Quantifying Quarterback Greatness

We crunch the numbers using Qlik Sense to find the greatest QB of all time.

Sports fans have long been debating over which player is the greatest of all time in his/her respective sport. Agreeing on which stat, set of stats, and/or categories should be included in the argument spurs even more debate.

Does winning the “big game” hold the most weight? Is it MVP selections? Is it pure on-field stats? How about the “clutch” factor (Game winning drives / 4th quarter comebacks)?

I set out to try to end this debate once and for all (like that can ever happen). My first order of business was to identify which quarterbacks to include in my data. To do that, I went to Pro Football Reference and found the top passers from each franchise. I capped the list at the top 5 for each franchise. Keep in mind that some players bounced around and were actually on the top 5 list of a couple different franchises. Once I identified the quarterbacks, I gathered their career passing and rushing stats for both the regular season and the playoffs. I also gathered data on things like Super Bowl (SB) appearances, SB Wins, SB MVP, All-Pro selections, Pro Bowl selections, League MVP, etc.

After loading all of the data into Qlik Sense, now I needed to devise my calculation for the Greatest of All-Time (or G.O.A.T. as the kids say). I broke the data into three categories: On-Field Stats, Winning, and Individual Awards. Here is how my formula developed:

For On-Field Stats, I included Pass/Rush Yardage and Touchdowns (TDs). I also took into account longevity so, I divided the totals by the number of games each quarterback:

YDs (Pass/Rush) / 10,000 / games
TDs (Pass/Rush) / 10 / games

Next I identified and weighted each Winning Category:

Wins – Regular Season = 2.5pts / Playoffs = 5 points)

Game Winning Drives (Regular Season 5pts, Playoffs 10pts)
4th Quarter Comebacks (Regular Season 2.5pts, Playoffs 5pts)
SB Appearances = 5pts
SB Wins = 10pts + Total O/D factor (was the team offense or defense heavy)

*O/D Factor – In the year in which the QB won the “Big Game”, I took a look at the offensive and defensive rankings for his team. If the offense ranked higher than the defense I added a point. If the defense outranked the offense, I added no points. The assumption is that if the offense ranked higher, it was because of the QB.

Who is the greatest #NFL quarterback of all time? We ask #QlikSense for the answer:

Finally, I identified and weighted individual awards:

SB MVP = 15pts
League MVP = 20pts
1st Team All-Pro = 10pts
Pro Bowl = 5pts

When you break down each of the three categories, it is not easy to identify the G.O.A.T. For example:

On-Field Stats

Peyton Manning is ranked first in yardage (79,980) and TDs (600) with Brett Favre in second and Tom Brady in third.


Peyton Manning has the most overall wins (200) but Tom Brady is tied at the top of the list with (4) SB wins. Manning (58, 47) and Brady (57, 43) are also neck-in-neck with game winning drives and 4th quarter comebacks.

Individual Awards

Peyton Manning has accumulated the most Regular Season MVP awards (5), Pro-Bowls (14) and is second to Otto Graham with (7) All-Pro selections. Again, Tom Brady is within striking range. Brady (3) and Joe Montana (3) outclassed Peyton Manning (1) in the SB MVP category.

So who is the Greatest QB of All-Time? Well…..it depends.

If you include all games (Regular Season and playoffs), the G.O.A.T list looks like this:

  1. Peyton Manning (1244.73)
  2. Tom Brady (1210.72)
  3. Brett Favre (1020.20)
  4. John Elway (956.67)
  5. Dan Marino (907.70)

If you include only playoffs:

  1. Tom Brady (448.21)
  2. Peyton Manning (387.18)
  3. Joe Montana (362.22)
  4. John Elway (269.15)
  5. Brett Favre (255.21)

Right now, I’m going with Peyton Manning but it looks like Tom Brady has a chance in the next year or so to become the G.O.A.T. Here is a link to the Qlik Sense app I built. Analyze the data and, in the comments section below, let me know which quarterbacks make your Top 5 Greatest QBs of All-Time list.


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