Top 100 QBs: 61-80

This is part two of a seven-part series. It is a supplement to my 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 already. You might also be interested in part one of this series, published last week.

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. Each week, we'll examine 20 players, continuing this week with ranks 61-80. 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 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 '47, Dan Fouts in '82, Dan Marino in '84, Steve Young in '94, Peyton Manning in '04 and '13, and Tom Brady in '07.

80. George Blanda — 9,433 — 11.2 — 2 - 10 - 20

Who was better, George Blanda in 1961 or Len Dawson in 1962?

The early AFL was barely a major league, with many more marginal players than the NFL, so Blanda's excellent '61 season is often dismissed as a product of weak competition and a coaching staff that let him throw 26 times a game. But Dawson played in the same league — the AFL was substantially the same in '62 as in '61 — and he threw 24 times a game. Here are their stat lines in the relevant season; estimated sacks count toward the attempt and yardage totals.


TSP scores those seasons at 2,547 for Blanda and 1,646 for Dawson. Blanda generated far more yardage, and far more yards per attempt. Blanda created more TDs, and once you account for fumbles, their turnover totals are roughly equal. Both players led their teams to AFL Championship victories. Blanda's excellent season is often dismissed as a fluke, while Dawson's is usually considered legitimate. I can't see how that holds up. There is no basis to believe that Dawson's season was better than Blanda's.

79. Don Meredith — 8,336 — 11.3 — 3 - 17 - 51

Don Meredith has the worst sack and fumble rates of any QB in this project. He was sacked on approximately 10% of his dropbacks, which ranks 97th among the top 100, and fumbled on about 2.53% of plays, which ranks 99th. These stats are positively correlated, since sacks often lead to fumbles, but Meredith is the only player in the bottom 10 of both categories. He was a good QB, but he was involved in a lot of negative plays that you don't notice with a casual glance at his statistics.

78. Mark Rypien — 8,023 — 11.4 — 3 - 20 - 60

A QB whose life has been heavily marked by health tragedies, Mark Rypien was one of the litigants in a concussion lawsuit against the NFL, which in 2013 resulted in a relatively conservative $765 million settlement for the players. Rypien suffered four officially acknowledged concussions, but explained his participation in the lawsuit, "I suffer every day from different aspects of the game, physically and mentally ... I can't even put a number to the concussions. I can't say I was clinically diagnosed the 30 times that I shook things off — was there some form of a mild concussion in every game I played in?"

Rypien peaked before modern free agency, and didn't make the kind of money that facilitates regular consultations with neurosurgeons. Following his selection as the MVP of Super Bowl XXVI, Rypien signed a $3 million per year contract. I don't mean to downplay $3 million, but Joe Flacco makes six times that amount. The money Rypien did have, he spent on his son's 18-month battle with brain cancer. It's not just poor families that go broke due to a chronic illness. Medical costs remain the leading cause of bankruptcy in this country, so until we have a health care system that covers everyone who needs medical attention, like the Rypien family, players suffering from the effects of head injuries need support from a league that nets billions of dollars per year.

77. Jeff George — 9,067 — 11.5 — 4 - 19 - 76

Underrated, not by TSP but by conventional wisdom. He never developed into the type of player his arm strength and draft status seemed to promise, and he was sometimes a headache, but he passed for over 27,000 yards and 150 TDs, with an 80.4 passer rating that was about average for when he played. In 1995, with the Falcons, he passed for 4,143 yards, 24 TDs, and 11 INT. In 1997, with the Raiders, he led the NFL in both passing yardage (3,917) and TD/INT +/- (29 TD, 9 INT). In 1999, with Minnesota, he recorded a career-high 94.2 passer rating, 3rd in the NFL.

Here's a guy with unquestioned arm talent, who had four top-10 seasons with three different teams. He wasn't a one-year wonder and he wasn't a bum.

