My buddy Derrick Pond from over at Golden Eagle Breaks asked me for an unbiased list of my top 15 QBs in the NFL based on my confidence in them getting a win today. While good quarterbacks put wins together throughout the game, great quarterbacks are able to go steal wins from the jaws of defeat. Which QB should be feared most in those two-minute drills? I wanted to to see what the math said about this concept, so I decided to dive deeper than my initial list.
The rankings that first came to mind without doing any research:
15. Ben Roethlisberger
14. Carson Wentz
13. Kirk Cousins
12. Derek Carr
11. Justin Herbert
10. Joe Burrow
9. Kyler Murray
8. Matthew Stafford
7. Josh Allen
6. Russell Wilson
5. Lamar Jackson
4. Patrick Mahomes
3. Dak Prescott
2. Tom Brady
1. Aaron Rodgers
I understand that not all of these guys are in their prime, but this is a stat that makes me truly consider history. With the game on the line, would you rather see a supremely talented but green Justin Fields, or a physically limited old timer like Ben Roethlisberger, who has already led 49 game winning drives in his career?
How much does this stat even matter? Every QB with 37 or more Game Winning Drives (GWD) is or will be in the Hall of Fame (Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford the only possible exceptions). Those quarterbacks account for 18 Super Bowls. Obviously, winning is a priority in the NFL, and being able to win close games sets you ahead of others. Each potential GWD opportunity comes with its own challenges: talent of the defense, health and stamina of the offense, home field advantage, time on the clock, etc. It is impossible to lock in on each of these details for each GWD throughout NFL history, but let's just assume that each GWD opportunity is difficult. To be in that situation, both teams have matched up well, there are 11 men on both sides of the ball, and there is not a lot of time left in the game. At that point, a QB is in charge of his offense and must make it happen with the situation they are dealt, or else the win will not be attributed to their team or their statistical history.
Instead of looking at classic QB stats like completion percentage, TD/INT ratio, etc, I focused on the data solely relative to game winning drives.
-How many Game Winning Drives have each of these QBs produced?
-How many games have they played in their career? -How many games have they won?
-What percentage of their starts ended with a game winning drive?
Get ready to have your mind blown.
I am narrowing my list down to 5.
These 5 QBs are ranked in how confident I would be in them to complete a game winning drive with their current team. I have considered many football factors, but I mainly focused on the stats mentioned above. Age is just a number in those adrenaline filled moments at the end of a game. I want someone tried and true with the know-how and leadership to get it done. Since my favorite teams do not have any of these QBs at the helm, I would be extremely concerned if my team had just a one possession lead going against any of these guys at the end of a game.
Before I actually get to my "Top 5 GWD QBs" I want to talk about my previous #1 choice, Aaron Rodgers. We all know that dude is a bad man, but did you know that he has really only led 27 game winning drives in 218 starts? Derek Carr has led 26 GWDs in 117 starts... I know the Packers have always been good and have had comfortable leads many, many times (where the Raiders are opposite). I would absolutely fear Aaron Rodgers in a late game situation. However, while they did prove they can win without Davante Adams last week, I am not convinced that the Green Bay offense is an offense I would pick over the offenses I am about to mention. While Rodgers has certainly had some memorable GWDs in his career, the quantity/frequency is shockingly behind these other QBs.
I also want to mention Big Ben Roethlisberger. We all know it. He knows it. His prime is in the rearview mirror. Defenses may have a twinge of worry when #7 has the ball late in the game because we all grew up watching him get it done. This man has 49 GWDs which puts him 4th all-time. That is respectable, especially considering that Tom Brady has only 1 more GWD despite 92 more starts! I'm not picking Big Ben to lead the broken Steelers to a W -at least not over the guys I have on my list. But, his career deserves some respect in this article.
One more quick shoutout...Derek Carr. Literally half of his 52 wins have come due to a GWD. Only two players have a higher GWD/Start percentage than Carr (22.2%), and both are on this list. He obviously does not have the offense to strike fear into many right now, but Derek Carr may be one of the most underrated (and clutch) QBs in recent memory.
