How Does Philip Rivers Compare to Ben and Eli?

QB Philip Rivers (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)

QB Philip Rivers (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)

Of course, being a Steelers fan, I love Ben Roethlisberger. I am also an NC State alum, so I love Philip Rivers as well. An argument can be made that he is one of the top 5-10 college quarterbacks ever, particularly considering that unlike other QBs in that discussion, he didn’t have a team filled with top 10 recruiting classes. Considering that and the fact that his college offense was a typical pro-style offense, not the run-and-shoot or spread, his numbers in college were staggering. Just check here, and scroll down to the bottom. With that said, I wanted to take a look at how Philip Rivers compares with his more decorated Draft Classmates. I realize that Rivers is the only first round QB from the 2004 NFL draft without a super bowl ring. But, that doesn’t mean he’s vastly inferior to Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.

So, as I have already done in this post and this followup post on Ben vs. Eli, I will review Philip Rivers’s accomplishments against theirs. I will also review the level of defense that he faced so far in his career. He’s been hammered for playing in the weak AFC West, but has the Chargers’ defensive schedule overall been significantly weaker than the Steelers’ and Giants’ schedules? We’ll find out. (Note: All data taken from www.pro-football-reference.com)

First, let’s take a look at a comparison the three players’ accomplishments. The table below shows career statistics for each player.

Player Eli Manning Philip Rivers Ben Roethlisberger
Career Wins 42 33 51
Pro Bowls 1 1 1
Playoff Record 4-3 3-3 8-2
Super Bowls 1 0 2
Career TD Passes 98 78 101
Career TD % 4.3 5.5 5.3
Career INTs 74 36 69
Career INT % 3.2 2.5 3.6
Career Pass Yds 14623 10697 14974
Career Rush Yds 215 160 616
Career Y/A 6.4 7.5 7.9
Career Sacks 120 77 192
Career Sack % 5 5.1 9.2
Career Cmp % 55.9 62.3 62.4
Career Pass Rtg 76.1 92.9 89.4
Career Y/G 200.3 205.7 208
Awards 2007 Super Bowl MVP   2004 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year

Let’s compare each of these categories and see how Rivers lines up with the other two. Obviously, he is behind in career wins, but while Eli and Ben have started since their rookie years, Philip had wait behind a suddenly Pro Bowl caliber Drew Brees his first two season. If we went by number of wins per year as a starter, Philip would be ahead of the other two, averaging 11 wins per started, 10.2 wins/year for Ben, and 9.3 wins per year for Eli (assigning 4.5 as the number years Eli has started).

Philip has the same number of Pro Bowls as each of the others. He has one fewer playoff win than Eli, but 5 fewer than Ben. Of course, he has yet to win a SB. He trails both in TD passes, but, again has more per year started than the others, with 26/year (20.2/year for Ben and 21.8/year for Eli). He has the highest TD % of the three, nearly identical to Ben and 1.2 % higher than Eli. He has almost half as many INTs as Ben and less than half than Eli. Again, based on a per year basis, he comes out ahead, with 12/year (13.8/year for Ben, 16.4/year for Eli). And, he has a better INT %. He is behind in passing yards, but ahead in passing yards/year started, with 3565 yards/year started (2994.8/year for Ben, 3249.6/year for Eli).

Philip is clearly not a runner, based on his rushing numbers. His yards per attempt is almost as high as Ben’s, his career sacks is least among the group. If sacks are broken out per year started, he is still the least sacked, with 25.7 times/year (38.4 for Ben, 26.7 for Eli). His sack % is just above Eli’s, though. Ben and Philip have a much higher completion percentage than Eli, and they are nearly identical. Philip has the highest career passer rating, and he is slightly behind Ben in yards/game.

Finally, both of the others have a significant award, 2007 Super Bowl MVP for Eli, and 2004 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year for Ben, while Rivers has no similar award. However, taking all of these statistics together, Philip Rivers appears to compare quite favorably to the other two. The next question is this: Is there a significant difference in the level of defenses that Philip has faced? Let’s take a look.

Philip Rivers
Year Rush Offense Rank Average Yearly Opponent Defensive Ranks
2006 2 16.82
2007 7 13.95
2008 20 18.17
Career Avg 9.67 16.31
Year Division Opponents’ Pass Defense Rank Division Opponents’ Rush Defense Rank
2006 16.35 18.24
2007 12.53 17.47
2008 15.78 20.17
Career Avg 14.89 18.63
Ben Roethlisberger
Year Rush Offense Rank Average Yearly Opponent Defensive Ranks
2004 2 10.81
2005 5 18.13
2006 10 14.53
2007 3 19.81
2008 23 12.53
Career Avg 8.6 15.16
Year All Opponents’ Pass Defense Rank All Opponents’ Pass Defense Rank
2004 11.5 15.75
2005 19.63 15.82
2006 14.93 14.53
2007 18.44 19.31
2008 12.53 13.68
Career Avg 15.4 15.82
Eli Manning
Year Rush Offense Rank Average Yearly Opponent Defensive Ranks
2004 11 9.63
2005 6 16.94
2006 7 17.24
2007 4 15.05
2008 1 11.06
Career Avg 5.8 13.98
Year All Opponents’ Pass Defense Rank All Opponents’ Pass Defense Rank
2004 12.63 11.00
2005 18.53 14.35
2006 15.53 19.18
2007 16.05 14.35
2008 11.29 11.94
Career Avg 14.81 14.16

