10. John Elway: Denver Broncos (1983-1998)
Elway is one of the greatest passers the game has ever seen.
He ranks third in NFL history in attempts, completions, and passing yards. His consistency is shown by his record 12 seasons passing for 3000 or more yards. He threw exactly 300 touchdown passes, which ranks fifth all time.
He earned nine Pro Bowl selections, the second most ever among quarterbacks. Elway earned NFL MVP honors in 1986 and was named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Year in 1993.
Elway was a winner. He ranks second in NFL history with 148 regular season wins. He won Super Bowls in his last two seasons, and earned Super Bowl MVP honors in the last game of his career.
His 47 fourth-quarter comebacks rank first in NFL history. In the 1986 AFC Championship Game, he led the Broncos on a legendary 98-yard drive to tie the game, which the Broncos eventually won in overtime.
He was a better runner than most people remember, rushing for over 200 yards in eleven seasons. His “Helicopter” run in the 1997 Super Bowl proved that the 37-year-old man could still bring it.
His 774 career rushes rank second among quarterbacks, just one behind Randall Cunningham, and he is the only player to run for a touchdown in four Super Bowls.
He lost his first three Super Bowls, leading his offense to a combined 40 points in those three games. He has thrown an interception in all five of his Super Bowls and ranks first in Super Bowl history with eight interceptions.
His passing statistics were not even as close to good as people think they were.
He once went seven consecutive seasons without topping 20 touchdown passes. He never threw 30 touchdowns in a season and only topped 4000 yards once. Five times he failed to throw for more touchdowns than interceptions.
Elway was generally aided by a very good supporting cast.
Running back Terrell Davis earned three Pro Bowl selections and was named the league MVP in 1998. Wide receiver Rod Smith was selected to play in three Pro Bowls and tight end Shannon Sharpe is an eight-time Pro Bowler. The Broncos possessed a top-five defense seven times during Elway's career.
His fourth-quarter comeback wins and two Super Bowl championships give him a reputation as one of the greatest clutch quarterbacks of all time. While this is true, he still performed terribly in three Super Bowls.
The legend of Brett Favre began in the third game of the 1992 season, when he replaced an injured Don Majkowski and led the Pack to a comeback victory in week three. Since then, he has started in a record 266 consecutive regular-season games, and 22 more in the postseason.
He has played through a broken and sprained thumb on his right hand, a badly sprained left ankle, a sprained left foot, a sprained left knee, a torn ligament in his left knee, a severely bruised left hip, and a separated left shoulder.
Brett Favre holds almost every single NFL passing record, including attempts, completions, yards, and touchdown passes. He is the only back-to-back-to-back MVP winner in NFL history (1995-1997). He has been selected to nine Pro Bowls and led the NFL in touchdown passes four times and passing yards twice.
Favre led the Packers to a Super Bowl championship in 1996, tossing two touchdown passes against the New England Patriots. The Packers reached the Super Bowl again the next year. Favre led the Pack to nine division titles and four conference championship game performances.
The man is a turnover machine. He had turned the ball over more than 400 times in his NFL career (postseason included) for an average of more than 22 times per season. This is a greater frequency than Vinny Testaverde (Mr. Turnover), Eli Manning, or Rex Grossman. It's almost embarrassing.
He has also struggled in the postseason. Big-time struggled.
He is the only quarterback to throw an interception in overtime in a playoff game twice in a career. He quarterbacked the first-ever playoff game lost by the Packers at their own Lambeau Field. He threw a record six interceptions against the Rams in 2001, and threw four interceptions in a home loss to the 8-8 Minnesota Vikings in 2004.
He was a terrible quarterback in 2005 and a mediocre one in 1993, 1999, 2000, and 2006.
Favre holds virtually every single passing record in NFL history, including touchdown passes, consecutive games started, and wins by a quarterback. He won a record-tying three MVPs, a Super Bowl, and did most of this without a great supporting cast.
However, he earned a reputation as a great postseason performer following his Super Bowl victory in 1996, and for the rest of his career, failed to deliver when it mattered the most.
