Friday, January 23, 2009

The Great Quarterback Debate

Unlike baseball, where game-defining statistics are batted around like balls in Home Run Derby, football statistics have long proven to be more elusive. Of course we can total yards and touchdowns, but the meaningless touchdown and the 11 yard completion on 4th and 12 show us just how limited such totals can be. But while football statistics are not determinative, than can still be insightful.

As a lover of all things Tom Brady, I've always enjoyed a good old fashioned quarterback debate and what better time or place for that sort of thing than right here on this blog and right now, with the Super Bowl a little more than a week away.

In order to best frame the debate I've come up with a list of 70 quarterbacks- these are all the quarterbacks who have played in the last two decades and have started at least 64 games or the equivalent of four full seasons. I chose 1990 as a starting point in part to limit these quarterbacks to those I've actually seen play and, additionally, because it actually serves as a good breaking point. This way we can say that all 70 QB's on this list are essentially contemporaries, with only several quarterbacks that were purely products of the 80's left out. Just to delve back into history, it's safe to say the modern era when it comes to the passing game began in 1978, when the NFL changed it's rules so as to prevent contact between defensive backs and receivers over five yards down the field. (Prior to that point, receivers could be chucked any time before the ball was actually thrown.) So in other words, this list of 70 is pretty damn complete, minus the few quarterbacks who started playing after the rule change but retired before the early 90's.

With those 70 QB's, I've ranked them in several categories: winning percentage, Yards per start, touchdowns per start, and interceptions per start. I'll be posting each category as a separate blog post over the course of the weekend and I'd like to conclude with a discussion on who's the best and who's the worst. As I said before, football statistics are not determinative and I use them here only as the starting point for our conversation. To frame this in a legal perspective (as that's what my background is), I'd say that good statistics create a presumption that a player is good and the burden would then fall on those who question the value of the statistics to disprove their value. Just take a look at the numbers and you'll see what I mean. Feel free to comment throughout, but I'll save my comments until the end.


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