Top 100 QBs: 81-100

This is part one of a seven-part series. It is a supplement to my 2015 series on the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, last year's article on the top-ranked QBs in Total Statistical Production, and last week's post about QB-TSP in the 2017 season and another way of using TSP. I strongly encourage you to read those pieces if you haven't done so previously.

In this series, I'll present the top 100 pro football quarterbacks as ranked by QB-TSP. This is a purely statistical ranking, with all the drawbacks that entails, and in many places it is not reflective of my subjective evaluations. For each of the next five Tuesdays, we'll examine 20 players, starting this week with ranks 81-100. For each player, you'll find data presented in this form:

[rank]. Player Name — Adjusted TSP — Career Value — Top 10s - Top 10 Points - Year-Points

These statistical categories are explained in the links above; again, if you haven't read them recently, I'd encourage you to do so. TSP and Career Value are calculated the same way as I indicated last year, except that I have indeed switched to a ^1.85 modifier, which reduces the impact of exceptional seasons and blunts the ranking of one-year wonders. As a quick refresher/update, here are rough explanations of single-season TSP:

* Zero TSP (0 CV) indicates replacement-level performance, the quality of play you expect from someone making the minimum salary. 2017 example: Trevor Siemian.

* 500 TSP (0.3 CV) is an inconsequential season, an ineffective starter or a good part-time player. 2017 examples: Jacoby Brissett, Aaron Rodgers.

* 1000 TSP (1 CV) is an average season. The player had some value to his team, but he wasn't a Pro Bowl-quality performer. 2017 examples: Blake Bortles, Dak Prescott.

* 1500 TSP (2 CV) is a good season, a top-10 season, a borderline Pro Bowl season. This is a clear positive contribution to any player's résumé. 2017 examples: Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford.

* 2000 TSP (3.5 CV) is a great season. It's a top-5 performance, the player almost always makes the Pro Bowl, and he'll usually generate some All-Pro support. 2017 examples: Alex Smith, Tom Brady.

* 2500 TSP (5.5 CV) is an exceptional season. These only occur about twice every three years. Most of them were first-team All-Pro, and about half were named league MVP. Most recent example: Matt Ryan in 2016.

* 3000 TSP (7.5 CV) is a legendary season. The player always wins MVP, and these are seasons that educated fans know about: Otto Graham in 1947, Dan Fouts in 1982, Dan Marino in 1984, Steve Young in 1994, Peyton Manning in 2004 and 2013, and Tom Brady in 2007.

Questions and comments are encouraged, but please understand that this series is a product of extensive research, not whim or guess or hot take, and it was produced with no agenda except to inform and explain. Thanks for reading.

100. Lynn Dickey — 6,713 — 8.49 — 2 - 10 - 20

We use a base-10 counting system, but the practical difference between 91-100 and 101-110 is pretty negligible. Here are 101-110: Andy Dalton, Jim Harbaugh, Jay Cutler, Chad Pennington, Andrew Luck, Bill Kenney, Michael Vick, Marc Bulger, Jim McMahon, Neil O'Donnell. The Career Value distinction between 8.49 (Dickey) and 8.41 (Dalton) is too small for even Gene Steratore to measure confidently.

99. Jim Plunkett — 8,868 — 8.50 — 2 - 6 - 12

Underrated by this method. Early in his career, his production was limited by poor coaching and personnel. Late in his career, Plunkett reinvented himself as a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Raiders. In Super Bowl XV, he passed for 3 TDs and a 145.0 rating against the best defense in the NFL.

** Tommy Thompson — 5,365 — 8.82 — 3 - 16 - 48

Rated on the second half of his career. From 1947-49, he played in all three NFL Championship Games (winning twice) and ranked among the top five in TSP every year.

Player rankings in this project are based on QB-TSP, which I don't calculate prior to 1946. For players like Sammy Baugh and Thompson, who played both before and after the '46 season, I calculated their value and included it here, but they're not assigned a rank, since that ranking would exclude part of their careers and thus be misleading. Other great two-way QBs whose careers extended into the Modern Era, like Sid Luckman and Bob Waterfield, didn't score enough Career Value from 1946 on to qualify for the Top 100, but that's an incomplete picture of their accomplishments.

