The Overrated and Underrated in the NFL

Posted on December 16, 2007 by


This week’s football column is going to consist of a review of a book examining the overrated and underrated in the NFL.  Before I get to this, here are the QB Score and RB Score rankings for the week.

Week Fourteen QB Score Rankings

Overall QB Score Rankings

Overall RB Score Rankings

The Paolantonio Report

Every weekend my family goes to our local library.  My wife and two daughters then proceed to check out the books they are going to read the next week.  Since I am the illiterate person in the family, my job is to simply carry the bag of books and drive the car.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I came across a new book by Sal Paolantonio and Reuben Frank.  Very astute readers of The Wages of Wins will remember Frank as the writer who noted the consistent inconsistency of Brett Favre in 2004 (see end note two in Chapter Nine and note that Reuben was misspelled in the book).

For those people who did not bother to memorize each end note in our book, the big name on this writing team is Paolantonio – a national correspondent for ESPN.   In this book, named after the lead author, we are presented with “The Paolantonio Report: The Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Teams, Coaches & Moments in NFL History.”  

In general this book appears to take the standard approach by sports writers.  Statistics are often noted, by not systematically.  Paolantonio and Frank also tend to value playoff performance more than what we see in the regular season, despite the fact the latter is the larger sample. 

That being said, this book is interesting and should provoke debate among football fans. To see this, consider the list of the most overrated quarterbacks in NFL history.  This list includes Joe Namath, Brett Favre, Terry Bradshaw, Ken Stabler, and Tony Romo.  With respect to Favre, the authors note that Michael Vick – since the time he entered the league and before he entered prison (the book was written before Vick’s problems) – has won a higher percentage of his starts, thrown fewer interceptions per attempt, and has just as many playoff wins as the great Favre.  In Favre’s defense, from 2001 to 2006, Vick posted a QB Score per play of 1.84.  Favre’s mark across those years is 2.05. 

Okay, before anyone gets upset (you may have noticed, sports fans can get angry very easily) with these authors, in their defense they did not use a metric like QB Score to evaluate quarterbacks.  In fact, there was not summary statistics that was systematically relied upon.

The Overrated and Underrated Since 1994

Of course in this forum we do have QB Score.  Consequently, in the spirit of the Paolantonio-Frank book, I thought I would look at the most overrated and underrated quarterbacks since 1994. 

To construct such a list you need two ratings.  In other words, overrated and underrated are relative terms.  This requires that you are comparing one measure to something else.   For our purposes, the two metrics will be QB Score per play and the NFL’s QB Rating. 

Every quarterback who attempted at least 224 passes in a regular season since 1994 were evaluated and ranked in terms of QB Score and the QB Rating.  The rankings were then compared to see who was the most underrated – higher QB Score ranking than QB Rating rank – and overrated – higher QB Rating rank than QB Score rank.  The results are reported in Table One.

Table One: The Most Underrated and Overrated

From Table One we see that the most underrated performance since 1994 was turned in by David Carr in 2003.  That season Carr posted a QB Score per play of 1.997, which is above average (average is 1.85).  This performance ranked 160th out of the 416 quarterbacks in the sample.  Turning to QB Rating, we see a mark of 69.5.  This below average mark ranked 352nd.  The difference between the two rankings of 192 led the field. 

Looking over the list of underrated we notice that six of the ten signal callers were below average by each metric.  In other words, many of the underrated were not actually “good.”  But the QB Rating ranked the players quite a bit more below average than QB Score per play.

Again, David Carr – who is from Bakersfield and attended the high school about two blocks from my house – leads the list of underrated.  Oddly enough, he also appears twice on the list of overrated.  In 2005 and 2006 Carr offered two of the six most overrated performances since 1994. 

Carr’s appearance on both lists highlights the basic problem we have evaluating quarterbacks.  Quarterback performance is consistently inconsistent. Consequently the same player can be both overrated and underrated.

And this feature of football says to me that Paolantonio-Frank probably took the right approach in this book.  When I look at the stats in football I am often left with the “I don’t know” answer.  And such an answer is just not going to make interesting reading for most people.  It’s far better to take a stand, even if your methodology doesn’t quite satisfy a college professor. 

So if I can summarize, if you really love stats and such, this book may not be for you.  But if you like solid sports writing, some interesting stories on legendary players, and a book that provokes some debate – this book might be worth checking out (at least from the library).

– DJ

For more on QB Score, RB Score and what these metrics mean see

The New QB Score

Consistent Inconsistency in Football

Football Outsiders and QB Score

The Value of Player Statistics in the NFL

Posted in: Football Stories