Earlier this week, the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that effectively prohibited sports betting in the United States, save for a handful of state-specific exceptions. In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) violated the 10th Amendment, which limits the federal government from controlling state policy.
The decision paves the way for states to decide whether to offer legal sports betting. ESPN’s David Purdum reports that New Jersey, which brought the case, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia could be among the first to do so. The Associated Press reports that as many as 14 states could act within the next two years, with another 18 states to follow.
So what does the decision mean for you? For starters, it’s likely to bring much of the estimated $150 billion-dollar-a-year black market in sports gambling above board. You’ll conceivably be able to place a bet on your phone, at a local sportsbook, or even in an arena. Casinos should see a boost. And fans will have more reason to engage, which supports broadcasters, franchises, and leagues.
Most importantly, however, the Supreme Court’s decision on sports betting means that you will now be able to lose your money legally – which, either right away or over time, you are exceedingly likely to do.
At the start of last NFL season, I walked through some of the success rates and financial dynamics of the most popular sports wager in the United States – the spread bet. I specifically looked at the against-the-spread performance of 60 individuals and 60 prediction models during the 2016 NFL season. I’ve since updated those statistics to include the 2017 NFL season.
To the unfamiliar, here’s an example of how a spread bet works. Assume the Dallas Cowboys are 4.5-point favorites at home against the New York Giants. If you pick Dallas to win “against the spread,” they need to win by five points or more for you to win the bet (“Dallas -4.5”). If you pick New York, you win if the Giants win the game outright or lose by four points or less (“Giants +4.5”).
In a typical spread bet, you risk 10% more money than you would win (-110), known as a 10% “vig.” Bet $110 and win, and you get $100. Bet $110 and lose, and you lose all $110. Historically, sportsbooks would set and adjust point spreads to attract and maintain equal action on both teams. Doing so guarantees the books a profit on those bets, equal to 4.5% of the total amount wagered.
The chart below shows the results of a random group of individual bettors (60 in 2016 and 53 in 2017) and prediction models (60 in 2016 and 57 in 2017) “against the spread” over the course of the last two NFL regular seasons. As expected, both groups had an average success rate right around 50%. And while the sample size is still small, you can see a typical bell curve forming.
Half of the bettors won more games than they lost, and half lost more games than they won. But when losses cost $110 and wins only earn $100 – thanks to that 10% vig – things get pretty ugly pretty fast. Had everyone wagered real money on every game in equal amounts, only 30 out of 113 individuals (27%) would have netted a single-season profit. Nearly three-quarters of bettors would have lost money.
Now consider this. Certain professional sports leagues have been lobbying to receive an “integrity fee” for all wagers placed on their respective games, theoretically compensating them for “[creating] the source of the activity” and “[bearing] the majority of the integrity risk.” Fee estimates range from 0.25% to 1.0% of money wagered, or 2.5% of profits, with other wrinkles attached.
Sports betting operators will also have to pay taxes – potentially as high as 12.5% of gross sports wagering revenue in one version of an Illinois bill. Against this backdrop, rumors began to circulate last fall that sportsbooks might consider covering these taxes and fees by raising the standard vig from 10% (-110, risk $110 to win $100) to 20% (-120, risk $120 to win $100).
If that happens, your chances of making money get even dimmer. With a 10% vig in the example above, we saw how roughly three out of four individual bettors would have lost money – already pretty tough sledding. With a 20% vig in the same example, nearly seven out of eight would have lost money on a single-season basis – worse still, 95% of the individuals who were part of the sample in both years would have lost money over the course of the two seasons combined.
Let's take a closer look at just how devastating the vig is. With a 10% vig, only three out of 113 individuals (2.7%) would have netted a single-season return-on-dollars-wagered of 10% or more. Meanwhile, 22 people (19.5%) would have had a 10%+ loss. Only 18 of the individuals would have earned a 3%+ profit, while 61 bettors would have lost at least that much. And the 20 worst performers would have lost over 2.0x the money that the 20 best performers gained.
Now let’s repeat those sentences assuming a 20% vig. With a 20% vig, only one out of 113 individuals (0.9%) would have netted a single-season return-on-dollars-wagered of 10% of more. Meanwhile, 50 people!!! (44.2%) would have had a 10%+ loss. Only four of the individuals would have earned a 3%+ profit, while 83 bettors would have lost at least that much. And the 20 worst performers would have lost almost 8.0x the money that the 20 best performers gained.
