RG31 posted an interesting article in the last day or so, one where he set out to determine who were the "elite" Quarterbacks in the NFL. I have a lot or respect for RG and his opinions. He is an intelligent man, a great asset to TST and has big cajones. Trying to determine what is "elite" in an article is a gutsy move, one that is to be admired. I, on the other hand, am not that particularly gutsy. I have the advantage of hindsight (his foresight) in creating this post and I am only piggybacking onto his ideas. As you can tell from the title, this post is my attempt to further the discussion regarding elite Quarterbacks.
A good place to start is to look at what RG came up with and to analyze the methodology. He came to the conclusion that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were the only elite QB's in the NFL. How did he get to that conclusion?
He used a time-frame that encompassed the QB's entire career. Then he set out to create criteria and standards that he could use in his determination. I disagree with how he went about this. The time-frame may shed light on a QB's career, but it doesn't really offer much in the way of determining if that QB is still elite today. I believe the time frame needs to be shortened. He also encountered problems in differentiating between standards and criteria. To me, "criteria" are general, guiding rules or principles for evaluating/testing. Standards are more of a measure of value and/or comparison that you use to test or evaluate the chosen criteria. As an example, let's use water quality. One of the criteria for determining water quality can be levels of contaminants. No more than 60 parts per million of mercury in the water can be a standard used to evaluate the level of contaminants and ensure that the water is safe and of high quality.
Let's look at RG's criteria/standards.
The first criteria he chose was "win". I like this one. The QB is the more important position on the field; as such, he should have the most influence on what a teams record is. However, there was no standard set up to evaluate what "win" meant to the discussion of elite. How many wins? How many playoff appearances? Or any other measure.
The second criteria was "consistency". The insinuation was one of consistency of performance/stats over a career. I like this one too. This one looks at individual performance. Again though, there were no standards offered to evaluate whether career performance was elite or not. How many career yards? TD passes? INT's? YPA?
The third criteria was "making the players around you better". I don't like this one. It is very difficult to quantify this notion and very difficult to create standards or measures that can be applied to the discussion of what/who is elite, let alone differentiate between QB's.
The fourth criteria was Super Bowl wins in a career. I like this one too. I just didn't like the standard he applied to it. The standard was 2 Super Bowl wins. That standard eliminated everyone he had mentioned in the discussion except Tom Brady. He tried to backtrack a little by making an "exception" for Peyton Manning, who he felt had achieved three out of the four criteria. And that was good enough to place Manning in the elite category. I argued, and still do, that you can't make exceptions, especially if you created the standards in the first place. I believe the standard of 2 Super Bowl wins was just too stringent a requirement and eliminated too many potentially elite QB's.
Kinzav29, another TST'er who I greatly respect, offered an additional criteria to help in the discussion regarding elite. His additional criteria was essentially "is the QB Hall of Fame worthy?". Initially I agreed with this addition. However, I have changed my mind. The Hall of Fame selection process is questionable at times; it can, and has, led to selections to the Hall that have left out worthy candidates and that have put into the Hall candidates that have non-elite qualifications. This is true of all Hall of Fame's. In addition, politics can play too much of a role in who gets selected. This type of criteria also makes it difficult to assess current players with borderline Hall of Fame credentials (like Eli Manning).
dbcouver made some great points, as he always does, regarding the qualities and skills of an elite Quarterback; the wins and stats are no more than a by-product of those qualities. I agree totally. I can only say that the by-products are an acceptable way to gauge just how elite those qualities and skills actually are in individual QB's.
My approach to determining which quarterbacks are elite
I chose the last five seasons as the time frame for evaluating potentially elite quarterbacks. This eliminates their early developmental years and gives a clearer picture of their more recent performance history. Please note: for both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning I had to go back to 2007, as they missed the 2008 and 2011 seasons, respectively.
Two criteria were chosen: Winning and Individual Performance
Standards/benchmarks related to the criteria
For the criteria of winning, the following standards were used: the QB's teams had to have a minimum of 4 playoff wins and a regular season winning percentage of .650 during those five seasons combined. In addition, to qualify as an elite QB, each had to have won a Super Bowl in their career. For the criteria of individual performance, the following standard was used: Each QB had to have an average QB Rating of at least 97.0 for the five seasons combined. The QB Rating is a system that rates all of a QB's statistical performance in a particular season and condenses it down to one number.
It should be noted that only six quarterbacks were chosen to evaluate: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers. They were the only QB's that could even come remotely close to elite using the criteria and standards set forth in this post. It should be noted in advance that all six have won at least one Super Bowl in their careers.
Aaron Rodgers - 53-27 (.660), 5 playoff wins, 105.7 QBR
Ben Roethlisberger - 53-27 (.660), 5 playoff wins, 92.9 QBR
Tom Brady - 65-15 (.810), 5 playoff wins, 105.7 QBR
Drew Brees - 52-28 (.650), 4 playoff wins, 100.7 QBR
Peyton Manning - 62-18 (.775), 2 playoff wins, 98.1 QBR
Eli Manning - 48-32 (.600), 4 playoff wins, 89.0 QBR
How many elite quarterbacks are there in the NFL?
The answer is three: Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
They are the only three that meet the standards I set in determining what an elite QB is. The exclusions of Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning was fairly predictable, as most would not consider them to be "elite" quarterbacks. The exclusion of Peyton Manning is the big surprise. In fact, the only standard that he didn't achieve was the minimum of 4 playoff wins. Moreover, Peyton has been thought of as an elite QB for many years. When looked at more closely, not achieving 4 playoff wins is a very telling statistic. Peyton's teams, in the five years evaluated, had a regular season winning percentage of .775 (62-18). This was just behind New England and Tom Brady. However, the two playoff wins achieved were easily the lowest of the six QB's in this post. Playoff excellence (in terms of wins) is a defining measure of an elite QB. Hence, why he is excluded from the "elite" category today. He is still a great quarterback, a future Hall of Famer, in the argument as the best of all time and one of the top 5 QB's in the NFL today. He is just not "elite" at this point in his career, by my standards at least.
The main criticism of this post will be that it is highly subjective and one persons opinion. Of course this is true. I might even be questioned about the notion of making data fit a model. But that is ok. When you write an article like this, you can expect close scrutiny and much criticism. It goes with the territory! Your comments and opinions are welcomed and appreciated, as always. Anything that you may wish to add to the discussion would also be welcome. Maybe in four years time this model might be a good way to look back at Sam Bradford's last five years. Let's hope he comes very close to being "elite" by then.