SI Vault
September 30, 1996
The rating system ranks quarterbacks by their efficiency, not their skills or talent, and today's QBs are more efficient.CLIFF TOWNSEND II, COLUMBUS, GA.
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September 30, 1996


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The rating system ranks quarterbacks by their efficiency, not their skills or talent, and today's QBs are more efficient.

Michael Silver missed a major point in discussing why nowadays so many NFL running backs are breaking the 1,000-yard barrier (True Lies, Sept. 2). The 16-game season is a factor, but so is the fact that most teams now rely on one back to handle the bulk of the running. During the 1995 season, in which 16 backs ran for 1,000 yards or more, 21 of the NFL's 30 teams had one man who had more than 50% of his team's rushing attempts. (Fourteen backs had more than 60%, and eight had 70% or more, topped by Errict Rhett, who had 83.4% of the Tampa Bay Bucs' attempts.)

In the six seasons from 1966 through '71, in which only 18 rushers gained 1,000 yards or more, just 23 backs had 50% or more of their team's carries in a season, and never did more than four backs accomplish that in one year. Only twice during that period did a back have more than 60% of his team's attempts. Both times that runner was Jim Nance of the Boston Patriots, who had 63.5% of the Pats' carries in '66 and 68.8% in '67.

If the star backs of yesteryear had carried as much as today's top rushers do, the 1,000-yard season may never have become a statistical benchmark.

Michael Silver neglected to mention Beattie Feathers of the 1934 Chicago Bears. He was the first man to gain 1,000 yards in a season (1,004 yards to be exact), on only 119 attempts. That's an average of 8.4 yards per attempt, while today the average is 3.9 yards.
MAX KLANE, South Holland, Ill.

Say an NFL team has the ball on its own 20-yard line and throws a pass that is caught one yard past the line of scrimmage and is then run 79 yards for a touchdown. Currently both the passer and the receiver get credit for 80 yards. It would be better to separate passing and receiving yardage into its two components, distance from the line of scrimmage to the point of the catch and distance from the catch to the end of the play. On the play cited above, for example, the passer would get credit for one yard passing. The receiver would get one receiving yard for the catch and a different credit of 79 yards for the run after the catch.
DENNIS BLOCK, Park Rapids, Minn.

The story helped me to understand why my boyhood heroes fare so poorly in today's quarterback rankings. Of particular merit is your supposition that the rating system is biased toward today's signal-callers, whose teams typically throw the ball shorter. One statistic more than any other bears that out: yards gained per completion. Of the 15 top-rated quarterbacks of all time, there were only three with more than 13 yards per completion, and those three starred in the 1970s or before. The 10 quarterbacks in the second half of your list are all relative old-timers, and eight of them averaged more than 13 yards per completion.

The conservative passing attacks of today also risk fewer interceptions. While good but not Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Jeff Hostetler and Neil O'Donnell are among the NFL's 14 top-rated signal-callers of all time and average more than 38 throws to every interception, nine of the 13 Hall of Famers on your list went only 20 or fewer throws on average before suffering an interception. Perhaps it was the high risk-high reward approach to the game in the 1960s and '70s that made the football of that era more exciting.

Super Sophs
I appreciated your article on the emergence of outstanding sophomore running backs (Youth Is Served, Aug. 26). Young players do not receive enough backing when Heisman voting comes around. However, you forgot to mention these super sophs: Notre Dame's Autry Denson; Michigan's Clarence Williams; Georgia's Torin Kirtsey (who filled in so admirably for the injured Robert Edwards last season); and the trio of terrific sophomores at Texas A&M, Sirr Parker, D'Andre Hardeman and Eric Bernard.
ANDREW CARY, Mission Viejo, Calif.