Photo Credit: Keith Allison via Flickr Creative Commons
As a component of my recent three-part series on NFL rookie quarterbacks, I developed an empirical tool that estimates a “similarity score” for single-season QB performances from 1970 through 2016. This methodology—explained in greater detail here—incorporates five standard measures of passing effectiveness and also controls for differences in a quarterback’s physical tools and playing style. By also including adjustments for year-to-year changes in NFL passing offenses, the resulting tool allows one to make apples-to-apples comparisons between any two quarterbacks’ single-season performances since the NFL-AFL merger.
While my earlier work focused only on the most recent rookie QB class, these next two articles will apply this empirical approach to examine all quarterbacks on NFL depth charts as of May 2017. It is hoped that by publishing a list of every active QB’s best historical player comparisons—based solely on their 2016 performance—that this series will provide perspective on what to expect from each team’s quarterbacks in 2017 and the potential range of outcomes for each player’s career. For Part II of this series (Part I here), I will focus on the quarterbacks in the NFC.
In order to make historical comparisons, any empirical tool must rely on data that are available and consistent across the entire time period to be studied. Since the goal of my earlier article was to make quarterback comparisons among players in modern NFL history, this approach must rely on the statistics that are available for players from every season between 1970 and 2016. As presented in my earlier study, I have chosen the following five QB rate statistics to measure passing performance:
- Completion percentage (comp / att)
- Yards per completion (yards / comp)
- Touchdown percentage (td / att)
- Interception percentage (int / att)
- Sack percentage [sack / (sack+att)]
Player variations in these statistics should reflect differences in the relative strengths and weaknesses of each player as a passer. However, generating the most effective player comparisons requires more than just passing statistics given that player comps—in any sport—also typically rely on the commonality of playing style and physical characteristics. As a result, this empirical approach also incorporates two other variables:
- Rush yards per game (yards / game)
- Height (inches)
Given fundamental changes in the NFL since 1970, it would be irresponsible to simply compare quarterbacks’ raw statistics across eras. Instead, this empirical approach compares each QB’s seven measures against the NFL average in that season among quarterbacks with 150+ pass attempts. By transforming each QB’s seven values into year-normed z-scores, it is possible to make apples-to-apples comparisons between quarterbacks across eras. In order to generate a singular index of comparability for each QB comparison, I apply a standard Euclidean distance measure (i.e., the square root of the sum of squared differences across all seven z-scores). For an example of how this works, I’d suggest that one review the Cody Kessler/Bernie Kosar comparison here.
So how does one interpret the values of these similarity scores? In reviewing the results for all active quarterbacks, I’d suggest the following guidelines to interpret the numbers:
To summarize, the analysis that follows develops player comparisons based on rate statistics from the 2016 season; career-to-date performance is not (yet) included in the model. Further, I will be limiting the results to only QBs who were of the same age to ensure similar trajectories on the age-performance curve. Finally, I limit the analysis to quarterback seasons with 150 or more pass attempts. This is important given that, within a sufficiently small sample, player performance may be incredibly divergent from their true level of talent. Thus, while I may use this tool to consider active QBs with less than 150 attempts in the player notes below, all historical matches will have met the 150-attempt threshold to be included in the sample.
Again, this article was designed to examine the current quarterback depth chart of every team in the NFC. As a result, quarterbacks are grouped according to their current team and not on the basis of the team for which they played in 2016. For each active QB, his age as of December 31, 2017, is added in parentheses. Finally, each player table features the number of games that a QB has started in the years after the season in question; this is added to provide some perspective on the future performance and longevity of a QB’s best historical comparisons.
Carson Palmer (38)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: None.
- Positives: Earl Morrall (#2) was first-team All-Pro as he went 11-0 as a starter in the regular season and playoffs at age 38 for the undefeated 1972 Dolphins… Craig Morton (#3) went 10-5 as a starter with the 1981 Broncos at age 38, finishing with a career-best 90.5 QB rating… Playing until he was 44, Warren Moon (#7) threw for over 15,000 yards and made the Pro Bowl three times after his age-37 season, leading the 1998 Vikings to the playoffs in his age-38 season… John Elway (#11, distance=2.31) sits just outside the top 10, as his magical age-38 season—his last in the NFL—featured a Pro Bowl nomination and a victory in Super Bowl XXXIII… Brett Favre (#14, distance=2.45) had a 90.2 QB rating, made three Pro Bowls and went 39-22 as a starter after his age-37 season.
- Concerns: Top 10 comparables went 84-85 (.497 win%) as starting QBs after their age-37 season; only four of 10 started a playoff game… After starting at QB in the Colts’ victory in Super Bowl V at age 37, Johnny Unitas (#1) limped through three mostly ineffective seasons in Baltimore and San Diego while compiling a 5-9 record as a starter… While he led the 1999 Dolphins to the playoffs, the play of Dan Marino (#4) fell off a cliff in his final season in the NFL at age 38, posting a career-worst 67.4 QB rating in 11 starts… Jim Plunkett (#5) looked strong in three starts with the 1985 Raiders in his age-38 season before missing the rest of the year with a separated shoulder; he returned in 1986 and went just 3-5 as a starter… While leading the Chiefs to the 1991 playoffs in his age-37 season, Steve Deberg (#6) was finished as a starting QB in the NFL after that, spending three seasons as a backup with Buccaneers, Dolphins and Falcons… Brad Johnson (#9) was finished as an NFL starter after his age-38 season after posting a QB rating of 72.0 and leading the 2006 Vikings to a 6-8 record in his starts; Johnson spent two more years in the NFL as a little-used backup after that… While leading the 1983 Saints to a 7-7 record as a starter in his age-38 season, Ken Stabler (#10) posted a career-worst QB rating of 61.4 with a 9/18 TD/INT ratio.
Blaine Gabbert (28)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: Mike Phipps.
- Positives: Matt Cassel (#2) was named to the Pro Bowl in his age-28 season, leading the 2010 Chiefs to the playoffs in his last season starting 10+ games in the NFL… Richard Todd (#5) posted career-best numbers in his age-28 and age-29 seasons while leading the 1981 and 1982 Jets to the playoffs; his performance dropped sharply at age 30… While their distance scores suggest weak comparisons to Gabbert, Joe Ferguson (#8), Rich Gannon (#9) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (#10) all passed for over 20,000 yards after their age-27 season; Gannon also was named to four Pro Bowls and was NFL MVP in leading the 2002 Raiders to Super Bowl XXXVII in his age-37 season.
- Concerns: The top 10 QBs on this list finished with a 224-241-1 regular-season record after similar age-27 seasons (.482 win%)… The #3 overall pick by the Browns in the 1970 NFL Draft, Mike Phipps (#1) was finished as a starter in Cleveland after a miserable age-28 season—47.5 QB rating, 4/19 TD/INT ratio—capped three consecutive subpar years as a starter; Phipps hung on as a backup in Chicago, where he led the 1979 Bears to a 9-1 regular-season record and a playoff berth in his age-32 season… Marty Domres (#3), Mike Moroski (#4) and Jack Concannon (#6) stuck around as little-used backups for a few more years after their age-27 season… Another top-10 draft pick, Joey Harrington (#7) threw more interceptions than touchdowns while compiling an 8-13 record in his age-28 and age-29 seasons with the Dolphins and Falcons, his final two years in the NFL.