8. Dan Marino: Miami Dolphins (1983-1999)
Dan Marino will forever be known for maybe the quickest release and strongest arm in the history of the NFL. In his second NFL season, he shattered NFL records for passing yards (5084) and touchdown passes (48). He earned MVP honors and led the Dolphins to the Super Bowl.
Marino retired with career records in passing attempts, completions, yards, and touchdown passes. He led the NFL in almost every single passing category, including yards five times, touchdown passes three times, and passer rating once.
He ranks third all time in fourth quarter comebacks (37) and wins by a starting quarterback (147).
His inability to win a Super Bowl is what he is remembered for more than his passing accolades. If only he had won a Super Bowl, many would consider Marino a top three quarterback. His one Super Bowl loss was a total blowout (38-16) that wasn't as close as the score indicated. He threw 24 interceptions in his playoff career and his Dolphins lost 62-7 in the '99 playoffs—his last game ever.
Ten times in his career, Marino's offensive line allowed him to be sacked fewer than any quarterback in the league. His career sack percentage ranks second all time and he was almost never injured on a sack.
He never won a Super Bowl. Now that Peyton Manning has a ring, Marino will always be considered the greatest quarterback to never win a Super Bowl. He is the first example that comes to one's mind when asked about the best professional athletes to never win a championship.
He threw for 48 touchdowns in a season and 420 in his career...but he didn't win it all in January.
7. Bart Starr: Green Bay Packers (1956-1971)
Starr was the most indispensable player on perhaps the greatest dynasty in the history of the NFL.
As a quarterback, Starr guided the Packers to five NFL championships in seven seasons. This included wins in the first two Super Bowls ever—both of which Starr earned MVP honors.
He was the best postseason passer in NFL history, throwing 15 touchdowns against only four interceptions (104.8 passer rating; 1.41 interception percentage). His teams went 9-1 in the playoffs, with the only loss coming by four points to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 championship.
Starr was responsible for calling his own plays, despite the greatest coach in NFL history (Vince Lombardi) roaming the sidelines. One of the his greatest play calls occurred in the 1967 Ice Bowl, when he scored on a one-yard touchdown plunge to beat the Dallas Cowboys with 13 seconds remaining.
Starr earned four Pro Bowl selections and was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1966, when he tossed 14 touchdown passes against only three interceptions, for a quarterback rating of 105.0. Starr topped the NFL in passer rating five times.
Football analyst Bud Goode determines “yards per attempt” to be the most important statistic for a quarterback, as 80 percent of winning teams won that statistic. Starr led the NFL in that statistic twice and ranks ninth all time. He also topped the NFL in completion percentage and lowest interception percentage three times each.
Starr was probably surrounded by more talent than any quarterback in NFL history. Eleven of his teammates went on to receive induction for the Hall of Fame. His coach was Vince Lombardi, the greatest coach of all time.
He competed against way fewer teams than modern-day NFL quarterbacks and also posted statistics that, while impressive, were far from elite. He never threw 2500 yards or 20 touchdowns in a season.
Starr combined leadership, big-play ability, and statistical accomplishments to become the greatest quarterback in Green Bay Packer history.
6. Otto Graham: Cleveland Browns (1946-1955)
Graham was the winningest quarterback to ever play the game. He played 10 seasons and played in 10 championship games. He won seven times—all four times in the AAFC and three times in the NFL. (Graham also played one season of professional basketball for the Rochester Royals; they won the championship.)
When the Browns switched over to the NFL, many felt that this team wouldn't dominate as in the far inferior AAFC. Graham proved his doubters wrong by leading the Browns to a 10-2 record and an NFL title.
During his six season tenure in the National Football League, his teams posted a record of 57-13-1. He retired after throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for three more in a 56-10 blowout over the Detroit Lions in the NFL Championship Game.
Graham dominated statistically in a time period when quarterbacks were not expected to produce much more than half-decent numbers. His 9.0 passing yards per attempt ranks first in the history of the NFL.
He led the AAFC/NFL in every major passing statistic at least once, including passing yards five times, passer rating and completion percentage four times, and touchdown passes three times. Graham was the best in the NFL at throwing touchdowns and not turning the ball over.
