The Best Quarterbacks In NFL History, Ranked
Football fans have spent countless hours in sports bars on Sunday afternoons arguing about how do the all-time best quarterbacks stack up against each other. While many great signal-callers like Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, or Drew Bress appear on everyone’s lists, it’s where they fall in the rankings that makes the conversation get heated.
QBs who have great stats but have no titles to show for it, like Dan Fouts or Jim Kelly, are hard to measure up against players such as Terry Bradshaw or Joe Namath, who are Super Bowl winners but weren’t overly impressive in their careers. Check out these rankings and try not to be too upset when you see who have been deemed the best quarterbacks in NFL history…
#30 – Phil Simms
Phil Simms is an example of a quarterback who was able to overcome injuries and have quite the memorable career. The New York Giants’ first round pick of the 1979 draft didn’t have a great first few years, but finally came into his own in 1984, throwing for over 4,000 yards, and nearly that amount over the next several seasons.
In the 1987 Super Bowl (XXI) against the Denver Broncos, he led the Giants to a huge victory, completing 88% of his 25 passes, throwing for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns. Many have considered it one of the best performances in Super Bowl history.
#29 – Philip Rivers
Having retired before the 2021 season, Philip Rivers is maybe one of the more surprising names on the list. But considering he is top-5 in both passing yards (63,440) and passing touchdowns (421) all-time, people may not realize how consistent his numbers really were.
Rivers consistently put up stats with the Chargers but could never get over the hump of winning in the playoffs. His team’s lack of titles puts him on this list, but rightfully at the tail-end of it.
#28 – Ken Stabler
Ken Stabler was the epitome of the rough and rugged Raiders of the 1970s. He led the team to 5 consecutive AFC title games, finally winning the Super Bowl in 1977.
Stabler was known as one of the most accurate passers of all-time when he retired in 1984. Not only that, but he was a premier come-from-behind specialist, with 26 game-winning drives to his credit.
#27 – Steve McNair
Steve McNair’s resume is one of the most underrated out there. He was one of the few pros to come out of Alcorn State, and won the 2003 league MVP award with the Tennessee Titans.
He is perhaps best known for the magical season of 1999 and nearly beating Kurt Warner’s Rams in the final seconds. Just a single yard short of a Super Bowl title with the Titans, McNair never returned to the big game. But he made his name as a dynamic dual-threat QB, with 30,000+ yards through the air and another 3,500+ on the ground.
#26 – Bob Griese
Bob Griese tends to be a bit forgotten in terms of being a great Miami Dolphins’ quarterback, mostly because of the legacy that Dan Marino left behind. But he did what Marino never could, which was win a pair of Super Bowl titles.
Aside for being a vital part of the legendary 1972 team that went undefeated, Griese had such a winning pedigree that he became the first quarterback to start 3 consecutive Super Bowls. With more than 25,000 yards passing and nearly 200 yards, his legacy isn’t as revered as it should be.
#25 – Len Dawson
Len Dawson was a winner, both in the AFL and NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs. He won AFL titles in 1962 and 1966 before winning a Super Bowl title to cap it off. From 1962-69, he threw an impressive 182 touchdown passes, the most of anyone during that span.
Dawson was known as one of the most accurate quarterbacks of his time. His seven Pro Bowl appearances and four times being at the top of most touchdowns per season prove what a winner he was.
#24 – Joe Namath
“Broadway Joe” Namath was arguably as big a name off the field as he was on it. While he was a media darling known for his humor, good looks, and fashion, he also proved himself on the gridiron as well.
He won a title in 1968 for the Jets and threw over 4,000 yards, but he showed skeptics his worth in Super Bowl III. He guaranteed a win (and later secured it) against the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts, marking one of the greatest upsets in sports. The next time he’d play Baltimore, he threw for six touchdowns and nearly 500 passing yards against boyhood hero and legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas.
