Top 20 Greatest NFL Quarterbacks of All Time

1 of 21

Ranking the 20 Greatest QBs in NFL History

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

It is time once again to rank the all-time greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Obviously, this list has been created by every sports writer and analyst from here to Timbuktu, but it’s an argument that never grows old. Before the list is unveiled, let it first be said that it is not solely based on any one element, such as Super Bowl victories, MVP awards, etc. This list is formed from simply the best players at the most popular position in football.

If you're all about the "old guys," then don't worry — they're here. If you don't care about the old guys, you don't need worry, either; you won't get bored with this list that has plenty of names the younger generations will recognize. Even the most youthful football fans should appreciate at least most of the names on this list.

Each player is listed with the team that defined his career. If applicable, extra teams joined in the twilight of each player’s career are not listed.

So let's get started. You'll be surprised at some of the names on this list as well as those left off. Here's your first hint: the guy pictured above is not on it...

2 of 21

20. Joe Namath, New York Jets, 1965-1976

20. Joe Namath
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Namath played his entire career in New York with the exception of his final year in L.A., which matched his personality. Broadway Joe set the NFL single-season passing record of 4,007 in 1967 and he played the position with a flare that hasn’t been seen since and likely never will be. And the fact he was the first quarterback to lead an AFL team to a Super Bowl win certainly deserves some credit.

3 of 21

19. Dan Fouts, San Diego Chargers, 1973-1987

dan fouts
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There haven’t been a ton of legendary quarterbacks in Chargers team history, but Fouts was the real deal. He set the single-season passing record in three straight seasons (’79-81) and was the first quarterback to ever throw for 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. He was also the third in history to throw for 40,000 career yards.

4 of 21

18. Ken Stabler, Oakland Raiders, 1970-1979

Ken Stabler

The Immaculate Reception game was really Stabler’s coming out party — he scored the Raiders’ only touchdown with 1:17 left to put Oakland up 7-6, which would have won the playoff game had it not been for Franco Harris’ controversial touchdown catch. Stabler put together quite the career thereafter with four Pro Bowls, the 1974 MVP award and a win in Super Bowl XI.

5 of 21

17. Y.A. Tittle, San Francisco 49ers, 1951-1960

Y.A. Tittle

Along with Otto Graham, Tittle was one of the first modern quarterbacks. During the 1940s and 50s, the passing game wasn’t anything like it is today, but Tittle wasn’t a normal quarterback. He had to work hard during his early days with the 49ers to become a solid player before becoming a legend in his twilight years with the Giants. He was the first quarterback to throw for 30 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons and his passer rating of 104.8 in 1963 was the fourth-highest ever at the time.

6 of 21

16. Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings, 1961-66; 1972-78

Fran Tarkenton

The original scrambler, Tarkenton wasn’t a phony like Randal Cunningham and Michael Vick. No, he wasn’t a running quarterback — he actually scrambled. He was able to keep plays alive to avoiding the pass rush with his legs, which allowed his receivers more time to get open. He never won the Big Game, but he led the Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances in four years during the mid-1970s.

7 of 21

15. Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams, 1998-2003

Kurt Warner
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Warner was one minute away from becoming the first starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams if it weren’t for Santonio Holmes’ incredible toe-tap catch. Warner always made the most of his situations and really helped to push the NFL into its present pass-happy state.

8 of 21

14. Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills, 1986-1996

Jim Kelly
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Although he never won a Super Bowl, Kelly did something that was never done before and likely never will be done again: He led the Bills to four straight appearances in the Big Game. Had he not spent the first two years of his career in the USFL, he would undoubtedly be a member of the 40,000-yard NFL passer club.

9 of 21

13. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, 2006-Present

drew brees
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

One of three active players on this list, Brees is an incredible passer with accuracy not usually seen by quarterbacks of his height. If he was three inches taller, he might be the best of all time. He’s set tons of records, including the single-season passing mark and most consecutive games with a touchdown. He slings it on a regular basis and has a clutch gene seen by few in his generation.

10 of 21

12. Otto Graham, Cleveland Browns, 1946-1955

Otto Graham

The modern-day passing era in the NFL started way back in the late 1940s with Graham. He was the original gunslinger, playing in an era in which passers weren’t protected like they are now. Yet he still posted a 112.1 passer rating in 1946, which was the highest ever in the league until 1989. He won three NFL Championships with the Browns in the 1950s and his salary of $25,000 in his final partial season (1955) made him the highest-paid player in the league at that time.

11 of 21

11. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1970-1983


Terry Bradshaw wasn’t the most gifted player to ever play the position, but he was a winner for the Pittsburgh Steelers. His list of individual credentials includes three Pro Bowls, two All-Pro selections, two Super Bowl MVP awards and one regular season MVP award. Bradshaw also went four-for-four in the Super Bowl with Pittsburgh.

