There is perhaps no greater or more important debate among NFL fans than the best quarterbacks of all time. It’s easily the most important position in sports, which is part of the reason why there is intense debate over who belongs to be considered among the top quarterbacks of all time.

These types of discussions get far more heated and complicated than the debate over the greatest tight ends or the best running backs of all time.

Best quarterbacks of all time

Part of the problem is that the debate over the greatest quarterbacks ever is fluid. Every year, new quarterbacks burst onto the scene while other quarterbacks improve their resumes and make an argument to move up on the list of the best quarterbacks of all time.

While our list isn’t written in stone and remains up for debate, we decided to put together a list of the 25 greatest QBs in NFL history.

25. Eli Manning

He certainly isn’t as highly regarded as his brother, but Eli Manning deserves a lot of credit for the career he put together. If nothing else, he knew how to show up in big games, leading the Giants to two Super Bowl wins and being named Super Bowl MVP in both games.

       

He also set the record for the most passing yards in a single postseason during the 2011 run. Don’t forget that Manning is a four-time Pro Bowler. Despite leading the league in interceptions three times, the younger Manning brother was on slouch when it came to arm talent.

24. Sammy Baugh

Back in the day of two-way players, Sammy Baugh was a quarterback, safety, and even a punter. His propensity for interceptions aside, Baugh led the league in passer rating five times and passing yards four times.

He also won Player of the Year honors in back-to-back years during the backside of his career after leading Washington to two NFL championships early in his career, including his rookie season. While it’s hard to compare players of different generations, Baugh needs to be mentioned among the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

23. Len Dawson

Len Dawson’s Hall of Fame career spans both the AFL and the NFL, and when you add up his time in both leagues, you get one heck of a career. While he only made the Pro Bowl once, Dawson was a six-time AFL All-Star, leading the league in completion percentage seven times, passer rating six times, and passing touchdowns four times while also winning AFL MVP honors in 1962.

Of course, Dawson was also the MVP of Super Bowl IV, leading the Chiefs to a victory over the Vikings to put the cherry on top of a great career.

22. Kurt Warner

It’s impossible not to put a two-time MVP like Kurt Warner on a list of the best quarterbacks ever. Considering his journey in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe before getting a chance to start in his late 20s makes his career even more remarkable.

Between 1999 and 2001, Warner was hands-down the best quarterback in the game. He may not have stayed at the top of his game for long, but the things he did during those years were incredible. He also closed his career with a couple of good seasons with the Cardinals, making the Pro Bowl in 2008 and then throwing a record 11 touchdown passes in a single postseason, nearly leading Arizona to a win in the Super Bowl.

21. Terry Bradshaw

His three Pro Bowl selections might pail in comparison to some other great quarterbacks, but his four Super Bowl wins say a lot about how good Terry Bradshaw was.

Keep in mind that he was Super Bowl MVP in two of those four wins and also won MVP honors in 1978 during one of the two seasons he led the league in passing touchdowns. Similar to some of the great quarterbacks of his era, Bradshaw threw nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns and didn’t have a strong completion percentage.

However, there aren’t many quarterbacks of any generation with four Super Bowl rings.

20. Jim Kelly

For a while, Jim Kelly was the leader of one of the most prolific offenses the NFL had ever seen. The Bills owned the AFC during the early 90s, and Kelly was a big reason why. He was pulling the strings on an offense that couldn’t be stopped until the Bills reached the Super Bowl, losing the big game in four straight years.

Obviously, losing those four games is one of the few blemishes on Kelly’s resume. But not many quarterbacks have taken their team to four Super Bowls or been selected to five Pro Bowls, putting Kelly among the best quarterbacks ever.

19. Troy Aikman

As the leader of a dynasty, Troy Aikman needs to be among the top quarterbacks ever. In addition to leading the Cowboys to three Super Bowl wins, Aikman was one of the elite quarterbacks of the early 90s, going to six straight Pro Bowls during the early part of his career.

