Ranking Current Quarterbacks Without a Super Bowl Appearance

Philip Rivers has never played on Super Bowl Sunday. Is he the best passer in today's NFL that hasn't been there?

To a lot of people, Sunday isn’t a game between the Broncos and the Seahawks. It’s a battle between Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning. Yes, it’s stupid. No, I don’t know why it’s a thing. Yes, the quarterback position is the most important on the field. But there are 21 other guys playing at the same time as well.

This general perception of quarterback dueling directly plays into what I wrote about last week – people love quarterback wins, even though they’re mostly irrelevant.

Some quarterbacks just aren’t very fortunate. Some have either played with horrible defenses, or have thrown to Greg Little-like receivers. It’s just not their fault that they haven’t been able to reach a season’s final game.

There were 45 quarterbacks who dropped back to pass at least 100 times during the 2013 season. Of those 45, eight have started in a Super Bowl (counting Russell Wilson). That leaves us with 37 signal-callers who either aren’t good enough or haven’t had the right teams around them play on Super Bowl Sunday.

In truth, a lot of those quarterbacks will never come close to reaching a title game. I can say that confidently because the quarterback position is the most important on a football field, and can dictate the outcome of football games. If you haven’t proven yourself worthy on an NFL gridiron, you better hope the rest of your team is ready to carry you.

But for the other handful of passers, it’s not just their fault. And that’s what this article is for – to show people who the best quarterbacks are, currently in the NFL, that have never made it to a Super Bowl.

With any list like this, there will be some subjectivity. But there’s also going to be plenty of objectivity – numbers – that I reference to show you why these quarterbacks are more than likely underrated. After all, the majority of them simply haven’t made it to the big game because the rest of the team has faltered.

So without boring you to death any longer, let’s take a look at today’s top-10 quarterbacks without a Super Bowl appearance.

Note: Players involved below had to meet a requirement of at least one full season as an NFL starter. Sorry, Nick Foles.

10. Andy Dalton

While doing this list, I first put together the 10 quarterbacks I would rank on my own, without any data, outside of what my brain remembers. When I did that, Alex Smith made the list, and Andy Dalton was on the outside looking in at number 11. After looking at Smith’s numbers, Andy Dalton jumped ahead of him convincingly.

I understand that Smith had a solid first season as the Chiefs passer, but it’s hard to place a guy on this countdown when each of his first five seasons resulted in negative Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) scores (learn about Net Expected Points). And that includes a rookie season of 165 drop backs where his Passing NEP totaled -88.64.

While Dalton’s been fortunate to play with a top-10 defense in Cincinnati, he’s put up fairly consistent numbers, accumulating a Passing NEP of 12.64, 10.69 and 54.69 so far in his three-year career. Seriously guys, Alex Smith would love those numbers.

9. Carson Palmer

I went with Palmer over Dalton because both his average and median Passing Net Expected Points scores through the years bested Dalton’s first two seasons as a pro, and were still fairly close to Andy’s 2013 score. That, and Palmer didn’t have the luxury of playing with a top defensive unit when he was in Cincinnati.

During his 10 seasons as a pro, Palmer has put together just two negative Passing NEP years, one coming during his first season of playing. He’s also hit the 100 Passing NEP mark once, something only four quarterbacks did in 2013.

Though he may never go to the Super Bowl, Palmer hasn’t been a bad NFL quarterback.

8. Matthew Stafford

Here’s where we start to get into some of the better names – guys who have put together multiple seasons of playing well above expectation.

Stafford’s case is a little interesting. His career started with a lot of bumps, as he posted a -55.54 rookie year Passing NEP. But he improved on that the following season, and in 2011, Stafford had a Passing NEP total of 112.26, the best of his young career.

In the last two seasons, he’s posted numbers that hover around the 12th- to 16th-best quarterback in the NFL. His offenses have consistently been top-half ones in terms of rank, and if not for inconsistent play, Stafford’s name would be higher on this list.

7. Robert Griffin III

While Robert Griffin III has started less than two seasons in the NFL, he’s already made his mark. His rookie season brought him a ton of success, ranking as the 10th-best quarterback in terms of Passing Net Expected Points. His Rushing NEP, however, is what really made him valuable, as his ranking jumped to sixth when factoring in this sum.

But then this past year happened, and RGIII’s reputation as the best young passer dwindled. A lot of fans probably assume his advanced metrics were off this year, which they were, but RGIII wasn’t that bad. He still had a Passing NEP per drop back average that was similar to Alex Smith’s. It was his Rushing NEP that took a hit, as his effectiveness was on par with Nick Foles’.

Keep in mind, this list isn’t about potential – if that were the case, Griffin would probably be higher. But for now, he comes in as the current NFL’s seventh-best quarterback without a Super Bowl appearance.

