Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Quarterbacks by the numbers

I'm going to let you in on a little secret - I am a poor sleeper. Once I am out I am okay, but falling asleep can take hours. As you might imagine my mind wanders and the other night I started making a list of the best quarterbacks ever to wear numbers 1-19. This proved harder than I would have guessed - as you will see. For some numbers I could barely pull anyone and had to do some research - but most of these guys are the ones I thought of myself.

1 - Warren Moon. This was an easy pick, not only is he great (all time yardage leader if you count the CFL years), but I could not think of another #1. We was only one game above .500 all time and 3-7 in the playoffs (and blew a 32 point lead) My DC cousin, who I will name John because I have started referring to him so much, pointed out Jeff George wore it in Altanta when he had his statistically best seasons (until he got into a screaming match with his coach). Moving on...

2 - Aaron Brooks. This was one that took some research, the only one I thought of was a pre-CFL Doug Flutie. But go and look at Brooks's stats. In the four years before he got hurt he had two 3.500+ yard seasons and two 3,800+ yard seasons. He was over 20TDs every year and never had more INTs than TDs. One year he lead the league in interception percentage. Plus in 2000, the first year he played (was third string in Green Bay), he lead the Saints to their first playoff win in their 34 year franchise history! (over the defending champion St. Louis Rams no less). I'm not saying he is a Hall of Famer, nor denying he's one of the weak sisters on the list, but he wasn't awful. The only other option was Matty Ice and while I think he will eventually surpass Brooks an overhyped rookie season and sluggish sophomore campaign isn't enough for now. I will give props for leading the first Atlanta team to have back to back winning seasons since the franchise was founded in 1966.

3 - Daryle Lamonica. I am very proud of this pull, I thought of it myself and it held up. The only other #3 out there was Bobby Herbert, who while leading the Saints to quite a few wins simply isn't at the same level (Daryle had two AFL MVPs and made Super Bowl II). Plus Lamonica had a great nickname - "The Mad Bomber." Mr. Internet tells me Hebert was "The Cajun Canon" is pretty damn cool too, but I never heard that before - and Hebert was a regular on my fantasy team for a few years there.

4 - Brett Favre. Lord Farve the First has been chronically overhyped and doesn't belong in the discussion of greatest of the great, but he is Hall of Famer and I can't think of many other #4s. By the way he is all time NFL leader in turnovers too.

5 - Donovan McNabb. This was by far and away the hardest choice because of Jeff Garcia. When Garcia was at his prime he was better than McNabb was (he's of only eight quarterbacks in NFL history to have back to back 30TD seasons). But because he was some obscure undersized guy from San Jose State he toiled in the CFL - and was even a backup there for a while - before Bill Walsh found him at age 29. Before he turned 29 McNabb had been the NFL for six seasons (five as a starter), with five straight trips to the playoffs, four straight conference championship games, a Super Bowl appearance, and five Pro Bowls (he hasn't gone back in the five years since). Their numbers aren't that different, McNabb has better stats in some places - but you need to remember he played with a much better supporting cast than the wandering Garcia who served time in Cleveland and Detriot. In 2006 Garcia backed up McNabb and when Donovan got hurt, he hurt came in, played better than McNabb, and turned the team around and won a playoff game. The next year fans wanted to keep him and move Dononvan (it is annoying how Philly fans have never appreciated how good he is which is another reason to pick him - not saying he is the best in the league, but is top 5 most seasons). That said, even though Garcia played for my Niners and helped me win a few fantasy titles, winning counts for a QB - as do to a lesser extent longevity and consistency. If Garcia's career track had been McNabb's (started in the NFL right out of college and played in Philly under Andy Reid his whole career) he would be the clear winner - but he didn't. As a consolation prize he gets to be married to the hottest playmate ever.

6 - Jay Cutler. Here are the only other #6s I or others could think of: Bubby Brister, Marc Wilson, and Matt Cavanaugh. Leave me alone

7 - John Elway. This was easy, he's in my top 3 all time.