And again, those are single-season returns. It's even harder to stay in the black year over year. With a 10% vig, bettors in this example would have had to finish in the 90th percentile in 2017 just to offset the damage of finishing in 50th percentile (i.e., being exactly average) the year before. (Remember that half of the bettors did even worse!)
With a 20% vig, they'd have had to finish in the 97th percentile in 2017 to recoup the money they lost by finishing in the 65th percentile (above average!) the year before. In other words, the reward for being good-but-not-great is a financial penalty and a requirement that you be exceptional next year to break even. You can deduce from the chart how ugly it gets when you're actually below average, like half of everybody is.
Despite all that, most folks kinda pretend the vig isn’t there, casually chalking it up as the cost of doing business. Ask your buddy how much he has on a game, and he’ll likely say “$100” or $50,” not “$110” or “$55,” which is really what he’d lose. If he wins two bets and loses two others, he’ll probably tell you that he went two and two, not that he lost money.
Of course, not everyone puts money on every game. Bettors often target select games. But even then, one person's "best bet" is another's "trap of the week," and over a long enough period, the vast majority of casual bettors will lose money. There’s nothing special about the math. Sometimes we just need to see it all on paper.
 Market estimates vary wildly, from $67 billion to $380 billion. For context, Nevada sportsbooks handled $4.8 billion in sports wagers in 2017.
 Evidence suggests that sportsbooks have grown increasingly comfortable straying from that 50-50, guaranteed-profit balance. When they do so – that is, when they set lines that attract significantly more money on one team – they’re effectively betting on the other team. In early 2017, certain books allowed big imbalances in nine of 10 NFL playoff games. The books lost all of them against the spread.
 In this particular sample, that's true both on a single-season basis and combined over the course of the two seasons. There were 60 individuals in 2016 and 53 individuals in 2017. Forty-two of them were the same across seasons. On a single-season basis, 83 out of 113 (73%) would have lost money with a 10% vig. On a combined basis over the two seasons, 31 out of 42 (74%) would have lost money with a 10% vig.
 Again, there were 60 individuals in 2016 and 53 individuals in 2017. Forty-two of them were the same across seasons. On a single-season basis, 97 out of 113 (86%) would have lost money with a 20% vig. On a combined basis over the two seasons, 40 out of 42 (95%) would have lost money with a 20% vig.
Portions of this story were updated and adapted from one of my previous posts.
Data was compiled and analyzed by ELDORADO. All charts and graphics herein were created by ELDORADO.
(And other musings on the history, controversy, irony, stereotypes, cultural associations, and cultural complexity that the show and its cast have brought to light)
MTV’s Jersey Shore: Family Vacation airs its seventh episode on Thursday, and the reunion season has managed to reinsert the likes of Deena, JWoww, Pauly D, Ronnie, Snooki, The Situation, and Vinny back into certain corners of pop culture. (Sammi Sweetheart isn’t even there and yet she’s kinda back, too.)
Technically a new series – and already renewed for a second season – episodes have drawn between 1.44 and 2.55 million viewers, making it the highest-rated original cable show among 18-to-49 year-olds on all but two of the Thursday nights it’s aired. The only telecasts that topped it were the NFL Draft on April 26 and the NBA Playoffs on May 3.
While strong, those numbers are a far cry from Jersey Shore’s original six-season run, which spanned 71 episodes over three years and peaked at 8 million-plus viewers per episode. At its apex, it was the second-most watched Thursday-night show on cable or network television for 18-to-49 year-olds, behind only American Idol on Fox.
The fact that Jersey Shore still commands attention and dominates its night on cable – nearly a decade after its premiere – is a testament to how much of a pop culture juggernaut it was. The show that gave us GTL, T-shirt time, and "the note" successfully brought contemporary guido culture to the mainstream. Its popularity surged despite controversy – or perhaps because of it – and in spite of another interesting and telling cultural fact, the significance of which extends far beyond Thursday nights on MTV.
Jersey Shore’s cast members are self-proclaimed “guidos” and “guidettes,” and MTV originally ran promos declaring that they’d brought together the “hottest, tannest, craziest guidos” for the show. The program’s negative portrayal of Italian-Americans ignited criticism from several Italian-American organizations, and MTV’s use of the pejorative “guido” in promos prompted Domino’s Pizza to withdraw as an advertiser. (Ten more national advertisers followed suit. MTV removed the word from promos and descriptions but let it run free in the show.)
