Yards per attempt is perhaps the most important "rate stat" in football. The Ten Greats break down into two categories (right click on chart to view image-note that seasons lost to injury by Montana, Unitas, and Young were omitted)
- Dropped like a Rock: These guys' YPA fell dramatically as they aged.
Montana, Unitas, Marino, Fouts, Moon
Montana, Unitas and Marino battled injuries and it hurt their ability to get the ball downfield. Moon and Fouts had some nice years after the age of 33, but declined quickly.
- Held the Line: These guys may have had dips, but finished strong in YPA
Staubach, Elway, Young, Kelly, Favre
Yesterday, we discussed Staubach and Elway. Once again, it's plain to see how they improved with age. Favre's curve stayed fairly flat, but only because he had several up and down years. Some years, his YPA was very weak, but also posted a few excellent years. The curve splits the difference. Kelly was remarkably consistent in the last four years of his career, and actually finished with a 7.4 YPA, the highest of the last four years of his career. Steve Young was remarkable and other than his partial final season had a YPA over 7.6 four of his last five seasons.
First, the good news: the 10 QBs had 9 4000 yard seasons among them after the age of 33. That might not sound like a lot, but considering that the same 10 QBs combined for only 6 such seasons from ages 28-32, that's really a lot.
Now the bad news, the yards start to fall for almost all great QBs. Simply put, teams typically don't rely on older QBs to chew up yardage. Again, click on the graph to magnify.
With only one true exception, the QBs showed a downward trend. Only the aging wonder Roger Staubach managed to generally increase his yards passing as he got older. That isn't to say that an old man can't have a big year. At 37, Steve Young threw for 4155 yards (which was out of line with general decline). Warren Moon went over 4000 yards four times after turning 33. Still, it's not the norm. Notice Elway's curve. We've seen in recent days that Elway grew more efficient with the ball as he got older, but at the same time, his yards dropped. The Broncos didn't rely on him to throw the ball nearly as often, thus he was more effective when he did throw it. Guys like Marino trailed off quickly. He topped 4400 yards at age 33, but never again hit 3800. Other big armed guys like Fouts and Kelly met similar fates.
- In terms of YPA, Manning has a decent shot at staying productive. Currently, his YPA has taken a nose dive since 2004, dropping every season. With uncertainty surrounding the Colts line this year as well, no one should be surprised to see Manning's YPA dip below 7 (where it stood for a good portion of last season). Having said that, he still should be able to post some strong seasons before he retires. With some peaks and valleys, we can expect Peyton to settle in between 7 and 7.5 YPA. In other words, where he finished last year is likely to be a typical Old Manning season.
- In terms of pure yards, Manning will drop off. It's all but certain. He may have one or two more 4,000 yard seasons in him, but will probably settle in around 3500-3800 yards (similar to Favre). That's higher than most of the other guys on the list, but Manning has had higher yardage totals at every step of his career.
- A best case scenario would be a John Elway set up. Manning gets paired up with a strong run game and a stifling defense and the Colts don't need him to throw as much. In such a selective situation, Manning could see his YPA move back up toward 8 or 8.5, though his overall yardage would still fall, perhaps even lower than the 3500 yard plateau.
Next week: QB rating
(this article will be compiled and placed in the Articles Sidebar upon completion of the series)