Joe-Pinions: Sports

21 Jan 2011 – My Personal Top 10 NFL Quarterbacks (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 21/01/2011

On Monday I was driving home from my parents’ house after the MLK long weekend.  Since the trip usually takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours on a good day, that usually means I’ve got quite a bit of time to form all sorts of thoughts.  Oh, sure, a good chunk of my brain power is devoted to the task of driving, but there is also a good part of my mind running on its own track.

Yesterday, that part of my mind got to thinking about quarterbacks in the NFL.  Truth be told, I think I was partially influenced to think unconsciously about the subject by a few things:  I’m reading David Harris’ hugely engrossing The Genius:  How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created a Football Dynasty, and I’m loving it; I spent a good part of last couple of weekends watching quarterbacking in the NFL from all parts of the spectrum, from the sublime (Aaron Rodgers on Saturday vs. the Falcons) to the sad (Matt Hasselbeck against Chicago, though a lot of his ineffectiveness could probably be traced to the weather); I read my friend Tim’s very interesting write-up on Peyton Manning and why he likely won’t ever be seen as the NFL’s best quarterback despite his statistical success.

Yeah, these things made me think about my personal top 10 NFL quarterbacks.

Before I put my opinions on this specific topic into this blog, I have to say a few things.  First, statistics have NEVER been that important to me.  The only stats that truly matter are games wonand championships won.  The rest are just numbers to me (though, I have to admit, there are a couple of statistical facts that are just amazing to me, and I’ll cite these when the time comes).  Secondly, this is by no means a list that attempts to answer the almost inevitable question:  Is this the same as who you think are the best NFL quarterbacks of all time?  That’s an impossible question to answer, especially since you’ll always be adding people to the list of candidates as time goes by.  Besides, it’s a question that incorporates subjective and objective criteria, so it’s virtually impossible to come up with a definitive, indisputable list.  My own list has changed so many times over the years, so I won’t even pretend to try to do that now.  Think of this list as simply my own favorites.  Finally, I’ll do my best to ignore negative biases based on the candidates’ character flaws as I see them; I’ll only be looking at them from the perspective of how I saw them perform on the field.  (This means that, as much as I think Brett Favre is loathsome as a person, he won’t automatically be disqualified from this list.  Will he even BE on this list?  Read on to find out.)

And before I go any further, let me put name five quarterbacks that didn’t quite make the cut into the top 10.  I like these guys a lot, but for whatever reason I didn’t like them enough to award them places in my personal top 10 list:

  • Kurt Warner – I always resented it when some pundits compared him to Joe Montana, but I have to give my respect to this guy.  He’s a very accurate passer and played with great courage:  He was brave to play with a broken thumb on his throwing hand for at least one full season, and he took a heck of a lot of hits playing for Mike Martz.  Plus he is undoubtedly a great leader; his teams always played their tails off for him.  I think the sole reason why I’m reluctant to fully embrace Warner is the fact that he played for the St. Louis Rams (I’m a San Francisco 49ers fan, and as such I despise all things connected to the Rams).  Warner’s biggest strike:  Three Super Bowl appearances, only one victory.
  • Bernie Kosar – He was probably the last great Cleveland Browns quarterback (until the next one comes along, whenever that is going to be).  I remember him for his unconventional throwing motion – he seemed to throw from weird angles and release points all the time, with no two throws ever being the same.  He somehow led the Browns into deep playoff runs a few times, though, and could have played in at least one Super Bowl if not for The Fumble against Elway’s Broncos in  1988.  Kosar’s outstanding quality:  His accuracy and decision-making (i.e., deciding where the ball should go depending on the coverage he’s looking at).  He held the record for most pass attempts without incurring an interception (308) until Tom Brady broke it last year.  Biggest knock against Kosar:  No rings.  Second biggest knock (on-field):  No wheels.  A statue-like quarterback if there ever was one.
  • Troy Aikman – Aikman represented the personification of one version of the “ideal” NFL quarterback:  He had a powerful arm, great size (6’4″, circa 220lbs), and excellent accuracy.  I’m reluctant to include him in my personal top 10, though, because he had the benefit of playing with some truly exceptional teammates.  You’d have to be useless in order to fail with Emmitt Smith and Daryl “Moose” Johnston (incidentally, my favorite Dallas Cowboy of all time) in the backfield, Jay Novacek as your tight end, Michael Irvin and Alvin Harper as your primary wideouts, and possibly the greatest offensive line of all time.  Oh, and he was coached by Jimmy Johnson too.  I guess it’s not fair to “penalize” Aikman for being part of such an awesome team, but hey, them’s the breaks, you know?  (And no, I’m not doing this because Aikman’s Cowboys denied the 49ers from adding to their own Super Bowl collection in the early 1990s.  Seriously.  I just think Aikman had such a great hand; he would have had to have been an imbecile to lose with such a great team.)  In his favor, though, Aikman was amazing for his great ability to throw with accuracy and touch, no matter the distance.  He earns much respect for that outstanding accuracy and throwing ability (even if he is one of those HATED Cowboys).  An Aikman trait I did NOT like:  Feet made out of lead.  He was a dropback passer, and nothing but.
  • Philip Rivers – I like Rivers a lot.  Even though he has a distinctively weird (not ugly, like any one of Kosar’s) throwing motion, he’s got excellent footwork and is very accurate.  Whatever criticisms I may have of Rivers’ throwing motion, he is able to get the ball where it needs to go.  2010 was his best year yet, and I think that if the Chargers had a better head coach (I’m sorry, but Norv Turner just has never won the really big games as a head coach), he might have the same reputation and credentials as Peyton Manning, his predecessor Drew Brees, and Tom Brady already have.  Not as mobile as I like my quarterbacks to be, but he’s got enough pocket presence to be able to avoid the rush and get out of trouble.
  • Jim Kelly – I see Kelly as both a throwback and a prototype.  As the trigger of the famous K-Gun, he was a reminder of the days when quarterbacks like Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr called their own plays; in some ways he was also Peyton Manning before there was Peyton Manning, running that no-huddle shotgun-based offense.  When it was clicking, Buffalo’s K-Gun was awesome to watch.  Against a great defense (Parcells’ 1990 Giants team, the Dallas Cowboys of 1992-1993), though, Kelly’s weaknesses came to the fore:  He sometimes forced throws into coverage, suggesting that he had either less than ideal poise or that he had a tendency to misread coverages when the heat was really on.  He was a winner, but was never THE winner:  He led his team to four Super Bowls, but never won even one.

