As some of you may remember, I've enjoyed contributing a statistical post to BTSC every now and then. There are a couple of my posts still linked at the left side of the main page, comparing the numbers of the some of the top RBs, WRs, and QBs in NFL history. I also posted an article comparing Big Ben to Eli Manning several years ago while I was between jobs and free to do more research and writing than usual.
After a long hiatus since then, I thought it might be a good time to look back at Roethlisberger's statistics through seven NFL seasons, and then compare his numbers with other QBs, both retired and active, who have started a sizable number of games like Roethlisberger has since 2004.
I pulled my data from Pro-Football-Reference.com. Using their Player Season Finder, I ran a query on all QBs that had 16,000 or more passing yards in their first seven NFL seasons. That would, of course, include some of the all time greats, but it also includes some of the "Hall of Very Good," as well as some "just ok" QBs. But, my goal here was not another comparison of all time greats. I just wanted to see how Ben stacked up against a fairly large sample size. I set the bar at 16,000 passing yards in order to include Tony Romo, because he is one of the QBs in my mind that has been one of Ben's contemporaries, a la Eli and Philip Rivers. I also thought about Aaron Rodgers, but he's only started three seasons, so I would have had to drop the bar to 12,000 career passing yards. I just thought that would open it up too much.
While this analysis is not exactly the same as the ones that I mentioned above, I followed the same general process. I looked at variety of statistics that were provided by the PFR query, then ranked the players in each category and took the average of each player's rankings. I used the average rankings to determine an overall aggregate ranking for all of the players. For more information the process, I recommend taking a look at one of the posts that I mentioned above (they are under the Statistical Comparisons section).
With that brief intro, let's take a look at the numbers. First, we have the raw statistics from PFR, broken down into two separate tables. Each row of data is sortable.
Before going forward, just a couple of notes about the statistics above. First, the only statistics in Tables 1 and 2 that are not straight from PFR are the final 2 columns in Table 2. I calculated the TD/G and Int/G by simply dividing each player's total TDs and Ints by the number of games played in their first seven years in the league. Second, some of the players have sack statistics listed (or very small numbers) since the NFL has not always tracked quarterback sacks (Wikipedia says that the NFL began tracking how many times QBs were sacked in 1963, while they began tracking defensive player sacks in 1982).
As I touched on above, I followed a similar process to what I used in the RBs, WRs, and QBs articles that are posted on the left side of the front page. Basically, I ranked the players by completion percentage, passer rating, and the per attempt and per game statistics given in the tables above by sorting the players on those statistics. I then averaged each players rankings and gave them an overall ranking by sorting according to their mean average ranking. The results were placed into the table below.
While this analysis is not as exhaustive as the previous ones, I think it still gives a good idea of how the different players compare with each other. My goal here was more a quick assessment on how Ben compares with other QBs through 7 seasons. And frankly, I think that my results were probably pretty similar to what they would have been had I followed the same process that I did in the previous posts, but they only required about 1/10th of the time and effort. Anyway, let's take a look at the results.
Not surprisingly, Ben stacks up pretty well in every category. He's tied for fourth overall with Dante Culpepper, with an average ranking of 9.25 across the various categories. Of the eight categories, he ranks in the top 5 in 3 of them, top 10 in 5, top 15 in 7 and top 16 in all 8. It's not surprising that most of the top QBs in this analysis are players who played since 2000, but it's interesting to note the players in this analysis that Ben is ahead of: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, and significantly higher than Eli Manning. He also compares favorably with Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner, although slightly behind them.
Some have said that Ben is just a "game manager," benefiting from the Steelers' defense and run heavy offense, but he is 14th in yards per game in NFL history through his first seven years. The "game manager" tag may have fit his first 3 years (although few game managers excel as Ben did in his first couple years), but as we all know, the Steelers have not been a top tier rushing since 2007. In fact, given the more limited nature of Ben's offensive game early in his career, his yards/game ranking is actually higher than we would expect. He has obviously made up for it in years 4-7. While increasing his yards/game in recent years, Roethlisberger has still maintained his high completion percentage and passer rating.
On the negative side, we all know about Ben's sack numbers. In fact, I only count 2 QBs with more sacks in their first 7 seasons.However, in ANY/A (adjusted net yards/attempt), which is the one stat in this analysis to incorporate sacks into it, Ben still looks pretty good. Even though I believe Ben has been the most sacked QB in the last 5 years, it has not had an overall huge impact on his productivity. He is still the 9th ranked QB for ANY/A in this analysis.
Taken together, I think these results tell us what we already knew in Steeler Nation. Ben Roethlisberger is one of the elite QBs in this league. After seven seasons, he has one of the best career starts in NFL history. To be fair, some of these QBs' per game numbers are adversely affected since they were not starters in their first season or two. Tony Romo, for example, ranks low in yards/game and TDs/game. But, I actually think that's fine because this analysis sort of builds in some additional credit for being ready to start as a rookie. Players like Big Ben who were up to the task of playing at a high level as rookies should get credit for that. Besides, the players who did not start as rookies were also assisted in Ints/game (Romo ranked 4th in that category), so it is offset somewhat.
I know that Ben's sack totals are a concern, and could conceivably shorten his career, but I think there are a couple of things that we can take some hope in. One, Ben is only 29 years old. While not the average, there are certainly players who have played into their late 30s. The second item to give us hope is related to the first. That is the fact that the most sacked QB in NFL history, John Elway, was one of those players who played into his late 30's. So, I fully expect to see number 7 in a Steelers uniform for at least another 5 years, if not longer. And, based on his performance so far in his career, I expect him finish his career as a sure Hall of Famer.
On a side note, as an NC State alum, I would be remiss if I didn't point out Philip Rivers at the top of this analysis. I know, many of you don't like him, but he is clearly a great QB. He has not had the playoff success that Ben has, but I partly chalk that up to having Norv Turner at Head Coach.