Everyone has their own opinion about the best or greatest team, player, etc. when it comes to sports. However, one of the most debated today may very well be who the best Quarterbacks in NFL history are. It’s tough to say for some, but we feel we did well with breaking this down. First, let’s look at how the quarterback became important to the game.
In 1905, about 10 years before the NFL, there were 18 fatalities in college football. President Theodore Roosevelt decided something had to be changed. Enter the forward pass.
The forward pass changed the game of football forever. Since its arrival, quarterbacks have become the most valuable player on the field. That brings us to our list today.
One challenging part of making a list like this is comparing players from different eras. Although difficult, this can be done. Yes, numbers are different, but you can adjust them to estimate what they’d be in a different era. Also, you can compare how dominant someone was in their era compared to others.
The point is, you can compare all NFL quarterbacks, regardless of when they played.
Another tough part is leaving people out, as some will be snubbed on lists like this. In this list, players like Kurt Warner, Troy Aikman, Fran Tarkenton, Philip Rivers, Jim Kelly, and Ben Roethlisberger were on the brink of making this list. The reason they didn’t is that they either didn’t have the numbers, or they didn’t have as much of an impact on the game as the players who made the list did.
Without further adieu, let’s get to the list.
15. Bart Starr
- Individual Awards: 2x Super Bowl MVP (I, II), 4x Pro Bowl (1960, 1961, 1962, 1966), NFL MVP (1966), 5x NFL Passer Rating leader (1962, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1969)
- Team Accomplishments: 2x Super Bowl Champion (I, II), 5x NFL Champion (1961, 1962, 1965-1967), 6x Conference Champion (1960-1962, 1965-1967), Division Champion (1967)
- Record(s) Held: Highest Postseason Passer Rating (104.8)
Bart Starr is one of the best postseason quarterbacks in NFL history. He went 9-1 in his postseason career en route to 5 NFL Championships and 2 Super Bowl championships for the Green Bay Packers. In fact, to this day he still has the highest career postseason passer rating in NFL history. He also had a postseason touchdown to interception ratio of 15:3.
In addition to this, Starr made it to 4 Pro Bowls, won the MVP award in 1966 and held the NFL record for career completion percentage with 57.4% when he retired. The only thing preventing him from being higher on this list was his low passing yards and touchdowns record but this does not take away from everything else he accomplished.
14. Sammy Baugh
- Individual Awards: 9x All-Pro (1937-1940, 1942, 1943, 1945, 1947, 1948), 2x NFL Player of the Year (1947, 1948), 4x NFL Passing Yards Leader (1937, 1940, 1947, 1948)
- Team Accomplishments: 2x NFL Champion (1937, 1942), 5x Division Champion (1937, 1940, 1942, 1943, 1945)
- Record(s) Held: Number of times leading the in completion percentage (8)
Sammy Baugh was the trailblazer for all quarterbacks that came after him. In an era where teams rarely passed the ball, Baugh made the most of every opportunity he had.
He led the league in completion percentage 8 times. Over 80 years later, this is still an NFL record.
Baugh also led the Washington Redskins to a lot of success. They won 5 division championships and 2 NFL championships.
Baugh revolutionized the game of football and helped make passing more part of the game like it is now, making him one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
13. Terry Bradshaw
- Individual Awards: 2x Super Bowl MVP (XIII, XIV), MVP (1978), 3x Pro Bowl (1975, 1978, 1979), Bert Bell Award (1978), 2x Passing touchdowns leader (1978, 1982)
- Team Accomplishments: 4x Super Bowl Champion (IX, X, XIII, XIV), 4x Conference Champion (1974, 1975, 1978, 1979), 8x Division Champion (1972, 1974-1979, 1983)
- Record(s) Held: Super Bowl passing yards (932, 4th), Super Bowl passing touchdowns (9, 3rd), Super Bowl Victories (4, tied for 2nd)
By the time Terry Bradshaw retired in 1983, he was seen as the best postseason quarterback of all time. He owned the postseason. His 9 passing touchdowns and 932 passing yards were both Super Bowl records to go along with his postseason records of 3,833 passing yards and 32 passing touchdowns.