Not many quarterbacks can claim that. Unfortunately, injuries got the better of him and cut his career short. But during his prime, Aikman proved that he was just as good as any quarterback of his generation.

18. Russell Wilson

Even though his career isn’t over yet, Russell Wilson has surely done enough to be included among some of the best quarterbacks ever. He spent the first decade of his career with the Seahawks, going to nine Pro Bowls in 10 seasons, helping Seattle win a Super Bowl, and coming up one yard and one pass short of leading the Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowl wins.

While playing at the same time as some of the most legendary quarterbacks in NFL history has made it hard for Wilson to stand out at times, no quarterback won more games during his first nine seasons in the league than Wilson. He’s also among a small handful of quarterbacks with a career passer rating over 100. As long as that remains the case by the time he retires, Wilson should remain among the top quarterbacks in NFL history.

17. Ben Roethlisberger

With his career now fully in the books, it’s safe to say that Ben Roethlisberger stacks up well against some of the best quarterbacks of all time. True to his nickname of Big Ben, Roethlisberger was a tall and strong quarterback with a great game.

He helped the Steelers to win two Super Bowls and was a six-time Pro Bowler. Roethlisberger was also Offensive Rookie of the Year, going 13-0 as a starter during his rookie season. That set the tone for a great career, which included 25 game-winning drives and a record four games in which he had 500-plus passing yards.

16. Warren Moon

Even if you don’t include everything that Warren Moon accomplished in the CFL, he still has the type of career that would put most quarterbacks to shame. He played six years in Canada, leading Edmonton to five straight Grey Cup titles before getting his chance with the Oilers. All he did after that was spend 17 seasons in the NFL, going to nine Pro Bowls, including eight in a row, and leading the league in passing yards twice.

In terms of winning games, Moon was just 102-101 as a starter in the NFL. But he was consistently one of the best quarterbacks in the league for over a decade and even won Offensive Player of the Year honors in 1990, so he deserves a special place among the best quarterbacks ever.

15. Fran Tarkenton

Minnesota fans will always hold Fran Tarkenton in high esteem, and so should the rest of the football world. He spent 18 seasons in the league, most of them with the Vikings and most of them as a starter, giving Tarkenton an impressive amount of longevity.

During that time, Tarkenton was invited to nine Pro Bowls and actually had some of his best seasons late in his career. He led the league in passing in his final season and led the NFL in completion percentage in his penultimate season, not to mention his MVP in 1975 at the age of 35. Tarkenton remains a great example of a Hall of Famer who showed an impressive amount of consistency throughout his career, even if he never won the big game.

14. Otto Graham

If you turn back the clock enough, you’ll find Otto Graham and quickly understand why he deserves to be mentioned among the top quarterbacks of all time. Before the Browns were a franchise known for losing and dysfunction, Graham helped them to win three NFL championships while also winning MVP honors three times.

His list of accolades is quite long, as Graham was undoubtedly the premier passer of his generation. He still holds the NFL record for averaging nine yards per pass attempt throughout his career while also leading the league in passing yards five times. During the first half of the 1950s, there was nobody better than Graham, and frankly, nobody was close.

13. Bart Starr

In the history of the Packers, Bart Starr only ranks third on the list of the greatest quarterbacks in franchise history. But that also puts him rather high on the all-time list. After all, we’re talking about the guy who was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls and led the Packers to five NFL championships, including three in a row.

No other quarterback has led a team to three straight championships, so in terms of winning games, Starr stacks up well against just about everyone else. Obviously, his overall numbers don’t quite measure up to the ridiculous numbers posted by modern quarterbacks. But Starr led the NFL in passer rating five times and completion percentage four times, making him arguably the best of his generation and one of the best ever.

12. Steve Young

Who knows what Steve Young could have accomplished if he didn’t have to wait until his 30s to become a full-time starter? Nevertheless, Young made the most of his time, leading the NFL in passer rating six times, completion percentage five times, and touchdowns four times.