Graham was named an All-Pro all 10 seasons. He earned the NFL MVP in 1951, 1953, and 1955, his last season in the league. He also earned the AAFC MVP in 1947 and tied for the award in 1948.
Graham is one of the primary reasons for today's facemask. In a game against the San Francisco 49ers in 1953, he received a blow to the jaw from a 49er player, requiring 15 stitches. Graham left the game, but eventually returned. Head coach Paul Brown immediately began constructing the facemask to protect his star quarterback.
Just counting the NFL, a 3-3 record in championship games is technically only average, although the difficult part is obviously reaching the championship game each year. Critics also consider the AAFC to be a minor league, and while four championships in four seasons is as good as it gets, it's still considered the 'minor leagues.'
Graham's teammates and coaching were absolutely unbelievable. Marion Motley is arguably a top 10 running back of all time. Dante Lavelli and Mac Speedie were two of the top wide receivers in the NFL.
Pete Brewster and Dub Jones were selected to two Pro Bowls. Lou Groza is a top ten kicker. And the defense ranked: second, first, first, first, second, first, second, first, first, and first, during Graham's ten seasons.
Only 12 NFL teams competed for the grand prize in Graham's days. Players didn't bounce from team to team, so Graham had the luxury of fantastic players his entire career, with much less competition.
In the AAFC, only seven teams competed for the championship. Nowadays, quarterbacks deal with 31 other teams, with almost zero chance of their favorite wide receiver staying with them for their whole career.
Graham could not have won more games as a quarterback. Ten championship game appearances, including seven wins, in a 10-season career is record-setting. However, four championships came from the AAFC, which was far inferior to the NFL. One wonders what he would have done in a 32-team league.
5. Peyton Manning: Indianapolis Colts (1998-present)
Peyton Manning is the greatest offensive machine in the history of the NFL. He throws touchdown passes at a record-setting pace (1.90 per game) and will probably set the career mark in the next six or seven seasons.
Eight times Manning has thrown for 4000 yards in a season, a record, including six in a row, also a record. He has thrown for 25+ touchdown passes for a record ten consecutive seasons (every full season of his career).
He holds NFL career records for completions per game (21.7), passing yards per game (260.2), and games with a perfect passer rating (five, including one in the postseason).
Manning earned the NFL MVP award in 2004 after setting NFL records in touchdown passes (49) and passer rating (121.1). He twice won an ESPY as the Best NFL Player, and has been selected to eight Pro Bowls in his 10 seasons, winning MVP honors in 2004. Manning is a three-time AFC Offensive Player of the Month winner, and has been Player of the Week on 16 occasions.
Manning is never hurt. Ever. He has started every single game in his career, dating back to 1998 (170 games). He usually plays healthy, thanks to a powerful offensive line, and he usually wins.
He has led the Colts to a 111-57 record (including a 3-13 mark in his rookie season). He was the first quarterback to defeat every other NFL team in the regular season.
He won his first (and only, so far) Super Bowl title in 2006, leading the Colts all the way from the wild-card round, and defeating his biggest nemesis, the New England Patriots, with a record-setting 18-point comeback in the AFC Championship Game.
He has some of the biggest postseason games in NFL history, including 360 yards passing against the Denver Broncos in 2004—in the first half!
Manning might be the most intelligent quarterback to ever play the game. He is the only active quarterback calling his own plays from the huddle, and is notorious for his audibles at the line of scrimmage.
He doesn't panic under pressure. He knows when to throw the ball, and when not to throw the ball. Manning is absolutely untouchable against the blitz.
Peyton Manning has always struggled in the postseason.
He lost his first three playoff games and has a career postseason record of 7-7. Even in 2006, when he helped the Colts win the Super Bowl from the wild-card round, he relied on his great defense, throwing more interceptions than touchdown passes in those four games.
His biggest obstacle in the playoffs has been the New England Patriots, whom he finally defeated in the 2006 conference championship game.
Manning has thrown a relatively substantial number of interceptions, particularly in his rookie season (28). He always has the tendency for a five or six interception game (see: San Diego, 2007).
