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 the developers of the formula felt best denoted those performances, and which they combined into the passer rating we know today.
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 2017, the league average completion percentage was 62.1%, while in 1973 (when the passer rating formula was created) that average was 52.0%. Outside of fans of Eli Manning (59.8% career completion percentage), nobody in their right mind would consider a 60% completion percentage “excellent” anymore.
Similarly, 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 183 games with a passer rating over 100 in 512 opportunities, and even Eli Manning managed two such games. Pro-Football-Reference.com shows that there are 75 active QBs in the NFL today that 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 1,149-301-2 for an impressive .792 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: Tom Brady (118 games with a 100+ rating) and Drew Brees (116) lead all QBs in this category.
In fairness though, Brady and Brees have been in the NFL since the start of the millennium, and also led all NFL QBs in number of games started with 252 (Brady), and 249 (Brees), so it’s not a big surprise to see both QBs 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 39 active NFL QBs who’ve started at least 28 games in their career and shows those QB’s 100+ rating games as a percentage of games started. We’ll look at the QBs with 27 starts or less at the bottom of the post.
100+ Passer Rating Games (click on column headers to sort)
|QBs with 28+ starts||100+ Passer Rating games||Games Started||100+ games in %
of total games started
The table is pre-sorted by the total number of 100+ games. 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 55.6% is almost six points better than the next guy on the list, none other than the Cowboys' Dak Prescott. With 50%, Prescott has the second-highest percentage of 100+ rating games of all NFL QBs, ahead of guys like Russell Wilson (48%), Tom Brady (47%), Drew Brees (47%), and Philip Rivers (45%).
If you judge a QB by the company he keeps, Cowboys fans should be quite happy with Dak Prescott, as he is in pretty good company in this ranking. And he also compares favorably to Tony Romo, who managed a 51.2% 100+ games % in his 127 career starts.
Entering 2018, Rodgers and Prescott are the only NFL QBs at or above the 50% mark. You may not like it, and you may point to all sorts of extenuating factors, but Dak Prescott has put up numbers in his short career that puts him in an elite category with only Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo. Can he maintain his pace? Who knows.
Sure, Prescott had 11 of his 100+ passer rating games in 2016 and “just” five in 2017. If you don't like the numbers for Prescott or any other QB as presented in the table above, I'm sure you'll find countless reasons why this or that QB is better or worse than presented. But the numbers are what they are.
In the ranking above, there’s a two-point drop-off from Prescott to Russell Wilson, who leads a list of five QBs (Wilson, Cousins, Brady, Brees, Rivers) that are all tightly bunched between 45% and 48%.
If you use 100+ passer rating games as your metric of choice, those five QBs plus Rodgers and Prescott are probably your “elite” QBs right now.
The average 100+ passer rating game percentage for the 39 QBs listed above is 35.5%, so you've got a “second tier” of QBs including Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Nick Foles, Matt Schaub, Tyrod Taylor, and Andy Dalton rounding out the above average passers in the NFL. Every QB below that is a below average quarterback.
As you look further down the list to guys like Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill and Carson Wentz, you’ve got to wonder what the hype is all about with these 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 add to their number of NFL starts, but they are already way behind the curve: Over their first 32 games Aaron Rodgers (18 100+ passer rating games) and Tony Romo (19) for example had 100+ game percentages of 56% and 59% respectively.
So the next time you hear Luck or Wentz compared to Peyton Manning (the boat on Tannehill has definitely sailed), you'll know that a better comparison is Peyton's lesser brother Eli.
Another interesting thing about the numbers is the win percentage of QBs in 100+ passer rating games. Sorting the table by “Win percentage” shows a handful of QBs with a win percentage around .900, led by Tom Brady with 0.941, and followed by the likes of Nick Foles, Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Carson Wentz. Quite an extraordinary feat, but one that also highlights the importance of a good supporting cast on both defense and special teams that can hold the opponent in check when the own QB has a good day.
Other QBs have struggled getting the same amount of support from their teams. Considering that .792 is the average winning percentage for the collection of QB above, players like Kirk Cousins (.704), Eli Manning (.690), or Jameis Winston (.571) have not had a lot of luck with their supporting cast when they had 100+ passer rating games.
Now if you’re thinking that these are pretty impressive win percentages anyway, consider that these percentages are significantly lower than those of the top group. Take Eli Manning: if we were to apply Dak Prescott's win percentage of .938 to Manning's 40-18 W/L record, Manning's record would jump to 54-4. That’s an extra 14 wins over his 14-year career, which could easily have been the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs in some seasons.
What this show is that is that it’s not one player that wins and loses games, and even QBs in hero mode lose games if the rest of the team doesn't deliver.
I didn’t include some of the younger QBs in the table above, because I felt that the small sample size (less than 28 starts) could possibly distort the overall picture. But for completeness’ sake, here are 21 additional QBs who’ve had between 6 and 25 starts in their NFL careers so far.
100+ Passer Rating Games (click on column headers to sort)
|QBs with less than 28 starts||100+ Passer Rating games||Games Started||100+ games in %
of total games started
This table looks like the very definition of mediocrity, with two possible exceptions: Jimmy Garoppolo (71%) and Deshaun Watson (67%) are the only two players that stand out in a table full of Eli Manning clones. Both had very promising starts to their very short careers, but can they keep it up?
Notice also that Jared Goff (31.8%) fits right in with the likes of Luck, Wentz, and Tannehill. Not a good look to start an NFL career.
If you thought this post has a familiar feel to it, you’re right. I originally published a look at 100+ rating games back in 2013, and my good friend KD Drummond recently reminded me about that post, so I figured why not revisit the data five years later?
And after looking at the “good-game-percentage” in this post, I’ll follow up with a “bad-game-percentage” post soon.