Is Brandon Marshall Right? Has Kyle Orton Been the Best Quarterback He's Played With?

Brandon Marshall said that Kyle Orton was the best quarterback he's ever played with. What about Jay Cutler?

I love discussing mediocre quarterbacks; absolutely love it. On a list of my favorite things to do in life, it’s somewhere between camping on the North Shore of Lake Superior and cuddling kittens on a rainy day.

It’s that much fun.

On Friday, the next best thing to more Tim Tebow news came across the Twitter wires. New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, having a Q&A, dropped this bombshell:

I just. I can’t even. It’s a goldmine for inane claims, faux outrage, and spot-on comparisons between Kyle Orton and a pudgy version of Keanu Reeves in The Replacements. Get your shruggy faces out, America; we have a duel of two titans of DGAF.

Who has been the best quarterback through the years: Kyle Orton or Smokin' Jay Cutler?

Round 1: A Battle of Wills

If you Google search “Jay Cutler DGAF” and “Kyle Orton dumb face”, you're immediately inundated with pictures of smirks, shrugs, grimaces, blank stares, and the like. What immediately leaps out at you is that, in most of Cutler’s, he’s flipping off the camera. Points subtracted for trying too hard: this round goes to Drunk Keanu.

I only joke. Of course, the first level of comparison between these two quarterbacks is to truly look at their careers. There's an interesting history between Cutler and Orton that stretches back to 2009, when the disillusioned Cutler –- unhappy with the offense that new head coach Josh McDaniels was installing -– demanded a trade from the Denver Broncos. The Broncos shopped him around, and found the Chicago Bears willing to fork over Orton, two first-round draft picks, and a third-rounder. Denver rid themselves of the headache and got plenty of draft compensation in return. The Bears got someone who could throw the ball for the first time since Jim McMahon.

Jay Cutler has become simultaneously reviled and beloved by the city of Chicago, leading the Bears to .500 win percentages in four of the last six years –- when they had had only six such seasons in the 17 years prior. Kyle Orton started 33 games for the Broncos between 2009 and 2011, when he was waived in favor of Tim Tebow after an atrocious 1-4 start. Cutler’s clearly had more success thus far in his career, but wins and losses don’t tell the whole story. Who’s truly been the better quarterback?

Round 2: A Battle of Strength

Draft picks aside -– those would turn into Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and the aforementioned Tebow –- who got the better end of the deal? We can figure that out by using our handy-dandy, slicing, dicing, does-it-all metric here at numberFire: Net Expected Points (NEP). What exactly does NEP do? We can figure that out with the help of our signature metric at numberFire, Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP helps us take the numbers we get from the box score and assign them contextual value so they relate even closer to the game on the field. By adding down-and-distance value, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

The table below shows the career production for each of the two, represented in Passing NEP and Total NEP (Passing plus Rushing NEP), as well as separated by total career and average annual scores. How do they stack up?

PlayerPassesPass NEPPer PlayTotal NEP
Jay Cutler (Car.)4,124179.930.04252.11
Jay Cutler (Avg.)45819.990.0428.01
Kyle Orton (Car.)2,877-17.62-0.01-30.02
Kyle Orton (Avg.)320-1.96-0.01-3.34

There is no question here: Cutler wins out in a mano-a-mano duel of the two by a country mile. Both his raw and per-play Passing NEP far outstrip that of his rival, to the point that Cutler has provided almost an extra 26 touchdowns of production per year over Orton. Even if we look at annual averages, Cutler thrashes Orton to the tune of three touchdowns a season just in Passing NEP. In Total NEP, it’s more than four.

There’s no question by the numbers, Cutler has just been a better quarterback over the course of his career. But perhaps “Machine Marshall” was talking about something else. Something more… personal.

Round 3: A Battle for the Heart

We arrive at our final contest. What if we assume Brandon Marshall meant that Kyle Orton was the best quarterback he’d ever played with, while he played with them? Was the Orton-to-Marshall connection better than Cutler-to-Marshall? We can find that out by looking again at the NEP.

The table below shows a few things: Brandon Marshall’s average annual Reception NEP –- both raw and per-play -– with each of the quarterbacks, as well as their own Passing NEP – both raw and per-play – with him. What do we find?

QuarterbackYearsRec NEPPer-PlayPass NEPPer-Play
Jay Cutler2006-08, 2012-1496.660.6829.640.07
Kyle Orton200992.590.6029.940.05

Fascinatingly, the two are actually fairly even when it comes to their playing time with Marshall himself. Marshall produced slightly more on average with Cutler than Orton, but Orton actually provided more overall value than Cutler has in his time with Marshall. However, the Cutler-to-Marshall connection was more effective on a rate stat basis, both in terms of per-play Reception NEP and per-play Passing NEP.

All that said, this round also has to go to The Cutlet.

The Final Verdict

While Marshall’s tweet was likely a bitter jab at the organization who let him go and the quarterback who essentially forced him out the door, there’s no real question that Cutler has been the best quarterback overall that Marshall has played with. Still, it's interesting that both Orton and Cutler performed within 0.30 Passing NEP of each other (and 4.07 Reception NEP) while with Marshall, and -– though this wasn’t on the table -– Orton actually provided a higher Target NEP (46.51 in 2009) than Cutler did on average (34.60).

Cutler was clearly the most talented, but the best for Marshall? Only he knows in his heart. Still, any chance we have to compare “The Smirk” and “The Scowl”, we’ll take.