Drew Stanton (33)
- Summary: Made one start for the Cardinals in 2016, tossing 48 passes on the season and posting a miserable 39.6 QB rating… Has only reached the 150-attempt threshold once in his career, featuring a 78.7 QB rating in his age-30 season with the Cardinals in 2014… Using his 2014 season, there were no close age-30 comparisons; the best was Trent Dilfer (distance=2.06), who went 7-12 as a starter with a 65.9 QB rating after age 30 with the Seahawks, Browns and 49ers.
Matt Ryan (32)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: None.
- Positives: The top 10 comparables to Matt Ryan at age 31 includes some of the best quarterbacks in football history, unsurprising given Ryan’s stellar 2016 campaign… After their age-31 season, three of the top 10 led their team to a future Super Bowl victory and eight of 10 were named to a Pro Bowl… The top 10 compiled a 404-235 regular-season record (.632 win%) after age 31 with a 27-21 post-season record… A first-team All-Pro who led the 1991 Bills to their second consecutive Super Bowl in his age-31 season, Jim Kelly (#1) saw his passing numbers decline sharply at age 32 but was still the leader of a Bills club that made it to two more Super Bowls after the 1992 and 1993 seasons… While the size of the distance score suggests somewhat weaker comparisons, four consecutive QBs on this list—Aaron Rodgers (#3), Peyton Manning (#4), Roger Staubach (#5) and Dan Fouts (#6)—are either in the Hall-of-Fame or appear to be slam dunks for future induction… The performance of Tony Romo (#7) took a Ryan-like leap in his age-31 season and remained among the best in the NFL for three more seasons before his career was cut short by injuries… While the distance score indicates a weak match, Brad Johnson (#9) came off a career-best season at age 31 to remain a starting NFL QB for seven more seasons and led the Buccaneers to a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII.
- Concerns: An unexpected close match, Tommy Kramer (#2) was an average starter with the Vikings for seven years before exploding in his age-31 season with a 24/10 TD/INT ratio and a 92.6 QB rating; while the difference in career performance before that point may somewhat invalidate the comparison to Ryan, Kramer regressed to the mean after his age-31 season with a 64.9 QB rating in parts of four additional seasons in the NFL… While weak matches to Ryan, Ken Stabler (#8) and Terry Bradshaw (#10) were at the apex of their Hall-of-Fame careers during their age-31 seasons—each won the Super Bowl and posted a near career-high QB rating—but their performance declined markedly in their age-32 season and beyond. While Stabler compiled a 55-40 record as a starter after the age of 31, he posted a 69.9 QB rating while throwing 106 TDs to 151 INTs. Bradshaw fared better—a 24-15 record and an 80.4 QB rating—but the Steelers never won another playoff game under his command and he played his last down at age 35.
Matt Schaub (36)
- Summary: Attempted just three passes in 2016… Started two games in 2015 with the Ravens, attempting 80 passes… Compiled a 90+ QB rating for five straight seasons between 2008 and 2012 as the starting QB for the Texans… Has not reached the 150-attempt threshold since his age-32 season with the 2013 Texans, posting a miserable 73.0 QB rating and a 2-6 record… Examining his 2013 season, the only “excellent” age-32 comparison was Brad Johnson (distance=1.36), who bounced back from a mediocre age-32 season with the Redskins in 2000 to win the Super Bowl with Tampa Bay two years later.
Cam Newton (28)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: None.
- Positives: Newton’s profile—a 6’6” running QB who is near the league lead in yards per completion—is rather unique; there are very few decent matches to Newton in modern NFL history… Among the top 10 QB comparisons, only one has a distance score less than 2.00; only three others are within 2.50… The paucity of close matches extends to Newton’s stellar 2015 campaign. He’s a unique talent… Among the top four matches from Newton’s disappointing 2016 season stat line, three went on to have long careers as starters in the NFL after similar age-27 seasons… Vinny Testaverde (#2) was second in the NFL in yards per completion at age 27 with the Buccaneers in 1990, rushing for a career-high 280 yards. While Testaverde would produce career-worst numbers in his age-28 season, he threw for 35,961 yards after his age-27 season, playing in two Pro Bowls in his 30s and serving as an effective QB into his 40s… Early in his career, Jim Plunkett (#3) was a mobile QB who was among the league-leaders in yards per completion; after joining the Raiders at age-32 in 1979, Plunkett led the franchise to two Super Bowl titles and remained an effective starter until age 39… While the distance score indicates a poor match, Drew Bledsoe (#8) was an effective starter until age 34, making the Pro Bowl with the Bills in 2002… Doug Williams (#10) left for the USFL after his age-27 season before returning to the NFL years later and leading the Redskins to a victory in Super Bowl XXII.
- Concerns: Top 10 comparables went 252-269-1 as a starting QB after their age-27 seasons (.483 win%)… Jay Schroeder (#1) led the NFL in yards per completion at age 27 in his first season with the Raiders in 1988. While he compiled a 34-26 record as a starting QB after his age-27 season, he posted a QB rating of 72.3 while featuring a 62/58 TD/INT ratio and played his last NFL snap at age 33… A tall, mobile QB, Stoney Case (#4) barely reached the 150-attempt threshold in his age-27 season with 1999 Ravens. While his yards-per-completion totals would have placed him in the top 10 of the NFL that season had he qualified, the rest of his passing numbers were putrid (50.3 QB rating) and he played just one more season in the NFL; as a player who had only started one game in the NFL prior to his age-27 season, he represents a poor career comparison to Newton… While the distance scores exceed 2.50—indicating weak matches—many of the rest of the top 10 feature QBs with brief and/or nondescript careers in the NFL after similar age-27 seasons… While the quality of matches for Newton was equally as difficult in his age-24 season and superb age-25 campaign, three players were in the top-10 in both seasons: Daunte Culpepper (#1 at age 25), Aaron Brooks and Doug Williams; Culpepper and Brooks’ passing performance took a steep downturn after their age-27 seasons… Steve Grogan (distance=1.34) was Newton’s top comparison after the latter’s stellar age-26 season, as Grogan led the NFL in touchdowns and yards per completion in 1979 while also rushing for 368 yards; Grogan played 11 more seasons in the NFL after his age-26 season, mostly as a backup.
Derek Anderson (34)
- Summary: Started two games for the Panthers in 2016, posting a 67.6 QB rating in 53 passes; an unsustainable interception rate (9.4%) invalidates using the small sample to make comparisons… Has only started a total of four games since 2011… His last season as a starter was with the Cardinals in 2010 as a 27-year old; for what it’s worth, his top comparison that year would have been former Packers’ QB Lynn Dickey (distance=2.13).