#23 – Jim Kelly
The leader of the Buffalo Bills’ “K-Gun” offense, Jim Kelly is the only quarterback in history to lead a team to four straight Super Bowls. Of course, if he had won a single one of them, his legacy may be different.
Still, Kelly finished in the top-10 in just about every significant category when he retired despite playing just 11 years in the NFL. He remains one of the biggest “what if” cases in football as fans wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t started out in the USFL.
#22 – Eli Manning
While many might not put him on the list, Eli Manning was indeed one of the most successful quarterbacks. Leading the New York Giants to two Super Bowl titles in four years, with one coming at the expense of the New England Patriots’ dynasty, he secured his place in history.
Playoff-success aside, he also holds the second-longest streak for a quarterback to start, at 210 games. Additionally, he is in the top-10 for passing yards (57,023) completions (4,895), and touchdowns (366), proving that this other Manning brother certainly made a name for himself during his career.
#21 – Warren Moon
Statistically-speaking, there are few quarterbacks that can match Warren Moon’s resume. Best-known for his time with the Houston Oilers, Moon made 9 Pro Bowl trips and earned an Offensive Player of the Year award in 1990.
At the time of his retirement in 2000, he was in the top 5 in passing yards with 49,325 but the numbers get even more gaudy when you include his USFL totals as well. He was a true gunslinger in every sense of the word.
#20 – Sammy Baugh
Having the name “Slingin’” probably means you’re considered to be a pretty god quarterback. But Sammy Baugh didn’t even start at the position, though he would eventually play as a defensive back and punter as well during his time with Washington.
As a member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class, he led the league in completion percentage a whopping 7 times. He also led the league in interceptions in 1943 and won 4 punting titles, proving he could do it all.
#19 – Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner’s tale is one of the greatest stories in football history, going from grocery store clerk to Super Bowl MVP. It’s no wonder that a movie about his life, called American Underdog, is coming out at the end of 2021.
Warner was active just 9 seasons but made the most of that short time. He is only 1 of 2 quarterbacks to make the Hall of Fame without ever being drafted, leading the Rams “greatest show on turf.” He tied Dan Marino for the fastest to 30,000 yards (114 games), won a pair of MVPs, and a Super Bowl title.
#18 – Terry Bradshaw
Terry Bradshaw’s regular season numbers don’t jump out anymore, especially in an era of inflated passing numbers. But when he retired in 1983, there was no doubt that he was one of the best playoff performers ever.
He retired having won 4 Super Bowl championships with the Steelers, for starters. But his Super Bowl records (at the time) of passing yards (932) and touchdowns (9) is what made him a legendary signal caller.
#17 – Roger Staubach
Roger Staubach had the nickname “Captain America,” and was naturally the face of the Dallas Cowboys when they became “America’s Team” in the 1970s.
With 6 Pro Bowls and a pair of Super Bowl titles, Staubach became the first of 4 players to win a Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl MVP in his career. His stats are a reflection of the time, but there is little doubt he belongs on this list.
#16 – Ben Roethlisberger
Though he is still playing, Ben Roethlisberger may have one of the most underrated careers ever. But the 6-time Pro Bowler showed what kind of quarterback he was by becoming the youngest QB in history to win a Super Bowl, at the age of 23.
He set the tone early, winning his first 15 regular season starts and collecting the most wins over his first 5 seasons with the Steelers with 51 victories. He has slowed down in recent years, but he is now in the top 10 in all-time completions, yards, and touchdowns. While he has not confirmed it officially, it is rumored that Ben Roethlisberger is set to retire after the 2021 season.
#15 – Sid Luckman
Sid Luckman is one of the toughest names to gauge because having played in the 1940s, most people today didn’t see him play. But having 4 titles in 6 years for the Chicago Bears and being one of the most remembered name at the position for the franchise is pretty hard to ignore.
