Publish Date: 02/20/2017
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis
As the 2016 season comes to a close and we look forward to the Super Bowl, there’s no better way to pull the curtain than to rank the top ten quarterbacks of the year. 2016 was an interesting year in so many ways; multiple rookie starters, old guys looking better than ever and a few veterans whose team’s put up quality records in spite of average quarterback play.
As with any quality ranking system, areas that are considered should be all-inclusive and be used in an unbiased format to relay a specific outcome. In our case here, I use the MVQB scoring system which – I admit – evolves as we have more data released that allows us to form a statistical opinion on performances. However, the basis is the same as it’s been for the past year using all pertinent statistics, weighted for the logical value of importance, to come up with a reasonable list of signal callers.
Notable changes are; net yards gained per pass attempt has replaced yards per attempt, and air yards per attempt has been added to the equation as well. As the math works itself out, here is our top ten quarterback statistical values for the 2016 season.
12. Russell Wilson | MVQB: 127.12
11. Philip Rivers | MVQB: 131.03
It’s always prudent to take at least a small look into those who were knocking on the door to the top ten. Both Russell Wilson and Philip Rivers are phenomenal quarterbacks in this league, but every season is different. Another obvious fact is that these two couldn’t be more different quarterbacks when looking at how they are effective in their respective offenses.
Rivers is very much a passer who throws almost solely from the pocket with pocket awareness, and manipulation is about the extent of his mobility. Wilson, on the other hand, while becoming more of a pocket passer in his own rite – his ability to escape the pocket and use his legs for first downs quite a bit. Additionally, neither have quality protection up front, and Wilson was forced to throw 63 more times than he has in his career to this point in 2016, and as a result, some of his stats took a hit.
He put up the most passing yards in his career, but simultaneously he only put up 21 touchdowns and added a career-high of 11 interceptions. Again, it’s not bad, but when you’re looking at a percentage differential between scores and picks, that doesn’t bode well for his score.
Rivers was a bit of a tale of two different quarterbacks this year. He played well early on but began to give the ball away at an alarming rate as the season progressed finishing with 21 interceptions. In fact Rivers was below average in several aspects of the formula, however, he was a top five quarterback on third and fourth down efficiency and was able to put up more passing yards with comparable attempts and hovered around the mean of the group, while Wilson fell well below the average in his touchdown/interception percentage differential as well as his red zone clutch formula.
Carr’s importance to his team cannot be understated as he led the Oakland Raiders to their first winning (12-4) season since 2002. He was only able to play in 15 of those games after suffering a season-ending leg injury against the Colts in Week 16. He put forward his best completion rate in his short three-year career, was on pace to eclipse 4,000 passing yards and also had his largest touchdown/interception percentage differential (+3.9%) in the process.
There’s no mistaking that he had a fantastic season in 2016, however, when compared to the rest of the league’s signal callers, that touchdown/interception differential was the only factor in which he broke into the top five. Carr was also below the group’s average, as well as the red zone clutch formula while hovering just above the median in the remainder of the factors. Climbing into the top ten is a step towards greatness which we all witnessed this past season.
Mariota is another young quarterback who is well on his way to stardom in the NFL. 2016 was a great stepping stone for him in his trek to being one of the top signal callers in the league shortly. Mariota had the top red zone formula and was in the top five in air yards per attempt. However, he was below the formula’s average in three other categories and wasn’t extraordinary in any other areas.
Mariota’s game naturally involves the running game as he is certainly a dual-threat quarterback who is significant to his importance to the Titans, and his ability to throw on the run is developing nicely which does a lot for the evolution of his game. With the MVQB being a passing formula, though, his rushing acumen doesn’t play a part in his score. Willing his team to more success, and the improvement of his third, and fourth down success will do worlds for his spot on this list in the future.
Cousins has come full circle as an NFL passer. He led this group in air yards per attempt, was third in passing yards and was inside the top five for a net adjusted passing yards per attempt as well. On the other hand, he was below average in TD/INT percentage differential as well as his red-zone efficiency. He was above the median in completion percentage – landing just outside of the top five and was well above average on third/fourth down efficiency.
