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Where does Ben Roethlisberger rank among the best QBs of his era?

Cameron Jordan’s comments about Big Ben’s Hall of Fame credentials bring up an interesting argument.

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Cameron Jordan used his media availability Thursday to blatantly and brazenly disrespect Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl winner, a six-time Pro Bowler, and future first-ballot Hall of Famer. The disgusting clip can be found below, but I must warn you: view discretion is advised.

Putting aside the fact that Jordan was most likely gaslighting the media horde—he invoked Eli frigginManning, for one thing, and Jordan has somewhat of a penchant for trolling opposing quarterbacks (specifically, he mailed Cam Newton a bottle of wine and a broom after Jordan’s Saints completed a sweep of Newton’s Panthers last season, which is hilarious)—and thus probably wasn’t being entirely serious, he brings up a very interesting and very compelling topic of debate: where does Ben Roethlisberger rank among the best quarterbacks of his era?

The simple answer is Meh, probably somewhere in the top five. Another, less bold answer would be He’s borderline top five, but definitely in the top eight. Acceptable, too, would be Hey, idiot, there is a game this Sunday; why are we doing this now? The answer to that last one is because I’m bored and everyone else took all of the gripping and cool stories for this week. I’m sorry.

Anyway, to begin, we probably ought to define Ben Roethlisberger’s “era.” I’m spitballing, but let’s say that the 1998 draft marked the advent of the “Ben Roethlisberger era” and that, I don’t know, the 2010 draft marked its coda. Twelves years is a decent enough timespan to construct this wholly arbitrary and ultimately meaningless compilation, I think. Correspondingly, this provides a very dense and voluminous portfolio of quarterbacks from which to choose; in addition to the obvious inclusions, such as Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady, we can probably also count the likes of Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, and Peyton Manning as members of this era. Thus, here, is no particular order, is a list of quarterbacks that could reasonably be lumped in among Ben Roethlisberger’s contemporaries: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler (why not, you know?), Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matt Stafford, and Sam Bradford.

That’s a decent-enough starting point. From here, we can cut this down. Because this is my meaningless arbitrary quarterback list, it is not, um, particularly empirical, so I ought to disclose a few pronounced biases:

-I think deploying Super Bowls as an unassailable benchmark of individual proficiency is at best a casual fallacy. Philip Rivers has never even appeared in the Super Bowl, but I don’t think any rational person would argue that, say, Joe Flacco is currently or at any point has been a better professional quarterback than Rivers. Having said that, duh, winning Super Bowls is obviously still very important.

-I like stats a lot, but it’s important to remember that passing statistics are oftentimes downright deceitful. Ben Roethlisberger is currently on pace to become only the fifth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a single season, and he (rightfully) isn’t even in the conversation for league MVP. Matt Stafford already has a 5,000-yard season under his belt, and he’s had four seasons in which he’s thrown 29 or more touchdown passes, same as Ben Roethlisberger despite entering the league five years after Roethlisberger did. However, just like the Rivers/Flacco example listed above, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’d rank Stafford ahead of Roethlisberger.

-Individual accolades—All-Pro nominations, Pro Bowl nods, Player of the Month awards, etc.—should play somewhat of a role in determining a player’s standing among their peers.

-Longevity and persistence are critical factors. In Daunte Culpepper’s second season, he threw for nearly 4,000 yards (in 2000, back before 4,000-yard seasons were such ubiquitous achievements) and 33 touchdowns. Two years after that, he threw 23 interceptions. Two years after that, he had what at the time was one of the most prolific seasons in league history: 4,700 yards, 39 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, and a 110.0 quarterback rating. The following year Culpepper vaporized his knee and was never the same. Tom Brady blew his knee out in 2008. Between 2008 and today, he’s won two Super Bowls, made the Pro Bowl AND guided the Patriots to the playoffs in every season, and won an MVP award.

-Sam Bradford sucks.

With all of that said, here’s my list:

  1. Tom Brady. His sustained excellence and championships make this inarguable.
  2. Aaron Rodgers. The fact that the Rodgers owns only one Super Bowl ring is more an indictment against the Packers than it is against Aaron Rodgers. I have seen with my own eyes this man routinely orchestrate inconceivable feats of quarterbacking wizardry.
  3. Peyton Manning. Manning was similar to Brady in the sense that his teams demolished their competition during the regular season, but what separates them is that Manning had a tendency to fold in the playoffs. Manning does have two rings, one each with Indianapolis and Denver, but it should be noted that the Broncos won their title largely spite of Manning, as he spent much of the game masquerading as a corpse.
  4. Drew Brees. Remember above how I mentioned that only four players in the history of the NFL have thrown for 5,000 or more yards in a single season? Brees has done this five times.
  5. Roethlisberger. Working in Roethlisberger’s favor is the fact that he’s relatively decorated (six Pro Bowls, as mentioned above; this despite spending much of his career in the same conference as Brady and Manning, who were virtually assured Pro Bowl nods), that he constantly wins (he’s won 143 games in his career—among active players, this figure trails only Brady and Brees, both of whom had at least a three-year head start on Ben—and he’s only had one losing season), and that he’s tends to play particularly well in close games (he’s engineered 31 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, the sixth-most all-time according to Pro Football Reference).

The all-important question: is Big Ben a Hall of Famer? Probably he is! The Hall of Fame loves stats, and Roethlisberger currently ranks in the top 10 or juuust outside of it in a whole slew of purported important quantifiable metrics, and it’s reasonable to assume that he could climb into the top five-ish if he remains productive for another three or four years (that’s a big if, by the way). If he retired tomorrow, that fact that he’s already listed on these leaderboards, coupled with the two Super Bowl wins, would probably be enough to punch his ticket. Winning another ring and climbing the board a bit further would make his first-ballot case a lot stronger.

I think, regardless of where Ben ranks currently, we should be appreciative of the fact that we are currently witnessing the golden age of quarterbacking. Brady, Rodgers, Manning, Brees, and Roethlisberger are about as strong a top five you’ll find in any era of passers, and this new crop of volcanic, multitalented quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Patricks Mahomes could find their names etched among the all-time greats 10 years from now.