Tuesday, August 15, 2017

NFL History: Statistical All-Pro Snubs, QB

By Brad Oremland

This spring, I wrote about T.Y. Hilton, who led the NFL in receiving yardage, drawing no votes from the Associated Press' 50-selector All-Pro panel. Receiving yards are the most fundamental and important statistic for a wide receiver, which is what made Hilton's snub so remarkable. That made me wonder: which other statistical leaders were passed over by the All-Pro voters?

I examined three offensive positions: quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. For QBs, I chose the leader in touchdown-interception differential (TD/INT +/-). For RBs, I examined rushing yards. And for WRs, of course, I looked at receiving yardage. I also worked out two defensive statistics, sacks (since 1982) and interceptions.

I examined 47 NFL seasons: 1970-2016. All-Pro voting was a little messy before the NFL/AFL merger in 1970, and it was around that time that the Associated Press became clearly the most prestigious All-Pro designation. I'll list every statistical leader who was left off the AP All-Pro team. This week, we look at QBs.

Quarterbacks

TD/INT +/-

1971: Roger Staubach

Bob Griese was a consensus All-Pro, passing for 19 touchdowns and 9 interceptions (+10). Staubach threw 15 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions (+11), leading the league, but he took over for Craig Morton partway through the season, and the feeling was that the Cowboys (who made the Super Bowl with Morton the year before) were pretty good no matter who the quarterback was. The Associated Press didn't name second-team All-Pros in 1971, but the Newspaper Enterprise Association and Pro Football Writers of America both named Staubach second-team All-Pro, so this snub isn't nearly as dramatic as Hilton's, or as it looks at first glance.

1972: Billy Kilmer

Speaking solely from the standpoint of TD/INT +/-, this was much more egregious than the year before, for two reasons:

1) Staubach (+11) and Griese (+10) had been essentially equal

2) AP didn't name a second-team all-pro in '71, or it would have gone to Staubach

In '72, Kilmer (19 TD, 11 INT) was comfortably ahead of All-Pros Earl Morrall (+4) and Joe Namath (-2). AP did name Kilmer first-team All-Conference, though the other major organizations went with Fran Tarkenton (18 TD, 13 INT). This season represents the weakness of this method, especially for quarterbacks: TD/INT +/- is a useful but limited statistic, and it leaves a lot out. Earl Morrall's situation is unusual, but Namath and Tarkenton, at least, were clearly better picks than Kilmer in '72.

1973: Roman Gabriel / John Hadl

Don't worry, we'll get out of the early '70s soon. Gabriel and Hadl actually tied for the league lead (+11), and Hadl was first-team All-Pro. Second-team honors, however, went to Tarkenton. This is a fascinating year, because Gabriel was traded from the Rams to the Eagles, and Hadl from the Chargers to the Rams. The Rams overhauled their personnel, including head coach, and improved from 6-7-1 to 12-2, which got Hadl the award and made Gabriel look bad by comparison. The Eagles improved, too, from 2-11-1 to 5-8-1, but that wasn't dramatic enough to earn Gabriel the voters' attention. Statistically speaking, Gabriel was the outstanding quarterback in the league.

1977-79: Roger Staubach

In '77, Griese and Staubach tied for the lead, +9. Griese was first-team All-Pro, with Baltimore's Bert Jones (+6) taking second-team honors.

In '78, Staubach (+9) barely edged Terry Bradshaw (+8), but All-Pro honors went to Bradshaw and Jim Zorn (-5).

And in '79, Staubach's final season, he demolished the league in TD/INT differential (+16) but lost out to Dan Fouts (+0) and Brian Sipe (+2).

In my opinion, Staubach was probably the best quarterback in football all four seasons (1971, 1977-79), and a more balanced statistical reading — beyond a single stat like TD/INT +/- — would back that up. Some of Staubach's snubs are more egregious than others, but back-to-back-to-back at the end of his career — he retired early because of head injuries — was a shame.

1985: Ken O'Brien

First-team All-Pro Dan Marino led the NFL in yards and touchdowns (30 TD, 21 INT), but O'Brien led in passer rating and TD/INT differential (+17). O'Brien had an uphill battle against the defending Super Bowl QBs, Marino and Joe Montana, but he also led the league in a dubious statistic: sacks taken, 62. O'Brien's INT numbers were low partly because when he was under pressure, he simply ate sacks. Marino, with his quick release, was the best quarterback of all time at avoiding sacks. There's a legitimate case for O'Brien, but I think the voters got this one right.

1997: Jeff George

No, I'm not kidding. Here are the TD/INT +/- leaders in 1997:

Chart

The All-Pros were Favre and Young. George led in passing yards, too, but he also led in sacks. Young led in passer rating.

2000: Jeff Garcia

This was a weird year. The players with the highest passer ratings were Brian Griese (102.9), Trent Green (101.8), and Kurt Warner (98.3). Griese missed the final six games, while Green and Warner split time for the Rams, with Green playing while Warner was injured. Rich Gannon (+17) and Peyton Manning (+18) were the AP All-Pros, and that's essentially reasonable, but Garcia (+21) probably should have been in there somewhere.

2001: Jeff Garcia

This generation's Roger Staubach. TD/INT +/- leaders in 2001:

Chart

Warner and Favre won All-Pro honors, and in this case I agree with them. Garcia had gained more yards and passed more efficiently the season before. That's his snub year, not this one.

2002: Brad Johnson and Chad Pennington

Johnson and Pennington tied Rich Gannon for the league lead (+16), and Gannon was first-team All-Pro. Pennington missed some time with injuries and Johnson was a game manager for a team with a legendary defense. Brett Favre (+11) got the second-team nod behind Gannon. It wasn't a crazy selection when you look at Favre's supporting cast, but this was the first year that Favre-worship among the media became really oppressive. I might argue for Pennington, the league leader in passer rating, as the second-best QB of '02, though that's not obvious.

2005: Carson Palmer

The All-Pros were Peyton Manning (+18), who led the league in passer rating, and Tom Brady (+12), who led in yards. Those were sound selections, obviously, but Palmer had the best TD/INT differential (+20), with a league-leading 32 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions.

2008: Philip Rivers

I think Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all-time, and I don't think it's close, but his selection as first-team All-Pro this season was seriously misguided. Rivers (34 TD, 11 INT) and second-team All-Pro Drew Brees (34 TD, 17 INT) were the clear top quarterbacks. Manning tied for fourth in TD/INT +/-, behind Rivers (+23), Brees (+17), and Kurt Warner (+16), and even with Aaron Rodgers (+15). Manning got 28 votes from the AP panel, compared to 10 for Brees and 9 for Rivers. I named Rivers All-Pro and league MVP.

2009: Brett Favre

Manning (+17) and Brees (+23) repeated as All-Pros, despite Favre's +26 lead in TD/INT. This year, that was the right call, with Rivers also in the mix. Some day I'll write a full-length article explaining why Favre's season is among the most overrated of all time.

2015: Tom Brady

There were four strong All-Pro contenders this season, with Cam Newton (+25) and Carson Palmer (+24) getting the nod over Brady (+29) and Russell Wilson (+26). Brady had a reasonable case, but so did the others.

2016: Aaron Rodgers

I explained in the MVP section of my 2016 All-Pro column why Rodgers (+33) didn't measure up to AP All-Pros Matt Ryan (+31) and Tom Brady (+26). I guess the playoffs explained that, too, actually.

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