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Shutdown Corner's Overrated and Underrated: All-time quarterbacks

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Joe Namath (USA Today Sports Images)

This offseason, Shutdown Corner's Frank Schwab and Eric Edholm will look into what is overrated and underrated in all aspects of the NFL. We fully expect your angry emails and comments that are sure to follow.

OVERRATED AND UNDERRATED: All-time quarterbacks

Eric Edholm: Donovan McNabb

I realize what I am getting into. Saying that McNabb is overrated, cloaked by the Rush Limbaugh comments of yore, is touchy subject matter. It means you have to dismiss race right away, because that’s what the argument has become.

Please, people, I implore of you: Use some Instagram filters. Squint. Pretend every quarterback is the same color. Race is not a factor for me at all. McNabb was a good but hardly great quarterback in his day. It’s not hard to see.

McNabb reached five NFC title games and one Super Bowl, and it would appear that his lasting legacy was being a steward for a talented Eagles team that generally played safe ball despite his reputation for being a freelancing and freewheeling dervish. But the more you peel back the numbers, McNabb was largely average and a product of Andy Reid’s system. Generally, I hate that “product” label, because ultimately the quarterback is still pulling the trigger on the throws, still making the reads and still being asked to execute difficult plays.

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(USA Today Sports Images)

(USA Today Sports Images)

That said, McNabb barely separated himself from his underlings over the course of his starting career in the NFL. And we have a pretty good sample size of this, too, because of McNabb’s frequently injured status. From 2000 to 2009, McNabb missed 24 starts for myriad reasons. Only a few of his backups had McNabb’s athletic ability, and yet the team didn’t always suffer when he left the lineup.
As an NFL head coach, including last season with the Kansas City Chiefs, Andy Reid has started 11 other quarterbacks besides McNabb, which has included the good (Alex Smith, Michael Vick, Jeff Garcia, Nick Foles), the bad (Kevin Kolb, Vince Young, Koy Detmer) and the ugly (Doug Petersen, A.J. Feeley, Mike McMahon) since 1999. (We’ll file largely unproven Chase Daniel and his one career start in a category unto his own for now.)

If you equate those players’ statistics from their 98 NFL starts over a 161-game template, which is how many games McNabb started in his career, you find that there’s little separating them.

McNabb had a career 59 percent completion rate; the other 11 were at 58.3. McNabb’s yards per attempt were 6.94; the other guys were at 6.93. McNabb won more games and scrambled for more yards than the other 11, but he also lost more fumbles and took more sacks.

I wrestled with classifying him as overrated, though, because in the end I think most people view McNabb as being in the Hall of Very Good. Reid trading him in the division for next to nothing and McNabb’s final two seasons really did sully his reputation and hurt any remote chances he might have had at Canton. He essentially was benched his final three seasons for Kevin Kolb, Rex Grossman and Christian Ponder. Think about that for a minute.

I’ll even suggest that McNabb was merely an average to above-average quarterback for most of his career. Other than some transcendent moments early in his career, including his excellent Super Bowl season of 2004, McNabb was not special in many ways.

Frank Schwab: Joe Namath

Talking about Namath being overrated historically is a popular exercise among some, but there's a reason. It's pretty accurate.

Namath has a special place in NFL history. And, in truth, the story of the game can't be written without him. But the myth surrounding Namath is a little overdone.

He had 220 interceptions and just 173 touchdowns (wow). He was first-team All-AFL or All-NFL just once, in 1968. If wins are your thing, his teams were just 62-63-4 when he started, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. He completed just 50.1 percent of his passes.

Namath played in a different era, so comparing his numbers to any modern quarterback isn't fair. But if you look at some of the greats that played in the 1960s or 1970s with Namath — Bart Starr, Len Dawson, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw to name a few — none came remotely close to throwing 47 more interceptions than touchdowns over their career.

Namath is overrated for a few reasons: He played in New York. He had a larger than life personality. He was unique and interesting because of his game-changing contract with the AFL. And, most importantly, because of Super Bowl III. Even his role in that is overrated.

I suppose you can make a case that the Jets don't win without Namath's guarantee, but it was more than Namath who won that game. Namath didn't even attempt a pass in the fourth quarter. He won the Super Bowl MVP award despite not throwing one touchdown pass, the only Super Bowl MVP-winning quarterback to make that claim. A defense that forced five turnovers and Matt Snell eating up 121 yards on the ground and a bunch of time were bigger reasons than Namath for the Super Bowl III win.