12 of 21

10. Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys, 1989-2000

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

The most accurate passer of all-time, Troy Aikman played in six consecutive Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro in 1993. Aikman became the first quarterback to win three Super Bowls in four years and won MVP of the first one in 1993. Aikman never put up huge numbers because he was incredibly efficient; he led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowls wins while throwing a total of 54 touchdown passes those three seasons. Aikman’s performance in the clutch during Super Bowls also earns him a spot on this list.

13 of 21

9. Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys, 1969-1979


One of the greatest scrambling quarterbacks in NFL history, "Captain Comeback" had to serve four years in the United States Navy after being drafted in 1964. Once he finally joined America’s Team, Roger Staubach was selected to the Pro Bowl six times, was named the MVP of Super Bowl VI and won two of five Super Bowls with Dallas.

14 of 21

8. Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers, 1992-2007


The man who made the number four famous also created his legacy with the Green Bay Packers. During his time there, Brett Favre played in nine Pro Bowls, was named to the All-Pro team six times, won three consecutive MVP awards and won the first of back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. Probably the most impressive of Favre’s credentials is his number of NFL records. Favre owns nine all-time NFL records, although three of those are most sacked, most fumbles and most interceptions. His record of 297 consecutive starts is perhaps the most impressive.

15 of 21

7. Tom Brady, New England Patriots, 2000-Present


This Michigan product built an NFL dynasty with his bare hands. A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Tom Brady is also a three-time All-Pro, two-time MVP, and two-time Super Bowl MVP. Brady became just the second quarterback in history to win three Super Bowls in four years after Aikman. Brady also appeared in Super Bowl XLII when the New England Patriots tried to complete the first perfect 19-game season in NFL history. Brady won 100 games faster than any other quarterback in NFL history and holds the single-season passing touchdowns record with 50.

16 of 21

6. Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers, 1987-1999

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Although he spent five years on the bench behind Joe Montana, Steve Young still made a name for himself in the years he started for the San Francisco 49ers. After stints in the USFL and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL, Young played in seven Pro Bowls, was named to six All-Pro teams, won two MVP awards and Super Bowl XXIX MVP. During that lone title game appearance, Young set a Super Bowl record with six touchdown passes. Young also posted a 96.8 career passer rating, an NFL record, and he still holds the record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 43, although that record is likely to be broken by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

17 of 21

5. Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins, 1983-1999


No doubt the greatest quarterback to never win a Super Bowl, Dan Marino played in nine Pro Bowls, was named an All-Pro eight times and won the 1984 MVP award all with the Miami Dolphins. Perhaps Marino’s most memorable feat is his then-NFL record 5,084 passing yards in 1984. Until 2006, Marino held several NFL career passing records, including attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns, which were all broken by Favre.

18 of 21

4. Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1956-1972


Johnny Unitas was the first modern NFL quarterback. He was the first to sling the ball around the field and really helped to develop the passing game at the professional level. The longtime Baltimore Colts signal-caller was a Pro Bowler for 10 consecutive seasons, a seven-time All-Pro, three-time MVP and won his only Super Bowl in 1971. Unitas won two NFL championships before the Super Bowl was implemented in 1967 and played in what many consider the greatest game of all time, the 1958 championship game.

19 of 21

3. John Elway, Denver Broncos, 1983-1998


The only quarterback to play in five Super Bowls, John Elway took two different eras of Denver Broncos teams to the big game. Elway lost three Super Bowls in four years in the late 1980s before winning a pair in his final two seasons in the league. Elway’s credentials include nine Pro Bowls, three All-Pro selections, one league MVP and one Super Bowl MVP.

20 of 21

2. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts, 1998-2011

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

The most fundamentally and mechanically sound quarterback in history, Peyton Manning’s abilities at the position are unrivaled in NFL history. A lack of championships is what keeps him from the top spot on this list. An eight-time All-Pro, Manning is an 11-time Pro Bowler, NFL record four-time league MVP and has one Super Bowl MVP trophy. Manning is the fastest player in NFL history to reach 50,000 career passing yards as well as 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 career completions. His streak of 208 consecutive starts is second to Favre for the most in history. Manning is also expected to break all of Favre’s career passing records before he retires.

21 of 21

1. Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers, 1979-1992


The greatest quarterback of all time was good at everything. Joe Montana was accurate, could throw the ball a mile and he won. Period. Montana played in eight Pro Bowls, was a six-time All-Pro, two-time league MVP and the only player ever to win three Super Bowl MVP awards. Most importantly, Montana went four-for-four in the Super Bowl and he won 100 games faster than any other quarterback before Brady. Many players on this list hold NFL records, but Montana holds a host of playoff and Super Bowl passing records, which are the most important.

