Justin Herbert and the Greatest Third-Year QBs Ever

Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - Sorry Los Angeles Chargers fans, early adopters, and talk show tastemakers: despite your best efforts to convince us, Justin Herbert is not the greatest third-year quarterback in NFL history.

He's the third-greatest. Or maybe the fourth. Definitely in the top five. But not the greatest.

Herbert is the NFL's Next Big Thing™, which will make him very popular in the weeks to come as folks strive to build the hottest possible takes around him or place him perilously close to the top of the tier lists that will litter your timelines over the summer.

For example, here's CBS Radio's Adam Schein declaring that Herbert is the next Aaron Rodgers, supported with some rather boilerplate quotes by center Corey Linsley (who snapped to both quarterbacks) and some specious stat peddling:

The takesmiths may want to cool their furnaces a bit. At the same time, the data reveals that there's something legit to the Herbert hype.

You may or may not know that Herbert has thrown for more yards (9,350) and touchdowns (69) in his first two seasons than any other quarterback in NFL history. But raw passing statistics have been steadily increasing for decades, so it's unfair to compare today's quarterbacks to those whose careers started as recently as 20 years ago in terms of bulk stats like yards or touchdowns.

Well, the DVOA and DYAR databases here at Football Outsiders now go all the way back to 1981, with the 1981 and 1982 seasons to be published very soon. That means our metrics essentially span the history of modern NFL offense: anything before the 1978 rule changes and expanded schedule looks more and more like Gavvy Cravath's six home run titles of the 1910s with each passing year. It turns out that Herbert has the third highest DYAR over his first two seasons in our 40-plus year database.

Here's the table:

QBs, Most Passing DYAR, First Two Seasons, 1981-2021
Years Player Team Y1 Y2 Total
1983-84 Dan Marino MIA 885 2,437 3,322
1998-99 Peyton Manning IND 697 1,581 2,278
2020-21 Justin Herbert LAC 861 1,341 2,202
2017-18 Patrick Mahomes KC 54 2,031 2,085
2004-05 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 908 885 1,793
2008-09 Matt Ryan ATL 1,012 702 1,714
2016-17 Dak Prescott DAL 1,302 375 1,677
2012-13 Russell Wilson SEA 872 770 1,642
1999-00 Daunte Culpepper MIN -24 1,352 1,328
2018-19 Lamar Jackson BAL 24 1,261 1,285

For new readers and anyone else who need a refresher: DYAR stands for Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. So in 2020, Herbert added 861 "yards" (modified for first downs, turnovers, etc.) to the Chargers offense that a replacement-level Geno Smith /Case Keenum type backup could not hope to produce. In 2021, Herbert added 1,341 such yards, ranking him fifth in the NFL in this category.

Also, two clarification points. We're talking about each quarterback's first two years in the NFL, not their first two years as a starter. Schien runs a graphic in the clip above comparing Herbert's rookie and sophomore years to Rodgers' fourth and fifth NFL seasons! Obviously, there's a difference between Herbert's accomplishments at age 22 and 23, having been thrust into the lineup in Week 2 of his rookie year, and what Rodgers did at 25 and 26 after watching Brett Favre for three years. Second, the numbers above only include a quarterback's passing DYAR. The rushing data does not change the results meaningfully for any of the quarterbacks in the table, not even Jackson, whose rushing DYAR was negative in his rookie season due to fumbles.

There was only one Dan Marino, and no proclamation about the "best early careers ever" could be made at Football Outsiders until we had his 1983 and 1984 seasons in the system. Hebert may have eclipsed Marino's touchdown totals over his first two seasons, but Marino's 5,084-yard, 48-touchdown season in his sophomore 1984 campaign was like watching Superman land in the middle of Metropolis during rush hour: those who witnessed it knew nothing would ever be the same again. DYAR backs this up: Marino was so far above the established baselines at the time that he was practically playing a different sport. Marino was the greatest young quarterback in history, hands down, no counter arguments shall be entertained at this time.

Legend has it that Peyton Manning was terrible as a rookie in 1998. Actually, he was terrible in his first six games, when he threw six touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He improved quickly as that year went on, and while he still led the NFL in 28 interceptions, our metrics illustrate how effective he had become by late in that season. Similarly, Manning's 4,135-yard, 26-touchdown sophomore effort does not look like much on paper these days, but Manning was the runner-up for the MVP award that year. That's why it's so difficult to compare quarterbacks across different eras.

So Herbert ranks below Marino and Peyton on an all-time list. This is neither shocking nor heartbreaking.

Herbert and Patrick Mahomes play in the same era and the same division, but in different circumstances. Andy Reid had the luxury of stashing Mahomes behind Alex Smith for a playoff-bound Kansas City Chiefs team in 2017, nerfing Mahomes' "first-two-seasons" metrics despite a sophomore year second only to Marino's. If the thought of Mahomes ranking behind Herbert in an all-time category due to a technicality rankles you, that's cool: Mahomes is still the better quarterback right now. Our numbers make it pretty clear, however, that Herbert belongs in the conversation.

The second half of the table above is full of familiar names, many of whom are famous for being immediately effective as rookies. It's a tough table to crack. Cam Newton ranks fourth on the all-time passing yardage list for his first two seasons, but he produced "only" 829 passing DYAR, and his 337 rushing DYAR still wouldn't be enough to move him into the top 10. Andrew Luck produced just 907 passing DYAR in 2012 and 2013, two remarkable start-of-career seasons. Joe Burrow comes in at just 717; his 609 DYAR while leading the Cincinnati Bengals to Super Bowl LVI was impressive, but there were many better seasons by young quarterbacks on the table above.