76. Cam Newton — 8,818 — 11.8 — 3 - 16 - 48

For his career, Cam Newton has 212 TDs (158 pass, 54 rush) and 112 turnovers (94 INT, 18 FL). He's tied for 14th all-time in Touchdown-Minus-Turnover total. The +100 Club:

1. Tom Brady, +300
2. Peyton Manning, +278
3. Drew Brees, +239
4. Aaron Rodgers, +234
5. Philip Rivers, +136
6. Dan Marino, +135*
7. Steve Young, +135*
8. Joe Montana, +130*
9. Ben Roethlisberger, +128
10. Brett Favre, +113
11. Matt Ryan, +112
12. Tony Romo, +109
13. Russell Wilson, +105
t14. Donovan McNabb, +100
t14. Cam Newton, +100

* Estimated. Fumbles Lost became an official statistic in 1991. Prior to that, I assume 42.5% of fumbles were recovered by the opponent, which is a historically stable figure for quarterbacks. Marino ranks ahead of Young based on decimal points.

Two notes:

1. Holy smokes — Brady, Manning, Brees, and Rodgers are all by themselves.

2. In a list composed almost exclusively of players from the illegal contact era, Marino, Montana, and Young still manage to stand out. I can't conceive a more apt application of "before their time."

75. Matt Hasselbeck — 9,712 — 11.9 — 3 - 17 - 51

The best quarterback in the NFC when all the best quarterbacks were in the AFC. In 2005, seven of the top eight in QB-TSP played for AFC teams:

1. Peyton Manning, IND — 2,136
2. Carson Palmer, CIN — 1,966
3. Tom Brady, NE — 1,878
4. Matt Hasselbeck, SEA — 1,755
5. Trent Green, KC — 1,686
6. Jake Plummer, DEN — 1,640
7. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT — 1,288
8. Drew Brees, SD — 1,154

Seattle RB Shaun Alexander was named NFL MVP that year, but the Seahawks won the NFC in no small part because they had the conference's premier passing game. If you really wanted to name a running back MVP that season, Tiki Barber rushed for 1,860 yards with a 5.21 average, added 530 receiving yards, scored 11 TDs, and only fumbled once. Alexander played with the best offensive line in the NFL, and his Seahawks were a playoff lock behind the only good QB in the conference, whereas there's no way the Giants win their division without Barber. Alexander won the MVP because the voters fetishize TDs, but also as an apology from sports writers, who had shafted him in All-Pro voting the previous year because he finished 1 yard off the league lead in rushing.

Hasselbeck started for 13 seasons and scored at least 1,000 TSP five times. He never passed for 4,000 yards or 30 TDs or a 100 rating, but he was an above-average QB for the better part of a decade. Hasselbeck was the subject of one of the most interesting quotes I've ever seen about football. Unfortunately, I don't have the source for this, but in the early 2000s, probably just before the '02 season, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren reportedly told Hasselbeck, "Throw some interceptions." He wanted Hasselbeck more focused on creating positive plays than avoiding negative ones. I feel like that's advice a lot of QBs could benefit from.

74. Ron Jaworski — 10,309 — 12.0 — 2 - 9 - 18

This section of TSP rankings is dominated by players who peaked around 1978-82. Included in this group are:

* Archie Manning (1971-84)
* Joe Ferguson (1973-90)
* Brian Sipe (1974-85)
* Ron Jaworski (1974-89)
* Steve Bartkowski (1975-86)
* Steve Grogan (1975-90)
* Jim Zorn (1976-87)
* Danny White (1976-88)
* Tommy Kramer (1977-90)
* Doug Williams (1978-89)
* Steve DeBerg (1978-98)

All of those players are ranked between 60 and 95, and it's not obvious who was the best among them — they all should rate pretty close to equal, I think. By TSP, Manning's best seasons were 1978 and '80. Ferguson's best seasons were 1975 and '81. Sipe's were '78 and '80, Jaws' were '80 and '81, Bart's were '80 and '83, Grogan's and Zorn's were '78 and '79, White's '81 and '83, Kramer's '82 and '86, Williams '80 and '81, and DeBerg's '79 and '90. Maybe DeBerg doesn't quite fit in the group, but even without him, it's pretty remarkable to find so many contemporary players clustered together in the rankings. These are purely statistical rankings, so my thumb isn't on the scale to rate these players together: it's just the way the numbers play out.

