season and added them up. Before, I just used career totals. The method I have employed for this series helps give more weight to older players, who are generally hurt by the original model.
  4. That’s 750 actual plays or 750 plays after prorating for schedule and adjusting for era inflation.
  5. That’s five MVPs apiece for Manning and Graham, and two apiece for Young, Montana, and Rodgers. The championship split is less equitable. Graham had seven, Montana four, Manning two, and Young and Rodgers one.
  6. Of course, you could say that for almost anyone. You can’t make a strong case for Montana, Graham, or Van Brocklin, as they never had a below average season to really wreck their stats, but most players had at least one down year.
  • Adam

    Have you ever considered doing index conversions for other stats like Y/C or Fum%? The index format is probably the most intuitive method of presenting era adjusted stats, and it would be really cool to see this for stats not covered by PFR.