In relative terms, the most effective Quarterback in Green Bay Packer history wasn’t from Mississippi or Alabama or even California. He was a Wisconsinite, believe it or not, and in fact he was born right in Green Bay.
He stood 5’11 and completed barely 40% of his passes. Nevertheless, and even though he somehow made only one All-NFL team, he was the dominant quarterback of the 1930s — the King of the Forward Pass. His name was Arnie Herber. He led the Packers to their first two World’s Championships of the playoff era with his brilliant performances in 1936 and 1939, then he left the Packers to fight in World War II.
Ranking the Packers Starting Quarterbacks
I ranked every starting quarterback in Green Bay Packers history using a metric I call “Quarterback Effectiveness Rating” or QBER.
QBER correlates strongly with both Professor David Berri’s QB Score and also with Football Outsiders “Defense Adjusted Value over Average”, two of the best football win metrics. That means even though QBER is a performance metric, it still correlates very strongly with a quarterback’s ability to produce wins for his team. And that, of course, is the name of the game in sports.
QBER, in a basic sense, is a measurement of the number of forward yards a quarterback produces for his team for every non-productive play (incompletions and sacks). Forward yards are equal to passing yards plus running yards minus yards lost by sack minus interceptions * 50 yards (the accepted value of yards each interception costs a quarterback’s team).
QBER is basically dependent upon three statistics: Completion %, Interception Rate, and Yards per Completion. If the Quarterback is above average in all three areas, he will have a high QBER.
To avoid historical issues involving liberalized passing rules, I adjusted each quarterback’s statistics in the three areas above to 2010 values by adjusting the quarterback according to the prevailing averages when he played. The average QBER is thus set to the 2010 average of 10.18. Above that, and the quarterback was above average in effectiveness and win production. Below 10.18 and he was below average.
1. Arnie Herber (1932-1940)
Adjusted QBER: 18.44
I remember seeing him at the Packer Hall-0f-Fame and not knowing who the hell he was. He was the Packers most effective quarterback ever, that’s who he was. During his short but brilliant career, he was above average in all three major categories, and his incredible 16.1 yards per completion in 1936 still stands as the highest mark ever, and his 33.09 QBER that season not only led the Packers to the World Championship, it is the second highest single season QBER I have found to date (the highest being Sammy Baugh’s ridiculous 1945 season — check out those stats some time). To put it in perspective, Tom Brady’s QBER from his tremendous 2007 season was 21.77. Dan Marino’s legendary rookie season in 1984 was 22.52.
2. Aaron Rodgers (2008-date)
Ted Thompson’s bold, courageous move to install Rodgers as his starting quarterback has paid off handsomely. Believe it or not, Rodgers has already proven himself a more effective quarterback than Brett Favre ever was (in Green Bay). Favre had only one season in Green Bay where his adjusted QBER was higher than Rodgers career QBER so far (that was Favre’s 1997: 15.57). And as good as he’s been, if Rodgers didn’t get sacked so much, his numbers would be monstrous. But I believe he consciously trades interceptions for sacks — a wise decision, actually.
3. Bart Starr (1956-1972)
Adjusted QBER: 15.19
Because he did not have a strong arm, people just refuse to recognize the greatness of Bart Starr. After Jim Taylor ran out of gas, Bart Starr basically carried the Packers to their final three World Championships. His 1966 season adjusted QBER stands as the second best in Packers history (19.61). He carried a well above average completion rate, a well above average interception rate, and a just slightly below average yards per completion. Because of that he had a more effective career than Johnny Unitas (13.51), Fran Tarkenton (14.18), Brett Favre (12.12), Bob Griese (12.63), and Joe Namath (11.44), to name just a few.
4. Brett Favre (1991-2007)
Adjusted QBER: 12.12
Favre’s 17.89 last season in Minnesota was by far the highest mark of his career. When Favre was in Green Bay he was an above average pass completer, and he was average when it came to yards per completion, but he was reckless with the football. His interceptions killed Packer drives and killed his effectiveness numbers. Its fitting that the gunslinger’s final pass in a Packers uniform was a hideous interception that cost them a trip to the Super Bowl and possibly a 13th World Championship. Adding insult to injury, end zone views of the play showed several Packer recievers wide… wide….open. Favre chose instead to throw a dangerous out pattern that the defender easily jumped in front of for the dagger.
5. Don Majkowski (1986-1992)
Adjusted QBER: 11.34
The Majik Man. The fact that he finishes fifth on the list of all-time effective quarterbacks for the oldest franchise in the NFL explains why Brett Favre was so deified. Majikowski was basically a mediocre quarterback who had one pretty good season in 1989. After that injuries and a contract hold out marked the end of his days in Green Bay (I still remember a sign at Old County Stadium during his 1990 holdout — “Is the Majik gone?” — the fan could not have been more prescient.)