Justin Herbert and QB WINZ

Most of the quarterbacks on the table above also led their teams on deep playoff runs, or even to the Super Bowl, in their first two seasons. That prompts a familiar criticism of Herbert's performance so far:

bUt hE hAsN't eVeN rEaChEd teH pLaYoFfs yEt.

You know what? That's a valid enough complaint that it doesn't deserve the bent-out-of-shape Spongebob font:

But he hasn't even reached the playoffs yet!

True. In fact, while rewatching lots of Chargers games as research for Football Outsiders Almanac (coming in July!), it became clear that Herbert should have performed better in losses to beatable opponents like the Broncos and Texans in the second half of the year. And it's not like Herbert is trapped in some hopeless situation with a feeble supporting cast; none of the quarterbacks on the all-time list above were, because it's nearly impossible for a hopelessly trapped young quarterback to enjoy even modest success.

So wanting to see a little more before the Herbert coronation does not make you a QB Winz philistine. DYAR tells us that Herbert could be the next Aaron Rodgers, not that it's a foregone conclusion. It tells us that he could continue to ascend like Mahomes has, not that he has already passed him.

At the same time, the closest thing to a bust on the list above is Culpepper, who went on to reach the Pro Bowl twice and lead the NFL in passing yards before a sudden decline in his seventh season. The all-time early-career DYAR table shows that Herbert is much more than your Jameis Winston/Baker Mayfield type of contemporary quarterback who earns a starting job as a rookie and accumulates bulk stats. The table almost assures us that Herbert is going to be in the Pro Bowl picture, and the Chargers deep in the playoff chase, for many years to come, like Marino's Dolphins and Manning's Colts, like Ben Roethlisberger's Pittsburgh Steelers, Matt Ryan's Atlanta Falcons, and Russell Wilson's Seattle Seahawks.

As for Herbert and Rodgers, well, one of them is the reigning two-time MVP and the other is much more fun to talk about in non-podcast-tirade circumstances. The Football Outsiders KUBIAK fantasy projections aren't done drying just yet—someone could sign Odell Beckham Jr. AND Cole Beasley tomorrow, folks—but let's sneak a peek at how Herbert and Rodgers will compare statistically in 2022:

Herbert & Rodgers, 2022 KUBIAK Projections (Unofficial!)
Quarterback Team Yards TD INT
Justin Herbert LAC 4,693 34 13
Aaron Rodgers GB 4,104 34 6

Herbert may be the better fantasy quarterback, but Rodgers remains the better real-world quarterback. For now. By a nose. And history suggests that Herbert will only get better.

Justin Herbert and his Stone-Handed Friends

Here's another reason for Justin Herbert optimism: Chargers receivers dropped 38 passes last season, the highest figure in the league according to Pro Football Reference and the third-highest figure (behind the Jaguars and Jets) at Sports Info Solutions.

Dropped pass totals and rates fluctuate heavily from year to year. Chargers receivers dropped just 28 passes (Sports Info Solutions, Football Outsiders' preferred source) or 24 (Pro Football Reference) in Herbert's rookie 2020 season. A difference of 10 to 14 drops turning into completions could be huge for Herbert and the Chargers, especially since:

  • At least one of Herbert's 2021 drops would have been a touchdown:

Keenan Allen led the Chargers with eight dropped passes, and there's some reason to worry that Allen, now 30 years old, is losing a step. But Allen is also one of the most likely receivers in the league to get force-fed a pass when blanketed by defenders on third- or fourth-and-long, so let's not overreact to a widely fluctuating unofficial statistic. Mike Williams dropped seven passes, Austin Ekeler six; there's no reason to believe that either will make a similar number of mistakes in 2021.

And then there's departing tight end Jared Cook, the man with the hands of adamantium. Cook dropped six passes in 2021 and 15 in the three previous seasons for the Saints and Raiders. Cook, who also fumbles a bit, has made a long career of being the Carson Wentz of tight ends, a player who makes lots of brilliant plays but becomes a disaster artist at the worst possible moments, like here:

And here:

And here:

And in that drop near the goal line that we presented earlier.

New Chargers tight end Gerald Everett dropped just three passes in 2021, though he dropped seven in 2020 and a few of them were rather Cook-like (including a dropped touchdown late last season). Still, he doesn't have a reputation for blunders that dates back to the Jeff Fisher Titans like Cook does.

The Chargers appeared to need depth at wide receiver entering this offseason, but they ignored the position in both the draft and free agency. (Kick returner DeAndre Carter doesn't really count, though he does fill a major need on special teams.) The Chargers did extend Williams' contract before the receiver market skyrocketed, but otherwise they are hoping for an improvement from second-year receiver Josh Palmer, better reliability from Everett than they got from Cook, another prime year from Allen, and (probably) regression to the mean when it comes to dropped passes. The Chargers are analytics-friendly—their fourth-down conversion attempt rate makes them almost analytics-romantic—so they probably know that while they can assign receivers some extra JUGS machine work and fine-tune the timing of Herbert's throws, some of their dropped-pass issues are likely to just sort themselves out.

There will only be so many balls to go around in the Chargers offense anyway. And if Brandon Staley and coordinator Joe Lombardi don't like what they see in minicamp, there's $16 million in cap space on the books, and Odell Beckham Jr. already knows his way around Los Angeles.

Just sayin'.

Comments

101 comments, Last at 29 May 2022, 6:26pm

1 Marino smashing records like…

Marino smashing records like Gretzky was a big factor in my becoming interested in the NFL back then. He didn't break the record the way Tom and Peyton did. He obliterated the previous record by a Gretzky level margin.

2 Wow

Dak went crazy.

3 I remember Todd McShay being…

I remember Todd McShay being so vociferously negative about Herbert. Basically called the guy out for being a poor leader who didn't take the game seriously at all and proclaimed anyone taking Herbert high would be making an epic blunder. Kiper defended Herbert, but the main crux centered around the QB need and Herbert's prototypical build.

