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Is Randall Cunningham's 1990 season one of the most underrated QB seasons of all time?


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In 1990, Randall Cunningham had one of the two best seasons of his career. He made the pro bowl and was named first team all pro for his efforts. However, in the year 2021, this season is seldom mentioned as one of the most ahead-of-its-time seasons in NFL history, and seems to have been largely lost to time. I, for one, had certainly never heard of this effort, but the numbers speak for themselves:

In 1990, Randall Cunningham posted the following stats:

3,466 yards at a 58.3% cmp., 30 TD 13 INT, 7.5 Y/A and a 10-6 record

In today's NFL, this season is......fine. 30 TDs is pretty good, 13 INTs isn't great, but on the whole, a pretty decent year. In 1990, however, this was a pretty great season passing the football. For comparison's sake, let's look at how the league MVP, Joe Montana, compared:

 


3,944 yards at 61.7% cmp, 26 TDs, 16 INT 7.6 Y/A and a 14-1 record

Now, Montana's record speaks for itself, and certainly was the driving force behind his winning of the MVP, but Cunningham had more touchdowns, less interceptions, and roughly the same yards per attempt. Cunningham also had a slightly higher QB rating for the year. On the whole, their stats are fairly comparable.

To add another set of stats to the mix, we can look at Warren Moon's season, which won him OPOTY:


4,689 yards at a 62% cmp, 33 TDs, 13 INTs, 8 Y/A and an 8-7 record

So, Warren Moon's stats are.......also actually pretty absurd for the era. These stats are pretty impressive even in today's game, aside from the record obviously, and can in part be attributed to the run and shoot offense that Moon played in. But certainly, from a statistical standpoint, his OPOTY award is warranted, and he had a great year. He has more TDs than Cunningham and Montana, the same amount of INTs, a higher Y/A and rating than both other QBs. Hell of a season.

 

So, Randall Cunningham's 1990 effort was good for probably 3rd best in the league. What's so underrated about it?

Well, Cunningham also casually rushed for 942 yards (2nd most all time by a QB at the time) at a 8 Y/A with 5 additional TDs. 

Even accounting for Moon's 2 rushing TDs and Montana's 1, this ties Cunningham at 35 total TDs accounted for on the year and keeps him well above Montana. Moon also fumbled 18 times that season, with Cunningham fumbling 9.

Cunningham's efficiency in being a dual threat QB was, up to that point in league history, unheard of. Even comparing his season to the 2019 NFL MVP's, Lamar Jackson, we see:

3127 yards at a 66.1% cmp, 36 TDs, 6 INTs, 7.8 Y/A and a 13-2 record, 1206 rushing yards at 6.9 Y/A with 7 TDs and 9 fumbles

Jackson's season is objectively statistically superior, but given the 30 year era gap between seasons........it's extremely impressive that Cunningham's season even holds a candle.

 

Now, I was not alive in 1990 so needless to say I don't have any recollection of how this season was perceived at the time, and my opinions are based solely on stats and the game footage that I've been able to watch on YT of this season, but from what I can tell, RC had an incredible season that set the blueprint for a type of QB that was to come many years in the future. If any Eagles fans or anyone who was around to witness this season wants to weigh in, I'd love some additional input. I just found Cunningham's stats for this particular season to be pretty insane, and wanted to share. 

 

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Yes, but Montana was a 2 time defending champion who strangely only had 1 MVP. His team was 28-4 over the last two seasons. 
 

I think that if Montana had won MVP in 1987, or if Marino 1984 wasn’t a thing and Montana took MVP honors in 1984, then Randall would’ve won it in 1990. My theory is that the voters didn’t like seeing a legend like Montana with just one MVP, so 1990 was a career achievement award. It was also awarded because the 49ers were absolutely dominant overall from 1988-1990, and we’re favored to threepeat as champions 

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On 1/13/2021 at 3:53 PM, Nightime said:

Yes, but Montana was a 2 time defending champion who strangely only had 1 MVP. His team was 28-4 over the last two seasons. 
 

I think that if Montana had won MVP in 1987, or if Marino 1984 wasn’t a thing and Montana took MVP honors in 1984, then Randall would’ve won it in 1990. My theory is that the voters didn’t like seeing a legend like Montana with just one MVP, so 1990 was a career achievement award. It was also awarded because the 49ers were absolutely dominant overall from 1988-1990, and we’re favored to threepeat as champions 

Pretty much sums it up. Montana got the award that year on reputation mostly along with the defending champions going 14-2 yet again. Still a good year, but Randall should have probably been higher on the pecking order. Moon I'm indifferent about. He had a lot of yards and touchdowns, but he did fumble the ball a boatload of times that season leading the league with 18!!! It just doesn't show up in the primary stats. 

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Talk to any Eagle fan about 1991 and they will point to his play in 1990 as proof that they would have been the best team in 1991 and among the best ever. Imagine a QB doing this and having your defense be #1 against the rush AND #1 against the pass. His injury in 1991 ruined what could have been an all time great team

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Also, 58.3% completion was pretty great for that era.

 

Honestly if that is Lamar Jackson's ceiling then the Ravens can get to multiple super bowls.

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1998 was his best year imo. Moss gets a ton of credit, but Cunningham was brilliant, and one of the few QBs who could take advantage of Moss’s skillset. ‘98 was Moss’s 2nd best season for a reason.

If anything, 1990 Warren Moon, is one of the most underrated seasons of all time, not 1990 Randall Cunningham. 

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Voters have pretty much always awarded the best player on a team with a top record with MVP. Joe winning MVP in 1990 feels right to me and not a legacy award by any stretch. A case could be made for Cunningham here (not Moon because of the record), but this doesn't seem criminal.

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 1/14/2021 at 3:06 PM, minutemancl said:

Randall Cunningham is probably one of the more underrated players in NFL history.

Agreed.  He should have been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago.  Arguably the most talented QB in NFL history.

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On 2/11/2021 at 9:04 PM, VanS said:

Agreed.  He should have been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago.  Arguably the most talented QB in NFL history.

Why should he be in the HOF?

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