Week Fourteen Quarterback Rankings

Posted on December 14, 2006 by

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The Week Fourteen Quarterback Rankings

The Overall Rankings

The number one quarterback in the overall rankings is now Drew Brees. The top quarterback in week fourteen was Philip Rivers. Last year these two quarterbacks were teammates with the San Diego Chargers. Given the success each has enjoyed thus far in 2006 it might be a good idea to review the Brees-Rivers saga of the past few years.

Let’s begin with Brees. In sports big and young usually trumps short and old. The New Orleans Saints saw it otherwise. In the April 2006 NFL draft the Saints had the second overall choice and could choose any one of three quarterbacks – Matt Leinart, Vince Young, and Jay Cutler — who are big, young, and blessed with so-called “unlimited potential.” The Saints, though, made their choice before the draft ever started. Six weeks before the Saints were officially on the clock, New Orleans selected shorter and older Drew Brees of the San Diego Chargers.

Why did the Saints spend millions on Brees rather than take a player with “unlimited potential”? Well, in recent years “sure things” like Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, and Joey Harrington have all entered the league as highly touted quarterbacks only to see their careers sail below the scout’s expectations. So we know from history that “unlimited potential” can become extremely limited.

Still knowing what the Saints knew last spring, should New Orleans have concluded that Brees was a better option? Well that depends upon which Brees the Saints were getting.

Prior to the 2006 season Drew Brees had played in 60 NFL games. In 2002, his first full season as a starter, Brees posted a QB Score per play of 0.92. This is slightly below average, but comparable to the numbers posted by Leinart and Young this season.

In 2003, though, the numbers Brees offered dropped considerably. In eleven games Brees was only above average in QB Score per play twice. For the season his QB Score per play was -0.41. Consequently the Chargers spent a first round draft choice on Rivers.

Fortunately for Brees, though, Rivers did not sign immediately in 2004. This gave Brees a chance to retain his spot in the starting line-up. Given this chance, Brees suddenly became one of the better signal callers in the league. Beyond leading his team into the post-season, Brees also made his first appearance in the Pro Bowl. The numbers confirm the impression people had of his performance. In 16 games – which includes his one playoff game — Brees was above average twelve times. His QB Score per play for the season was 2.47.

In 2005 Brees continued to hold the starting job in San Diego. In nine of the first thirteen contests Brees was above average in QB Score per play. And then, with the playoffs on the line, the Chargers lost three of their last four games. Brees was below average in every single game, exiting the final game of the season with a severe injury to his shoulder. For the season Brees did post a QB Score per play of 1.37. Still, the player the Saints signed did not play well over the last month of the 2005 season and came to New Orleans recovering from an injury.

Apparently the injury did wonders for Brees. His QB Score per play in 2006 stands at 3.29, a mark that leads the league. In thirteen contests he has posted a top ten performance nine times, including each of the last six games. In sum, Brees has certainly justified the choice the Saints made, although the numbers he posted in San Diego did not suggest he would play this well.

So should San Diego done more to keep Brees? Coming into 2006 Rivers had only attempted a pass in two NFL contests, posting a career QB Score per play of -0.97. Of course two games are not much of a sample. The Chargers probably still believed in 2006 that Rivers still had “unlimited potential.” In 2006 this belief was confirmed. Rivers has posted a mark of 2.42, which is quite comparable to what Brees did in 2004 when he went to the Pro Bowl. This last week Rivers posted a per play mark of 7.26, which led the NFL.

For the season Brees has posted better numbers than Rivers. Still, even if Brees posted his 2006 numbers in San Diego this year (which is not a guarantee), and the Chargers knew this was going to happen (which they probably could not have known), it probably would not have made sense to invest the money Brees demanded to keep a quarterback who is only a bit better than Rivers. By letting Brees walk the Chargers had money available to improve the team in other areas.

And that point is important to remember. The quarterback is only one position on a team. A good quarterback cannot guarantee success (see Donovan McNabb this year). And a bad quarterback does not guarantee failure (see Rex Grossman). So investing a huge sum of money in this position, at the expense of other needs on a team, is not a wise choice.

In fact, given the cost of two good quarterbacks, such an investment of scarce salary cap space may actually lead to failure. Given this reality, it is easy to see why the Chargers had to let Brees move on to New Orleans.

Now there is a scenario that might make this decision look quite bad. Imagine a Super Bowl between the Saints and Chargers. Certainly this is possible. And it is quite possible that the Saints, led by Brees, could actually win that game. If that happens, people might start to second guess the choice the Chargers made.

I would argue that even if the Saints meet the Chargers in the title game, and the Saints win, the Chargers still made the best choice in 2006 given the information they had last spring. No matter what people might say today, neither the Chargers nor Saints “knew” how Brees would play in 2006. And given this fact, the decision to let Brees depart should not be judged by what Brees does in New Orleans, but what the Chargers “knew” about him last spring when they passed on the opportunity to invest many more millions in the quarterback position. And what the Chargers “knew” of Brees last spring certainly indicated that he was not the best investment San Diego could make.

– DJ

QB Score has been discussed previously in the following posts:

Football Outsiders and QB Score

Consistent Inconsistency in Football

The Value of Player Statistics in the NFL

Simple Models of Player Performance

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