NFL Analysis: Putting 'Quarterback Rating' in Perspective

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One of the biggest storylines of this early 2011 season is the obvious offensive explosion that has occurred, especially when it comes to quarterback play. Three QBs have already thrown for over 1000 yards, and nine quarterbacks are averaging over 300 yards per game through the air, and it doesn’t stop there. Of the 32 quarterbacks considered to be “qualified,” 23 of them have a standard QB Rating over 80. Eight signal callers currently sit above the 100 mark, and almost half of the leagues field generals come in over 90.

When QBs are universally playing out of their minds, how do we tell who’s really standing out and taking hold of the league? When league averages shift and context changes, we have to account for it in the way we evaluate players. If it’s easier to find a QB who can post a 90 rating then ever before, than those passers with ratings in the eighties aren’t so special any more. If you’re not convinced that we need to start comparing players to each other instead of just to the QB Rating metric, here is a chart that should change your mind.

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As you can see, the averages aren’t just up from decades ago, but they are up from as recent as 2000. So now that you can see that we need to make a change, how do we go about it?

In comes QB Rating+. If you follow baseball statistics, you will be very familiar with the idea of a “plus” metric. A plus-metric compares players to the league average instead of their raw performances. 100 is the league average, while every point above or below is the percentage difference between that player and the average. For example, a QBR+ of 105 would mean the quarterbacks’ rating is 5% better than average. A QBR+ of 95 would mean that the players rating is 5% worse than average.

I could show you all the data in the world comparing players’ seasons using the QBR+ metric, but that’d just give you a headache and make me the least popular person on the site. I won’t do that to you, because I’m vain and desperately need your approval. Instead, here is a quick list of the top-5 quarterback seasons -- taken from the years 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2007-2011 -- according to QBR+.

1. Milt Plum, 1960 -- QBR: 110.4, QBR+: 168.
2. Tom Brady, 2007 -- 117.2, 140.
3. John Brodie, 1970 -- 93.8, 139.
4. Aaron Rodgers, 2011 -- 120.9, 138.
5. Sonny Jurgensen, 1970 -- 91.5, 135.

One can clearly see that Rodgers’ raw QBR is the highest on this list, but because of the offensive climate in the current game, his QBR+ only ranks fourth. This occurs all throughout the list, especially when it comes to players from the offensive era of the 60's and 70's.

Old fashioned QB Rating may be a silly and nonsensical stat, but if you’re going to use it to look at QBs, at least adjust for context. Who knows? QB Rating+ might just change your life.