One player has never gotten the full recognition he has earned
Fans of professional football love to debate about who are the best players — both in the past and present. While most players get their due, some have never received the level of recognition they deserve for all they have accomplished. This includes the most underrated player in the history of the NFL — quarterback Drew Brees.
Of course, Brees has not been completely ignored during his wonderful 19-year career. However, he has never sat in the full spotlight, both because of always playing in secondary markets and because of his career coinciding with that of perhaps the player of all time, quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. Having such a prodigious peer is an unfortunate circumstance given the numbers he has produced during what is a certain Hall-of-Fame career.
Interestingly, Brees has always seemingly operated on the fringes. He played his college ball at Purdue, a lower-tier Division One school. He was then drafted with the 32nd overall pick (second round) by the San Diego Chargers, a franchise that had won as many as 10 games just twice in the preceding 20 years, in 2001.
Although Brees developed into a strong starter in San Diego, the team elected to let him walk via free agency following the 2005 season. The decision was made so they could turn the reins over to young Philip Rivers, who was drafted in the first round the year before and has remained the face of the franchise ever since.
Brees joined the New Orleans Saints and has been the heart of their team and of the larger community since 2006. In addition to racking up huge numbers and accolades, he also guided the team to an emotional victory in Super Bowl XLIV in 2010; providing the city with a huge gift just a few years after being devastated by the extensive flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Looking at where Brees ranks all-time in major statistical categories should make you question why he is not talked about more. With no immediate end in sight, he currently ranks first in passing yards (76,884), passing touchdowns (541) and passes completed (6,821). He is second in passing attempts (10,0093) and third in passer rating (98.2). His 237 interceptions rank all the way back at 15th.
In terms of hardware, he is a 13-time Pro Bowler, won a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP (2009). He is also a two-time offensive player of the year (2008 and 2011). He may not have the nine Super Bowl appearances and six titles of Brady, but such honors can’t be inextricably tied to one player. Coaches and teammates have a lot to do with such success as well.
Another aspect of Brees that is rarely mentioned is his size. Small quarterbacks are never allowed to forget their small stature in the NFL. It’s mentioned constantly, particularly in the press as something that must be overcome. Although he is listed at 6’0”, which is pint-sized by league standards, he has somehow largely escaped having his career qualified by this. There is little doubt that the lack of chatter about his “diminutive” size has been caused by his transcendent play.
Brady gets a lot of deserved attention for continuing a high level of play at the age of 42. However, Brees is less than a month from his 41st birthday and remains one of the best quarterbacks in the game. In nine starts (he missed several games with an injury, he has thrown for 2,447 yards and has a 21/4 touchdown/interception ratio. He is doing things at an advanced age that have only been accomplished by Brady. Once again, he has been victimized by playing simultaneously as a contemporary setting an impossibly high bar. If not for the New England legend, how much grander might the legacy of Brees be?
Brees’ recent game may be one of his best. New Orleans soundly beat the Indianapolis Colts on December 16th on the strength of their quarterback completing a ridiculous 29 of his 30 pass attempts for 307 yards and four touchdowns. In doing so, he set two NFL records, including the highest pass completion percentage in a single game (96.7%) with a minimum of 20 attempts, and he established a new league career passing touchdown record. He leapfrogged Brady’s 538 touchdowns and the retired Peyton Manning’s previous record of 539 scores, and currently holds the record himself with 541. It appears the two active quarterbacks will toggle back and forth with the record for some time until they both retire, or one breaks away and takes the record for good.
Taking everything into account, Brees has a legitimate claim on the title of the greatest quarterback of all time. There is no scientific way to settle that question, but he is absolutely on the shortest list possible. However, most debates typically center on Brady or Joe Montana. Those aren’t necessarily the wrong answers, it’s just that Brees could possibly be the right answer.
Now that he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, it appears that the veteran slinger is in the unenviable position of never getting the appropriate attention and respect owed to someone of his accomplishments. That may come in time, but probably not until after he has finished playing. It’s a shame because he has helped redefine the position and is a legend. Interpreted another way, Drew Brees is the most underrated player in NFL history.