The quarterback position has changed a lot since the start of the 21st century, which has sparked plenty of debate over who was the best to play the position. Although now more than ever, a quarterback determines the overall success of a team, QB record is still not an appropriate evaluation of a player in a team sport. Instead, we are going to look at the top-ten players with over 50,000 career passing yards, from least to greatest in Approximate value. By comparing each of the ten players with the same league averages, we can more precisely compare their ability at the premiere position in the sport.
As expected, the seven-time Super Bowl champion leads most of the volume categories. However, Rodger’s separation in adjusted yards per attempt and TD/INT ratio is eye-opening to say the least.
Rodgers has always been known for his ability to limit turnovers despite an above-average amount of passing attempts, as he is the only player in NFL history with over 300 passing touchdowns and less than 100 picks. In fact, he has by far the greatest TD-INT% difference, as he is the only quarterback in NFL history with an INT% below 1.4 with over 1,000 passing attempts, and his 6.3% touchdown mark is tied for third-best in the Super Bowl era.
Although passing attempts have only inflated 8.5% in the past 30 years, yards per completion have fallen 14.7% while the completion percentage saw the all-time high of 65.2% in 2020 and has inflated 18.7%. And even though the distance of the throws have shrunk by these margins, the increased accuracy and amount of dropbacks per game have allowed for yards per game to inflate by 11.7%, thus allowing for the higher expectations of the average quarterback today compared to in the days of Marino and Elway.
This tells the story as to why these two quarterbacks have the size jump they do in total yards, while also being the only two on the list with a career completion percentage below 60%. This also tells the story as to why their TD/INT ratios are the worst of the group since at the time quarterbacks were not given as many liberties, especially in the RedZone. When we look at the leader of the interception argument, we look no further than Brett Favre just eight years after the debut of Marino and Elway.
Favre’s company at the top of the list is mostly made up of Pre-Super Bowl era quarterbacks, with the exception of Vinny Testaverde. For a better comparison, there are five players all-time to throw for over 350 touchdowns and 240 interceptions in their career. All five of them (Favre, Marino, the Manning brothers and Brees) played in the most recent two seasons, and have more comparable metrics when it comes to turning over the ball. So, if we were to first balance their eras and then give them the same number of passing attempts over their careers, there would be much more balanced.
|Career||Favre||Marino||P. Manning||E. Manning||Brees|
Besides Brees, who we discussed was put into a much safer system, and Peyton, who only had three seasons with an interception percentage above 3 after his infamous rookie year, Marino and Eli land within 30 interceptions of Favre. But, as most can tell by the names, this group of quarterbacks are remembered more for their successes than their failures. There are six Super Bowls, 53 playoff appearances, nine MVPs, and 51 Pro Bowls between the group, which showed very clearly that taking risks with a capable passer was worth the occasional change of possession.
But Brett Favre’s playmaking ability change the position, and the game, altogether. His three-peat as the top performer in the NFL would reinvent the position and what they were asked to do, which even though might have feared coaches that turnovers would begin to trend upward once again, instead did the opposite.
All this being said, it is impossible to end away from where we started, as Tom Brady still reigns supreme, leading in completions, attempts, yards, and touchdowns. Considering Brady has played for 22 years with little decline in his play, it only makes sense he is the all-time leader, which would not have been possible if he were incapable of keeping up with the league shifts.
While a change of scenery for Brady allowed him to open up the playbook with Bruce Arians, Bill Belichick’s system surprisingly stayed consistent with the rest of the league trends, despite the Patriots being notorious for marching to their own drum. For this reason, Brady has averaged over 4,200 yards per season, including his career-high 5,316 yards this past year at age 44.
But the best ability is availability and the fact that Brady has managed to suit up for 318 games under center has allowed quite a cushion for the rest of his competition. At their current pace, this is how many more games it would take the rest of the competition to match Brady’s volume statistics.