The game of football as it is played in the NFL has evolved, and no aspect has evolved more so than the passing game. Simply put, they are far more efficient now. The result is that the quarterbacks who fill the list of top career passer ratings have disproportionately recent careers.
Fortunately, I found a site called databaseFootball.com, which you can find here. For each and every quarterback, they have two ratings, labelled RAT and RAT+. RAT is the quarterback’s passer rating for a season. RAT+ is the quarterback’s passer rating for a season compared to the league average. Because the league average changes from year to year, there is no career number given for RAT+. However, it can be calculated.
First off, there are two ways to calculate a quarterback’s career RAT. The easy way is to use the formula using his career stats. The other, harder, and much longer way goes as follows: look at a quarterback’s RAT and attempts for every season, multiply the two for each year and sum them together, then divide by career attempts.
We’ll use a hypothetical two year career, which goes as follows.
First season: 57 completions on 100 attempts for 626 yards with 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. The resulting RAT is 72.3.
Second season: 59 completions on 111 attempts for 650 yards with 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. The resulting RAT is 64.0.
Career: 116 completions on 211 attempts for 1,276 yards with 8 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The resulting RAT is 68.0, when you plug in his career statistics.
You will also get 68.0 when you use the long way: 72.3 times 100 (which is 7230) plus 64.0 times 111 (which is 7104). Sum 7230 and 7104 to get 14334, then divide by 211 career attempts. The resulting number: 67.9. The difference is just 0.02646. So both methods work to produce almost identical numbers.
Unfortunately, there is only one way to calculate RAT+: the long way. For each season, multiply the quarterback’s RAT+ and attempts. Then sum these products together, and divide by career attempts. Using the numbers found on databaseFootball.com, here is the list for top 10 career RAT+
1. Sid Luckman, 158
2. Sammy Baugh, 153
3. Otto Graham, 140
4. Len Dawson, 132
5. Roger Staubach, 128
6. Norm Van Brocklin, 126
7. Steve Young, 126
8. Joe Montana, 123
9. Sonny Jurgensen, 120
10. Ken Anderson/Bob Griese/Peyton Manning/Fran Tarkenton 119
Compare that to the top 10 for RAT, via the Pro Football Hall of Fame website.
1. Steve Young, 96.8
2. Kurt Warner, 94.1
3. Peyton Manning, 93.5
4. Joe Montana, 92.3
5. Daunte Culpepper, 91.5
6. Marc Bulger, 90.6
7. Tom Brady, 88.5
8. Trent Green, 88.3
9. Matt Hasselbeck, 86.6
10. Dan Marino, 86.4
This list is completely infested with current players. Meanwhile, the list of top career RAT+ spans all eras, and by comparing each quarterback’s passer rating to those of his contemporaries, is a fairer list in my opinion.