My Passer Rating Formula

I miss the days when defensive players were allowed to actually breathe on wideouts and maul them at the line of scrimmage. I miss the days of tough quarterbacks who were able to stand in the pocket, take a licking and still deliver the big play.

Sadly, football has changed too much over the past ten years. Since 2000, the NFL has become a more passer-friendly league than ever before. Why did they do this? Simple: to put more butts in the seats. They know fans want to see high-scoring games. I love a shootout as much as the next guy, but not when it’s artificial. When you take away the right to play defense, it just dulls the game and puts it into the hands of the refs who will blow the whistle on the slightest of contact.

Today’s quarterbacks and wideouts should wear leotards on the field. They are not the warriors of yesteryear, but Thumbelinas given free reign to light up the scoreboard like a pinball game.

I recently developed an idea for my own passer rating formula. The NFL’s official passer rating doesn’t take into account how often a QB gets sacked at all; it also punishes those who were smart enough to throw the ball away for an incompletion rather than taking a sack, as completion percentage is a part of their formula and sacks aren’t.

Each quarterback is different. Some are mobile pocket passers (Steve Young and Roger Staubach), some are virtually mistake-free surgeons (Joe Montana and Kurt Warner) and some are gunslingers who throw the deep ball (Dan Marino and Brett Favre). As far as avoiding sacks, Marino was in a league of his own. I wanted to develop a passer rating that rewards all types of passers for the same accomplishments (completions, touchdowns and avoiding sacks) and punishes them all for the same types of foolishness (sacks, fumbles and interceptions). Below is my formula, a two-step process:

touchdowns + completions – sacks – fumbles – interceptions = number

Number / attempts = Passer Rating


Before I began to research an assortment of quarterbacks and their numbers, I had already made up my mind that I would place an asterisk next to each quarterback who played five or more years in the 2000 era (today’s passer-friendly and anti-defense game). I am glad I did. As I would later find out, many of the top ratings belong to quarterbacks who play under today’s flag football rules. It’s no wonder Brett Favre continues to stick around. Yes, he’s a great football quarterback and he loves the game. Yes, Favre is a tough customer; however, the game isn’t as tough as it was when he first entered the league. This is why he’s able to stick around rather than leaving the field bloodied like Johnny Unitas did.

I shook my head in disbelief when I observed how low Terry Bradshaw’s rating was under my system. Bradshaw played in a much tougher defensive era than most – if not all – quarterbacks on this list. My sympathy goes out to quarterbacks such as Unitas, who played in an even tougher era where madmen like Dick Butkus went on murderous rampages on the field. As for Unitas, I did not include him in this list because I could not find any statiscal reference showing how many times he was sacked in his career. Without the sacks, I cannot complete his numbers in my formula.

*Peyton Manning: 0.635
*Drew Brees: 0.618
*Tom Brady: 0.595
*Philip Rivers: 0.590

Joe Montana: 0.589
*Kurt Warner: 0.586
*Brett Favre: 0.571
Steve Young: 0.570
Dan Marino: 0.567
Troy Aikman: 0.552
Jim Kelly: 0.524
Dan Fouts: 0.515
*Eli Manning: 0.511
Warren Moon: 0.502
Boomer Esiason: 0.498
John Elway: 0.489
Dave Krieg: 0.474
Roger Staubach: 0.460
Randall Cunningham: 0.446
Phil Simms: 0.441
Terry Bradshaw: 0.419

*Played 5+ years in post-2000 passer-friendly era

From the list above, six of the top 10 – including the top four – ratings belong to those who played five or more years under today’s passer-friendly conditions. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised by this finding. The top three non-asterisk quarterbacks under this rating system are Joe Montana, Steve Young and Dan Marino. Interestingly enough, I have always considered Montana/Young/Marino to be the three greatest quarterbacks of all time.

I’ve also said to fans over the years that Jim Kelly never got enough credit. People were stunned when I said I would take Jim Kelly over John Elway, but I meant it when I said it. Under my rating system, Kelly is indeed better than Elway.

What I find most impressive is the fact that Joe Montana’s rating under my system is on par with today’s quarterbacks who play in a passer-friendly era. Just imagine if Montana, Young and Marino played in today’s era! Marino’s deep passing attack would be more dangerous under today’s rules; he made a mockery of the record books back in his era and he would do so in today’s era as well. Montana and Young’s surgical precision would also be enhanced by today’s rules, as Jerry Rice would make defenders look silly and march untouched to the endzone.

The fact that Montana’s rating (posted in a much tougher era) matches up with today’s ratings speaks volumes about his greatness. It is no wonder that he is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time.

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