Mike Glennon (28)
- Summary: Did not start a game in 2016 and threw just 11 passes on the year… Did not appear in a regular-season game in 2015… Last reached the 150-attempt threshold in his age-25 season with the Buccaneers in 2014, posting a solid 83.3 QB rating… As a tall, relatively immobile QB, his top age-25 comparables were Brock Osweiler (distance=1.75), Dan Orlovsky (1.87), Derek Anderson (2.00) and Mike Phipps (2.01)… The only player in the top 10 comparables to have sustained success after his age-25 season was Joe Flacco (#7, 2.23).
Mitchell Trubisky (23)
- Summary: Rookie… Selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Dak Prescott (24)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: None.
- Positives: Top 10 QB comparables posted a career record of 433-382 after their age-23 season (.531 win%), with six Pro Bowlers, two Super Bowl winners, a Hall of Famer and two other top-level QBs still at the height of their careers… As demonstrated by distance score, two players stand out as clearly the best historical age-23 comps to Prescott: Matthew Stafford (#1) and Brett Favre (#2)… Stafford’s career-best season came at age 23 with the Lions in 2011, as he threw for 41 TD and a 97.2 QB rating in his third season in the NFL. While his play took a sharp decline in his age-24 season, Stafford has been among the best quarterbacks in the NFL since that time, including back-to-back 90+ QB ratings the last two seasons… Favre’s age-23 season came in his first year in Green Bay. His numbers after that are astounding: 68,611 passing yards, 490 passing TDs, 10 Pro Bowls, three AP MVP awards, a Super Bowl title and a spot in the Hall of Fame… Marcus Mariota (#3), who was also 23 years old in 2016 and posted a similar season to Prescott, seems to be a no-doubt franchise QB with the Titans… While Jim McMahon (#4) suffered from a series of injuries and never started more than 13 games in a season in his 15-year career in the NFL, he did compile a 64-26 regular season record as a starter after age 23, and led the Bears to victory in Super Bowl XX… The distance score (2.50) indicates a somewhat weak match, but Matt Ryan (#6) has consistently been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks since his rookie year at age 23.
- Concerns: A second-round pick by the Buccaneers in 1999, Shaun King (#5) opened his career 14-7 as a starter and led Tampa Bay to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons in the NFL. But after going 10-6 as a starter in 2000 in his age-23 season, the Buccaneers replaced King with Brad Johnson at QB; the move would pay off with a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII the following year. While King remained a backup QB for a number of years afterwards, he made just three more NFL starts… While the distance score indicates a weak match, David Woodley (#7) was a late-round pick who started his career with a 24-10-1 record and led the Dolphins to an appearance in Super Bowl XVII. Despite the win-loss record, Woodley never posted a QB rating over 70 and was replaced by a rookie QB, Dan Marino, midway through the 1983 season. Woodley was then traded to Pittsburgh where he had two nondescript seasons as a part-time starter… While a solid QB who made a Pro Bowl in 1991, Chris Miller (#8) had his career cut short by concussions… While the distance score suggests a suboptimal match, Robert Griffin III (#10) serves as a reminder of how damaging injuries can be to the career of even the brightest of rookie quarterbacks.
Kellen Moore (29)
- Summary: Missed the 2016 season due to a broken leg… Only regular-season appearance under center was with the 2015 Cowboys, where he started two games in his age-27 season… In 104 attempts, Moore completed 58.7% with 4 TD and 6 INT… While not reaching the 150-attempt threshold, only one QB historical comparable had a distance score within 3.00: David Woodley (distance=2.57) in his final season in the NFL with the Steelers in 1985.
Matthew Stafford (29)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: Billy Volek, Jim Kelly and eight others.
- Positives: There were 10 QBs with distance scores under 1.50, indicating a slew of excellent historical comparables… The top 10 compiled a regular-season record of 350-284 (.552 win%) after their age-28 seasons… Enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Jim Kelly (#2) orchestrated the high-octane Buffalo Bills’ offense of the late 1980s and early 1990s, compiling a 79-37 regular-season record and 25,696 passing yards after his age-28 season. Starting at age 30, Kelly led the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls… One of the best retired QBs not in the Hall of Fame, Ken Anderson (#4) was the NFL MVP at age 31 in 1981, leading the Bengals to Super Bowl XVI… One of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, John Elway (#6) made the Pro Bowl seven times after his age-28 season on top of compiling a stellar 94-54 regular-season record and a 10-4 playoff record; he finished off his career with back-to-back Super Bowl titles… A successful long-time starting QB, Mark Brunell (#9) posted a QB rating of 82.6 after the age of 28, compiling 19,560 passing yards, a Pro Bowl appearance and two playoff victories.
- Concerns: A long-time backup QB, Billy Volek (#1) ascended to the starting role with the 2004 Titans in his age-28 season after starter Steve McNair went down with a sternum injury. In eight starts, Volek posted an 87.1 QB rating while completed 61.1% of his passes with 18 TD and 10 INT. Volek started just one game prior to 2004 and one game after 2004. This clear distinction in career trajectories between Volek and Stafford all but invalidates this as a serious long-term comparison… While Joe Ferguson (#3) had a long, solid career in the NFL after his age-28 season, his 69.1 QB rating and 43-49 record as a starter at age 29 and older is probably not the outcome the Lions would hope for out of Stafford… A long-time backup QB in the 1960s, Jerry Rhome (#5) barely reached the 150-attempt threshold in four starts with the 1970 Oilers, his penultimate season in the NFL… Chad Pennington (#7) was an effective quarterback at age 29 and older, however multiple seasons were cut short with serious shoulder injuries as he started just 47 games over the final six years of his career… A Pro Bowler at age 28 with the Cardinals in 1987, Neil Lomax (#8) was forced to retire a year later due to an arthritic hip… After a career-high 20 TD as the full-time starter with the Steelers at age 28, Bubby Brister (#10) had some solid moments as a journeyman back-up and spot starter over the next 10 years while playing for five different teams… Beyond the top 10, the players ranked #11 through #20—all with distance scores less than 2.0—feature mostly QBs who had solid, but not outstanding, NFL careers.
Jake Rudock (24)
- Summary: Did not attempt a regular-season pass in 2016… Selected in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Brad Kaaya (22)
- Summary: Rookie… Selected in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Aaron Rodgers (34)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: Warren Moon.