8 - Steve Young. Easy, and not because I am a 49ers fan. He's not on the absolute top tier, not on Montana's level, and I was surprised he proved to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he is only legitimately "Great" QB to wear number 8. Troy Aikman was on a great team, but was not a great quarterback. Captain Sunshine had one season of 20+ touchdowns in his whole career (23 - with 14 interceptions). Having the all time leading rusher meant he did not have to throw often (or against defenses geared to stop him). He career rating is 81, or 15 points lower than Young's which is second all time (Aaron Rogers!?). And that is despite Steve playing for the Tampa Bay Yuccaneers (career rating in San Fran was 101). Plus in 1998 Aikman threw three interceptions in a loss to Arizona - the Cardinals first postseason win since 1947!!! Archie Manning was probably better. Matt Hasselbeck and Mark Brunell might be.

9 - Drew Brees. You can make an argument he is best QB in the league right now (although you might not win). You could do the same for Steve McNair in his day (ditto), but I will lean towards the QB who became the second ever to crest 5,000 yards in a season and owns the single season completion percentage record. Sonny Jurgensen was good, but not at the Brees/McNair level. Shout out to the Punky QB!

10 - Fran Tarkenton. Not much to say. He was really really good. When he retired the owned all the major career passing records and could scramble. Got to three Super Bowls.

11 - Norm Van Brocklin. Old school shocker! Van Brocklin went to 9 Pro Bowls in a 12 year Hall of Fame career. In his first season as a starter (half the time) the Rams set a record for most points in a season. In September 28, 1951 he because the first QB ever to throw for 500+ yards in a game as he established a still standing record 554 yards. He played in four NFL championship games winning two (one each for the then LA Rams and the Eagles - the only QB beat the Vince Lombardi Packers in a title game). He also had a great quote after brain surgery saying "It was a brain transplant. They gave me a sportswriter's brain, to make sure I got one that hadn't been used." And if that's not enough the other option is Phil Simms - who while a quality NFL starter is not one of the true greats of the game.

12 - Tom Brady. This is actually the number that sent me down this stupid path. May years ago I realized that a bunch of Super Bowl QBs had worn 12 (more than any other number): Joe Namath, Roger Staubach, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Ken Stabler, Jim Kelly, Stan Humphries, Chris Chandler, Tom Brady, and Rich Gannon. Doug Williams won a Super Bowl as #17 but was #12 for most of his career (I'm not forgetting Dilfer. That should be a curse: "Diiilfer!!!"). And there are other quality 12s out there (John Brodie, Randall Cunningham). Thankfully Tom Brady is in my top five all time making this an easy decision. But Staubach was better than a lot of the names on this list. As was Jim Kelly. It irks me that a guy who got his team to the playoffs and navigated through the AFC to the Super Bowl four straight times will go down as a loser.

13 - Dan Marino. I thought about Kurt Warner because I do think Dan's emphasis on the pass over the run is part of the reason why most of his success was statistical. But in the end I could not justify it - Marino won a lot games (61% for 147 wins - 3rd all time, Elways is 2nd with 148) while putting up all those stats. I do want to say that 6 great seasons with three Super Bowl appearances (only second QB to start for two different teams behind the immortal Craig Morton) is enough to get Warner into the Hall of Fame, despite blah to dreck the other five years. But only because those seasons were incredibly good. He is one of four QBs to throw 40+ TDs in a season (but wouldn't you know it that Marino did it twice?). He led the league in completion percentage and yards per attempt three times and TDs, yards per game, and rating twice. In 2001 he lead the league with 4,830 yards, which is third all time. Those were the three Rams years when he put himself in the argument for best QB in the league. But without the later quality Cardinal years he doesn't go, nor would he if all six of his "good" years were in the Arizona range. He is second all time in completion percentage and yards per game and has two of the eight 300+ yard per game seasons. He makes it in my eyes, but if he waits for a while I won't cry - he stunk his way out of two cities. I initially thought this would take a separate post, but the case is convincing enough I don't feel the need.