I should also mention Warren Moon and Roger Staubach.  Moon and Staubach were great passers in their era, but unfortunately I never saw Staubach play live, and saw too little of Moon.

And so, without further delay, in ascending order, my personal Top 10 NFL Quarterbacks (nos. 10 and 9):

10.  Brett Favre

I’ll get it out of the way:  Brett Favre is definitely NOT my favorite quarterback; even more pointedly, I think he’s garbage as a human being.

With that being said, Favre should be on anybody’s short list of top NFL quarterbacks.  For one thing, Favre has taken Dan Marino’s place on top of most of the big stats charts for NFL quarterbacks.  But of all the sterling numbers that he has put up, two records define Favre for me:  His consecutive starts streak (an astonishing 297 games) and career interceptions (336 INTs so far).  I’m fairly sure that both of these records will never be broken (only Peyton Manning, with 208, is close as far as consecutive starts are concerned, if you can call 89 regular season games “close” in NFL terms; as far as the career interceptions are concerned, no team will keep any quarterback who throws so many interceptions, so Favre will likely rule this category of ignominy forever).

Favre deserves genuine praise and admiration for his consecutive starts record.  To me, this is his single greatest achievement.  In a game where you absorb so much physical punishment, this is simply amazing.  What makes things even more amazing is that, physiologically speaking, quarterbacks are not supposed to absorb so much brutality.  Linemen hit and get hit on every single play, so they are more suited for all the collisions and impact; linebackers and running backs too are conditioned to be able to survive the game, and running backs in particular tend to have a very short life.

But quarterbacks get hit almost every single play these days.  I think the only scenario where a quarterback wouldn’t probably get hit is on a pitch out/toss running play; on a normal hand-off, he may get hit by a lineman or linebacker who gets great penetration.  And on passing plays?  The quarterback WILL get hit almost 95% of the time on every pass play called.

Favre, though, played through all that punishment.  He played hurt; he played through almost an entire season with a damaged thumb on his throwing hand.  Courage probably explained why he put up with so much punishment, but I think simple pride in the job he was doing and in the streak of consecutive games played probably gave him additional motivation.

The thing is, though, Favre is probably also one of the most overrated quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.  As I said, he owns most of the key quarterback statistical records; his incredible longevity explains why he does.  You play as long as Favre has, especially on at least a decent team with enough reliable receivers surrounding you, you could probably accumulate those kinds of numbers too.  To me, though, the statistical record that defines Favre (aside from his ironman streak) is his career interceptions record.

Favre had the reputation as a “gunslinger.”  That’s code describing quarterbacks who played with a reckless abandon, throwing passes that most other quarterbacks would never dream of trying.  While Favre’s fans love this about him, I absolutely detest it.  While it’s honestly breathtaking sometimes to see a quarterback throw a laser between three or four people in coverage and complete the pass, taking those kinds of risks are simply anathema to my own personal sensibilities.

I guess I’ve taken certain principles to heart, namely, take what the defense is giving you, and don’t ever throw the ball where the guys in the other uniform are.  Favre built part of his legend by being a gambler on the field; his audacity was both one of his strengths as well as his greatest weakness.