Summarizing those comments above, I was fully expecting Herbert to be a terrible bust. I thought it was a seminal moment for me because I felt I would finally stop being swayed by such analysis in the future. Then Trevor Lawrence's rookie season happened

13 Herbert badly underperformed…

Herbert badly underperformed at Oregon. He was always considered to have elite tools, but his game performance even at a good program was super up-and-down. (For what it's worth, Thibodeaux has almost identical concerns based on exactly the same behavior)

Perhaps Oregon has badly fallen down on the actual teaching aspect of coaching.

40 Herbert had 3 head coaches…

Herbert had 3 head coaches in his four years at Oregon.  He also was the first true Freshman to start at QB at Oregon since 1981 (take that, Marcus Mariota).  They might be okay with their coach now, if he sticks around.

Honestly, I thought his fellow skill position players held him back.  His last year the wide receivers were terrible, and the Ducks were still in the title race until Arizona State upset them (not Herbert's best game).  He had a touchdown dropped against Auburn that would have given them a big lead on a fourth down play.  So when he went to a team with actual receivers he torched everyone's defense.  Too bad he still can't catch a break in the win column.  That's so Chargers.

56 overrated mariota, underrated herbert

But in their second year in the NFL, Mariota's top receivers were Tajae Sharpe and Rishard Matthews (amidst a HUGE theme of the TN organization undervaluing receivers - they finally found an elite WR, refused to pay him, shipped him out, and drafted a knockoff), a far cry from keenan allen and mike williams.

Herbert is good, but there is something about california teams and good receivers: oh wish they all could california... ends...

90 I like to err…

…on the side of “Is this guy seen as a top prospect before we picked him apart when he was done playing?” Herbert in my recollection was the #1 overall prospect before he returned for his senior year, but for some reason puffball arm/tiny/mediocre athlete/injury-prone Tua leapfrogged him.

4 Herbert is already…

Herbert is already ridiculously good. For me, the question now is does he make that leap into a perennial MVP candidate? It's an insane bar and a long shot because almost no one does. Its basically saying, can he join the ranks of the all time great QBs.

7 Well, the only guy on the…

Well, the only guy on the all-time-great path now is Mahomes. (Rodger and Brady are there already there, no on else has been around long enough). There is a bunch of young, elite-ish QB right now, so I'm not sure why there is a need to push one of them.  Just wait and see what shakes out. 

Herbert could become an all time great, he could come up just short of that but still a hall of famer(like say Brees). I suppose he could end up Hall of Very Good also.  Anyway, not sure why they need to decide that now. 

14 Fouts is a better example of…

Fouts is a better example of a guy who Fosbury Flopped over the HOF bar than Brees.

Brees retired as the most prolific QB in NFL history and the only guy to win a title with New Orleans. Brees really only loses out on a RingZ argument when it comes to QB GOATs.

70 Limping into the HoF

In reply to by Aaron Brooks G…

QB HoFers of recent vintage who just snuck in would be Stabler, Warner, and Aikman to my mind

17 Keep in mind once Brady and…

Keep in mind once Brady and Rodgers retire/decline, the bar automatically lowers for everyone just due to statistics - the competition for Pro Bowl, All Pro, and even DVOA/DYAR averages shift once they're not there anymore.

Herbert, Prescott, Allen, Mahomes, Jackson, and Watson have all had top-5 peaks already but only Prescott and Mahomes have already had multiple seasons of top-5 play. Barring decline it's safe to say that those two are the front-runners.

Helps that those two are in opposite conferences, too.

21 That's why I wish DVOA didn…

That's why I wish DVOA didn't normalize per year but instead did an era adjustment via a time series trend decomposition. That or maybe some kind of percentage above replacement where the replacement level gets adjusted by trend or something. 

27 That's why I wish DVOA didn…

That's why I wish DVOA didn't normalize per year but instead did an era adjustment via a time series trend decomposition.

It's not a huge effect on DVOA itself. Not negligible, obviously, but not huge. Even if you yanked Rodgers/Brady and replaced them with average starters in terms of passing it'd be like 100 yards/yr on the whole league or something. Like 2-3 years of trendline.

Much bigger effect on ordinal rankings (when you say something like "top 5"), All Pro, and Pro Bowl.

5 Is there a reason Kurt…

Is there a reason Kurt Warner didn't make the list of the best second-year QBs? He started exactly like Mahomes: played in just one game as a rookie, then won the MVP his second season.

34 We usually count this kind…

We usually count this kind of thing by first two years of pro football, not first two years in the NFL. Warner's first two years were spent in the Arena League, not in St. Louis. He was in his fifth year of pro football when the Rams won the Super Bowl in 1999.

This is the same reason Jeff Garcia (333 DYAR in 1999, 1,642 in 2000) does not appear on the two-year table -- he had been in the CFL for five years.

71 I'm assuming this will just…

I'm assuming this will just be non-CFB years, so if someone dukes it out in whichever (if any) survives of the USFL/XFL for a couple seasons they're not truly a rookie. NFL has this distinction too where rookies are straight out of college, and others are "first year players". 

6 Now do Derek Carr and Russell Wilson

and then rank the QBs in the AFC West. I dare you to put the recent version of Russell Wilson above Carr. Has there ever been a division where a Super Bowl winning import still within sight of his prime playing years might be just the fourth best QB therein?

16 Has there ever been a…

Has there ever been a division where a Super Bowl winning import still within sight of his prime playing years might be just the fourth best QB therein?

This has happened to Foles at least once, and maybe twice.

If you count Watson and really like Lawrence, then maybe Wentz, too.

If you shuffle the timing a touch, it perhaps happened to Stafford last year, depending what you think of Garappolo.