Bradshaw was also the first quarterback to reach 4 Super Bowl victories. Joe Montana and Tom Brady (whom you’ll see later in this list) are the only other two to do this.
Although his championships are mostly credited to the steelers defense, nicknamed “the steel curtain” Bradshaw pulled his weight, as seen by his selection to 3 Pro Bowls, 2 Super Bowl MVPs and regular-season MVP.
His championship numbers compete with some of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, proving that he is worthy of being on this list.
12. Steve Young
- Individual Awards: 2x MVP (1992-1994), 6x NFL passer rating leader (1991-1994, 1996, 1997), 4x NFL passing touchdowns leader (1992-1994, 1998)
- Team Accomplishments: 3x Super Bowl Champion (XXIII, XXIV, XXIX), 3x Conference Champion (1988, 1989, 1994), 9x Division Champion (1987-1990, 1992-1995, 1997)
- Record(s) Held: Single season passer rating (112.8, tied for 12th), career rushing yards by a quarterback (4,239, 3rd), career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (43, 2nd)
Steve Young was the definition of a dual-threat quarterback; he could hurt you from everywhere. He won numerous passing awards and during his 1994 MVP campaign, the lefty set a new NFL record for passer rating with 112.8. From the rushing side, he ended his career with 4,239 rushing yards and 43 rushing touchdowns, both of which still rank top 3 in NFL history among quarterbacks.
Not to mention, Young didn’t even become a full-time starting quarterback until his 8th NFL season. He started in 10 or more games in a season only 9 times in his career. Also, because of injuries, Young only had 3 seasons where he competed in all 16 regular-season games.
Had Young played more he probably would be higher on this list but Young had a great career. He and Randall Cunningham changed the game as they defined what it meant to be a dual-threat quarterback.
This dual-threat style has produced great players, like Lamar Jackson, Michael Vick, and many other dual-threat players. Many of which are among the most talented quarterbacks in NFL history.
11. Aaron Rodgers
- Individual Awards: Super Bowl MVP (XLV), 2x NFL MVP (2011, 2014), 8x Pro Bowl (2009, 2011, 2012, 2014-2016, 2018, 2019), Bert Bell Award (2011), 2x NFL Passer rating leader (2011, 2012)
- Team Accomplishments: Super Bowl Champion (XLV), Conference Champion (2010), 6x Divison Champion (2007, 2011-2014, 2016)
- Record(s) Held: Career passer rating (103.1), single-season passer rating (122.5), TD-INT ratio (4.23:1), consecutive passes without an interception (402)
Aaron Rodgers is a master with the ball. His ability to extend players and use the no-huddle and hard count to fluster defenses is unlike any other quarterback.
Rodgers is also one of the most mistake-free quarterbacks in NFL history. He has only thrown 82 interceptions in his career and has only had 2 seasons where he has thrown for 10+ interceptions.
At just 36 years old, Rodgers still has a few more years to go, especially in today’s NFL. As Rodgers finishes up his career he will surely move up this list, especially if he can get more done in the playoffs. Rodgers is only 9-7 in the postseason and since 2011, when he led the Packers to a Super Bowl victory, he has gone 5-6 in the postseason and has yet to lead the Packers back to the Super Bowl.
10. John Elway
- Individual Awards: Super Bowl MVP (XXXIII), 9x Pro Bowl (1986, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996-1998), MVP (1987), 7x AFC Offensive Player of the Year (1987-1993)
- Team Accomplishments: 2x Super Bowl Champion (XXXII, XXXIII), 5x Conference Champion (1986, 1987, 1989, 1997, 1998), 10x Division Champion (1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996-1998)
- Record(s) Held: 4th quarter comebacks (31, tied for 6th), career rushing yards by a quarterback (3,407, 5th), career touchdowns by a quarterback (33, 9th)
John Elway knew how to win. Throughout his 16-year NFL career, Elway brought the Broncos to 5 Super Bowls, winning 2 of them back-to-back. Elway also dominated the position of quarterback. He was consistently one of the best offensive players year after year and proved that he was one of the best quarterbacks of his era.
