Top 20 QBs of All Time Version 3.0
Top 20 QBs of All Time - Version 3.0 (Revised from Version 2.0 06/05/13, Version 1.0 11/3/2011)
Of course this piece is not a definitive answer to who really is the greatest Quarterback of all time, nor is it an unquestioned determination of which Quarterbacks are better than the others. What it is, is an educated assessment of the different Quarterbacks who have played in the NFL and where I would rank them. You can disagree with my rankings but be prepared to back up why, because I’m prepared to back up my work. Only career honors I determined as major were added to the honors list (to determine QB level of play), I did not include Rookie of the Year because the award doesn't always mean much for a quarterback (or his greatness) especially depending on the talent level of any rookie class. For NFL MVP awards only AP awards were counted, unless an award predated the AP award. Any other MVP awards were not included (some sources give different players MVPs). This is an updated assessment, previous rankings, if different are listed in parenthesis. The following active players moved up in the rankings, Brady, Manning, Rodgers.
1.) (3, 2) Tom Brady – Spygate and Deflategate be damned. Nothing can prevent the acknowledgement that Tom Brady is the greatest Quarterback that has ever lived. 4 SB wins (a record shared with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana) in a record 6 appearances, most playoff wins all time (21-8). One of only two players (the other being Montana) with multiple SB wins (4), multiple SB MVPs (3) and multiple regular season MVPs (2). Only QB to have a perfect 16-0 regular season and to win 14+ games 4 or more times in the regular season. If you haven't guessed by now, Tom Brady is a winner (highest career winning percentage of modern era qualifying QBs at .774). Tom Terrific has had a statistical renaissance later in his career since 2007, and he’s finally hoisted a post ‘scandal’ Lombardi trophy (FYI SB 49 was AFTER Deflategate). What’s scary for the league and everyone else – he looks far from done. He will probably never match the volume of Peyton Manning, but he has been more daunting at his finest and plays outside in a cold weather stadium. His career years of 2007 and 2010 both rank in the top 7 seasons all time of a quarterback (with Manning's 2004 & 2013 seasons, Marino's 1984 season, Rodgers 2011, and Steve Young's 1994). Brady currently owns the record for the most consecutive attempts without an interception to start a career (162), and the most consecutive attempts without an interception (358). He is second in career interception percentage (behind only Rodgers) at 2.0%. In 2012 Brady became the first quarterback to win 10 division titles, and he currently has a record 12.
Career Honors: 4x SB Champion, 3x SB MVP, 2x NFL MVP, 10x Pro Bowl (invited to a 11th), 3x All Pro (2x 1st team), 1x NFL Comeback Player of the Year, NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.
2.) (1) Joe Montana – Yes Joe ‘Cool’ has been bumped from ‘Top Dog’ and is no longer the Gold Standard at Quarterback. He has 4 SB wins, and the second most playoff wins in history of the NFL (16-7). One of only two players (the other being Brady) with multiple SB wins (4), multiple SB MVPs (holding a record 3) and multiple regular season MVPs (2). Blessed with talent and a great system Montana made the most of his situation and did everything you can ask of a QB. He was a winner; he was better under pressure; he was one of if not the best at his position year in and year out. Joe had a great run as the ‘greatest’ - 4 for 4 in Super Bowls with 2 regular season MVPs will do that for you (FYI he has a nearly perfect, 11TDs, 0 INTs and a QB rating of 127.8 in Super Bowl play). Montana was also known for his mystical late-game heroics - he ranks fifth all-time, with 31 comeback wins (and was first when he retired). He will be immortalized in 'the catch' forever, and that will just add to his lore.
Career Honors: 4x SB Champion, 3x SB MVP, 2x NFL MVP, 8x Pro Bowl, 6x All Pro (3x first team), 1x NFL Comeback player of the Year, NFL 1980s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary Team.
3.) (2) Otto Graham - Explain to me why this man doesn't get the credit he deserves? The man was a 7 time Champion ( 3 time NFL, 4 time AAFC which merged with the NFL in 1950). Every year he played in the NFL he made it to the Championship game, having a streak of playing in 10 Championship games in a row (AAFC and NFL). He was one of the greatest winners in North American sports history yet we seem to forget him because of how long ago he played. In the 6 years he played in the NFL Graham lead the league twice in passing yards, twice in rating, and 3 times in completion percentage. That probably doesn't seem too impressive until you consider the fact that while in the AAFC he lead that league 3 times in passing yards, twice in rating, and once in completion percentage (the AAFC was very similar competition the the NFL whether or not people believe so). He is one of only 4 QB's to make the 75th Anniversary team along with Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, and Sammy Baugh. In 1999 the Sporting News ranked Graham the 7th greatest football player of all-time, he was the only player to play in the AAFC that made the top 100.