Every American ethnic group has its stereotypes. But with Jersey Shore, we have a show built around people who actively associate their idiocy, however mindlessly entertaining, with the negative stereotypes of one particular group. The cast flies the proverbial flag – or paints it on their chests – and advances, explains, and justifies their antics as “Italian-American.” Worse yet, if you actually lift up the genealogical hood, you find that the Jersey Shore cast is barely over half Italian-American:
Only three of Jersey Shore’s eight original cast members claim full Italian ancestry – Paul DelVecchio ("Pauly D"), Mike Sorrentino ("The Situation"), and Vinny Guadagnino. Three others, Angelina Pivarnick, Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, and Sammi Giancola ("Sammi Sweetheart"), are half Italian-American. (Angelina is Polish on her father’s side, Ronnie is Puerto Rican on his mother’s side, and Sammi is Greek on her mother’s side.) Jenny Farley ("JWoww") and Nicole Polizzi ("Snooki") do not have any Italian blood at all.
What we end up with is the bastardization of a culture by a group of people who, to a sizable extent, merely chose to represent it. And there’s an interesting irony to that. For generations, many Italian-Americans (and members of other immigrant groups) felt compelled, thought it an advantage, or otherwise elected to Americanize their names and whitewash their Italian ancestry, which American society viewed as somewhere between "too ethnic" and "criminal." (Sound familiar?) Some were stars. Others might have been your parents or grandparents.
In 1963, Anna Maria Louisa Italiano from the Bronx won the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Miracle Worker. America knew her as Anne Bancroft. Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio. Tony Bennett is Anthony Dominick Benedetto from Queens. In 1972, six out of 13 Italian-American congressmen “had either English or Americanized family names.” Whoever signed up my mother’s Italian-immigrant father for school in the Bronx took the liberty of making a similar first- and last-name switch for him. And still harboring this old-school mindset in the 1990s, my father’s father once politely told me to consider changing my own name if I wanted to pursue certain public professions.
As recently as 1983, The New York Times Magazine ran a long piece on “Italian-Americans Coming into Their Own,” highlighting that “Americans of Italian descent… [had] attained a kind of critical mass in terms of affluence, education, aspiration and self-acceptance.” The article opens in the offices of three-term New York Governor Mario Cuomo and offers a fascinating glimpse into how the Italian-American journey was felt and perceived at the time. It closes with the story of William D'Antonio visiting his daughter Laura at college. Laura comments that she's "the only 100% Italian in [her] dorm... but [she knows] at least a dozen people who wish they were Italian." William muses that 40 years earlier, "[he] would not have been able to admit that [he] was Italian, much less imagine any dozen people who wished they were.''
Progress had come. And so far gone are the days of Italian-Americans changing their names that today's performers and politicians not only keep them, some voluntarily adopt them for art or appeal. When New York City hosted the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in 2018, headline acts included Alessia Cara, Italian-Canadian; Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, three-quarters Italian and better known as Lady Gaga; Donald Glover, who raps under the stage name Childish Gambino; and Logic, whose mixtape titles bear the names of Sinatra and Tarantino. Even the host city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, opted into an Italian name – he was Warren Wilhelm until 1983 and Warren de Blasio-Wilhelm until 2001. We’re a long way from Anne Bancroft, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, and my grandparents’ generation.
But the Jersey Shore phenomenon still underscores a major cultural paradox. Many Italian-Americans don’t carry the hyperbolic physical or behavioral hallmarks that American society perceives to mean “Italian-American.” So when Italian-Americans are successful, that success is not closely associated with their ethnic or family background. If you walked into a room and chatted with Geraldine Ferraro (the first female vice-presidential candidate of a major U.S. political party), Samuel Alito (the 110th Justice of the Supreme Court), or Anthony Fauci (pioneering HIV/AIDS researcher and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984), would you walk out thinking they were all Italian-American? Unless you saw their names or discussed the topic of family origin, you might believe none of them was.
[It’s scary to wonder how many more people know who Snooki is than Geraldine Ferraro.]
