Guest Post- Snubbed: NFL Total Access Ranks Peyton Manning at #3 Quarterback Taken No. 1 Overall

Editor's Note: Reader Jacob Lewin has written several guest pieces for Colts Authority, and is back to rant about a recent segment on NFL Total Access. Lewin recently speculated about which 2013 games would be nationally televised, and has also written on jersey etiquette and Austin Collie's future. -KJR

Anyone who caught NFL Total Access “Top 10: Quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall,” should have the same reaction that I did: “PEYTON MANNING RANKED #3!?!?! Behind John Elway and Troy Aikman!!! Troy freaking Aikman!”  

I sure hope you did because this is shameful and utterly misguided and I feel obligated to speak out against such defamation, and to preserve Peyton Manning’s reputation as best I can.

For those who do not want to subject themselves to such sacrilege and just want to see the list, here ya go:

(10) Carson Palmer; (9) Michael Vick; (8) Drew Bledsoe; (7) Jim Plunkett; (6) Eli Manning; (5) Joe Namath; (4) Terry Bradshaw;  (3) Peyton Manning; (2) Troy Aikman; (1) John Elway

Now, I happen to disagree with a number of these (i.e.: Joe Namath should be dropped a few spots), but that’s outside the scope of this article.  But, I’m here to defend Peyton Manning’s honor, and I know I’m not alone: NFL Network pulled the same shtick back in 2009 (that list was similar but different), and Ryan Michael of Bleacher Report correctly opined against these rankings.  That article was from July 2009, and after four years, there is all the more reason that this snubbing should be condemned.

Back in November 2010, NFL Network aired a program ranking Peyton Manning #8 of all time – and that was before his injury in 2011 showed how crucial he was to the Colts success and before his most recent monster, comeback season (arguably the best of his 14 season, and he would’ve been MVP but for Adrian Peterson coming 9 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s rushing record).  

Where did Elway and Aikman rank? That’s right, below him: Elway coming in at #23 and Troy Aikman only at #80!!  I am not sure who votes for these “rankings,” and if it’s an algorithm of fan picks, player picks or experts, and much less where the rankings at issue were based off of, but still, it is telling of how authoritative and consistent NFL Network’s ranking truly are. 

Although I would have accepted Peyton being ranked below his current boss, it still is absurd and under no circumstances should any human being believe Troy Aikman is the better #1 drafted quarterback.  With regards to Troy Aikman, here are just a few things to consider:

  • Troy Aikman’s Career Stats significantly pale in comparison to Manning’s.  Troy Aikman’s regular season (165 games) stats: 32,942 passing yards, 61.5% comp, 165-141 TD-INT, 1,016 rushing yds, 9 rushing TDs, 81.6 Passer Rating. However, Manning’s career stats (in 224 games) are: 59,487 passing yards, 65.2% comp, 436-209 TD-INT, 728 rushing yards, 17 rushing TDs, 95.7 Passer Rating. Clearly, Peyton has dominated every significant QB statistic, and puts Aikman’s numbers to shame.  Even though Aikman had to retire early because of concussions, Peyton’s numbers from his first 160 games dwarf Aikman’s 165 (41,626 yards passing; 306-153 TD-INT, 64.3% comp %, 95.3 Passer Rating).  
  • Peyton has 38 fourth quarter comebacks and 49 game-winning drives, Aikman only has 16 fourth quarter comebacks and 21 game winning drives. (Interestingly, both only have one in the postseason, both in title games). The most comebacks Aikman had in one season were 5, and that was in his rookie season, which didn’t even help all that much as they finished 7-9. Peyton boasts four seasons with 5+ and seven seasons with over 4, all of them playoff-seasons (one with a super bowl win)
  • Peyton has been sacked 252 in 224 games while Aikman was sacked 259 times in 165 games. The most Peyton was ever sacked in a regular season was 29 (2001 – when the Colts blew and finished 6-10). Aikman was sacked more than 30 times in 3 different seasons – kinda makes sense why he had all those concussions.
  • Manning is a 12-time Pro Bowler and 6-time First-Team All-Pro; Aikman only has 6 Pro-Bowls, and was selected to three All-Pro teams (93-95), only a one-time First Team (93).
  • Aikman never won a league MVP, Peyton has the record with 4; they ARE both tied for a Super Bowl MVP, though.  
  • The one time Aikman and Manning matched up: Halloween 1999, and you guessed it, the Colts won.  Aikman didn’t score or throw a TD and despite being down 24-21 going into the 4th quarter, Peyton threw a 40 yard pass to Marvin Harrison to take the lead and the Colts sealed the win, 34-24.
  • Without getting into the gritty details, it’s just worthwhile to note that according to Pro Football Reference, Peyton Manning has the #1 highest weighted career AV (approximate value) since 1950, whereas Troy Aikman is ranked 179th.
  • Troy Aikman may serve as the “premier” colorman for NFL on FOX with Joe Buck, but if Peyton were to start calling games, he’d easily dominate that, too.
  • The one thing – the only thing – Troy Aikman has over Peyton: his three rings. But remember, Troy Aikman won those rings while being supported by arguably the best RB in NFL history – (sure, the Colts had Edgerrin James, but he was no Emmitt Smith), and a very strong defense.  Besides that first Super Bowl win, the Cowboys’ victories came because of their D and Emmitt Smith more than Troy Aikman.

