The Brett Favre retirement drama is back in full swing. I don't blame him one bit for wanting to play another year, but despite the resurgent season he had in 2007, he's not the quarterback everyone thinks he is. Chances are he wouldn't have nearly as good a year as last year, especially if he goes to another team. In this article, I'll explain why.
I suddenly became a huge Brett Favre fan last year. My fantasy football draft seemed to be going well and I was excited to have Marc Bulger as my starting QB. But as the draft dragged on, I had to leave for an appointment. For my last few picks, I left instructions with a fellow team owner. One of them was to grab the top ranked remaining QB in round 15 as my backup, who turned out to be Favre. As the Rams disintegrated in the early weeks of the season, I was forced to plug in the rapidly aging Favre, who then went on to have a fantastic year and carry my team into my league's championship game.
But he didn't really have a fantastic year. His receivers did.
The Packers receivers racked up more yards after catch (YAC) than any other corps in the NFL, even the Moss-Welker-Stallworth squad in New England. On a per-pass basis, Brett Favre's passing statistics were extremely inflated by the abilities of his receivers. In fact, 52% of his passing yards came from YAC, second (tied) only to Kansas City's defenseless Brodie Croyle.
But getting lots of YAC is a skill you say. You say there is some special quality of a QB that allows his receivers to gain lots of YAC. It actually has far, far more to do with the receiver than the QB. No matter how we measure QB accuracy, there is scant evidence of a positive correlation between a QB's precision and his receivers' YAC.
YAC is actually a function of two primary factors: receiver ability and what type of pass is thrown. Getting YAC appears to be a persisting skill from year to year for receivers. Receivers who rack up a lot of yards one year will tend to get a lot the next. The correlation from year to year is far stronger for receivers than for QBs, an indication that the skill lies with the pass catcher, not the thrower.
Additionally, YAC is determined by what kind of pass is thrown. Very difficult passes, like those "into traffic" or deep out routes (or touchdowns) tend to get little or no YAC. But easy passes like screens, flares, and "dump-offs" get very large amounts of YAC. Think of a flare or screen pass that is caught at about the line of scrimmage. The yardage would be nearly all YAC.
Ironically, the worse the quarterback, the more YAC he'll probably get. The QBs with the most YAC per pass last year included Croyle, Favre, the once-great-but-ancient Vinnie Testaverde, Brian Griese, Joey Harrington and Josh McCown--not good company.
Guys who can't throw deep and accurate passes accumulate YAC. Consider this situation. Your team is leading the Colts late in the 4th quarter and Peyton Manning needs to quickly move into field goal range. He'll pick apart your defense with deep sideline passes even though the pass defenders know that's where the ball is going. Guys like Boller, Harrington, Carr can only dump off to RBs over the middle or behind the line of scrimmage, then call the last time out. They might get plenty of yards, much of it as YAC, but it won't help their teams win.
Every drop-back for Brett Favre netted only 3.8 yards, not including sacks and interceptions. That ranks 19th in the NFL for all QBs in 2007, behind guys like Boller, Pennington, and Frerotte. (This doesn't even count Favre's worst game of the year, late in December against the Bears when he was outgunned by Kyle Orton.)
I'm not saying he's awful, just that he's very overrated. He's my age, so I'm truly amazed by his durability and have respect for a competitor of his caliber. But whatever team ends up with him in 2008 will probably be very disappointed.
The table below lists 2007 QBs according to their total performance (until the final week of the season, not including receiver YAC. AY/A is "Air Yards per Attempt"--passing yards per attempt without YAC. +WP16 is the estimated wins added above average for each QB. Click on the table headers to sort.