Luckman was also the first modern T-formation quarterback, becoming a pioneer in the game. He went down as second in yards per completion (16.2) and first in passing touchdown percentage (7.9%) when he retired in 1950.
#14 – Otto Graham
Otto Graham is another player before the AAFC-NFL merger that tends to get lost in the annals of time. But chew on this: Graham reached the league championship game in every single year that he was a Cleveland Brown. That equates to 4 AAFC championship games and 6 NFL championship games, winning 7 of those 10 titles.
Graham was the driving force behind the offense too. He led the league in passing yards twice and completion percentage 3 times, signifying his place as one of the best signal callers of his era.
#13 – Fran Tarkenton
Fran Tarkenton was perhaps the original dual-threat quarterback of a rusher and passer. Though Tarkenton could not lead the Vikings to a title, he did just about everything else in his time.
The 9-time Pro Bowler captured an MVP, and had the most completions, passing yards, and touchdowns at the time that he retired in 1978. Nearly 50 years later, he is still 6th all-time amongst quarterbacks in rushing yards, too.
#12 – Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers is very reminiscent of the Green Bay legend he replaced: Brett Favre. Arguably the most-talented quarterback in the league playing right now, Rodgers has 9 Pro Bowls, 3 MVPs, and a Super Bowl title to his name.
At 37 years old, he has shown no signs of slowing down. While before the 2021 season there was much talk about Rodgers moving on from Lambeau Field, Rodgers returned and has led the Packers to be as dominant as ever.
#11 – Bart Starr
Who would have thought a 17th round pick would become a Hall of Famer in Green Bay? Bart Starr is the first quarterback to win 5 championships, 3 of them being in the pre-Super Bowl era and then winning the first 2 Super Bowls ever.
His stats don’t jump off the charts, but that was more a product of the time. His league MVP award, 4 Pro Bowl appearances and 5 championships speak volumes about his legacy.
Now that we’ve gone through 20 great QBs so far, let’s see who deserves a spot in the top 10.
Honorable Mention – Matthew Stafford
Before jumping into the best 10 quarterbacks ever, let’s add some some names of play-callers who just missed the cut to be on this list, and landed just outside the ranks of the top 30 best quarterbacks of all time.
As the 2021 season has shown, if Matthew Stafford had played anywhere but Detroit for most of his career, he’d be on this list, easily. As the former first overall pick in the 2009 draft, he has an enviable resume despite being just 33 years old and been with a lackluster Lions team until 2021.
Stafford is closing in on 50,000 passing yards, has more than 300 touchdowns, and will only continue to climb the ranks as a member of the Rams. He helped receiver Cooper Kupp have a historic season with 145 receptions, 16 touchdowns, and nearly 2000 yards, and led the Rams to a Super Bowl LVI title. Now that Stafford has a ring, he will certainly get more respect.
Honorable Mention – Bobby Layne
Before Brett Favre, the original gunslinger was Bobby Layne. One of the pioneers of the game that we know today, leading the Detroit Lions to NFL championship titles in 1952 and 1953.
He led the league in passing yardage twice and made the Pro Bowl 6 times over his 15-year career. While his name doesn’t usually come up when it comes to great quarterbacks that come to mind, he played a much bigger role in the league than he was given credit for.
Honorable Mention – Tony Romo
Tony Romo had a relatively short career, only starting for about 10 seasons, but that didn’t stop him from excelling under center in Dallas. His 4 Pro Bowls between 2007 and 2014 put him among the best out there.
He also retired as one of the highest-rated passers ever, too. His inability to get Dallas past the divisional round of the playoffs is something that keeps him out of the top-30, and could keep him out of Canton.
Honorable Mention – Dan Fouts
One of the most prolific quarterbacks of his time, Dan Fouts was ahead of his time. He was the first quarter to top 4,800 yards in a season, breaking his own record of 4,715 the year prior.
