Ah yes, the great debate among football historians. Who is the greatest quarterback of all-time? It's a debate that will seemingly never end and one that can get pretty heated at times.
There are many, many ways you can judge a QB. You can look at the basic stats. You can look at things like wins and losses. You can look at championships. But today I stumbled across one of the most in-depth and statistically analytical ways to compare quarterbacks from season to season and era to era. It's a method that quantifies a quarterback's performance in a way I've never seen, taking into account the era that the QB played in. And it comes from Pro-Football-Reference.com.
In a nutshell, the statistician created a formula that takes into account "adjusted yards per attempt" and then takes that figure and then takes into account the league average "AY/A" as well as pass attempts. There are also other factors involved here, so heading over to this article will explain how the math is done.
The first thing I want to point out is how Dan Marino's 1984 season still ranks as the single greatest season a quarterback has ever had in NFL history. You can click here to see the full chart and rankings. Below are just the "ratings" as used by PFR to determine the top 5 greatest single-season QB performances of all time:
As you can see, Marino's 1984 season still has a rather large lead on any other season a QB has ever had. And that's thanks, in large part, by the number of pass attempts he had and the fact that the league average for adjusted net yards per attempt was just 4.61 back in 1984. Just think about the kinds of numbers Marino put up in an era when the passing numbers (league-wide) were nowhere near what they are today. Simply mind-boggling.
But moving on, further down in that same article is the list of the top 75 quarterbacks of all-time based on the same stat formula. Below I've listed the top 10:
So you can see that Marino still has a wide lead on Manning for that top spot in this rating system. But Manning is only a few good seasons away from passing him, but I could deal with that. At least he's not a player in our division.
How about Ken Anderson, the only player not in the Hall of Fame, coming in at number 8 on this list? He's a guy nobody ever talks about, but he had some great seasons. And I'm glad to see Tarkenton get some love here, too. It seems like people always forget about him when the topic of "greatest QB" comes up.
Three noticeable players missing from the top 10 are also 3 that the media just can't seem to get enough of - so I'm glad they aren't in the top 10. Those three are Brett Favre (11th), John Elway (15th), and Tom Brady (19th). While Brady will surely move up as he continues playing with Randy Moss, I'm so glad that both Favre and Elway are not in the top 10. Call me jealous if you'd like, but the only reasons people put Elway and Favre in the conversation of being better than Marino is because of those damn Super Bowl rings. But if Favre wasn't with Dorsey Levens, Antonio Freeman, and Robert Brooks (oh, and Desmond Howard kind of played a big role, too, didn't he), he wouldn't have that one ring. And Elway better get down on his hands and knees every single day and thank whatever God he prays to that he had Terrell Davis on his team for those 2 seasons they won the Super Bowl. Without him, Elway is still ringless.
And while we are talking about Marino and Elway, I thought I'd bring up this little nugget that was e-mailed to me. Apparently, there's a "Professional Football Researchers Association." They have a website that has a forum. There was a topic in the forum about "comeback wins."
Well one of the myths of John Elway was that he had the most 4th quarterback comebacks in NFL history, with 47. Dan Marino was 2nd with 37. But, like I said, this is a myth. As a poster on that site named "Clark Heins" points out, Elway's comeback stats are wrong. Eleven of those were games in which the Broncos were leading entering the 4th quarter, the opposing team tied the game, and then the Broncos would win. In those 11 games, the Broncos never trailed in the 4th quarter. So those aren't 4th quarter comebacks, are they? Also, one game against the Packers in 1987 ended in a tie and, therefore, isn't a comeback win. Another game saw Elway get replaced due to injury by Gary Kubiak and it was Kubiak who led the final drive for the comeback win.
So if you eliminate those 13 games from his "comeback wins" record, then Elway only had 34 comebacks, meaning it's Marino with the most in NFL history - with 37.
So there you have it. Anyway you slice it, Dan Marino is still the greatest quarterback in NFL history - as if anyone even doubted that (well, at least any Dolphin fan).