The Limitations of the current Quarterback rating System
Keith R. Thompson,
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.
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.
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