Is Nathan Peterman the Worst NFL Quarterback Ever?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistNovember 6, 2018

BUFFALO, NY - NOVEMBER 04: Nathan Peterman #2 of the Buffalo Bills is hit as he throws by Danny Trevathan #59 of the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter during NFL game action at New Era Field on November 4, 2018 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Nathan Peterman is the worst quarterback in modern NFL history among those with as many pass attempts as he has.

Of the 356 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 130 passes in the last 40 years, the 24-year-old Buffalo Bills sophomore ranks dead-last with a passer rating of 32.5.

None of the other 355 passers has a rating below 39:

  • 353. Matt Robinson, 44.1
  • 354. Art Schlichter, 42.6
  • 355. Spergon Wynn, 39.5
  • 356. Nathan Peterman, 32.5

Starting in place of the injured Josh Allen and Derek Anderson, Peterman threw three interceptions Sunday against the Chicago Bears, giving him 12 picks in the first 130 passes of his professional career. His interception rate is 9.2 percent, which is also worst among that group of 356 quarterbacks who have thrown 130-plus passes since 1979.

Only one other quarterback has a pick rate above seven, and he hasn't thrown a pass since the 1993 season:

  • 353. Scott Secules, 6.9
  • 354. Matt Robinson, 6.9
  • 355. Peter Tom Willis, 8.2
  • 356. Nathan Peterman, 9.2

Because the game has changed so dramatically over the years, it's almost impossible to make apples-to-apples comparisons of quarterbacks from different eras.

Sure, the 1949 Green Bay Packers probably would have been better off with a time-traveling Peterman than they were with Jug Girard, Stan Heath and Jack Jacobs, who combined to throw five touchdown passes to 29 interceptions.

And it's likely many worse quarterbacks never had the opportunity to post historically abysmal numbers because they were kept on the bench. Tom O'Malley threw six interceptions in just 15 attempts for the Packers in 1950. Imagine what his numbers would have looked like had he been given more opportunities.

Ditto for the slightly more contemporary Randy Hedberg, who threw 10 interceptions in 90 attempts for the 1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Randy Hedberg was a special kind of bad for the 1977 Bucs.
Randy Hedberg was a special kind of bad for the 1977 Bucs.Sylvia Allen/Getty Images

Former Bills quarterback Brian Brohm's 26.0 career rating is the lowest this century among the 231 passers with at least 50 attempts. How much worse would it have been had he been given more chances to fail after throwing five interceptions in two spot starts late in the 2009 and 2010 seasons?

We don't know, which is why we can only focus on the numbers we have to work with.

What we do know is Peterman's 32.5 career passer rating is 27.5 points lower than the next-lowest-rated passer with at least 130 attempts since the start of 2017:

  • 46. Drew Stanton, 66.4
  • 47. Josh Allen, 61.8
  • 48. DeShone Kizer, 60.0
  • 49. Nathan Peterman, 32.5

That's critical, because while there's little doubt Peterman is statistically the worst quarterback in the league right now, the best way to compare him to statistically terrible quarterbacks from other eras is to consider how much worse he's been than the rest of the quarterbacks on the field.

Let's look at Peterman's numbers in comparison to his peers' and then compare those disparities to the disparities between other historically bad quarterbacks and their peers.

In modern NFL history (post-1970 merger), only two quarterbacks have a lower rating on 130-plus attempts than Peterman.

Kim McQuilken: The 1974 third-round pick was a backup and spot starter with the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins from '74 to '79. His career rating of 17.9 is last in a group of 424.

Kim McQuilken is the lowest-rated passer with a minimum of 130 attempts in modern NFL history.
Kim McQuilken is the lowest-rated passer with a minimum of 130 attempts in modern NFL history.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Scott Bull: The former San Francisco 49ers signal-caller is the only passer besides McQuilken with a sub-30.0 rating, but he wasn't even the lowest-rated quarterback of his era because he played at the same time as McQuilken.

Peterman

  • His rating: 32.5
  • Average rating of next five lowest-rated passers during his career: 65.3
  • Difference: 32.8 (50.2% worse)
  • Next-lowest qualified rating during his career: 60.0 (Kizer)
  • Difference: 27.5 (45.8% worse)
  • Fact: Only Peterman, Kizer and Allen have a rating below 65.0 during this stretch

McQuilken

  • His rating: 17.9
  • Average rating of next five lowest-rated passers during his career: 35.2
  • Difference: 17.3 (49.1% worse)
  • Next-lowest qualified rating during his career: 24.8 (Bull)
  • Difference: 6.9 (27.8% worse)
  • Fact: Four other quarterbacks had a rating below 40.0 during that stretch

So Peterman has been much worse relative to his peers than the only two modern quarterbacks with lower ratings on 130-plus attempts.

