Posted: Wednesday June 8, 2011 12:04PM ; Updated: Wednesday June 8, 2011 12:04PM
Kerry J. Byrne

The HOF case for Ken Anderson

Story Highlights

Ken Anderson's stats stack up favorably to other Hall of Fame quarterbacks

Anderson was the first QB to successfully execute the West Coast offense

Bengals are considered a losing franchise, but they won consistently with Anderson

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Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson is now eligible to be considered by the Pro Football Hall of Fame senior committee.
Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson is now eligible to be considered by the Pro Football Hall of Fame senior committee.
Heinz Kluetmeier/SI

One of the most successful passers in NFL history is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And in the eyes of, the exclusion of former Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson (1971-86) is one of the greatest injustices to ever hit Canton.

But history's snub may soon change, as Anderson enters Hall of Fame senior committee consideration this year, 25 years after his retirement.

There's been a groundswell of support for Anderson's Hall of Fame qualifications emanating from Bengals fans, as well as the quarterback's former teammates, including NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth and Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz.

The groundswell has caused some senior committee voters to take a long, hard look at Anderson's impressive, Hall of Fame-worthy résumé.

"What we've been hearing lately from supporters of Ken Anderson ... has me, as well as some other Hall of Fame voters, rethinking Anderson as a Hall of Fame nominee," Dan Pompeii wrote recently on National Football Post.

The Cold, Hard Football Facts have long felt that Anderson was a Hall of Fame quarterback. In fact, we once named Anderson the most underrated quarterback in NFL history and recently published an exhaustive study of why he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

If you're not on the "Anderson for Hall of Fame bandwagon" it's time to grab a sousaphone and hop on board. The former Cincinnati great belongs in Canton for three reasons:

1. Anderson boasts statistical achievements that stand the test of time and that stack up impressively against those of every single Hall of Fame quarterback.

2. Anderson had a major but largely unappreciated role in the evolution of the modern passing game, as the first quarterback to successfully execute the so-called "West Coast offense" while playing for Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Walsh.

3. Anderson was a winner who produced an incredible four MVP-caliber seasons in his overlooked career, while winning 53 percent of all his starts during Cincinnati's glory days. The bumbling Bengals have won just 39 percent of their games since he retired.

The Statistical Case for Ken Anderson

The easiest way to make the case for Anderson is to show you that his career production stacked up quite well against almost every one of the 23 modern-era quarterbacks already enshrined in Canton.

We conducted a number of different statistical studies. First, we compared how often Anderson, and the 23 modern Hall of Fame quarterbacks, led the NFL in various passing indicators. In other words, how often was each quarterback statistically the best in a given season?

What we found was a tremendous testament to Anderson's passing skills.

Anderson twice led the NFL in passing yards -- more often than Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Len Dawson, John Elway, Bob Griese, Jim Kelly, Joe Montana, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, Y.A. Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin, Bob Waterfield and Steve Young.

Anderson twice led the NFL in passing yards per attempt, which is our preferred indicator because it measures how well somebody passed, not just how often somebody passed. And Anderson led the NFL more often in passing YPA than Hall of Famers Aikman, George Blanda, Elway, Griese, Sonny Jurgensen, Kelly, Bobby Layne, Dan Marino, Montana, Warren Moon or Tarkenton.

The deadly accurate Anderson led the NFL in completion percentage three times -- more often than Aikman, Blanda, Bradshaw, Elway, Dan Fouts, Griese, Jurgensen, Kelly, Layne, Marino, Moon, Namath, Starr, Staubach, Tarkenton, Tittle, Unitas, Van Brocklin or Waterfield. That's 19 of the 23 modern-era Hall of Fame quarterbacks, for those of you keeping score at home.

The coldly efficient Anderson led the NFL in passer rating an incredible four times -- in the entire history of pro football, only Young (six times) led the NFL in passer rating more often than Anderson. Dawson, for the record, led the AFL in passer rating six times, while Anderson is joined by Starr on the short list of passers who led the NFL in passer rating four times.

In other words, Anderson was one of the most efficient passers in the history of football, especially given the context of his time. More on that later.