Prior to that, because every winning QB lasted forever, Tony Banks. (4th in the 2001 NFC East) Maybe Trent Dilfer, too (both ex-2000 Ravens). This was so long ago the Seahawks were still in the AFC.

20 Also

Also Joe Flacco, who only missed not even having to change divisions to do it by virtue of playing in the same division as the Browns and Bengals....which should at the very least merit an asterisk.

Basically, lol Ravens SB QBs.

9 That means our metrics…

That means our metrics essentially span the history of modern NFL offense: anything before the 1978 rule changes and expanded schedule looks more and more like Gavvy Cravath's six home run titles of the 1910s with each passing year.

An exaggeration. Baseball's better comp would be the DH era and the mound being lowered in 1969. (Although One True Outcome has returned batting averages to a pre-1969 state...)

The Dead Ball era is more akin to pre-free-substitution (1950), or really pre-T offense era (pre-1940).

We still care about the Ruth/Maris thresholds in the same way we still care about Fran Tarkenton or Norm Van Brocklin's 554 yards.

11 But he hasn't even reached…

But he hasn't even reached the playoffs yet!

This is the story of the Chargers franchise told in a single sentence.

Never has there been a franchise so blessed at its most prominent position, and yet so accursed in terms of team success.

And history suggests that Herbert will only get better.

Does it? Without wading through every year in the DVOA tables, it looks like about half that lists did top one of their first-2 seasons, but about half the list did not. It seems more like 50/50 that we may have already seen his best season.

18 Word

This is a franchise that managed to translate a trio of Brees/Rivers, prime LaDanian Tomlinson, and prime Antonio Gates into a single AFCCG loss.

19 I find the Chargers to be a…

In reply to by OmahaChiefs13

I find the Chargers to be a fascinating franchise. Even as a Lions fan, I find them to be implausibly snake-bitten and tragic.

23 Likewise

The AFCW rivalry landscape has always been a triangle of hatred between KC, Oakland/LV, and Denver. None of us have ever really had it in us to really hate the Chargers....partly because their fans are traditionally pretty chill regarding rivals, but mostly because we have too much sympathy.

Even now that they're good and both games with KC are always closely contested, there's a strong element of "hey, good for you"

25 It's always interesting the…

In reply to by OmahaChiefs13

It's always interesting the way teams go through life cycles where they find a combo (QB, Coach, FO) that works and becomes great for as long as they can hold it together.

But yeah, the Chargers have terrible luck. Even if they are on the upswing now they have to contend with KC and Mahomes-Reid in their prime and are stuck in the toughest division I can remember. Herbert might need to be GOATish to get them out of that. 

41 Even if they are on the…

Even if they are on the upswing now they have to contend with KC and Mahomes-Reid in their prime and are stuck in the toughest division I can remember.

If you exclude the Cardinals (and everyone does), the NFC East from 1980-1992 or so was like a clash of the titans, where the shittiest team still went to a SB and had Reggie White.

The NFC West had the 49ers and the Central had the Bears, but the East had everyone.

58 some really bad teams

In that NFC East stretch from 80-92, including a 3-13 and 1-15 Dallas Stretch. The early 90's was probably the toughest - Parcells, Gibbs, early Jimmie, and Buddy. But since they still had the Cards, they had two easy wins each year each. 

Next year sure seems like the AFC West should be at the epitome of toughness, but it remains to be seen, between falloff, injury, bad coaching, etc.

There have been 3 years in the modern NFL where a division has produced 3 playoff teams and had all teams at or above .500 at the end of the year: 

1989 AFC Central, with the esteemed Warren Moon, Boomer Esiason, and Bernie Kosar heading their teams. And, as a Steeler fan, required to note Bubby Brister!

1999 AFC East - Peyton, Bledsoe, Marino (still!), Flutie, and some dudes from the Jets

2007 AFC South - Peyton... and don't ask... 

Counterdivisional scheduling likely plays a role, and end of the year standings and playoff appearances aren't the end-all be-all, and sure, superior QBs across teams seems to have some influence.

but if one of the AFC West teams flops and goes 5-11, the division won't seem so touch as it appears now.

65 well now that i think about…

well now that i think about it, 5-11 is impossible with the new 17 game schedule.

But all of the teams have to play against each other. And if one of them winds up, for reasons as yet unseen, to be significantly worse than the other 3, they could easily wind up 1-5 or 0-6 in division, and play. 500 ball the rest of the way. Your unlikely is an oddsmakers even money. not sure what the odds are, but if they had a play on "at least one team in the West winds up with 10 losses" I'd guess the odds reflect less than your "unlikely". 

Also, two coaching changeovers? AND the personnel turnover across the division? And the lack of productive incoming rookies due to lost draft capital? Regression to the mean? LOTS of unknowns...

42 It would help if the…

It would help if the chargers move to a city that would give them an actual home field advantage.

They've been playing away games at home for years now. Do the Padres get the same treatment?

69 Since the Padres have been a lot better lately

and if ownership was ever publicly talking about moving out of San Diego, it was a very long time ago (certainly pre-building PetCo park), erm ... no.

When the Padres are bad (which was not infrequently until the last few years), out of town fans can buy up a lot of tickets (LA is drivable, Arizona a daytrip, and SF a really short flight ... and for everyone else, well, lots of people like visiting San Diego). But that's just being a bad team, it's not because no one cares (also, the Padres are the only game in town now).

The Chargers getting that treatment started when ownership started talking about moving, and continued when they moved to a soccer stadium in a city where no one wanted them, and continues even though they're a good and fun team because 20 years from now people will still be saying the San Diego, I mean LA, Chargers unless the Spanos family sells the team to somebody who moves them back to where they belong.