Career Honors: 3x NFL Champion, 4x AAFC Champion, 2x AAFC MVP, 3x UPI NFL MVP (before AP MVP existed), 5x Pro Bowl, 10x All Pro (9x 1st team), NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary Team.
4.) (5, 6) Peyton Manning - Record 5 Time MVP. He is already shattering many all time records (he currently has the most TD passes and will soon have the most yardage of all-time). 1 SB win in 3 appearances. Statistically Manning's career is a freak like no other we have ever seen (he is only the fastest quarterback to like literally EVERY milestone in ALMOST every category). Only negatives is you can say he is not clutch (although he has a slightly better QB rating in the playoffs than Brady), hasn't won multiple Super Bowls and was one and done in the playoffs too many times - a record 9 times (his overall playoff record is under .500). Manning is a living legend, who strikes fear in the hearts of any defense he faces. It seems unlikely he will end up higher on this list – unless he get a second Super Bowl Championship. Add another Super Bowl win and assume he ends up the all time leader in many categories and he may become the greatest Quarterback ever based just on sheer magnitude of the volume of his greatness. He has been shadowed by Brady in some respects, early in their careers it was winning, since 2007 Brady has been statistically dominant over Manning (although the past few years in Denver have changed that statistically). Peyton is a Gridiron God, and his place at the table of the tops all-time is sturdily cemented.
Career Honors: 1x SB Champion, 1x SB MVP, 5x NFL MVP, 14x Pro Bowl, 10x All Pro (7x 1st team), NFL 2000s All-Decade team.
5.) (4) Johnny Unitas - The original ultimate 'field general'. He was basically what Peyton is to the Colts in a different Era. He was nicknamed, ‘Johnny U’ and the ‘Golden Arm’, making him clearly cool enough to be in the top 5. He is widely considering and listed as one of the greatest players of all-time. By the time of his retirement he held many records, these include being the first quarterback to throw for more than 30 TDs in a season (32), or first QB to throw for more than 40,000 yards in his career, however the most outstanding of which may be his 47 straight games with a touchdown pass which has not yet been broken. Unitas lead his team to victory in the 1958 NFL Championship game against the New York Giants which is called ‘the greatest game ever played’.
Career Honors: 2x NFL Champion, 1x SB Champion, 3x NFL MVP, 10x Pro Bowl, 7x All Pro (6x 1st team), NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversay Team.
6.) (5) Bart Starr - 9-1 lifetime in the playoffs. 2-time SB champion. He had the highest career postseason QB rating (qualifying, and in a much 'tougher' era) until Aaron Rodgers broke it (but Rodgers is still playing). Also a 5 time NFL Champion (7 total 'titles'). Many people don’t see him as being as individually great as Graham, Unitas, or Baugh but more than anything this is because the team around him was stacked (and he had a great coach). Cold Hard Football Facts have him listed as the greatest Quarterback ever (in 2008 I believe and strictly based on numerical analysis). Starr seems to be underrated and forgotten by many but not by this list.
Career Honors: 2x SB Champion, 5x NFL Champion (2 years he won the SB counted), 2x SB MVP, 1x NFL MVP, 4x Pro Bowl, 4x All Pro (2x 1st team), NFL 1960s All-Decade Team.
7.) Sammy Baugh – Sammy was the father of the modern quarterback, basically being the first player to play the position as it is today. As Michael Wilbon states, “He was the first to play the position of quarterback as it is played today, the first to make of the forward pass an effective weapon rather than an ‘act of desperation’ ”. Before Sammy a quarterback was just really another member of the backfield. Interestingly Baugh was also an extremely talented defensive back and punter. Sammy was part of the inaugural class of the Hall of Fame. Many sources have named Baugh one of the greatest player of all time. Baugh won a record setting 6 NFL passing titles (since tied by Steve Young). He still owns the record for the most seasons with the lowest interception % (at 5).
