Posted on: December 2, 2008 1:31 am

Best quarterback ever - Tom Brady or Steve Young?

Before I prepare an argument for either quarterback, I would like to state that I don't believe either of these men is the best quarterback of All Time.  That title, in my opinion, belongs to Joe Montana.  Steve Young is second, and would likely be first had he not been on the bench all those years.  Had Randy Moss been drafted by the Patriots in 1998, not the Vikings, and played there, Tom Brady would likely shatter every passing record and have at least a pinky ring.

But neither of those is reality.

So why the title?  Well, what quarterback is more debated than Tom Brady?  Generally, we see Tom Brady against Peyton Manning.  This year, we've seen Tom Brady against Matt Cassel.  This led to Tom Brady against Kurt Warner, due to Warner getting the nod over Matt Leinart who got the nod over Matt Cassel, who is playing for Tom Brady.  Somewhere, we decided to throw a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady against a Hall of Fame quarterback in Steve Young (despite the fact Brady is often compared to Joe Montana).  Next, we'll argue Tom Brady against Fran Tarkenton while we pit Tony Romo against John Elway.  Just for fun.

First, let's establish some facts.  There are several similarities between the two.
  • Both quarterbacks spent some time behind an established quarterback, who had played in a Super Bowl (Steve Young went to the 49ers after two years in Tampa Bay, where he sat behind Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana; Tom Brady backed up Drew Bledsoe for a season and a game, after Bledsoe's Patriots lost the 1996 Super Bowl to Desmond Howard, who, coincidentally, went to the University of Michigan where Tom Brady attended). 
  • Both quarterbacks flourished under systems with great coaches, who, coincidentally, both have the first name Bill (Walsh and Belichick) who were less than outstanding early in their head coaching careers. 
  • Both have lady friends that are fairly attractive
  • Both are widely known as religious people, with their families having a historical impact on the religion (Steve, of course, is the great-great-great grandson of Brigham Young; Tom Brady's great-great-great grandfather is, of course...uh, erm...Vishnu ..)
  • Both won a league MVP
  • Both won a Super Bowl MVP
  • Both are one of three quarterbacks with a season rating above 110 (Yes, Bong Show, Peyton Manning IS the other quarterback to achieve this)
  • Both were All-Pro's, and both were elected to multiple Pro Bowls.

That established, let's look at some raw numbers.  Because numbers are at their best when uncooked.  Except maybe when covered with barbecue sauce.  I sure do love me some barbecued numbers.

For our purposes, and saving me the effort of typing names, SY will represent Steve Young, and TB will represent Tom Brady (not to be confused with Terry Bradshaw, another Hall of Fame quarterback, or the Tampa Bay Rays, a baseball team who is a divisional rival against my Sox).  Also, all statistics are courtesy Pro-Football-Reference.com, with the exception of calculations done by me.

Career passing attempts:
SY - 4,149
TB - 3,653

Career passing completions:
SY - 2,667
TB - 2,301

Career passing yards:
SY - 33,124
TB - 26,446

Career passing touchdowns:
SY - 232
TB - 197

Career passing interceptions:
SY - 107
TB - 86

Career passing average yards per attempt:
SY - 8.0
TB - 7.2

Career sacks:
SY - 358
TB - 203

Career sack yardage lost:
SY - 2,055
TB - 1,278

Career rushing yardage:
SY - 4,239
TB - 533

Career rushing attempts:
SY - 722
TB - 276

Career rushing touchdowns:
SY - 43
TB - 5

Career rushing average:
SY - 5.9
TB - 4.7

Wow, Clovdyx, that's a lot of numbers!  It's almost a bit too much to take in when you look at the numbers that way, I admit, so I'll go ahead and do a little bit of calculations and we can have some differences.