74 San Diego

well, lots of people like visiting San Diego

San Diego is a really, really beautiful city.  I'm from the Baltimore area, and just loved our (short) visit.  Would love to go back

 

 

(Also, it means "whale vagina" in Spanish.)

75 I just came back from San…

In reply to by JimZipCode

I just came back from San Diego a few weeks ago on vacation.

It probably has the best weather in the entire United States and probably rivals any other location in the world.

The food scene is okay. Some of it can be very good. It's an overall very pretty place and everything feels like a 20 minute drive from somewhere else.

 

I like it way more than Los Angeles by comparison, but that's just me.

81 I'm from Cleveland originally

In reply to by JimZipCode

but I bounced around a bit as a kid (a few years in Wisconsin just before the Browns 1.0 left town -- I always remind people this was pre-Favre, albeit not by much -- led to me ending up a Packers fan, a few years in Syracuse led to the Orange fandom) before moving to San Diego. Only real downside to living here is that it's expensive, and since it's a great place to live, salaries don't quite keep up with the cost of living.

86 LOL. San Diego feels like a…

LOL. San Diego feels like a freaken bargain compared to the Bay Area. It's funny. We visited Europe and I felt like the prices were actually a comparative discount versus my the Bay Area. 

Its really quite sad. The Bay Area should have a sign that says, " We welcome everyone to our shores. Please arrive with a million dollars or you can live on the streets"

57 Somewhat harsh since Marino…

Somewhat harsh since Marino fails this bar despite being 3rd or 4th all time in career DYAR by dint of having the greatest (or one of the 3-4 greatest) season ever in year 2.

 

Absolutely should count as someone who was dominant after, his 1986 was the 2nd best QB season for a long time too.

59 Mahomes fails it, too. I was…

Mahomes fails it, too.

I was just pointing out that it's not just busts who never exceed that year 1&2 peak -- even elite guys sometimes never reach the pinnacle again. Hillary never went higher than Everest.

12 At the same time, the…

At the same time, the closest thing to a bust on the list above is Culpepper, who went on to reach the Pro Bowl twice and lead the NFL in passing yards before a sudden decline in his seventh season.

It's almost like Robert Smith, Cris Carter, and Randy Moss were really good.

Scott Mitchell put up 1500 DYAR with Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, and Brett Perriman. Being able to just chuck it downfield in the general direction of two quality receivers over the top of 8-man boxes is like having super powers.

30 It's almost like Robert…

It's almost like Robert Smith, Cris Carter, and Randy Moss were really good.

It's almost like your knee exploding is a bad thing.

Well, and trying to work with Nick Saban in the NFL.

32 I dont know why more people…

I dont know why more people don't remember Culpepper suffering a devastating knee injury rather than some mysterious fall from the face of the earth decline.

Remember, he also played very well when Moss was injured, which led the Vikings to assume they could get along just fine without him. 

37 I think the expectation is…

I think the expectation is that players will be able to come back from injuries with modern medicine. After all, Brady suffered a devastating knee injury, and it's not even mentioned among the major events of his career.

39 I don't think using Tom…

I don't think using Tom Brady as a guide makes sense for anything. 

Tom Brady is a ridiculous outlier in every sense. Including the mind bending fact that hes not even the highest paid member of his own family. 

43 Watching him in Detroit, his…

Watching him in Detroit, his problem wasn't his athleticism or his ability to drive the ball. The problem was his ability to drive the ball to the right team.

I don't think it was the knee so much as it was not having Randy Moss's knees.

It's also worth remembering that after that first year-2000 season, he only went 27-37 with the Vikings. They weren't a good team even with the prime version of him. Thereafter he was terrible for a bunch of terrible teams (but no worse than the terrible around him), but it was suspected the emperor had no clothes even before he got hurt.

Take a peek at his 2005: https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/nfl/qb/2005
This is before he got hurt.

80 Watching him in Detroit, his…

Watching him in Detroit, his problem wasn't his athleticism or his ability to drive the ball. The problem was his ability to drive the ball to the right team.

Those two things aren't independent. When a QB's athleticism drops or he compensates for declining velocity, picks go up. Defenders have more time to notice things and they worry less.

It's definitely true that Culpepper's 2005 before he got hurt was terrible, but the Vikings had a disastrous year at receiver that year. Basically everyone was new except Burleson and he was injured from the get-go. It's a bit much to believe that Culpepper wouldn't've bounced back quite a bit if he hadn't been injured. Brady in 2013 started off weeks 1-7 with a total of something like -140 DYAR or so, for instance, due to a completely new set of receivers.

It's the same reason why I discount "Carson Wentz, MVP candidate." Looking at a partial year of a player just isn't fair.

87 Not just WRs...

Also in 2005, the Vikings' pro bowl starting C Matt Birk was injured the week before the season began and out for the entire season.  His backup, Cory Withrow, was way undersized and was totally inadequate to the task.  The switch after the bye to Melvin Fowler (whom they acquired from one of the Ohio teams - Cleveland, I think) coincided pretty closely with the team's offensive turnaround that year.  (So Culpepper only played two or three games with an NFL-calibre center in front of him that season)

46 scheme fluke

Mitchell's big year was basically scheme. Defensive coordinators didn't know how to deal with the each-time-every-time 3-5 step drop till Ray Rhodes stuffed it in the playoffs. After which everyone knew how to deal with it. Mitchell thus went right back to being Mitchell.

22 Similarly, Manning's 4,135…

Similarly, Manning's 4,135-yard, 26-touchdown sophomore effort does not look like much on paper these days, but Manning was the runner-up for the MVP award that year. That's why it's so difficult to compare quarterbacks across different eras.

  Which is exactly why trying to say a quarterback is the GOAT is objectively silly and stupid. Yes, it's fun to argue it, but in the end it's meaningless i.e. totally subjective.

