It was obvious even before the 2004 NFL Draft that the quarterbacks who went early in the class were forever going to be linked, compared and contrasted throughout their careers. What we did not know at the time was that all three of the top passers in that class would go on to have such long and prolific careers, producing easily one of the greatest classes of all time, if not the greatest.
Those three quarterbacks, being Eli Manning of the New York Giants, Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers, and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, have all seen great statistical success over the course of their careers, rising to the top 10 in many all-time passing statistics, with time left to push further. The group also shares four Super Bowl titles.
Let’s just take a quick peek at where they currently stand, shall we? All three are in the top 10 in passing yards, making up a third of the nine-member 50,000-yard club. Manning sits sixth, while Roethlisberger and Rivers, respectively, are eighth and ninth in NFL history.
All three are also in the top-10 all-time in passing touchdowns. Rivers leads the class this time in sixth with 342 touchdowns thrown. Manning and Roethlisberger are eighth and ninth, all three of them with at least 325 touchdowns.
Once again, all three are in the top 10 in NFL history in passes completed, ranking sixth through eighth in the order in which they were drafted—Manning, Rivers, and Roethlisberger. Rivers and Roethlisberger are close, separated by fewer than 10 completions, but Manning has about 250 more. He also has about 900 more pass attempts.
The conversation inevitably turns to how to separate them, and in terms of quantifiable team success, Roethlisberger leads the way. He has won two Super Bowls and played in three, and easily has the best record and the most division titles and playoff victories.
Yet, as Adam Rank argues, he has also consistently had the best supporting cast around him. Of course, he also stupidly says that he credits Roethlisberger with “1.5 Super Bowl wins”, saying he was “merely a spectator for the team’s win in Super Bowl XL. It’s sometimes quite incredible to see people actively commit to saying stupid things as though the act of saying something stupid and thereby gaining attention is a virtue. But I digress.
Ultimately, he’s not wrong about the fact that Roethlisberger has had the best supporting cast around him over the course of his career, benefitting just from the running back position alone with the services of Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker, and Le’Veon Bell. He had Heath Miller for most of that time, and the list of wide receiver is too great to include.
Not that Manning and Rivers have played with scrubs. From LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates to Brandon Jacobs, Victor Cruz, and Odell Beckham, Jr., great statistical success will inevitably be a combination of talent on both ends. Do you agree that Roethlisberger had more talent to work with over the course of his career than did Manning and Rivers?