"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.
21 Jul 2008
In honor of our fifth anniversary, we're running a series of articles looking at the best and worst players in the history of our advanced stats, DVOA and DYAR. Our first article last week looked at the best and worst individual games by quarterbacks. Now we'll take a look at the best and worst seasons, as well as the best and worst quarterbacks in total career value between 1995 and 2007. If you are unfamiliar with our advanced stats -- perhaps you are a new reader visiting our website for the first time after picking up a copy of Pro Football Prospectus 2008 -- you can read all about them here.
My original plan was to run two lists for top DVOA seasons, one with a minimum of 100 passes and one with a minimum of 300 passes. However, only two players (Boomer Esiason in 1997 and Elvis Grbac in 1995) make one list and not the other, so here is the list of the top twelve seasons in DVOA with those two players shaded to point out they are below 300 passes:
|Top 10 QB Seasons by Passing DVOA, 1995-2007, 300+ (or 100+) Passes|
As you might imagine, one man dominates the list of the best seasons, and his name is not "Eli." Peyton Manning's 2000 and 2003 seasons also rank in the DVOA top 20 (minimum 100 passes). In the endless, irrational arguments about Brady and Manning, one thing has always been clear: except in 2007, Manning always had the better statistics. If you want to argue about that further, make sure to use the Irrational Brady-Manning Thread and don't bother the rest of us. (Scary thought: according to the new, improved opponent adjustments, both Brady and Manning faced an above-average set of pass defenses last year.)
If you were to make a list of seasons that don't make any sense in terms of a player's overall career path, Boomer Esiason's 1997 half-season might be number one. Esiason had a terrible year with the 1995 Jets (-25.1% DVOA) and then a reasonable year with the 1996 Cardinals (3.6% DVOA). Although he considered retiring at that point, he decided to play one more season at age 36 and returned to Cincinnati, backing up Jeff Blake. He looked good when he did play (7-for-10 with two touchdowns against Indianapolis in Week 11, for example) and the Bengals benched Blake for Esiason after Week 12. Look at what Boomer Esiason and Jeff Blake did with the same set of teammates:
Then, having rediscovered the fountain of youth, Esiason chose ABC over the Bengals and retired from the NFL, taking over Frank Gifford's spot on the broadcast team for Monday Night Football.
Elway also comes out with one of the top ratings in DVOA history in his final year, but there are some big differences between him and Esiason. I have a feeling when we eventually have DVOA all the way back into the eighties, Elway's career record will be a bit better than Esiason's. On the other hand, Elway's strong DVOA had a lot more to do with his teammates. After all, when he missed some games with injury in 1998, Bubby Brister put up a 24.7% DVOA. As you will see in a bit, Brister wasn't quite that good before he got to Denver.
Chad Pennington, I suppose, is the opposite of Boomer Esiason. Pennington had thrown only 25 passes in his first two years, then led the NFL in DVOA, completion percentage, and passer rating in 2002. That may have been the only fully healthy season of his career -- he played the whole season in 2006, but by then shoulder injuries had really limited his ability to throw deep. One interesting fact about Pennington: since 2002, he has alternated between a positive DVOA and a negative DVOA every year.
Here's the list of the top seasons by DYAR instead of DVOA. For a ranking of DYAR, I've added together both passing and rushing value. As I noted in the article introducing the new advanced stats, I sometimes feel uncomfortable doing this because we're not exactly sure if a passing "yard above replacement" is equivalent to the same amount of quarterback value as a rushing "yard above replacement" -- each action depends on teammates in a different way -- but it gives us an interesting view of the top three quarterbacks of 1995. That's also why I've expanded this list by two additional seasons.
|Top 12 QB Seasons by Total DYAR, 1995-2007|
This list looks pretty similar to the first list, but of course players with more opportunity will do better in a total stat than a rate stat. That gives Tom Brady the most valuable quarterback season of the DVOA Era. Adding in rushing value also boosts Jeff Garcia's 2000 season and Daunte Culpepper's 2004 season, and puts Brett Favre back ahead of Scott Mitchell and Erik Kramer as the most valuable quarterback of 1995. (You may remember that the upgrades to the individual stats dropped Favre from first to third in passing value that season.)