Somehow, he did all of that in just an eight-year period while also making seven consecutive Pro Bowls and winning Super Bowl MVP honors. While Young didn’t have a chance to play as many games as other legendary quarterbacks, he still ranks highly on the all-time list regarding completion percentage and passer rating. He also ended his career with an impressive 94-49 record as a starter despite a 2-12 year with the Buccaneers early in his career.

11. Roger Staubach

Roger Staubach is one of the best examples of a quarterback whose resume is somewhat incomplete. He attended the Naval Academy and served in Vietnam, meaning he didn’t join the Cowboys until 1969, which was five years after Dallas drafted him.

But even in a somewhat abbreviated career, Staubach led the Cowboys to two Super Bowl wins and was a six-time Pro Bowler. He was one of the first quarterbacks to earn the nickname “Captain Comeback” because of his ability to step up in the fourth quarter, leading the Cowboys to 23-game winning drives in the fourth quarter during his 11 seasons in the league.

10. Patrick Mahomes

After just five seasons as a full-time starter, it’s clear that Patrick Mahomes is already one of the best quarterbacks of all time. With two Super Bowl rings and two MVPs, Mahomes already has a resume that’s better than many other legendary quarterbacks.

When all is said, he could easily end up being at the top of this list. However, he’s not quite there yet. Nevertheless, everything he’s done over the last handful of years suggests that he’s a truly generational talent and will spend the next 10 years working his way up the list of the best quarterbacks of all time.

9. Dan Marino

Whether it’s fair or not, Dan Marino will forever be remembered as arguably the best quarterback to never win a Super Bowl. But despite not having a ring, Marino is still counted among the best quarterbacks of all time.

During his second season in the league in 1984, Marino put together one of the most impressive seasons any quarterback ever has, throwing for over 5,000 yards and 48 touchdowns while winning MVP honors. Marino maintained a high level of play for more than a decade after that, ultimately going to nine Pro Bowls and leading the NFL in passing yards five times. Other than his lack of a Super Bowl win, Marino stacks up well next to all but a few elite quarterbacks in NFL history.

8. Johnny Unitas

Despite being much older than most of the quarterbacks around him on this list, Johnny Unitas is still one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Known for having a golden arm, Unitas led the Colts to three NFL championships while winning MVP honors three times.

For four straight years during the prime of his career, Unitas led the NFL in passing touchdowns, in part because he threw at least one touchdown pass in 47 straight games, a record that stood for over 50 years.

Compared to 21st-century quarterbacks, Unitas had a lot of interceptions and a low completion percentage, which were normal for his era. But if we overlook those shortcomings, Unitas deserves to be held in high esteem.

7. Brett Favre

Between his arm strength and his longevity, Brett Favre is undoubtedly among the top quarterbacks of all time. He spent 20 seasons in the league and won close to 200 games, including a Super Bowl. During the prime of his career, Favre won MVP honors in three consecutive seasons, which is a feat that no other player in NFL history has ever matched.

The drawback with Favre is that he’s the NFL’s all-time leader in both interceptions and fumbles (although not fumbles lost), which is the case in part because he played for so long. But while Favre had an undeniable propensity for turnovers, the good far outweighed the bad, which is why he was an 11-time Pro Bowler and a Green Bay legend.

6. Drew Brees

Despite being shorter than the average quarterback, Drew Brees didn’t let that stop him from being an elite quarterback throughout his long NFL career. Outside of only winning one Super Bowl ring, it’s hard to find too many things wrong with his career. Brees went to 13 Pro Bowls during his career and ended his career with several NFL records. Perhaps most impressively, he once had a 54-game streak with at least one touchdown pass.

Brees also led the league in passing seven times, which is more than any other quarterback. Late in his career, Brees set the single-season record for completion percentage, connecting on 74.4% of his passes in 2018. Of course, that was just one of seven seasons in which Brees completed at least 70% of his passes, proving to be one of the most accurate passers in NFL history, putting him among the best quarterbacks of all time.

