Top 20 Quarterbacks in NFL History

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The Best NFL Quarterbacks of All-Time

Kyle-Terada-USA-TODAY-Sports
Kyle-Terada-USA-TODAY-Sports

Who is the greatest quarterback of all-time? It's one of the great sports debates. Quarterbacks are the highest profile athletes in the history of American sports, so naturally, the debate for who's the best, is very heated.

As with any sports debate, there are a lot of factors in play. It's extremely tough to compare athletes from different eras, especially when the game itself has evolved significantly. In the case of the quarterback position, the NFL has gone from a running league, to a passing league. QBs are putting up higher numbers than ever before, so you have to account for that when making a case for one player over another.

Arguably the biggest thing NFL QBs are judged on, is if they've won the big game. If you don't have any Super Bowl rings, how can you be considered the best? Some of the players on this list have fantastic numbers, but no championships to show for it. I believe rings have to factor into most 'who's the best' debates, and certainly when talking about the greatest QBs of all-time.

We'll take an objective look at all the main factors to help determine the game's best QB, from passing yards, to fourth quarter comebacks. Whether or not you agree with order, there's no doubt all of these players deserve to be considered among the all-time greats.

Let's take a look at the 20 best quarterbacks in NFL history:

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#20 - Bart Starr

Kirby-Lee-USA-TODAY-Sports
Kirby-Lee-USA-TODAY-Sports

When you think of the start of the NFL, Bart Starr is usually one of the players that comes to mind. As the QB of the Green Bay Packers, he led the team to victories in Super Bowls I and II. His career numbers don't rank up near the top, but this guy was a franchise player for years, 16, to be exact.

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#19 - Len Dawson

Denny-Medley-USA-TODAY-Sports
Denny-Medley-USA-TODAY-Sports

Dawson played 19 professional seasons, most notably with the Kansas City Chiefs. He threw for over 28,000 yards and 239 touchdown passes (19th). He also led the Chiefs to a victory in Super Bowl IV, while taking home MVP honors. In the early days of the NFL, this guy was a superstar.

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#18 - Jim Kelly

Kevin-Hoffman-USA-TODAY-Sports
Kevin-Hoffman-USA-TODAY-Sports

Kelly is unfortunately known by most, as the QB who couldn't win the big game. He lost four Super Bowls in his career, but it still can't change that he was one of the best to ever play. Kelly wan an innovator, as he and the Buffalo Bills were one of the first teams to start running the no-huddle offense, in places other than late in the half. He ranks 20th all-time with 237 touchdown passes, and 18th all-time with 35,467 passing yards.

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#17 - Troy Aikman

Dale-Zanine-USA-TODAY-Sports
Dale-Zanine-USA-TODAY-Sports

Aikman was a winner in the NFL. You can say that he was just in a good situation in Dallas, but he was one of the best to ever play. He has three rings on his fingers, and a statue in Canton to prove it. He didn't have the greatest career numbers, and thus why he's not higher on the list. Surprisingly, he only threw 165 touchdown passes, which you can probably partly attribute to handing off to Emmitt Smith for most of his career.

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#16 - Joe Namath

-Dale-Zanine-USA-TODAY-Sports.jpg-Dale-Zanine-USA-TODAY-Sports.jpg
Dale-Zanine-USA-TODAY-Sports.jpg

Namath is another guy who doesn't have top-tier career numbers, but I think you have to credit him with starting the allure of the NFL quarterback. 'Broadway Joe' was one of a kind, and a pretty dang good QB at the same time. He led the New York Jets to the biggest upset in Super Bowl history in 1968, and was forever enshrined as one of the game's best.

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#15 - Fran Tarkenton

Matthew-Emmons-USA-TODAY-Sports
Matthew-Emmons-USA-TODAY-Sports

Known for his ability to scramble around and buy time to make plays, Tarkenton definitely helped revolutionize the QB position. He ranks fourth all-time with 342 career touchdown passes, and sixth all-time with over 47,000 passing yards. His numbers from the 60's and 70's hold up with today's standards, but he never won that elusive championship.

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#14 - Drew Brees

Daniel-Shirey-USA-TODAY-Sports
Daniel-Shirey-USA-TODAY-Sports

Brees might be one of the most controversial selections on this list, but when you look at the numbers, there's not a whole lot of debate. He's already eighth all-time in passing yards with over 45,000, and sixth all-time with 324 TD passes. On top of all that, he's a champion, and one of the greatest leaders in league history.

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#13 - Warren Moon

Don-McPeak-USA-TODAY-Sports
Don-McPeak-USA-TODAY-Sports

Moon is one of the most underrated quarterbacks of all-time. He's known for breaking down barriers as an African American quarterback, but when it comes down to it, he was just one heck of a QB. He ranks near the top of nearly all the major statistical categories, and while he never won a Super Bowl, he did win five consecutive Grey Cups in the CFL prior to getting his shot in the NFL.

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#12 - Otto Graham

Jeff-Hanisch-USA-TODAY-Sports
Jeff-Hanisch-USA-TODAY-Sports

Likely the most unknown QB on this list, Graham played in AAFL and NFL from 1946 - 1955. During that time, he led the Browns to the championship game every season, winning seven times. It's a feat that likely won't ever be topped, and he also still holds the career record for yards per completion at 9.0. Graham deserves recognition as one of the best to ever lace a pair of cleats.

