Brett Favre Is Overrated

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.

RankQuarterbackQBRatAttYdsIntRushYdsSk YdsFumAY/A%YAC+WP16
3Manning P95.246436341419-412254.9371.29
24Manning E72.6482297417245618673.543-1.11
RankNameQBRatAttYdsIntRushYdsSk YdsFumAY/A%YAC+WP16

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24 Responses to “Brett Favre Is Overrated”

  1. Unknown says:

    You just cost yourself a Christmas gift.

    -The other Brian

  2. j-mo says:

    What do you think of trading him for a conditional pick? Maybe a 7th-rounder if he throws less than 100 passes, a 4th-rounder if he throws 100-199, or a 3rd-rounder if he throws 200+.

    There are, I think, five candidates:
    1. ATL: He starts for a year and mentors Matt Ryan.
    2. MIA: Same, only w/ John Beck/Chad Henne.
    3, 4, 5. BAL/CHI/NYJ: Do these teams truly believe that they can win w/ Boller, Grossman/Orton, and Pennington/Clemens? Or that Favre would not be worth the gamble?

    If he doesn't win the starting job w/ any of these teams, he's always free to (almost) retire again.

  3. Unknown says:

    I also think Tampa Bay is a likely landing spot. Favre would be reunited with Gruden, be in a simlar West-Coast offense to what he has played in (albeit one more complex from what I've heard of Gruden's particular iteration of the system), and a team that is both having a quarterback squabble of its own while also being on the cusp of being a serious contender.

  4. Brian Burke says:

    You would not believe how many people are landing here today from Google searching for (literally) "Brett Favre is overrated."

  5. Anonymous says:

    it seems like your penalizes players for playing in a west coast offense type offense. i think you should check the correlation between air yards and coaches.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Your right that makes sense their are certain types of systems that can inflate QB stats like the west coast offence in the pros. But the offense is hard to learn and difficult to become good at, so it seems unfair to penalize players for playing in it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    You can also check the correlation between coaches and you adjusted QB rating.

  8. Anonymous says:

    You can also check the correlation between coaches and you adjusted QB rating.

  9. Anonymous says:

    And regular QB rating.

  10. JTapp says:

    Great post.
    Books like The Blind Side have made me a believer that the "west coast offense" is all about the system and not the QB.

    Do you happen to have yac% numbers for multiple years? Would be interesting to see how it's gone up and down for Favre and how it correlates to team winning%.

  11. Borat says:

    Mr. Brian:

    What is Mr. Brett Farve's W-L record in the playoffs since he won the Super Bowl in 1997?

    What is Mr. Brett Farve's TD: Interception Ration in the Playoffs in the past 10 years

  12. Brian Burke says:

    Reader 'Borat' referred me to this article about

  13. shake'n'bake says:

    The links to the supporting articles on YAC don't work.

  14. Brian Burke says:

    Fixed. Thanks.

  15. Anonymous says:

    farves a badd of the greatest.and the toughest..the system?lol he still has to fukin purt the ball the in the hands of recievers with accuracy..u cant just have any joeblothrowing the football

  16. Anonymous says:

    "farves a badd of the greatest.and the toughest..the system?lol he still has to fukin purt the ball the in the hands of recievers with accuracy..u cant just have any joeblothrowing the football"

    Was a great QB. Your argument is pretty pointless given that in 2005 and 2006 he did an awful job of putting the ball into the receivers hands. In those 2 years, did you defend Brett Favre's failings?

  17. Anonymous says:

    Peyton`s overrated,too........
    is it any wonder that Peyton breaks Dan Marino`s record forTD`s in a season right
    after they introduce NEW pass interference
    rules and if you noticed the ref`s seemed
    bias towards the Colts.

    Tom Brady?......let me get my camera!
    and get me Randy Moss!

    Every great QB has GREAT receivers

  18. Anonymous says:

    Great POINT! I have been saying the same thing for sometime now... Favre is a pack the packers are not him, this is a team sport and the packer receivers get no credit... If I were DRIVE I would be rooting for Rodgers FAVRE makes me sick, nothign more then an attention whore and it is his time to go!

    I am a packer fan AND long before FAVRE, the YAC is a good reminder Rodgers will do a great job with this group... FAVRE can go to Minnesota, their receivers suck and he will be a flop and TT and MM will look great in the long run!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Wonder how the Favre apologists will stupidly try and explain away this one.

  20. Anonymous says:

    ur an idiot

  21. Anonymous says:

    Uh, how do those numbers look this year? At least at week 4 #4 still looks like he can throw the ball into traffic for lots of non-YAC's. Get real. Its the system and the WR's and the QB. Who gets to pick where the ball is thrown? If he throws to guys who are covered they wont get YAC.
    And BTW - Mr Favre is one of the few guys in the league who WONT throw the freaking dink pass when down by 14 pts with 3 minutes left if they already had an int or two. Thats why 2005-2006 were awful (add the fact that he had no O-line and nobody to throw to and a horrible D). He isnt perfect, but he's better than the Packers have now and anybody the Bear, Vikings, Lions have had in the past 17 years.

  22. Jon E says:

    First, I don't think Favre is a top 5 active QB, but I think he is top 10.

    I think your analysis is highly over-simplified. Were all passes created equal, your YAC comparison would hold water, but Favre made a living on throwing quick slants last season- somehing his receivers benefited hugely from with a relatively easy catch and the advantage of position on the defender for YAC.

    I don't think many QBs can throw that pass to a seam in the defenseas well as Favre- it's a low-percentage pass for Tom Brady (throws to outs and middle crosses best) and Peyton Manning (throws the square-in, corner, streak, and out well-he does throw a slant, but usually in Red Zone man-to-man favoring an out underneath against zones. He doesn't hit the seam on the slant, though. He hits it over the top).

    For Favre its an extremely high percentage pass.

    That doesn't prove Favre is a great QB, but it does show that you can't assume the WR is doing all the work. You can conclude that his success is probably based on the system he plays in- whether it exploits his high-percentage abilities or not. The same could be said for anybody.

    That said, I don't see Favre as "overrated". Any QB falls to a foreign system and you would be able to say the same thing.

  23. Anonymous says:

    He will come back

  24. Anonymous says:

    This article would be easy for Favre fans to address, the numbers are simply too incomplete and out of context to be of any value at all. What if a system strongly emphasizes short routes, does that show that a quarterback is "overrated" for playing within the west coast offense (just as all quarterbacks are "system" players)? What if a guy plays smart and gives his receivers an opportunity to showcase their abilities rather than throwing the ball further down the field at higher risk? Brady has certainly had a reputation as a dink and dunk guy for a long time, but when its successful how do you take that as a negative?

    Fact is that any quarterback's numbers can be explained away if you want to pick the right "advanced stats". There's just not nearly enough taken into consideration here. The main thing for me is that football is the ultimate team game and that there really is less separation between "elites" and everybody else than most realize. People give lip service to receivers, linemen, and systems but fail to realize that twenty three other players and a bunch of coaches have an impact on every single play. I think Favre has had a less stable environment than most in the second half of his career and kept his teams together at times. When he had a stable system he still thrived. But that comes from watching I guess... advanced NFL stats are clearly still lightly behind NBA and MLB advanced stats. Numbers that illuminate rather than simply further cloud issues like this article has.

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