Philip Rivers Career Comparison

Remember the LT vs. Emmitt Smith post from a couple days ago?  Everyone seemed to like that and I had fun writing it.  Combine that with my undying wish to prove to everyone (not just Chargers fans) that Philip Rivers is a great QB that is on a Hall of Fame path, and I decided to try and do the same thing with Philip.  I wanted to find a QB that everyone would admit was great and then show similarities in their first three years as a starting QB in the NFL.  Can I pull it off?  We'll see, after the jump...

In the same way I used the Emmitt comparison to try and predict LT's future stats, I'd like to try to do the same with Rivers.  So what should I look for when trying to find a comparable QB?  Well, the big question on everybody's mind seems to be whether or not Philip will regress from his spectacular 2008. 

In his first two seasons as the Chargers starting QB, Rivers was very good but certainly not the best QB in the league.  In 2008, he may have been exactly that.  At the end of the season he was the highest rated passer and led the league in TD passes and yards per passing attempt.  Also, 7.1% of his passes were for touchdowns, which was up from 4.6% in 2007 and 4.5% in 2006. 

Before we get into the comparison, I need to stop a common mistake that I, and a lot of you, have been making.   We've all been under the assumption that the increase in Philip's passing numbers from 2007 to 2008 was due to an increase in passing attempts.  He had to take over a larger chunk of the offense because the running game was not as strong as it had been.  So how many more passes did he throw in 2008 compared to previous seasons?  100 more?  150 more?  How about 18 more.  In 2006 and 2007, Rivers threw the ball 460 times.  In 2008, he did it 478 times.  Did he have to score more points to lead the team to more victories?  Absolutely, but he wasn't given more opportunities than what he had in previous years.  He was just more effective.

Now, I probably missed a couple of good candidates to compare Philip with, but I did look through a good number of QBs (both active and retired).  The best comparison I could find for Philip's first three seasons?  Future Hall of Famer and everyone's least favorite offseason topic: Brett Favre.  Hate him and his media hounding all you want, but the guy's resume speaks for itself.  10 Pro Bowls, 3 consecutive MVP Awards and a Super Bowl Championship ring.  He may have tarnished his career a bit with these go-arounds with Minnesota and New York, but just like Unitas and Namath in San Diego they'll quickly be forgotten when he calls it quits for good.  Favre is a legend in Green Bay, and if Philip can continue to match him year-for-year he can be a legend status in San Diego.

Year One: It wasn't a rookie season for either player.  Brett had spent a season on the bench in Atlanta and Rivers spent two sitting behind Drew Brees.  They learned in practice and came in fairly polished, but with room to grow.

TmRec Cmp% Yds TD TD% Int Int% Rating
Favre 8-5 64.1 3,227 18 3.8 13 2.8 85.3
Rivers 14-2 61.7 3,388 22 4.8 9 2.0 92.0

 

Conclusion: If this were a competition between the two players, Philip wins easily.  His completion percentage is lower, but his yards, TDs and QB rating is higher.  He also threw a higher percentage of his passes for TDs and a lower percentage for interceptions.  Both players made the Pro Bowl in their first year starting.

 

Year Two: So now they have polish from running the plays in a real game to go along with their knowledge of the offense and running the plays in practice.  Year two is when you prove that year one wasn't a fluke.  It's when you prove that you can change your game to get rid of your weaknesses.

TmRec Cmp% Yds TD TD% Int Int% Rating
Favre 9-7 60.9 3,303 19 3.6 24 4.6 72.2
Rivers 11-5 60.2 3,152 21 4.6 15 3.3 82.4

 

Conclusion: Seeing more comparisons?  Both players took a minor step back in their second year.  The defenses adapted to them and they struggled, at least through part of the year.  Both guys threw more picks and while throwing roughly the same number of TDs from their first season.  Both of their completion percentages dropped.  They went from outstanding rookies to "solid QBs".  To get back to where they once were, they were going to need to break out in their next season.

 

Year Three: The third year that a player is seeing significant time on an NFL field is talked about a lot.  It's the year that a lot of players "get it".  The players become craftier, learning how to play right on the edge of danger while still remaning efficient.  This is the year that a lot of guys blossom.

TmRec Cmp% Yds TD TD% Int Int% Rating
Favre 9-7 62.4 3,882 33 5.7 14 2.4 90.7
Rivers 8-8 65.3 4,009 34 7.1 11 2.3 105.5

 

Conclusion: Okay, so the team record got worse.  In Philip's defense, his second year starting involved a coaching overhaul.  New head coach, new offensive coordinator and new defensive coordinator.  His third year involved an injured RB for most of the season, the loss of the team's best pass rusher and a defensive coordinator change mid-season.  The record may not entirely be his fault.

Now, look past the numbers.  Both players' TD numbers skyrocketed while they both brought their interceptions to an acceptable level.  They learned how to play efficiently without playing it safe.  As he got older, Favre teetered away from "safe" further and further to remain effective.

At this point in their careers, these two quarterbacks are similar.  They each started strong, took a step back and exploded in their third seasons.  I haven't found anyone else that could match that pattern, with this much improvement in their third season as a starting QB.  So, could Favre's seasons following his third be a identifier of what to expect from Philip Rivers in the next few years?  We should all hope so.  Here's Brett's 4th, 5th and 6th seasons.

TmRec Cmp% Yds TD TD% Int Int% Rating
1995 11-5 63.0 4,413 38 6.7 13 2.3 99.5
1996 13-3 59.9 3,899 39 7.2 13 2.4 95.8
1997 13-3 59.3 3,867 35 6.8 16 3.1 92.6

 

Those were essentially Favre's three best seasons.  That's not surprising, as the team was built more around him and the coaching staff remained in place.  In 1996 the Packers won the Super Bowl, and in 1997 they return but lost to John Elway's Broncos.  I asked the question, when we were comparing LT and Emmitt, would you be happy with this future?  If in the next three seasons Philip brings the Chargers to two Super Bowls, winning one, and wins three consecutive MVP Awards (or is at least the league's best QB for those three seasons).....well, I'll have a smile on my face for the better part of a decade.  The good news is, early in his career he's already outpacing some of the greatest QBs in history.  The better news is, he knows he needs to bring San Diego it's first major championship to get into the same class as those guys.

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