Peter King has a list of the best 500 players in the NFL on SportsIllustrated.com. Take a look; it’s interesting, although I don’t pretend to have the knowledge necessary to compile such a list.
One thing he said that did intrigue me, though, was the assertion that
This is not a quarterback-rich league right now. Two thirds of the 32 teams aren't sure who their QB of the future is. Eighteen teams will start a passer who is in his first or second year in the lineup. The quality at the position -- consistent passers who've shown enough all-star ability to be considered franchise quarterbacks -- is frightfully low. Five years ago I'd have put 20 quarterbacks in the top 100. This year I have 12, and it was a stretch for Jay Cutler at 91 and Matt Leinart at 99, neither of whom has proved anything beyond being bright prospects.This struck me as a little odd, since one of the laments since the mid-90’s has been the consistent dearth of all-star QBs. So I decided to see how his list might have changed if it had been done 5 years ago, to test whether or not this assertion seems true.
Come on, everybody, let’s hop in the Wayback machine and go all the way back to 2001!
First off, let’s look at the 12 top-100 QBs he picked for 2007: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Marc Bulger, Matt Hasselbeck, Phillip Rivers, Vince Young, Donovan McNabb, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler, and Matt Leinart.
Right away he loses seven because they weren’t yet playing in the 2001 season (Palmer, Rivers, Young, Roethlisberger, Cutler, Leinart, and Bulger). That leaves him with 5 of his 12 that might be included in the 100-best.
Of those 5, two weren’t starters yet: Drew Brees and Michael Vick. Brees played in 1 game for San Diego, with Doug Flutie playing in the rest of them. And Vick was stuck behind Chris Chandler for Atlanta’s starting job (although he played in 8 games in 2001). Let’s give King the benefit of the doubt and say he’d put one of them in the top 100, though it’s a stretch to think he’d put both in the top 100 with as little actual data as he had on them.
So we have 3 left: Brady, Manning, and Hasselbeck. Brady was still fighting with Drew Bledsoe, although he did have a SB ring by then. So he’d probably make the list. Manning was good but not yet Manningesque as we know him today, but we’ll say he makes the list as well. It’s Hasselbeck I doubt; in 2001 he posted spotty numbers (a 70.9 rating with 7 TD and 8 INT). I don’t think he makes it in based on his numbers in 2001. Remember, it’s taken a lot of time and patience for Hasselbeck to reach “elite” status, and people still doubt him.
So I’ll believe there are 3 quarterbacks from the 2007 list who make the 2001 list: Brady, Manning, and Vick (for argument’s sake).
Guess who else was a starting quarterback in 2001? Let’s list the ones not yet named and their chances for inclusion:
Jake Plummer: Maybe he makes the top 100, since everybody loves the Snake
Chris Chandler: In the process of being mauled by Vick; he’d get shipped to Chicago for the next season
Elvis Grbac: Elvis had left the building, and after 2001 the NFL as well
Alex van Pelt: In 2001 he was caught in a close battle with Rob Johnson for least-worst Buffalo QB, and his sister Lucy was often mentioned as having a better arm than him
Chris Weinke: Maybe he makes the top 100, but I kind of doubt it (not with a 62 QB rating)
Jim Miller: Who? The next season he gets put out of a job by Christ Chandler, for heaven’s sakes!
John Kitna: Since he always looked better for following Akili Smith, maybe he makes the top 100
Tim Couch: Maybe, but it would be stretch since next year Kelly Holcomb put a beatdown on him
Quincy Carter: I doubt he makes it; they did audition Ryan Leaf to replace him the next season
Brian Griese: Given King’s man-crush on Griese, he probably makes it at #2
Charlie Batch: I doubt it, as this is the end of the Charlie Batch NFL experiment
Brett Favre: He’s at #1 in King’s 2001 list, with the note “PK+BF 4EVR!” next to it
Mark Brunnell: The former Johnny Unitas backup probably makes the list.
Trent Green: Maybe he makes the list, although he had a poor 2001 (71 QB rating with 17 TD and 24 INT)
Jay Fiedler: I kind of doubt it, although the Dolphins did spend 4 seasons trying to replace him
Daunte Culpepper: When he was healthy and had Randy Moss and Cris Carter to throw to, this guy was a premier quarterback. Since then, not so much.
Aaron Brooks: Another toss-up guy, he was always hot-and-cold. Remember that he hung on for a long time, though.
Kerry Collins: Another King heartthrob, he certainly makes the list
Vinny Testaverde: Too old even in 2001 to make the list
Rich Gannon: Back in his Raiders heyday, before his coming flameout, Gannon was a top-notch QB as well
Donovan McNabb: No question he makes the list in 2001
Kordell Stewart: Even with the hype, he was always a questionable QB; he’s the 2001 version of Michael Vick (without the dogfighting, of course)
Doug Flutie: Another maybe, since King always loved him, but much like Testaverde he’s awfully old in 2001 to put in the top 100
Jeff Garcia: Never a big-name guy, he was always good enough not to replace but not good enough to win; we’ll say maybe
Kurt Warner: 2001 was his last good year, so he likely makes the list
Brad Johnson: Stop joking. No, really, stop it. He was never very good.
Steve McNair: He definitely makes the list
Tony Banks: Again I say: who? Oh, yeah, the guy that barely beat off Jeff George to start for Washington. I doubt he makes it.
So to review: I see nine QBs I am pretty sure would make the top-100 list: Griese, Favre, Brunnell, Culpepper, Collins, Gannon, McNabb, Warner, and McNair. Add in the 3 we held over from this year’s list, and that’s 12 QBs that I’m pretty confident would be in the top 100 best NFL players, circa 2001 season.
That’s a far cry from 20. So let’s look at the maybe’s again: Plummer, Weinke, Kitna, Couch, Green, Brooks, Flutie, and Garcia. You’d need to say that all 8 of these are in the top-100 NFL players in 2001. That’s a tough argument.
Let’s look at the dross, and see if I mislaid anybody: Chandler, Grbac, Van Pelt, Miller, Carter, Batch, Fiedler, Testaverde, Brad Johnson, Banks.
I could imagine that maybe one or two guys are better than I remember (for example Testaverde or Brad Johnson), but then again you can easily counter-argue that in 2001 nobody thought Chris Weinke (who’d just posted a 62 rating for Carolina and would be replaced in 2002 by Rodney Peete) would ever be top-100. So overall those two lists are a push to me, at best, and at worst there are way too many maybes.
I think it’s likely that, at best, half of the maybes make it in: 4 more, for a total of 16 QBs in the top 100. And that’s a best-case scenario. Realistically in 2001 we’d have had no more than 14 top-100 QBs.
We could even look into the backups in 2001, but the only names I saw pop out at me were Chad Pennington or Drew Bledsoe. Maybe Pennington gets a rookie bonus to make it into the top-100, but doubts about Bledsoe originate from how the Pats offense got much better when he wasn’t in it. I don’t see either of them going from backup to top-100 list.
I think it’s more likely that the reality is that in 2001 we had about 12 QB’s you could easily rank in the top-100 best football players, with the other 20 or so starters a mixture of the good, the bad, and the Jim Millers. Perhaps a couple sneak into the top-100, but most likely he has a similar distribution to this year and bemoans the lack of all-star QBs in the league.
Which, it seems to me, is pretty much status quo in the NFL for the last 20 years.