Conversely, if you walked into a room and chatted with a bunch of Jersey Shore-style personalities, you’d likely walk out thinking of them as uniformly Italian-American – even though the Jersey Shore cast, the wannabe guidos at your New York-area high school, and the lines outside of Neptunes in the Hamptons (R.I.P.) and D’Jais in Belmar might be about half, if even that. Everyone else is opting in, flying the flag, painting it on their chest – either halfway or all the way.
[If you’re tempted to comment that those people and places are “more Italian-American than I think,” you’re only proving my point.]
And yet that image gets projected out into the world, so much so that respectable media organizations feel comfortable running Anthony Scaramucci headlines like “Donald Trump has gone full Sopranos with his latest hire,” “Reince Priebus sleeps with the fishes,” and “A Scaramucci-watchers guide to Italian-American speech” – to little criticism, I might add, even though we live in a Twitterverse where every perceived ethnic slight is harshly and immediately punished. Stephen Colbert played the mafia card, too. As Joan Vennochi wrote in a similarly titled but very thoughtful Boston Globe story, “when it comes to making fun of other ethnic groups, politically correct limits usually apply. No such restrictions govern parodies about Italian-Americans. The tribe itself is torn by ambivalence over its portrayal.”
It took Italian-Americans a generation to learn the language and a couple more to “make it” in America. But in the end, we are fortunate to have earned – and eventually been permitted to earn – our slice of the American Dream, even with the early poverty and violence, the National Origins Act and No Italians Need Apply, and today’s still-too-common guido stereotypes and mafia portrayals along the way.
My goal here is to offer perspective and gratitude, not complaints. After all, a little Jersey Shore bullshit is more nuisance for Italian-Americans than actual threat, which is what many other groups still face. Our threat days are over. So now it's time for that perspective and gratitude to extend beyond our own dinner tables – to support other groups who harbor the same multi-generational American hope, to those who were never given their fair shake in this country, and to those who pursue the Dream today.
 For added context, Jersey Shore: Family Vacation has drawn 2.2 to 3.3 times the total viewers per episode as FX's critically acclaimed Atlanta and 1.3 to 1.5 times the total viewers per episode as Bravo's popular Southern Charm. All three air on Thursday nights.
 Deena Cortese replaced Angelina after season two and is Italian-American on both sides of her family. JWoww is Irish- and Spanish-American. Snooki is Chilean-American but was adopted and raised by an Italian-American family. In a 2010 interview with Fox News, JWoww pointed out that she and Snooki are not Italian-American and that they're "not trying to be Italians." For what it's worth, it feels a little weird to analyze people’s ethnic backgrounds like this, but if the Jersey Shore cast wants to represent Italian-American culture – or at the very least if they're going to be universally associated with it – it's only proper for the rest of us to check the facts.
 The real hard work and sacrifice came in the generations before me. I am forever grateful for that.
Data was compiled and analyzed by ELDORADO. All charts and graphics herein were created by ELDORADO.
Best QB Draft Classes in History | Fun QB Draft Class Facts & Figures
The sister post to this one covers the best quarterback draft classes in NFL history in terms of era-adjusted passing yards. For more on those legendary classes, please check out the original story.
Developing that story kicked up a lot of other fun facts – including the number of active QB draft classes in the league in a given season, draft-class longevity, draft-class peaks, the worst draft classes in NFL history, and, more generally, the best quarterback seasons and careers based on our era adjustment.
The facts laid out below come from my analysis of Pro-Football-Reference.com data.
The Number of Active QB Draft Classes
- Quarterbacks from 18 different draft classes recorded passing statistics during the 2017 season, tying the 2004, 2003, 1975, and 1969 seasons for the most in NFL history. Of those, 2017 is the only one in which the 18 draft classes were consecutive (2000 straight through 2017). All of the others had gaps – 2004 and 2003 thanks to Doug Flutie (QB Class of ’85) and 1975 and 1969 thanks to George Blanda (QB Class of ’49).
- There have been between 14 and 18 QB draft classes active in every NFL season since 1961. The average over that period (and post AFL-NFL merger) is 15.75. The seasons with 18 active QB classes were mentioned above. Interestingly, the seasons with 14 active QB classes have all come in pairs (or threes) – 2013 and 2012; 1992 and 1991; 1986, 1985, and 1984; 1981 and 1980; and 1962 and 1961 – and are generally due to lack of longevity among what would, in those seasons, be the elder quarterback classes.