Meanwhile, pay special attention to our two preferred measures of passing success: yards per attempt and passer rating. We like these indicators because they are functions of effectiveness and efficiency, respectively, and not functions of meaningless volume. Throwing the ball often does not make you a great quarterback. Throwing it well makes you a great quarterback.

And by these measures Anderson was easily a great, Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback.

Anderson was the most effective passer (highest YPA) in the NFL twice; consider that all-time greats Marino and Montana combined to lead the NFL in YPA just twice between the two of them.

Anderson was the most efficient passer (highest rating) in the NFL four times; consider that all-time greats Marino and Montana combined to lead the NFL in passer rating just three times between the two of them.

No, we're not arguing Anderson is better than Marino and Montana. All we're saying is that Anderson clearly put up Hall of Fame-caliber numbers over the course of his career.

Now let's look at Anderson's overall career numbers vs. those of all 23 modern era Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

Anderson Career Stats vs. All Modern Era Hall of Fame Quarterbacks
Player Att Comp Comp% Yards YPA TD INT Rating
Aikman 4715 2898 61.5 32942 6.99 165 141 81.6
Anderson 4475 2654 59.3 32838 7.34 197 160 81.9
Blanda* 4007 1911 47.7 26920 6.72 236 277 60.6
Bradshaw 3901 2025 51.9 27989 7.18 212 210 70.9
Dawson* 3741 2136 57.1 28711 7.67 239 183 82.6
Elway 7250 4123 56.9 51475 7.1 300 226 79.9
Fouts 5604 3297 58.8 43040 7.68 254 242 80.2
Graham** 1565 872 55.7 13499 8.63 88 94 78.1
Griese* 3429 1926 56.2 25092 7.32 192 172 77.1
Jurgensen 4262 2433 57.1 32224 7.56 255 189 82.6
Kelly 4779 2874 60.1 35467 7.42 237 175 84.4
Layne 3700 1814 49 26768 7.24 196 243 63.4
Marino 8358 4967 59.4 61361 7.34 420 252 86.4
Montana 5391 3409 63.2 40551 7.52 273 139 92.3
Moon 6823 3988 58.4 49325 7.23 291 233 80.9
Namath* 3762 1886 50.1 27663 7.35 173 220 65.5
Starr 3149 1808 57.4 24718 7.85 152 138 80.5
Staubach 2958 1685 57 22700 7.67 153 109 83.4
Tarkenton 6467 3686 57 47003 7.27 342 266 80.4
Tittle 4395 2427 55.2 33070 7.52 242 248 74.3
Unitas 5186 2830 54.6 40239 7.76 290 253 78.2
Van Brocklin 2895 1553 53.6 23611 8.16 173 178 75.1
Waterfield 1617 814 50.3 11849 7.33 97 128 61.6
Young 4149 2667 64.3 33124 7.98 232 107 96.8
* Includes AFL statistics
** NFL stats only (does not include AAFC years)

Wow! Anderson's statistical résumé certainly stacks up nicely against the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Anderson ranks 15th out of 24 in average per pass attempt (7.338 YPA), just 4/1000th of a yard per attempt behind the great prolific Marino and well ahead of Live Ball Era Hall of Famers such as Elway (7.10 YPA) and Aikman (6.99 YPA)

Anderson ranks 15th out of 24 in TD passes (197)

Anderson ranks 12th out of 24 in passing yards (32,838), just 104 yards behind Troy Aikman (who needed 240 more attempts to get those 104 yards)

Anderson ranks 11th out of 24 in completions (2,654)

Anderson ranks 11th out of 24 in TD-INT ratio (1.23 to 1), well ahead of notable contemporaries such as Fouts (1.05 to 1).

Anderson ranks 8th out of 24 in career passer rating (81.9), one of the highest marks of any quarterback who played all or part of his career in the Dead Ball Era, and ahead of Live Ball Era Hall of Famers Aikman, Moon and Elway.

Anderson ranks 6th out of 24 in completion percentage (59.3) -- the most accurate passer on the list among those quarterbacks who spent all or part of their careers playing before the Live Ball Era (1978-present).

Remember, this is not how Anderson stacks up against a random collection of quarterbacks. This is how his statistical résumé stacks up against the 23 greatest quarterbacks since World War II, those 23 already deemed worthy of immortality in Canton.
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