Elway proved that he could beat teams with his well-rounded approach. His great arm forced defenses to respect his passing ability but if he had to, he could use his legs to make big plays.
When Elway retired he ranked in the top 10 in both career rushing yards and touchdowns by a quarterback. Elway also knew how to play from behind. He had 31 career 4th quarter comebacks, which was tied for 2nd at the time he retired. Many of these comebacks came in big games, which allowed Elway to have as much success as he did.
9. Roger Staubach
- Individual Awards: Super Bowl MVP (VI), 6x Pro Bowl (1971, 1975-1979), NFL Passing touchdowns leader (1973), 4x NFL passer rating leader (1971, 1973, 1978, 1979)
- Team Accomplishments: 2x Super Bowl Champion (VI, XIII), 5x Conference Championship (1970, 1971, 1975, 1977, 1978), 8x Division Championship (1969-1971, 1973, 1976-1979)
- Record(s) Held: Career win percentage (.733, 4th)
Like many quarterbacks on this list, Roger Staubach was a winner. His .733 career win percentage ranked 3rd all-time at the time of his retirement. He also won 8 division championships, 5 conference championships, and 2 Super Bowls, which set the standard for America’s team.
Although he didn’t have as many Super Bowls as Bradshaw, Staubach’s individual stats proved he was the superior quarterback.
Because of his stint with the military, Staubach didn’t begin playing in the NFL until he was 27-years old, meaning he was only able to play in the NFL for 11 seasons. If he had begun playing earlier, Staubach could have added to his already impressive resume.
8. Brett Favre
- Individual Awards: 11x Pro Bowl (1992, 1993, 1995-1997, 2001-2003, 2007-2009), 3x NFL MVP (1995-1997), 4x NFL passing touchdowns leader (1995-1997, 2003)
- Team Accomplishments: Super Bowl Champion (XXXI), 2x Conference Champion (1996, 1997) 8x Division Champion (1995-1997, 2002-2004, 2007, 2009)
- Record(s) Held: Most career pass attempts (10,169), most consecutive starts by a player (297), career passing yards (71, 838, 4th), career passing touchdowns (508, 4th), quarterback wins (199, 3rd)
When he retired, Favre owned the record books. He held career records for passing yards, passing touchdowns, and quarterback wins. Also, he is the only NFL player to ever win 3 consecutive MVP awards. His consistent success along with his longevity showed that Favre was one of the best of his era and surely deserves to be on this list.
The only thing stopping Favre from being higher on this list is his lack of postseason success. Despite going to 2 Super Bowls early on in his career, Favre could never get back. Although, he almost did get back. In 2009, as a 40-year old, Favre nearly led the Vikings to a Super Bowl before suffering a heartbreaking loss in the NFC Championship game.
7. Dan Marino
- Individual Awards: 9x Pro Bowl (1983-1987, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995), NFL MVP (1984), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1984), 5x NFL passing yards leader (1984-1986, 1988, 1992)
- Team Accomplishments: Conference Champion (1984), 5x Division Champion (1983-1985, 1992, 1994)
- Record(s) Held: Career passing attempts (8,358, 5th), career completions (4,967, 5th), career passing yards (61,361, 5th), career touchdown passes (420, 5th)
Dan Marino’s 1984 season was one for the ages. Few quarterbacks in NFL history have matched his stats from that season. He threw for an NFL record 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns in just his 2nd year. This was only the beginning.
