Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports

ESPN ranks Peyton Manning 17 spots ahead of Tom Brady on dominant athletes list

Alex Reimer
March 20, 2018 - 1:59 pm

Tom Brady still can’t get any respect. The man has won a record five Super Bowls, 27 playoff games and continues to be the best quarterback in football at 40 years old. And yet, ESPN ranks him as the 20th-most dominant athlete of the last two decades, behind Annika Sorenstam, race car driver Michael Schumacher (who?), Serena Williams, two soccer players and –– get this –– Peyton Manning, who checks in at No. 3. 

What kind of cockamamie system did ESPN use to produce these absurd ratings, you ask? Allow the WorldWide Leader to explain:

“We used our unpatented five-step process to determine the most dominant athletes of the past 20 years,” the methodology reads. “First we looked at the top league in every sport that has global annual revenues of $100 million or more and for which there are reliable annual overall rankings or ratings of individual athletes for all or most of the past 20 years. Then we rated those sports' athletes in each of the past 20 regular seasons by the best single performance metric available, adjusted these ratings to normalize athletes' scores in each sport across time, narrowed our focus to the top four athletes each year in every sport, then adjusted the data again to put these players, across sports, on a common baseline. Then we added up the results to achieve this list, in which one ‘dominance share’ equals one standard deviation of performance by an athlete beyond the top four players in his or her sport for one season.”

Everybody got that? If not, it’s OK. There is a much simpler rating system that places Brady ahead of almost every athlete on the list, and surely ahead of Manning. The formula is as follows:

“Brady is the best player who’s ever played the most important position in sports. He’s winning track record is unparalleled and his all-time passing stats are close to the top of every relevant list. He holds a good chance of breaking most of those records, too, considering his career might not be over for several more years –– cryptic philosophizing aside.”

In all seriousness, the Brady-Manning debate fizzled out years ago. It’s true Manning was the most prolific passer ever. He’s still the all-time leader for passing yards and touchdowns. But that’s where the argument to place him ahead of Brady ends. It also likely won’t hold up for long. Drew Brees is poised to pass Manning in passing yards by midseason, and Brady is roughly 6,000 yards behind as well. At this rate, Brady could surpass Manning at some point in the second half of the 2019 campaign. 

Brady’s dominance over Manning in the playoffs is unquestionable. The Patriots QB boasts a 27-10 record in the postseason (73%) compared to Manning’s 14-13 mark. Brady’s QB rating in January and February is 90.9, whereas Manning’s is 87.4. There’s also the whole five rings vs. two rings thing, and even that comes with an asterisk for Manning. The Broncos defense carried him to his second ring in 2015. Brady, meanwhile, has completed 67 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,299 yards (433 yards per contest) and seven touchdowns in his last three Super Bowl games combined. 

But Brady also owns some regular season advantages over Manning. He has a better passing rating and touchdown-interception ratio. The argument that Manning holds regular season dominance belongs in 2004 or 2005.

Oh yeah, and Brady is coming off an MVP season. Manning is entering his third year of retirement. 

There’s no way Manning is the third-most dominant athlete of the last 20 years, and he’s certainly not ahead of Brady. Frankly, few of the athletes on this list, with the exceptions of Tiger Woods and LeBron James, could conceivably be ranked above Brady.

At this point, even NPR eggheads fawn over Brady’s greatness. But ESPN still has its Peyton Manning bias. There’s something oddly comforting about that.