On Monday night, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees passed Peyton Manning and broke the record for career passing yards. This is his greatest record, but still just one of many including most completions and highest completion percentage ever. In addition, Brees and Tom Brady are both on pace to break Manning’s career passing touchdowns record by next season. Considering Brady is about a year and a half older, the Saints QB is likely to hold that when he retires as well. Do all these records make him the greatest QB ever?
When a quarterback is likely to end his career with the most yards, touchdowns, completions and completion percentage ever, he has to be in the conversation for greatest QB of all time. However, simply because he has only one Super Bowl championship, Brees rarely comes up in the discussion. The problem with this argument is that football is the ultimate team sport. No matter how great a quarterback is, he needs a supporting cast to win games.
It’s difficult to compare quarterbacks from different eras because of rules and game style differences. So instead of debating the greatest of all time, here is a comparison of Drew Brees with the greatest QBs of this generation.
While there are many good quarterbacks in the NFL right now, as there have been throughout Drew Brees’ career, only a certain few are in the same tier as the New Orleans QB. Even guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, who have two Super Bowl rings each, are not in the same conversation as Brees.
The top tier of quarterbacks throughout Brees’ career, and his main competition for greatest quarterback of this generation is made up of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre. (Favre counts because he had about eight years in his prime after Brees was drafted). The main factors taken into account when comparing QBs are regular season performance, playoff performance, intangibles and team success.
Regular Season Performance
Both awards and statistics can show players’ greatness during the regular season. Brees has no MVP awards, compared to five for Peyton, three apiece for Brady and Favre, and two for Rodgers. But while MVPs are impressive, they don’t truly reveal how great a player was.
Diving into their statistics provides a stronger basis of comparison between the quarterbacks. Immediately, we know that Brees will probably end up as the career leader in passing yards, completions, touchdowns and completion percentage. He also has the single-season record for completion percentage and is number two in single-season yards, a grand total of one yard behind Peyton’s 5,477 in 2013. The fact that Brees has the completion percentage record to go along with his volume records represent the fact that he is consistently accurate while throwing the ball downfield.
Manning, Favre and Brady are all close to Brees and consistently the top four in most of the volume stats. Favre held every major volume record at retirement, but Brees has passed him in all but touchdowns, which will happen soon. the only one he is left with is most interceptions thrown. While great quarterbacks who throw a lot of passes are going to throw picks, Favre threw 80 more than Peyton and 110 more than Brees. Favre is a great quarterback, but the statistics say that Brees performed better in the regular season.
Rodgers has played in only about 150 NFL games, compared to over 250 for all the other four. This is why he doesn’t have nearly the stats of the other quarterbacks, but he’s climbing up the lists. In addition, Rodgers has the lowest interception percentage of all five at 1.5% and makes plays outside the pocket with his athleticism that the others simply cannot. He is just as good as Brees and the others, but the lack of games played hurts him in this category.
Where does Brees stand? Brees is side by side with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady here. He will have all the records, but MVP’s, which he doesn’t have any of, mean something. However, Rodgers doesn’t have the volume to be comparable yet and Favre threw way too many picks.
Intangibles are a very broad category when talking about NFL quarterbacks. They include running the right plays, being a leader the team can rally around and staying calm in critical situations. All great quarterbacks have these characteristics, but some have certain qualities more than others.
Peyton Manning was probably the best quarterback in history at reading defenses and setting up his team for success. He seemed to always know what coverage opposing defenses were running. While coaches give most top quarterbacks the freedom to call audibles at the line of scrimmage, Peyton had almost complete control over the offense. While Brees is essentially a co-offensive play caller along with HC Sean Payton, he, nor any of the others, read a defense as well as Manning did.
Brees, on the other hand, is the heart and soul (and arm) of his football team. His teammates laud him frequently; last offseason, Zach Strief praised Drew Brees so much at his retirement press conference that Brees was moved to tears. Further, he frequently leads pre-game huddles to hype up his team and gets them ready for the game. Brees is not only a dominant player on the field, but he is also a perfect teammate off it. Brady, Favre, and Manning are in the same ballpark as players who motivate and get the best from their teammates.
The last intangible quality is stability in situations where the game is on the line. Tom Brady seems to be most people’s unanimous choice when it comes to choosing the most clutch QB. However, all of these quarterbacks have had many late comeback game-winning drives. Brees has had his share of fourth quarter and overtime game-winning drives too though. Playoff success is for later, but Peyton Manning has the most with 52 regular season game winning drives. Brees and Favre each have 43, while Brady has 42. Rodgers only has 17, but he has also had fewer opportunities than the rest.
Where does Brees stand? Brees is a great leader, arguably the best of the bunch, and also a good play caller. This is a close category, as most top-tier quarterbacks have all the intangibles it takes to be great in the NFL.
Playoff performance and team success will be discussed in the next part of this comparison.