33 I say this as a Manning fan…

I say this as a Manning fan. I think Brady's longevity is the trump card for me. There just isn't another example of a QB whos come close to doing what hes doing. Maybe if Manning hadn't had a serious neck injury or if Rodgers perhaps himself is playing this well into his early and mid 40s, its a different conversation and more of a matter of taste. 

44 There just isn't another…

There just isn't another example of a QB whos come close to doing what hes doing.

Tarkenton, if you era-adjust by 40 years. Tarkenton did it back when it was still legal to actually murder a QB.

52 In Brady's case, I think it…

In Brady's case, I think it was actually that NE is terrible at evaluating WRs. So him going to TB was like the kung-fu moves where some guy takes off their wristbands or something and becomes 3x faster because they were actually carrying extra pounds around for training purposes. 

 

 

88 Otto Graham's supporting cast

Otto Graham probably benefited from the greatest supporting cast in history.

His defences ranked by DSRS/Points Allowed/Yards Allowed:

1946: 1st/1st/2nd out of 8

1947: 1st/1st/2nd out of 8

1948: 1st/1st/1st out of 8

1949: 1st/1st/3rd out of 7

And then after joining the NFL

1950: 3rd/2nd/1st out of 13

1951: 1st/1st/2nd out of 12

1952: 4th/2nd/1st out of 12

1953: 1st/1st/6th out of 12

1954: 2nd/1st/1st out of 12

1955: 4th/1st/1st out of 12

 

This is before beginning to address that he had the most revolutionary coach of all time in Paul Brown, who was so far ahead of his time he created the pocket in which passers could throw, among numerous other advancements that even with Otto being a great QB, he was playing on a team so far ahead of its time, not just with offensive adjustments, but also culturally. The Browns were one of the first teams to integrate, and therefore not only did he benefit from hugely talented players around him like Marion Motley, but he also didn't have to face the best defences because of the inherent racism of the NFL at the time.

 

 

 

45 Sammy Baugh. Brady can't…

Sammy Baugh.

Brady can't punt or defend a pass worth a crap.

\In 1943, Baugh led the league in passes attempted, completed, and intercepted. Not thrown interceptions; interceptions made by him. He also led the league in punts, punt yardage, and yards per punt. Captive-substitution was a different game.

47 Honestly

If this were being done honestly, it WOULD NOT could Mahomes' mop-up game from 2017 and instead count 2018 & 2019 as his first 2 seasons. Therefore he would rightly be the leader of that chart at about 3300 DYAR or so. I get it, everyone wanted to see Marino at the top of the list, but it's not honest. Marino started 9 games that first year, Mahomes 1. Give me a break.

83 It's counting first 2 years…

In reply to by BigBen07

It's counting first 2 years in the league, not first 2 years as starter which is a different thing, any why you don't see names like Aaron Rodgers there. It is being done honestly, you just want it to be doing a different thing

49 Based on this past season, I…

Based on this past season, I’m not sure I can say mahomes is better than Herbert anymore. It’s possible mahomes is just an otherworldly system qb that defenses are starting to figure out. The only qb I would bet being able to make the throw Herbert made against NY is rodgers.  

54 You never know what will…

You never know what will happen. Caron Wentz was an up and coming starter at one point rather than perennial column fixture and trade option. 

Given the Chargers track record and his history, I think he should hit the low elite tier (Wilson or Dak might be a good example) pretty easily unless he gets a horrible injury. That is still really, really darn good. 

62 Carson Wentz and Jared Goff…

Carson Wentz and Jared Goff once played a classic game between future stars.
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201712100ram.htm 

That game was the peak of Wentz's career, and Goff's would come 11 months later, in another classic game of future stars.
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201811190ram.htm

Only one of those guys was actually a star.

 

53 I mean, Mahomes has crazy…

I mean, Mahomes has crazy arm talent too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJE-hx0VJSA

Also, Mahomes finished above Herbert in both DYAR and DVOA last year. So yeah, seems a little silly to say Herbert is better than Mahomes right now. Certainly could turn out to be that way for his career, but let's wait for him to be better for a single season before we start making that claim.

55 I am sympathetic to the view…

I am sympathetic to the view that Mahomes has been fortunate to land in the ultimate landing spot of landing spots. That Alex Smith's outlier the year prior is indictative that KC has been an embarassment of offensive riches throughout Mahomes' run.

That said, even in Mahomes' down year from last year, the KC offense was still plenty scary. Mahomes has piloted a frightening offense every single year he has been the primary starter. For him to fall apart and be just pretty good now would be kind of unprecedented. I guess maybe Marino and Kurt Warner could be viewed as examples of QB juggernaughts that dipped significantly as the talent declined?

61 what am i missing?

Herbert stepped into a system where Phil Rivers threw for over 4600 yards to an offense with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams as the key weapons the year prior; throws for 4300 as a rookie with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams as the key weapons, and then throws for 5000 with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams (+Ekeler) as the key weapons. Chargers go from 5-11 with Lynn to 7-9 with Lynn to 9-8 with Staley as coach. 

Are we really to pretend that thats the same as the evolution from the 2017 chiefs (marginal playoff contenders) to the 2018 chiefs (a coinflip from SB champs)?

(sorry, not so much in response to your comment slothook, but just to this whole thread)

63 Chargers go from 5-11 with…

Chargers go from 5-11 with Lynn to 7-9 with Lynn to 9-8 with Staley as coach.

That 5-11 team was only -8 in point differential. The 7-9 team was worse -- (-42)!

That said, as a rook, being as good as Phil Rivers isn't exactly an insult.

64 The difference here is…

The difference here is Philip Rivers was an established star QB. Alex Smith was an established game manager. 

