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Does Donovan McNabb really have a Hall of Fame case?

Though Donovan McNabb never won a Super Bowl or an MVP award, he had an excellent 13-year career. But is McNabb “Hall of Fame” good?

Donovan McNabb has never been a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist, but the former Philadelphia Eagles star is willing to make his case to the masses. His strategy? Comparing his statistics to former Dallas Cowboys legend Troy Aikman’s, which is the go-to strategy regular NFL fans employ when trying to tout their favorite quarterbacks: compare numbers across eras.

No. 5 told TMZ that he is a Hall of Famer and added, “My numbers are better than Troy Aikman.”

That’s mostly true. McNabb’s career QB Rating (85.6 to 81.6), yards per game average, and touchdown percentage are all higher than Aikman’s. Seeing as how McNabb attempted 500-600 more passes than Aikman across his career, his counting stats are also superior to Aikman. And for good measure, McNabb’s interception percentage (Aikman’s 3.0 to McNabb’s 2.2) is lower.

So McNabb does have a legitimate argument, even if Aikman’s yards per attempt average is slightly higher than McNabb’s. Both player are six-time Pro Bowlers, and McNabb could have made it to another one in 2006 if his season wasn’t cut short to 10 games while he was busy posting an 18:6 TD:INT ratio with an incredible 14.7 yards per completion.

The problem is that comparing stats between the 2000’s and 1990’s is inherently unfair. It was more difficult for Aikman to post the kinds of numbers McNabb, as the latter played in an era that favored passing.

When adjusting for era, which Pro-Football Reference stats do, McNabb’s numbers aren’t better than Aikman’s. But strangely enough, they are similar. With 100 scaled to a league-average quarterback, Aikman had a career 97.8 QB Rating+ when averaging seasons with at least 10 starts, with a 119.2 QB Rating+ in his best five years. McNabb’s career average was 108.6 and his best five years carried a 116.6 QB Rating+.

These numbers are quite close, as are the rate statistics besides touchdowns and interceptions (completion percentage and yards per completion), which slightly favor Aikman. McNabb had the more consistent and longer career, but Aikman was better in his peak years. This is mirrored by the fact that McNabb led the league in two era-adjusted stats over his career while Aikman accomplished this four times. Aikman also had more top-10 seasons in QB Rating and passing yards, whereas McNabb had more top-10 seasons in passing touchdowns.

Essentially, McNabb and Aikman had about even careers as passers, even when adjusting careers. So what could put McNabb over the edge is the difference in rushing stats. Whereas Aikman had 1,019 career rushing yards and nine touchdowns with just 3.1 yards per carry, McNabb had 3,459 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 5.6 yards per carry.

Saying that Donovan McNabb had better statistics than Troy Aikman across his career would be misleading, because it depends on which statistics are used. The length of time McNabb spent in the NFL, in addition to the era he played in, help give him an advantage statistically, but, again, both six-time Pro Bowlers are about even when comparing their statistics to their peers. Because Aikman played for the Cowboys and had more team-driven success with better skill position players on his side, such as Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith, it’s easier for his career to be remembered more fondly.

Interestingly enough, Pro-Football Reference shows that Aikman is one of the quarterbacks McNabb’s career is most similar to. The others? Terry Bradshaw, Bob Griese, and Jim Kelly, who are all Hall of Famers. The non-Hall of Fame quarterbacks include Mark Brunell, Boomer Esiason, Steve McNair, and Carson Palmer.

Donovan McNabb is a borderline Hall of Fame quarterback, but he definitely has a case. His numbers compare favorably to others, and it is impossible to tell the story of the 2000s in the NFL, especially from 2000-04, without discussing McNabb heavily. He was an excellent quarterback who defined the Eagles organization in that period of time, and he could have put up even better numbers with better receivers around him.

Next: Ranking the best quarterbacks in NFL history

The only true stars he ever played with were Terrell Owens and Brian Westbrook. McNabb would often have to make the best of James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, and Freddie Mitchell, who were his best receivers in 2003 when he made it to the Pro Bowl and led the Eagles to a 12-4 finish. Notably, none of his wideouts caught 50 passes that season.

Though McNabb’s Hall of Fame candidacy isn’t taken seriously by the masses – to the point where McNabb feels compelled to advocate for himself this strongly – a more holistic look at his resume paints the picture of a great quarterback whose career has been overlooked.

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