Marino went on to hold career NFL records in passing attempts, completions, passing yards, and touchdown passes; he was the best statistical quarterback when he retired. Although he retired about 20 years ago, his numbers would still be impressive in today’s offense-oriented NFL.
Marino is notoriously called the best NFL player to never win a Super Bowl.
Although his team didn’t have as much success as others on this list, Marino made up for that in his own play. In every year he started, Marino tossed for over 3,500 passing yards. When he retired, Marino still ranks top 5 every career NFL record that he once held.
If Marino had just won at least one championship, perhaps he would be higher on this list. Nonetheless, he didn’t have the greatest team around him and still managed to thrive individually despite that.
6. Otto Graham
- Individual Awards: 5x Pro Bowl (1950-1954), 3x NFL MVP (1951, 1953, 1955)
- Team Accomplishments: 3x NFL Champion (1950, 1954, 1955), 6x Conference Champion (1950-1955), 9x Division Champion (1946-1948, 1950-1955)
- Record(s) Held: Career yards per pass attempt (8.63), career win percentage (.810)
Although Otto Graham retired in 1955, he still holds 2 NFL records. These records, which have lasted over 60 years, must be respected.
Before playing in the NFL, Graham played for the AAFL, where he also dominated. These also meant that Graham only played 6 seasons in the NFL. Graham made the most of his 6 seasons.
His Cleveland Browns won division and conference titles in all 6 years Graham played. They also won 3 NFL Championships in that time. This means that Graham was either an NFL champion or MVP or both in 5 out of the 6 years he played in the league.
In addition to his impressive, he was also very dominant in the AAFL and his NFL stats would be even more impressive if he had played in the NFL his entire career.
If this list wasn’t just focused on NFL quarterbacks, Graham could make a run at the top spot.
5. Johnny Unitas
- Individual Awards: 10x Pro Bowl (1957-1964, 1966, 1967), 3x NFL MVP (1959, 1964, 1967), 4x NFL passing yards leader (1957, 1959, 1960, 1963), 4x NFL passing touchdowns leader (1957-1960)
- Team Accomplishments: Super Bowl Champion (V), 3x NFL Champion (1958, 1959, 1968), 5x Conference Champion (1958, 1959, 1964, 1968, 1970), 2x Division Champion (1968, 1970)
- Record(s) Held: Most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (47, 4th)
Do you know the 2-minute drill? Yeah, Johnny Unitas was the first to do that. He changed the way football is played forever. Before then, comebacks were a rarity in football. Now, every Sunday you can count on at least a couple.
In addition to this, Unitas had a lot of success as a quarterback. His team’s won 5 conference championships, 3 NFL championships, and a Super Bowl. As an individual, Unitas won numerous awards, including the MVP award 3 times, and made 10 Pro Bowls throughout his career. Also, his record of most consecutive games with a touchdown pass stood for over 50 years.
Unitas was an innovator, he changed the game. He achieved success in all areas of the game and undoubtedly deserves a top 5 spot.
4. Drew Brees
- Individual Awards: Super Bowl MVP (XLIV), 13x Pro Bowl (2004, 2006, 2008-2014, 2016-2019), 2x NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2008-2011)
- Team Accomplishments: Super Bowl Champion (XLIV), Conference Champion (2009), 7x Division Champion (2005, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2019-2019)
- Record(s) Held: Most career passing yards (77,163), most career pass completions (6,848), most career touchdown passes (544), Highest career completion percentage, (67.6) most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (54), most 5,000 yard passing seasons (5)
From a statistical standpoint, Drew Brees is the best NFL quarterback in NFL history. He lets his numbers do the talking and has had or has nearly every NFL record for the game, single-season, and career quarterback stats. His numbers are consistent. Since 2006, he has only had 1 season in which he didn’t throw for over 4,000 yards. These numbers put Brees at a top of the statistical leaderboards year after year.
Although his off-the-charts numbers make a great argument for best-ever, Brees’ teams haven’t produced. This can also be an argument against his numbers. Because he has played on bad teams, Brees played from behind most of the time, whereas many others on this list, who were accustomed to winning, usually just had to milk out the clock in the waning moments of a game.