As the NFL passing yards leader in four separate seasons, his dominance with the San Diego Chargers stood out in an era of the 1970s and 1980s that was known to be run-heavy. Like so many others on this list, he was never able to lead his team to a Super Bowl.
Honorable Mention – Rich Gannon
Rich Gannon was a bit of a late-bloomer. When he signed on with the Oakland Raiders, he was already 33 years old, having bounced around with a few teams before that.
With Oakland, he made 4 straight Pro Bowls, made a Super Bowl, and won the 2002 MVP. It’s hard to know what might have been for Gannon if he had been coached by Jon Gruden earlier.
Honorable Mention – Randall Cunningham
Michael Vick is usually the name that comes to mind when thinking of the first strong-rusher modern quarterbacks, but before him there was Randall Cunningham. Vick is the only name higher among QBs on the all-time rushing yardage list.
With 4 Pro Bowl appearances, Cunningham was as electrifying a quarterback as there ever was. If he could have captured a title in Philadelphia, he would have been that much more of a legend.
Honorable Mention – Norm Van Brocklin
Norm Van Brocklin is the former holder of the passing yardage record with 554 yards in a 1951 game. Though he split time with another Hall of Fame quarterback in Philadelphia from 1950 to 1952 (Bob Waterfield), his credentials can’t be denied.
With 9 Pro Bowls and an MVP to go with his 1951 NFL championship, Van Brocklin is one of the pioneers of the game. He doesn’t get the love that he deserves but has definitely established his place in history.
Honorable Mention – Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan is one of the most surprising names that you will find on any passing list. Having been a consistent performer in Atlanta for years, he is perhaps most well-known for the epic 28-3 collapse the Falcons had against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
But despite not having much playoff success with the Falcons, he has an MVP title under his belt. He also has 50,000 passing yards, which is a number that is climbing every year. He will likely end up in the top 5 of every significant passing category when he finally hangs it up.
Honorable Mention – Y.A. Tittle
Y.A. Tittle was one of the early greats at the position during his time with the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants. The 7-time Pro Bowl quarterback was one of the early gunslingers of his time, ending his career with more interceptions (248) than touchdowns (242).
Still, he won an AP MVP, made 3 first team All-Pro appearances, and was near the top of every significant passing category. He even threw 36 touchdowns at age 37, breaking his own single-season record.
Honorable Mention – Donovan McNabb
When you think of quarterbacks of the early 2000s, McNabb is right at the top of the list. His 6 Pro Bowls spoke volumes about his play as a real dual-threat QB.
But like Jim Kelly, McNabb became known for what he couldn’t do: get a title. He led the Eagles to 4-consecutive NFC title games, culminating in his only appearance in the Super Bowl – a loss to a young Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Honorable Mention – Patrick Mahomes
If Patrick Mahomes’ name being listed on here feels premature, it probably is, especially given his decline in performance during the 2021 season. Nevertheless, there is no denying what Mahomes has done in his short time in the league.
After only a few seasons, he already has an MVP, two Super Bowl appearances, including one victory under his belt. He tends to make throws that would only be found in video games look routine, and his talent is certainly impressive.
#10 – Steve Young
Steve Young might be the most notable dual-threat quarterback before it became commonplace just after his retirement. Young was just as dangerous with his feet as he was with his arm. When he hung up his cleats in 1999, he had the highest-rated passer of all-time at 96.8, which he has since been passed.
Young went to 7 Pro Bowls and managed to escape Joe Montana’s shadow in San Francisco with a Super Bowl victory and a pair of league MVPs. He also managed to continue the epic connection that Montana shared with legendary wide receiver Jerry Rice.
#9 – Troy Aikman
It can be a tough choice deciding which of the Dallas quarterbacks have been the most dominant, while Dak Prescott is currently making a name for himself.. Aikman’s stats were good enough to get him to 6 Pro Bowls, but it is his winning pedigree that lands on this elite list.