Also, given the DVOA and DYAR's, that season would rank as somewhat of a below average year for Philip Rivers whereas for Alex Smith, that would rank as his best year; almost 50 percent higher DYAR in 2017 than his next best season. 

67 Dude, I agree, the Mahomes…

Dude, I agree, the Mahomes change was real, objectively impressive (AND sustained). Herbert's less so given the system he entered. Granted, Kelce and Hill are luxury tools, and Andy Reids offensive mind and coaching assets that your average Winston, Mariota, Darnold, Trubisky would have benefited greatly from, but Mahomes is a unique talent, and he unleashed Hill and Kelce. I was saying (not arguing) that Mahomes 2017 push for the Chiefs WAS an objectively impressive elevation, and all this talk about Herbert is not taking into account the built in advantages he already has. Herbert hasn't elevated the Chargers to the next level. YET. Not to say he won't. 

but yeah, herbert also hasn't F'd it up. The next in the Fouts/Rivers lineage he may be...

68 Ok, I am only going to…

Ok, I am only going to haphhazard a guess at this one.

Given the style of play of Mahomes; there is a perception that a lot of his free lancing and way past the snap heroics are feasible only because he has these world beaters in Kelce and Hill who have the speed, agility, and athleticism to find their way into coverage breakdowns. That once taken away or replaced by lesser players, suddenly those Mahomes bombs that come from ridiculous side armed angles with his feet entangled suddenly become incompletions or interceptions. 

That someone like Brees, who made a living on quick decision passes; is less dependent on his circumstances than someone like Mahomes. Manning kind of showed you can take his offense basically anywhere and it will work. Is the same true for Mahomes?

I think I had these questions last year but Mahomes made enough of these mind bending plays that it ultimately didn't matter much. If he kills you with one or two of these passes a game; thats kind of all you need to keep the defense petrified into playing deep coverage. 

I think I am done doubting Mahomes at this point.  

76 He did, and it can, but the…

He did, and it can, but the big lesson to learn from Favre that applies to guys like Mahomes and Allen, is that Favre was at his best when he had a coach who kept riding his ass about the fundamentals. It took Holmgren a few years to break through and get him to really listen and accept it rather than just playing lip service to it.

So you have 91-93 Favre (ATL back-up, 2 years of Holmgren trying to get through to him) where he was like a 375 DYAR a year guy.
Then 94-98 Favre which is when Favre really became Favre under Holmgren averaging 1105 DYAR a year.
Then you have regression under Rhodes and Sherman from 99-05 where the average slipped to 790.
McCarthy's first year in 2006 he let Jeff Jagondzinski, the OC handle a lot of the coaching and Jeff let Favre get away with whatever he wanted as well and the 394 DYAR was one of Favre's worst seasons ever.
In 07 McCarthy booted Jeff and he and QB coach Clements started to ride Favre's ass again and Favre hit 1311 DYAR (2nd best in GB) in his last season in GB.
I can't speak much to the 08 Jets season other than Favre admitted after the season was over that he played the last like 8 games with his right bicep torn but wouldn't disclose it because he didn't want to lose the games started streak. Playing with a torn bicep in your throwing arm is going to impact things.
In 09 with MIN he had Childress riding his ass and had a 1646 DYAR year his best DYAR season ever. He fell off the cliff in 2010.
 

The 04 season is a bit of a blip in that narrative but it was also peak Donald Driver and about the only season Javon Walker didn't play with his head up his ass it came after 2 basically 600 DYAR seasons and was followed up by a 600 DYAR season.

 

Regardless anyone who has followed him even a little more than casually and heard him talk about his career knows that the coaches who constantly kept preaching work on the fundamentals but didn't get too pissed when he went completely off script got the most out of him. Some dude named Andy Reid was his QB coach in 97 and 98 and may have learned something from that. It's pretty clear that Reid also tries to keep Mahomes in check without completely smothering him. It's a fine line but Mahomes also seems to have more natural ability than Favre did. Allen seems to be getting the right kind of coaching too.

But let either of them get too off script and playing too much sandlot and I could see both of them declining noticeably and also see either of them springing back under another coach who keeps them in check.

77 I think this is spot on (as…

I think this is spot on (as usual)!

I might quibble with one thing. I never saw vintage Elway nor vintage Marino, but I have often regarded Favre as the most athletic QB I ever saw and that includes everything associated with athleticism.

Favre had a tough build, cannon arm, and strong mobility. They both had that insane frenetic style where they could launch a missle with legs pointing in different directions, torso contorted and facing the ground, and with multiple defenders draped all over them. Its an athletic marvel and something Favre somehow never quite lost even till the end. I think he just got slower processing things and the hits started to dog him enough that he wasn't brave enough to withstand the punishment till the absolute last minute.

Mahomes, by comparison, appears less of an ironman than Favre was(no shame in that, no one in NFL history has been), but that comes with clear warnings about how Mahomes himself might age. The arm may survive, but the body shots could force him into early retirement if he's not careful.

EDIT

I don't know why, but while walking my dog I remembered a hilarious play of Favre's that I was wondering if others(you) remember it. It was I think in 05 when GB was on the road vs Cincy, a game where Favre has just thrown something like 5 interceptions. On the very last play in a game they were hopelessy behind in, Favre scrambled, tried to hurdle a defender, got knocked upside down all the while throwing a pass underhanded towards the receivers feet; eventually landing on his back and lying casually with arms and legs sprayed in a quiet acceptance of defeat. It kind of summed up Favre the QB to me. 

79 Relay and Marino

I saw both—being much older than you, no doubt—and I think Vintage Elway was as athletic (and more muscular).  Marino had too many knee problems to be in the same category.  But he had a great arm and the quickest release ever (except for maybe Namath, who I also saw but cannot really remember).

