Top 10: Modern-Era Quarterbacks

Devlan SheahanCorrespondent IMarch 20, 2008

The greatest players of the greatest position in sports.  Who is the best QB ever?  The debate has been around for ages. 

Even though I would love to give an all-time list of the greatest QBs ever, I feel that would be impossible for me.  The truth is, I don't feel it's just to compare Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, and Roger Staubach to their modern-day bretheren: Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Troy Aikman. 

The game has changed and so has our criteria for a great quarterback.  Also, to make a list spanning the history of the NFL would be foolish.  I never saw these men play, and I wouldn't be able to appreciate what they truly meant to their franchises and be able to judge their performance based on what was asked of at the time. 

What I do have a better understanding of is the modern game, so without further ado: The Top 10 Modern-Era Quarterbacks.

TOP 3 (No Order)

Brett Favre

Favre is easily my favorite QB of all time, and, as a Packer fan, it would be impossible for me not to be biased.  Favre meant everything to the state of Wisconsin, and almost any Packer fan would defend Favre vehemently to the death.  

There are three measures of a QB: Super Bowls, wins, and TDs.  Favre has the record for the latter two, although, it is interesting to note that it took him a few more starts than Dan Marino to get the TD record, and John Elway also has a higher winning percentage than Favre does, but Favre has more victories than Elway. 

Those facts take away slightly from the achievement, but I feel that Favre's durability makes up for those things.  To have 253 consecutive starts is amazing; how many wins did Elway take away from the Broncos by not suiting up?  How many TDs did Marino not throw by being injured.  As for Super Bowls, it's true he only won one. 

For me, that doesn't detract from his greatness, though.  Imagine if he didn't have to play against the Cowboys in the early '90s.  They were a dynasty and one of the greatest teams ever.  It's interesting to speculate how many Super Bowls Favre would have won in better circumstances.

Favre had everything you wanted in a QB.  Favre had a cannon of an arm, and not only was his arm strong, but he also demonstrated excellent accuracy, touch, and placement on his throws. 

People also tend to forget that, in his prime, Favre was an extremely mobile QB.  Although I'm not sure of the validity of the source, I heard that, coming out of college Favre ran 4.5 second 40-yard dash.  To put that into perspective, that's faster than Vince Young's 4.6 second 40-yard dash time. 

Favre's quick release and excellent pocket presence were surpassed only by few. (Marino being one.)   Perhaps Favre's biggest knock is his high interception total.  It's undeniable he has thrown more interceptions than anybody in history.  I feel that this statistic is blown out of proportion, though. 

In my time watching Favre, rarely have I ever seen him throw an interception when his team had the lead.  In fact, the majority of Favre's interceptions were the product of a game gone wrong.  Instead of fretting over his statistics, Favre took chances, often ill-advised chances but at least he had the mettle to go out there and compete to the very last in every game. 

One of Favre's best traits was his leadership, not only was he a great presence in the huddle and a magnificent teammate, but he also showed the ability to raise the performance of the players who surrounded him. 

Favre has had good but not great receivers throughout his NFL career.  I have to take exception to Sterling Sharpe, if it were not for injuries, he would have gone down as one of the greatest receivers to play the game and a sure-fire HOF'er. 

Finally, what makes you a great is not only your ability to play at a great level for one season, but to consistently play well year in and year out.  Favre had five consecutive 30-plus TD seasons. To put that into perspective, Peyton Manning has only done it four times in his entire career.  Brady?  Only once. 

Favre has totaled over 30-plus TDs eight times and 25-plus TDs 10 times, and he threw for over 3,000 yards 16 consecutive years.  Since turning 30, Brett posted a passer rating of over 90, five out of nine times.  To me, he is the image of consistency, and one of the best and most fun football players ever.

Dan Marino

The pure pocket passer, although not fast, Dan Marino had a knack for avoiding sacks.  Marino had a quick release, great pocket presence, an accurate arm. 

Marino too played much of his career without spectacular surrounding talent, but his 48 TD-pass season has to be credited as one of the most amazing single-season feats in football. 

Also Marino is the only QB to ever throw for over 5,000 yards.  With the exception of his 1993 campaign, Marino was an extremely durable quarterback, only missing 10 games (not counting the 11 he missed from the torn achilles tendon). 

It is my belief that Manning and Marino will, and must, go down in history as the two best pure-passing QBs.  It's also important to mention that Dan ranks No. 3 all-time in wins with 148, just one back of No. 2 man Elway. 