Manning can thank his offensive line for never being hurt, because he has never played through a serious injury, like Johnny Unitas or Brett Favre. He is often the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL.
He can also thank his supporting cast, notably Edgerrin James (four Pro Bowls), Joseph Addai (one Pro Bowl), Marvin Harrison (eight Pro Bowls), and Reggie Wayne (two Pro Bowls).
This guy's pretty good, if you like 6'5", 230-pound quarterbacks with laser rocket arms. Manning will probably one day shatter every single passing record known to man. He is never injured and is one of the smartest men in the history of professional sports. He has one Super Bowl ring, and one or two more could give him a strong case for the title of “Greatest Quarterback of All-Time.”
Young is arguably the greatest passer the game of football has ever seen.
Six times he topped a 100 passer rating for the season. The three quarterbacks ranked above him combined to do it seven times.
Young led the NFL in passer rating a record-tying six times. Completion percentage five times. Touchdown passes four times. Fewest interception percentage twice.
He set the single-season record for passer rating (112.8) in 1994, tossing 35 touchdown passes and completing 70.2 percent of his passes, the second highest single-season total in history. Young's brilliant 1994 season, arguably the best the game had ever seen until Peyton Manning in 2004, earned him the regular season MVP award, and later the Super Bowl MVP award.
Young also earned MVP honors in 1992. He earned seven consecutive selections to the Pro Bowl and is the only quarterback in NFL history to successfully replace a Hall of Famer.
Young ranks first in NFL history in passer rating (96.8) and adjusted yards per passing attempt (7.38). He leads all Hall of Fame quarterbacks in completion percentage and trails only Tom Brady in lowest interception percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Young has the most rushing touchdowns and second most rushing yards of any quarterback in history. He was famous for his ability to scramble 'away' from the pass rush.
In 1988, he broke seven tackles on a game-winning 49-yard touchdown run to defeat the Minnesota Vikings, later voted the greatest run in NFL history by a panel of experts in 1994.
Young won his first and only Super Bowl in 1994, finally defeating the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game and throwing an NFL-record six touchdown passes in the Super Bowl.
He threw one of the more underrated touchdowns in the history of the NFL, a 25-yard scoring strike to Terrell Owens with three seconds remaining in the NFC wild-card playoff game, ending a potential Green Bay dynasty.
Young is often criticized for "only" winning one Super Bowl and frequently losing to the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers in the postseason.
While his defenses didn't help much, neither did Young. He has a career postseason rating of 85.8, still very high, but more than ten percent below his regular season passer rating.
His career playoff record (games throwing at least 10 passes) is 8-6, which is above average, but far from elite.
He was terrible as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer in 1985 and 1986, winning three games in two seasons. He threw 11 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, while completing less than 55 percent of his passes. He didn't become a full-time starter until the 1992 season, at the age of 30.
Young suffered multiple injuries throughout his career and only played a 16-game season three times.
He had arguably the best passing statistics in NFL history. He was one of the greatest running quarterbacks in NFL history. He was clutch, and has a Super Bowl ring to prove it. He even got along with Terrell Owens. If Young had won another Super Bowl or two, he could challenge for the top spot.
3. Johnny Unitas: Baltimore Colts (1956-1972), San Diego Chargers (1973)
Unitas was one of the greatest team leaders of all time.
John Mackey, a Hall of Fame tight end and Unitas's teammate, said, “Being in the huddle with Johnny Unitas is like being in the huddle with God.” Unitas led the Colts to NFL titles in 1958 and 1959.
He led the Colts to a Super Bowl win in 1970, and despite being injured, came off the bench in the '68 Super Bowl to lead the Colts to their only scoring drive.
He earned three Most Valuable Player awards, the first and last coming eight years apart (1959, 1964, 1967). In 1959, he shattered the single-season record for touchdown passes (32).
He threw for a touchdown pass in a record 47 consecutive games, a streak that should have earned the recognition that Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak did. Unitas earned 10 selections to the Pro Bowl and was named the Player of the Decade for the 1960s.
Unitas was one of the toughest players in the history of the NFL.
He played in an era when quarterbacks received little to no protection for late hits. Unitas played through a badly broken nose, broken fingers, ripped arm tendons, torn knee cartilage, a punctured lung, and a broken vertebrae.
