DAY/AV: Marino or Montana?

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April 12, 2018

DAY/AV: Marino or Montana?

Earlier this week, Setting the Edge introduced the world to Defense-Adjusted Yards per Attempt Value (DAY/AV):

Setting the Edge has been working on a massive project where we opponent-adjust every post-merger pass in NFL history. We know that the value of a passing touchdown is roughly equal to 20 yards. The guesstimation of an interception being roughly equal to -45 yards is “supported by current data.” By adjusting a passer’s efficiency for the defense’s average, we can create a system that gauges a quarterback’s statistical value relative to the defense faced.

Adjusted Yards Per Attempt (AY/A) is how we’re going to measure passing efficiency, as single-game sacks weren’t measured all the way back to the merger. If they were, we would use Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt (ANY/A), which is AY/A with the perspective of sacks and sack yards included. ANY/A is the passing efficiency number most correlated to wins. AY/A is the next best thing.

Adjust Yards Per Attempt (AY/A): (Passing Yards + (Passing Touchdowns * 20) – (Interceptions * 45))/Pass Attempts

Defense-Adjusted Yards Per Attempt Value (DAY/AV): ((Quarterback AY/A) – (Defense AY/A)) * Pass Attempts

With DAY/AV, we can say exactly how much a quarterback was worth, in yards, in specific games against specific opponents.

With that perspective, we were able to claim that only five of the 102 first-round quarterbacks (4.8 percent) selected since the merger were valuable enough to be considered above average starters in Year 1 of their NFL careers. We’re going to continue to answer questions like “How valuable are first-round rookies?” throughout the spring and summer. This time, our focus is on the age-old question:

Here is a year-by-year look at how valuable both Dan Marino (1983-1999) and Joe Montana (1979-1994) were:

Marino started his career off hot with a +521 season in 1983, the third-most valuable passing season from a first-round rookie post-merger. His peak season came one year later as he posted a +1570 effort. It would not be until 2004 Peyton Manning that a quarterback would have a more valuable season as a passer than 1984 Marino. To this day, only 2004 Manning (+1642), 2007 Tom Brady (+1679), 2011 Aaron Rodgers (+1672) and 2016 Matt Ryan (+1596) are better statistically.

If we were to retroactively assign Pro Bowls by the 2014-2016 standard, with six quarterbacks being named Pro Bowlers per season without taking into account of which conference they came from, Marino should have made nine Pro Bowls (1984-1988, 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1996.) In reality, he made nine Pro Bowls (1983-1987, 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1995.)  He was also named MVP in 1984.

Montana’s peak came in his 11th season in the NFL. Montana’s 1989 season (which earned him an NFL MVP) was worth +1208. At that time, only 1984 Marino (+1570) and 1976 Bert Jones (+1247) were more valuable post-merger. Montana also won NFL MVP in 1990, but he ranked seventh among passers in DAY/AV with a +382 number. The quarterbacks ahead of him that year were Warren Moon (+971), Steve DeBerg (+815), Jay Schroeder (+788), Randall Cunningham (+612), Jim Kelly (+553) and Phil Simms (+514.)

Despite what looks to be a misattributed MVP, Montana still should have made six Pro Bowls from a DAY/AV perspective: 1983-1985 and 1987-1989. In reality, Montana made eight: 1981, 1983-1985, 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1993.

Here is the cumulative look, by year, between how valuable Marino and Montana were:

Despite starting his career four years later and ending his career on a downward sloop (1998 and 1999), Marino still had better defense-adjusted statistics than Montana. With that being said, Marino didn’t pass Montana’s legacy until 1996, two seasons after Montana had hung up his cleats. Still, some of that had to do with Montana’s early start on Marino. Here is what Marino and Montana looked like in single seasons with the X axis being years of experience:

As we’ve already mentioned, Marino’s early start to his career really gave him the edge. From Year 5 to Year 12, Montana edged out Marino on an almost yearly basis. Montana only started eight games in his first two years in the NFL combined, which limited his production (which was still more efficient than the NFL average.) It wasn’t until 1981 that he started 16 games, a feat he only managed to do twice in his 16-year NFL career.

Here is the cumulative look, with the X axis being years of experience, between how valuable Marino and Montana were:

Because of Marino’s 1983 and 1984 seasons, he was almost always on pace to be a more valuable passer than Montana. Only after Montana’s 11th and 12th seasons, his MVP seasons, was he ahead of Marino.

Verdict: Marino (but it’s close and doesn’t really matter)