Top 10 best quarterbacks in NFL history
Quarterbacks are the heart of any NFL offence. They are responsible for calling plays, reading different defensive schemes and leading their team downfield to score points.
Ultimately, the success or failure of a team depends on the performance of their quarterback, who also happens to be the most highly respected and criticized member of the team.
There have been plenty of world-class quarterbacks in the history of the NFL who have graced the league with their presence.
However, some have stood out more than others due to a variety of reasons.
Here, we take a look at the 10 best quarterbacks in NFL history:
#10. John Elway
Career stats: 51,475 yards; 56.9 completion percentage; 7.1 yards/attempt; 300 TDs; 226 interceptions; 3.1 interception percentage; 79.9 passer rating
Accolades: Two-time Super Bowl champion; Super Bowl XXXIII MVP; 1987 NFL MVP; nine-time Pro Bowler; two-time AFC Offensive Player of the Year
Teams: Denver Broncos (1983-1998)
Much was expected of John Elway when he was drafted with the first overall pick of the 1983 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos.
However, despite showing plenty of promise initially, it looked like Elway was destined to be a bust when he ended up losing three Super Bowl.
However, he responded in style and led the Broncos to the title in back-to-back seasons before calling time on a Hall of Fame career.
Elway is best remembered for his ability to deliver in crunch time and also his speed to avoid pressure. He has four fourth-quarter comebacks and six game-winning drives to his name in his playoff career and also scored a rushing touchdown in four different Super Bowls, becoming the only player in NFL history to achieve such a feat.
#9. Brett Favre
Career stats: 71,838 yards; 62.0 completion percentage; 7.1 yards/attempt; 508 TDs; 336 interceptions; 3.3 interception percentage; 86.0 passer rating
Accolades: Super Bowl XXXI champion; 11-time Pro Bowler; three-time NFL MVP; 1995 NFL Offensive Player of the Year
Teams: Atlanta Falcons (1991); Green Bay Packers (1992-2007); New York Jets (2008); Minnesota Vikings (2009-2010)
Brett Favre was credited for bringing the Green Bay Packers back to relevancy and laying the foundations for the Aaron Rodgers era.
Favre wasn’t the most accurate of quarterbacks – his interception percentage is among the highest in the league’s history – but he still managed a whopping 508 touchdowns and 86 passer rating.
He led the Packers to one Super Bowl triumph, but is best remembered for his streak of 297 consecutive starts and three consecutive MVP victories.
At the time of his retirement, Favre was in the top five all-time in career passing touchdowns, passing yards, pass attempts and completions.
#8. Aaron Rodgers
Career stats: 46,407 yards; 64.7 completion percentage; 7.8 yards/attempt; 362 TDs; 82 interceptions; 1.4 interception percentage; 102.9 passer rating
Accolades: Super Bowl XLV champion; Super Bowl XLV MVP; eight-time Pro Bowler; two-time NFL MVP
Teams: Green Bay Packers (2005-present)
Surrounded by better talent, Aaron Rodgers would have a case for being considered among the top three quarterbacks of all time.
His powerful arm coupled with his uncanny ability to avoid sacks and read coverages make him among the most dangerous quarterbacks to have ever graced the NFL. However, despite all his talent, Rodgers managed just one Super Bowl victory, back in 2010.
Nevertheless, in terms of pure pocket presence and throwing ability, Rodgers in unmatched, as evidenced by his 102.9 passer rating which is the best in NFL history.
His touchdown to interception ratio is also unmatched in the NFL and at the time of writing, Rodgers has thrown for 46,407 yards. He is also an eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL MVP, and with plenty of time left in his career, he will be looking to add to those totals.
#7. Roger Staubach
Career stats: 22,700 yards; 57.0 completion percentage; 7.7 yards/attempt; 153 TDs; 109 interceptions; 3.7 interception percentage; 83.4 passer rating
Accolades: Two-time Super Bowl champion; Super Bowl VI MVP; six-time Pro Bowler
Teams: Dallas Cowboys (1969-1979)
What makes Roger Staubach’s numbers so impressive is the fact that he began his career only at the age of 27.
Staubach served in the US Navy in Vietnam before returning from duty and joining the Dallas Cowboys, who he represented for 11 seasons.
In those 11 years, Staubach threw for a whopping 22,700 yards with 153 touchdowns, leading Dallas to two Super Bowl triumphs.
Staubach led the league in passer rating four times and finished his career with an 85-29 record, among the best winning % in NFL history.
#6. Dan Marino
Career stats: 61,361 yards; 59.4 completion percentage; 7.3 yards/attempt; 420 TDs; 252 interceptions; 3.0 interception percentage; 86.4 passer rating
Accolades: 1984 NFL MVP; nine-time Pro Bowler; 1984 NFL Offensive Player of the Year; 1983 NFL Rookie of the Year
Teams: Miami Dolphins (1983-1999)
Dan Marino will forever be remembered for his failure to lead his side to a championship. In that regard, he is the greatest quarterback to have never won a ring.
Marino was drafted by the Miami Dolphins back in 1983 and had a great first season, winning the Rookie of the Year award.
He had an even better sophomore year, leading his side to the postseason and winning the MVP award for his efforts.
Marino was famous for his extremely quick release and ability to read coverages and defensive schemes. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler and managed to elevate his teammates whenever he took the field.
In 17 seasons with the Dolphins, he led them to 10 postseason appearances. However, due to the lack of a supporting cast, Marino never managed to hoist aloft the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Nevertheless, he remains one of the most prolific quarterbacks of all time, finishing his career with 61,361 passing yards and 420 touchdowns.