- Positives: The top three comparables bode well for Rodgers’ long-term future, as each one is a Hall-of-Famer who was a top-end starting quarterback well into their late-30s if not beyond… The top 10 QBs feature six Hall-of-Famers… Every QB in the top 10 posted a winning regular-season record after their age-33 season; collectively, they compiled an astounding 368-216-2 regular-season record (.628 win%), 20 playoff victories and 24 Pro Bowl appearances… An excellent statistical match, Warren Moon (#1) epitomizes this sustained success, tossing for 31,025 yards after his age-33 season while being named to seven Pro Bowls; he remained a starting QB through his age-42 season and hung around for two more seasons as a backup… John Elway (#2) played five more seasons with the Broncos after his age-33 season, leading Denver to two Super Bowl titles while playing in four Pro Bowls and compiling a 50-23 regular-season record, a 7-1 playoff record and a 88.0 QB rating… Brett Favre (#3) played eight more seasons as a starter in the NFL after his age-33 season, playing in four Pro Bowls, leading his team to the playoffs four times and passing for 29,553 yards… Tony Romo (#5) posted two elite seasons in his age-34 and age-35 season—including an NFL-leading QB rating of 113.2 in 2014—before having his career cut short due to injuries… As the 1994 NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion in his age-33 season, Steve Young (#7) was in the midst of an eight-year run as an elite starting QB with the 49ers that defined his Hall-of-Fame career. After age-33 season, Young played five more seasons in the NFL, leading the league in QB rating twice, piloting four playoff teams, being named to four consecutive Pro Bowls, and posting a 42-14 regular-season record to pair with his 96.9 QB rating… Another Hall-of-Famer, Fran Tarkenton (#8) was also in the midst of a career-defining stretch in his mid-30s. After leading the Vikings to Super Bowl VIII in his age-33 season, Tarkenton was named the NFL MVP two years later while guiding the Vikings to two more Super Bowl appearances. While Tarkenton would play his last game in his age-38 season, he still led the NFL in passing yards that season… Coming off his only Pro Bowl appearance at age 33, Billy Kilmer (#10) remained as the Redskins’ starting QB for six more years, guiding Washington to the playoffs three times while compiling a 35-16 regular-season as a starter… While the QBs ranked #11 through #20 have distance scores that indicate weak matches, the next ten feature Joe Montana (#14, distance=2.64) and Tom Brady (#15, 2.66).
- Concerns: While Terry Bradshaw (#4) had a Hall-of-Fame career, he underwent elbow surgery after his age-34 season and later blew out that elbow in his only start of his age-35 season, ending his career… While Gary Danielson (#6) spent much of his career as a backup—somewhat invalidating any comparison to Rodgers—he was a “bridge” QB in his age-34 season who started six games with the 1985 Browns before being replaced by rookie Bernie Kosar; he would start two more games the rest of his career… Following a solid, but unspectacular final season with the 49ers at age 33, Jeff Garcia (#8) bounced around with four teams over the next six years. Garcia’s career might only be labeled a “concern” for someone at Rodgers’ elite level, as Garcia guided two teams to the playoffs—including a playoff victory with the 2006 Eagles—and made a Pro Bowl appearance at age 37.
Brett Hundley (24)
- Summary: Has only thrown 10 regular-season passes… Selected in the fifth-round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Jared Goff (23)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: None.
- Positives: There are only 33 QBs who attempted 150+ passes at age 22, making comparisons more difficult to find. There’s only one player with a distance score that indicates a good match; player comparisons beyond that should be taken with a grain of salt… While the distance score indicates a weak match, Neil Lomax (#4) may be one of Goff’s best-case scenarios. Lomax bounced back from a 4/10 TD/INT ratio as a 22-year old rookie to post seven consecutive strong seasons as the Cardinals’ starting quarterback from 1982 to 1988, making two Pro Bowls and leading the NFL in passing yards in 1987. Lomax retired after his age-29 season due to an arthritic hip… The career trajectory of Blake Bortles (#5) makes it unclear to classify him as a positive or negative for evaluating Goff. But Part I of this series offered quite a bit of optimism on Bortles moving forward, so he’ll get listed as a positive. For now… Archie Manning (#9) compiled 22,747 passing yards after his rookie season at age 22, playing through his age-34 season. But Manning was saddled with some awful teams in New Orleans during his prime and posted a record of 32-96-1 as a starter following his rookie season… While the distance score indicates an awful match, the narrative of Alex Smith (#10) should offer some hope. After the worst rookie season as a quarterback in modern NFL history according to my recent analysis, the former number-one overall pick bounced back to have a solid, if unspectacular NFL career featuring two Pro Bowls and four trips to the playoffs.
- Concerns: The top nine QBs on this list each compiled a losing record as an NFL starter after their age-22 season… After their age-22 seasons, the top 10 compiled for an atrocious 218-323-4 regular-season record (.404 win%)… Only three of the top 10 started a playoff game, combining for a playoff record of just 3-6… As a player perceived as a busted top-10 pick, it is worrisome that Blaine Gabbert (#1) is the only historical comp within a distance score of 2.50 or less… While distance scores after the top spot indicate weak matches, Kyle Boller (#2) was another first-round pick who failed to live up to expectations, finishing his career with more interceptions than touchdowns… A first-round pick by the Eagles in 1972, John Reaves (#3) went 0-7 as a starter as a rookie and didn’t start another game for Philadelphia; he later started two games in 1987 as a replacement player with the Buccaneers at age 37… A first-round pick by the Chiefs in 1979, Steve Fuller (#6) washed out as a starter in Kansas City after four years before latching on as a backup in Chicago… The story of Ryan Leaf (#7) has been well-documented… A fellow former number-one overall pick out of a collegiate spread offense, Tim Couch (#8) showed an occasional flash with the post-expansion Browns but washed out after five seasons as a starter in Cleveland.
Sean Mannion (25)
- Summary: Has attempted only 13 regular-season passes… Selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Sam Bradford (30)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: None.
- Positives: Bradford’s record completion percentage (71.6%) and career-worst yards-per-completion mark (9.8) led to numerous solid historical comparables… After the top two QB comparables—both pessimistic—the next three offer a mixed bag of positives and negatives in relation to Bradford. Ken O’Brien (#3) earned a Pro Bowl berth in 1991 while leading the Jets to the playoffs, but his performance dropped sharply after his age-29 season and he compiled a 15-24 record and posted a 74.9 QB rating in his 30s. Archie Manning (#4) had two solid seasons at age-30 and age-31—including a Pro Bowl—but his performance nosedived afterwards and he finished his 30s with an abysmal 12-41 record as a starter with a 72.5 QB rating. Finally, Bobby Hebert (#5) similarly appeared in a Pro Bowl in his 30s and led the Saints to the playoffs at age-31 and age-32, but he also sat out his age-30 season in New Orleans over a desire to be traded and was just 7-18 as a starter once he moved onto Atlanta… Unlike the lukewarm cases offered by the three players above, Matt Ryan (#6) represents would seem to represent the best-case scenario for Bradford. Ryan led the Falcons to the Super Bowl last year and won the NFL MVP award at age 31… Brad Johnson (#9) enjoyed a career renaissance after his age-29 season, playing 11 more seasons that featured two Pro Bowl trips and a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII… While the distance scores indicate weaker matches, the next two quarterbacks in the rankings were Troy Aikman (#11, distance=2.49) and Tom Brady (#12, 2.50).