Marino's biggest knock is Super Bowls.  Zero wins.  I feel bad that such a talented QB never had the oppurtunity to win a Super Bowl, I dont think the lack of a ring is a testament to his abilities as a QB, but, rather, to the teams he was surrounded by and the misforunte he had.

Joe Montana

Four Super Bowl rings.  That says a lot for itself. 

Not only was Joe Montana near-perfect in the playoffs, he was also a great regular-season performer.  Montana topped the 100.0 mark three times for passer rating in a regular season, and led the league in completion percentage five times, once even topping 70 percent in 1989. 

Montana was calm under pressure and showed great leadership.  Montana was the perfect man for Walsh's West Coast Offense that has revolutionized the game, and I doubt that the game will ever find a QB as accurate and as well-suited for the system.

4-5 (Ordered)

4. Peyton Manning

Five or six years down the road Peyton Manning will hold every QB record imaginable.

He is the embodiment of professionalism and hard work.  Every year, you can pretty much expect Manning to put up 28 TDs and usually throw you no more than 12 interceptions. 

You know his completion percentage will be high, his passer rating high, and his win total high.  He is one of the smartest QBs to play the game, and one of the most efficient; he gives you day in and day out what you need to win in the NFL.  

5. John Elway

I'm sure I will hear many an angry comment for Elway's low placement. 

The point of sports is to win, and Elway did precisely that. He won 149 games in only 231 starts. 

Elway was also very durable, although he never would put up an impressive streak of consecutive starts, he always played in at least 12 of his team's games (after taking over full-time starting duties in 1984) and many times finished out the entire season without missing a game.

Elway also proved his longevity by, interestingly enough, having four of his best statistical years in his last four seasons as a pro.  Importantly, Elway also won two Super Bowls and made three other appearances, and, even though he didn't win them, it is impressive to think that one man brought his team to the big game that many times. 

Of course, you can't ignore his record 47 come from behind victories.  Elway also ranks fifth all time in TD passes with 300.

6-10 (Loosely Ordered)

Warren Moon

Despite starting his NFL career at age 28 (most rookies are 21-23), Moon still put up excellent numbers.  His 291 TDs put him only nine behind Elway and in 28 less starts.

It's interesting to speculate just how staggering his numbers would have been if he would have had a few more seasons in the NFL. 

Even so, Moon played at a high level at an advanced age, throwing for 25 TDs and 3,600 yards in 14 starts at age 41 for Seattle.  

Jim Kelly 

Kelly also started his NFL career at a relatively advanced age (26) and only played for 11 seasons, but, in those 11 years, he won four AFC championships, and, on the flip side, lost four Super Bowls.  

Kelly consistently threw for over 20 TDs, and, in eight out of 11 seasons, he threw for over 3,000 yards.  Kelly's career QB rating of 84.4 is only 1.3 points lower than Favre's of 85.7.

Fran Tarkenton

Before there was Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton had all of the QB records.  His 342 TDs and thrilling style of play made Tarkenton a nightmare for opposing teams.  There isn't much to say besides he was exciting, durable, and holds several records. 

Steve Young

Although Steve Young only started nine seasons and was forced to retire due to concussions, what he did while starting was impressive. 

Five times Young led the league in completion percentage, four times he led the league in TDs, and he led the league a staggering six times in quarterback rating. 

Young also has the record for career passer rating, a staggering 96.8.  Young dazzled fans with his scrambling ability and tenacity, and although some may draw unfair comparisons between him and Joe Montana, Young did win a Super Bowl and was inducted into the Hall Of Fame. 

Troy Aikman

Troy Aikman won three Super Bowls and was the QB of one of the greatest teams the NFL has seen.  Aikman was forced to retire due to concussions at age 34, but that didn't stop him from capturing the hearts of the Cowboy faithful. 

I know that many Cowboys fans will argue that Aikman should be rated higher, maybe, maybe not, but he only had a career passer rating of 81.9, and he only threw for 20 or more TDs once.   

Honorable Mentions: Dan Fouts, Tom Brady, Randall Cunningham, and others that I'm sure I haven't thought of.

Well, I started to run out of gas there towards the end. 

Please keep in mind that the order they were put in wasn't necessarily concrete.  I consider them more as tiers—Favre, Montana, and Marino are my best, but I can't say that I could put them in an unbiased order. 

Manning and Elway for me were the next tier.  Aikman, Young, Kelly, Tarkenton, and Moon were all in another tier with none being particularily better than the other. 

So don't get too upset if you feel your favorite QB should have been elevated a spot or two. 

Also, please forgive me for my rant on Favre.  I really should just write a separate article on him. 

Also, I'm interested to hear who I missed.


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