Ranking the Quarterbacks -- Past, Present, and Future

Football Aug 24, 2020

-- by Larry Greenfield

The easiest place to start the historical ranking of NFL Quarterbacks is listing those in the Hall of Fame.

26 QBs (that’s all) are enshrined.

(8)   The Old Timers (1940s, 1950’s, 1960’s) :

Though their statistics would likely not qualify most of them for election into the Hall of Fame these days, George Blanda, Bobby Lanye, Bob Waterfield, Otto Graham, Norm Van Brocklin, Y.A. Title, Sonny Jurgensen, and Johnny Unitas were stars and champions who outplayed their competition over many years, with Unitas probably the best and most popular of this classy group of old-timers.  Teams didn’t pass the ball as much, and the wide receivers weren’t as fast and athletic as today.

(9)   The Early Super Bowl Era QBs  (1960’s, 1970’s) :

These QBs built their reputations as nationally televised professional football took off and the Super Bowl Era began : Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, and Kenny Stabler.   Dan Fouts never made the Super Bowl, but he was also a superstar of this era.

(7)  The 1980s and 1990’s Superstars :

Warren Moon, Troy Aikman, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and John Elway won league championships and SuperBowls, and had long, fabulous careers.

On the outside of the Hall of Fame, looking in, are some talented QB’s : Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason, John Hadl, John Brodie, and Phil Simms all have their advocates.

Among many others who had great careers are Dave Kreig, Jim Hart, Roman Gabriel, Bernie Kosar, Carson Palmer, Vinny Testaverde, and Randall Cunningham.

(Let the debate begin about your favorite…..).

(2)   21st Century Hall of Famers :

Surprisingly, Kurt Warner and Brett Favre are the only two NFL quarterbacks who starred in the 21st century to enter the Hall of Fame so far !

However, there is a strong list of modern-era quarterbacks who will surely be entering into the Hall of Fame, led by the retired all-time NFL TD passer, Peyton Manning.

Active playing QB's who will automatically make it into Canton include all-time passing yards leader Drew Brees, 6-time NFL Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady, and Aaron Rogers.

Though occasionally debated, QBs likely to punch their ticket into the Hall are the retired Eli Manning, and the still active Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger.  Matt Ryan also has decent shot.

So, that would likely bring the list of 21st Century QBs up to an even 10.

Of the active NFL QBs not yet mentioned (Brady, Brees, Rivers, Rogers, Roethlisberger, Ryan), two other QBs appear destined to be ranked among the all-time greats and can be considered potential Hall of Famers:   Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson.

The modern era of NFL quarterbacking is favorable to longevity and therefore huge stats due to the following factors :

a)  QBs arrive well trained from college, and can have longer careers, with year-round conditioning and guaranteed salaries.
b)  NFL offenses are piling up huge statistics, with a focus on the passing game.
c)  Skilled wide-receivers and talented tight ends improve offensive efficiency.
d)  League rules limit defensive back play and defensive hits on QBs.

Here is my admittedly subjective ranking of 2020 NFL QB’s for the 32 teams :

Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore
Drew Brees, New Orleans
Dak Prescott, Dallas
Deshaun Watson, Houston
Russell Wilson, Seattle
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay
Aaron Rogers, Green Bay
Matthew Stafford, Detroit
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia

Matt Ryan, Atlanta
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
Jared Goff, L.A. Rams
Derek Carr, Las Vegas
Philip Rivers, Indianapolis
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota
Kyler Murray, Arizona
Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee
Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco
Cam Newton, New England

Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina
Drew Lock, Denver
Josh Allen, Buffalo
Daniel Jones, NY Giants
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland
Sam Darnold, NY Jets
Gardner Minshew, Jacksonville
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati
Nick Foles & Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago
Ryan Fitzpatrick & Tua Tagovailoa, Miami

Tyrod Taylor & Justin Herbert, San Diego
Dwayne Haskins & Alex Smith, Washington

Notes for 2020 :

a) Tom Brady, age 43, has a ton of outside weapons on the Bucs squad, and could still shine.  Does his replacement in New England, Cam Newton, have enough receivers?

b)  Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are 38 now, and Drew Brees is 41.  Yet all appear poised to continue to perform well.

c)  Among younger QBs, big upside potential for rookie Joe Burrow of the Bengals, but give him a bit of time. Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield are in their 2nd year and may improve;  same with Drew Lock and Daniel Jones.

d)  The Packers went 13 -3 last year, but Aaron Rogers’ yards-per-pass fell.  Instead of drafting him a top receiver, the Packers traded up in Round 1 to draft his successor.  That controversial decision will probably cost Rogers the chance to return to the Super Bowl in his last couple of years.

Guest contributor Larry Greenfield is a Fellow of The Claremont Institute who has morphed from innocent boyhood SoCal sports fan to cynical Las Vegas sports observer.  Greenfield can be contacted at:  lrgsavvy@gmail.com

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