Grading the Recent “Elite” QBs, or why Tom Brady IS slightly overrated

Generally, when the media takes to agreeing on a topic, I like to disagree.

Recently, and more so in the wake of Super Bowl 46, the media has begun to suggest that Tom Brady is overrated, and perhaps that Eli Manning is an elite level Quarterback.

Based on my two ranking systems for Quarterbacks, Brady is a bit overrated, and Manning is exactly an average QB in the regular season, but he will sometimes rise to elite status in the postseason.  You might call him “situationally elite” (to use the latest en vogue sports buzzword, ie “The Patriots have a good situational defense”).

My two quarterback rating systems are “Forward Yards per Snap” and “Quarterback Efficiency Rating” (“QBER”).

Forward Yards per Snap calculates the number of forward yards each Quarterback produces by crediting him for his rushing yards plus his passing yards minus the yards produced by his receivers after the catch and minus the negative yards produced by turnovers (-30 yards) and sacks (-yards lost).   The NFL average Forward Yard Per Snap for QBs in 2011 was 1.32 yards per snap.

QBER grades the efficiency of each Quarterback by calculating the number of yards he advances the football for every “dead” or “negative” play he produces (dead or negative plays being plays on which there is no gain or there is a loss).  In the case of QBER, receiver yards are included, and turnovers and sacks are penalized in a like manner to Forward Yards per Snap.  In 2011, the average QBER for QBs who took at least 200 snaps was 12.82 yards per dead play.

QBER= Passing Yards + Rushing Yards – Yards lost on Sacks – 30xTurnovers / Incompletions + Sacks
Frwd Yards per Snap = Passing Yards – Receiver Yards after the Catch + Rushing Yards – Yards lost on Sacks – 30xTurnovers / Snaps Taken under Center

Aaron Rodgers the Top Elite:  Both Regular and Postseason Numbers

So I went back using Yahoo Sports and calculated the Forward Yards per Snap and QBERs, regular and postseason, for seven “elite” QBs:  Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Mike Vick, Brett Favre, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees.  In nearly every category, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers grades out the best in both the post and regular season, albeit on a smaller sample set than his counterparts.

Here are the numbers, in no particular order:

RODGERS Snaps Frwd Yards FYpS QBER
Career 4864 10024 2.06 17.97
Playoffs 375 820 2.18 18.22
FAVRE
Career (’98) 12524 16477 1.31 13.41
Playoffs (’98) 513 626 1.22 12.12
P MANNING
Career  12752 25204 1.98 17.24
Playoffs 1096 2002 1.82 16.59
BREES
Career 9766 15581 1.59 16.84
Playoffs 631 1282 2.03 18.49
BRADY
Career 8891 13640 1.53 15.89
Playoffs 1055 1359 1.29 13.29
E MANNING
Career 7457 10123 1.36 12.26
Playoffs 616 986 1.59 12.64
VICK
Career 5351 10728 2.01 13.95
Playoffs 302 474 1.57 12.87

Rodgers tops in all categories but one

As you can see, Aaron Rodgers leads in every category except for one: Postseason QBER. Drew Brees is the leader in that category, but only by a slight amount.

As you can further see, most of the Quarterbacks performances decline just slightly (about 9%) in the postseason except for three: Brees, Rodgers, and Super Bowl Champion Eli Manning.  In the last three cases, performance actually ROSE in the postseason.

The True Elites: Rodgers, Peyton, and Brees (and maybe Vick)

When you combine both ratings, the ability to produce forward yards, and the ability to be an efficient Quarterback, Aaron Rodgers stands alone.  Not even Peyton Manning can equal his numbers.  Rodgers is both productive (he has now produced three seasons in a row where he averaged +2.0 forward yards per snap — a remarkable accomplishment) and efficient (this season his 23.89 QBER was the best in the NFL).

The very best Forward Yard per Snap season I have yet to calculate was the 2010 season for Michael Vick.  Vick produced an absolutely incredible 3.6 Forward Yards per Snap.  That is almost the equivalent of Wilt Chamberlain’s 50 point per game average.  The problem with Vick is two fold.  He is not very efficient, and his QB style lends itself to injury.  Otherwise, he is the ultimate weapon in the backfield.

Brady slightly overrated, and Favre was too (post 1998, at least)

Brady, on the other hand, really has never been.  The only season where he has averaged +2.0 Forward Yards per Snap was 2007, and most of those yards were produced on deep passes to Randy Moss.  Otherwise, Brady has just been slightly above average in terms of  both efficiency and production.

I threw Brett Favre in there just for fun.  Or rather, because people in Green Bay still tend to overrate him.  As you can see, past 1998 (I have no Yahoo Stats for seasons beyond that) Favre was just okay.  And in 2005, he was unbelievably brutal.  Favre accounted for 36 Packer turnovers BY HIMSELF.  You simply cannot win doing that.

Eli comes to play in the postseason, so do Brees and Rodgers (usually)

As for the Super Bowl MVP, Eli Manning, he was terrific on Sunday, producing 2.41 Forward Yards per Snap, and a QBER of 21.47.  The thing about Eli, though, is that he gets “Favrish” sometimes in the regular season, and puts balls where they should not be.  Then he’s also had some postseason stinkers (those were the years the Gmen were one and done).  But, for some reason, in two of his postseasons, he’s really stepped up his game, and the results have been great for New York.

The other guy who has been fantastic in the postseason has been New Orleans Drew Brees.  In fact, I have no idea how his team lost to Seattle or San Francisco the last two postseasons when in each instance they have had a quarterback who played at such a high level.  Your defense has to be truly crappy to overcome a great quarterbacking exhibition, and that is what Brees produced in the last two Saints postseason losses.

Rodgers, on the other hand, can fairly be blamed for what happened to the Packers in the 2011 postseason.  He was inefficient against the Giants (QBER: 11.17) and the Packers were not built to overcome such things.  However, in every other postseason game he has played in he has been spectacular (+2.0) and so he was due for a stinker, and he had one.  But by my numbers he is still the best in the business, both in the regular season and in the postseason.

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