For all of the advanced statistics and in-depth video analysis available to us, no one has devised a simple, one-stop-shopping destination for evaluating quarterbacks.
In baseball, WAR offers an imperfect but relevant snapshot of a player’s overall value. To judge an NFL quarterback, you need to study basic statistics, advanced statistics and new-age statistics while understanding that play-calling, the quality of teammates and opposing defenses, coaching, nagging injuries, NFL rules and the way they are interpreted, running and scrambling ability and situational play all can skew performance and judgment.
On Sunday, Aaron Rodgers will play at U.S. Bank Stadium. There is no sure way to accurately compare him to Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana or even Tom Brady. There is no logical way to compare him to Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, Lawrence Taylor or Dick Butkus.
But if you combine statistical analysis with the eye test, you can find a path to calling Rodgers the greatest quarterback in NFL history. And if he’s the greatest quarterback in NFL history, that would make him the most valuable player in league history, and perhaps the greatest football player ever.
Brady is the most accomplished quarterback in NFL history, if you combine regular-season efficiency and postseason achievements. He has won the most Super Bowls (five), has been Super Bowl MVP four times, has won two league MVP awards, and has thrived whether playing with such greats as Randy Moss or with undrafted free agents.
Peyton Manning is the greatest regular-season quarterback in history. His statistical profile is unparalleled. His postseason performances were disappointing.
Brett Favre was even more durable and had a stronger arm, but he made far more mistakes than Rodgers.
What statistics and eyeballs tell us is that Rodgers is better than Brady. Rodgers has won “just’’ one Super Bowl, but this is where context matters.
Rodgers ranks first in NFL history in passer rating. Brady is third. Consider that Rodgers is a far superior runner and scrambler and hasn’t received the benefit of playing for Bill Belichick, and Brady’s seeming advantages fade.
Adjusted yards per pass attempt? Rodgers ranks first; Brady is tied for fifth with Tony Romo.
The eye test? Brady is remarkably accurate and an inspirational leader, but Rodgers can make plays, and throws, that Brady can’t. Rodgers throws better on the run than most standout quarterbacks do from a clean pocket.
Accuracy from the pocket. Pocket awareness. Mobility. Ability to throw with accuracy on the move. Running ability. Toughness. Intelligence. Situational awareness. Production.
I’m old and fortunate enough to have seen Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler play in person. At the first Super Bowl I ever covered, Joe Montana beat the Broncos 55-10 by throwing five touchdown passes and no interceptions. I thought there could be no better quarterback, at that point, than Montana.
I’ve seen and covered John Elway, Manning, Brady and Favre.
I’ve never seen a quarterback as good as Rodgers.
I can’t prove that he’s the best, but I’m comfortable with that conclusion.
If you agree, or accept the possibility that Rodgers is the best quarterback of all time, could he then be called the best football player of all time?
He plays the most important position. Among other qualifications, he may be the most athletic great passer in league history.
Is he a better football player than Jerry Rice?
NFL receivers are astounding athletes, combining speed, agility, toughness, hand-eye coordination, leaping ability and choreographic footwork. Rice had 22,895 receiving yards and 197 touchdowns. The player in second place in yards, Terrell Owens, had 15,934. Randy Moss is second with 156 touchdowns.
Rice had 1,549 catches. Tony Gonzalez is second with 1,325.
These are stunning gaps, and while it can be said that Rice benefited from playing for a great offensive coach and with great quarterbacks, we don’t know how Bill Walsh, Montana or Steve Young would have fared without Rice.
I don’t know how to compare Rodgers and Rice. But if I had to pick one player to build a franchise around, I’d take Rodgers.