- Concerns: Combined, the top 10 QBs on this list compiled a 150-194 regular-season record (.436 win%) in their 30s… The top-two comparables—by a sizeable margin—do not offer optimistic career comps… After leading the NFL in completion percentage in 1986, Eric Hipple (#1) missed his entire age-30 season with a broken thumb suffered in training camp. He saw limited action upon his return, serving as a backup with the Lions for two more seasons… An undrafted free agent, Shane Matthews (#2) saw his first starts in the NFL in his age-29 season with the Bears in 1989, starting seven games and finishing fifth in the NFL in completion percentage. He bounced around with three teams over the next five years in a backup role… After posting a career-best completion percentage in 10 starts with the 2007 Falcons at age 29, Joey Harrington (#7) did not take another NFL snap… Gary Hogeboom (#8) played two more seasons in the NFL after age 29, going 5-9 as a starter with more interceptions than touchdowns… After a Pro Bowl berth at age 29—when he was in the top 10 in the NFL in completion percentage—the play of Marc Bulger (#10) fell off a proverbial cliff once he hit age 30. Bulger played three more seasons in the NFL, compiling a ghastly 5-30 record as a starter with more interceptions than touchdowns.
Case Keenum (29)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: Tarvaris Jackson.
- Positives: The top 10 QBs compiled a record of 99-85-2 after their age-28 seasons (.538 win%)… After a largely non-descript NFL career to that point, Lynn Dickey (#2) rebounded from a miserable age-28 season (5 TD/14 INT) in 1977 to later become a solid starting QB for the Packers from 1980 to 1985. This included a playoff victory in 1982 and leading the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns in 1983… After throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in his final season with the Cardinals at age 28, Jake Plummer (#6) signed with the Broncos in 2003 and was an effective starter for four years, earning a Pro Bowl berth and leading Denver to the playoffs three times… Beyond the top 10, the next three QBs had solid careers after their age-28 seasons: Stan Humphries (#11, distance=1.90), Dan Pastorini (#12, 2.08) and current Vikings starter Sam Bradford (#13, 2.12).
- Concerns: Beyond Dickey and Plummer, the rest of the 10 does not offer much optimism for Keenum’s NFL career trajectory… An “excellent” historical comp, Tarvaris Jackson (#1) remained a backup for a few seasons with the Seahawks after his age-28 season, but did not start another game… Chad Henne (#3) and Mark Sanchez (#4) have settled into backup roles; Steve Dils (#7) seemed to follow a similar path decades ago… Neither Billy Joe Hobert (#5) nor Jerry Rhome (#8) started another game in the NFL after similar age-28 seasons… Mike Phipps (#9) was mostly a long-term backup with the Bears after a failed stint as the Browns starter at age-28. Forced into action, Phipps led Chicago to a 9-1 record in 10 starts in 1979 and a spot in the playoffs… Eric Hipple (#10) bounced back from a mediocre age-28 season with the Lions in 1985 to lead the league in completion percentage the following year. But after a broken thumb in training camp in 1987, Hipple only made one more NFL start.
Teddy Bridgewater (25)
- Summary: Did not play in 2016 after his gruesome knee injury… Started all 16 games for the Vikings in 2015 at age 23… His top age-23 comparable—by a wide margin—is current Browns quarterback Cody Kessler (distance=1.16). The Bridgewater-Kessler comparison is discussed at great length in my one of my prior articles… Other age-23 QBs with distance scores less than 2.0 include David Whitehurst (#2, 1.52), Tom Hodson (#3, 1.77), Dan Pastorini (#4, 1.82) and Jim McMahon (#5, 1.89)… While the distance score indicates a weaker match, Brett Favre (#8, 2.32) is in the top 10… Obviously, these comparisons were made to a healthy Bridgewater at age 23; the model cannot account for the effect of the knee injury and subsequent recovery.
Drew Brees (38)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comp: Kurt Warner.
- Positives: The list of top 10 QBs features some of the best signal-callers of all-time, including five Hall-of-Famers… The best five comparables stand out as close matches statistically and include three QBs who had stellar age-38 seasons and led their teams to the playoffs… In his final season in the NFL, Kurt Warner (#1) had a terrific campaign (93.2 QB rating) at age 38 in leading the 2009 Cardinals to the playoffs… Coming off a Pro Bowl season at age 37, Joe Montana (#3) led the 1994 Chiefs to the playoffs while leading the NFL in with the lowest interception percentage of his career. It would be the final season in his storied NFL career… Just like the two Hall-of-Famers above, Fran Tarkenton (#4) led the 1978 Vikings to the playoffs in his final season at age 38. In the process, Tarkenton led the NFL in attempts, completions and passing yards.
- Concerns: Not a single QB in the top 10 historical comparables list started at least 20 more games in the NFL after similar age-37 seasons; many retired after their age-38 season… The top 10 QBs compiled a 54-54-2 record in the regular season after age 37, with a 2-4 record in the playoffs… No QB in the top 10 reached the Pro Bowl after the age of 37… After leading the 1976 Redskins to the playoffs at age 37, Billy Kilmer (#2) finished his career with two more, largely nondescript, seasons in Washington… After starting nine games with the 1981 Cardinals at age 37, Jim Hart (#5) spent three more seasons in the NFL as a little-used backup… While the distance scores indicate weaker matches after the first five, Steve Deberg (#6) also fell into a backup role after going 10-5 as a starter at age 37… The starting quarterback for the Colts’ victory in Super Bowl V at age 37, Johnny Unitas (#7) lost playing time to Earl Morrall in Baltimore the next season and started just 14 games over his last three seasons in the NFL… After starting 15 games for the Steelers at age 34, Mike Tomczak (#8) settled into a backup role for his final three seasons in the NFL. He made five starts in Pittsburgh at age 37, but his long-time backup role makes him an ill-suited comparison to Brees… A Hall-of-Famer, Len Dawson (#9) is a weak statistical match to Brees but played until he was 40 years old with the Chiefs, but did not start more than eight games in a season in each of his last three years, compiling a 7-11-1 record and a 74.3 QB rating… Another weak match, Jeff Garcia (#10) posted a 90.2 QB rating at age 38 with the 2008 Buccaneers (good) but did not attempt another pass in the NFL after age 38 (not so good).
Chase Daniel (31)
- Summary: Threw just one pass in the NFL in 2016… While entering his age-31 season, Daniel has only made two starts in the NFL and attempted just 78 passes… Most attempts in a single season are just 38, which invalidates any attempt at historical comparisons.
Eli Manning (36)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: Dan Fouts, Warren Moon and Brad Johnson.
- Positives: The top 10 QBs on this list combined for a 181-153-1 regular-season record after age 35 (.540 win%)… After his age-35 season with the Oilers in 1991, Warren Moon (#2) played nine more seasons in the NFL, compiling 21,646 passing yards, an 81.7 QB rating, a 48-40 regular-season record, three playoff appearances and five Pro Bowl berths… Steve Deberg (#4) piloted the Chiefs to back-to-back playoff appearances in his age-36 and age-37 seasons. But with mediocre passing numbers in the latter year, Kansas City did not resign him and he finished his career as a backup… Brett Favre (#6) saw a two-year decline in his age-36 and age-37 seasons with the Packers, but rebounded in his late-30s and early-40s to compile three Pro Bowl appearances, two playoff victories, and 22,104 passing yards after his age-35 season… Carson Palmer (#9) had a career-best season at age 36 with the Cardinals in 2015 (104.6 QB rating), guiding Arizona to the playoffs while being named to the Pro Bowl. How long he can maintain a high level of play under center is an open question.