.However, Brees has still put up big numbers on a consistent basis and no one can take that away from him. He has also achieved team success, including 7 division championships and a Super Bowl championship.
3. Peyton Manning
- Individual Awards: Super Bowl MVP (XLI), 5x NFL MVP (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013), 3x NFL passing yards leader (2000, 2003, 2013), 4x NFL passing touchdowns leader (200, 2004, 2006, 2013)
- Team Accomplishments: 2x Super Bowl Champion (XLI, L), 4x Conference Champion (2006, 2009, 2013, 2015), 12x Division Champion (1999, 2003-2007, 2009, 2010, 2012-2015)
- Record(s) Held: NFL passing touchdowns in a season (55), most passing yards in a season (5,477), most MVP awards (5), most Pro Bowls (14, tied for 1st), career passing yards (71,940, 3rd), career passing touchdowns (538, tied for 2nd)
Peyton Manning is as well-rounded as it gets. He was on many great teams and produced big numbers year after year. He also won an NFL record 5 MVP awards, no one else has won even 4.
His 2013 season was one of the greatest years an NFL quarterback has ever had as he led the Denver Broncos to become one of the greatest offenses in NFL history.
When he retired, Manning also held career NFL records in passing yards and passing touchdowns. As a part of the Broncos and Indianapolis Colts, Manning was impressive. He won 12 division championships, 4 conference championships, and 2 Super Bowls. The only thing Manning lacks compared to the guys ahead of him are Super Bowls.
Manning only won 2 and his 2nd was mostly accredited to his defense. Manning was still a fierce quarterback who impacted the game, even when his physical attributes diminished.
2. Joe Montana
- Individual Awards: 3x Super Bowl MVP, XVI, XIX, XXIV), 8x Pro Bowl (1981, 1983-1985, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1993), 2x NFL MVP (1989, 1990), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1989)
- Team Accomplishments: 4x Super Bowl Champion (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV), 4x Conference Champion (1981, 1984, 1988, 1994), 10x Division Champion (1981, 1983, 1984, 1986-1990, 1992, 1993)
- Record(s) Held: Career game-winning drives (28, 20th), Super Bowl Victories (4, tied for 2nd)
When you talk about the best quarterbacks in NFL history, you must mention Joe Montana.
When he retired, Montana ranked 5th all-time in career game-winning drives. Also, his 4 Super Bowls were tied for the most all-time until Tom Brady won his 5th Super Bowl. Speaking of, Montana was lights out during the big game. He never threw an interception en route to winning all 4 of his Super Bowl appearances.
Montana was considered the greatest quarterback in NFL history for years. His success with the 49ers made them the team to beat while he was with them. After his success with the 49ers, Montana went to the Kansas City Chiefs where he won another division title. This proved he could have success elsewhere.
1. Tom Brady
- Individual Awards: 4x Super Bowl MVP (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XLIX, LI), 3x NFL MVP (2007, 2010, 2017), 14x Pro Bowl (2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009-2018), 2x NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2007, 2010)
- Team Accomplishments: (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LI, LIII), 9x Conference Champion (2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2016-2018), 16x Division Champion (2001, 2003-2007, 2009-2018)
- Record(s) Held: Super Bowl wins (6), Postseason wins (30), total wins (248), most Pro Bowls (14, tied for 1st)
Tom Brady has won more than any other quarterbacks in NFL history. He has accomplished everything there is to accomplish and has continued to play at a high level into his 40s.
Also, Brady owns nearly every important postseason and Super Bowl quarterback record, making him undeniably the best postseason quarterback ever. His ability to play well during clutch moments along with his longevity has set him apart from the rest of the field.
It seems as if the only records Brady won’t break are a few career records, like passing yards, and touchdowns. He’ll likely finish 2nd in both of these categories.