The list of quarterbacks with the most rushing value in a season includes all the names you would expect. It is led by Michael Vick in 2006 (275 DYAR) and 2004 (243 DYAR). Vick's four full seasons hold four of the top dozen spots, and the only other quarterbacks above 200 DYAR are Donovan McNabb in 2002 (205 DYAR) and Daunte Culpepper in 2000 (203 DYAR). Steve McNair also appears high on the list numerous times, along with Rich Gannon, Jeff Garcia, Doug Flutie, and Kordell Stewart. Steve Young isn't that high, but that's probably because we haven't gotten to his younger years yet.
For those wondering why fumble numbers may differ from table to table, the DYAR table includes both passing and rushing fumbles, the DVOA table only passing fumbles. And for those wondering why I'm not listing the top seasons by the new "Equivalent Yards (EqYds)" metric, there are two reasons. First, "Equivalent Yards (EqYds)" was always meant to help a wider audience understand our advanced stats, but if you are looking for a raw measure of total player value, DYAR is much more accurate. Second, I still haven't decided if I'm changing the name of "Equivalent Yards (EqYds)" to something else yet.
Now, onto the list of the worst seasons. This one needs two separate tables depending on the minimum, because nobody with more than 300 passes would appear on the list of worst DVOA seasons with a minimum of 100 passes. Shockingly, the list is not topped by someone from the Chicago Bears!
|Bottom 10 QB Seasons by Passing DVOA, 1995-2007, 100+ Passes|
The good news for Alex Smith is that this horrific season was only his rookie year. The bad news is that he hasn't really gotten that much better since. In addition, Donovan McNabb is really the only quarterback to have a rookie year anywhere near that bad and still develop into a Pro Bowl level player. Notice Bubby Brister, by the way, three years before he was only slightly worse than John Elway as the backup in Denver.
|Bottom 10 QB Seasons by Passing DVOA, 1995-2007, 300+ Passes|
One lesson here: Try not to get drafted by an expansion team. Yikes. A lot of these guys were stuck behind some really bad offensive lines, but what's Kordell Stewart's excuse? Maybe he was out partying the night before each game, which is a popular theory about Kyle Orton.
|Bottom 10 QB Seasons by Total DYAR, 1995-2007|
Weird fact about a season that just missed this list: In 2001, Chris Weinke had a -28.8% passing DVOA but somehow scored six rushing touchdowns. Chris Weinke? Seriously?
Onto our final lists: the best and worst careers according to DYAR. Since the DVOA Era currently captures just the tail end of many great careers -- John Elway, Dan Marino, Steve Young, and so forth -- we've got two lists. One measures the best quarterbacks in total DYAR. The other measures DYAR per season for any quarterback with at least four seasons of at least 10 pass attempts since 1995. (The count of "seasons" does not include seasons below 10 pass attempts.) Obviously, given how many seasons he has in the overall top 20, both lists are going to be led by Peyton Manning.
The power of Daunte Culpepper's tenure in Minnesota is demonstrated by his place in the top 10 despite the way he crashed and burned over the past three seasons. Culpepper averaged 1,078 DYAR per season from 2000 through 2004, but has averaged -91 DYAR per season since 2005.
Those who say Tom Brady never put up stats to match Peyton Manning before 2007 are correct, but those who say Tom Brady never put up great stats at all until 2007 are dead wrong. Even if we take out 2007, Brady averaged 934 DYAR each season from 2001 through 2006, which would rank fourth on the list of DYAR per season behind Manning and two quarterbacks who barely qualify for the four-season minimum, Carson Palmer and John Elway.
The list of the worst career quarterbacks definitely needs to be split into two lists, because "worst quarterbacks ever" don't get to play for a decade like the Pro Bowlers on our "best careers list" -- with one glaring exception.
It isn't even close -- Trent Dilfer has by far the worst numbers of any quarterback who has played more than just a handful of seasons in the DVOA Era. He hasn't exactly been playing for the best teams, but he does have a habit of putting up worse numbers than the other quarterbacks on his team. Yes, that includes 2000, when Tony Banks had -134 DYAR and -18.3% DVOA, while Dilfer had -217 DYAR and -24.6% DVOA. The three quarterbacks with a worse DVOA than Dilfer on the same team, since 1999: Eric Zeier on the 1999 Bucs, Matt Hasselbeck on the 2001 Seahawks, and Charlie Frye on the 2006 Browns.
If you are really bad, you don't even get four years in the league; half of the ten worst quarterbacks didn't even have four seasons with at least 10 pass attempts.
All 13 seasons of quarterback statistics are now available in the Just the Stats section of our website. Click here to see last year's numbers, and use the quarterback pull-down menu to review any season since 1995.
45 comments, Last at 24 Jul 2008, 10:29am by Temo