91 Elway and athleticism

I agree with Raiderfan, Elway was probably more "athletic" than Favre, when you combine arm strength + running ability + size & "body" strength.
(Marino was a statue.  Less mobile than Peyton Manning.)

Where it gets interesting is when you consider guys like Steve Young & Randall Cunningham, who each had far greater running ability than either Elway or Favre.  What is "athleticism"?  Young was the most accurate passer of the four, which has something to do with hand/eye coordination and body control.  Randall had a preposterous arm, very very strong. 

What do we do with Lamar Jackson?  A far greater runner than any of the four; probably the weakest arm of the four (no shame in that for this group of comps).  A smaller guy (relative to his era) than either Elway or Favre – actually Lamar is the exact same Combine height/weight as Elway was, but that looked big in Elway's era and below-avg for today.  Lamar is always comped to Micheal Vick, but they seem like very different athletic "types" to me.  I think Vick was faster in a straight line, more powerful and had a stronger arm; Lamar more agile, better change-of-direction and body control, more accurate with the ball and better processing his reads.  Which of those two packages of traits is more "athletic"?  What is athleticism?

Basketball coach Brian McCormick is a great read for concepts like this.  "Athleticism" is often talked about as a one-dimensional trait in the basketball world: vertical jump.  So players like Steve Nash, who have tremendous balance and change-of-direction, along with whatever combination of hand-eye coordination and body control underlies great shooting and dribbling, are not perceived as "athletic".  Which is plainly ridiculous.
(And let's just ignore the whole white/black perception of "athleticism" for now.  Players being "sneaky fast" or "cerebral" etc.)
____________________

Speaking of size, I think height/weight for players is difficult to discuss intelligently.  These guys are measured at the Combine, very accurately, and those numbers seem to stick with them for their career.  PFR lists a height/weight on the player's bio page, as a constant.  But by the eyeball we can see clearly that players pack on weight after they enter the pros.  Lamar was spindly as a rookie; and was jacked a year later, with a thick neck.  I bet he's 10 lbs heavier than he was at the Combine.  Elway and Favre got "blockier" as they got older.  Favre looked like a linebacker in the middle of his career.

Ray Lewis had a season around 2010 when he decided to pack on some weight to play heavier, I guess to challenge blockers or whatever and stand up to the pounding as he aged.  The extra weight slowed him down, and he had a disappointing season.  From then on he played slimmer, to keep as much speed as he could.  So: what was Ray Lewis' weight?  Is there a simple answer?

Hell: lots of young men add an inch to their height in their early 20s.  Famously, David Robinson went from like 6-7(?) to 7-1 during his college years, completely transforming his upside as a basketball player.

It would be nice for us as "analysts" if teams re-weighed their guys every year in training camp, and posted a new weight for the season.  Then PFR could list it on each row of the player's career.  There is of course zero motivation for teams to bother with this; and a distinguished history of teams (esp in college) fudging their players' height/weight for the media guide.  Steve Young says he lied about his height, so as not to fall below teams' preferred size thresholds.

I feel like we know less about players height/weight than we usually think we do.

92 Cunningham didn't just have…

Cunningham didn't just have a monster arm, he was extremely fast and had really powerful legs. He was also one of the best punters in the game. In college, he was a 2x offensive conference MVP. He was an all-conference punter 3x. His All-America? For punting.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983_College_Football_All-America_Team#Special_teams_2

The 1984 list also features the other last throwing specialist: Tom Tupa.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_College_Football_All-America_Team

Both Tupa and Cunningham were all-americans in 1984. As punters.

And yes, they did play each other once: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/198910150crd.htm

93 I defined athleticism based…

I defined athleticism based on how the media typically talks about athleticism, which is based on raw size and build, speed, and arm talent. Lebron James is a freak athlete because of this trio of abilities, whereas Harden or Luka are not.

The Steve Nash handles and eye coordination seem to fall under skill. That's not specifically a racial thing. The best ball handlers are typically smaller players, either because it's harder to be tall and a ball handler or if you are short, you need to compensate with ball handling.

I think Lamar is definitely super athletic, but loses in the arm and build comparisons( again, not because he is subpar in those areas, but it's who he is being compared with). That's why I didn't mention Rodgers in that group, his build is slighter.

89 Sorry

…I’ve got to ;-) : It’s tough for a young QB to achieve even a little success whilst trapped? Tebow starts off with an interim coach, then didn’t get an offseason before ‘12 (lockout, demoted by new coaches to 3rd string), played at times without Decker or  DT, no TE, & his only RB was “on one knee” McGahee, & he had the 24th-ranked defense, one of the most conservative coaches of all time in John Fox, & Mike McCoy & Adam Gase as his coaches. He still passed for 300+ against the #1 passing defense his first playoff game (losing Decker the 1st Q), & only lost in his 16th start ever on too the road to Belichick (who destroyed Andrew Luck). But it was guys like you who ran him out of the league, because he basically never played again (because you can’t have such a polarizing guy as your backup, where he maybe would’ve developed). It is asinine you credit him for legitimately helping your writing career, yet you tried as hard as you could to make him a fool (& no, I’m not some Christian freak, I really think he was treated poorly for…reasons).

95 He couldn't beat out Mark…

In reply to by liquidmuse3

He couldn't beat out Mark Sanchez. Sanchez was really efficient in his playoff games (went 4-2 those first two years), but regular season matters.  Tebow's career completion percentage is 47.9%.  Nathan Peterman's is better than that.  Enough said.

100 There is a story that Tebow…

In reply to by liquidmuse3

There is a story that Tebow was advised by his agent to enter the draft as a TE, but Tebow refused. He thought he was NFL-calibre QB. Events proved otherwise. He was crap as a QB, end of story. Too bad if he got the same treatment as Colin Kaepernick.