73. Joe Ferguson — 10,288 — 12.2 — 3 - 18 - 54

By both conventional TSP and Career Value, Jaworski and Ferguson rate effectively equal. Jaworski is more celebrated, because he played in Philadelphia and started a Super Bowl, and he was an announcer on Monday Night Football. But their careers are largely similar. Ferguson played for four teams, including 12 seasons with the Bills. Jaworski played for four teams, including 10 seasons with the Eagles. Some basic stats:


Ferguson had more years as a starter, Jaws had a lower INT%, Ferguson was a little better runner. The differences are minor, even though Ferguson started mostly during the defense-dominated '70s and Jaworski peaked in the passer-friendly '80s. The temptation is to rank Jaworski as the better player, but I think Ferguson — with the Buffalo weather and much less imposing receivers — had less to work with. I rate them essentially equal, but if you made me choose, I'd choose Ferguson.

72. Earl Morrall — 10,848 — 12.3 — 3 - 22 - 66

In 21 seasons with six teams, Earl Morrall started double-digit games only four times. At a time when the number of teams in pro football had suddenly doubled, Morrall spent almost his entire career as a backup. He had two famous seasons in relief, but he couldn't hold a starting job and he had a very poor record in postseason play: 3 TD, 7 INT, 56.5 rating. Morrall was a fine player, but it's easy to get carried away about his two magical seasons managing the game for historically dominant teams.

71. Dave Krieg — 12,590 — 12.4 — 2 - 4 - 8

An average quarterback basically every year from 1983-94. If I organized this ranking by Adjusted TSP instead of Career Value, Krieg would rise to 42nd, the largest gain of any player. Other big climbers:

John Elway (+4)
Len Dawson (+10)
Bart Starr (+13)
Vinny Testaverde (+18)
Bob Griese (+23)
Steve Grogan (+18)
Kerry Collins (+19)
Jim Harbaugh (+23)

70. Steve Grogan — 11,946 — 12.5 — 3 - 10 - 30

Twenty-six top-100 QBs have spent their whole careers with a single team: Troy Aikman (DAL), Ken Anderson (CIN), Terry Bradshaw (PIT), Tom Brady (NE), John Brodie (SF), Charlie Conerly (NYG), John Elway (DEN), Dan Fouts (SD), Otto Graham (CLE), Bob Griese (MIA), Steve Grogan (NE), Johnny Lujack (CHI), Eli Manning (NYG), Dan Marino (MIA), Don Meredith (DAL), Cam Newton (CAR), Philip Rivers (Chargers), Aaron Rodgers (GB), Ben Roethlisberger (PIT), Tony Romo (DAL), Matt Ryan (ATL), Phil Simms (NYG), Matthew Stafford (DET), Bart Starr (GB), Roger Staubach (DAL), and Russell Wilson (SEA). Jim Kelly (BUF) and Brian Sipe (CLE) would join the list if you exclude USFL teams, while Joe Theismann (WAS) spent three years in the CFL and Danny White (DAL) played two seasons in the World Football League.

Grogan was sort of a poor man's Terry Bradshaw, a gunslinger and a scrambler. Fans sometimes link Steve DeBerg and Steve Grogan, contemporary QBs with long careers, both compilers, both named Steve. Their styles were almost polar opposites, however. DeBerg was immobile and preferred to throw short, while Grogan was the most prolific running QB of his generation and mostly threw deep, teaming for many years with WR Stanley Morgan.

69. Bob Griese — 12,311 — 12.7 — 3 - 15 - 45

My statistical system reads him as a compiler. He has seven 1000-TSP seasons, which is very good — no one ranked below him has more than five — but only one 1500-TSP season, and barely (1,524 in 1971). Griese was limited by the Dolphins' offensive personnel and philosophy, which dictated a run-oriented offense. I'll discuss Griese further in the Ben Roethlisberger comment a couple weeks from now.

68. Steve DeBerg — 11,424 — 12.80 — 1 - 8 - 8

Bobby Hebert, Alex Smith, and Steve DeBerg are the only QBs in the top 100 who ranked among the yearly Top 10 in TSP only once. In DeBerg's case, it was a fluke season at age 35, when he threw only 4 INTs in 444 attempts (0.9%), by far the lowest interception rate of his career (2.5%, 1987). DeBerg was a savvy game manager, a smart player who stuck around the game for two decades because teams valued his intelligence and experience. He played for the Super Bowl XXXIII Falcons in 1998, after four years out of the NFL.

