The Limitations of the current Quarterback rating System


Keith R. Thompson,

January 2008

The QB rating system has apparently been rising in prominence (certainly among many media outlets) in its ability to evaluate a quarterback’s performance on the field. However, given its many limitations should we be so dependent on it when evaluating these QBs. Below is the rank of all current and Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks in the NFL's history through the 2007 regular season, according to their QB rating score.

Rank         Player, + = HOFer,
Bold
= Active

Rating

Years Played

1.

Steve Young+

96.8

 1985-1999 

2.

Peyton Manning

94.7

 1998-2007 

3.

Kurt Warner

93.2

 1998-2007 

4.

Tom Brady

92.9

 2000-2007 

5.

Ben Roethlisberger

92.5

 2004-2007 

6.

Joe Montana+

92.3

 1979-1994 

7.

Carson Palmer

90.1

 2004-2007 

8.

Daunte Culpepper

89.9

 1999-2007 

9.

Chad Pennington

88.9

 2000-2007 

10.

Marc Bulger

88.1

 2002-2007 

11.

Drew Brees

87.9

 2001-2007 

12.

Jeff Garcia

87.2

 1999-2007 

13.

Trent Green

86.9

 1997-2007 

14.

Philip Rivers

86.6

 2004-2007 

Otto Graham+

86.6

 1946-1955 

16.

Dan Marino+

86.4

 1983-1999 

17.

Matt Hasselbeck

86.2

 1999-2007 

18.

Donovan McNabb

85.8

 1999-2007 

19.

Brett Favre

85.7

 1991-2007 

20.

Jake Delhomme

85.2

 1999-2007 

21.

Rich Gannon

84.7

 1987-2004 

22.

Jim Kelly+

84.4

 1986-1996 

23.

Mark Brunell

84.2

 1994-2006 

24.

Brian Griese

83.6

 1998-2007 

25.

Roger Staubach+

83.4

 1969-1979 

26.

Brad Johnson

83.1

 1994-2007 

27.

Steve McNair

82.8

 1995-2007 

29.

Len Dawson+

82.6

 1957-1975 

Sonny Jurgensen+

82.6

 1957-1974 

35.

Troy Aikman+

81.6

 1989-2000 

38.

Boomer Esiason

81.1

 1984-1997 

39.

Warren Moon+

80.9

 1984-2000 

40.

Bart Starr+

80.5

 1956-1971 

42.

Fran Tarkenton+

80.4

 1961-1978 

46.

Dan Fouts+

80.2

 1973-1987 

47.

John Elway+

79.9

 1983-1998 

48.

Byron Leftwich

79.7

 2003-2007 

56.

Johnny Unitas+

78.2

 1956-1973 

61.

Charlie Batch

77.9

 1998-2007 

66.

Bob Griese+

77.1

 1967-1980 

70.

Jon Kitna

76.7

 1997-2007 

73.

Doug Flutie

76.3

 1986-2005 

75.

Michael Vick

75.7

 2001-2006 

82.

Norm Van Brocklin+

75.1

 1949-1960 

84.

Sid Luckman+

75.0

 1939-1950 

Vinny Testaverde

75.0

 1987-2007 

87.

Patrick Ramsey

74.8

 2002-2007 

92.

David Carr

74.4

 2002-2007 

93.

Y.A. Tittle+

74.3

 1948-1964 

Gus Frerotte

74.3

 1994-2007 

102.

Eli Manning

73.4

 2004-2007 

103.

Kerry Collins

73.3

 1995-2007 

116.

Sammy Baugh+

72.2

 1937-1952 

119.

Kyle Boller

71.9

 2003-2007 

123.

Josh McCown

71.6

 2002-2007 

127.

Terry Bradshaw+

70.9

 1970-1983 

Rex Grossman

70.9

 2003-2007 

132.

Trent Dilfer

70.2

 1994-2007 

139.

Joey Harrington

69.4

 2002-2007 

156.

Archie Manning

67.1

 1971-1984 

163.

Joe Namath+

65.5

 1965-1977 

167.

Bobby Layne+

63.4

 1948-1962 

177.

Bob Waterfield+

61.6

 1945-1952 

181.

George Blanda+

60.6

 1949-1975 

198.

Jim Finks+

54.7

 1949-1955 

Source: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/leaders/pass_rating_career.htm

 

From the table we see a number of interesting (and quite frankly even some shocking) results.

John Elway, arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time with an NFL-best 148 career wins as a starter before he was surpassed by Brett Favre in 2007, and who also has an NFL-record 47 game-winning or game-tying drives in the fourth quarter. Yet for all these accomplishments Elway’s QB rating is only 79.9, good for 47th on the all-time rank. This rating is lower than quarterbacks such as Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, and Brian Griese. Taking nothing from these current QBs but rating them above Elway who led five teams to the Super Bowl, and won two championships, clearly merits a serious evaluation of this quarterback passer rating tool. Elway, unquestionably, is a much higher rank than 47th.

Or consider Sammy Baugh. Baugh led the league in passing for six years (an NFL record), and has the NFL’s second-best performance leading the league each season in attempts, completion and completion percentage. Yet for all those accomplishments the Hall-of-Famer is tied for only 116th in the quarterback passer efficiency rating. What a laugher.

Finally, when we see four-time Super Bowl champion Terry Bradshaw who is also 7th on the all-time wins list as a starting QB tied with the Chicago Bear’s enigmatic quarterback Rex Grossman for 127th on the all-time passer rating list we clearly know that the quarterback passer efficiency rating is seriously flawed.

So what’s the reason for the numerous limitations of this quarterback rating system. We cite three main factors:

1.    It considers only passing, not rushing or the other dimensions of a successful quarterback

2.    It over-penalizes for the number of interceptions thrown

3.    It’s passer rating excludes fumbles lost by a quarterback which could also change the game the way an interception can.

To produce a more accurate quarterback rating tool we have to account for a quarterback’s ability to run the football. This allows the team to continually move the chain by earning first-downs on the ground, or simply to avoid sacks because of the QB's ability to scramble. That was one of John Elway’s greatest strengths, which is obviously not captured by the current QB passer efficiency rating system.

The current rating system also over-penalizes for the number of interceptions thrown since not all interceptions are game critical. Interceptions thrown via ‘Hail Mary’ attempts at the end of halves and completed games are not critical to the outcome. Likewise, many interceptions that are thrown do not lead to points for the opposition. Therefore the passer efficiency rating has to account for these factors and not over-penalizes for all of the interceptions a quarterback throws.

Finally, the current passer efficiency rating system does not account for lost fumbles by a quarterback that can also critically change the game. During one forgettable game in the 2007 regular season (October 28th against the New England Patriots) Jason Campbell of the Washington Redskins produced a passer rating of 71.2 despite turning the ball over four times. However only one of those turnovers (an interception) was ever captured by the rating system. The other three were lost fumbles which, although they led to 17 points for the Patriots, were never penalized in the rating system.

If the passer efficiency rating system is to ever evolve into a more relevant rating system for quarterbacks then it must be able to account for the QB’s ability to run, better penalize for interceptions, and also account for lost fumbles by the quarterback. Maybe then we will see more representative ranking for the likes of John Elway, Sammy Baugh, and Terry Bradshaw, among others.

2008 PER Sports, Inc.

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