Difference in attempts: 496 in favor of Steve Young
Difference in completions: 366 in favor of Steve Young
Difference in passing yardage: 6,678 in favor of Steve Young
Difference in touchdowns: 35 in favor of Steve Young
Difference in interceptions: 21 in favor of Steve Young
Difference in yards per attempt: 0.8 in favor of Steve Young
Difference in rushing yards: 3,706 in favor of Steve Young
Difference in rushing attempts: 446 in favor of Steve Young
Difference in rushing touchdowns: 38 in favor of Steve Young
Difference in rushing average: 1.2 in favor of Steve Young

Okay, so I think we can agree that Steve Young has had a great career, statistically speaking.  However, let's remember a few things.

Seasons played:
SY - 15
TB - 9

Seasons began as starting quarterback:
SY - 11
TB - 7

Seasons played all 16 games:
SY - 3
TB - 6

Total games played:
SY - 169
TB - 113

Games played, starting:
SY - 143
TB - 110

Games played, not starting:
SY - 26
TB - 3

Games started when main starter (starting 8+ games in a season):
SY - 125
TB - 110

Games played when main starter:
SY - 126
TB - 110

Okay, so obviously Tom Brady is a lot more durable than Steve Young.  I don't think anyone would disagree with that.  So, let's look at some numbers.  No rushing statistics will be included, because, c'mon...Steve Young dominates Tom Brady in EVERY category.  Steve Young was a great runner, Tom Brady is barely better than Peyton Manning (who is barely better than Stephen Hawking).

Passing yards as the MAIN starter for a season (starting 8+ games):
SY - 29,065
TB - 26,364

Passing touchdowns as main starter:
SY - 203
TB - 197

Passing interceptions as main starter:
SY - 89
TB - 86

Okay.  Maybe that's a little better.  Well, based on that, we can see that Steve Young (when mostly healthy) only played a season more than Tom Brady.  In one full season as "the guy" (meaning, the #1 quarterback), Steve Young has 2,701 more yards.  He has 6 more touchdowns, and 3 interceptions.

Let's look at that again.  Steve Young, pretend season - 2,701 yards, 6 touchdowns, 3 interceptions.  Not that great of a year, huh?  Now, what significance is that?  After all, we're excluding the 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1999 seasons.

Well, it's really quite simple: if a quarterback isn't the starter, but is forced to start, you can't expect him to be hot from the get-go.  Sure, it sometimes happens (see: Warner, Kurt).  But they generally need some time to adjust.  Take Matt Cassel for example.  If Brady went down this past Sunday against the Steelers, that would leave Cassel starting five games after not getting much time.  Would he pass for 400 yards in back to back games when only having two other games to get adjusted?  Probably not.  Even in 1999, despite following a great year, he struggled (his three games played were the first three)...he had a mere 53.6% completion percentage and 3 touchdowns while throwing 4 interceptions.  Who else had a bad start to a season, following a career year?  Tom Brady.  7 of 11 for 76 yards, with no touchdowns or picks.  And that's WITH Randy Moss and Wes Welker, who many people would argue are the sole reason he can put up gaudy numbers (granted, he played two drives and both drive ended with each of those receivers fumbling away a catch). 

In Steve Young's case, he threw 8 interceptions while starting only the first five games of the 1985 season.  He only threw six interceptions from 1987 - 1990 in San Francisco, despite playing in 35 games and starting 10.  He threw eight interceptions in eleven games, ten as the starter, in 1991.  Imagine that - a young quarterback coming in and struggling early, despite having a very good career later on!

Now, on to this whole game managing system quarterback issue.  Let's look at their early careers.  For the sake of a fair argument, we'll go based on their first two years and their first two years as the starter.  Now, remember, Steve Young started his career with the terrible Tampa Bay Buccaneers - NOT the 49ers (where a Hall of Fame coach in Bill Walsh would pair the future Hall of Fame quarterback with a guy named Jerry Rice...it has yet to be determined whether or not Rice is good enough for the Hall, but I'm guessing no...but, I digress...)

Steve Young had 267 completions, while attempting 501 attempts (good for a completion percentage of 53.29%).  He had 3,217 yards for  an average of 6.42. (Steve threw 11 touchdowns while in Tampa Bay and tossed 21 interceptions.  He took 68 sacks between these years, with 21 coming in the five games of 1985.

