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The Value of Things: How Important are Quarterbacks?

Does a top rated quarterback guarantee anything?

SPORTS-SULLIVAN-COLUMN-SPORTSPLUS-TB Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

When we get to the dog days of summer, fans start playing the waiting game. Free agency is more or less done. The draft is done. Rookies have mostly signed and have already appeared in minicamps and rookie camps. Training camp hasn’t arrived yet. So, fans have to pass the time with things that will entertain them. In this case, we will look at the relative importance of having star players at various positions.

We’ve gone over the likelihood of Davis Mills developing into a top flight quarterback. Perhaps that’s not the right question. The question today has nothing to do with Mills specifically. The question for today is whether you need a top ten quarterback to have a chance to win.

We’ve done two statistical breakdowns since 2000. So, essentially we are looking at this from two different angles. The first angle is looking at the top quarterback in QBR each season and a look at how far they advanced in the playoffs. Of course, the names also are important. In short, in order for a statistic to be compelling, it would have to pass both a test of statistical accuracy but also relevance. That just means that the player that is the leader jives with our memory of who was actually good.

Top Rated Quarterbacks

So, in this first test, we are simply looking at the top rated quarterback each season from 2000 through 2021. That runs twenty-two seasons in total. 21 of the 22 quarterbacks were on teams that made the playoffs. Two of those quarterbacks lost in the wild card round. Eleven of those quarterbacks lost in the divisional round. Three lost in the conference championship round. That means five of the quarterbacks made it to the Super Bowl.

In one sense, that data is compelling. In another sense it is not that compelling. If you are the top rated quarterback in the league then your offense is bound to be good. If your offense is good then you should win more games If you win more games then you go to the playoffs. So, having all but one in the playoffs is not compelling,

Aaron Rodgers leads all quarterbacks since 2000 by leading the league four times in QBR. He is followed by Peyton Manning (three times), Drew Brees (two times), Tom Brady (two times), Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, and Matt Ryan have also led the league in QBR. If we count Kurt Warner as a Hall of Famer then we can easily say that 15 of the 22 seasons saw a Hall of Famer lead the league in QBR. That’s not a perfect correlation, but I would say it makes QBR pretty relevant. The other seven had some guys that were really good, but maybe not quite Hall of Fame worthy. They include Steve McNair and Tony Romo. So, all in all we are looking at a pretty strong correlation.

The Final Four

Whenever you are looking at an important question, it is paramount that you look at as many different angles as possible. So, we are reverse engineering the question. We could comfortably call a team in the final four an elite team. Even if they weren’t a part of the top four teams in the regular season, they were part of the final four teams when the season ended.

We also would note that it is a place the Texans have never been and a place Houston has not seen since the conclusion of the 1979 season. So, in this case we are expanding the field to include the top ten quarterbacks in quarterback rating. However, this time we aren’t taking those guys to see how far they went. Instead, we are looking at what percentage of teams had a top ten quarterback dating back to 2000.

So, between 2000 and 2021 we had 88 quarterbacks in the final four. Obviously, some guys made it more than once, so we aren’t literally looking at 88 different guys. We are looking at 88 individual instances. For instance, Tom Brady appears on the list fourteen times. Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger appeared a number of times as well. Of course, that only serves to reinforce the idea.

88 Quarterbacks = 61 quarterbacks in the top ten in QBR

88 Quarterbacks = 35 quarterbacks in the top five in QBR

88 Quarterbacks = 8 quarterbacks were number one in QBR

So, we see a pretty strong correlation between being a top ten quarterback and being in the conference championship game. We count 27 quarterbacks that were not. Of the 27, only ten appeared on the list once. So, even the other 17 appeared on our list at least twice and many of them had been top ten quarterbacks in other seasons. So let’s take a look at the Super Bowl.

44 Quarterbacks = 33 quarterbacks in the top ten in QBR

44 Quarterbacks = 20 quarterbacks in the top five in QBR

44 Quarterbacks = 5 quarterbacks were number one in QBR

Obviously, correlations are a little stronger when we get to the actual Super Bowl. 75 percent of the quarterbacks in the game were top ten quarterbacks in the season they played. There are a few guys that fall into the “who in the hell is that guy” category. They include Jake Delhomme, Rex Grossman, Kerry Collins, and maybe Joe Flacco, and Colin Kaepernick. Considering that the last two appear on the list more than once we can remove them. Collins played in the 2000 Super Bowl, That’s the one Trent Dilfer played in too. Jake Delhomme played in 2003. Rex Grossman was in 2006.

If we move up the timeline to 2010 then we see that Kaepernick and Flacco were the only players not to rate in the top ten and are not wearing a gold jacket. It’s hard reaching too many conclusions based on the outcome of one football game, but if we look at that one game 22 times we might see some patterns.

22 quarterbacks = 15 quarterbacks in the top 10

22 quarterbacks = 8 quarterbacks in the top five

22 quarterbacks= 2 quarterbacks were number one in QBR.

Localize It

Davis Mills ranked 21st in QBR last season with an 88.8 QBR. Here is where things get dicey. Is he capable of catapulting himself into the top ten? I suppose anything is possible. We can say anything we want to make this situation look good or bad. We can say that Mills was a top ten quarterback the last five or six games. We can say he had the worst supporting cast in the league. We can say he had a horrible play caller. We can say all of those things in connection with Mills and defend every last bit of it.

You also have to be really honest with yourself. Does Davis Mills have the makeup of a top ten quarterback? We can rattle off the names of guys that we have in our own personal top ten and get to the point when Mills’ name comes up. He pops in at different points depending on who is doing the rating. He doesn’t get into the top ten in any of them.

The good news is that some of these guys were top ten quarterbacks in individual seasons. Alex Smith makes an appearance. Case Keenum makes an appearance. Garappolo makes a couple of appearances. None of those guys would get anywhere near a top ten grade during the summer. So, the question is whether Mills could be one of those guys. Could he put things together during any particular season and look like a top ten quarterback or is he simply marking time until we find that guy that can?