Measuring the "Top Five-iness" of NFL quarterbacks

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

In stupid debates all around the country, stupid NFL fans love to fall back on the trope of the Top 5 QB.

"Sure, he's good, but is he top 5?"

"He's having a nice season, but do you really think he's in the same conversation as Brady, Manning, Brees, Rodgers, Romo/Vick/Rivers/Eli?!"

It's a number that feels right. It doesn't feel like there can be more than 5 great quarterbacks at one time, and Top 10 isn't really exclusive enough because suddenly we're talking about nearly a third of NFL starters. So, we want to rank things because of our national autism and we want to look specifically at 5 of them because, again, the internet is pretty goddamned autistic, so how can we actually measure that buttery essence of greatness, Top Five-iness?


To get started, I pulled up's 2013 Passing leaders. There's a lot to choose from. I threw out passing yards and yards per game because those stats tell me more about the offensive coordinator and the YACability of the wide receivers than they tell me about the quarterback. I threw out Interception % because interceptions are fairly random. I also threw out yards per carry, Comebacks, and Gamewinning Drives because not many QBs rank highly in YPC and Comebacks/GWDs are mostly team metrics. There is also a 30-way tie for 2nd/3rd place in Comebacks and GWD drives, which doesn't help us much either. So, what's left? I landed on nine quarterback statistics that I believe do a good job of measuring a QB's overall effectiveness:

Passing Touchdowns
Passer Rating
Yards per pass attempt
Yards per completion
Adjusted yards per attempt
Net yards per attempt
Adjusted net yards per attempt
Completion percentage
Touchdown percentage


Our metrics established, the next task is to simply add up the rankings for each quarterback who appears in the top 10 spots for each of these metrics. A number 1 ranking is worth 1 point, a number 10 ranking is worth 10 points. For the sake of this exercise, and since all we care about are the Top 10 (and ultimately Top 5) QBs for each metric, we will call everything after the 10th spot a tie for 11th. So far, this is pretty simple, yeah? It's golf scoring, essentially. The quarterbacks who rank the best (lots of 1s, 2s, or 3s) should end up with a low score, which is good. Quarterbacks on the fringe will end up with a higher score, which is bad. A quarterback who doesn't rank in the top 10 for any of these 9 categories will be awarded all 11s for a total of 99, meaning he is irrelevant to us.

Here is the first round of results. As you can see, some of these guys only manage to place in one of the metrics, leaving them with a score in the 90s. At this point, it's worth noting that anyone you don't see here did not place in the Top 10 in any of these categories, period. Some notable absences, no?


Let's cut those dudes in the 90s entirely, because they suck. That leaves us with these fellows:


Helpful. These guys are sort of Top Fivey. Kaep is still an outlier (only qualifies in 3 of 9 categories) so he's out, Romo and Vick are trying to hang but can't really, Stafford is a consistent 7 but still finds himself on the outside looking in. Let's cut to the chase. Who are the Top 5 QBs in the NFL by Top Five-iness?


Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, and Russell Carrington Wilson. The Top Five-iness rating is simply each quarterback's average spot among the 9 metrics we chose.


  • I dropped Nick Foles from this exercise entirely. He is playing incredible football, but it's not fair to include him yet.
  • Wilson, Brees, Rodgers, and Manning are the only 4 quarterbacks in the NFL to rank among the top 10 in all 9 categories we looked at.
  • Russell Wilson would not have ranked in the Top 10 for Passing Yards or Yards Per Game, should we have chosen to include those statistics.
  • Russell Wilson is ranked 1st in Yards Per Carry, Gamewinning Drives, and Comebacks, should we have chosen to include those statistics.
  • Where the h*ck is Tom Brady

Follow me on Twitter @BestGuyAround

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