Overall, Cousins failed to lead his team to victory when they needed him the most and was just too mistake prone – or a non-factor – in clutch situations for how the formula shakes out. Cousins is undoubtedly on his way towards becoming one of the highest upside passers in the league in my opinion despite all of the eye rolls that seem to follow a similar statement about his projections.
He nearly threw for 5,000 yards this year, and he’s yet to fall below a 67% completion rate in his first two full years as a starter. Once his supporting cast rounds out, Cousins will be considered one of the best in the league though I doubt he’ll ever truly be in the running for the MVP.
As much as Roethlisberger has been knocked for his 2016 season in recent weeks, he still finished above 64% completion rate (sixth-best in his 13-year career), he put up 29 touchdowns (career second-best) and threw his second-fewest interceptions – when playing at least 14 games – since 2008. While Ben didn’t find himself in an extraordinary territory in any areas of the formula, he did manage to break into the top ten with solid scores across the board.
His completion rate, air yards per attempt, touchdown/interception percentage differential, net adjusted yards per attempt, bulk passing yardage as well as his third/fourth down efficiency were all streamlined above average, but not quite in the top tier amongst his cohorts. Roethlisberger indeed hit the skids inside the red zone – falling under the median – though he was plenty good enough to make a strong push well inside the top ten in the league.
Roethlisberger wasn’t enough elite in 2016, yet there are at least 20 other teams who’d do more than you’d be comfortable with knowing to get him under center wearing their uniform – you can be certain of that.
Wow – a rookie scratching at the top five in the league in statistical value? Pretty impressive to say the least. Prescott did more than carrying his own weight this season in spite of having a healthy supporting cast. He did have a great running game, but he was really good in known passing situations. He was able to set up in the pocket behind a top-tier offensive line, yet he was phenomenal outside of the pocket just the same.
Not to mention, he didn’t do it by dinking and dunking his way downfield either. Aside from leading the Cowboys to one of the best records in the league – which, whether you like it or not, counts for something – he cracked the top five amongst the list in completion percentage, air yards, TD/INT percentage differential, NAY/A and red zone efficiency. He was excellent on third/fourth down efficiency as well and only fell under the average in passing yardage.
Who’s to say whether this kid can repeat such a dream first season in the league, but for this season, he was very close to becoming an instant legend nearing the MVP conversation which is nearly unheard of for a rookie.
Another quarterback who quietly had a great season was Luck. As far as how he compared to his past seasons, Luck put his most accurate season together, his second most touchdowns, second best TD/INT percentage differential, and quarterback rating, along with his second-most passing yards per game and his top total QBR.
As a result, Luck was in the top five in air yards/attempt, passing yards as well as his red-zone efficiency. Additionally, Luck was tied for seventh in TD/INT PD, and net adjusted yards per attempt and was eighth in third/fourth down efficiency. The only area where Luck fell below the median amongst the group was in that completion rate where he’d had his best numbers to date.
At one point the Colts had been within a few scores of being 6-1 with an average point differential of 6 points per game as five of their games were decided by 4 points or less. Instead, the Colts were 3-4 through seven games, and that was the difference in Luck being just another good quarterback nationally, to being discussed as a possible MVP candidate.
As we inch closer to the top statistically valued quarterback, we come to a guy who we know is likely to be in the top five every single season. Strangely, the thought process through the first three-quarters of the season was that Rodgers hadn’t been playing particularly well. Well if 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions through 12 games are just ho-hum quarterback play – gimme that any day.
As if that’s not near blasphemous, the Packers were 5-6 and would then rely on Rodgers to be even better as he tossed 13 more touchdowns without an interception just to will his team into the playoffs. Rodgers clearly carried this team on his back all year, but as we saw, that only goes so far in the postseason.
