The task of comparing statistics from different eras, especially for the quarterback position, is difficult. The game has changed so much over the years and it wasn’t until the 1980s that teams began passing the ball at a clip that surpassed rushing attempts.
Looking at past stats and saying, "This modern [____ <-- insert name here] quarterback is better, or will fail or will succeed,” is foolish — unless you adjust for the era — which is exactly what I did to not only find the best seasons by a quarterback but also to understand where Drew Lock’s future with the Denver Broncos may stand.
I compiled every major statistical category for a passer since 1970. The quarterbacks who did not toss enough passes to qualify were excluded. The remaining 1,563 quarterback seasons were then adjusted for the era in which they played.
Adjusting for era can be debated, but for this research, each of the season’s stats were calculated on a per-game basis. Then, they were averaged to get the mean (or baseline) by season. The individual quarterback stats were compared to the mean by percent.
If a quarterback had a percent above 100, they were better in that category than the mean for that season and if they were below, they were worse. I then calculated a score based on those percentages.
Every quarterback season was sorted from best to worst. It wasn’t a surprise that Dan Marino’s 1984 season was the best since 1970. In the top-30, there were many familiar names: Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Ken Stabler, and the list goes on.
What was interesting is that there were a few who appeared in the top-30 seasons more than once. The most being Montana with three. The only player who had two or more seasons in the top-30 that is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is Ken Anderson.
As for the Broncos, the best season was Manning in 2013. John Elway has six in the top-10. Craig Morton’s 1981 season was also in the top-10.
The worst season in the NFL since 1970 belongs to Ryan Leaf in 1998. He was significantly below the mean in every major category. We all know how his career turned out.
The top-100 worst seasons for quarterbacks who were in their first or second year are littered with names who didn’t pan out. However, there are a few that did turn it around and became Hall-of-Famers.
Terry Bradshaw’s 1970 season was the third-worst season and he went on to win four Super Bowls and is enshrined in Canton. For Broncos Country, Elway’s 1983 season was on the list of the 100-worst. Troy Aikman was on the list twice in his first two seasons. As it relates to the still in-chrysalis Lock, there is a glimmer of hope if a quarterback starts out atrocious.
The Lock Results
Lock is on the list of the 100-worst seasons for quarterbacks in their first or second year with his 2020 season (his 2019 season didn’t qualify). In every category that was measured, he was significantly below the mean. There is hope that he can turn it around due to the Hall-of-Famers listed above, but it is hope hanging by a thread.
There are 92 quarterbacks on the list of 100-worst seasons (due to some of them on the list twice). 14 quarterbacks went on to have at least a decent career. Included in this list are the likes of Trent Dilfer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kerry Collins, Doug Williams, Steve DeBerg, and Josh Allen.
This means that the chance Lock has of turning it around, based on statistical, historical precedent, is slim. Only 15% were able to and even less went on to significant success.
The cards have been stacked against Lock. He missed time in his rookie season due to injury and the pandemic restrictions on training camp really hampered his development in Year 2. However, I would point out that quarterbacks from the 1987 strike season are on this list as it hampered development then, too.
Lock is a hard worker and he appears genuinely driven to succeed. He enlisted Manning as a tutor and has put in significant effort. If he gets the starting gig with the same offensive coordinator and receivers who have grown in development, 2021 looks more promising.
However, it would not be a surprise to see the Broncos draft a quarterback in Round 1 due to the lack of success the past two seasons at the game's most important position, even in the wake of the Teddy Bridgewater acquisition.
Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL.
Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!