Old NFL quarterbacks are a fun topic, and Quarterback rankings can be fun. Sometimes, though, for any number of reasons, some quarterbacks get de-valued over time. This can happen for a lot of reasons, primary among them a lack of Super Bowl rings (we know there is a post-career bump for those who have won a title). Injuries and other barriers can also impact how much of a quarterback’s career we saw. Sometimes, it’s a renewed look at a statistical case. Things like sacks (which are more tied to a quarterback than you think) can be devalued but have a big impact on winning, so quarterbacks who avoid sacks but maybe throw a few more interceptions to do so get dinged in public.
In order to know who is overrated or underrated, it’s important to know how quarterbacks are viewed or ranked. Most Hall of Famers, for example, are properly ranked as among the top 20. I went through as many online lists of quarterback rankings as I could find, ranging from lists showing up on popular sites like Ranker and Sporcle to those put out by individuals. After perusing those, here are my thoughts on which quarterbacks are most underrated:
#10 Trent Green
Consensus: Outside the Top 60
Trent Green has several factors that cause him to be underrated: late start, injuries, and playing on teams with poor defenses. He was under appreciated and a late round pick early, so it took awhile to get his opportunity. He didn’t play a NFL game until 1997 (he was an 8th round pick in 1993). He got his chance in Washington in 1998 to replace Gus Frerotte, and did pretty well. Then, he signed with the St. Louis Rams and was slated to be their starter.
As we know, he suffered a preseason knee injury that set in motion Kurt Warner getting his big opportunity. Warner is now seen as a Hall of Famer, while Green eventually had to move on to Kansas City. Green was the quarterback for some high-powered offenses in Kansas City from 2001 to 2005, but they were frequently undone by bad defense. The average rank, in points allowed, for teams that Green started a game for, was 24.6.
#9 Joe Namath
Consensus: Outside the Top 30, ranging from 30 to 50
I’m sorry, is this the overrated list? Well, all things are cyclical, and there has been so much “Joe Namath is overrated” talk throughout the years that he is actually now underrated. It’s hard to be underrated publicly as a Hall of Famer, but there is enough opinion that Namath is unworthy that he qualifies. Many of the online lists I viewed (those that went past 20, as Namath was never in the Top 20), had him in the 40’s, below several non-Hall of Famers.
Namath threw a lot of interceptions, but he also did it by avoiding sacks at a ridiculous rate with his quick release. He was a star quarterback, even without the guarantee. He threw for 4,000 yards in 1967, in a 14-game season. No one else in NFL history threw for that many, before the schedule changed to 16 games. Pro-rated, that would have been over 4,500 passing yards. While those seasons have become commonplace in recent years, here is the entirety of quarterbacks who threw for 4,500 yards before 2000: Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Neil Lomax, Warren Moon, and Drew Bledsoe.
He followed that up with the Super Bowl year, and another great season in 1969. After missing most of two years with injury, he returned in 1972 and led the NFL in TDs, yards, yards per attempt, and was an all-pro. After another lost injury season, he was Comeback Player of the Year in 1974. I found an article from a sportswriter named Pat Sullivan that year, after Namath played in a big upset of the two-time champ Dolphin that said, “[i]f I had written this a few years ago, I would have gone to great lengths to tell you what an overrated egotist Joe Willie Namath is. I’m glad I didn’t.”
Namath played three more years after that, and put up horrific numbers. But from 1965-1974, for a full decade, he was considered one of the best quarterbacks in the game, when he could get on the field. Thanks to research from Scott Kacsmar on comebacks, we also know that he led the league in 4th quarter game winning drives four different times between 1966 and 1974. Considering that he was hurt three of those years, that means he was a clutch king in two-thirds of his healthy seasons during his prime. Sure, he may have been overrated initially, because his career got cut short and he lost seasons, but the pendulum has swung too far.
#8 Philip Rivers
Consensus: Outside Top 35
Philip Rivers is the only active player on this list, but he is likely to be continually undervalued because he came in the same class as Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, and sat for two seasons behind Drew Brees. You can make a pretty good argument that Rivers has been the best of those three quarterbacks, but because of the rings, will likely fall behind them in the Hall of Fame pecking order, which could get crowded.
He’s made six pro bowls, which puts him in the Top 20 all time. He led the league in yards per attempt three straight years. He’s averaged a whopping 8.0 yards per attempt in playoff games, but the Chargers are 4-5 in those games. His most similar players after 12 seasons, according to the pro-football-reference page, are four slam dunk Hall of Famers often ranked in the top 12 on every online list (Montana, Staubach, Brees and Favre), and Ken Anderson (more on him in a bit).
#7 Jim Hart
Consensus: 75 to 100
Jim Hart played for 19 seasons, mostly through the “dead-ball” offensive era of the 1970’s, and for a franchise that had very little history of success (Cardinals). He is most likely unknown to the younger fan. The stretch from 1974 to 1977 is the most successful for the franchise in modern times. His raw stats may not look impressive, but he was well above average at pass efficiency for much of the 1970’s. Part of that was his extremely low sack numbers for his era. Hart’s league-adjusted career numbers compare favorably to lots of guys in the “Hall of Very Good” category often ranked in the Top 50, but Hart is a big omission from that group.
#6 Lynn Dickey
Consensus: Outside Top 100
Lynn Dickey was one of the most popular choices when I ran a Twitter poll of most underrated. Dickey’s raw career numbers, like some other guys on here, were impacted by opportunity and injury. He was drafted by the Oilers in the same draft they took Dan Pastorini in the first round. He sat in Houston, and then got traded to Green Bay. But a broken leg kept him out for almost two entire seasons. He finally took over again in 1980 at age 31, and put together a very underrated five-year stretch.
Like Trent Green, Dickey also played on teams that had poor defenses. In 1983, he managed to pull of a rare feat: leading the league in yards, touchdowns, and interceptions. He averaged over 8 yards per attempt for three straight years from 1982 to 1984.
“If he were playing in today’s game — and that’s one of those scenarios that as an analyst you don’t normally talk about — but if he was in today’s game, where you can’t hit a quarterback except above the knees and below the shoulders, he would carve up the NFL. Yes, Jim Kelly’s in the Hall of Fame, but those two guys are close to the same level.”