With less than a minute remaining in a game against the 49ers, future Hall of Fame defensive end Doug Atkins shattered Unitas's nose on a sack. Despite an inability to stop the bleeding, Unitas remained in the game and threw a touchdown pass to Lenny Moore in the final seconds to win the game.
Hall of Fame defensive tackle Merlin Olsen called Unitas “the bravest man I've known in football.”
Unitas retired holding 22 passing records, including passing attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdown passes. His final pass as a Colt was a 63-yard touchdown.
In 1969, Unitas was named the “Greatest Quarterback of All Time” during the NFL's 50th anniversary celebration in 1969. He was dubbed by Sports Illustrated as the greatest quarterback of all time.
He was surrounded by Hall of Famers his entire career—seven different players, and two coaches. Lenny Moore, in my opinion, is one of the more underrated players in the game's history, while Raymond Berry is arguably a top twelve receiver in NFL history.
Unitas also threw a lot of interceptions. His career touchdown-to-interception ratio is 1.146, which is better than only 10 of the 24 modern-day Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Brady and Manning included, for obvious reasons).
Unitas played poorly in the 1970 Super Bowl. He played only the fourth quarter of the 1968 Super Bowl and threw a fourth quarter interception that cost the Colts any chance of coming back to win the game.
His Colts lost the 1964 NFL Championship Game 27-0. And Unitas actually didn't play particularly well in any playoff game after the 1959 title game.
Unitas dominated in the regular season, winning three MVP awards. He led the Colts to two NFL titles and a Super Bowl ring, although he was slightly overhyped in the postseason. His ability to play through pain—and play successfully—cements his legend as a top three all time quarterback.
2. Tom Brady: New England Patriots (2001-present)
All Tom Brady does is win—at an even more dominant rate than Joe Montana. He won three Super Bowls in his first four seasons. He led the Patriots to the first-ever 16-0 record in 2007, and a fourth Super Bowl appearance of the decade. He won his first 10 postseason games and has a career playoff record of 13-3.
Brady has led 28 fourth quarter game-winning drives. His career record in overtime? 7-0. Against NFC teams? 27-5. When the Patriots have a fourth quarter lead in a regular season game? 84-1.
He has the highest career winning percentage by any quarterback with at least 100 games started (87-24; .784 percentage). He took over an 0-2 Patriots team in 2001, and guided them to 11 wins and a Super Bowl title.
They won 14 games in 2003 and 2004. From 2006 to 2007, Tom Brady helped the Patriots win 21 consecutive games, an NFL-record, surpassing the 18 of the '03-'04 Patriots.
He has some of the most memorable postseason performances in NFL history:
- His legendary game-tying and game-winning drives on the road against Oakland in 2001
- His game-winning two-minute drill in the 2001 Super Bowl
- His game-winning two-minute drill in the 2003 Super Bowl
- The eight-point fourth quarter comeback win against San Diego in 2006
- His 26-of-28 passing against the Jaguars in 2007
- His touchdown pass to Randy Moss with under three minutes remaining in the 2007 Super Bowl to put the Patriots in position to end the season 19-0
Brady set the single-season record for touchdown passes with 50 in 2007. He also led the NFL in touchdown passes in 2002 (28). His career passer rating of 92.9 is fifth all time. He is the seventh least intercepted quarterback of all time, and first among Hall of Famers.
Brady knows how to play through pain. He played the final two months of the 2005 season with a sports hernia, an injury the football world didn't find out about until after the first postseason loss of Brady's career.
He played in the 2004 AFC Championship Game after having a 103 degree fever the night before; the Patriots defeated the 15-1 Steelers 41-27. He did not miss a game due to injury until the season opener of 2008. His streak of 111 consecutive regular season games started ranks fourth on the all-time list of NFL quarterbacks.
Losing to a 10-6 team in the Super Bowl is unacceptable. Flat-out unacceptable. The blame cannot be placed solely on Tom Brady, but the quarterback always has and always will receive the majority of the credit when the team wins and the blame when the team loses.