- Concerns: Numerous quarterbacks in the top 10 were in clear decline and/or near the end of their career by age 35… The top 10 QBs combined for a 3-7 playoff record after age 35; none appeared in a Super Bowl… While Dan Fouts (#1) is a Hall-of-Famer, he retired after his age-36 season after throwing more interceptions than touchdowns… After leading the NFL in pass attempts at age 35, the play of Brad Johnson (#3) declined in his late 30s. In his age-36 season, the Buccaneers benched Johnson after four games as a starter in 2004. While he was an effective game manager in nine starts for the Vikings the following year, his putrid age-38 season (9 TD/15 INT) ended his time as a starting QB in the NFL… After three straight mediocre seasons between the ages of 33 and 35, Boomer Esiason (#5) had a terrific five-game stint as the starting QB in Cincinnati at age 36, throwing 13 TD and 2 INT to produce a 103.2 QB rating. But the small-sample success would be short-lived, as Esiason would retire after the season… After his age-35 season, Jim Harbaugh (#7) finished out his career with two nondescript seasons in San Diego, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns… While leading the 1996 Bills to the playoffs, Jim Kelly (#8) was a shell of his former self in throwing more interceptions than touchdowns at age 36, his final season in a Hall-of-Fame career… Norm Snead (#10) finished his career with two largely non-descript seasons with the 49ers and Giants after the age of 35.
Geno Smith (27)
- Summary: Attempted only 14 passes with the Jets in 2016… Last reached the 150-attempt threshold as a 24-year old in 2014, posting a 13/13 TD/INT ratio and a 77.4 QB rating… The best historical comparables for Smith’s age-24 season are led by Kyle Boller (distance=1.25), Jake Locker (1.35), David Whitehurst (1.39) and Ryan Tannehill (1.39).
Davis Webb (22)
- Summary: Rookie… Selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Carson Wentz (25)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: Trent Dilfer and four others.
- Positives: As described in an earlier article on the 2016 NFL rookie QB class, statistical projections for the future of Carson Wentz demonstrate considerable variance… His list of comparables also reflects this extreme variability, ranging from Hall-of-Famers to busts… Age-24 comparisons for Wentz are complicated by the fact that he was quite old as a rookie. Ignoring age, the best rookie-season comparables—as outlined in an earlier article—are, ironically, Sam Bradford (distance=0.92) and Nick Foles (1.31)… Among age-24 comparables, an astounding 17 players have a distance score less than 2.0… The obvious best-case scenario for Wentz would be Troy Aikman (#4), who would go on to six straight Pro Bowls from the ages of 25 through 30 while leading the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles to cap off a Hall-of-Fame career… After Aikman, that list of 17 is replete with quarterbacks who had solid, if not spectacular careers… Jim Everett (#9) had the next-best career among the 17 in terms of starts and passing yards (31,755) after his age-24 season. Everett made one Pro Bowl and led the Rams to the NFC Championship Game in 1989, however he compiled a 56-81 record in the regular season after the age of 24… A former top-10 pick, Trent Dilfer (#1) is clearly the most accurate statistical match for Wentz after their age-24 season. While his “game manager” ceiling offers concern about Wentz’s career, Dilfer made the Pro Bowl at age 25 and guided the Ravens to a victory in Super Bowl XXXV… Another first-round pick, Ken O’Brien (#7) suffered through a mediocre age-24 rookie season before exploding the following year, earning a Pro Bowl nod and leading the 1985 Jets to the playoffs while leading the NFL in QB rating at 96.2. But that would be O’Brien’s peak, as his year-to-year performance incrementally declined every season until he played his last snap as a backup with the Eagles in 1993… Beyond the top 10, other age-24 QBs with a distance score of less than 2.0 include a series of solid, if not spectacular, quarterbacks including Tommy Kramer (#12, distance=1.78), Dan Pastorini (#13, 1.79), Brian Griese (#16, 1.88) and Ryan Tannehill (#17, 1.92).
- Concerns: The top 10 QBs feature numerous players who could be perceived as draft busts or hung around as underdog-type backups… Collectively, the top 10 featured a regular-season record of 290-308-1 after age 24 (.484 win%)… A first-round pick in 1986, Chuck Long (#2) was done as a starting QB in the NFL at age 25… The sixth overall pick by the Seahawks in 1987, Kelly Stouffer (#5) did not play as a rookie and barely reached the 150-attempt threshold in his second year at age 24. Stouffer never became the long-term starter in Seattle, finishing with just 16 career starts… A sixth-round pick, John Friesz (#3) started all 16 games for the Chargers in 1991 at age 24. But Friesz suffered a knee injury that wiped out his entire 1992 season and he never regained his footing as an NFL starter, instead bouncing around the league as a career backup through his mid-30s… Byron Leftwich (#6) followed a similar trajectory. A former first-round pick, he looked primed to be the long-term answer at QB in Jacksonville, posting a 82.2 QB rating at age 24. But a series of ankle injuries allowed backup David Garrard to seize the starting job, and Leftwich spent the remainder of his career as a journeyman backup… Jack Trudeau (#8) had a disastrous rookie season at age 24 as a second-round pick of the Colts in 1986, going 0-11 as a starter with more interceptions than touchdowns. Trudeau would recover enough to spend the next seven seasons in Indianapolis as a backup and spot starter… A second-round pick by the Dolphins in 2008, Chad Henne (#10) also threw more interceptions than touchdowns as a starter and has been relegated to backup duty in Jacksonville.
Nick Foles (28)
- Summary: Started just one game in Kansas City last season; with only 55 pass attempts and an unsustainable 3/0 TD/INT ratio, comparables to this small-sample line are largely irrelevant… Started 11 games in 2015 with the Rams, posting a 69.0 QB rating with 7 TD and 10 INT in his age-26 season… Best age-26 historical comparables feature mostly long-term NFL backups, led by Ed Luther (distance=1.36), Gary Hogeboom (1.41), Curtis Painter (1.73) and Craig Whelihan (1.76)… According to the statistical algorithm proposed in an earlier article, Foles’ stellar 2013 season (27 TD/2 INT, 119.2 QB rating) was the seventh-best season by a quarterback in modern NFL history.
Brian Hoyer (32)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: None.
- Positives: With 200 pass attempts across five starts with the Bears in 2016, Hoyer produced a stat line—zero interceptions, just four sacks—that is unsustainable and out of line with his career norms… Led by a 0.0% interception rate, the unusual set of rate stats also yields quite optimistic player comparisons at age 31. It should be noted, however, that Hoyer’s age-30 comparables while playing with the Texans in 2015 also features numerous high-end comparisons… While the large distance scores reflect poor matches—to be expected given Hoyer’s unusual stat line—the top 10 features three Hall-of-Famers in Brett Favre (#2), Dan Marino (#6) and Troy Aikman (#7)… Jake Delhomme (#1), however, does represent a blueprint for a late-blooming, game-manager type to have success in the NFL. While Delhomme’s best years were behind him at age 32, he still led the 2008 Panthers to a 12-4 record and a playoff berth… After being named as the NFL MVP in 1980 at age 31, Brian Sipe (#5) had only modest success in three more seasons as the Browns starting quarterback before bolting for the USFL… After leading the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns in 1971, John Hadl (#10) made the Pro Bowl in his age-32 and age-33 seasons and led the Rams to the playoffs in 1973… Top 10 QBs compiled a 245-204-1 record in the regular season after age 31 (.546 win%).
