The title, while unorthodox, is fitting for this post about various football stuff. I think I’ll kick off my post with a quarterback discussion (no, this is not a rant about Aaron Rodgers isn’t the greatest ever… that comes later)
Andrew Luck, in his third year in the league, was recently displaced for the league lead in touchdowns after leading it for almost the whole year, and holds a solid lead in yards. At this point in the season, when projected totals are rather fair, Luck is on pace for 45 touchdowns and 5420 yards. Since no one else seemed to notice, that’s incredible. I know a whole buncha QBs who would be pretty happy with those numbers. Take Tom Brady for example. His best season was 50 TDs and 4806 yards, with his second best coming in at 5,235 yards and 39 TDs. So Luck is having a season that would be Brady’s second best season ever. Not only this, but look at two of the other greats of this era, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. At this current pace, Manning only has two better seasons throughout his entire 17 year career, his record breaking ’04 and ’13 seasons. This estimated yardage is far more than Rodgers has ever thrown for, and ties Rodgers’ highest touchdown in a single year. Not to mention, all this analysis is just with looking at Luck on an equal level as the other greats.
The significance of that last line is this: this is just Luck’s third year in the league. There has only been one quarterback in NFL history that has been this good this fast: Dan Marino. Marino is considered somewhat of a dark horse candidate for greatest quarterback of all time because he never won a superbowl, but he had stats for most of his career that would make any passer in this golden age of passing happy. In his second year, Marino broke the records, throwing 48 touchdowns and 5,084, records that stood for 20 and 27 years, respectively. While it isn’t a sure thing that Luck will throw his way to records that stand for 20 years or more, he is certainly going to make his mark in the record books at some point in his career.
Next on the list is Aaron Rodgers, the consensus greatest QB ever of ESPN and sports pundits everywhere. Rodgers boasts one of the best arms in the league, great mobility, pocket presence to go along with being one of the most accurate passers in the game. He certainly has all the makings of a perennial MVP and Superbowl caliber quarterback. But is he truly the greatest ever? One of the most popular things to see this year is a quote from Mike McCarthy, where he said that Rodgers is a better player now than he was in 2011, the year he won MVP and set record for “Quarterback Rating” for a year. There are a few problems with this.
Firstly, take quarterback rating, also abbreviated as “QBR”. It is a set of factors that add up to give an estimation for measuring how a quarterback plays in a game with the focus on efficiency. However, it tends to be far from an accurate measurable. Take this random example from 2011 (Yes, a long time ago but a perfect example of why QBR falls short). Take a look at this stat line: 380 yards, 3 TDs, 2 interceptions and 65% completion percentage. Compare it to 466 yards passing, 3 TDs, no interceptions and a 76.7% completion percentage. Guess which one has a higher QBR? Yep, you guessed it, the first one. Wait, that isn’t what you guessed? You noticed that the second one is better in every single statistical category? Yup, that’s QBR. This is the ONLY statistic that Rodgers has ever led the league in. Not touchdowns, not yards. So, tell me again why he is the best QB in the league and possibly all time?
Secondly, take the quote. Just because a coach says something about his player does not automatically make it true. I am sure that somewhere Jim Harbaugh said that Colin Kaepernick is the best young QB in the league. Does that mean that every coach in the league would rather have Colin Kaepernick than Andrew Luck? Didn’t think so.
Thirdly, take the only significant record in the NFL that Rodgers’ holds. Best QBR for a career. Even totally disregarding the fact that QBR is absolutely horrible, consider this. Most QBs go through a growth period in the game where they are high potential starters that play poorly, especially when considered how they play later on. Just look at Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. For their first year of 16 starts, they had 26-28 and 17-16 TD-INT ratios, respectively. Why? Because they were rookies. Rodgers’ career QBR and TD-INT are so high because, wait for it, he never had to learn how to play when it mattered. He got to float these stats up when he was a veteran after sitting behind Farve. When all of this is considered, it is truly difficult for any non-Cheesehead or ESPN “analyst” to declare Rodgers as the paragon of Quarterbacks. On that thought, can any quarterback truly be considered the greatest of all time?
This generation is truly the golden era of passing. Before the 2000s, only one Quarterback had ever thrown for 5,000 yards. Since then, 4 QBs, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees, have repeated the feat, with the latter most doing so an NFL record 4 times, and is on pace to do so again this year. It took 20 years for Marino’s 48 touchdown record to be broken, but since then it has been broken twice in less than 10 years. Who can say what kind of numbers greats of ages past would have put up today? It would certainly be mind boggling to see what Marino and Dan Fouts could do if they played in this era. There is little doubt in my mind that those two would basically be dueling for league MVP each year, blowing all the other quarterbacks out of the water. While it is certainly fun to say your favorite QB is the greatest ever, perhaps “ever” needs to be broken up into categories. 70’s and before, 80’s/90’s and 2000s to present. Each era was a different kind of game, and arguably can be broken up even further, but comparing the players in each of the eras can be like comparing apples to oranges. Each can be fantastic, and each person undoubtedly has his preference, but it is difficult for either to be unquestionably superior.