Career Honors: 2x NFL Player of the Year (before AP MVP), 5 x All-Star, 1 x Pro Bowl, 9x All-Pro (7x first team), NFL 1940s All Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary Team.
8.) John Elway - 2 SB wins in 5 appearances (was a record until broken by Brady). Elway overcame the biggest hurdle in his career by winning those Superbowls. Statistically he was more volume than amazing, on the field more winner than artist. He was known for his late game heroics (34 comeback wins in the 4th quarter or overtime tied with Johnny Unitas). When Elway retired he had the most wins of any quarterback at 148 (since surpassed by Brett Favre). Elway ended his career with 51,475 yards passing and 300 passing touchdowns (along with being a very good rushing quarterback), but numbers don’t tell the whole story of John, he was more competitor than anything. Elway’s signature moment will forever be immortalized in ‘The Drive’ that tied the 1987 AFC Championship game after the Broncos drove 98 yards.
Career Honors: 2x SB Champion, 1x SB MVP, 1x NFL MVP, 9x Pro Bowl, 3x All Pro (all 2nd team), NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.
9.) Dan Marino - Maybe the best pure passer the 'League' and planet has ever seen. He was statistically light years ahead of the field (still holds the record for most yardage in a season although it may be eclipsed in the near future). The biggest knock on him is he never won a Super Bowl. Blessed with an amazing arm and great mechanics (with the quick release) he was a sight to see from when he first entered the league. His ‘84 season is really the standard all others should be measured against (of course they should be ‘era adjusted’). He had the highest pre-draft ranking of any quarterback before the Quarterback Draft of ’83 and his ranking hasn’t yet been matched (Andrew Luck is very close). Had he won a Super Bowl many would consider him the greatest ever, however he is stuck as the greatest never to win a Super Bowl.
Career Honors: 1x NFL MVP, 9x Pro Bowl, 8x All Pro (3x 1st team), 1x NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
10.) Sid Luckman – Luckman was known as the greatest long range thrower of his time and also as the first truly great T formation quarterback. He lead the league in passing yardage and passing touchdowns three times each during the 1940s. Sid ended his career with a 7.9% touchdown rate which is by far the highest in history (he also has the highest single season TD rate 13.9% in 1943 throwing 28 TDs on 202 attempts). He also ended his career 2nd all-time in yards per attempt (behind only Otto Graham). During one game in 1943 (Luckman’s best season) he threw the NFL’s first 400 yard game and also a record (since tied) 7 touchdowns. Luckman lead the NFL in yards per attempt a record 7 times (5 consecutive at one point). You may not hear much about Sid on a regular basis but he was an innovator and revolutionary at the position of quarterback. He also had the highest winning percentage of qualifying quarterbacks pre 1950 with a percentage of .763.
Career Honors: 4x NFL Champion, 1x NFL MVP (the Joe F. Carr trophy at the time), 3x Pro Bowl, 5x All Pro (all 1st team), NFL 1940s All-Decade Team.
11.) Brett Favre - Favre is a three time MVP (consecutive), has a Superbowl victory in 2 appearances and he owns many of the all-time career passing records (71,838 yards currently). Then why is he ranked so low, probably because the same thing that made him great also limited him and his team in some tough situations. Favre is a gun slinging, river boat gambler, on acid, playing Quarterback like few have ever played the game. Sometimes this leads the sheer brilliance, other times it cost his team severely (see 2007 NFC Championship game against the Giants). One of the strongest arms the league has ever seen his 'fastball' throws were legendary. He was the Ironman of the NFL. Plus he had a cool cameo in Something About Mary.
Career Honors: 1x SB Champion, 3x NFL MVP, 11x Pro Bowl, 6x All Pro (3x 1st team), NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.
12.) Terry Bradshaw - One of only 3 Quarterbacks to win 4 Supebowls (just Terry, Montana and now Brady) Bradshaw is often downplayed. You would think he was a 4 time Trent Dilfer, while in reality he was a very good to elite quarterback for a good portion of his career. There is only one proven winner from his era or earlier with a higher career post-season quarterback rating, and that’s Bart Starr. What’s that mean? Terry was winning while being effective in the playoffs and that’s the most you can ask from a quarterback. His MVP season really shows he was more than just a QB that road the coattails of a dominant defense.
Career Honors: 4x SB Champion, 2x SB MVP, 1x NFL MVP, 3x Pro Bowl, 2x All Pro (1x 1st team), NFL 1970s All-Decade Team.
