The Greatest Quarterbacks in NFL History

NFL Jan 26, 2023

The 21 Greatest Quarterbacks in NFL History (minimum 10 seasons played)

1. Tom Brady

It's no longer debatable. Longevity (24+ seasons), championships (7), playoff appearances (winning 35 of 47 games), passing stats (most yards, completions, touchdowns, wins) -- Brady dominates every significant category.  The debate begins at #2.  Brady is likely to be a solid lock in this spot for decades to come.

2. Joe Montana

Four Super Bowl wins, great leader, always cool under pressure, and arguably the best clutch player in football history.  Played 16 seasons -- made Pro Bowl 8 times and led the league in passing 5 seasons.

3. Peyton Manning

Holds the record for most MVP trophies -- at 5.  The poster boy for NFL quarterbacks. Amazing work ethic, natural ability, a consistent winner, and outstanding passing stats and ratios.

4. Otto Graham

Led the Cleveland Browns to title games every year between 1946 and 1955, making ten championship appearances, and winning seven. With Graham at quarterback, the Browns posted a record of 105 wins and 17 losses. Unfortunately, Graham didn't play in the TV era, so his greatness often gets overlooked.

5. Johnny Unitas

Three MVP trophies, four NFL championships, consistently led the league or near the top in all passing categories. Played 18 seasons (should have retired after 15). Stood above all other QBs of his era.

6. Roger Staubach

Only played 11 seasons, but is widely regarded as one of the greatest ever to play the position. Known for mental and physical toughness, leadership (he served in Vietnam -- otherwise, add four more seasons to Staubach's resume), and making miracle comebacks, Staubach made the Pro Bowl 6 times, appeared in the Super Bowl 5 times, won two championships, an MVP award, led the league in passing twice, and was the highest-rated NFL QB in history (stats wise) when he retired early in 1980.

7. John Elway

Sometimes called the greatest pure passer in NFL history, Elway was a naturally-gifted QB who played 15 seasons, won two championships, and was always among the league leaders in passing throughout his career.

8. Brett Favre

Favre made 321 consecutive starts from 1992 to 2010, including 297 regular season games, the most in NFL history. He was also the first QB to reach 70,000 yards, 10,000 passes, 6,000 completions, 500 touchdowns, 200 wins, and victories over all 32 teams. Won three MVPs and one Super Bowl.

9. Drew Brees

Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks -- and comeback stories -- in football history. No team wanted him (New Orleans finally decided to take a chance) after the undersized Brees with a spotty record in San Diego underwent rotor-cuff surgery on his passing shoulder in 2005. He won the starting job with the Saints, played 15 more seasons, and retired with (or near the top) over every major passing category.

10. Aaron Rodgers

The Green Bay Packers QB is difficult to rank. His numbers are easily Top-10, and probably Top-5 based purely on numbers. Four MVP trophies alone place Rodgers among the greats. He is also second on the NFL's all-time career passer rating list, with a regular-season career passer rating of over 100 (the first to ever have a career rating over 100). But he's also been criticized for his shortcomings as a team leader and for perceived aloofness.

11. Steve Young

Followed in the footsteps of a giant (Joe Montana) and the 49ers didn't miss a beat. Great duel threat as a runner and passer.

12. Terry Bradshaw

Not usually considered among the great QBs, but then how can we dismiss four Super Bowl championships, and his toughness in an era dominated by NFL defenses?

13. Jim Kelly

Similar pedigree to John Elway. Great passing numbers, team leadership, but didn't perform quite as well in the big games.

14. Dan Marino

Played 17 seasons -- all with Miami.  Maybe the best regular season QB of all time, and the most talented passer.  But had an 8-10 playoff record and made it to just one Super Bowl (a blowout loss).

15. Troy Aikman

How much of the Cowboys dynasty of the early 1990s was Troy Aikman, and how much was due to the coaching of Jimmy Johnson and his assembling a powerhouse team? That's debatable. We can't deny Aikman's three Super Bowl wins and his impressive passing stats. But also notice the deep decline of Aikman's numbers after the Johnson-Switzer era. Aikman was a great QB, but nowhere near the Top-10.

16. Len Dawson

Dawson played 14 seasons and became the face of the AFL.  He led the Kansas City Chiefs (Dallas Texans) to three championships (one Super Bowl), led the AFL in passing four times, and dominated every passing category for the league that lasted ten years.

17. Ben Roethlisberger

Roethlisberger was one of the most prolific passers in NFL history -- ranking 5th in all-time career passing yards, 8th in touchdowns, and 5th in completions. He also had the fourth-highest career winning percentage (.710) as a starter.

18. Bart Starr

Starr was the QB of Vince Lombardi's legendary Green Bay Packers' championship teams of the 1960s, still regarded as one of the top-three dynasties in NFL history. Five titles alone place Starr in the Top-20. His passing stats weren't as impressive as some of his contemporaries, but all he did was win big games when things counted the most.

19. Fran Tarkenton

Tarkenton was a game-changer and prolific passer who was the first QB to eclipse several statistical categories. He even held several career records when he retired (most yards, attempts, completions). His passing stats with the Giants (5 seasons) and Vikings (13 seasons) were consistently solid. Three Super Bowl appearances, but played poorly each time. Still, deserves to be here among the greatest.

20. Dan Fouts

Fouts is sometimes overlooked when debating the greatest QBs. That's probably because he never played in a Super Bowl. However, Fouts led the NFL in passing every year from 1979 to 1982, passing for over 4,000 yards in the first three of these - no previous quarterback had posted consecutive 4,000-yard seasons. Fouts was voted a Pro Bowler six times in 15 seasons, all with San Diego.

21. Warren Moon

I had to put Moon on the list, who was undrafted and started his career in the CFL because no NFL team would give him a chance. He won the Grey Cup five times.  After that, Moon played 17 NFL seasons (with Houston and Minnesota), leading the league in passing twice, while also receiving 9 Pro Bowl selections. He spent 10 seasons with the Oilers, who he led to seven playoff appearances, and made an eighth postseason run with the Vikings before retiring in 2000.

To Be Determined / Honorable Mention:

Patrick Mahomes - Russell Wilson - Kurt Warner - Ken Stabler - Jim Hart - Sonny Jurgenson - Players before 1950 (Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, etc.)


Note:  Brock Purdy--keep it up, you're on pace to beat them all!