Top 20 Greatest NFL Quarterbacks of All Time
Ranking the 20 Greatest QBs in NFL History
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...
20. Joe Namath, New York Jets, 1965-1976
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.
19. Dan Fouts, San Diego Chargers, 1973-1987
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.
18. Ken Stabler, Oakland Raiders, 1970-1979
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.
17. Y.A. Tittle, San Francisco 49ers, 1951-1960
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.
16. Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings, 1961-66; 1972-78
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.
15. Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams, 1998-2003
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.
14. Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills, 1986-1996
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.
13. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, 2006-Present
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.
12. Otto Graham, Cleveland Browns, 1946-1955
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. 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.
10. Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys, 1989-2000
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.
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.
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.
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.
6. Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers, 1987-1999
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.
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.
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.
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.
2. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts, 1998-2011
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.
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.