During his first two years in New England, Tom Brady had 265 completions, while attempting 416 passes(good for a completion percentage of 63.70%).  He had 2,849 yards for an average of 6.85.  Tom threw 18 touchdowns in those two years while tossing 12 interceptions.  He took 41 sacks during these years.

Okay, head to head recap.  Steve Young will be on the left, Tom Brady will be on the right.
267 completions/265 completions
501 attempts/416 attempts
3,217 yards/2,849 yards
6.42 average/6.85 average
11 touchdowns/18 touchdowns
21 interceptions/12 interceptions
68 sacks/41 sacks

Now, remember...Tom Brady only played in one game his rookie year.  He played in fifteen his second year, starting fourteen.  Steve Young played in five and then fourteen games in his first two years, respectively, starting all nineteen.

So, in three less games with five less starts, Tom Brady only threw...
2 less completions.
85 less attempts.
368 less yards.
0.43 more yards per attempt.
7 more touchdowns.
9 less interceptions.
While taking 27 less sacks. (Let's point out, Steve Young took an average of 3.58 sacks a game; Tom Brady took 2.93 sacks per game started, 2.56 sacks per game played)

Dare I say that Tom Brady (who took over a 0 - 1 team, on its way to 0 - 2...went 5 - 11 the year before) than Steve Young (who inherited a team that 6 - 10 the year before, 2 - 14 before that, 5 - 4 before that, and 9 - 7 the year before that?) early in their career?!

Some would question Tom Brady's ability to put up statistics without Randy Moss.  How about Steve Young's ability to put up statistics without Jerry Rice?  Well, the only year he was without Jerry Rice while in San Francisco was 1997.  How were Steve Young's numbers in 1997 without Jerry Rice?

In fifteen games, with ALL fifteen started (he only started more than fourteen games five times, so that is something we need to clarify)...he put up...

A mind blowing 3,027 yards on 356 attempts (an outstanding average at 8.5, let's point out).  He tossed a grand total of 19 touchdowns (one more than Brady tossed in 2001) while throwing six picks.  He took 35 sacks that year (his most since 1986, in his second year at Tampa).  Is it strange that he took more sacks when he didn't have Jerry Rice to zip the ball to on a quick slant (somehow, both 49ers quarterbacks seemed to have an inhumanly quick release on those slants...the ball was snapped and they threw it as soon as they got it).  For the record, there was a guy named Terrell Owens on the 1997 49ers.  Obviously, that guy was nowhere close to Jerry Rice at the time; I'm not sure if he ever developed into a solid receiver or not.

Coincidentally, he was held to a mere 199 rushing yards that year (his lowest as a starter, outside of 1999 when he played three games) and only 4.0 yards per attempt.  He had 3 rushing touchdowns (his second lowest as the 49ers starter, and 3rd lowest as the starter...when playing in at least four games, of course). 

Now, how about Tom Brady without Randy "I make my quarterbacks legit" Moss?  Well, long before Randy Moss EVER put on his Red, Silver, and Blue...Tom Brady was averaging 3,593 yards a seasonEven WITH Rice, Steve Young only averaged 3,025 yards a season WHILE in San Francisco (that would drop a lot if I include while in Tampa).  To be fair, that DOES include 1999.  Excluding the three games played in 1999, his SFwJR (San Fran w Jerry Rice) average only goes up to 3,396.  Eight years with Jerry Rice, and two with T.O. too, and he's STILL two hundred yards lower than Tom Brady without Randy Moss including the year he came off the bench for Drew Bledsoe? 

Without Moss, Brady averaged 24.5 touchdowns a season (this doesn't include the 3 passes in 2000, once again).  Young's SFwJR average is 22 touchdowns per season.  Eliminate 1999, and this goes up 24.37.  Tom Brady can average 24.5 touchdowns a year with Troy Brown and David Givens, but Young gets 24.37 with Jerry Rice?  Steve Young DID manage 36 when he had Rice and Owens - Brady only managed 50 with Randy Moss and Wes Welker. 

