Who is the World’s No. 1 Quarterback?
Another article will be written about our rankings later this week.
By Mark Simon and Alex Vigderman
In 2011, baseball sabermetrician Bill James devised a system to rank starting pitchers with the intention of being able to crown one at any point as the World’s No. 1 Starting Pitcher.
The system was based on game-to-game pitcher performance over their careers, using a stat he devised, Game Score (which scores starts based on innings, runs, hits, strikeouts, and walks). Recent performance was more valuable than past performance and pitching regularly was necessary to avoid dropping in the rankings.
The current rankings have been dutifully updated at Bill James Online for several years.
We thought we’d take the concept and apply it to the NFL. Let’s try to answer the question: Who is the World’s No. 1 Quarterback?
My colleague Alex Vigderman has worked on a football player valuation stat, Total Points, for several years, and we put it to use here in a similar manner to how Game Score is used for World’s No. 1 Starting Pitcher.
The key to our calculation is how a quarterback performs in Points Above Average Per Snap in each game over a three year period. Points Above Average is the statistical underpinning of Total Points, just centered at zero so that positive numbers are above average and negative numbers are below average. Success over time is key to maintaining a good ranking. Prolonged inactivity results in a ranking drop.
Here are the top 10 quarterbacks in our rankings
1. Patrick Mahomes
2. Russell Wilson
3. Aaron Rodgers
4. Derek Carr
5. Drew Brees
6. Tom Brady
7. Deshaun Watson
8. Matt Ryan
9. Josh Allen
10. Philip Rivers
Battle for the Top Spot
Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers have each taken turns in the No. 1 spot this season.
Mahomes overtook Wilson after Wilson’s uneven (3 TD, 3 INT) game against the Cardinals in Week 7. Mahomes was good not great in a win over the Broncos (15-23, 200 pass yards, 1 TD). Rodgers, who was a more distant No. 3 after a 46% completion percentage, 2 INT day against the Buccaneers, bounced back with a four-touchdown game against the Texans in Week 7.
Third-Down Success Drove Carr
Derek Carr at No.4 probably raises some eyebrows, which is understandable. We should point out that he’s not close to the top three. The gap between Carr and Rodgers is bigger than the gap between him and the No. 7 QB, Deshaun Watson.
Carr’s position is largely the product of his 2019 season, in which he ranked tied for third with Dak Prescott among NFL quarterbacks in Total Points behind Rodgers and Mahomes.
It perhaps went under-the-radar that Carr was the best third-down quarterback in the league last season, recording a 78% catchable percentage (second in the NFL), 14 touchdowns (first) and one interception. That put him in the class of “he’s better than you might think” by Total Points. This season, Carr ranks 10th among quarterbacks in Total Points per snap. He’s been just good enough to have some staying power. Carr entered the season at No. 4 and hasn’t budged from that spot.
A surprise omission
Lamar Jackson ranks 18th which is an odd place to be for the reigning NFL MVP. Remember though that this is an accumulated ranking over two full seasons plus nearly half of 2020. Jackson’s fumbling struggles in 2018 produced nine straight games of negative Points Above Average. He ranked 80th (yes, 80th) entering 2019 and even an MVP season only took him so far.
Jackson ranked as high as No. 5 after big games in the first two weeks of the season against the Browns and Texans. The slip began against the Chiefs, when he threw for only 97 yards, was sacked four times and fumbled in a 34-20 loss. But it took greater hold the next two weeks. Jackson comes off the bye week with four straight sub-200-yard games. His 108 rushing yards against the Eagles bumped him up a couple of spots in the rankings, but the play of others during his bye week (no fault of his) dipped him to No. 18 overall.
The rise of Josh Allen
Jackson is an example of a quarterback who has experienced some negative volatility. One on a positive ascent is Josh Allen. Allen started the season ranked 41st (yes, he was behind a good number of backups) but quickly moved the needle upward in Week 1 and 2 against the Jets (to 23rd) and Dolphins (to 16th). Allen’s roll has continued save for a stumble last week against the Jets that didn’t inflict considerable damage to his resume.
Oldies but Goodies
The “still-hanging-in-there” club, aka Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Philip Rivers.
Brees ranked No. 1 as recently as Week 14 in 2019. He dipped as low as No. 8 after Week 2 but has since jumped three spots and held in the top five.
Ryan looked like he was going to drop out of discussion after the first five weeks of this season dropped him to No. 12. But strong games against the Vikings and in a (bizarre) loss to the Lions vaulted him back into the top 10.
Rivers ranked No. 1 for a stint in 2018, the last instance being through Week 15. He’s hovered between No. 8 and 11 through the latter part of 2019 into 2020.
Brady has ranked from No. 3 to No. 12 the last three seasons. His 5 TD game against the Chargers in Week 4 bumped him from No. 11 to No. 6, where he’s settled in since. He’s still a top-tier QB.
A Long Road Back
Yes, the Steelers are 6-0 but Ben Roethlisberger still has a ways to go to get back to where he used to be. He ended the 2018 season ranked No. 9 but was at No. 14 when he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2 last season.
That inactivity dropped him to No. 37 and though the Steelers have played great, Roethlisberger has three games with a positive Points Above Average and three games with a negative mark. As such, he checks in now at No. 27, two spots behind Joe Burrow and one spot behind Baker Mayfield.
Our list considers any quarterback who has taken a snap in the last three seasons, so there are some retired quarterbacks on the list. But there are some quarterbacks getting significant playing time who (if we’re going to be nice) have a lot of room for improvement.
That includes Daniel Jones (No. 79), Carson Wentz (No. 84) and Sam Darnold (in last at No. 95).
Jones and Darnold still look green in many respects. Wentz ranked No. 8 as recently as through 2019 Week 4. Wentz entered 2020 ranked No. 19 but even with that, his plummet would have been hard to predict. But three awful games to start the season dropped him to 90th (Total Points can be harsh on a struggling QB).
We’ll take another look at the numbers and other quarterbacks next week. Hope you’ll keep up with our rankings.
|Rank||Player||Points Above Avg Per 60 Snaps|
|69||Robert Griffin III||-3.0|