Top 20 NFL Quarterbacks: Using Advanced Stats to Sort Through Best QBs
I wanted to take a short break (like, an hour) from draft analysis to publish my NFL quarterback rankings. These rankings will be for the 2011 season only, and they incorporate advanced statistics from places like Advanced NFL Stats and Pro Football Focus. When infused with what I see on film, you get pretty much the most ironclad quarterback rankings available.
Remember, these are just for 2011 regular season play. Also note that my list of the NFL’s top 20 quarterbacks is based on quarterback efficiency, not stat totals. You can compare them to my quarterback power rankings from prior to the 2010 season to see how things have changed.
1. Aaron Rodgers
If this was a productivity ranking, Rodgers would not be No. 1. Since I am sticking to efficiency, though, I don’t see how anyone other than the Packers’ quarterback can be listed as the best in the NFL in 2011. He managed to throw 45 scores while getting picked off only six times. Six INTs all season! Rodgers also averaged an insane 9.3 yards-per-attempt, had the highest NFL passer rating (122.7), the most Expected Points Added (250.6), and a 68.3% completion rate. He averaged a robust 0.1 EPA/play more than Brady.
2. Tom Brady
Drew Brees is the consensus No. 1 quarterback, but Brady had a greater yards-per-attempt (8.6 vs 8.4), two fewer interceptions, and a higher Win Probability Added (6.63 vs 5.44). Super Bowl struggles aside, Brady was at least on par with Brees in 2011.
3. Drew Brees
Brees at No. 3 might seem ridiculous, and it is difficult to put the star quarterback this low. When you break the NFL’s record for passing yards in a season and get rated as the third-best quarterback that season, you know it was a milestone year for passers. Brees posted a ridiculous 71.2% completion percentage, threw 46 touchdowns, and was second in the league in Expected Points Added with 246.2. So why is he so low? Inferior yards-per-attempt and Win Probability Added to both Brady and Rodgers, all while throwing 46 and 156 more passes than the duo, respectively.
4. Eli Manning
There is a significant drop after the top three quarterbacks in the NFL, so this spot is kind of up for grabs. Don’t forget that Eli didn’t just have a miraculous postseason, but also posted the fifth-highest EPA total in the NFL (just a hair ahead of Tony Romo).
5. Tony Romo
Romo killed Manning in passer rating (102.9 to 92.9), but we know that rating tool is flawed. Manning’s adjusted yards-per-attempt was a bit higher than Romo’s (6.5 to 6.3). Romo suffered from poor offensive line play much of the season. . .but so did Eli. Consider the duo 4A and 4B.
6. Matthew Stafford
Even taking Stafford’s unreal 663 pass attempts into consideration, the quarterback had a heck of a season for the Lions. Fourth in the NFL in EPA, sixth in WPA, third in yards. . .only his yards-per-attempt (7.6) and picks (16) are holding him back.
7. Matt Schaub
No one else will have Schaub this high, but the quarterback was extremely efficient before getting injured. Actually, he was behind only the “Big Three” in WPA/play at 0.21 (compared to 0.19 for Romo). His AYPA of 6.9 was also fourth in the league, well ahead of both Manning and Romo, and he checked in at fifth in the NFL in success rate. He’d actually be even higher if the Texans didn’t have such an effective running game to help him out.
8. Matt Ryan
Ryan was PFF’s fourth-rated quarterback. His passer rating was just a few tenths of a point lower than Manning’s, he posted the seventh-best WPA/game, and he checked in at seventh in AYPA as well (5.9).
9. Philip Rivers
A lot has been made of Rivers’ poor season, but he still had the seventh-highest EPA in the league and the fourth-best success rate in the NFL (meaning he aided his team on individual plays more often than all but the top three signal-callers on this list). You can’t overlook the picks, though.
10. Michael Vick
Vick could be higher on this list simply because he got almost no help for the first half of the season. His 50.5% success rate was sixth in the NFL, though, and he posted an AYPA just one-tenth of a point lower than Stafford.
11. Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger was 10th in the NFL in EPA, 11th in EPA/play, eighth in WPA, 12th in AYPA, and 11th in success rate. Pretty consistent season across the board for the Steelers quarterback, but not an outstanding one.
12. Cam Newton
Newton took the league by storm with his incredible air/ground combination attack. He needs to cut down on the picks (17), but you can expect Newton to improve in 2012. He posted the eight-highest EPA in the league at 112.6.
13. Joe Flacco
I’ve never been a huge Flacco fan, and the numbers seem to back me up. Flacco was just 14th in the league in EPA/play in 2011, and he checked in all the way down at No. 21 in success rate. Only 44.6% of Flacco’s passes put his team in a better position to score as compared to before the play, putting him behind “stud” quarterbacks TJ Yates, Josh Freeman and Kyle Orton, and right on par with Mark Sanchez, Andy Dalton and Rex Grossman.
I actually thought Flacco’s success rate would be low because the Ravens throw downfield a lot, but that’s not even true. Flacco’s deep ball rate (22.1%) was just 15th-highest in the NFL. He was 18th in AYPA (5.0) and 31st (yikes!) in completion percentage. He’s an overrated quarterback playing on an otherwise top-notch squad.
14. Matt Moore
Cowboys fans are familiar with Moore, and it is a bit surprising the ‘Phins are looking to replace the young quarterback after a decent season. Moore was PFF’s ninth-rated quarterback–ahead of Romo, Schaub, Vick, Newton and Stafford (wow)–and posted an impressive 15:6 TD-to-INT ratio. He tallied 7.2 YPA (higher than Flacco’s 6.7) and a 60.6% completion percentage.
15. Jay Cutler
I’ve always though Cutler lacked leadership, toughness, and a will to win, but he also plays behind perhaps the worst offensive line in the NFL. Most people would rank Alex Smith far ahead of Cutler, but Cutler posted a superior WPA (actually, it was nearly six times that of Smith), a higher success rate, and a better AYPA.
16. Carson Palmer
Palmer was about what you’d expect in 2011. . .average. He posted mediocre numbers across the board last season, except in one rather important category. Palmer’s 8.4 YPA was fourth in the NFL. . .tied with some guy named Drew Brees.
17. Alex Smith
I’d put Smith lower if I could, but the list of viable quarterback options has ended. The 49ers overachieved in a remarkable way in 2011, and much of that had to do with Smith’s conservative play. Even with the league’s best defense and an effective running game, Smith was just 17th in the NFL in EPA/play, 22nd in WPA, and 26th in success rate.
18. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick got off to a scorching start, cooling down considerably in the second half of the season. The newly-rich quarterback could hold Buffalo hostage for years to come, as he may have showed his true colors down the stretch. Fitzpatrick was 21st in EPA/play and 27th in AYPA, and he was also ranked as just the 26th-best quarterback in the NFL by PFF. He needs some weapons outside, but I’m not a believer.
19. Matt Cassel
Cassel played poor enough in 2011 that he might be sitting on the bench in 2012. 25th in EPA/play and 31st in success rate–below John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Colt McCoy and Tavaris Jackson.
20. TJ Yates
Yes, Yates came into a really good situation in Houston, but he still played really well. His EPA/play was higher than that of Vick, Flacco and Smith.
Notably Absent: Tim Tebow, Andy Dalton, Matt Hasselbeck