13.) Steve Young - He supplanted Montana from the starting job in San Francisco, and it was deserved, what more needs to be said? Young lead the league in passing a record 6 times (tying the mark set by Sammy Baugh). The pinnacle of his career was his 6 touchdown performance in the Super Bowl in which he became the first player to lead a Super Bowl in passing yards and rushing yards. He has a record 6 seasons of a QB rating over 100 (and has the highest rating of any retired QB, 5th highest overall). Young is currently the only lefty Quarterback in the hall. His combination of athleticism and accuracy made him ridiculously hard to defend. Think Michael Vick last season for a 8 or so year stretch-that's Steve Young, so Jemele Hill that's what it would be like if Michael Vick (lefty and all) were white (and more talented).
Career Honors: 1x SB Champion, 1x SB MVP, 2x NFL MVP, 7x Pro Bowl, 6x All Pro (3x 1st team).
14.) (18, 20) Aaron Rodgers – He justifies my previous rankings of him more and more each season. Those who watch and understand football should know that in 5 years we expect him to be closer to a top 5 all time than where he is now. In the last edition he leap-frogged Brees, and now Drew is clearly in his back mirror. But he only has four pro-bowl appearances you say, this is true but he should have 5 or 6 (if people didn't vote with their heads in their asses). He should continue to make the pro bowl for the next few years minimum. He currently holds the highest career regular season and third highest career post season qb ratings (106.0 for the regular season and 101.0 in the post season) . His MVP season in 2011 was possibly the greatest season a QB ever produced. He is a statistical machine who probably should have had a starting position a year or two sooner (sorry Brett, that's the only thing that I say 'what took so long' on). He also owns the league's all time lowest interception % at 1.6% (and lowering). I’d be more shocked for him to finish outside of the top 10 QBs rather than inside the top 3-5. Think about it, he is just reaching his apex, and it a league set up for quarterbacks (and with a plethora of QB talent). Rodgers is the best in the game.
Career Honors: 2x NFL MVP, 1x SB Champion, 1x SB MVP, 4x Pro Bowl, 3x All Pro (3x 1st team).
15.) (14) Norm van Brocklin – The ‘Dutchman’ was a great quarterback during the 1950s and early 1960s. In his early years in Los Angeles as part of the Rams he platoon quarterbacked with Bob Waterfield. There first year together they lead the league 1 and 2 in passer rating (Norm being higher) and lead their team to a record (which still stands) 38.8 points per game. The Rams won the NFL championship the 2nd year the duo played together. Later in his career van Brocklin also lead the Philadelphia Eagles to an NFL championship (defeating the vaunted Packers). The ‘Dutchman’ still owns the record for the most passing yards in one game at 554. He lead the league 4 times in yards per attempt.
Career Honors: 2x NFL Champion, 1x NFL MVP, 9x Pro Bowl, 4x All Pro (1x 1st team), NFL 1950s All-Decade Team.
16.) (17) Roger Staubach –Hopefully this will be enough for Cowboys fans to leave me alone. Yes Staubach made the cut for the top 20 with ease, no Aikman is not on this list (he was great but not top 20 all-time material). As Tom Landry would describe him "possibly the best combination of a passer, an athlete and a leader to ever play in the NFL." How could I leave him off this list. You’re right, I couldn’t. Staubach is one of only four players to ever win the Heisman and Superbowl MVP. Lead the league 4 times in QB rating, Roger also has an amazing career winning percentage of .739 (highest of anyone qualifying post 1950 who is retired, 2nd to Tom Brady).
Career Honors: 2x SB Champion, 1x SB MVP, 6x Pro Bowl, NFL 1970s All-Decade Team.
17.) (19, 18) Drew Brees - Shadowed by Manning, Brady and now Rodgers, Brees is well sure fire Hall of Famer and really only lacks a regular season MVP in his hardware case (I believe he should have won an MVP previously in either 2006 or 2009, but life goes on). Brees from 2006 through 2012 was probably the most consistently dominant NFL quarterback (more so than Manning or Brady). If Brees could win another Super Bowl, or win a regular season MVP (the MVP is highly unlikely at his age) he could considerably help his cause to move up this list. As it is he should have a chance of topping many all-time career marks, being that he is 37 years old and has similar but slightly higher statistics career wise to Brady, placing him top 4 in yardage and touchdowns already. Brees could have another 3 or 4 seasons of good production if he stays healthy. Hello 70,000 (currently at 56,033) yards and 500 TDs (currently at 396)?
