Elway, Bradshaw, & Aikman Better Than Peyton Manning? Shame on You NFL Network

Ryan MichaelSenior Writer IIIJuly 24, 2009

As I was watching NFL Network today, I became quite disturbed with their list of the Top 10 quarterbacks to have ever been drafted No.1 overall.

It's not so much that I personally place any value on their lists because I don't. Rather, the greater issue is that the lack of research and credible criteria brings fourth more and more lists that continue to shape the minds of millions of NFL fans world—wide.

In this particular instance, the NFL Network ranked John Elway No.1, Terry Bradshaw No.2, Troy Aikman No.3, and Peyton Manning No.4.

Needless to say, I disagree with NFL Network's conclusion that Elway and especially Bradshaw and Aikman had been better quarterbacks than Peyton Manning has been thus far.

So what I'm going to do is breakdown the above mentioned quarterbacks and compare their top three to the No.4 guy on their list.

First we have the No.3 quarterback on the list, Troy Aikman.

Not much was said of Troy beyond when Jamie Dukes referred to Aikman as "The most accurate quarterback I've ever seen".

Interesting as you'd think he might have been watching guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, both of whom have higher career completion percentages (64.4 for Manning & 63.0 for Brady) compared to Aikman's 61.5 career completion percentage.

That is not to say that Aikman wasn't an accurate quarterback by any means.

It just appears as though that one singular aspect of his game has had a greater emphasis placed upon it due to the fact that he never produced to any great degree in any other particular areas as an individual player.

Then we have Terry Bradshaw who ranked second on NFL Network's list.

They obviously made reference to Bradshaw's four Super Bowl victories.

Funny how there wasn't much more to say about him. That's likely due to the fact that Terry Bradshaw rarely performed at an elite level despite the success his team had.

That's really the key word here, team.

Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't Terry Bradshaw the guy playing with a Hall of Fame running back, a Hall of Fame center, Two (albeit possibly one undeserving) Hall of Fame receivers, and possible the greatest defensive unit in NFL History?

If one were to imply that Peyton Manning was afforded an equal opportunity to win four Super Bowls in terms of the support of his team as a whole (remember now, that accounts for Offense, Defense, & Special Teams) then I would love to hear a detailed explanation.

Then there was one No.1 on the list and that man was John Elway.

He is perhaps the only quarterback in which you could substantiate a valid claim for.

It's not so much that I have anything against John Elway (I don't) but he has simply not accomplished as much as Peyton Manning has and he has had longer to build up his resume.

The best argument that one could provide is that he carried a team that wasn't exactly elite to five Super Bowls.

The issue with that theory is, the 1997 and 1998 Denver Broncos were elite.

The 1986 squad that he led to the Super Bowl was anything but however, the 1987 team possessed a seventh ranked defense and the 1989 squad had the No.1 defense in the entire league.

So did Elway make a lot out of teams that weren't as great as Aikman's Cowboys or Bradshaw's Steelers?

Absolutely, but the quality of support he had to work with is often made out to be far worse than it really was which in turn, has made Elway appear that much more heroic.

Shouldn't I at least mention Pro Bowl selections?

The popular response would be no, because people have a tenancy to point out the times when players are selected undeservedly over better players (think of Brett Favre in 2008) and they use that argument as the foundation for dis—crediting the event as a whole.

The reality of matter however is that the selection system (while having it's flaws to be sure) succeeds far more often than it fails.

Below is a list of how many Pro Bowls all of the four quarterbacks were selected to.


Peyton Manning: Nine

John Elway: Nine

Troy Aikman: Six

Terry Bradshaw: Three


Now, if one is to argue the validity and credibility of the above posted selections, all they must do is the following.

Explain which of Peyton Manning's nine Pro Bowl seasons were years where he did not deserve to be selected and explain who deserved the spot Manning took and why he deserved it more than Manning.