98. Chris Chandler — 8,533 — 8.90 — 2 - 8 - 16

A gunslinger, an aggressive passer who wasn't afraid of traffic and liked to throw downfield. Chandler had 1,000-yard passing seasons with six different teams. Early in his career, he was regarded as a talented player with potential, but fragile and with a bad attitude. Chandler had trouble staying healthy, and in a 17-year career never played all 16 games.

Chandler reinvented himself as a clutch veteran leader in Atlanta. Half of his Career Value (4.43) is from the 1997 and 1998 seasons. He played well enough in 2001, aged 36, to keep first overall pick Michael Vick on the bench.

97. Kerry Collins — 9,029 — 9.12 — 2 - 9 - 18

A compiler who deserves recognition mostly for his longevity and sustained productivity. The analytics community is sometimes too hard on Collins, who made two Pro Bowls and led three different franchises to the postseason, with all three reaching the divisional round. Players who aren't any good don't get to start, and Collins was a starter for a long time. He had nine seasons with at least 500 TSP, which is tied for 43rd all-time.

96. Bobby Hebert — 8,163 — 9.23 — 1 - 7 - 7

The USFL's all-time leader in passing yardage (10,039). USFL statistics are not included in this study, but the USFL was a major league. At quarterback alone, it included Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Doug Flutie, Brian Sipe, Greg Landry, Doug Williams, and Hebert. A Pro Bowler in 1993, Hebert was MVP of the first USFL Championship Game a decade previous. He had three pretty good seasons that don't count toward his ranking here, so 96th should be considered conservative.

95. Ed Brown — 7,826 — 9.37 — 4 - 21 - 84

Quarterback and punter for the Bears and Steelers in the '50s and '60s. In 1956, he averaged 8.7 net yards per attempt (NY/A) and ranked 2nd in QB-TSP. He made two Pro Bowls and has the most Year-Points of anyone ranked below 67th.

Brown, who quarterbacked the famous 1951 USF Dons, was remarkable for his arm strength — along with Bobby Layne, probably the best of his generation — but he made a lot of negative plays. His 6.95 interception percentage is the worst of any QB ranked in the top 100, and his 9.75 sack percentage ranks 93rd. Conversely, his 16.44 yards per completion is by far the highest among the top 100. Only Otto Graham and Johnny Lujack are even within one yard.

94. Matt Schaub — 7,549 — 9.52 — 2 - 11 - 22

The fourth-best QB drafted in 2004, Matt Schaub has spent five of his 14 seasons as a backup on the Falcons. In between stints in Atlanta, he was an oft-injured starter for the Houston Texans. Schaub threw 400 or more passes only three times in his career.

93. Archie Manning — 7,139 — 9.54 — 3 - 17 - 51

Archie Manning played 14 seasons in the NFL. In two of those 14 seasons, he threw more touchdown passes than interceptions. Those are also the only two seasons he had a passer rating above 80. Over the course of his long career, Manning averaged more yards per rush (5.7) than net yards per pass attempt (5.2). His teams went 35-101-3 in games he started (.263). Statistically, he's not quite JaMarcus Russell, but he sure ain't Peyton.

Last year, I wrote about "Archie Manning seasons" underrated by TSP and other forms of statistical analysis: Good QBs stuck on bad teams sometimes generate massive volume with poor efficiency, because [1] they're the best player on the team, so the coaches call pass plays, [2] they're usually playing from behind, so the coaches call pass plays, but [3] the blockers and receivers aren't very good, and [4] the defense knows they're going to throw, so it sends in extra DBs, dials up exotic blitzes, and won't bite on play-action.

