A Defense of Donovan McNabb and the Week Three Quarterback Rankings

He was the second player taken in the 1999 draft. While the first and third player taken that year no longer play in the NFL, he has not only played but apparently excelled. Thus far he has already played in both the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl. Given such accomplishments on the field one would think that Donovan McNabb would universally be thought of as at least a “good” quarterback.

Surprisingly, though, McNabb is often the target of criticism from unlikely places. In 2003 conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh stated the following on ESPN: “I think the sum total of what you’re all saying is that Donovan McNabb is regressing, he’s going backwards. And…I’m sorry to say this, I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go.”

After leading his team to the Super Bowl in 2005, one might expect the criticism of McNabb to fade. Reality, though, denied such expectations. First his primary receiver, Terrell Owens, argued the team would be better off if Brett Favre was the team’s quarterback. Then, to prove that criticism can come from all parts of the political spectrum, J. Wyhatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP, argued that McNabb was “not that good.” He went on to add, “In essence Donny, you are mediocre at best.”

Is it true? Is McNabb simply a mediocre quarterback? If we look at McNabb’s numbers since 2000, one can see the same inconsistency that appears to plague all quarterbacks. In 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2005, McNabb posted above average numbers per play. In 2000 and 2003, though, his numbers were closer to average. Overall, though, McNabb’s numbers have been above average – and this is true if we look at his QB Score (QB Score is explained previously HERE and HERE and HERE) per game or per play.

What do we see in 2006? In Week Three McNabb posted the 5th best QB Score per play. And if we look at the Overall Rankings, the often maligned McNabb is the top signal quarterback in the NFL. Although McNabb has yet to be the top quarterback in a given week, he has consistently been in the top ten. In fact he is one of only five quarterbacks – the others are Peyton Manning, Chad Pennington, Alex Smith, and Brad Johnson — to be above average in each of the first three games this season.

As noted in The Wages of Wins, quarterbacks do not play by themselves. Consequently the numbers a quarterback posts are not only due to his efforts, but the efforts of his teammates, coaches, and opposing defenses. So all the numbers we see for McNabb do not prove he is an above average quarterback. Still, McNabb seems to post above average numbers more often than not. At some point, despite the arguments of Rush Limbaugh and J. Wyhatt Mondesire, don’t we have to conclude that he has some ability to play this position in the NFL?

– DJ