- Concerns: Coming off a Pro Bowl year at age 31 with the Jets, Ken O’Brien (#3) played two more nondescript season in the NFL afterwards, compiling a 1-6 record as a starter and a 67.5 QB rating… Also reaching the Pro Bowl at age 31, Matt Schaub (#4) lost the starting job in Houston the following year and has been a well-traveled backup ever since… Bubby Brister (#8) was restricted to backup roles for seven years following eight starts with the 1993 Eagles at age 31… Jake Plummer (#9) went 7-4 as a starter with a 68.8 QB rating with the 2006 Broncos at age 32, his last in the NFL.
Matt Barkley (27)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: None.
- Positives: As only one of two comparables with a distance score less than 2.40, Kirk Cousins (#2) would seem to represent the high-end upside for Barkley. After a solid but unspectacular five-game stint as a starter at age 26, Cousins exploded the following year in leading the NFL in completion percentage and posting a QB rating of 101.6… While more might have been expected out of the sixth overall pick in the 1976 NFL Draft, Richard Todd (#3) spent five more seasons as a starting QB in the NFL after his age-26 season, leading the Jets to the AFC Championship game in 1982.
- Concerns: Outside of Cousins, the top 10 quarterback comparables mostly featured disappointing outcomes… Top 10 QBs combined for a 83-112-2 record after their age-26 seasons (.426 win%)… Distance scores demonstrate that there are very few reasonable historical matches to Barkley… The best historical comparable, Billy Joe Hobert (#1), went 2-6 as a starter after his age-26 season and did not take another regular-season snap after his age-28 season… While the distance scores indicate weaker matches, Doug Johnson (#4), Ed Luther (#5), Mark Sanchez (#6) and Joe Pisarcik (#7) all were relegated to backup duty after similar age-26 seasons… As former first-round picks, Mark Malone (#8) and Rex Grossman (#9) had largely disappointing careers as starters, finishing with sub-.500 records and without a playoff appearance after their age-26 seasons, however distance scores from Barkley are at or near 3.0… Heath Shuler (#10) did not take another NFL snap after his age-26 season.
C.J. Beathard (24)
- Summary: Rookie… Selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Russell Wilson (29)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: Pat Haden.
- Positives: The matching algorithm clearly prioritized smaller, mobile quarterbacks, as expected… The top 10 recorded a regular-season record of 173-164 after their age-28 season (.513 win%)… After posting an 87.4 QB rating in six starts with the 1987 Bears at age 28, Jim McMahon (#2) was a winning quarterback when he wasn’t injured. After his age-28 season, McMahon went 33-18 as a starter in the regular season and was in the playoffs five times—including three as a starter—in the last 10 years of his career. However, he struggled with injuries and never made more than 12 starts in any given season… David Garrard (#3) offers a similar story. Coming off a solid, but unspectacular age-28 season, Garrard posted a career year at age 29, leading the NFL in interception percentage and posting a 102.2 QB rating while leading the Jaguars to their most recent playoff appearance (and victory) in 2007. Garrard would play four years after his age-28 season, making the Pro Bowl in 2009 before having his career cut short to knee and back injuries. He didn’t play another snap after his age-32 season… A mobile 6’1” quarterback, Mark Brunell (#4) enjoyed a long, successful career in the NFL. After making the Pro Bowl at age 29 while leading the Jaguars to the playoffs in 1999, Brunell served as a solid, if unspectacular starter in Jacksonville and Washington through his age-36 season before hanging on as a little-used backup into his 40s… As an active player the same age as Wilson, the inclusion of Matthew Stafford (#5) offers no insight into career trajectories, but it’s a positive that another active top-end QB is on this list… Like Brunell, Dave Krieg (#6) was a 6’1” mobile quarterback who enjoyed a long, productive career as an NFL starter after the age of 28. A two-time Pro Bowler in his early 30s, Krieg started five or more games for 10 consecutive years through his age-38 season, compiling 24,470 passing yards and a 61-55 regular-season record. While Krieg led his club to the playoffs four times in that span, his teams were 0-4 in his postseason starts… Just outside the top 10, Joe Theismann (#12, distance=2.35) posted a 63-36 regular-season record, won a Super Bowl and earned an NFL MVP award after his age-28 season… While this analysis looked at Wilson’s age-28 season, his astounding age-27 season that saw him lead the NFL in QB rating (110.2) predictably led to more optimistic comps. While only three age-27 QBs had distance scores under 3.0—not unexpected difficulty in finding size and mobility comps—Wilson’s top three comparables were Aaron Rodgers (distance=2.35), Mark Brunell (2.59) and Brett Favre (2.85)… Brunell’s inclusion in both the age-27 and age-28 short lists elicited greater investigation. In fact, Brunell has been in the top six player comps for Wilson in each of the latter’s last three years.
- Concerns: The top three QBs on this list had their careers cut short due to injuries, notable given their size and penchant for running… Like Wilson, Pat Haden (#1) was a mobile 5’11” quarterback. However, while the distance score indicates an excellent match, he offers no insight into Wilson’s career trajectory given that Haden dealt with recurrent injuries and retired from football after his age-28 season to become a broadcaster. A Rhodes Scholar, he later ascended into the role as athletic director at Southern California… Eric Hipple (#7) bounced back from a mediocre age-28 season with the Lions in 1985 to lead the league in completion percentage the following year. But after a broken thumb in training camp in 1987, Hipple only made one more NFL start… The last three QBs on this list are not strong comparisons for Wilson, both due to distance scores and career trajectories. Mark Sanchez (#8), Tarvaris Jackson (#9) and Billy Volek (#9) all had solid seasons as starters at age 28, but were relegated to backup roles by the following year.
Trevone Boykin (24)
- Summary: Attempted only 18 passes last season… Signed as an undrafted free agent with the Seahawks after the 2016 NFL Draft.
Jameis Winston (23)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: Alex Smith and Steve Grogan.
