The Ultimate Statistical Quarterback Ranking

Ranking quarterbacks is always a hot button topic. The quarterbacks are the face of the team, the league, and one of (if not THE) most important factors in determining team success. So, they are constantly the targets of media rankings, such as Ron Jaworski’s rankings during the 2012 summer. 

The problem is how to rank them. Of course, some people just do it from the eye test, or personal preference such as Jaws. This seems credible coming from NFL experts, but people’s opinions need to be backed by something. Otherwise, everyone is fallible.

That is why I really like statistics. Using statistics, I’ve decided to go through Jaws’ list of quarterbacks, evaluating it, and giving my expectation of where Andrew Luck could place on the list. 

The problem with statistics is that there are so many choices. Even in just evaluating quarterback play, you have options like QB Rating, Y/A, Total Yards, Touchdowns, advanced statistics, or even TD-INT ratio. Which one is best? 

To answer that question, I’ve come up with a new statistic. I call it The Ultimate Ranking Doctrine, or TURD for short (Yes, I just wanted to name a statistic turd. Sue me.)

Stats

In order to create this new ranking system, I decided to use six of the most intricate and complete stats in existence, coming up with the following contributors: 

PFF’s Grades

Football Outsider’s DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average)

Brian Burke’s WPA and EPA (Win Probability Added, Expected Points Added)

Passer Rating

ESPN’s Total QBR 

Each of these rankings has a uniqueness to them that really captures one part of evaluating quarterback play. By including them all in the ranking, I believe I can find a fairly well-rounded list. 

Method

If you’re familiar with these statistics at all, you’ll know that each of them is very different. The grades by PFF, WPA, and EPA are all total stats, while the DVOA, Rating and QBR are rate stats. I find rate stats to be more telling than totals, so I first converted all of the total statistics to rate stats (all the stats were from the 2011 season. 

After getting a per game or per snap statistic for each quarterback (and each statistic), I needed to normalize the data to one scale, so each would have the same weight on the final score. I normalized each set of statistics to a scale from 0-100, and then combined them for each quarterback. So, each quarterback would have anywhere from 0-600 points, which were then divided by six to give each quarterback a final TURD score on a 0-100 rating. 

Results

First, here is Ron Jaworski’s list of the top 30 quarterbacks in the league: 

  1. Aaron Rodgers
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Tom Brady
  4. Peyton Manning
  5. Eli Manning
  6. Ben Roethlisberger
  7. Philip Rivers
  8. Jay Cutler
  9. Joe Flacco
  10. Tony Romo
  11. Matt Ryan
  12. Michael Vick
  13. Matt Schaub
  14. Matthew Stafford
  15. Cam Newton
  16. Alex Smith
  17. Josh Freeman
  18. Matt Hasselback
  19. Andy Dalton
  20. Sam Bradford
  21. Carson Palmer
  22. Matt Cassel
  23. Mark Sanchez
  24. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  25. Kevin Kolb
  26. Matt Moore
  27. Matt Flynn
  28. Christian Ponder
  29. Blaine Gabbert
  30. Tim Tebow

Obviously, I have some issues with this list, otherwise I never would have gotten into this issue. Some of the problems off the bat (for me) include: Romo is too low, Stafford is WAY too low, Flacco is too high, Eli is too high (still not sold), Flynn is an unknown. 

But what do advanced statistics across the web say? Well, here is the complete listing: 

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Aaron Rodgers
Drew Brees
Tom Brady
Tony Romo
Matt Schaub
Matthew Stafford
Eli Manning
Matt Ryan
Philip Rivers
Ben Roethlisberger
Michael Vick
Cam Newton
Carson Palmer
Jay Cutler
Alex D. Smith
Joe Flacco
Matt Hasselbeck

98.41
97.78
94.47
83.50
80.34
79.16
78.83
78.67
73.83
71.85
63.52
61.25
58.73
54.11
53.69
53.03
50.67

18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
Matt Moore
Ryan Fitzpatrick
Andy Dalton
Kyle Orton
Matt Cassel
Tarvaris Jackson
Rex Grossman
Josh Freeman
Kevin Kolb
Colt McCoy
Mark Sanchez
Tim Tebow
Christian Ponder
Sam Bradford
John Skelton
Curtis Painter
Blaine Gabbert
46.79
45.82
40.22
36.58
36.01
33.42
28.06
26.56
25.43
23.65
21.64
19.39
15.23
14.12
12.64
8.42
4.64

 

 

Analysis

There are a few places where this list conflicts with Ron Jaworski’s list, some of them a mirage in statistics, and some where Jaws just got it wrong. In other places, the statistics confirmed exactly what Ron was doing.

The Fantastic Four

Looking at the stats, there is clearly a  “First Class” level of quarterback. Looking at Jaws rankings, I’d say that the Hall of Fame level quarterbacks stops at number four. Eli is not in that category yet for me. In the statistics, if we average Manning’s last three active years together (2008-2010), his score puts him fourth, just behind Brady in the low 90s. In this tier, the stats and Jaws agree. Rodgers has the most potential going forward, then Brees, Brady, and Manning, which is also their age order.