There are statistical discrepancies between Peyton and Elway as well even though Elway was a beast and did put up big numbers.  However, even with playing more games than Peyton (234), his (passing) stats are not at Peyton’s level: Elway finished with less passing yards (51,475), less TDs (300), more INTs (226), a lower passer rating (79.9), WAY more sacks (516), and wow did he fumble a lot (137). 

Peyton holds roughly a gazillion Colts franchise records, even some Broncos franchise records John Elway didn’t snag.  Peyton recently surpassed John Elway’s record for fourth quarter comebacks and game winning drives.

Nevertheless, I still credit Elway as one of the best quarterbacks ever.  Elway was able to make plays with his legs (3,407 rushing yards, 33 career rushing TDs), he has one of the best winning percentages in league history (148–82–1), tied for second most Pro Bowl selections for a quarterback (nine) and is fourth to Brett Favre, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning in career passing attempts, passing yards and completions.  Elway’s four total rushing touchdowns in his Super Bowl games are the most ever by a quarterback.  

As of 2012, only Elway, Terry Bradshaw and Tom Brady were quarterbacks that started in four Super Bowl games.  He is also the second player ever to score a rushing touchdown in four different Super Bowls (running back Thurman Thomas was the first).  He was able to snag get two rings (in the twilight of his career) and Elways’ “The Drive” is one of the most famous events in NFL history.

In terms of production relative to expected value, Peyton certainly went well above and beyond, even though he was the No. 1 overall pick.  Peyton is a killer who consistently slashes defenses wide open.  He is a rigorous student of the game and mastermind of a field-general.  He revolutionized the no-huddle and created an almost unstoppable offensive scheme

Manning transformed a perennial losing ball club and turned them into an AFC juggernaut (8 divisional titles, 11 playoff appearances, 3 AFC title game appearances, 2 AFC Championship titles (and a Super Bowl to boot).  Manning saved football in Indiana and indeed his legacy extends to all of Indiana sports: before 2006, no “major” Indiana sports team had won a national/league championship since the Indiana Hoosiers in 1987. 

His popularity in the NFL knows no bounds: from endorsements, nationally televised appearances and even a great performance on SNL.  Even as a first overall pick, NO ONE would’ve predicted that he would attain this much success.  This should certainly be sufficient to overtake Elway on this list.

To me, I am surprised that it is still “cool” to decry Peyton Manning whenever such discussions and debates arise.  In my years as a football fan, I have read too many analysts downplaying his efficacy as a quarterback, to harp on his “inability” to come through in the clutch, and continuously obsess over his 11 postseason losses.  

Yes, this past year was a really bad loss, and he has let me down many times in January (See Kyle’s articles, “The Clutch Enigma Part I and Part II” for an interesting perspective of Peyton’s postseason record/stats).  It is baffling that analysts and sportswriters seem to take pride in tarnishing the legacy of arguably the best quarterback of all time, and certainly the best QB drafted #1 overall. 

I am willing to entertain that Elway might still have the edge for now (Troy Aikman certainly shouldn’t even be in the same conversation), but Peyton has shown his tenacity and skill for 14 seasons – especially in the most recent comeback year – and by the time he retires, there will be no question that he will be the best quarterback taken #1 overall.  Except maybe if Andrew Luck passes over him… 

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.