- The older end of the 2017 season's draft-class curve was made up of Tom Brady (2000), Drew Brees (2001), Josh McCown (2002), and Carson Palmer (2003), and each was the only one to throw a pass from his draft class in 2017. Palmer retired in January, so unless he or another member of the '03 class pulls a Vinny Testaverde and makes a spot start, we won’t see 19 different QB draft classes throw a pass in 2018.
The Longevity of QB Draft Classes
- The average post-merger QB draft class has recorded passing yards in 15.5 different seasons (excluding those that are still active). The following bullets cover those with the most and least longevity.
- The 1949 QB draft class recorded passing yards in a record 26 seasons thanks to the aforementioned George Blanda. Blanda played for 27 seasons, and though his final nine were spent as a kicker, he still registered passing stats in eight of those. The only season in which he did not attempt a pass was 1973.
- Four other QB draft classes have recorded passing yards in 20 or more seasons – 1956 (21 seasons via Earl Morrall), 1985 (21 via Randall Cunningham, Steve Bono, Frank Reich, and Doug Flutie), 1987 (21 via Vinny Testaverde), and 1991 (20 via Brett Favre). The longevity for 1949, 1956, 1987, and 1991 is by way of one man per class, so it’s really more of an individual statistic masquerading as draft-class statistic.
- The 1985 QB draft class’s longevity is more interesting. Cunningham played through 2001 but “retired” for one season in 1996. Bono and Reich were still playing in 1996 before retiring in 1999 and 1998, respectively. Meanwhile, after starting 15 NFL games in the 1980s and playing eight seasons in the CFL, Flutie returned to the NFL in 1998 and played through the 2005 season. Their longevity was a team effort.
The Peak Seasons for QB Draft Classes
- The median "peak season" for a QB draft class is season number four (among fully retired classes since 1936 or post-merger. The median is the same in both cases.) By season four, stars and starters are often in the saddle, and there are usually enough mediocre starters, fringe starters, and backups still bouncing around the league. Together, they can put up strong cumulative numbers for their draft class.
- The 1985 QB draft class had the latest peak in history – year 14. In 1998, Randall Cunningham started 14 games for Minnesota, Doug Flutie started 10 for Buffalo, Steve Bono started two for Saint Louis, and Frank Reich started two for Detroit. (The 1962 QB draft class had the 2nd-latest peak in history – year 12.)
- Four post-merger QB draft classes have peaked in their rookie year – and for very different reasons. The 2017 class has only played one season, the 2013 and 1974 classes peaked in year one because they're terrible, and the 2012 class peaked in year one because it was superb. As detailed in my original post, the 2012 QB class's rookie season is 5th-best all-time in era-adjusted yards for any draft class in any season.
The Worst QB Draft Classes in NFL History
- The 1996 QB draft class is the worst since the merger in terms of longevity and cumulative era-adjusted passing yards (among fully retired classes). Eight quarterbacks were selected in 1996, and four of them threw a pass in the NFL. Tony Banks (42nd overall) started 78 games over nine seasons and passed for 15,315 career yards. Danny Kanell (130th) started 24 games over six seasons and passed for 5,129 yards. Bobby Hoying started 13 games and Jeff Lewis attempted 54 passes. (The 1997 and 1976 QB draft classes are next with only 10 seasons to their name. They had more yards but lower peaks than the '96 group.)
- The 2013 QB draft class could give the 1996 class a run for its money as worst since the merger. The 2013 group currently trails the 1996 group by 7,779 modern-day equivalent yards. The 2013 class had quarterbacks in the league in 2017 – E.J. Manuel, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, and Landry Jones. Good luck.
- Zero quarterbacks were selected in the first round of the 1996, 1988, 1985, 1984, and 1974 drafts – the only such drafts since 1942. In 1988 and 1974, no quarterbacks were drafted in rounds one or two.
The Best Individual Seasons and Careers: Era-Adjusted Yards
- The five best individual seasons since World War II in terms of era-adjusted passing yards belong to Dan Fouts (1982), Roman Gabriel (1973), Joe Namath (1967), Drew Brees (2008), and Drew Brees (2011). Fouts averaged 320 passing yards per game across 1982’s strike-shortened nine-game season – 1.45 times the NFL’s team average. Those 320 yards per game would translate to about 348 yards per game today. (These rankings are based on the same era-adjustments used and described in the original story.)
