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Sunday, March 21, 2004 

Quarterback Scramble

As teams decide where to take Eli Manning and the other top rookie QBs in this year's draft, they'll be debating how important the QB position is in today's NFL. The traditional wisdom is that a team needs a great QB to win the whole thing. Others point to Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson as recent examples of QBs who do "just enough" while the rest of their team carries most of the load.

But have things really changed? Here's a look at the 10 QBs who won the Super Bowl in their only appearance as a starter:

Joe Namath 1968
Ken Stabler 1976
Jim McMahon 1985
Phil Simms 1986
Doug Williams 1987
Jeff Hostetler 1990
Mark Rypien 1991
Steve Young 1994
Trent Dilfer 2000
Brad Johnson 2002

Some Notes:
1. I'm not counting Johnny Unitas and Earl Morrall on this list. Unitas was hurt in 1968 and replaced Morrall in Super Bowl III, while Morrall came in for Unitas 2 years later.
2. Simms/Hostetler is a slightly misleading case, since Simms started most of the 1990 season, but Hostetler ran the team in the playoffs.

A few trends can be seen when you take a closer look at these players. First, many of them had career years when they won it all:

Namath - 1968 was the second (and last) time he threw more TDs than INTs.
Stabler - Career highs for Completion %, Yards per Att, TD, and QB rating.
McMahon - Career high TDs
Rypien - Career highs for Yards per Att, TD, and QB rating
Young - Career highs for Completion %, TD, QB rating

Second, Namath is in the Hall of Fame, and Phil Simms and Steve Young have a realistic shot of joining him. It's also hard to knock Stabler, since he played in 5 consecutive AFC title games (1973-1977), winning once in 1976. You can't classify any of these players as "bargain" QBs.

So over time, the "bargain" QB approach seldom works unless a team has an extraordinary defense or running game (think Miami in the 1970s or Baltimore in 2000). You can hope for a career year from an average QB, but you normally need a great QB to remain competitive and put your team in position for multiple championships. The team who takes Eli Manning in a few weeks is hoping to do just that.

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