6. Tobin Rote (1950-56)
Adjusted QBER: 10.93
This one shocked me. I thought those were the dark days of Packer football, but Rote was above average. He actually led the Detroit Lions to a World Championship after the Packers dismissed him, and he was later inducted into the Hall of Fame. He wasn’t much of a passer during his Packer days, but he was a terrific runner. Kind of the Vince Young of his day.
7. Zeke Bratkowski (1966-71)
Adjusted QBER: 10.52
Zeke only actually started 13 games during his 6 year stint with the Packers, but he’s rightfully a lot better known than many of the other quarterbacks on this list. I never realized he was already 33 when he came to the Packers, but he performed very well for a backup. Better, in fact, than every starting Packer quarterback after he left in 1971 up until Don Majkowski. Long after their playing and coaching days ended, he and Bart Starr both lived on the same street in De Pere, Wisconsin and I delivered papers to their houses. True story: Bart Starr came out one cold, cold December morning to shake my hand and give me a Christmas check (“Hi son, my name is Bart Starr“). Class act. But I never once saw Zeke, even though I had to collect from his house. His wife always took care of the payments. He was nowhere to be seen. Oh, apparently he’s also the middle man in the old Packer phrase (and Polish joke) from the 1960s… lets see if I get this right… “Skoronski (the center) to Bratkowski (the QB) to Grabowski (the RB)”.
8. Lynn Dickey (1976-1984)
Adjusted QBER: 9.44
Now we come to the below average guys. Lynn Dickey always struck me as decent, but he was really nothing more than that. He was completely immobile, and threw too many picks. But it was him or David Whitehurst, so it was like a Faustian choice.
9. John Hadl (1974-75)
Adjusted QBER: 8.44
Never has so much been given up for so little. Didn’t the Packers trade a couple of number ones for this aging stiff? He was in and out of town pretty quickly. Most of his better, but still overrated days, were with the AFL’s Chargers (the AFL’s passing abilities ere in general wildly overrated… the league was much worse in every category than were the NFL passers).
10. Jerry Tagge (1972-73)
Adjusted QBER: 8.43
Tagge played on the legendary 1970 and 1971 national championship teams at the University of Nebraska, and he was a hometown boy. I think he went to Green Bay West. I remember the guy that ran the batting cages and putt-putt golf on Military Avenue in Green Bay had a picture of Tagge on his wall. He wasn’t much of a pro quarterback, however. I guess he had alcohol problems. Tough break. Pretty decent college quarterback, though. Two time Orange Bowl MVP. Actually I found his stats here. Sometimes its just circumstances that overwhelm a guy.
11. Randy Wright (1984-1988)
Adjusted QBER: 8.43
I always liked Randy “Wrong”. He was an outstanding quarterback at Wisconsin — a transfer from the University of Notre Dame, as I recall. And he executed the famous “bounce pass” play to Al Toon. Your author was in the stands for that game. It was my first Badger football game, and I never forgot how amazed I was at that play. It led me to Madison years later for my degree. A perfect bounce pass with a football off the astroturf. Oh, and he quarterbacked the Packers during the dark days of the Forrest Gregg Era. He was as effective as former All-American Jerry Tagge.
12. Babe Parilli (1952-53; 1957-58)
Adjusted QBER: 8.34
The “Babe” of football, indeed. Babe Parilli really wasn’t too effective for your Green Bay Packers, starting his career at City Stadium, without much success. Believe or not, though, he went on to make first team All-Pro in the AFL with the Boston Patriots, which tells you all you need to know about the myth of the AFL’s passing superiority.
13. David Whitehurst (1977-1983)
Adjusted QBER: 8.23
On the playgrounds in the early 1980s, playing Nerf Football, no one wanted to be “David Whitehurst”. His adjusted QBER kind of explains why. According to pro-football-reference his first name is actually “Charles”. As Johnny Carson would say, “I…I did not know that”. Whitehurst tasted some limited success in 1978 when the Packers went 8-7-1, but missed the playoffs. I believe his son is considered an interesting up-and-coming quarterback right now. Are you beginning to see why Favre was so revered? From Bart Starr to him, an absolute barren wasteland. Well, at least we didn’t ever have a JaMarcus Russell in the mix. The Raiders somehow let him start games with a QBER of 2.12. Kind of puts the Packers gloomy era in perspective. But, I digress, on to our final Packer starting quarterback.
14. Scott Hunter (1971-73)
Adjusted QBER: 7.93
He quarterbacked the Packers to their only division championship of the 1970s, and I can honestly tell you I’ve never heard of him. Normally if a guy was a Packers starter, even a brutal one, his name somehow comes up in front of the television on a Packer Sunday (“He’s another [.....]“). Packer starters are quite well known in Wisconsin households, and for good reason. As my rankings show, there really haven’t been many of them.