Notes: Active quarterbacks beyond Brady

From left, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers are all playing on pace to finish among the top 10 quarterbacks of all time. The QBs of the 21st century are playing at a level way beyond what their predecessors achieved.

This week’s Tom Brady update got me wondering about about how some of his contemporaries are doing. I generally don’t want to post active players’ stats; when I started doing this 10 years ago, I tracked a few guys who were still playing, but there were some wild swings in value as their careers wound down, and I decided it was better to wait until they were finished.

That said, there are a few high-profile quarterbacks who’ve been around long enough that we can start speculating about where they are going to end up. First, the existing top 10, retired players only:

Games Total Per 160 Sqr Root Sum Off Def
Sammy Baugh 171 28.67 26.83 5.35 32.18 36.03 17.61
Peyton Manning 293 44.37 24.23 6.66 30.89 55.42 -6.96
Sid Luckman 133 19.86 23.89 4.46 28.35 32.76 15.02
Dan Marino 260 35.09 21.59 5.92 27.52 51.07 -7.89
Steve Young 189 26.12 22.11 5.11 27.22 49.27 -5.05
Brett Favre 326 40.98 20.11 6.40 26.51 49.15 -8.93
Otto Graham 138 18.71 21.69 4.33 26.02 46.55 -3.17
Joe Montana 215 26.57 19.77 5.15 24.93 45.69 -6.15
John Elway 256 30.72 19.20 5.54 24.74 46.10 -7.70
Randall Cunningham 173 21.24 19.64 4.61 24.25 45.66 -6.37

The usual caveat: Baugh and Luckman were two-way players in an era of much lower offenses. When Manning retired at 30.89, a number much higher than any other modern QB, I speculated that the NFL’s rule changes in the 21st century, and the change in tactics that followed, meant that we were going to get a rash of quarterbacks playing at a much higher level than we’d seen previously.

I concentrated on Brady, who was generally seen as the yin to Manning’s yang, and, indeed, it appears that he’s going to finish well ahead of Dan Marino, too, though he may not catch Manning. But I should have been following Drew Brees, too, who came into the league one year after Brady and has even better numbers.

Then there are Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers, two signal-callers in their mid-30s who are pushing to be at the same level. It could be that by the time they’re all done, four of the top five QBs will be 21st century players, with only Sammy Baugh holding up the (very) old guard.

Games Total Per 160 Sqr Root Sum Off Def
Tom Brady 309 45.54 23.58 6.75 30.33 52.68 -5.51
Drew Brees 279 41.84 23.99 6.47 30.46 54.98 -6.99
Ben Roethlisberger 237 30.82 20.81 5.55 26.36 48.82 -7.21
Aaron Rodgers 182 29.63 26.05 5.44 31.49 56.61 -4.51

Brady is a hundredth of a point higher than what I wrote on Friday; I had missed a two-point conversion in there somewhere.

Brees is ahead of Brady’s pace and has a slightly better chance of catching Manning, especially since he plays in a dome and for an offensive-minded coach. The three of them will probably end up bunched together.

Roethlisberger isn’t really in the same class as the other three … he’s “only” around Brett Favre’s level as of now. He also has the biggest chance at regressing, given the punishment he’s taken over the years and the high-risk style he plays.

It’s no surprise that Rodgers is setting a blistering pace. I do wonder if he can keep it up into his late 30s. Because he sat behind Favre for three years, he’s short on games (he came into the league one year after Roethlisberger but he has 55 fewer games), and that means his decline years will weigh more heavily. That -4.51 defensive average reflects his tiny interception totals. No other modern QB is close, and it may be his ace in the hole at the end.

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