Manning spent his first 10 seasons entirely with the New Orleans Saints. During those 10 seasons, Manning made two Pro Bowls. The rest of the Saints combined made five. Paul Zimmerman pondered Manning's career in The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football: "Manning, considered the greatest quarterback prospect ever to come out of the South, played for the Saints for 10 years and part of another, never knowing what a winning season was like. He's been a solid NFL quarterback ... Who knows what he would have been like on a decent team?"

It's hard not to what-if Archie Manning's career; perhaps no QB in history has spent so many years with such consistently bad teams, and he stayed mostly healthy despite a huge amount of punishment. He was a productive scrambler, running for 2,200 yards and his life behind New Orleans' deficient blocking. I will remark on one data point working against Manning, something I've never seen anyone else bring up: it's not apparent that Manning made his teams better.

The Saints went 7-20-1 (.268) in the two seasons before he was drafted, and 6-19-3 (also .268) in his first two seasons with the team. From 1980-81, the Saints went 5-27 (.156). In 1982, they benched and then traded Manning. Their combined record from 1982-83 rocketed to 12-13 (.480). When the Houston Oilers acquired Manning, they dropped from 18-14 (.563) over the previous two seasons to 3-22 (.120), including 0-8 in games started by Manning. The Vikings traded for Manning after Tommy Kramer got hurt, and Manning went 0-2 as starter in Minnesota, while the Oilers acquired Warren Moon and improved steadily.

Manning is tough to analyze because of the intangibles swirling around his career. My feeling is that he was better than his stats suggest and worse than his reputation implies. "Bad teammates" is a nebulous factor to measure, and its impact can be easily exaggerated. I'll re-use this quote from baseball writer Bill James later in this series: "In all discussions, the least precise areas become bullshit dumps ... easy to assert [but] impossible to disprove." With a better supporting cast, would Archie Manning have become Roger Staubach? I certainly don't believe so, but it's not something you can prove or disprove with meaningful evidence.

For examples of other players with obstacles similar to Manning's, I'll refer readers to my short essays (about three paragraphs each) on Drew Bledsoe, Tobin Rote, and Norm Snead. The Patriots went 1-15, 6-10, 2-14 in the three seasons before they drafted Bledsoe; that's worse (.188) than any three-year stretch in Saints history. Rote's Packers routinely had the worst defense in the NFL, and the running game was so weak that during his seven years in Green Bay, Rote himself led the team in rushing yards three times and rushing touchdowns five times. Snead played mostly for Washington (1961-63), Philadelphia (1964-70), and the Giants (1972-74). Washington didn't have a winning season between 1956-68. Philadelphia's only winning record from 1962-77 came with Snead as the primary starter ('66). The Giants never made the playoffs between 1964-80. Those players faced challenges similar to Archie Manning's, and I think they did more with their limited opportunities.

92. Alex Smith — 8,180 — 9.56 — 1 - 10 - 10

Alex Smith led all quarterbacks in TSP in 2017, about 100 points ahead of second-place Tom Brady. Why?

Brady threw for 535 more yards, and he lost 6 fewer yards on sacks. That's +541 for Brady. But Brady also threw 76 more pass attempts, which scores -342, reducing his lead to +199. Brady threw 5 more TDs than Smith, but 3 more interceptions, dropping his advantage to +179. Furthermore, Smith scored a rushing TD (Brady did not) and was charged with only 2 fumbles, compared to 7 for Brady. That's a +120 edge for Smith, dropping Brady's lead to a fragile +59. And Alex Smith rushed for 355 yards, compared to 28 for Brady, which is worth +163.5, giving Smith a lead of just over 100.

I'm not saying Smith played better last year than Brady — I think he didn't — but I do think he had slightly better stats. Adam Steele points out that Smith benefitted from unsustainable YAC, but Smith still came a long way last season from the guy who started every game in 2014 and didn't throw a single touchdown pass to a wide receiver.

