Checking in on the 2016 version of Drew Brees

There’s an old saying in football which reads: “As the quarterback goes, so goes the team.”

And, in the majority of cases, it’s true; the quarterback is indeed the most crucial position on a football team. A great one can mask his team’s weaknesses, while a sub-par one only further amplifies his team’s flaws.

Which brings us to an intriguing situation in the NFC South.

The New Orleans Saints, after making the playoffs five out of the first eight seasons with All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees in command of the offense, suddenly find themselves in danger of missing the playoffs for the third straight season. To be fair, there’s still six games left to be played, and, as we know, anything can happen in the NFL. But it certainly is concerning that a team with a QB-coach duo as Super Bowl champions can be in jeopardy of having this type of postseason drought.

Now, Drew Brees is playing in his 16th NFL season, and he is inching ever closer to the quarterback-unfriendly age of 40 (he’s 37, in case you were wondering, and will turn 38 this January). So naturally, some NFL fans might think that Brees is past his prime, and should be replaced with a young, energetic quarterback.

But is Drew Brees really past his prime? Let’s take a look.

First of all, it is helpful to note that, currently, the Saints boast the 4th-ranked scoring offense in the NFL, accumulating an average of 28.5 points a game. And where is this offense coming from? Consider the following short list of the top NFL quarterbacks who are throwing for the most yards per game this season:

QBs with Highest Yards Per Game Average for 2016 Season (as of November 25, 2016):

1. Drew Brees – 327.7

2. Matt Ryan – 324.7

3. Kirk Cousins – 321.8

4. Tom Brady – 319.2

5. Carson Palmer – 293.6

So not only are the Saints scoring a ton of points, but Drew Brees is definitely getting it done through the air. And furthermore, he is still getting it done efficiently; this should come as no surprise to Saints fans who can recall that it was Brees who set the NFL record for highest completion percentage in a season during the 2009 Super Bowl run (70.6%), and then broke his own record in the 2011 season (71.2%). Consider the next short list of efficient quarterbacks this season:

QBs with Highest Completion % for 2016 Season (as of November 25, 2016):

1. Sam Bradford – 71.3%

2. Drew Brees – 71.0%

3. Tom Brady – 70.4%

4. Kirk Cousins – 68.4%

5. Matt Ryan – 68.2%

And in case you’re still not convinced, keep in mind that, although the Saints have the top-ranked passing attack this year, their rushing attack is middle-of-the-road, producing 4.1 yards per game (a four-way tie for 17th).

Nov 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) prepares to throw the ball during the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Clearly, Drew Brees is among the most productive quarterbacks in the league this season. But the information above still doesn’t show anything about whether he is declining or not.

To investigate, let’s compare his current completion percentage with his top percentages from other seasons:

1. 2011 season – 71.2%

2. 2016 season – 71.0%

3. 2009 season – 70.6%

4. 2014 season – 69.2%

5. 2013 season – 68.6%

And we’ll do the same with the average number of passing yards per game:

1. 2011 season – 342.3

2. 2016 season – 327.7

3. 2015 season – 324.7

4. 2012 season – 323.6

5. 2013 season – 322.6

So not only is Drew Brees among the cream of the crop of quarterbacks this season, but he is also having one of his better overall seasons in 2016.

Therefore, don’t lose heart, Saints fans. Even though your team is in a bind right now, you can rest peacefully knowing that your beloved #9 is not the problem in The Big Easy. If anything, he seems to be getting better and better as he ages.

(That 30th ranked scoring defense, however…)

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