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#11 - Steve Young

Matt-Kartozian-USA-TODAY-Sports
Matt-Kartozian-USA-TODAY-Sports

Young had an incredibly unique career, in that it started behind a legend, and by the end, he was one in his own right. He restored the proud title tradition in San Francisco back in 1995, and finally established that he was one of the greats. Young ranks second all-time in career QB rating, at 96.8.

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#10 - Roger Staubach

Tim-Heitman-USA-TODAY-Sports
Tim-Heitman-USA-TODAY-Sports

Staubach is often underrated in the discussion of all-time best QB, but his record speaks for itself. In 11 seasons, he compiled a 85-29 record as QB of the Dallas Cowboys. Along the way he led the team to victories in Super Bowls VI and XII, while taking home MVP honors from SB VI.

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#9 - Brett Favre

Bruce-Kluckhohn-USA-TODAY-Sports
Bruce-Kluckhohn-USA-TODAY-Sports

Brett Favre, the epitome of a 'gun slinger.' There will always be Favre-haters, but no one can deny how great he once was. The passing records he holds, pale in comparison to his iron man streak. Favre's steak of 297 consecutive starts over 18 seasons, is nothing short of remarkable when you consider the physicality of the NFL. The records alone, could make Favre a top-10 QB, but he also has three MVP trophies and a Super Bowl ring to back it up.

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#8 - Kurt Warner

Mark-J.-Rebilas-USA-TODAY-Sports
Mark-J.-Rebilas-USA-TODAY-Sports

Arguably the greatest story in NFL history, Warner went from Hy-Vee grocery stores, to Super Bowl champion, in a matter of five years. He came out of nowhere in 1999 to lead the St. Louis Rams to a championship, while having one of the best seasons for a quarterback in league history. Many doubted Warner after his days in St. Louis ended, but he rebounded a couple years later with the Arizona Cardinals, and eventually led them to the Super Bowl. In total, he's played in three SBs with two different teams, he has one ring, and two MVPs. The Hall of Fame should be in his future.

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#7 - Johnny Unitas

-Kirby-Lee-USA-TODAY-Sports.jpg
Kirby-Lee-USA-TODAY-Sports

Over 18 seasons, Unitas compiled one of the greatest careers ever for a quarterback. He led the Baltimore Colts to a victory in Super Bowl V, as well as two other world championships in 1958 & 1959. He's ninth all-time with 290 touchdown passes, and is widely considered one of the 'godfathers' of the modern QB. Unitas also held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (47), for 52 years.

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#6 - Terry Bradshaw

Matthew-Emmons-USA-TODAY-Sports
Matthew-Emmons-USA-TODAY-Sports

Bradshaw's career is summed up by one word - winning. That's all he did as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1970-1983. In total, he compiled a 107-51 record, on his way to four Super Bowl wins, and two SB MVP awards. When you get right down to it, winning is what the game is all about, and Bradshaw is right up there with the best winners in NFL history.

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#5 - Dan Marino

Kirby-Lee-USA-TODAY-Sports
Kirby-Lee-USA-TODAY-Sports

Marino is usually considered the most talented quarterback of all-time. He was the prototype for an NFL QB, and year, after year, he put up ridiculous numbers. Unfortunately, he career is scarred by the fact he never won a Super Bowl. The reality is that he never played on any great teams in Miami, but still, he never won the big one. Marino is an absolute legend, that would probably be considered the greatest, if he had a ring.

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#4 - John Elway

Ron-Chenoy-USA-TODAY-Sports
Ron-Chenoy-USA-TODAY-Sports

Elway is simply one of the legends of the NFL. No. 7 had a storied career, that he capped off with two consecutive Super Bowl wins. He left the game on top, and in the eyes of some, the greatest of all-time. It should be noted, though, he also lost three SBs. Still, his status is undeniable, and he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of QBs.

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#3 - Peyton Manning

Chris-Humphreys-USA-TODAY-Sports
Chris-Humphreys-USA-TODAY-Sports

When you talk about players who have revolutionized the game, Manning, is at the top of the list. He's taken the hurry up offense to another level, by essentially acting as an offensive coordinator on the field. Most consider him to be the greatest regular season quarterback of all-time, but just short of being the best. Manning hasn't quite been the same QB in the postseason, and therefore he's not the greatest. But, he's won a Super Bowl, and four MVPs, while changing the game forever.

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#2 - Tom Brady

Greg-M.-Cooper-USA-TODAY-Sports
Greg-M.-Cooper-USA-TODAY-Sports

The biggest draft day steal of all-time, is now the second best quarterback of all-time. Brady is on another level, and no one has been better over the last decade. He's a guy who just wins, while putting up video game numbers. The 2007 Patriots were amazing, even though they came up short in the big game. Brady is a three-time champion, and if he can ever capture that elusive fourth title, he could become the greatest that ever lived.

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#1 - Joe Montana

Matthew-Emmons-USA-TODAY-Sports
Matthew-Emmons-USA-TODAY-Sports

Joe Montana is the best quarterback in NFL history. He showed continuously over his 15-year career, that he was just a little bit better than his opponents. Montana's career numbers are not off the charts, except in the winning department. In total, he compiled a 117-47 record, en route to four Super Bowl wins. He was also known for his late-game magic, and he ranks fourth all-time, with 31 comeback wins.

There are some who say he benefited from loaded 49ers' rosters he played on, but he showed his true greatness by taking the Kansas City Chiefs to the AFC title game in 1993. Montana still had it, even in his 14th season. Montana is the measuring stick for NFL QBs. Until someone comes along and equals or tops his four SB wins, Montana will remain the best of all-time.

 

 


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