6. Jay Cutler

Ah, yes - Smokin’ Jay. I’m sure this will cause some controversy given who he is and what he does (which is nothing), but let me dig into the numbers and show you why he’s ahead of the aforementioned passers.

Because Cutler didn’t play the whole 2013 season, his total Passing NEP isn’t significantly high. However, his per pass numbers are decent, scoring .05 Net Expected Points per drop back.

And while Cutler has had plenty of seasons with subpar play, he’s also put together two fantastic ones - no better than his 122.38 Passing NEP performance in 2008.

Cutler’s finally in what appears to be a consistent situation with quarterback whisperer Marc Trestman, and could, really, find himself in a Super Bowl in the future. A key for him will be staying healthy, which he hasn’t been able to do throughout his career.

5. Andrew Luck

Many will want Luck to be flipped with the next guy on the list (go ahead, skim ahead and see who it is), but again, this is about what these quarterbacks have done, not what they’re going to do. I can certainly project the kind of season Andrew Luck will have next year and beyond, but to assume solid play wouldn’t be fair to other veterans.

I’ve mentioned this many times on numberFire, but a lot of people get caught up in Andrew Luck’s potential rather than his honest, on-the-field performance thus far in the NFL. I love the guy to death and think he could be the next big thing in the league, but he hasn’t been a top-seven or -eight quarterback yet, like many seem to think.

During his rookie season, Luck had the 16th-ranked Passing NEP in the league. His rushing ability helped move him up to 13th in Total NEP in 2012, but he still was far from being a top-notch passer.

He improved throwing the ball in his sophomore season, but only by eight or so points. Again, because of his rushing, his Total NEP did fall in the 10 spot among quarterbacks this year, which is nothing to be ashamed of.

Luck will get his. Right now, he just hasn’t had the experience.

4. Cam Newton

And this is where I’m sure people are yelling at their computer screens. Yes, I have Cam Newton ranked ahead of Andrew Luck. But no, I don’t believe Cam Newton will be a better quarterback when we’re evaluating their careers in 20 years.

But as of today, Cam has outperformed Luck. Cam had a worse Passing NEP in 2013 – ranking one spot below the Colts’ passers – but made up for the small difference with a better Rushing Net Expected Points total.

Funny enough, Newton’s 2013 Passing NEP was the worst of his career, as he posted 57.48 and 64.95 Passing Net Expected Points in 2011 and 2012 respectively. This is exactly why quarterback wins are irrelevant, by the way.

Cam hasn’t progressed much, but we can’t deny what he’s done on the field. He was the sixth-best quarterback in Total NEP during his rookie year, and the eighth-best one last year. That’s far better than what Luck’s accomplished so far.

3. Matt Ryan

The final three passers, to me, were locks on this list. Maybe you’d rather see them in a different order, but I based this solely on how they’ve performed in terms of our trusty NEP metric.

Matty Ice has averaged a Passing NEP of 93.45 throughout his career, with the median number being 92.52. His best season came a year ago, when he torched the league with the third-best efficiency score.

Ryan’s worst season came during his second campaign, but even then he was a top-15 starter in the league. If there’s one knock on Ryan it’s his Pass Success Rate, which measures, as a percentage, the proportion of passes that contribute positively towards a quarterback’s NEP. While only elite passers get this over 50%, Ryan has only gotten to 49% once in his career, something the next two quarterbacks have done more often.

2. Tony Romo

It’s easy to blame Tony Romo, but it’s also easy to talk up his numbers. Since becoming starter in 2006, Romo has accrued four 100-plus Net Expected Point seasons, all while hitting a total Success Rate of 51%. Only four 300-plus attempt passers hit that mark in 2013. Tony Romo has averaged it throughout his entire career.

Though you could argue Matt Ryan is more consistent than Romo, I think Romo’s five top-10 Passing NEP seasons make him a better candidate for this two spot than the Falcons’ passer.

1. Philip Rivers

In a draft class that had two multiple Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, it’s time to give Philip Rivers some love.

I’ll first note the bad. Philip Rivers had a really, really mediocre 2012 season, scoring just 16.93 Passing Net Expected Points. That was 20th-best in the NFL.

But that season aside, since becoming the starter in San Diego, Rivers has had five seasons with a Passing NEP of 100 or greater (again, only four quarterbacks did that this year, including Rivers), and a Success Rate that hovers the 50% mark. His average Passing NEP during seasons with significant volume is nearly 20 points higher than Romo and Ryan’s, while Rivers’ median Passing NEP is a ridiculous 115.95. That’s 47 points better than Tom Brady’s season this year.

Yes, Philip Rivers is today’s best NFL quarterback without a Super Bowl appearance. Maybe that’ll change in 2014.