Judging The 2014 NFL QBs By The Company They Keep

Jim Rogash

These days, quarterbacks may get passer ratings of 100.0 or greater in a game more often than they've done in the past, but it is still a pretty impressive milestone. We take a look at how the active NFL QBs measure up against this milestone.

When the NFL Passer rating was initially developed in 1973, the objective was to create a single number that would differentiate between outstanding, excellent, average and poor performance. Below are the metrics that the developers of the formula felt best denoted those performances, and which they combined into the passer rating we know today.

Completion Percentage Yards per Attempt Touchdown Percentage Interception Percentage Passer Rating
Outstanding 70% 11.0 10% 1.5% 133.3
Excellent 60% 9.0 7.5% 3.5% 100.0
Average 50% 7.0 5% 5.5% 66.7
Poor 30% 3.0 0% 9.5% 0.0

The passer rating was implemented based on the league averages in the early 1970s. As the passing game improved, so have some of those metrics. Take completion percentage: In  2013, the league average completion percentage was 61.2%, 40 years earlier, in 1973, that average was 52.0%. Outside of fans of Eli Manning, nobody in their right mind would consider a 60% completion percentage "excellent" anymore - in his ten years in the league, Eli Manning has only managed four seasons with an average completion percentage above 60%.

In this pass-happy era of the NFL, a passer rating of 100.0 may not be considered "excellent" anymore, but it is still a pretty good performance any way you look at it. Last year, for example, NFL QBs combined for 44 games with a passer rating over 100 in 512 opportunities. Pro-Football-Reference.com shows that there are 70 active QBs in the NFL today who have thrown for a 100+ passer rating at least once in their career. The combined W/L record of those QBs in games with a 100+ rating is 913-218-3 for an impressive .805 winning percentage.

If we accept that a 100+ rating in a game is a "pretty good", perhaps even an "excellent" performance by the QB, it follows that a QB with a lot of 100+ rating games is a pretty good, perhaps even excellent quarterback. And indeed, if you look at the active QBs with the most 100+ rating games in their career, you'll find the usual suspects at the top of the list: Peyton Manning (102 games with a 100+ rating), Tom Brady (88), and Drew Brees (81) lead all QBs in this category.

In fairness though, all three guys have been around the block a few times, and also lead all NFL QBs in number of games started with 240 (P. Manning), 191 (Brady), and 185 (Brees), so it's not a big surprise to see that the three also lead the league in 100+ rating games. So let's look at these numbers a little differently. The following table is limited to the 32 active NFL QBs who've started at least 33 games in their career and shows those QB's W/L records in 100+ rating games and their 100+ rating games as a percentage of games started. We'll look at the QBs with 32 starts or less at the bottom of the post.

100+ Passer Rating Games (click on column headers to sort)

QBs with 33+ starts
100+ Passer Rating games Games Started 100+ games in %
of total games started
Win Percentage
Total W L T
Peyton Manning 102 92 10 0 240 43% 0.902
Tom Brady 88 83 5 0 191 46% 0.943
Drew Brees 81 69 12 0 185 44% 0.852
Matt Hasselbeck 39 31 8 0 152 26% 0.795
Eli Manning 38 27 11 0 151 25% 0.711
Ben Roethlisberger 56 50 6 0 142 39% 0.893
Carson Palmer 41 26 15 0 137 30% 0.634
Philip Rivers 61 51 10 0 128 48% 0.836
Michael Vick 31 20 11 0 109 28% 0.645
Tony Romo 54 39 15 0 108 50% 0.722
Jay Cutler 30 27 3 0 104 29% 0.900
Joe Flacco 32 28 4 0 96 33% 0.875
Matt Ryan 36 34 2 0 94 38% 0.944
Matt Schaub 37 29 8 0 90 40% 0.784
Alex Smith 20 17 2 1 90 22% 0.850
Aaron Rodgers 52 42 10 0 87 60% 0.808
Jason Campbell 21 12 9 0 79 27% 0.571
Ryan Fitzpatrick 16 10 6 0 77 21% 0.625
Matt Cassel 22 16 6 0 68 32% 0.727
Mark Sanchez 12 10 2 0 62 19% 0.833
Matthew Stafford 15 11 4 0 61 25% 0.733
Josh Freeman 14 11 3 0 60 23% 0.786
Chad Henne 6 4 2 0 50 12% 0.667
Sam Bradford 10 8 1 1 49 20% 0.800
Cam Newton 18 14 4 0 48 38% 0.778
Andy Dalton 16 15 1 0 48 33% 0.938
Rex Grossman 9 9 0 0 47 19% 1.000
Derek Anderson 5 5 0 0 43 12% 1.000
Josh McCown 11 6 5 0 38 29% 0.545
Christian Ponder 8 5 2 1 35 23% 0.625
Tarvaris Jackson 8 7 1 0 34 24% 0.875
Trent Edwards 7 6 1 0 33 21% 0.857

If you sort the table by "100+ games in % of total games started" you'll see that Aaron Rodgers throws more 100+ rating games than anybody else, and by quite a margin: His rate of 60% is ten points better than the next guy on the list, none other than Tony Romo. With 50%, Romo has the second-highest percentage of 100+ rating games of all NFL QBs, ahead of Philip Rivers (46%), Tom Brady (46%), Drew Brees (44%), and Peyton Manning (43%).

If you judge a QB by the company he keeps, Cowboys fans should be quite happy about Tony Romo as he is in pretty good company in this ranking. So when Stephen Jones says "We believe Tony Romo is an elite quarterback", he's not kidding, and he's not exaggerating either.

