What do Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning all have common.
They are three quarterbacks who could succeed with anybody lined up at wide receiver. In fact, they are three quarterbacks who have succeeded with anybody lined up at wide receiver.
In 2008, Drew Brees was one completion away from breaking the NFL single season record for passing yards in a season, and yet not one single New Orleans Saints receiver had a 1,000 yards.
We've seen Tom Brady make due for years with whatever receivers the New England Patriots give him, including in 2004 when he won the Super Bowl with David Givens, David Patten, and Deion Branch. For most of his career, Brady's best receiver has been Kevin Faulk.
And all Peyton Manning did in 2009 was lose his future Hall of Fame teammate Marvin Harrison and starting wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, and then go out and win the MVP while taking his team to the Super Bowl.
But not all quarterbacks with big numbers are great.
In these other cases, the quarterbacks' success have been clearly a result of their pass—catchers.
Here are ten of those cases.
The Majik Man. He was terrible in 1987, terrible in 1988, awesome in 1989, and got hurt for three years and along came Brett Favre.
No need to wonder what could have been, though, Packers fans. The year he was awesome, 1989, was also the year Sterling Sharpe became a full time player.
Anybody could have been awesome in that offense after that.
As we saw.
I am not going to dawg Cunningham's whole career here, as he was dynamic and amazing and a good guy all around.
But can we all have some skepticism towards his 1998 season?
That was the year that at the age of 35, after having been retired from football in 1996, and having played only six games as a backup in 1997, Cunningham came in and led the Vikings to a 15-1 record (13-1 in games in which Randall appeared) while leading the NFL in passer rating and setting a career high for touchdowns with 34.
Of course, the Vikings had Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and Robert Smith that year, along with a not—to—shabby Andrew Glover and a serviceable Jake Reed.
So, Rich Gannon spends the vast majority of his career as a journeyman/spot starter for the Vikings, Redskins, and Chiefs. Then, suddenly, goes to Oakland and becomes a star.
In 2002, he leads the Raiders to the Superbowl and leads the NFL in attempts, completions, yards, and yards per game while posting a 97.3 passer rating.
Do you think there's an ever—so—slight chance his performance had more to do with Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, Charlie Garner, and Jerry Porter than it did Rich Gannon?
Jim Kelly played in the league for 11 seasons from 1986 to 1996. He was always solid, but his three year prime from 1989 to 1991 easily stands out above the rest.
Those were the years when the combo of Andre Reed, James Lofton, Thurman Thomas, and Pete Metzelaars was at its best.
But the real reason you know Jim Kelly was a product of his team is that his backup, Frank Reich, was always better than Kelly was.
From 1989 to 1993, when subbing for Kelly, Reich's passer rating was 103.7, 91.3, 107.2, 46.5, and 103.5. He also had 17 touchdowns vs. six interceptions.
And remember, it was Frank Reich that led the Bills to an overtime victory in the playoffs against the Houston Oilers after trailing 35—3 in the third quarter in the game that has become known simply as "The Comeback."
I wish the ladies would learn to stay away from him, and wish sports—talk radio guys would, too.
As a rookie, he went 13—0 with a rating of 98.1. Really impressive.
Of course, his starting wide—outs that year were Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress, and Antwaan Randle-El, so I am guessing that Ryan Leaf could have succeeded in that system, well maybe not Leaf.
Big Bender's only bad season was after Randle-El and Burress left, but before Santonio Holmes was fully developed. Since Holmes became a star, Ben has been one as well.
Brunell had one of the most underrated wide receiver duos of all time—Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith—at his disposal, and he faded as soon as they broke up.
This may simply be "dating Carrie Underwood" jealousy from me, but Tony Romo, not so much.
I will freely admit that Romo's numbers have been amazing since taking over for the Cowboys, but you have to admit that he has had amazing targets during his three—and—a—half years there, including Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn, Jason Witten, and now Miles Austin.
For all the "Greatest Quarterback of All Time" support this guy gets, he was merely above—average for the first ten years of his career.
Consider: he never led the AFC in anything other than pass attempts in 1985. His completion percentage hovered around 55 percent. He had exactly one more touchdown pass than interception. His passer rating was in the low 70s.
Then, suddenly, in 1993 he becomes an entirely different quarterback. He completes over 60 percent of his passes, his passer rating jumps into the mid—90's, and he's throwing 10 more touchdowns than interceptions every year.
How did it happen? Did John Elway suddenly become great?
Or was it the emergence of Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Ed McCaffrey, and Rod Smith that made him suddenly look so great?
Not much to tell here. He was amazing for five years along side Randy Moss and Cris Carter. Then Randy Moss left and he hasn't been a starting quarterback since.
Miami picking Culpepper over Drew Brees in 2005 may be one of the crucial moments in sports history.
The heart of the Kurt Warner Cinderella narrative is that the St. Louis Rams went 4—12 the year before Kurt Warner became their quarterback.
While this is literally true (they did, in fact, go 4-12 the year before he became their quarterback) this does not mean, as so many would have us believe, that the difference between the 4—12 1998 St. Louis Rams and the 13—3 1999 Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams was Kurt Warner.
You know who else the Rams picked up in the offseason before their Super Bowl season?
Marshall Faulk, the NFL leader in yards from scrimmage the year before.
And Torry Holt, a lethal receiver who had over 700 yards as a rookie in 1999 and led the NFL in receiving yards in 2000.
And Dre Bly, a rookie cornerback who played in all sixteen games and finished with three interceptions and touchdown.
And Adam Timmerman, who played in two Superbowls with the Packers before joining the Rams in 1999.
London Fletcher was in his second year, first as a starter.
As was Az-Zahir Hakim.
And Grant Wistrom.
Tony Horne was in his second full season, and led the NFL in yards per kickoff return and touchdowns off of kickoffs.
And how about the players they got rid after 1998, like Tony Banks; lots of guys could have stepped in and performed better than Banks.
The Rams leading rusher in 1998 was June Henley. Who? A fifth round draft pick out of Kansas who only played in 1998.
Isaac Bruce, the great receiver, was on the 1998 Rams, but he missed all but five games. But despite only playing five games, he finished third on the team in receiving yards with 457, after Ricky Proehl and Amp Lee, a running back. Lee led the team in receptions.
Eddie Kennison started 13 games and didn't break 300 yards. J.T Thomas played in 16 games and had 20 receptions.
Kurt Warner was not the only difference between those two teams, and he was not even the third or fourth most significant difference between those two teams.
Then Warner loses his job to Marc Bulger, who puts up pretty amazing numbers with the same personnel, and wanders the league before getting the starting job and playing great in Arizona, where he had the best receiver duo in the league in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
Gimme a break.