The Green Bay Packers’ Backup Quarterbacks Have Been Ridiculous Through the Years
The quarterback position is a hard one to replace in the National Football League.
Even though we can stream them week in, week out in fantasy football, NFL franchises regularly scramble to find quality players to fill their depth charts under center. Players like Ricky Stanzi, regardless of having never earned a regular season passing attempt, still kick around the back ends of rosters because the NFL is so hungry for quarterbacks.
The Green Bay Packers haven’t been desperate, however.
I was recently inspired to look into the quality of the Packers’ passing lineage by these two articles on the Green Bay “QB School” by Acme Packing Company and Chris B. Brown on Grantland. The Green Bay quarterback position has been downright dynastic since Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers have dominated the NFL for nearly a quarter of a century. That said, the Packers’ backups have also done pretty darn well for themselves after moving on from the team.
What’s in the water up in Titletown? Just how good have the Packers’ quarterbacks been?
Take Them to School
A perfect place to start this inquiry seems like the end -- the end of the Packers’ quarterback carousel, that is.
“Majik Man” Don Majkowski had one good season in 1989, tossing 4,318 yards and 27 touchdowns on his way to a Pro Bowl berth. The following year, though, his franchise quarterback status was decimated by a torn rotator cuff. He bounced into and out of the Packers’ starter spot until 1992, when a torn ankle ligament allowed sophomore passer Brett Favre into cleanup duty. Favre would go on to lead a miraculous comeback in that game, and then start the Packers’ next 253 consecutive games, all the way through the 2007 season.
In that span of 15-plus seasons, many other quarterbacks came through the doors of Lambeau Field as training camp bodies or backups. To truly get a sense of who head coaches Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy molded into the quarterback that they became, though, I only want to look at players that were first drafted or signed by the Green Bay Packers.
We can evaluate these players and the value they created through the use of numberFire’s signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is an analytic helps us take the numbers we get from the box score and shows how that player or team did versus expectation. By adding down-and-distance value to standard box score information, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. If Favre completes a pass for 5 yards on 3rd-and-2, it means more to the game than it does on 3rd-and-10, and those plays should be valued accordingly. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.
The one limitation with NEP is that we only have data going back to 2000, when reliable play-by-play exists. Still, we can look at player’s NEP production and compare them from 2000 onward.
Everyone has misses; no team is impervious to failure in its draft selections. Since Brett Favre took over the starting job, the Packers have selected 14 quarterbacks in the NFL Draft, five of which have never played a regular-season NFL game. Though we can give a pass to 2015 rookie Brett Hundley for now, Jay Barker, Kyle Wachholtz, Ron McAda, and B.J. Coleman were all complete busts. Three more quarterbacks attempted fewer than 100 career passes: Craig Nall, Ingle Martin, and Brian Brohm.
That leaves us with just six players (seven if we add Favre, who was a rookie project the Atlanta Falcons gave up) who had a real impact on the NFL. What do their career NEP numbers look like? The table below shows their values in career Passing NEP, as well as their career Passing Success Rates (the percent of plays where they contributed positive NEP).
|Years||Player||Pass NEP||Per-Play||Pass Success%|
If we consider that the average for Passing NEP per drop back among NFL quarterbacks in the NEP era is 0.03, I’d say the fact that four of these players come close to that mark for their careers is pretty impressive. We’ve heard ad nauseam about how good Rodgers and Favre were, so let’s skip them.
Matt Hasselbeck was selected in the 1998 NFL Draft, and was not only good enough to match the NFL average for Passing NEP per drop back across his career, he put together a stable 17-year career in the pros, including 10 years as a starter for the Seattle Seahawks from 2001 to 2010. Hasselbeck was never flashy as a player -- his career-high Passing NEP per drop back was in 2005, with 0.19 -- but he was a steady contributor in the pros for nearly two decades.
Aaron Brooks never had a passing attempt for the Packers, instead starting for the New Orleans Saints for 5.5 years from 2000 on. His high point in a full season was a slightly-above-average 0.06 Passing NEP per drop back in 2004, when he threw for 3,810 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. Over his career, however, Brooks at least broke even on his Passing NEP rate.
Mark Brunell's best years were definitely before the NEP era, and it’s a shame we can’t quantify the 1993 Draft selection’s work before 2000 by NEP. In the five years from 1995 through 1999, Brunell threw 15 or more touchdowns four times; in the following 11 years, he would throw that many touchdowns just four more times. Still, a career Passing NEP per drop back just below the NFL average and the fact that he sustained a career of 17 years means he was doing something right.
Finally, we arrive at Matt Flynn and Ty Detmer, two actually somewhat similar players in both career arc and total production. Flynn actually saw most of his usage as a Packer, but Detmer’s came as the Philadelphia Eagles’ starter from 1996 to 1997. That said, both bounced from team to team finding homes as backups with upside. Detmer’s NEP production comes solely from starting four games with Detroit Lions in 2001, but despite the small sample size, it’s clear he was one of the lesser talents on this list.
So, we have three quarterbacks out of the 15 total that the Packers drafted or groomed who were statistically above-average, and four were positive or neutral NFL contributors. In addition, if we were able to consider Brunell’s resumé from the 1990’s in his NEP totals, it’s entirely likely he would join the positive list as well. While it’s hard to chalk all of their development up to the Green-and-Gold, there is a solid group of players who have emerged from the Green Bay “QB School”. A 20 percent hit rate on drafting and developing a position where some teams have struggled for decades is actually pretty good. Maybe it’s a little luck, maybe it’s a little “Majik”, but the Packers have fostered a great offensive culture, and it shows in their player development at the quarterback position.