Donovan McNabb: Hall of Famer?

Photo Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

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Let’s play a game.

Here’s four quarterbacks. Three of them are Hall of Fame inductees. The other is very beloved former Eagle Donovan McNabb.

Without further adieu, let’s kick off:

QB1: 50.1% Completions, 27,663 yards, 173 TD 220 INT
QB2: 60.1% Completions, 35,467 yards, 237 TD 175 INT
QB3: 59.0% Completions, 37,276 yards, 234 TD 117 INT
QB4: 61.5% Completions, 32,942 yards, 165 TD 141 INT

Compare and contrast. Let’s break this down.

In terms of pure numbers, QB4 leads us in completion percentage. QB3 leads in yards. QB2 leads in touchdowns, and QB3 leads in interceptions. When looking at TD to INT differential, QB1 comes in at an insane -47, QB2 is marked at +62, QB3 is marked at +117, and QB4 just +24.

Okay, so we’ve covered the basic stats. But, oh, the rings, you say. Ah. The fallback argument of a lot of detractors. QB1 is a Super Bowl winner. Look at those numbers. Does a ring make him a Hall of Famer? QB3 and QB2 are both non-SB winners. Of course, another popular “best of all time” nominee (not included in our game), Dan Marino, is also lacking a piece of jewelry. QB4 has a few rings, because for the sake of a good argument, we had to include a passer who enjoyed multiple championships.

In terms of pure numbers, it would seem clear that QB1 is the guy who doesn’t belong. Yet Joe Namath is enshrined for his infamous prediction, a bold statement that helped raise the profile of the league. If you want to call him one of the best players of all time for that, fine – but I think the numbers speak for themselves.

We all know football is a team sport. Sometimes, the breaks don’t go your way. As in the case of the aforementioned Dan Marino, and QB2, Jim Kelly, rings proved elusive. Both Kelly and Marino are Hall of Fame quarterbacks because their numbers clearly show a level of elite play throughout their careers. Longevity, consistency – it’s not like these guys were constantly leading floundering teams. They were always in the hunt. They just couldn’t break the barrier.

QB3 is ultra-familiar “number 5 will always love you!” himself, Donovan McNabb.

And our multi-ringed passer? QB4 is Troy Aikman. When you take the Super Bowl rings out of it, do his numbers really stand up? Over his career, Aikman had just 24 more TDs than INTs. He also worked with leading-rusher Emmitt Smith setting up the pass, and Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin on the outside. It’s an easy argument to note that Aikman had the best supporting cast. His numbers don’t show much for it.

Speaking of supporting casts, let’s review Donovan McNabb’s. For the Pre-T.O. Era, McNabb’s top targets were Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell. Do you know how many catches Pinkston and Mitchell combined for in their post-Eagles career? Zero. Donovan McNabb’s number one and two receivers weren’t good enough to even make an NFL roster after the Eagles let them go.

Then there’s wideout James Thrash. He played 3 seasons with the club, starting in 2001. His numbers declined each year, and in average, he was worth about 600 yards per year. Not awful, but certainly not noteworthy or “number one” caliber.

Greg Lewis? His best NFL season is arguable. Is it the one where he had 561 yards, or the one where he had 3 touchdown catches? You decide. They didn’t come in the same year, and they weren’t duplicated.

So when looking at Troy Aikman comparatively with McNabb, it’s hard to imagine Donovan couldn’t reach a similar level of success in Aikman’s offense. Or, if we flipped the roles and placed Troy Aikman on a team with Thrash, Pinkston, and Mitchell, would he be a Hall of Famer? McNabb compiled a +117 TD-INT differential with those guys. With Smith/Irvin as his mates, Aikman ended with a +24. McNabb also outgained Aikman in yards, out-tossed him in TD total, and had less interceptions thrown.

So, in an un-biased world, how can we exclude McNabb from the Hall of Fame? People love to point out intangible qualities. He wasn’t a leader. He wasn’t clutch. He didn’t take over games.

That’s also wrong – and even though intangibles aren’t something you can quantify or qualify, I’ll take the bait. In terms of clutch plays, or taking over games, let’s look simply on highlight reels. There’s 4th and 26, which came in a playoff game. There’s the 12-second scramble, which was on Monday Night Football, which was in Dallas. There’s the game where McNabb scored four TDs on a broken ankle… And of course, the NFC Championship against Arizona comes to mind, where the offense led a monstrous comeback scoring 19 in the second half before the defense allowed the Cardinals to convert a 4th down and then two 3rd down opportunities to get into the endzone.

When you look at the evidence, there is no case to be made that Donovan McNabb is not a Hall of Fame quarterback. He’s definitely not a first-ballot guy, and yes, he may not have won a Super Bowl. But when you put aside the frustration and the disappointment of not winning a championship, the numbers say enough. Especially in comparison.

Charlie Altersitz is a graduate of Arcadia University and former intern at 97.5 The Fanatic. Follow on Twitter: @Caltersitz10.


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7 Responses

  1. Hi, I’m dumb, I compare stats of QBs from different eras.

    1) It is (almost) universally agreed that Namath isn’t a hall of fame QB based on his performance. He is in the HoF based on playing in NY and his part in bringing legitimacy to the AFL teams during the merger.

    2) There were significant rule changes that affected the QB position and thus the stats of QBs during McNabb’s ERA. Is McNabb a HoFer? Compare him to his contemporaries.

    Let’s look at the time period of 1999 – 2010. Factor out rookie years. During that period DMac was:

    16th in passer rating
    35th in comp%
    23rd yards per attempt
    11th yards per game

    So, no he’s not a HoF QB.

  2. Namath’s comp pct will be lower and INTs higher just due to the nature of the era back then. QBs threw mostly longer low pct passes, pre-West Coast Offense era. Not to mention the old rules concerning what defenses could do to WRs. The best QB of the Namath era, Unitas, had a career comp pct of 54% due mostly to this same phenomenon.

    I agree McNabb should be in the HOF though. The Kelly comparison is the best case really. Those numbers are eerily similar and Kelly had better weapons overall during the prime of his career. If you make the case for Kelly and not McNabb it mostly comes down to Kelly being 4-1 in Conference Championship games (and one of those wins came with Kelly’s offense putting up a whopping 3 points) and McNabb being 1-4. Everything else is about equal.

    1. Kelly’s ERA does not compare to McNabb’s.

      If you look at the 90’s as a whole, factor out rookies, look at only QBs who started 30 games.

      Only 10 QBs completed 60%+ of their passes
      Look at 2000-2010? 30 QBs completed 60%+

      In the 90’s 15 QBs averaged 200+ yards per game
      2000-2010 31 QBs averaged 200+ yards per game

      In the 90’s 1 QB had a rating over 90
      2000-2010 12 QBs rating is over 90.

      Nottttthing compares.
      No-THING compares

      People love spitting stats, people aren’t good at putting them in context.

      1. Agreed Namath is in hall for historical and cultural impact reasons.
        Kelly WENT to 4 SB, which means he WON 4 championship games, not lost them.
        Aikmen played his best in playoffs. Its called elevating your game.
        McNabb is close but given his proclivity to non elevate at EVERY CHANCE HE GOT in the crucial spots imo makes him not worthy.

        In this case, stats are misleading. If Kelly or Aikmen had been Eagles QB, we would have won one or two. Especially 2004. Donovan was one of the worst clutch players I ever saw in the really big games.

  3. Fuck McNabb! No way he is a HOFer!!! If you aks him doe, he is! He foolishly compares himself to Elway and Favre! Ahh! Ha! Ha! Ha! What a fuckin’ dope!!!

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