67. Billy Kilmer — 11,407 — 12.82 — 6 - 21 - 126

In his first six seasons, with the 49ers, Billy Kilmer threw 40 passes and carried 228 times. He went to the Saints in '67 and they let him play quarterback, but the Saints were an expansion team. After four unremarkable seasons in New Orleans, Kilmer — 32-years-old and a decade removed from being the 11th pick in the 1961 NFL Draft — finally found his time and place in Washington. Sonny Jurgensen was aging and injury-prone, and head coach George Allen wanted to play conservatively.

Kilmer had six top-10 TSP seasons, and ranks 42nd by Year-Points, between Kurt Warner (128) and Trent Green (124).

66. Russell Wilson — 9,001 — 12.93 — 4 - 19 - 76

Most Career Value, first six seasons:

1. Dan Marino, 31.7
2. Otto Graham, 27.5
3. Johnny Unitas, 22.8
4. Peyton Manning, 20.6
5. Joe Montana, 19.7
6. Ken Anderson, 18.1
7. Norm Van Brocklin, 18.0
8. Boomer Esiason, 17.0
9. Daunte Culpepper, 15.7
10. Brett Favre, 15.6

Wilson ranks 18th, between Joe Namath (13.4) and John Elway (11.8). By Adjusted TSP, he's even higher (10th), between Jim Kelly (9,628) and Jeff Garcia (8,729). In all six of Russell Wilson's NFL seasons, he has:

* Passed for over 3,000 yards
* Passed for at least 20 touchdowns
* Passed for at least 10 more touchdowns than interceptions
* Posted a passer rating over 92.5
* Averaged over 6 net yards per pass attempt
* Rushed for over 250 yards
* Scored a rushing touchdown

In five of his six seasons, Wilson has a passer rating over 95, NY/A over 6.5, and at least 489 rushing yards.

65. Matthew Stafford — 9,561 — 12.97 — 4 - 16 - 64

Okay, Matt Stafford rates ahead of Russell Wilson. But TSP doesn't know about Calvin Johnson or Marshawn Lynch or Seattle's offensive line. It doesn't know that the Lions play in a dome, and it doesn't know that Wilson has a Super Bowl ring. It slightly underrates good runners, which I've acknowledged. Actually, the gap between them is so small that if I counted .51 of rushing yardage instead of .50, Wilson would pass Stafford in the rankings.

But Stafford has established himself as a reliably good QB (hence last year's lavish contract). He has played eight seasons to Wilson's six. He has passed for more yards, seven years in a row, than Wilson did in his best season. He has rushed for more TDs than Wilson twice, and he has fewer fumbles in a longer career with many more attempts.

Apart from any comparisons, Stafford has three seasons of at least 4,500 passing yards, he has thrown for 41 TDs in a season, and he's had a passer rating over 95 three times. He's got seven consecutive seasons over 1,000 TSP, including 1,863 in 2011. His career right now looks similar to Matt Ryan's two years ago.

64. Craig Morton — 12,033 — 13.05 — 4 - 16 - 64

Started Super Bowls for both the Cowboys and Broncos. The only other QBs to start in the Super Bowl for two different teams were Kurt Warner (Rams and Cardinals) and Peyton Manning (Colts and Broncos). Morton set or tied career highs in passing yards, TDs, and rating in 1981, his second-to-last season, when he was 38.

** Sammy Baugh — 7,027 — 13.14 — 2 - 14 - 28

This ranking only reflects the second half of Slingin' Sammy's career. If I included Pre-Modern seasons, Baugh would easily rank in the top 10, probably the top 5. That doesn't even account for his play as a defensive back and punter, both roles in which he excelled. Baugh's excellence in every phase of the game prompted me to name him, in an interview on this very topic, the greatest player in the history of professional football.

63. Tobin Rote — 9,153 — 13.4 — 4 - 19 - 76

Conventional wisdom is usually right, but it's important to question, not to accept uncritically. Conventional wisdom holds that Charlie Conerly was a better quarterback than Tobin Rote. Does that stand up to rigorous analysis?

Conerly and Rote were contemporaries, with their best seasons from 1954-59. Conerly has higher TSP (11,431) and CV (15.1), but Rote missed three seasons setting records in the CFL. If he had spent those years earning 800 TSP per season in the NFL (which is not much of a reach), they'd be even.

Conerly made two Pro Bowls; Rote made one Pro Bowl and one AFL All-Star Game. Conerly was second-team All-Pro and NFL co-MVP in 1959; Rote was second-team All-Pro in '55 and '56, and first-team All-AFL in '63. Conerly was All-Conference a couple times. I think it's about equal.