Sorting the table by "Win percentage" reveals some absolutely astonishing numbers: Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and even Andy Dalton have a winning percentage in 100+ rating games of .900 or higher. Those are very impressive numbers. But they also highlight the importance of a good supporting cast on both defense and special teams that can hold the opponent in check when a team's QB has a good day.

The combined winning percentage of the 32 QBs in the table above is .817. That's still a pretty strong number. There are a handful of high profile QBs, among them Aaron Rodgers (.808), Tony Romo (.722), and Eli Manning (.711), who haven't gotten the type of defensive support guys like Matt Ryan and Tom Brady have gotten over the years.

Take Romo's .722 win percentage. By itself, that's not a bad number. But consider that Romo's percentage is  significantly different versus those of the top group. If we were to apply Matt Ryan's win percentage of .944 to Romo's 39-15 W/L record, Romo's record would jump to 51-3. That's twelve (!!!) extra wins over the last eight years. Those wins could have easily been the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs the last three years.

Here's are Romo 100+ rating games of the last three seasons:

2011 2012 2013
Game Opp Result Rating Game Opp Result Rating Game Opp Result Rating
1 @NYJ L 24-27 101.9 1 @NYG W 24-17 129.5 3 STL W 31-7 137.2
2 @SFO W 27-24 116.4 8 @ATL L 13-19 109.3 4 @SDG L 21-30 108.6
6 STL W 34-7 107.3 9 @PHI W 38-23 122.1 5 DEN L 48-51 140.0
8 SEA W 23-13 112.2 12 PHI W 38-33 150.5 8 @DET L 30-31 102.9
9 BUF W 44-7 148.4 14 PIT W 27-24 111.3 12 OAK W 31-24 101.7
10 @WAS W 27-24 113.8 15 NOR L 31-34 123.8 13 @CHI L 28-45 109.2
13 NYG L 34-37 141.3
14 @TAM W 31-15 133.9

Over the last three years, Romo has played 20 games with a 100+ passer rating. The Cowboys lost a stunning eight of those games, for a win percentage of just .600. In our table above, that would rank Romo near the very bottom. For comparison, Alex Smith has also had 20 games with a 100+ passer rating over his career. Thanks in large part to a much better supporting staff on his teams, Smith had a 17-2-1 record and a .850 win percentage in those games.

You can't help but wonder where the Cowboys would be today if instead of eight losses, they'd have dropped only two games and tied a third in those 20 games. It's quite possible that the Cowboys could have made the playoffs in each of the last three years.

Ultimately, it's not one player that wins and loses games. Tony Romo has more than his fair share of detractors, but going by the company he keeps in the stats above, he is at the very top of the game. Now if only the rest of the team would catch up.

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I didn't include some of the younger QBs in the table above, because I felt that the small sample size (Less than 32 starts) could possibly distort the overall picture. But for completeness' sake, here are the 17 QBs who've had between 16 and 32 starts in their NFL careers so far. In this table, I've pre-sorted the QBs by their percentage of 100+ passer rating games.

100+ Passer Rating Games (click on column headers to sort)

QBs with 32 starts or less
100+ Passer Rating games Games Started 100+ games in %
of total games started
Win Percentage
Total W L T
Nick Foles 9 8 1 0 16 56% 0.889
Russell Wilson 17 16 1 0 32 53% 0.941
Colin Kaepernick 12 12 0 0 23 52% 1.000
Robert Griffin 12 8 4 0 28 43% 0.667
Kevin Kolb 8 8 0 0 21 38% 1.000
Shaun Hill 9 5 4 0 26 35% 0.556
Seneca Wallace 7 3 4 0 22 32% 0.429
Jake Locker 4 2 2 0 18 22% 0.500
Matt Moore 5 5 0 0 25 20% 1.000
Andrew Luck 6 5 1 0 32 19% 0.833
Ryan Tannehill 4 4 0 0 32 13% 1.000
Kellen Clemens 2 2 0 0 21 10% 1.000
Colt McCoy 2 1 1 0 21 10% 0.500
Blaine Gabbert 2 0 2 0 27 7% 0.000
Geno Smith 1 1 0 0 16 6% 1.000
John Skelton 1 1 0 0 17 6% 1.000
Brandon Weeden 1 0 1 0 20 5% 0.000

What we see here is that we have three young guys who've put up very strong numbers in terms of their 100+ passer rating game percentage. You may not like it, and you may point to all sorts of extenuating factors, but Nick Foles (56%), Russell Wilson (53%), and Colin Kaepernick (52%) have put up numbers in their short careers that put them in an elite category with only Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo. Can they maintain their pace? Who knows.

But while I would maintain that those three guys have lived up to the hype with their performance to date, as you look further down the list to guys like Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill, you've got to wonder what the hype is all about with those guys. Again, I'm sure people will come up with all sorts of extenuating factors ("But look at the number of comeback wins," "but look at his leadership," "but making the playoffs is what counts"), but as pure passers, those guys are not particularly impressive so far in their careers. All of that can change as they get add to their number of NFL starts, but most of the guys here are already behind the curve: Over their first 32 games Aaron Rodgers (18 100+ passer rating games) and Tony Romo (19) had 100+ game percentages of 56% and 59% respectively.

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If you thought this post has a familiar feel to it, you're right. I published a very similar post last year, but I received a reader request to update it with an extra season's worth of data, so that's exactly what I did. Hope you liked it anyway. And after looking at the "good-game-percentage" in this post, I'll follow up with a "bad-game-percentage" post shortly.

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