Era-Adjusted Passing Leaders

Scott Spratt looks at which all-time quarterbacks would have had the best fantasy seasons had they played in the 2013 scoring environment.

| 3 years ago
Dan Marino

Era-Adjusted Passing Leaders


Dan MarinoHave you ever wondered how Dan Marino would have compared to Tom Brady if Marino had been a player in this era? What about how Steve Young would have compared to Aaron Rodgers? Offensive and defensive systems were so different 20 and 30 years ago that football was basically a different game. It seems to be an annual tradition to see various records fall, but so much of that progress is the result of the changing environment of the game rather than the arrival of definitively superior players.

There is no time machine to help us watch the best players of all time compete with each other in their respective primes, but we can compare those great seasons statistically with an adjustment to compensate for the era they were played in. Previously, I calculated the number of passing and rushing yards of every season since 1970 pro-rated as if there were 32 teams each season. I’ll use those to adjust individual player seasons.

First, I divided the 2013 statistical totals by the totals from 1970-2013 to create passing, rushing, and receiving multipliers. For example, in 1970, there was a pro-rated 12,057 yards passing. The 18,136 actual passing yards in 2013 divided by 12,057 is 1.50. With that, I multiplied each quarterback’s actual passing yards from 1970 by 1.50 to create an adjusted passing yards (aYards) total that is meant to conform their numbers to the 2013 environment.

Here are those multipliers for every passing statistic:

Passing Multipliers to Conform to 2013
Season Att Comp Yards TD INT
1970 1.50 1.80 1.59 1.53 0.80
1971 1.57 1.88 1.66 1.68 0.75
1972 1.64 1.94 1.71 1.62 0.85
1973 1.67 1.96 1.81 1.73 0.87
1974 1.53 1.79 1.68 1.74 0.82
1975 1.48 1.72 1.58 1.51 0.77
1976 1.55 1.82 1.66 1.63 0.88
1977 1.62 1.93 1.78 1.81 0.78
1978 1.34 1.55 1.42 1.50 0.69
1979 1.22 1.38 1.27 1.31 0.74
1980 1.16 1.26 1.18 1.16 0.70
1981 1.12 1.25 1.13 1.19 0.72
1982 2.00 2.17 2.03 2.20 1.26
1983 1.13 1.22 1.12 1.13 0.71
1984 1.11 1.20 1.11 1.14 0.75
1985 1.10 1.23 1.11 1.18 0.73
1986 1.10 1.21 1.12 1.20 0.76
1987 1.18 1.31 1.20 1.15 0.81
1988 1.12 1.27 1.16 1.27 0.79
1989 1.11 1.21 1.10 1.21 0.79
1990 1.17 1.28 1.19 1.22 0.92
1991 1.14 1.21 1.18 1.38 0.90
1992 1.18 1.26 1.23 1.36 0.85
1993 1.18 1.25 1.26 1.47 0.98
1994 1.05 1.11 1.11 1.21 0.93
1995 1.02 1.07 1.07 1.14 0.92
1996 1.06 1.13 1.14 1.20 0.87
1997 1.08 1.18 1.15 1.22 0.98
1998 1.10 1.19 1.14 1.15 0.92
1999 1.05 1.12 1.10 1.17 0.87
2000 1.08 1.13 1.14 1.23 0.92
2001 1.09 1.13 1.14 1.23 0.89
2002 1.05 1.08 1.11 1.16 0.95
2003 1.10 1.15 1.18 1.23 0.93
2004 1.11 1.14 1.12 1.10 0.96
2005 1.10 1.13 1.16 1.25 0.99
2006 1.11 1.13 1.15 1.24 0.97
2007 1.06 1.06 1.11 1.12 0.94
2008 1.10 1.10 1.13 1.24 1.08
2009 1.06 1.07 1.09 1.13 0.96
2010 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.07 0.98
2011 1.04 1.06 1.03 1.08 0.99
2012 1.02 1.02 1.03 1.06 1.07
2013 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00

 

The 1970s had relatively little passing compared to today’s game, but by the time the 1980s rolled around—and excluding the 1982 strike season that breaks the continuity—passing attempts and yards stabilized for nearly three decades. From there, you can really see the sharp increase that started in 2007 and became consistent from 2010-2013. Meanwhile, interceptions decreased suddenly in 1990 and have remained fairly stable since.