#5. Peyton Manning
Career stats: 71,940 yards; 65.3 completion percentage; 7.7 yards/attempt; 539 TDs; 251 interceptions; 2.7 interception percentage; 96.5 passer rating
Accolades: Two-time Super Bowl champion; Super Bowl XLI MVP; 14-time Pro Bowler; five-time NFL MVP; two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year
Teams: Indianapolis Colts (1998-2011), Denver Broncos (2012-15)
Peyton Manning set the tone for all future quarterbacks with some stellar play during the course of his 17-year career. He was the epitome of consistency and threw for at least 3,700 yards in 16 of 17 seasons in the league.
Manning also put together the best passing season in NFL history, throwing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns in 2013 during his time with the Broncos.
Manning possessed most of the qualities of an idea quarterback: he was loud at the line of scrimmage, he had a great feel for pressure and he had an uncanny knack for avoiding sacks.
He went on to win two Super Bowls and was also named the league MVP on five different occasions.
#4. Drew Brees
Career stats: 76884 yards; 67.6 completion percentage; 7.6 yards/attempt; 541 TDs; 237 interceptions; 2.3 interception percentage; 98.2 passer rating
Accolades: Super Bowl champion (XLIV), Super Bowl MVP, 13×Pro Bowl, First-team All-Pro, 4× Second-team All-Pro, 2×NFL Offensive Player of the Year
Teams: San Diego Chargers (2001–2005), New Orleans Saints (2006–present)
Despite showing plenty of promise in his college career, Drew Brees dropped down to the second round of the 2001 NFL draft and was picked 32nd overall by the San Diego Chargers.
His career with the Chargers never really took off and it wasn’t until he was sent to the Saints that he truly unlocked his potential.
Brees developed into a devastating quarterback in New Orleans, breaking passing records for fun over the course of his career.
A 13-time Pro Bowlers, Brees led New Orleans to a Super Bowl victory in 2019/10, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest of all time.
His completion percentage is also off the charts considering the amount he throws each game and he remains the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in multiple seasons.
#3. Johnny Unitas
Career stats: 40,239 yards; 54.6 completion percentage; 7.8 yards/attempt; 290 TDs; 253 interceptions; 4.9 interception percentage; 78.2 passer rating
Accolades: Super Bowl V champion; three-time NFL champion; 10-time Pro Bowler; three-time NFL MVP
Teams: Baltimore Colts (1956-1972); San Diego Chargers (1973)
Johnny Unitas is one of the few quarterbacks on this list not renowned for his passing ability. He ended his career with just a 54.6% completion rate and 78.2 passer rating, but his leadership skills and undeniable thirst for victory hid his other limitations and ensured he had a Hall of Fame career.
Unitas was an undersized passer but still managed to orchestrate one of the most devastating offenses during his time with the Baltimore Colts. In the 1959 season, Unitas led the NFL in passing yards (2,899), touchdown passes (32) and completions (193) and his record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass stood for 52 years.
He led the Colts to three NFL titles and a Super Bowl victory and was a three-time NFL MVP as well.
#2. Joe Montana
Career stats: 40,551 yards; 63.2 completion percentage; 7.5 yards/attempt; 273 TDs; 139 interceptions; 2.6 interception percentage; 92.3 passer rating
Accolades: Four-time Super Bowl champion; three-time Super Bowl MVP; eight-time Pro Bowler; two-time NFL MVP; 1989 NFL Offensive Player of the Year
Teams: San Francisco 49ers (1979-1992), Kansas City Chiefs (1993-94)
Joe Montana was inarguably the greatest quarterback of his era. Montana changed the way the game was played and was the king of fourth-quarter comebacks. With Montana under center, teams knew they were always in the game regardless of what the score was at the time.
Montana’s most memorable moment remains the 97-yard touchdown drive he led in Super Bowl XXIII that helped the 49ers seal a remarkable victory in the final minute of the game.
At the time of his retirement, Montana had racked up a whopping 40,551 yards with 273 touchdowns and is a four-time Super Bowl champion and three-time Super Bowl MVP.
#1. Tom Brady
Career stats: 74,079 yards; 63.8 completion percentage; 7.5 yards/attempt; 538 TDs; 178 interceptions; 1.8 interception percentage; 97 passer rating
Accolades: Six-time Super Bowl champion; four-time Super Bowl MVP; 14-time Pro Bowler; three-time NFL MVP; two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, 4-time NFL passing touchdowns leader
Teams: New England Patriots (2000-present)
Tom Brady is not the most gifted quarterback that has graced the NFL – far from it – but his work ethic, determination, clutch play and calmness under duress have made him the greatest to have played that position.
Brady was nearly undrafted back in 2000 – he dropped all the way to the 199th overall selection when he was finally taken by the New England Patriots. He only got a starting role due to an injury to then quarterback Drew Bledsoe, but he led New England all the way to the Super Bowl and eventually the title.
Since then, Brady has set record after record over the course of his 19-year career. He has made nine Super Bowls, winning six times, which is a current NFL record.
He also has numerous other records to his name, including most games won by a quarterback, best touchdown to interception ratio in a season, most wins on the road by a quarterback, most wins at home by a quarterback, only quarterback to have three consecutive games with 300+ passing yards, 3+ Touchdown-passes and 0 interceptions, oldest quarterback to lead the league in passing yards, most yards in a single season for a quarterback aged 40 and older (age 40) and oldest player to win NFL MVP.
His performance in the 2016 Super Bowl against the Atlanta Falcons cemented his status as the greatest of all time as he staged the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history to lead the Patriots to a remarkable 34-28 victory.
Till date, Brady is a 14-time Pro Bowler; three-time NFL MVP; two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year and is still going strong at the time of writing, with the Patriots set for yet another playoff appearance.
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