91. Johnny Lujack — 6,022 — 9.71 — 3 - 14 - 42

A triple threat who could run, pass, kick, and play defense. He only played four seasons, only 3½ at quarterback, but excelled during that time. As a rookie in 1948, he mostly played defense, intercepting eight passes. In 1949 he passed for 2,658 yards (which led the NFL) and only lost 31 yards on sacks, a 1.2% sack rate. In 1950, Lujack led the NFL in rush TDs, scoring 11 in a 12-game season. The following season, he rushed for 7 TDs. He wasn't an outstanding passer, but he was a great player during his brief career.

90. Jake Plummer — 7,968 — 9.81 — 3 - 12 - 36

I suspect a lot of fans don't remember how poor the Cardinals franchise was around the turn of the century. At that time Bill Bidwill was considered one of the worst owners in professional sports. The Cardinals didn't have a winning season from 1985-97. They started 1-6 in '97, before Plummer got the starting job. The next year, in Plummer's first full season, the team went 9-7, made the playoffs, and upset the Cowboys in the wild card round, pulling the shutters closed on their rival's dynasty. Plummer's stats were substantially better in Denver than in Arizona, but that's mostly an illusion based on the players and coaches around him. Plummer was a pretty good QB from the moment he set foot on an NFL field.

89. Danny White — 8,631 — 10.0 — 3 - 9 - 27

When Roger Staubach retired, White stepped in and guided the Cowboys to six straight winning seasons, including three straight NFC Championship Game appearances. He wasn't Staubach, and he never overcame the comparisons, but he was a good player whose stats would look more impressive if he hadn't spent his first four years on the bench in apprenticeship to a Hall of Famer.

88. Steve Bartkowski — 8,020 — 10.2 — 3 - 16 - 48

The third player with back-to-back 30-TD seasons, really tied for the second, since he was only two weeks behind Dan Fouts in the 1981 season.

That sounds more impressive than it is. Passing records fell rapidly in the early 1980s, for two reasons: in the late 1970s, (1) the schedule expanded from 14 games to 16 games, and (2) rules were overhauled to prevent defense from dominating the game. Bartkowski was also one of the first six players with multiple 3,500-yard passing seasons, from 1980-81. The other five were Fouts (1979-80), Joe Ferguson (1979 and 1981), Brian Sipe (1979 and 1981), Tommy Kramer (1980-81), and Sonny Jurgensen (1961 and 1967). TSP ranks Bartkowski 4th in 1980 and 6th in '81. He was an eight-year starter for the Falcons, with three very good (1,500 TSP) seasons.

87. Jim Zorn — 8,229 — 10.25 — 2 - 15 - 30

An almost exact contemporary of Bartkowski's. He was All-Pro in 1978 (2nd-team AP, 1st-team NEA), but by TSP, he was even better the following season. In '79, Zorn ranked 2nd in total yardage (Dan Fouts), with a relatively low turnover rate. Zorn quarterbacked the Seahawks through their expansion years, keeping Dave Krieg on the bench for several seasons. It's difficult to put Zorn's accomplishments in context, since the Seahawks were an expansion franchise with limited weapons — but one of those weapons was Steve Largent.

By TSP, Zorn is the fifth-best left-handed QB of all time.

86. Ken O'Brien — 8,342 — 10.30 — 3 - 11 - 33

In 1985, Ken O'Brien led the NFL in TD/INT differential (+17) and passer rating (96.2). He kept his interception rate low (8 INT, 1.6%) by never throwing the ball when he was under pressure, and ate 62 sacks, losing 399 yards and fumbling 14 times. O'Brien ranks 3rd in QB-TSP that season, behind Joe Montana and Dan Marino, which seems right to me.

O'Brien led the Jets to three playoff berths, including 1991, when he ranked 10th in QB-TSP and made the Pro Bowl. The Jets, having chosen Browning Nagle 34th overall in the 1991 draft, benched O'Brien the following season. Nagle posted a 55.7 passer rating and went 3-11 as starter (O'Brien went 1-1). The next year, O'Brien was a backup for the Eagles, playing about a quarter of the season, then retired.

