In Fake Game 3, the Seahawks beat the Packers, 17-10. The Packers, as you know, have a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers who’s good, very good. How good? Well, I’m a regular listener of the Dave Dameshek Football Program podcast, and the host is known to proclaim that when it’s all said and done Aaron Rodgers will be nothing short of the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Is this just typical talking-head bluster or is there something to it? That’s what I want to try to answer in this post.
First, we have to cut the question back a bit. Instead of greatest ever, let’s look just among quarterbacks active today. Although this eliminates guys like John Elway, Stan Gelbaugh, Joe Montana, and Johnny Unitas, at least we can say the following — if Rodgers can’t beat out the guys of his generation then he certainly can’t be the best ever. To this end, I grabbed four other active quarterbacks whom I think along with Rodgers are the top five in the game today: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees. We’re limiting the comparison to these five guys. (I’ve excluded the young ‘uns like Russell Wilson because they haven’t done it long enough yet.)
Next, we need criteria. At the highest level I think there are two: individual success and team success. These breakdown further, and since we love players who are “clutch” I figured it best to separate the regular season and the postseason. In all, I came up with five well-defined criteria: Super Bowl wins, postseason record, regular season record, career DYAR, career AV. The latter two are stats reflecting overall regular-season, individual performance. I’ll briefly explain each of these, and then explain how I used them to get a “final score” for each quarterback.
Super Bowl Wins: Pretty much just what it sounds like. Number of championship teams each quarterback has been on. I divided this number by the number of career starts for each quarterback to get a more apples-to-apples comparison between careers of different lengths. The shorthand for this is criterion is SB.
Postseason Record: This is postseason winning percentage with a little adjustment. If a QB’s team received a bye in the first round of the playoffs, that counts as a win (because it’s tantamount to a win in real football in that their team advances to the next round). If a QB’s team failed to make the playoffs, that counts as a loss. It bothers me when quarterbacks are considered chokers when they get to the playoffs and lose (e.g., Peyton Manning last season), but not when they outright fail to get their teams to the playoffs (e.g., Ben Roethlisberger last season). Not making the postseason should be at least as bad as making it and losing in the first round, hence the adjustment. The shorthand for this is criterion is POST.
Regular season record: Winning percentage in games started. Straight-forward, no adjustments. The shorthand for this is criterion is REG.
DYAR: This is a nerdy stat put out by Football Outsiders that measures a player’s individual performance during the regular season. It’s kinda like the football equivalent of a sabermetric baseball stat. In general, the individual football nerd stats aren’t as good as the individual baseball nerd stats, because it’s much more difficult to isolate a player’s individual contributions in football than in baseball. Still, I think DYAR is pretty cool. As with Super Bowl wins, I divided by career starts for each quarterback. The shorthand for this is criterion is DYAR.
AV: A value measure of an individual’s regular season put out by Pro Football Reference. Another nerdish stat. As with Super Bowl wins and DYAR I divided by career starts for each quarterback. The shorthand for this is criterion is AV.
How to use each criterion.
Each player is given a score for each criterion representing his percentage of the total “criterion pie”. For example, the quarterbacks have the following regular season records: Rodgers .667, Manning .688, Brady .778, Roethlisberger .690, Brees .563. This adds up to 3.386 “total winning percentages” of which Rodgers has 20% (.20 = .667 / 3.386), Manning has 20%, Brady has 23%, Roethlisberger has 20%, and Brees has 17%. The scores are thus 20, 20, 23, 20, 17, respectively, for criterion REG.
This process is carried out for each criteria, giving the following breakdown. (Quarterback initials are in parentheses after his score for a given criterion.)
SB: 23 (AR), 8 (PM), 31 (TB), 28 (BR), 10 (DB)
POST: 21 (AR), 18 (PM), 26 (TB), 20 (BR), 15 (DB)
REG: 20 (AR), 20 (PM), 23 (TB), 20 (BR), 17 (DB)
DYAR: 21 (AR), 24 (PM), 23 (TB), 14 (BR), 18 (DB)
AV: 23 (AR), 21 (PM), 20 (TB), 17 (BR), 18 (DB)
How to weigh each criterion.
This is the most difficult part of the process as different people put different stock into different things. I thought about getting fancy here and using something like the analytic hierarchy process to calculate the weights, but when I actually started doing it I realized that I could BS it just as well. These weights are just from my head. To add some variety, I used three different weight scenarios: balanced, postseason heavy, regular season heavy. The best one is a personal choice. I prefer “regular season heavy”, as I think we should judge players mainly on what they do over the course of a big sample (regular season career) and then give a bump for excellent postseason play.
The weights of each scenario add up to 1, and the weight for a given criterion represents the degree to which you want to consider it. For example, in the “postseason heavy” scenario, I chose the weights to be SB = 0.4, POST = 0.3, REG = 0.1, DYAR = 0.1, AV = 0.1.
Then, for each player I multiplied the weight with his score for each criterion and added them all up to get a “final score” for that player. So for Aaron Rodgers, “postseason heavy” we get a final score of 0.4 x 23 + 0.3 x 21 + 0.1 x 20 + 0.1 x 21 + 0.1 x 23 = 22.
Below I give each scenario, the weights used, and the final scores of each player under the scenario.
(SB = 0.25, POST = .25, REG = .25, DYAR = .125, AV = .125)
(SB = 0.4, POST = 0.3, REG = 0.1, DYAR = 0.1, AV = 0.1)
Regular Season Heavy
(SB = 0.5, POST = 0.1, REG = 0.15, DYAR = 0.35, AV = 0.35)
There you have it. Brady is the undisputed king. He comes up the best in all three scenarios. It should be noted however that Rodgers, by virtue of his age, has the best opportunity to increase his score (on the flip side he also has the best opportunity to decrease it). In the scenario I like the best “regular season heavy”, Rodgers is barely off Brady’s pace, but he’s still off it.
Based on all this, my answer to the question — Will Aaron Rodgers go down as the greatest quarterback ever? — is no. I don’t think he will overtake Brady. Sure, he could but I would bet against it. If you disagree you’re welcome to do your own study.
PS — The spreadsheet containing all the data I used can be viewed at the following link QB Spreadsheet.