Second Tier

This is where the controversy comes in. Jaws has (in this order), Eli, Roethlisberger, Rivers, Cutler, Flacco, Romo, and Ryan. This I have issues with. Statistically, it’s Romo, Stafford, Schaub, E. Manning, Ryan, Rivers, Roethlisberger. (This will result in a seven man second tier, putting them in the top ten for 2011, but top eleven for 2012, assuming Peyton is healthy)

First, it should be clear to EVERYBODY that Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco are not top 10 quarterbacks, especially Flacco. I could hear an argument on Cutler (although I probably wouldn’t buy it), but Flacco an average QB. Nothing more, nothing less. 

Also, we all should agree that Matt Stafford is massively undervalued by Jaws. Stafford had a fantastic year, throwing for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. And obviously, because he’s ranked so highly on this list, the advanced stats like him too. Jaws ranking him 14th was a massive oversight by the analyst. 

Other things we should be able to agree on: Phillip Rivers belongs somewhere in the lower half of the top 10 quarterbacks. He’s not elite, but he is a franchise quarterback. 

Now for the controversial parts: First, Matt Schaub. Jaws has Schaub as the 13th best quarterback in the league, behind guys like Michael Vick, Jay Cutler, and Joe Flacco. But isn’t Schaub producing more than 13th best in the league? He’s in the top 10 in every statistic: PFF graded him higher than Romo, Roethlisberger, and Stafford. He has a higher DVOA than everyone in the second tier but Romo. He has a higher EPA than Big Ben and Ryan. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. 

Sure, Schaub benefits from a scheme that plays to his strengths. The well established ground game causes the bootleg play to work to perfection, and Schaub has the skills to run it perfectly. But should the advantage of a scheme fit be a punishment for Schaub? If he can produce at a top 10 level, then who cares HOW he’s doing it? As long as he’s producing, I’m fine with it. 

Next: Ben Roethlisberger. If you want to chalk the 11th ranking up to a bad season in 2011, I’m okay with that. But if you’re going to say that Roethlisberger is top five or six  QB in the league, I’m going to have to disagree. Roethlisberger’s highest rank in any of the statistics was 10th, his lowest 12th. 2009 and 2007 could be called “elite seasons,” but that’s really it for his career. If you want to call him a top 10 quarterback, I’m ok with that, but I would put him on the very low end of that top ten.

 Finally, we get to Tony Romo and Eli Manning. Amani Toomer was blasted for saying he preferred Eli to Romo a couple weeks ago, but was he far from the truth?

Even in Eli’s “breakout” season statistically in 2011, his stats still don’t put him in the top five, where Jaws has him. Of the six “advanced” categories that I used, Eli cracked the top five just once (Fifth in EPA), and that was without a healthy Peyton Manning playing, who’s numbers even from a down year in 2010 would have surpassed Eli (8.6 per game vs. 8.1 per game). 

Romo, on the other hand, was in the top five in every category but two. In EPA, he was sixth, and in PFF’s Grades he ranked out as 11th. In every pure statistic, Romo was fantastic. 

Now, Eli was better at the end of games, being one of the few quarterbacks who actually slightly raises his game during tight fourth quarter situations. You won’t find me arguing there. But Amani Toomer, while the point is still arguable, was making a valid point when comparing the two quarterbacks. For their careers, Romo has by far had a better overall career. For projections into the future, it’s a bit more muddled. 

The problem is that people get caught up in playoff wins, which, while being what quarterbacks are remembered for, is a terrible way to judge them. 

Final Notes

  • I would take Eli Manning over Schaub. In a heartbeat. Stafford/Romo though? Much more complicated decision. 
  • Carson Palmer doesn’t belong at 13th going into the future, because I think he’ll decline rapidly. However, he did have a pretty decent 2011, and I have no problem with him there for the season. 
  • I think Cutler got a bad rap from 2011. In terms of talent, I’d say he belongs right on the edge of that second tier, at 11th. I don’t think, like Jaws, that he’s a top 10 quarterback. 
  • There’s no way that Fitzpatrick is a worse quarterback than Sanchez, Bradford, and Freeman right now (Jaws’ list). I’d put him right at where he is on the statistical measure, although I think he has potential to move up. Bradford and Freeman have potential to move up, but Sanchez is terrible. 
  • It’s hard to overstate how bad of a year Bradford had. I know a lot of people both in the NFL and media like him, but he was bad in 2011.
  • Curtis Painter sucks.
  • Blaine Gabbert sucks more. Poor Jaguar fans.

As for Andrew Luck, I’d expect him to be in the 10-15 range his rookie year, but moving quickly up the ranks into the top 10 during his second and third year in the league. If he is who he’s been hyped up to be, then we should see him breaching that top five in the next 4 years. As for RG3, I see him staying in the lower half of that second tier for most of his career. I’ll be tracking this statistic throughout the season, as well as looking back on past years as well. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.

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