My logic is that a quarterback who has played as many years as Favre has (twenty and counting; I know he’s said he is now, finally, retired, but he has said that the last four seasons, so I call shens until three seasons pass and he has not returned to the NFL) should be accumulating fewer interceptions as his career progresses.  Experience should be curbing all impulses to take unnecessary risks in a game.  It’s like this:  You know from experience that touching a kettle on a lit stove will burn your fingers, but for some reason you keep doing it, thinking that maybe this time it won’t burn and hurt you.  Furthermore, it should be harder for opposing defenses to fool someone with as many games under Favre’s belt, but that’s not what’s happened in Favre’s career.  To wit, Favre’s interceptions per season have been in the double digits for every year of career bar his first year (1991, with the Falcons, when he only saw spot duty) and his magical 2009 season, when he only had seven all year.  He had a team-destroying 29 INTs in one season (2005), and he has had six seasons where his INT totals exceeded 20(!).  His record very firmly says that 2009 was the aberration; all told, he averaged 1.113 INTs/Gm and 16.8 INTs/Season.  No other so-called great quarterback has INT numbers as bad as these.

I’ll gloss over my feelings on Favre as the most annoying prima donna attention-whoring athlete.  Once I get started down that path, forever it may dominate my thoughts.  I’m sure none of you want to hear a never-ending diatribe on that particular subject.

9.  John Elway

A lot of people think Elway was the greatest quarterback the NFL has ever seen.  He certainly was blessed with a lot of the necessary physical tools:  Great size (6’3″, circa 215lbs); a strong throwing arm; excellent mobility, especially given how big he is.

For me, though, I have to admit that I’ve only seen Elway as nothing too much more than just a great athlete who plays the position of quarterback.  He’s a great physical specimen, yes.  But more than that?

I’m a bit reluctant to give him more credit than that, if only because Elway never struck me as the kind of player who elevated the rest of his team to heights they had previously never scaled.  You know how some players get the reputation that they “made their teammates better” by being on the team?  In basketball, legends like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and Steve Nash and (to a lesser extent) Chris Paul today, have that well-deserved reputation.  In the NFL, some of the quarterbacks on this list have also done that (read on to find out who).

I cannot remember anybody saying that about John Elway ever.

Sure, he led the Broncos to five Super Bowl appearances, but the team lost his first three by a combined losing score of 136-40 (including the most lopsided loss in Super Bowl history, 55-10, to the 1989 San Francisco 49ers).  It took the Bronco’s acquisition of first a top-flight head coach, Mike Shanahan, and then a great running game spearheaded by Terrell Davis for Elway to finally win his Super Bowl rings right at the end of his career.  In my opinion, I would argue that Shanahan and Davis, not Elway, were more responsible for those two Super Bowl wins than Elway was; they helped re-cast Elway’s legacy as a supremely gifted quarterback who lacked the gift of being able to push his team over the top and onto the NFL’s summit.

*****

So, that’s part 1 of 3 of this mini-series.

I’ll be posting quarterbacks number 8 through 4 next time around, so I’ll see you then!

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7 Responses

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tim Liew and Joe Dionisio, Joe Dionisio. Joe Dionisio said: 21 Jan 2011 – My Personal Top 10 NFL Quarterbacks (Part 1 of 3): http://wp.me/pYxra-7Y […]

  2. Tim said, on 22/01/2011 at 12:50

    Interesting start to your list, Joe. I agree 100% about Favre. He was an immensely exciting quarterback to watch, but when you take that many risks you make mistakes, and when you make mistakes you are prone to losing in playoff situations. As a QB (not as a person), I loved to watch him, but he was nowhere near the best.

    Elway is in about the right place for me. I don’t think I have ever seen a QB throw the ball as hard as he did in the early years of his career. But as you say, he was not an inspirational figure.A figurehead, yes, But there’s a subtle difference.

    I have a soft spot for Bernie Kosar, a massively underrated QB who played on Browns teams who were always good but never great. And I suspect Warner would have sneaked into my personal top 10. As you say, he was only 1-2 in Super Bowls, but with the Rams he never had a defense,and with the Cardinals he pretty much carried a very mediocre side to a Super Bowl they should never have reached. He had a great combination of toughness and intelligence – anyone who can run a Martz offense and make it look as simple as Warner did has my lasting admiration.

    Looking forward to reading the rest of your list!

    • txtmstrjoe said, on 22/01/2011 at 14:01

      Thanks for the kind words, Tim. 🙂

      I will be borrowing some material from one of your earlier blog posts in an upcoming part of this mini-series, good sir, if I may. I have a feeling you may know which blog post I’m referring to here.

      Hey, perhaps when my list is done, you might post your own ranking of top 10 NFL QBs. 🙂

      • Tim said, on 25/01/2011 at 01:34

        No problem.

        I’ve been mulling over doing a number of Top 10 lists in recent weeks, but more general rather than specific to one sport – Top 10 most exciting to watch, Top 10 under-rated, that sort of thing. I just need a few more hours in the day!!

  3. […] Last time I started counting down my personal top 10 NFL quarterbacks.  To see which quarterbacks were ranked #10 and #9, click here. […]

  4. txtmstrjoe said, on 25/01/2011 at 03:03

    Do it, Tim!

    I’ll read it. 😉

  5. […] read about #s 10 and 9, click here; for #s 8 through 4, click […]


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