Without Moss, Tom Brady throws an average of 13 interceptions a year (from 2001 to 2006, EVERY year was 12 or 14, strangely enough...he needed the safety nets of Moss and Welker to drop below 10).  Young's SFwJR average is 9.5.  Damn.  Somehow, in 1998, when both Rice and Owens were on the field, Steve Young threw 12 picks...his most since 1993. 

Before Randy Moss, Tom Brady took an average of 30 sacks a year (because, ya know, he's immobile and can't get rid of the ball quickly).   Steve Young's SFwJR average is 30.75 sacks a year.  A VERY mobile quarterback with a VERY quick release, WITH a huge safety net, takes MORE sacks a year than Tom "I went to Arizona 18 - 0 and all I got was Justin Tuck on my T-shirt" Brady?

Without Moss, Brady had a career rating of 88.36.  Now, prepare yourselves, because Brady is about to get blown away in this category.  Honestly, it's almost sickening just HOW good Steve Young was from 1991 to 1999.  Kind of disgusting, really.  It simply was NOT fair (he Mossed the defenders as the quarterback......).  Ready?

Steve Young's rating from 1991 to 1999 was...(remember, a guy named Jerry Rice was catching passes from him, and T.O. also did for 33 games...)


Lower than his career rating of 96.8. 

Let us recap.

Without Randy Moss, Brady averages 3,593 yards per season.  He throws 24.5 touchdowns while throwing 13 interceptions.  He has a rating of 88.36.
WITH Jerry Rice, Young averages 3,396 (we'll exclude 1999 to help his numbers).  He throws 24.37 touchdowns while tossing 9.5 interceptions.  He has a rating of 94.27.

So, Brady was better after taking over a bad New England team than Young was taking over a bad Tampa Bay team.  Tom Brady was better, statistically, early in his career than Steve Young was, early in his career.  And even without Randy Moss, Tom Brady was still able to throw for more yards, more touchdowns, while tossing slightly more interceptions, taking SLIGHTLY less sacks, while completing a significantly lower percentage of passes (I know I didn't cover that, but to sum it up...61.88% for Brady, 66.40% for Young)...despite the fact Steve Young had the greatest receiver to ever play the game of football on his side? 

Not to mention, Steve Young inherited a team that would draft a guy named Terrell Owens (in 1998, aka Owens' second year, Young only completed 62% of his passes...I imagine most of that were drops by T.O.).
Not to mention, a guy named John Taylor lined up opposite Rice before T.O. got there.
Not to mention, a guy named Ricky Watters was their running back. 
Not to mention, the 49ers had one of the best defenses in the league (so Young didn't have to force anything to make up points).
Not to mention that the 49ers had several Pro Bowl linemen.

But hey, c'mon.  Tom Brady was throwing to Troy Brown, David Patten, and Deion Branch.  While Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon ran the ball.  And his center went to the Pro Bowl in 2002.  And Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy were Pro Bowl DB's in 2001.  And Richard Seymour came up big from 2003 to 2005.

After Young retired, the defense was 30th, 28th, 9th, 18th, and 21st in points allowed while Jeff Garcia was there.  They were 28th, 29th, 13th, 14th, and 13th in yards allowed.  Garcia only got them to more than 10 wins once, in 2001...when they were 9th in points allowed.  Their offense suffered in 2000 under Garcia, but jumped up to 6th in 2001, followed by 3rd, 13th, and 9th in points scored under Garcia during that time frame.

So really, I can see why Steve Young is widely considered one of the greatest quarterbacks ever and Tom Brady is just an overrated seventh round pick from the University of Michigan, forever remembered for inheriting a great team and "leading" them to three Super Bowls  (based on great coaching and the "Steel Curtain" of Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, and Asante Samuel) despite not even outplaying Drew Henson.  And really, that's all Brady is.  An over-rated, system quarterback.  And Steve Young is one of the greatest ever.

.........Or is it the other way around?
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com