- The five best careers in terms of era-adjusted passing yards belong to Brett Favre (77,106 modern-day equivalent passing yards), Peyton Manning (74,861), Drew Brees (71,195), Fran Tarkenton (68,038), and Tom Brady (67,215). Compared to the actual list, Favre and Manning flip-flop at the top, Brees remains third all-time, Brady falls from 4th to 5th, and Tarkenton jumps from 11th to 4th. (Dan Marino falls from 5th to 6th.)
- I'll put out a separate post with these best era-adjusted season and career rankings this summer.
Back to part one: The Best Quarterback Draft Classes in NFL History
The main data source for this article is pro-football-reference.com. Data includes the NFL and AFL regular seasons.
Best QB Draft Classes in History | Fun QB Draft Class Facts & Figures
(Or at least the most prolific in terms of era-adjusted yards)
The NFL Draft begins on Thursday night in Arlington, Texas, and onlookers expect between four and six quarterbacks to be taken in the first round. A number of mock drafts go so far as to project that four of those QBs will be among the draft’s first five or six picks, including USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, winner of the 2017 Heisman Trophy.
Several other mock drafts have Louisville’s Lamar Jackson going in the top 15 – or 16 – or higher – or lower – or in the second round – and still others have Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph sneaking into the draft's opening round. Current Vegas odds imply about a 40% probability that six (or more) QBs are selected in round one.
Six first-round quarterbacks would tie the record set in the 1983 NFL Draft, when John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien, and Dan Marino were drafted. Five first-round quarterbacks would equal the 1999 NFL Draft for second most in history. Six other drafts saw four QBs taken in round one.
It will take some time before we know which QBs in the 2018 draft class were worthy of the first round and which weren’t, and even longer before we know how this group stacks up historically. Hell, for all we know, the draft’s best quarterback might end up being Washington State’s Luke Falk, Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, or Western Kentucky’s Mike White, all of whom are projected to go in subsequent rounds. Sixth-round pick Tom Brady (2000) would be happy to provide a history lesson on that.
With so many quarterbacks in the mix, the 2018 NFL Draft is practically begging us to look back and rank the best NFL quarterback draft classes of all time. There are several such lists out there on the internet, but nearly all rely on the subjective views of their author. As always – be it with sports, movies, or politics – my objective is to remove opinion from the equation and take a purely empirical approach.
So I looked back at every NFL draft in history – the first was in 1936 – and tallied up the career passing yards thrown by the quarterbacks selected in each draft. To keep these QB draft class rankings as straightforward as possible while still accounting for era, I made two simple adjustments – the first based on league-wide passing trends and the second based on the number of regular-season games. The result is era-adjusted passing yards expressed on a 2017-equivalent basis. (See footnotes for more.)
The NFL’s most famous QB draft class is not its most prolific
The 1983 NFL quarterback draft class is arguably the league’s most famous. Six quarterbacks were drafted in the first round and three became Hall of Famers (Marino, Elway, and Kelly). When Marino retired in 1999 – the last of the three to do so – he was the NFL’s all-time passing leader. Elway was 2nd and Kelly was 10th. The class’s combined performance in 1986 remains the best in league history, as they threw for the modern equivalent of 21,648 yards and accounted for over 20% of all passing yards.
But once you factor in era, rule changes, and the number of regular-season games, the oh-so-famous 1983 QB draft class falls to second place in total era-adjusted passing yards, outgunned by 1971, “the original Year of the Quarterback.” That year, the Patriots selected Heisman Trophy-winner Jim Plunkett of Stanford first overall, the Saints took Ole Miss’s Archie Manning second, and the Oilers picked Santa Clara’s Dan Pastorini third – all quarterbacks.
Lynn Dickey and Ken Anderson were among four quarterbacks chosen in the third round, and Joe Theismann went one round later (99th overall). Anderson offers another history lesson for teams picking quarterbacks in 2018. He was the sixth QB selected in the 1971 draft but became its most prolific, ranking 7th in career passing yards when he retired in 1986 after 16 seasons with the Bengals.
The 1983 QB draft class may have had three Hall of Famers, Ken O’Brien, and a higher high, but the 1971 class had more depth and a longer peak. Collectively, the 1971 group produced over 15,000 era-adjusted yards in a single season as early as 1972 and as late as 1983 – a span of 12 seasons. The 1983 group first achieved that feat in 1984 and last did it 1991 – a span of eight. You can compare those peaks and their duration in this chart:
None of the 1971 NFL draft’s quarterbacks became Hall of Famers, but by the time they’d all retired in 1986, Anderson, Plunkett, Theismann, Manning, and Dickey owned five of the top 31 spots on the NFL’s all-time passing list. Pastorini was 48th. (For those curious, if you don’t adjust for regular-season games per season, the 1983 quarterback class ranks number one all-time.)