Rodgers was top five in four categories including both clutch formulas (third/fourth down and red zone) and was just outside of the top five in two others. In the end, narrative sucks and doesn’t hold up when considering all he did this season. He put up his fourth-best touchdown percentage and the second-lowest interception percentage of his career, all while hitting a career high in attempts.
Never second-guess Aaron Rodgers – he’s real, really good.
Speaking of ho-hum, Drew Brees led the league in passing yards and completions – again. And he completed 70 percent of his passes – again. My apologies for the Forest Gumption, but Brees is the most consistent quarterback I’ve ever seen over such a significant part of his career.
I mean, the guy has completed at least 68% of his passes seven of his last eight seasons, hasn’t thrown fewer than 32 touchdowns since 2007 and has thrown for 5,000-plus yards in four of his last six seasons while being less than 135 yards from doing it the other two seasons as well. But, this is about 2016 – my bad.
Brees was tops in passing yards, second in completion rate, top five on third/fourth down, sixth in the red zone and tied for seventh in TD/INT percentage differential – not a bad year. Unfortunately, the Saints suck at putting a roster together much like the Colts of the past few seasons which has limited Brees’ ability to get back to a Super Bowl.
They’ve either been at or below, .500 or have won at least 11 games since ’07 while getting almost the same performance out of Brees in the process. Real feast or famine organization, and just wearing out a future hall of fame. As good as he was this season, he would have had to have been considerably better to challenge the top two on this list.
What can you say about Matt Ryan this season? Well, quite a bit. First, he was phenomenally efficient. He notched his fewest attempts since his second season in the league but had career numbers in completion rate, passing yards, touchdowns, interceptions and a host of others as well.
But, he was mopping up on the QB competition around the league as well. Ryan was tops in the group in net adjusted yards per attempt, top five in completion rate, air yards, TD/INT differential as well as passing yards. He missed the top five of third/fourth down clutch by a hundredth of a point and was seventh in the red zone.
Ryan never had a multiple-interception games in 2016 and had only thrown three since Week 8 adding a 71.5% completion rate (261/365) including the playoffs with the Super Bowl yet to be played. Ryan has added all of his weapons consistently throughout the year which has made him such a phenomenal breakout passer this year.
Depending on how you see Ryan’s rise, my comparison is his Peyton Manning-rescue ability to get the ball out quickly and accurately giving his receivers space to make plays after the catch. His much-improved ability to manipulate the pocket for an extra second, side-stepping defenders when the rush does breach the pocket, delivering the ball downfield is far and away the most noticeable improvement from previous seasons to now.
Ryan had it not been for – you know – maybe the best to ever play the position, would have run away with the best statistical value this year.
Yep, even though he only played in 12 games this year, Brady was still the best in the game no matter how you slice it. He’s old too, and not just quarterback old either. When you break 30, athletically, everything starts to slow down, and get sore – and it lasts longer too. Brady is bucking the system at 39, not simply by playing great, but by being the best at it and looking like he’s 29 while he’s doing it.
Brady threw 28 touchdowns (2.3 per game) and only two picks – TWO – and still managed to rack up over 430 attempts in a season where he was coming in off a joke of a suspension and couldn’t be around his team for the first four weeks of the year. Unbelievable. Regardless of how you think about the Patriots, you simply must respect this man perfecting his craft, and just sit back and enjoy greatness in front of you. You won’t be seeing it much in the future with how the college game is molding their signal callers these days.
Brady led all quarterbacks in this group in TD/INT % differential, third/fourth down clutch efficiency, and willed the Pat’s to an 11-1 record when he came back. He was also top five in completion rate, net adjusted yards per attempt, the passing yardage formula and the red zone clutch efficiency as well as coming in tenth in air yards.
Something else that’s a head-turner, Brady had more raw passing yards than Cam Newton, Alex Smith, Mariota, Trevor Siemian, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler in only 12 games of action. More touchdown passes than Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Mariota, Cousins, Stafford, Bortles, Prescott, Wilson and several more. Only fantastic – 12 games. He is the best, and he was, again, the best this season with very little realistic competition – don’t hate it, embrace it.