Now, the players:

Best Era-Adjusted Fantasy Seasons, Quarterbacks, 1970-2013
Player Season Yards TD INT FanPts aYards aTD aINT aFanPts
Tom Brady 2007 4806 50 8 398 5312 56 8 443
Peyton Manning 2013 5477 55 10 422 5477 55 10 422
Dan Marino 1984 5084 48 17 361 5621 55 13 418
Aaron Rodgers 2011 4643 45 6 397 4785 49 6 417
Steve Young 1998 4170 36 12 368 4760 41 11 415
Daunte Culpepper 2004 4717 39 11 375 5283 43 11 413
Drew Brees 2011 5476 46 14 390 5644 50 14 411
R. Cunningham 1990 3466 30 13 357 4137 37 12 410
Peyton Manning 2004 4557 49 10 362 5104 54 10 404
Steve Young 1994 3969 35 10 350 4403 42 9 403
Daunte Culpepper 2000 3937 33 16 346 4474 41 15 399
Warren Moon 1990 4689 33 13 327 5597 40 12 394
Jeff Garcia 2000 4278 31 10 341 4861 38 9 393
Tom Brady 2011 5235 39 12 370 5395 42 12 389
Dan Marino 1986 4746 44 23 320 5305 53 17 388
Cam Newton 2011 4051 21 17 369 4175 23 17 381
Steve Young 1993 3858 27 16 282 4853 40 16 380
Roman Gabriel 1973 3219 23 12 204 5824 40 10 378
Kurt Warner 1999 4353 41 13 327 4810 48 11 378
Bert Jones 1976 3104 24 9 236 5160 39 8 376
Brett Favre 1995 4413 38 13 339 4727 43 12 375
Steve Young 1992 3465 25 7 302 4257 34 6 375
Aaron Rodgers 2009 4434 30 7 345 4817 34 7 374
Brett Favre 1996 3899 39 13 312 4427 47 11 369
Dan Fouts 1982 2883 17 11 168 5855 37 14 367

 

The listed fantasy point totals are based on standard scoring with four points for passing touchdowns and minus-two for interceptions.

Brady and Peyton Manning in their 50-touchdown seasons remain on top of the list, but with the era-adjustment, Marino vaults to third with his incredible 1984 season. Even with the adjustment, Marino still stands out from his contemporaries. Only three quarterback seasons in the 1980s and two in the 1970s make the top 25 seasons. The 1990s and 2000s are more evenly split, however, with nine and 11 top 25 seasons, respectively.

With players like Young and Randall Cunningham, rushing is a major component of their fantasy value. I used the same method I did with their passing statistics to adjust their rushing numbers to the 2013 environment. To keep the table readable, I did not show those numbers. However, they are part of the adjusted fantasy point calculations.

It is often portrayed that rushing quarterbacks are new to the game with the likes of Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, and others. At least among the elite seasons of the last half century, that is not the case. Really, it makes it more amazing to see five seasons from Brady, Manning, and Drew Bees on the list when so many of those top 25 seasons are from dual threat quarterbacks.

Next up: running backs.

Scott Spratt was named Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He also writes for RotoGraphs and contributes to ESPN Insider as a research analyst for Baseball Info Solutions. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @PFF_ScottSpratt

Find more of our Dynasty Content here.

  • Brian

    I love this. I’ve wanted to do a adjusted performance thing like this myself for awhile, but never have the time. The explanation for number change in 78 is obvious. As I stare at your table, I think I can even spot a subtle effect of the “Ty Law Rule” in the mid 00s. But what do you attribute the 1990 interception effect to? There was no major rule change I am aware of. Was it the proliferation of west coast offenses?

  • Hendoz

    Coaching plays into this quite a bit. If Manning had played for Belichick, and baring a catastrophe, his 2004 season would likely have pushed the TD record to around 51-52 and added close to 350+ more yards to his final tally. In 2007 had Brady played for Polian/Dungy he would have sat out the last 2 games. Brady gets the benefit in that area. Belichick will keep the pedal down regardless of his lead, other coaches start eating clock in similar situations. This is just one of the hangups of trying to gather individual results from a team sport. Still a lot of fun to look at though!

    • Scott Spratt

      I agree with you and don’t see this as a robust tool to actually compare the quality of the player seasons. But it’s a fun exercise from a fantasy standpoint.

  • Rick S.

    Given that Marino’s 1984 stood for so long and was against more aggressive defensive rules, it has to be the best fantasy season. Like Babe Ruth crushing his contemporaries, in 84 Marino blew away the number 2 QB in fantasy…