Spygate. At the beginning of the 2007 season, the New England Patriots were caught by the NFL illegally videotaping the signals of the New York Jets' defensive coaches. The NFL imposed a severe fine on the Patriots.
Deemed “Spygate,” the Patriots lost a lot of respect around the NFL, with the belief that their cheating had potentially helped them win Super Bowls against the St. Louis Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Whether or not I believe the Patriots were cheating, no blame should be placed on Tom Brady. It's just too difficult to prove that the Patriots cheated their way to a Super Bowl or two. Much criticism has come over the situation, but none of it affects Tom Brady's ranking among the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
While Tom Brady hasn't been surrounded by offensive playmakers, he has had the luxury of a great defense and one of the greatest coaches in NFL history.
Adam Vinatieri became a legend with two game-winning field goals at the end of Super Bowls, as well as two extremely clutch kicks against the Oakland Raiders during the 2001 divisional playoffs.
Some will argue that Peyton Manning lost a chance at a Super Bowl ring in 2005 due to the poor kicking of Mike Vanderjagt, at that time the most accurate placekicker in NFL history.
Tom Brady suffered a severe knee injury at the beginning of the 2008 season and many question his ability to ever regain elite status as an NFL quarterback. Brady never missed a game due to injury in his first sevens seasons, but only played seven minutes in the first game of the 2008 season.
The world doesn't understand just how successful of a quarterback Tom Brady really is. He's won Super Bowls, MVPs, and Super Bowl MVPs. He knows how to win better than any quarterback who has ever lived, including Joe Montana.
He holds many passing records and he has done the majority of this without a good supporting cast. He lives for pressure and no quarterback is more feared with the game on the line.
If he wins one more Super Bowl, he will probably surpass Joe Montana as the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
1. Joe Montana: San Francisco 49ers (1979-1992), Kansas City Chiefs (1993-1994)
Where to start? He has won four Super Bowls, coming in a nine-year span. He threw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in those Super Bowls (127.8 QB rating), and three times walked away as the game's MVP.
He led a 92-yard game-winning drive in the 1988 Super Bowl, culminating in a 10-yard touchdown strike to John Taylor. He threw five touchdowns in the 1989 Super Bowl.
He threw the most famous conference championship game touchdown pass in history, a third down floater to a leaping Dwight Clark, which marked the beginning of a dynasty for the 49ers.
He played in eight straight postseason games with a passer rating above 100.0 and holds career postseason records for passing yards (5772) and touchdown passes (45). His postseason passer rating of 96.2 betters his regular-season rating.
He won two Associated Press MVP's, at the ages of 33 and 34. He earned the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in 1986, after returning from a back injury so severe that it was recommended by doctors that he retire from professional football. Montana earned eight Pro Bowl selections in just 13 full seasons.
Montana was named the greatest clutch quarterback of all time by Sports Illustrated. He authorized “The Drive” and “The Catch”, and was nicknamed “Joe Cool.” He authorized 31 fourth quarter comebacks.
Montana's touchdown-to-interception ratio is almost 2:1. He led the NFL in completion percentage five times, touchdown passes twice, and passer rating twice. He ranks fifth in NFL history in passer rating and cracks the top ten list in the majority of passing statistics.
Not a lot.
He participated in one of the worst postseason losses of all time, a 49-3 thumping against L.T. and the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants. The Giants eliminated Montana from the postseason three times in six seasons. A sack by defensive end Leonard Marshall in the 1990 playoffs knocked Montana out of football for the entire next season.
Montana was plagued by injuries late in his career. In addition to the Marshall hit, Montana missed eight games of the 1986 season. An elbow injury caused him to miss the entire 1992 season (minus one game). In all, Montana missed over 40 games due to injury in his NFL career.
Jerry Rice. Many say that the NFL's greatest wide receiver ever helped Montana's stats enormously, although Joe Cool did win two Super Bowls without Rice.
Montana is the most awesome quarterback to ever play in the NFL.
He won four Super Bowl rings, capturing MVP honors three times. He earned a league MVP award and perfected the two-minute drill.
“The Catch.” "Joe Cool." “The Comeback Kid.” All Montana.