5. Justin Herbert has started just 22 games, yet he has already led 6 Game Winning Drives. That is 27% of his starts that have resulted in a GWD. In fact, 6 of his 10 wins have been due to his late-game heroics. He has proven that he is a special player and his cast of weapons are a force to be reckoned with. Herbert broke a record for Passing Touchdowns by a rookie (31) and is on pace to throw even more this year. 3 of his receivers are already north of 30 receptions. LA's defense is good enough to keep games close. With a tough schedule ahead of them, the Chargers are sure to face many more GWD opportunities this season and in years to come. If he keeps this pace for any type of longevity, we won't just be talking about Pro Bowls for Justin Herbert.
4. Dak Prescott landed a massive contract going into the 2020 season before a brutal injury ended any real chance the Cowboys had to get to the Super Bowl. Before that contract was finalized, it was a daily conversation across sports media as to whether Dak really deserved that kind of money. It would have made a lot of sense if Jerry Jones was considering Dak's history as a closer. 35% of Cowboy wins under Dak Prescott were due to a GWD. He has more game winning drives (17) than every other QB that has less than 100 starts. They have built one of the most talented offenses around him, as the Cowboys currently sit 3rd in points per game (32.1) despite Prescott not being able to play last week vs the Vikings, where they only scored 20. Both Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb have proven they can get open vs anyone. Dak has the clutch gene and the weapons.
3. The record for GWDs in a career is 54 (Peyton Manning). Drew Brees had 53. These guys are used to Tom Brady breaking their records. He currently has 50, but there will likely be opportunities for him to catch up this season. What is crazy about Brady having that many GWDs is that we all know the Patriots had a ridiculous amount of blowouts throughout his tenure. Since he has been in Tampa Bay, 13 of his 28 games have resulted in double digit wins. I guess what I am saying is, this man does not get a lot of opportunities to go for a GWD. Yet somehow, he has amassed 50. He has done it twice already this season, and we were all surprised when he didn't make it happen last week against NOLA. He is 44 years old, and we all still hold our breath when he has the ball in GWD situations. As if that wasn't enough power, he has Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and his all-time clutch partner in crime, Rob Gronkowski. There isn't a DC in history that wouldn't be nervous with TB12 leading his squad with a chance to steal a win.
2. Josh Allen has won 35 games. He has lost 18 games. 8 of those losses were by multiple possessions. This means that 10 games have been lost by one possession. I am not sure how many of those games ended with a GWD opportunity, but it is safe to assume that not all 10 games produced that opportunity. Regardless, Josh Allen has 11 GWDs. That's right, over 20% of Josh Allen's starts have ended in a GWD. It is almost as if he was built to complete a GWB. He has a cannon - he may be able to throw the ball farther than anyone else in the NFL. He can gash you with his running abilities. The end of the game is quite the chess game for a defense. If you blitz him, he dumps it down to his skilled short game crew: Cole Beasley, Zach Moss, and Dawson Knox. If you drop 7 into coverage, he has the arm talent to fire deep into your zone at Stefon Diggs and Emmanuel Sanders. If the zones or backfield get stuffy, he may just scamper for 20+ into field goal range. Josh Allen is a true dual threat on a loaded offense who has proven he can get it done more time than he hasn't. I would love to see almost anyone else driving against my Colts with the game on the line.
Matthew Stafford played for the Detroit Lions from 2009-2020. During that time, the Lions' defense gave up an average of more than 25 points per game. I would have to do some more digging, but I am pretty sure that is close to worst in the league. They ranked dead last in points given up per game twice during that time (they are ranked last this year as well). It is hard to win any games at all with a defense that bad, yet Matthew Stafford managed to win 74 games with the Lions. But get this...52% of those wins required a Game Winning Drive led by Stafford. He has notched another two this year, giving him a GWD total of 40 in his career. This puts him 7th all-time. Despite playing with one of the consistently worst defenses in NFL history, 22.7% of the games Stafford has played have resulted in a GWD. Incredible. What does it look like now that he is on the Super Bowl Contending Rams? Well, they are 7-1 and he is 2/2 in GWD opportunities. The weapons on offense make for a phenomenal two-minute drill, so I have great confidence there as well. As if all of this data wasn't enough, it is clear that Matthew Stafford is starving for success. The Rams have shown him that they are all in and he has great chemistry with his teammates and coaches. His talent, weapons, and mastermind inside his headset (Coach Sean McVay) put him in a position to be the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL at the end of the game. He is just as hungry and just as capable as anyone that could be leading a GWD, but I fear Stafford and his squad most.