Around the Web

  • http://msn tim rehn

    how about bart starr he won six or seven camps.

  • Steve

    Marino at 5, Elway at 3 and Montana at 1 equals a joke

    • danny

      joke my ass, your probably an east coast fan, Montana could make cracks about his teammates mother during a game, down or ahead, but with the poise and brilliance within his game plan put on a show only to envied by fan who knows nothing about a person driven to win. Steve your an idiot

  • Cole Stone

    I agree with #1, but Bradshaw (who also happened to have won 4 superbowls) at #10….are you smoking crack? BTW I hate the Steelers.

  • Sticks

    WHAT??? No Eli????

  • http://gmail paul

    Who gives a rats ass ? If a teams good/great its always the qb’s and the people behind him get shafted. This isnt an individual sport. Those guys on the list generally have the same cast for years and if one does falter they put another in his place to keep the puzzle together. Break down the whole team in the years these guys achieved there records, look at their blockers, kickers, backs etc. and without the same supportive cast, who are they? Hence the Vikings

  • SteveO

    Great list. Everyone deserves to be on it, the individual rankings will always be debateable. Just one comment to add. With the way Drew Brees and Aaron Gogers are playing, next year’s list will have to be the 13 best QBs of all time.

    • sal midolo

      Has anyone ever heard of Otto Graham. All he did was put his team(Browns.} in the championship game 10 years in a row. 1946 = 1955. Thats the same as 10 super bowls. Anybody else come close? no I guess not/

  • Jason Bourne

    I’m going to sum this up as fast as I can.

    Favre breaks all of Marino records and has two superbowl appearance (back to back), won the MVP award 3 years in a row, has a ring…

    and is ranked behind Marino?

    You must be out of your mind. Favre has more wins than, John Elway, but i won’t give you grief about Elway, because he at least has two rings (one mostly because of Terrell Davis).

    • Baloo

      What sets Elway apart from the rest of the group is he carried the Broncos to those 1st three Super Bowls on his back. Montana was surrounded by pro bowlers, and if he had to pass behind that Broncos O-line in the eighties he would have suffered a very short and painful career.

  • Jeff Shull

    No Johnny Unitas? Really??

    • Average Joe

      Who’s at #4 on this list?

  • Lawrence McKenzie

    Joe Montana is the greatest voted by the coaches players and fans 4 super bowl rings 3 MVP 11 TD 0 INT and a 127.8 passer rating

  • Andrew

    Steve Young way too high, he took over a winner but couldnt turn around poor teams. Bart Starr should be top 10 instead of Aikman also.

  • chris

    I am a Tom Brady fan so I will be biased but does anyone else agree that Brady deserves to be in the top 5? I am being conservative here because I know that not everyone will agree with me but in my eyes, he is the top 3 actually with Manning and Montana.

  • Ron Thomas

    this list is BS

  • monthlypro

    wait, didnt brady play in 5 sb’s also? won 3 by cheating and lost 2 to eli the patriot killer..

  • monthlypro

    montana, thanks for the 4 rings! young, thanks for the 1 ring icing on the cake… kaepernick, get us 1 or 3 more plz..

  • da what

    how in the hell can they leave out “Fran Tarkington”

    • minny mouse

      cause he sucks ?
      didn’t he lose 4 SBs?

  • Raffaelle Pin Garay

    Just another JERK who is in gayly love with Tom Barbie!

    • eire966

      Raffaelle you’re obviously just another ignorant douchebag.

  • the Sarge

    Sorry, Dan Fouts belongs on this List. 6 Pro-Bowls 4 All-Pro. First Quarter back to have Back to Back 4000 yard seasons.One of eight who have 2 30 + TD seasons.

  • Shelby Meade

    Otto Graham…….enough said !! For those who need reminding, check the records; greatest quarterback ever…………

  • Eric Ostrander

    How can you leave out Otto Graham? That’s just dumb.

  • terry patelski

    are you kiding me!!! bart starr is not on this list, what a joke…

  • robbie

    only a ignorant slut would leave Drew Brees offr

  • Bob61

    Otto Graham.
    Entered the AAFC in ’46 and won the championship every season,including pro football’s first undefeated,untied season,1948.His 1946 QB rating was a record for 43 years,until Montana surpassed it in ’89.

    In 1950 the Browns entered the NFL,and won the championship.In the title game Graham had 99 yds rushing,298 yds passing and 4 TDs.
    Retired after the 1954 season havind led his team to the league championship EVERY YEAR OF HIS CAREER.
    After the Browns couldn’t find a quality replacement in ’55,Graham returned to the team,that clown from Green Bay was a copy-cat,and again led the tream to the NFL championship.
    10 seasons,7 league championship game wins,3 championship game losses.And still holds the all-time record for average yards per pass at 9.
    Jeric Griffin has no clue what “All Time” means.