What about interception rate? Only McQuilken "beats" Peterman in that category (all numbers rounded to one decimal place).

Peterman

  • His interception rate: 9.2
  • Average interception rate of next five lowest-ranked passers in that category during his career: 4.2
  • Difference: 5.0 (119.7% worse)
  • Next-lowest qualified interception rate during his career: 4.8 (Sam Darnold)
  • Difference: 4.4 (90.7% worse)
  • Fact: Only Peterman, Darnold, Kizer and Trevor Siemian have a rate above 4.0 during this stretch

McQuilken

  • His interception rate: 10.7
  • Average interception rate of next five lowest-ranked passers in that category during his career: 8.1
  • Difference: 2.5 (31.0% worse)
  • Next-lowest qualified interception rate during his career: 8.8 (Bull)
  • Difference: 1.9 (21.0% worse)
  • Fact: Three other quarterbacks had a rate above 8.0 during that stretch

Now, Peterman actually fares OK when it comes to completion percentage comparisons (his 52.3 mark isn't even the worst among passers with 130-plus attempts since the start of his career; Stanton's 49.7 is), but he possesses a comically low yards-per-attempt average.

Only two quarterbacks in modern NFL history—McQuilken and former Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings signal-caller Spergon Wynn—have lower yards-per-attempt averages on 130 or more passes.

Spergon Wynn's 3.9 yards-per-attempt average is historically low.
Spergon Wynn's 3.9 yards-per-attempt average is historically low.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Peterman

  • His YPA: 4.2
  • Average YPA of next five lowest-ranked passers in that category during his career: 5.8
  • Difference: 1.5 (26.7% worse)
  • Next-lowest qualified YPA during his career: 5.4 (Nick Foles)
  • Difference: 1.2 (21.9% worse)
  • Fact: Only five other quarterbacks have a YPA below 6.0 during this stretch

McQuilken

  • His YPA: 4.2
  • Average YPA of next five lowest-ranked passers in that category during his career: 5.0
  • Difference: 0.9 (17.1% worse)
  • Next-lowest qualified YPA during his career: 4.9 (Gary Marangi)
  • Difference: 0.7 (14.0% worse)
  • Fact: 21 other quarterbacks had a YPA below 6.0 during that stretch

Wynn

  • His YPA: 3.9
  • Average YPA of next five lowest-ranked passers in that category during his career: 5.0
  • Difference: 1.2 (23.6% worse)
  • Next-lowest qualified YPA during his career: 4.7 (Akili Smith)
  • Difference: 0.8 (17.9% worse)
  • Fact: 10 other quarterbacks had a YPA below 6.0 during that stretch

Again, Peterman fares worst. That might have to do with the fact he's never completed a pass for 30 yards.

   

Where does that leave Peterman?

The above numbers indicate Peterman is the worst quarterback since the merger in comparison to his peers, but it's fair to argue that:

A) His peers are much better than McQuilken's peers, Schlichter's peers or even Wynn's peers. The bar has been raised so high that even the worst quarterback today would be average if not elite in previous eras.

B) Peterman only has 130 pass attempts because the Bills have played a quarterback who should not be on the field. If Buffalo didn't continue to throw him to the wolves, the sample size would be smaller, and we'd be comparing him to dudes like Hedberg, who has to be considered the worst statistical quarterback in NFL history regardless of pass attempts. After all, he had a career rating of 0.0, and he started the same number of games as Peterman.

C) A fellow named Wayne Clark started five games and played in 35 others for the San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs in the 1970s. Clark posted a passer rating that, relative to his peers, wasn't as bad as Peterman's. That's because he averaged a solid 6.2 yards per attempt. But Clark threw 14 interceptions and never tossed a touchdown pass. That gives him the worst touchdown-to-interception ratio in the history of the league. He also fell short of 130 attempts (120), but nobody would fault you for suggesting Clark was worse than Peterman.

D) Ditto for a plethora of quarterbacks from before the merger, such as Heath with the '49 Packers. The No. 5 overall pick didn't reach the 130-pass plateau, but he threw 14 interceptions (and just one touchdown) on 106 passes and then never played in the NFL again. A handful of years earlier, John McCarthy threw zero touchdowns to 13 picks in 67 attempts with a merged Chicago Cardinals-Pittsburgh Steelers team (seriously!) before vanishing from the world of pro football. Safe to say that with a DeLorean time machine, Peterman would have an edge over those guys.

But if we're not looking at smaller samples or eras that predate the Vietnam War, and if we're not considering hypotheticals, it's hard to argue any quarterback has been worse than Peterman.

         

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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