Just as I did for Ben and Eli in the previous posts, I only included games that Rivers was in, so I only looked at the numbers from the last 3 years. As usual, these numbers show a mixed bag. For example, throughout his career, the average ranks of opposing defenses have been lower for Philip than Ben and Eli. On the other hand, his teams’ average offensive rush ranking have been the lowest of the three, due mainly to this past year. Also, as somewhat expected, Philip’s best statistical years correspond with the same years when the opposing defensive rankings were lower. So, this does tend to lend some credence to the argument that he’s face inferior opposition and can’t be considered in the same class as Ben and Eli. However, the differences in rankings haven’t been enormous, and Rivers basically carried the team this past year, with the Chargers’ rushing game and defense really struggling.

Considering the evidence, I think that Philip Rivers appears poised to enter the conversation as one of the elite QBs in the NFL. In every statistical category, he compares favorably with Ben and Eli (except SB wins). Although he has faced, on average, lower ranked defenses than the other two so far in his career, the difference in ranking hasn’t been drastic. And, after three years as a starter, he has become the leader of his team. We’ll see over the next 7-10 years if my prediction does come true. Whether he wins a championship will depend as much on his defense and rushing attack as his own performance, just as those factors impacted Ben and Eli’s championships.

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26 Responses to “How Does Philip Rivers Compare to Ben and Eli?”

  1. Randy Herman Says:

    Good work! Makes sense and seems like the culmination of a hell of a lot of time and energy!

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Thanks! I try my best to put in the effort to show reasonable conclusions.

      • Vance Says:

        Great work, really love the insight. Would love to see this same type of comparison to the other Manning and Brady’s first 5 years of playing. Compare the rising stars to the existing kings.

        • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

          Well, Peyton would blow away Brady in regular season stats, but, of course Brady would crush Manning in the post-season. That would be almost like a Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino type debate.

          • Vance Says:

            No doubt about that, I was looking more for early years of Brady and Manning and how the 3 members of the 2004 class stack up in their early careers. For that matter, it’d be interesting to also look back on former standouts such as Montana and Marino to see how these new stars match up. Basically showing how the starts of Ben, Eli, and Philip compare to the start of careers of QBs that are either already in the HOF or ones we know will be there. I’ve seen some basic comparisons like this, but none in the detail you’ve presented.

            • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

              Good idea. It would be interesting to do a comparison of today’s top QBs against some of the greats.

  2. keith Schell Says:

    Excellent analysis from a statistical standpoint. For me, Ben stands up as the go to guy right now because of his stellar play in big games which really showed this past year.

    Rivers has shown improvement in big games but has not yet come through. He seems to have the biggest upside from a pure talent standpoint and has good leadership skills.

    The enigma to me is Eli. I can’t figure him out. He clearly showed up at the end of the season two years ago and played well in the playoffs. Still, only a really lucky catch and throw put him into the “elite” talk and his play has been very pedestrian before and since the superbowl win. His contract made no sense to me.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Good points. Someone asked the question on the NFLN, “What if Asante Samuel makes that catch to end NY’s comeback?” Or something to that affect. At least, it’s very unlikely that Eli gets a $100M contract.

  3. jr. Says:

    AFC west was the hardest division in 2006. Rivers i think is better than Eli and Ben. Why?? Rivers has no defense or run game now. What made Eli and Ben win their Super Bowl? Their teams defense. Last year Rivers was the only guy having the Chargers hope still on.

  4. jr. Says:

    what Ben has is that he could win right in the end making big plays. He wont do nothing then when it comes to win it he’ll do it. Ben wasent a big [part in the Steelers. Some Steeler fans even thought they could do better without him but he did do the biggest play that the Steelers needed to win the SB.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      Ben was clutch last year while the overall offense struggled in many games. But, he’s had plenty of games where he’s started off strong. In fact, in the SB, he was something like 10 out of his first 11. If they had a short yardage game last year, it would have been 14-0 instead of 10-0.

      Some Steelers fans thought Leftwich should start, but I think they know better now. Leftwich was solid coming in off the bench last year, but look how it’s going in Tampa: same as Atlanta and Jax.

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