    • wolfdoctor

      On this site, all-time means retired after 1970.

  • Michael Collins

    Montana deserved the 4th Super Bowl MVP award and not Jerry Rice. Go back and watch the game and it is clear who won the game.

  • John H. Holliday

    You’d have to think Aaron Rodgers will be there when his career is over.

  • Bob

    Ben Rapistberger didn’t make the list???

  • minny mouse

    Marino got to ONE SB got embarrassed by # 1

  • minny mouse

    Manning doesn’t even belong ahead of brady as brady has owned him, Plus manning always has had better recievers

    • skm

      come on dude. brady has played all his years for a genius and peyton made the program’s he’s qb’d a contender. what would manning have done under belecheat?

      when it’s all said and done, manning will be at the top of the list. he will own every record and another sb ring or two.

  • Steven Geller

    Yes, I can buy Graham as a snub. I wouldn’t have Staubach as one of the Top 11, so there is a spot for Graham. Better yet, there is no reason that the last has to be 11, it could be “top 20″ and include everyone’s favorite QB.

    But Brady at 7 is an absolute disaster. Brady is 9th all time in yards, 5th in wins, 5th in TD’s, 3rd in passer rating, owns the TD record for a season, and has 2 MVP’s and 3 rings (out of 5 SB appearances). And throughout this run, he has had exactly one hall of famer on offense (Moss). Other than Montana, whose entire claim lies in his SB rings (BTW, the Patriots offense had leads with a minute to go in both of their recent SB losses–that largely isn’t the QB’s fault), and Manning, who is an incredible talent but has struggled in the post-season, there is no one else on this list that has had a better career that Brady has.

  • Bob

    Staubach was not drafted: he went to the US Naval Academy, and had a 4 year commitment to serve after he graduated in 1964. He went in knowing that. That’s far different than being drafted.

  • TonyXL

    Favre? Uh, no.

  • Ralph Turley

    No Dan Fouts? You can’t tell me the centerpiece of Air Coryell doesn’t deserve a

  • mrio1

    It’s almost as if the person who wrote this has never seen a game.

  • Rick Maloof

    Brady has been better than Peyton his whole career

  • MostCurious

    Elway is definitely too high. Bradshaw gets too much credit for playing on great championship teams. Dan Fouts definitely needs to be on here. And Kenny “Snake” Stabler would be a close call.

  • wolfdoctor

    Where are Otto Graham, Y.A. Tittle, Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, Norm Van Brocklin, Sonny Jurgensen ???

    Well, at least you included Unitas

  • trass

    brady beats elway in every category except tooth size, 1-2 play from 5 SB victories. Brady is two time SB MVP. different receiving crew every year, give me a break!!!

  • Rusty Schack

    I knew as soon as Joe Namath was on the list that it was a joke. He is one of the worst QB’s of all time…and I can show stats to back that up.

  • Mindy Wolf

    Montana had Jerry Rice! Even with Rice he isn’t be my choice at #1. IMO Anyone of the top ten would be at number 1 instead if they had Rice to throw to. Without Rice, Montana would probably be sitting around #7 but we’ll never know. As far as Marino, I love these guys that are quick to point out he never won a Super Bowl. Only a moron would make that statement knowing there are two sides to the football. Dolphins defense sucked while Marino was in his heyday otherwise he’d surely have a SB ring. Top 5 from 1980 to present….5-Brady, 4-Elway, 3-Montana, 2-Manning, 1-Marino…. They were/are all great to watch whether you loved them or hated them. I hate Brady but he is a great QB and fun to hate :)

  • Anthony Parslow

    Ya, didn’t Montana throw to the best player ever in Rice and his supporting cast for every SB (except the first) was fabulous. I’d still take Johnny Unitas and what about Bobby Lane? I’m surprised Bob Griese’s 8 PB’s and 2 AP’s and 3 SB appearances (2 wins) couldn’t even make the list as well as Len Dawson.. In many ways he and Montana were the same cool customers. I’m not sure Griese wouldn’t of been just as accurate in the West Coast Offense. Fouts is way underrated in this top 20. Anyone that say Air Coryell would know that and Tarkenton should be way higher too. IMO if Griese’s not on the list than Aikman should barely if at all be on the list. Griese could carry a team on his arm better than Aikman. Old four-eyes showed it after Csonks, Kiick and Warfield deserted the Fins. Aikman couldn’t win without Emmitt Smith. :)

  • Michael O’Donnell

    :Love Montana but he could throw the ball about fifty yards.

  • Brian Young

    people, dan marino before brett , tells me what a joke this is

  • Brian Young

    dan should not be even considerd