85. Doug Williams — 8,231 — 10.4 — 3 - 14 - 42

One of the awkward things about writing a history of quarterbacks is that essentially all the black QBs are underrated. It's not always obvious that that's a function of racism — I mean, sometimes it plays a relatively clear role — but not always. As a writer and historian, you can't not point out that these guys are underrated, but the constant repetition can make it seem like you're advancing a social agenda rather than commenting on something which seems obvious once you understand the full history. Doug Williams is a good example: I suspect that by the time you've read the next few paragraphs, you'll have a higher opinion of Williams than when you started reading this.

Doug Williams brought the Buccaneers out of their humiliating introduction to the NFL. The Bucs, as you probably know, lost their first 26 games in a row. In their third season, after starting 0-2, they were desperate enough to let Williams, the 17th pick in that year's draft, start at quarterback. And they started winning. Two in a row, four of his first six games. Then he got hurt and they stuttered to a 5-11 finish.

Williams' 4-4 record represented massive progress for a team that was 3-33 without him. The roster around Williams was still awful. None of the offensive linemen ever made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. Their four leading rushers each averaged under 3.9 yards per carry. The leading receivers were Morris Owens, Jimmie Giles, and Louis Carter. The defense had one Pro Bowler, Dave Pear, plus Lee Roy Selmon. They went 14/26 on field goals, which was bad even in 1978. With so little support and missing half the season, Williams' stats that year are entirely unremarkable, but he was an obvious difference-maker.

The next year, he started every game. The Bucs went 10-6, won the NFC Central, and advanced to the NFC Championship Game. Selmon was their only Pro Bowler. Again, Williams' statistical accomplishments were limited by the talent around him, but the team played well and he was the difference. The team slipped the next season — probably relying too heavily on Williams, who threw a career-high 521 passes — and finished 5-10-1. They rebounded to make the playoffs the next two seasons in a row. Doug Williams had turned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into a good team, not single-handedly, but deserving much of the credit.

Williams, throughout these five seasons, was the lowest-paid starting QB in the NFL. After leading the Bucs to three playoff appearances in his four full seasons, Williams understandably asked for a raise. When owner Hugh Culverhouse refused, Williams defected to the Oklahoma Outlaws of the new USFL. The Bucs dropped to 2-14 without him, and wouldn't make the playoffs again for 15 years. Williams eventually returned to the NFL as Jay Schroeder's backup in Washington. He famously led the team to victory in Super Bowl XXII, passing for 340 yards and 4 touchdowns, but because he split time with Schroeder, Williams' TSP that season was only 884, 0.8 toward his Career Value. He earned 1.2 CV in 11 games the next season, then, now in his mid-30s, gave way to Mark Rypien.

Williams earned a total of 0.8 CV in his first 1.5 seasons, leading Tampa Bay out of the depths. Three very good seasons earned him the bulk of his TSP, 7.5, then he went to the USFL, whose stats I don't honor for these calculations. He played about 20 regular-season games in Washington, earning another 2.0 CV, and then he was done. TSP does not fairly reflect performance in partial seasons, and it doesn't credit postseason performance at all, nor does it apply USFL stats toward a player's career, and it doesn't care if Morris Owens is your top wide receiver. Williams is underrated, massively underrated, by the method used to derive these rankings. I wouldn't argue for him as one of the top 50 quarterbacks of all time, but you could make such an argument and it wouldn't be crazy.

84. Tommy Kramer — 9,152 — 10.67 — 4 - 15 - 60

Tommy Kramer was the Vikings' quarterback right after Fran Tarkenton, and just as their dominant defense waned. He threw a lot. Kramer ranked among the top three in pass attempts each of his first three seasons as starter. He was pretty good, ranking among the top 10 in TSP for three of his first four seasons, then tore a ligament in his right knee in the third game of the 1983 season. He played about half the 1984 season, and in '85 looked like he would never come all the way back from the knee. He did — in 1986 he led the NFL in passer rating, made the only Pro Bowl of his career, and ranked 4th in QB-TSP. He got hurt again the next season, and after that he really was just about done.

