Drew Bledsoe in the Hall of Fame?

Posted on April 15, 2007 by

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Drew Bledsoe, the first player taken in the 1993 draft, retired last week. According to Don Banks of SI.com, Bledsoe finishes his career fifth all-time in completions (3,839), seventh in passing yards (44,611) and 13th in touchdown passes (251). So these stats suggest he is one of the all-time greats.

Performance in sports, though, is not about totals. The best hitter is not the player with the most hits, but the player with the best batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, OPS, etc… The best basketball player is not the one who scores the most (as is often noted in this forum) but the one who most efficiently produces wins.

The same can be said for quarterbacks. Of course there is a problem in football. A player’s stats in basketball tend to be fairly consistent from season to season, which suggests that a player’s stats in basketball are mostly about the player. In football, a quarterback’s statistical performance (and this is true for running backs as well) tends to be much more erratic over time. This suggests the quarterback’s stats are not just about the quarterback.

All that being said, let’s pretend that a quarterback owns his stats and consequently we can compare Bledsoe’s numbers to other quarterbacks. I should note that my source of numbers is Yahoo.com, which actually provides a very complete source of player data (although you have to play with the website to get it to toss up the numbers). At Yahoo.com you can find all the elements necessary to calculate QB Score back to 1994. Prior to 1994, though, fumbles and fumbles lost are not reported. Consequently, our QB Score formula, when looking at players who played before 1994, has to be calculated as follows:

QB Score (w/o fumbles) = Yards – 3*Plays – 50*Interceptions

Looking at all players from 1994 to 2006, the average QB Score (w/o fumbles) per play was 1.35.

Comparing Bledsoe

With this information in hand, let’s look at a recent sample of Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks. Our sample will specifically consist of all quarterbacks who are in the Hall-0f-Fame and who played at least some games at the same time as Bledsoe. This sample includes Joe Montana, Steve Young, Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, Jim Kelly, John Elway, and Warren Moon.

How does Bledsoe stack up to these players? The answer is in the following table:

Table One: Bledsoe and recent Hall-of-Fame Quarterbacks

The results indicate that Bledsoe comes up quite a bit short. Yes, his aggregates – completions, yards, etc… – compare favorably to this sample. But when we look at efficiency – measured with QB Score – we see that all of the Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks were above average performers in their career. Bledsoe, though, is actually a below average performer.

Now Bledsoe was not below average every year of his career. From 1996-1998, and then again in his first year in Buffalo and Dallas, Bledsoe did post above average numbers. But across his career, the average result for Bledsoe was below the calculated mean.

What if we change our focus to Bledsoe’s peers? Again, the complete data at Yahoo.com goes back to 1994. Bledsoe is one of six quarterbacks to appear in both 1994 and also in 2006. The other five were Brett Favre, Mark Brunell, Brad Johnson, Vinny Testaverde, and Gus Frerotte.

With these six quarterbacks we can use the original QB Score formula, which includes fumbles lost. Now the relevant per play average is 1.1. How does Bledsoe stack up to this group?

Table Two: Bledsoe and his Peers

Once again, as the above table indicates, Bledsoe comes up short. Bledsoe is the only quarterback in this sample to be below average from 1994 to 2006. So again it looks like Bledsoe cannot be thought of as one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game.

Who is Hall-Worthy?

Our recent sample suggests a couple of players who might be Hall-Worthy. The first is Brett Favre, who has posted better career numbers – again in terms of efficiency – than Troy Aikman, John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Warren Moon.

Vinny Testaverde also compares favorably, but only if you look at what he did since 1994. When we look at his entire career, which began in 1987 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we see that Testaverde’s career mark is below average. His career QB Score (w/o fumbles) per play is 1.20. Of course the problem for Testaverde is the six seasons he played in Tampa Bay. Had he escaped Tampa Bay after two seasons, like Steve Young, Testaverde’s career marks would undoubtedly look much better. Again, teammates matter in evaluating quarterbacks.

Although Testaverde was done in by his teammates early in his career, the same cannot be said for Mark Brunell. Brunell started his career as a back-up to Favre, but moved on to Jacksonville in 1995. Although he was playing on an expansion team, Brunell managed to post above average numbers that first season as a starter. And this was not unusual for Brunell. Except for 2004, his first season in Washington where he only played nine game, Brunell has been above average every single year as a starting quarterback in the NFL. His career QB Score per play eclipses the mark offered by Favre, and his mark without fumbles bests what was offered by Aikman, Kelly, Elway and Moon.

So will Brunell get any consideration for the Hall-of-Fame when he finally calls it a career? His problem is that he never played for a team that appeared in the Super Bowl. And I do not think there is a single quarterback in the Hall-of-Fame – other than Moon – who never played in a championship game (someone could check me on that).

As Banks noted, Moon’s “Hall candidacy was aided immeasurably by both his six record-setting seasons in the CFL and his pioneering role as the game’s first star black quarterback.” Brunell can claim to be part of a very small minority – left-handed quarterbacks. One doubts, though, that this will help him gain many votes for the Hall.

In the end Brunell’s candidacy will be done in by the voter’s tendency to evaluate quarterbacks in terms of wins and losses and appearances in the Super Bowl. As we state in The Wages of Wins, though, quarterbacks cannot be assigned responsibility for wins and losses. Even if you assigned credit for all of a quarterback’s stats entirely to the quarterback – a dubious practice – less than half of a team’s wins would be credited to the signal caller.

I should conclude that although Banks did note Bledsoe’s all-time winning percentage as a quarterback (again, a meaningless stat), Banks also concluded that Bledsoe shouldn’t be in the Hall-of-Fame. I wonder, though, what he thinks of Brunell.

– DJ

Posted in: Football Stories