Aikman won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years as part of the early 1990s Dallas dynasty. His 90-regular season victories throughout the ’90s were the most in a single decade until Peyton Manning amassed 115 in the 2000s.
#8 – Dan Marino
Dan Marino might be the original superstar QB. The biggest detriment against him is his entire career on the Miami Dolphins, he never won a Super Bowl during his 17-year career.
The list of his accomplishments is stunning. When he retired from the NFL in 1999, he was the career leader in passing yards, touchdowns, and completions. He was also the only quarterback with a 5,000-yard season under his belt prior to Drew Brees’ 2008 season.
#7 – Drew Brees
Drew Brees is amazingly underrated in terms of his career numbers, having retired after the 2020 season. Despite being the first person to crack the 80,000 yard mark, he always lived in the shadows of stud QBs Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Brees collected a Super Bowl ring with the New Orleans Saints. While Philip Rivers was chosen to stay and had an admirable career, the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers must have regretted not holding on to Brees. His 67.7% completion percentage is the best of non-active players, making him one of the most accurate quarterbacks to ever play the game.
#6 – Brett Favre
Brett Favre set the tone for the Packers’ dominance during much of the ’90s. His 3 MVPs set the benchmark before Peyton Manning eclipsed the mark. It’s also hard to argue with being the first QB to throw 500 touchdowns and pass for more than 70,000 yards in a career.
There was never a window Favre couldn’t hit, making him arguably the most clutch and precise QBs of all time. If he had won more than a single title during his time in Green Bay, he likely would have cracked the top 3.
#5 – Johnny Unitas
Johnny Unitas was dominant in a time before the NFL was appointment viewing. Another multi-year MVP, he was considered to be the greatest to do it when he hung his cleats up in 1974.
The first to throw for more than 40,000 yards and to have 3 MVPs while with the Baltimore Colts, he also held the mark for most consecutive games with a TD pass (47) until it was broken by Drew Brees.
#4 – Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning happens to be one of the rare examples of a first overall pick who ended up providing that value. Manning was named the league’s MVP five times, winning the Super Bowl twice, and set a slew of records during his time in the league.
For most of his career he was truly dominant with the Indianapolis Colts, but it’s even more impressive that Manning’s last few seasons with the Denver Broncos were also incredibly noteworthy. He has since been passed in both records, but when he retired, he had the most career passing yards and touchdown passes of all-time.
#3 – John Elway
Known as one of the greatest come-from-behind players of all-time, John Elway began his career with legendary expectations and didn’t disappoint. Despite a long-time reputation of coming up short of titles in the ’80s and most of the ’90s, Elway claimed an MVP and 9 Pro Bowls.
But it was how he went out that he will be most remembered. The legendary QB led the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl wins in his final two years before riding off into the sunset. It was a true storybook ending for someone who is probably glad he didn’t end up playing baseball for the New York Yankees.
#2 – Joe Montana
Joe Montana was on another level than everyone else in the 1980s when it came to competitiveness. He wasn’t the most talented guy on the field, but he just flat out won. He won a quartet of Super Bowl rings, and was named the MVP in three of those big games.
When he retired, he had the most wins as a quarterback. His run with the 49ers included 8 Pro Bowl selections when they still meant something and a pair of MVP awards, too. Helped pioneer the West Coast offense alongside Bill Walsh. When he retired, his career passer rating was 92.3, second only to his successor Steve Young.
#1 – Tom Brady
What can be said about Tom Brady that hasn’t already been said? You could split his career three different segments during his time in New England and come up with a Hall of Fame resume for each of them. That’s not even to mention his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In case you weren’t aware, he holds the record with 7 Super Bowl wins as well as a record for 10 Super Bowl appearances. He’s been the league MVP three times as well. The ageless wonder recently crossed the 600-touchdown mark, and may aim to get to 700 after he announced his “un-retirement” in March 2022, saying he had “unfinished business.” Love him or hate him, he’s The GOAT. Hands down.