5. John Elway

By winning back-to-back Super Bowls in his final two seasons, John Elway helped to catapult himself among the best of the best. Of course, he was always going to end up among the best quarterbacks of all time. Elway had a cannon of an arm, used his legs effectively long before most quarterbacks had that in their arsenal, and had a propensity for leading last-minute drives to win games.

In fact, many consider Elway to be the best ever at orchestrating comeback wins, most notably “The Drive” in the 1986 AFC Championship Game. With his two Super Bowl wins to cap off a career that included MVP honors in 1987 and nine Pro Bowls, Elway deserves to be considered among the best.

4. Aaron Rodgers

With four MVP Awards to his name, including a couple late in his career, Aaron Rodgers has surely established himself among the greatest QBs in NFL history, even before he retires. Despite some disappointing results in the playoffs over the years, Rodgers has long been praised for his accuracy and precision.

No quarterback in NFL history has been as good as Rodgers at preventing interceptions, doing so without sacrificing big plays. Rodgers has been to 10 Pro Bowls and led the league in passer rating four times. But with four MVPs to his name and some brilliant years after the age of 35, Rodgers belongs in elite company.

3. Joe Montana

Only the most special players in NFL history can rank above Joe Montana as the greatest QBs in NFL history, which is why he ranks third on our list. Montana is a great example of a quarterback who got the most out of his talent and abilities by being among the smartest and most clutch quarterbacks in NFL history.

He was the main catalyst in the 49ers becoming a dynasty during the 1980s with four Super Bowl wins. Toward the end of that dynasty, Montana won back-to-back MVP Awards. In fact, his 1989 remains one of the best single-season performances of any NFL player.

Keep in mind that he was Super Bowl MVP in three of San Francisco’s four wins, as Montana always seemed to save his best for the biggest moments.

2. Peyton Manning

If he could have won more playoff games and more than two Super Bowls (especially since the Denver defense won the second one for him), Peyton Manning would have had a stronger argument for being at the top of our list of the greatest quarterbacks ever.

No quarterback in NFL history has showcased Manning’s intellectual mastery of the game. It was truly a thing of beauty to watch, and you had to have seen Manning in his prime to appreciate it.

He could read, understand, and manipulate opposing defenses better than any other quarterback in NFL history. That’s what allowed him to win five MVP Awards and lead arguably the most prolific offense in NFL history while with the Broncos in 2013, just two years after sitting out a full season because of multiple neck surgeries. Manning’s 55 touchdown passes and over 5,400 passing yards that year remain single-season NFL records and yet just scratch the surface of what makes him an all-time legend.

1. Tom Brady

He may not be the most talented quarterback to ever play the game, but there should be no question Tom Brady is the best. Even if you don’t like Brady because you root for a team that he beat time and time again while building a dynasty in New England, you have to admit that he’s the best of all time.

The goal of football is to win games, and Brady did that better than anyone, winning seven Super Bowls during his career. More importantly, his team usually won because of him, which is why he was Super Bowl MVP five times and league MVP on three occasions.

The guy also played for more than two decades and was still going strong deep into his 40s. Between his longevity, the seven rings, and the incredible amount of consistency that Brady had during his time in the league, every football fan should be able to admit that Brady is the best quarterback in NFL history.

1 thought on “25 greatest quarterbacks in NFL history”

  1. Mahomes way to early. not top 50 yet At least 50 qb’s had better careers than troy and roger. Montana is my favorite but better than Brady, Manning or Farve? Joe’s 24th in my research. Too much emphasis on the super bowl. Hadl, Fouts, Brees, Rivers are all top 20 qb’s, but Stan Humphries the only Charger Qb ever in the super bowl. Wouldn’t rate Stan ahead of the other 4. Joe was very good in the post-season, but Bart Starr was the best. You could look it up.

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