83. Greg Landry — 8,041 — 10.71 — 3 - 20 - 60

Greg Landry is the third QB in this article who played in the USFL. He was good, throwing 42 TDs and just 24 INTs, but he earned this rating as the Detroit Lions' starting quarterback through most of the 1970s. Landry was a great runner, with six 200-yard seasons and two 500-yard seasons, which wasn't easy in only 14 games. He had a Hall of Fame tight end, Charlie Sanders, but not much help besides. When Landry became the full-time starter in 1969, the Lions improved from 4-8-2 to 9-4-1, their first winning season in five years. They went 10-4 the next year, and made the playoffs. Landry made the Pro Bowl and UP named him first-team All-NFC; he ranked 2nd in TSP that year (1,975 TSP) and 3rd the next year (1,950 TSP). During Landry's first four seasons, the Lions went 34-19-3, but in a division dominated by the Vikings, at a time when there was only wild card, '71 was their only playoff berth between 1958-1981.

Landry was hurt in the mid-70s, but he won Comeback Player of the Year in 1976. Two years later, Detroit traded Landry — his knees wrecked and his great scrambling ability lost — to the Colts. Filling in for an injured Bert Jones, Landry, graying and gimpy, threw a career-high 457 passes and earned 861 TSP, a respectable season. He was mostly a backup the next two years, then went to the USFL and played well for two seasons, before a final season backing up Jim McMahon on the '84 Bears.

If Landry had played for better teams, or stayed healthy a little longer, or even just had access to modern sports medicine, we might view his career much differently. If he had ended up on the Raiders or Steelers ... well, the what-if game is a slippery slope, but it's easy to imagine Landry being a celebrated player with better luck. He also had a reputation as a team leader, and his teams' performances support that reputation. The Lions improved dramatically when he entered the lineup, won 6 or 7 games every year from 1973-78, then dropped to 2-14 in their first season without Landry. The Colts went 0-8-1 after cutting Landry. I hope it doesn't seem like I'm saying this about all the QBs in this article, but Landry is underrated. It seems to me that the difference between the guys who rank 80th or 90th, and the guys who rank 60th or 70th, is more about opportunity than talent. Witness another example, Brad Johnson...

82. Brad Johnson — 9,493 — 11.1 — 3 - 10 - 30

James Bradley Johnson was a 9th-round draft pick in 1992. He didn't make the active roster his first two seasons, and didn't start until he was 28. He was a smart player and a cautious passer, a high-level game manager who threw short passes and didn't make a lot of mistakes. He played well in Minnesota and Washington, but found his match in Tampa, where a defense with multiple Hall of Famers carried the team, and Johnson's efficient, low-risk style facilitated a lot of victories. In 2002, Johnson ranked 3rd in the NFL in passer rating, tied for the league lead in TD/INT differential (+16), and quarterbacked the Bucs to a 48-21 victory in Super Bowl XXXVII. He hung around the league for years as a reliable backup, retiring following the 2008 season, at age 40.

81. Frank Ryan — 8,929 — 11.1 — 3 - 19 - 57

No relation to Matt.

Frank Ryan was regarded as the most intelligent QB of his generation, a reputation he earned both on the field and by earning a Ph.D. in math during offseasons. He was a three-time Pro Bowler, the Browns' quarterback under Blanton Collier. In the 1964 NFL Championship Game, Ryan passed for all three TDs in Cleveland's 27-0 upset victory over the league's top-ranked defense.

Ryan led pro football in QB-TSP in 1966 (2,078). He led the NFL in passer rating, led both leagues in pass TDs, and ranked 3rd overall in yardage. Ryan played with good linemen, Hall of Fame running backs, and good wide receivers, including Paul Warfield for a couple years. He was only a regular for seven seasons, but he had a strong peak and he played well in the postseason. His 6.99 TD% is the highest in history by any player with at least 2,000 pass attempts.

If you enjoy these summaries, please check back next Tuesday for 61-80, including two Hall of Famers.

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