The 2004 class – headlined by Eli Manning (1st overall), Philip Rivers (4th), and Ben Roethlisberger (11th) and supported by Matt Schaub (90th) – currently ranks as the 3rd-most prolific QB class in NFL history. Through 2017, Manning, Roethlisberger, and Rivers are 6th, 8th, and 9th, respectively, in career passing yards. (They’ve played much of their careers in an unprecedented passing era.)
But the jury’s still out on whether the 2004 QB class can surpass the 1983 crew in total era-adjusted yards. If Manning, Rivers, and Roethlisberger remain starters and produce in line with last year, the 2004 class would sneak past the 1983 class in Week 16 of the 2019 season, basically two full seasons from now. Some of that will hinge on health, and some will depend on what the Giants, Chargers, and Steelers do over the next few days.
For now, the 2004 NFL quarterback class is well positioned in 3rd on the all-time list, the legendary 1983 class is 2nd, and the less-sexy 1971 class is number one thanks to depth, longevity, and era adjustment. Whether that means they're the "best" is ultimately up to you.
Postscript: What about the 2005 and 2012 QB draft classes?
Other recent quarterback classes have had more spectacular peaks than the 2004 group, but with some pretty sharp declines thereafter. The 2005 QB draft class produced the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best combined adjusted-yards performances of all time in 2010, 2008, and 2009, respectively, when Kyle Orton, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alex Smith, Jason Campbell, and Derek Anderson – and sometimes Charlie Frye and Dan Orlovsky – were starting NFL games. (This seems insane now, but Kyle Orton threw for more yards per game than Aaron Rodgers in 2010.)
Meanwhile, the 2012 quarterback draft class owns four of the top 10 combined adjusted-yards performances in NFL history – 2012 (5th), 2013 (7th), 2015 (10th), and 2016 (6th). Their rookie season was their best, and it was led, in order, by Andrew Luck, Brandon Weeden (not a typo), Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin, Russell Wilson, and Nick Foles, along with four starts by Ryan Lindley, 33 completions by Kirk Cousins, and four pass attempts by Brock Osweiler. They fell off a cliff in 2017 but are still 21st all-time in era-adjusted yards, and they’ll continue to chip their way up the list.
On to part two: Fun Quarterback Draft Class Facts and Figures
The study includes the AFL (1960-69), excludes undrafted quarterbacks, and does not deduct yardage lost to sacks, which was not tracked for all of NFL history. Sack yardage is generally excluded from individual statistics anyway, though it is often included in team passing statistics. To create more reliable era adjustments, I've excluded yards lost to sacks entirely.
The first era adjustment is an “inflation adjustment" that accounts for league-wide passing trends throughout NFL history. Thanks in large part to a series of passing friendly rule changes instituted in the 1970s, 1990s, and 2000s, today’s NFL teams have basically never passed more and rushed less. Passing’s peak came in 2015, when the average team threw for 259.2 yards per game. In 1990, that number was 211.4 yards. And in 1973, it was only 159.4. (All gross of yards lost to sacks.)
To account for this, I’ve adjusted each QB’s passing yards to a 2017 equivalent based on league-wide team averages in the seasons he played. For example, to convert 1990 passing yards (211.4 per team game) into 2017 passing yards (239.6 per team game), we need to multiply 1990 yardage by 1.13 (239.6 / 211.4). It’s kind of like converting 1990 dollars to 2017 dollars.
The second adjustment deals with the number of regular-season games played per season, which has generally increased over time. From 1936 to 1946, NFL teams played between 10 and 12 regular-season games. From 1947 to 1959/60, there were 12 games. From 1960/61 to 1977, there were 14 games per year. And since 1978, there have been 16 regular-season games. (In 1960, the AFL played 14 regular-season games and the NFL played 12 regular-season games.)
The main data source for this article is pro-football-reference.com. Data includes the NFL and AFL regular seasons. Data was compiled and analyzed by ELDORADO. All charts and graphics herein were created by ELDORADO.