- Positives: Eight of the top 10 QB comparables appear to be “successes”, including three players who are either in the Hall of Fame or appear to be locks for future entrance… After age 22, the top 10 QBs combined for an astounding 687-478-1 regular-season record (.588 win%), a 37-34 post-season record and 31 Pro Bowl appearances… Comparison algorithm prioritized tall, mobile quarterbacks… The top three comparables—Alex Smith (#1), Steve Grogan (#2) and Dan Pastorini (#3)—fit this description and all have had long careers as solid, if not spectacular, starting QBs in the NFL… Taken one pick after Winston in the 2015 NFL Draft, Marcus Mariota (#4) will likely be forever linked to the Tampa Bay signal-caller… Despite a rough age-22 season as a rookie passer, Dan Fouts (#6) bounced back to enjoy a Hall-of Fame career… As a former #1 overall draft pick, Peyton Manning (#7) is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history and represents the obvious best-case scenario for Winston… Another former #1 overall pick, Drew Bledsoe (#8) may not make the Hall of Fame but enjoyed a long career as a top-end quarterback in the NFL, throwing for 37,562 yards after his age-22 season and led the Patriots to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXI… Another big, powerful QB with a Hall-of-Fame resume, Ben Roethlisberger (#10) has won two Super Bowls as the Steelers’ quarterback. While the distance score indicates a bit of a weaker match, Roethlisberger has posted a 110-60 regular-season record with eight trips to the playoffs and five Pro Bowl appearances since his age-22 season.
- Concerns: Despite being a mobile first-round quarterback who made six starts in his age-22 season, Cade McNown (#5) is a poor career comparison for Winston. After posting a 68.5 QB rating and a 1-8 record as a starter in his age-23 season, the Bears gave up on McNown and dealt him to the Dolphins where he was the third-string quarterback the following season. After shoulder surgery the following year, McNown was out of football after his age-24 campaign… Another mobile former first-rounder, Kyle Boller (#8) never progressed beyond his substandard rookie level with the Ravens in 2003 and spent the rest of his career bouncing around the league as a backup.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (35)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: Jake Delhomme.
- Positives: After a so-so age-34 season as the starter with the 2004 Browns, Jeff Garcia (#6) bounced around the league the next couple of seasons before emerging as a viable starter in his late 30s. Garcia led the 2006 Eagles and 2007 Buccaneers to the playoffs, and was named to the Pro Bowl with Tampa Bay… While the distance score indicates a weaker match, Steve Deberg (#7) followed a similar career trajectory. After a mediocre season as a starter at age 34, he rebounded in his age-36 and age-37 seasons to lead the Chiefs to back-to-back playoff berths in 1990 and 1991. This included a 23/4 TD/INT ratio and a 96.3 QB rating at age 36.
- Concerns: After similar age-34 seasons, most of the quarterbacks in the top 10 were at or near the end of the line in the NFL… After age-34, the top 10 QB comparables posted a 63-73 regular-season record (.463 win%) with only two playoff victories… While Jake Delhomme (#1) won the starting quarterback position with the 2010 Browns at age 35, he suffered a series of ankle injuries and made just four starts—with a 2/7 TD/INT ratio—before being released in the offseason. He played one game with the Texans as a backup the following season to conclude his playing career… John Hadl (#2) was the starting QB for the 1975 Packers in his age-35 season but went 4-9 as a starter with a putrid 6/21 TD/INT ratio. He spent two more years in the NFL as a backup… After losing his starting job in Washington at age 34, Donovan McNabb (#3) was traded to Minnesota where he became the starting QB in his age-35 season. But he lost his starting role after six starts and did not play another down in the NFL… After a subpar age-34 season with the 1985 Eagles, Ron Jaworski (#4) compiled a 3-6 record as a starter in Philadelphia the following year and was replaced in the starting role by Randall Cunningham. He was released after his age-35 year and spent the next three seasons as a little-used backup… Mike Tomczak (#5) led the Steelers to a playoff berth at age 34, but his subpar play led him to be demoted the following year in deference to Kordell Stewart. Tomczak hung around the league three more seasons as a backup in Pittsburgh… While the distance scores indicate weaker matches, the last three quarterbacks—Drew Bledsoe (#8), Steve Bono (#9) and Wade Wilson (#10)—either retired or were little-used backups after similar age-34 seasons.
Kirk Cousins (29)
- Excellent/Exceptional Comps: Jake Delhomme and Tom Brady.
- Positives: Half of this list is composed of quarterbacks either in the Hall-of-Fame or are near-locks for future induction… Like Cousins, Jake Delhomme (#1) was an underdog quarterback who ascended into a starting role later in his career. Coming off a Super Bowl appearance at age-28—his first season as a starter—Delhomme enjoyed a successful six-year run as the starting quarterback in Carolina, posting a 45-34 regular-season record and guiding the 2005 Panthers to the NFC Championship game at age 30… Tom Brady (#2) is an “excellent” age-28 statistical comp to Cousins. Enough said… Despite some criticism, Eli Manning (#4) has a Super Bowl victory and three Pro Bowl berths since his age-28 season… While his play started to decline in his early 30s, Troy Aikman (#5) capped off his Hall-of-Fame career by leading the Cowboys to a victory in Super Bowl XXX at age 29, his third title as the starter in Dallas… After a similar age-28 season, future Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly (#7) was on the precipice of guiding the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances… Another Hall-of-Famer, Dan Fouts (#10) was entering his prime at age 28. Leading the NFL in completion percentage and passing yards while guiding the high-octane San Diego offense of the late-70s and early-80s, Fouts was named to five Pro Bowls after age 28 and led the Chargers to back-to-back AFC Championship games in 1980 and 1981.
- Concerns: Matt Schaub (#3) offers a mixed bag of outcomes when thinking about Cousins. After leading the NFL in passing yards at age 28, Schaub posted 90+ QB ratings in each of the next three years while making the Pro Bowl and leading the 2012 Texans to the second-round of the playoffs. However, Schaub’s career quickly unraveled the following year and he’s been a journeyman backup ever since… Chad Pennington (#6) also offers a mixed set of outcomes. After his age-28 season, Pennington was highly effective when on the field with an 87.9 QB rating, highlighted by two playoff trips and the NFL lead in completion percentage in 2008 at age 32. But he also badly struggled with a variety of injuries and only made more than eight starts in two seasons after age 28… Locked in a three-way QB battle with the Bears in 1999 and 2000, Jim Miller (#8) is a poor comparison to Cousins. Miller barely reached the 150-attempt threshold while starting three games (83.5 QB rating) for Chicago at age 28 in 1999, a season cut short by a steroid suspension. After starting two games the following year, Miller finally emerged as a starter at age 30. While Miller went 11-2 as a starter and guided the 2001 Bears to the playoffs, he lost his starting job the following year and didn’t take another regular-season snap after his age age-31 season… After a mediocre age-28 season with the 1982 Rams, Vince Ferragamo (#9) quarterbacked the Los Angeles to the playoffs the following season with a respectable 75.9 QB rating in his age-29 season. But his performance declined sharply at age 30, as his last three years in the NFL were marred by an 8/28 TD/INT ratio, a 2-10 record and a broken hand.
Colt McCoy (30)
- Summary: Did not appear in a regular-season game in 2016… Started four games and attempted 128 passes in his age-27 season in 2014, his last starting action since 13 games with the 2011 Browns… An examination of his small sample of attempts yields no particularly close comparisons among age-27 quarterbacks; the top three are Jeff Blake (distance=2.37), Brian Griese (2.39) and Tim Rattay (2.57).