14 - Otto Graham. A statistically great on a dominate team, played in two leagues and was All-Pro or in the Pro Bowl every season save his rookie year (when he won his first championship). The Browns won .833 of their games while he was their QB (.803 in the NFL). In ten seasons he played for 10 titles and won 7 (3-3 in the NFL). In 1945 he also won an title in the basketball league that became the NBA for the Rochester Royals (now Sacramento Kings). That's pretty athletic. Graham wore #60 for a chunk of his career (he was a running back in college).

15 - Bart Starr. Conversely I think Starr falls more into the Troy Aikman memorial "good QB on a great team" catagorey. He did call his own plays - which Graham did not. I'm no so impressed with that, offenses were much simpler back when that was the norm. But I can't think of a better #15. I almost switched to Jack Kemp who in his eight healthy seasons in the AFL was All-Pro or a Pro-Bowler for seven of them. He played in five AFL title games and won a pair. But I can't go with a guy who had a career 47% competition percentage and 69 more interceptions than touchdowns.

16 - Joe Montana. Bummer for Len Dawson to have the same number as the all time great right? Neat stat on Joe? He only had one season where he threw more than 13 picks: 1990 when he threw a whopping 16 to go with 3,900 yards and 26 touchdowns while going 14-1. He lead the league in completion percentage five times. He had more interceptions than touchdowns (by one pick) just once in his career - in 1986 when he broke his back. He still won six of his eight games and completed 62% of his passes. He wone 71% of his games (most of any QB with 100 wins) and the only season he was the starter and had a losing record was in 1982, when a strike killed half the season (he lead the league in TDs that year). I'm just sayin'...

17 - Jake Delhomme. Another hard number, there really aren't super QBs who have worn #17. I went with Delhomme because he got to a Super Bowl his first year as starter and nearly won it with a 300 yard 3 TD performance. He also got them to the NFC championship two years later with just one receiver. For a while although no one noticed he was one of the five or so best QBs in the league. It always bothered me how little credit he got - and it will be worse now since his arm fell off and he threw a million picks (before that he had just one losing season). That said if Philip Rivers keeps going at his current clip for just a few more years he will surpass him. For now though I can't shake the feeling he is a meathead - seen him taunting other teams too many times - that is linebacker territory, not for your leader (although to be fair Randy Cross told Joe Cool to shut up after he yelled at the Cowboys early in "The Catch" game. Reportedly also when Ed Too Tall Jones told him "You just beat America's Team" he snapped back "Well, you can watch the Super Bowl on TV with the rest of America.") You might also make a case for Brian Sipe the 1980 NFL MVP, but it was his only big year and in his one career postseason appearance he completed just 32% of his passes and had three picks the last of which was the devastating "Red Right 88." Winning big games and postseason games is absolutely a mark of greatness for quarterbacks. Don Meredith had a nice singing voice. Steve DeBerg played for a bunch of teams.

18 - Peyton Manning. He's in my top five.

19 - Johnny U. I would be funny and say Joe Montana again (he worn 19 in KC - went to a conference championship and Pro Bowl at age 37, led the league INT% age 38 and won the famous Monday night duel with Elway before finishing his career going 26 of 37 for 314 yards and 2TDs (1 INT) in a playoff loss), but Unitas is a little too good for that. He led the league in passing four times and touchdowns four straight seasons. The threw a touchdown pass in 47 straight games (no one has gotten in ten games of that) from his rookie '56 year to 1960. He won three titles and three MVPS and was the first quarterback to throw for 40,000 career yards which only ten have done it since (he owed many records when he retired - he's still seventh for TDs). In 1959 back when the NFL had 12 game seasons he threw for 32TDs - that's good for today (Brees lead the league with 34 this year and only Peyton Manning and Favre also had more than 32). In 1959 the other three Pro Bowl quarterbacks had 20, 16, and 10 TDs (and as many or more picks than Unitas's 14) And this was in an era when the rules meant, as a friend of mine put it, there were no quarterbacks just players who threw the ball.

By the way a bunch of teams had two guys: 49ers, Packers, Eagles, Colts, Broncos, and Saints (!?! - Aaron Brooks). The Oilers/Titans and Browns almost made it. The 49ers almost had three and the Saints had a third mentioned.


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