Additionally, explain which years quarterbacks like Aikman and Bradshaw deserved to go but didn't. 

Tell us who actually earned the spot in those years and why Aikman or Bradshaw deserved the spots instead of them.

Again, that is not to say that you have to make the Pro Bowl to have had a good season.

Rather, being selected simply validates that you were one of the select few who performed at a higher level than your contemporaries. 

But as I know this argument could go on and on, I'm simply going to provide all of you with what each of the four quarterbacks produced on the field during their respective careers.


Peyton Manning in 176 games:

3,839 of 5,960 (64.4 percent) for 45,628 yards, 333 touchdowns and 165 interceptions.

Quarterback Rating: 94.4

John Elway in 233 games:

4,123 of 7,250 (56.9 percent) for 51,475 yards, 300 touchdowns and 226 interceptions.

Quarterback Rating: 79.9

Troy Aikman in 165 games:

2,892 of 4,715 (61.5 percent) for 32,942 yards, 165 touchdowns and 141 interceptions.

Quarterback Rating: 81.6

Terry Bradshaw in 168 games:

2,025 of 3,901 (51.9 percent) for 27,989 yards, 212 touchdowns and 210 interceptions.

Quarterback Rating: 70.9


What we can tell is that Peyton Manning was far more accurate, far more productive in terms of yardage (moving up & down the field), touchdowns (putting points on the board) and also had a much lower interception—ratio per attempt.

Essentially, Manning played and produced at a higher level in every aspect of the game.

Obviously the rules of the game have changed to make it more pass—friendly since the days of Terry Bradshaw (and to a lesser extent, since the days of Elway & Aikman) but even so, there appears to be too large a disparity between the production of the three other quarterbacks in comparison to Manning.

You could make a valid claim that Manning played on a better offensive squad than Elway but I don't really feel as if the squads that Aikman and Bradshaw played with (considering there were multiple Hall of Famers outside the quarterback position in both instances) were anything to shrug your shoulders at. 

It almost seems as if people don't really sit back and wonder why a guy like Terry Bradshaw was only selected to three Pro Bowls during his 14—year career.

It wasn't as if the team and coaching staff he had to work with didn't provide him with the opportunity to succeed.

Some might say that the Steelers were (and always have been) a running—team and that would explain Bradshaw's lack of production.

Funny that those fewer passing attempts that resulted from such a game—strategy doesn't really explain the high—percentage of interceptions which became a specialty of Bradshaw's as much as throwing touchdowns.

You build teams and strategies around the players you have to work with.

For instance, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been known as a "running—team".

Would their strategy and game—plan not change greatly if they suddenly had Peyton Manning at quarterback? Or do you think their strategies would remain the same?

Or if the Arizona Cardinals who are known for being a "passing—team" were to suddenly acquire Adrian Peterson?

You can't honestly expect Peterson to still receive the same amount of carries and opportunities that they gave to Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower.

The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970's built their system around the talent they had and the same can be said of the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990's.

Both teams had running—backs who were more talented than their quarterbacks and as a result, their offensive strategies were structured accordingly.

That is not to say that Terry Bradshaw or Troy Aikman weren't good quarterbacks, they simply executed their roles to the best of their abilities.

So at the end of the day, what do we have?

Another NFL Network list that was constructed with the aid of little research and the lack of a logical criteria.

Does that upset me?

No, because I (as well as most B/R writers) have the ability to think for myself and do the research necessary to reach a logical conclusion.

But what about the millions of viewers who trust the analysts to be the "experts" they claim to be?

They see individual players who were parts of successful teams and figure "Okay, NFL Network and their experts wouldn't rank these people in these places without good reason to do so".

So what we have is masses of people who formulate their own conclusions after hearing what the so—called experts have to say about it.

I'll provide every reader with the same courtesy that NFL Network has provided to all of us and allow everyone to formulate their own conclusions.

I know personally that I'd love to hear exactly what those conclusions might be.


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