But like everything else with Namath, his role in Super Bowl III has turned into something that surpasses reality.

UNDERRATED

EE: Kurt Warner

I had planned to go with the Cincinnati Bengals’ Ken Anderson here, and there’s little doubting it: he’s underrated. But some quick research showed me that I would be about the 419th NFL writer (apparently none of whom are Hall of Fame voters) who feels the same way. So Ken gets his due again — he’s underrated, folks! — but will have to play second fiddle in this piece.

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(USA Today Sports Images)

(USA Today Sports Images)

Instead, we’ll go with Warner, who is eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time next year. And sadly, I think he’ll get passed up for at least the first year. We’ll truly find out if he’s underrated in the grand scope if he never makes it to Canton, because that would be the crime of the century.

Simply put, Warner is one of the best quarterbacks of the past 25 years. The only ones who have had better careers at the position since Warner entered the league in 1998 have been Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees (I am not quite ready to put Aaron Rodgers at that level). And that includes several years of Warner basically wasting away on the bench — he started a total of 31 games over five seasons in between three brilliant ones each with the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals.

Warner’s 1999 to 2001 production — 98 touchdown passes, 67.2 percent completions and 12,612 and 9.1 yards per attempt — were unheard of at the time. He and Mike Martz helped open up the NFL to a new generation of passers with their wide-open, stress-the-defense style. It was Warner’s ability to read, think and react quickly that put a leaguewide emphasis on quarterbacks being able to handle mass amounts of information in tiny windows of time.

After leaving the Rams (and a forgettable year as Eli Manning's shepherd with the Giants), Warner went on another torrid streak that gave him the rare NFL second act to his career. His 2008 season in Arizona — in 20 games, counting playoffs, he threw for 5,730 yards, 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions — was particularly incredible.

Too often, the Hall is bent more on statistics than greatness. When you watched Warner play, he was great more often than not. He had a 9-4 record in the playoffs, with two of those losses coming in Super Bowls decided on the opponent’s final drives, and was the author of the three biggest playoff passing totals ever: 414, 365 and 377 yards. Over those 13 postseason games, his passing numbers — 3,952 and 31 touchdowns — were higher than the postseason totals of Hall of Famers Jim Kelly (17 games), Troy Aikman (16), Terry Bradshaw (19) and Steve Young (20 games, 14 starts).

In fact, Young’s career, with its late start and his 143 starts, is a ballpark measuring stick for what Warner did. Over their careers, Warner had the edge in completion percent (65.5 to 64.3), yards per start (278.8 to 231.6) and touchdowns per start (1.79 to 1.62), but Young bested him in TD percentage (5.6 to 5.1), interception percentage (2.6 to 3.1) and passer rating (96.8 to 93.7).

And, of course, Young’s rushing totals blow Warner’s out of the water. He was not that kind of player. But Warner was a winner and a gunslinger who helped redefine the game. If he’s reduced to being viewed by history as something of a fluke or outlier or as the Halley’s Comet of quarterbacks, it will be a shame because Warner had a career that is Hall of Fame worthy.

FS: Drew Brees

Brees is clearly a top 10 all-time quarterback, perhaps top 5. But how often is he really mentioned in that echelon?

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(USA Today Sports Images)

(USA Today Sports Images)

Brees has three of the top seven greatest NFL seasons in terms of passing yards. He has three of the top 11 seasons for passing touchdowns. Four of the top 22 seasons in regards to completion percentage, including the top two. Feel free to believe this pass-happy era helped prop up Brees, but that doesn't explain why he has been so much better than most of his peers.

Say that Brees is in a great system, and that's true, but it was true of Joe Montana and Dan Fouts too. Bring up that Brees has had great teammates, but is that really true? Some of the best skill position players around him in New Orleans through the years were Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas ... who were taken in the third round, seventh round, undrafted, fourth round and undrafted, respectively. They were all talented players, but they also benefited from catching passes from Brees.

And, winning a Super Bowl with the Saints allows Brees to remove the "Yeah, but ... " that most critics like to employ when they want to downgrade a quarterback. That should be a tiebreaker, if one is needed, when he's compared to quarterbacks like Dan Marino or Fouts. Brees has it all except an MVP award, and he should have won one in 2009.

Brees has been overshadowed a bit by the great quarterbacks of this era, but he shouldn't be. He's among the absolute greatest to ever play the game, and he should have a few more years to add to that legacy.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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