Career Honors: 1x SB Champion, 1x SB MVP, 9x Pro Bowl, 3x All Pro (1x 1st team), 1x NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
18.) (16) Kurt Warner - This 2 time MVP is a true rags to riches came out of nothing story even more so than Tom Brady. He has one Super Bowl win in 3 appearances. He appeared in the Super Bowl with 2 different franchises (only two men have done this Warner and Manning). Kurt would go through stretches of seemingly unstoppable play (has the record, tied with Unitas of most games in a row with over a 120 QB Rating at 4 games). Warner owns the three highest single game passing yardage totals in Super Bowl history. Kurt is 2nd all time in completion percentage at 65.5% and first all time in playoff completion percentage at 66.5%. Warner always seemed to be a big game performer. He only had short bursts of brilliance during his career which can account for his limited career honors, but as stated before for certain years or certain stretches he was a master of the quarterback craft like few have ever seen.
Career Honors: 1x SB Champion, 1x SB MVP, 2x NFL MVP, 4x Pro Bowl, 2x All Pro (both 1st team).
19.) (17) Joe Namath – Joe Namath was the best quarterback to ever play in the AFL, period. His personality as ‘Broadway Joe’ and his bold predictions (he was right) may at times overshadow his playing ability but he was an awesome quarterback. Joe lead the league he played in three times in passing yards. Namath was drafted by both the NFL and the AFL but chose to play in the AFL because he was offered more money. He was the AFL Rookie of the Year in 1965 and was the first professional quarterback to throw for more than 4000 yards in a season in 1967 (his 4007 yards is still a 14 game season record). Namath’s career was cut short because of his lifestyle and injuries.
Career Honors: 1x SB Champion, 1x AFL Champion, 2x AFL MVP, 1x Pro Bowl, 1x All Pro (1st team), 5x AFL All Star, 4x All AFL Team (3x 1st team), 1x NFL Comeback Player of the Year, AFL All-Time Team.
20.) (19) Fran Tarkenton – Sir Francis led the Vikings to three Superbowls in the 1970s, however they lost them all. He was a prolific passer and runner as a quarterback. Tarkenton is still high up on many lists including 6th in passing yardage, 4th in passing touchdowns and 5th in overall wins for an NFL quarterbaclk. More impressive may be the records Sir Francis held when he retired from the NFL being moster pass attempts, completions, passing yardage, passing touchdowns, rushing yards for a quarterback, and wins by a starting quarterback. If the “Hail Mary Pass’ from Staubach hadn’t prevented Fran from getting to the Superbowl and he had one at least one he would probably be much further up on this list (possibly top 10?). The ‘Purple People Eaters’ fans will forever mourn Fran’s inability to win the big one.
Career Honors: 1x NFL MVP, 9x Pro Bowl, 3x All Pro (2x 1st team)
Last 5 Out
Dan Fouts – Never won a Super Bowl, no AP MVP (2 MVPs from other sources). Very hard to keep him out of my top 20 but only so many people can make it.
Career Honors: 6x Pro Bowl, 4x All Pro (3x 1st team), NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
Len Dawson - Hard to have 2 AFL’s in the top 20. Great career.
Career Honors: 1x SB Champion, 1x SB MVP, 3x AFL Champion (includes SB Championship year), 1x AFL MVP, 6x AFL All Star, 1x Pro Bowl, 4x All AFL, AFL All-Time Team (2nd team).
Y.A. Tittle – Overshadowed by the other great Quarterbacks of his era such as Starr, Graham, Unitas, van Brocklin.
Career Honors: 1x NFL MVP, 7x Pro Bowl, 3x All Pro (All 1st Teams).
Sonny Jurgensen – Never won a SB (actually didn’t start one, since he was injured), also never won an MVP.
Career Honors: 5x Pro Bowl, 5x All Pro (2x 1st team), NFL 1960s All-Decade Team.
Jim Kelly - Lack of a Super Bowl win or an NFL MVP really cost him.
Career Honors: 4x Pro Bowl, 3x All Pro (1x 1st team), 2x USFL All League, 1984 USFL MVP.
For Reference to the Older Pieces (pictures have since been cleared):
Top 20 Quarterbacks Versio 1.0
Top 20 Quarterbacks Version 2.0