Conerly started in three NFL championship games, winning once. Rote made it to two championship games, winning once each in the NFL and AFL. That's another tie in my book, though Rote played better (combined 6 pass TD, 2 rush TD, teams scored 110 pts) in his title shots.

Conerly is regarded as the better player, but he was the Giants' quarterback when they were the only team in New York, and he played on the best team in the Eastern Conference. Rote played in a midwestern town of 53,000, for a perennial laughingstock. That the public took any notice of him at all is remarkable.

The critical difference is personnel. Conerly played for offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi, the greatest football mind of that era. He had Roosevelt Brown, the greatest offensive tackle of his generation, and Hall of Fame running back Frank Gifford, plus the best defense of the 1950s. Rote had some talent around him in Detroit and San Diego, but the Packers were barren, with no Hall of Famers. Wide receiver Billy Howton was a great player, but he was the exception. Conerly was set up for success, while Rote was set up for failure.

Who was better? It's hard to say; it's close, certainly. I believe the evidence suggests Rote.

Rote was huge for the 1950s, big enough to play quarterback today. He's listed at 6-2, 211, but that's at least 10 pounds and an inch of height below reality. His arm was fine, but it was size and athleticism that set him apart; he was bigger and faster than opposing linebackers, with agility and shiftiness. Rote led all QBs in rushing six times, and retired with the most rushing yards of any quarterback in history. He also led the NFL in passer rating in 1952, completions in '54 and '56, TD passes in '55 and '56, plus in '63 he led the AFL in passer rating and both leagues in NY/A.

62. Neil Lomax — 9,279 — 14.00 — 4 - 21 - 84

A two-time Pro Bowler in eight seasons, but his stats always outshone his reputation. In the 1980s, there were 35 individual seasons with at least 10 more passing TDs than interceptions, only about four per season. Lomax was +13 in 1983, +12 in 1984 and '87. He took a horrific number of sacks, 10.3% of his dropbacks. If I didn't include sack data in TSP, Lomax would rate in the all-time Top 50, and his 1984 season would rank among the best of all time.

61. Brian Sipe — 9,456 — 14.02 — 5 - 19 - 95

Jim Shofner was a defensive back for the Cleveland Browns from 1958-63. He had 8 interceptions in 1960, but he's best known as a coach. He was offensive coordinator for the Oilers (1981-82) and Cardinals (1986-89), and interim head coach of the Browns for seven games in 1990. He was most successful, however, as a quarterbacks coach, working with John Brodie, Brian Sipe, Danny White, and Jim Kelly.

The Browns went 6-8 in 1977, their third losing season in four years. Sipe and backup Dave Mays combined for 15 TD, 24 INT, 5.5 NY/A, and a 60.2 passer rating. Shofner joined the coaching staff in 1978. Sipe, in his 5th season and his 3rd as the primary starter, set career highs in every major statistical category (except completion percentage, if you consider that major). The following season, Sipe tied for the NFL lead in TD passes and was named second-team All-Pro. He credited Jim Shofner, "the first real [quarterback coach] I've ever had." In 1980, Sipe led the league in TD/INT differential (+16) and passer rating (91.4), and became only the third player with 4,000 passing yards in a season. He earned 2,505 TSP, first-team All-Pro honors, and league MVP. Cleveland went 11-5, its best record in a decade.

Unfortunately for Sipe, his performance earned Shofner a promotion to offensive coordinator of the Oilers. The following season, Sipe declined in every passing statistic, including a league-worst 25 interceptions. He was even worse in '82, getting benched for Paul McDonald. Sipe rebounded with an above-average season in '83, then bolted to the USFL, where he posted an 84.3 passer rating on 413 attempts. Over two-thirds of Sipe's CV came from his three seasons with Shofner, the three highest-rated seasons of his career.

There's so much that doesn't show up in statistics. We may consider head coaches and wide receivers when we analyze stats, but who digs as far as the positional coaches? There are so many variables that affect performance, and no statistic can account for all of them. Stats like TSP are a starting point for insightful analysis, not a conclusion in and of themselves.

Next Tuesday, as we'll crack the top 60, you can expect longer player summaries. I guess that could be good or bad, but if you choose to read my articles, presumably it's something to look forward to.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site