The Greatest Quarterbacks In NFL History
Out of all the positions in sports, few, if any, are more demanding than the quarterback position. Widely considered to be the most important player on the field, the quarterback is responsible for all things offense. Whether it be reading defenses, changing the plays, managing the game, or making critical decisions and throws that can alter the course of a game, a lot of weight falls on the quarterback’s shoulders.
Off the field, they are the most analyzed position and draw, by far, the most attention from fans and media alike. Throughout the NFL’s illustrious history, teams have cycled through quarterbacks at an alarming rate, struggling to find the ideal player who can guide their team to greatness. There are, however, those elite quarterbacks who, despite the pressure and expectations, thrived and proved themselves to be gridiron legends. Here are 30 QBs who changed the game of football and displayed greatness playing the toughest position in sports.
30. Vinny Testaverde
Experts agree, Vinny Testaverde’s career isn’t defined by Super Bowl wins or playoff excellence. Instead, it’s his longevity and reliability that made him so great. Although he hasn’t been enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Testaverde proved to be a successful QB in the NFL for a remarkable 21 years and holds a few important passing records for the eight teams he played for.
He did manage to earn two Pro Bowl nominations, and while in college at the University of Miami, won a Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, and Davey O’Brien Award.
Fun Fact: Testaverde currently holds the record for being the oldest QB to win a game.
29. Michael Vick
Michel Vick and his unique skill set go beyond football. His running ability from the quarterback position is second to none in football history, and he used his speed to change the game and inspire millions of fans. Michael Vick graced the cover of Madden 04 and was virtually as unstoppable in real life as he was in the game. Really, playing with the Falcons in Madden 04 was just unfair. But enough of the video game talk.
Mike Vick holds the career QB rushing record, the single season QB rushing record, was a 4x Pro Bowler, and was the 2010 NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Unfortunately for Vick, his reputation was severely tarnished by a dog fighting scandal that landed him in federal prison for 21 months. Despite the scandal, Vick will go down as one of the best athletes to ever play the quarterback position, and quite possibly the best running QB the NFL will ever see.
28. Philip Rivers
Gunslinger. Bad attitude. And Charger for life. Philip Rivers has yet to see the Super Bowl, has been outplayed by his contemporary Eli Manning, and had to deal with his franchise moving cities. Yet none of these factors have stopped Rivers from putting up huge numbers since his entry into the league in 2004.
He’s a 7x Pro Bowler, NFL Comeback Player of the Year and is the Chargers’ all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. When it’s all said and done, you can expect to see Rivers earn a spot in Canton, Ohio, alongside his friends from the 2004 Draft Class.
Bonus points: after the Chargers moved up to Los Angeles, Philip decided to stay put in San Diego and drive up north daily in a custom SUV fitted with televisions so he can study film. Now that’s some serious dedication.
27. Eli Manning
This name may anger Patriots fans quite a bit. But Eli Manning, and his emotionless, whiny looking face, deserves to make the list. For obvious reasons, the younger Manning (Peyton is his older brother) is here because of his two Super Bowl victories, one of which ended the Patriots’ perfect season.
Super Bowls aside, Manning has been the cornerstone of the New York Giants since 2004, where he was taken first overall out of Ole Miss (by the San Diego Chargers and traded to the Giants). He is a 4x Pro Bowler and is sixth all-time in passes completed, eighth all-time in passing touchdowns, and sixth all-time in passing yards. Those are some pretty impressive numbers for a guy who looks like he couldn’t care less about the game.
26. Tony Romo
Although Tony Romo is made of glass, he was, when healthy, a very effective QB for the Dallas Cowboys. What’s even more impressive than Romo’s four Pro Bowls and second-team All-Pro nomination would be his ability to bounce back time and time again after injury.
Romo is also one of NFL’s best QBs to go undrafted out of college, where he played at Eastern Illinois. Romo currently holds Cowboys franchise records in passing yards and touchdowns over some pretty great QBs (Aikman, Staubach). Now that Romo has retired and relinquished the thrown to Dak Prescott, he’s starring as an almost omniscient broadcaster on CBS.
25. Phil Simms
Phil Simms might be the most decorated quarterback in Morehead State University’s history, and he definitively is one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in New York Giants history. During his renowned career, Simms helped the Giants win two Super Bowls, one of which he was named MVP of. Simms also made it to the Pro Bowl twice and had his number 11 retired by the Big Blue.
Although Simms never racked up stats like some of these other quarterbacks on this list, he remains second in most of the important statistical categories for the New York Giants and is credited with popularizing the phrase, “I’m going to Disney!” which is now said by players following a championship.
24. Fran Tarkenton
Another dual threat QB on this list is Minnesota Vikings legend Fran Tarkenton. Tarkenton played the vast majority of his career up in Minnesota where he won the NFL MVP, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and was the NFL passing leader in 1978. Throughout his career, Tarkenton racked up nine Pro Bowl appearances and was a one of the original dual threat QBs to play the game.
Tarkenton currently sits in the 5th spot in NFL history for career rushing by a QB, and he is enshrined in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame.
Something to note: it appears that the Vikings had- and still have- an inclination towards choosing QBs that can use their legs as well as their arms (Tarkenton, Moon, Cunningham, Culpepper, Jackson, Bridgewater).
23. Donovan McNabb
When you think of Eagles football in the 2000s, Donovan McNabb should come to mind. He was the central figure on Eagles teams that went to five consecutive NFC championship games, and appeared in one Super Bowl, where he and his Eagles fell to the Patriots.
Yet Donovan McNabb’s career shouldn’t just be measured by his playoff experience and lack of Super Bowl victories. While directing the Eagles’ offense, McNabb earned himself five Pro Bowl appearances and is currently Philadelphia’s career leader in passing yards and touchdowns.
Although Donovan was primarily known for his arm, he had a good set of wheels on him and is eighth all time in rushing yards for a QB.
22. Dan Fouts
Another quarterback to play for only one team and never win a championship was the San Diego Chargers’ Dan Fouts.
Known for his grizzly beard and toughness as a true drop back quarterback, Fouts doesn’t have the impressive stat line that others on this list have. Yet Fouts did enough to make it to six Pro Bowls, become a 2x first-team All-Pro, lead the NFL twice in passing touchdowns, and was a 4x NFL passing yards leader.
Fouts also holds the dubious distinction of losing the NFL MVP award to a kicker, the only time in NFL history the award has been given to a special teamer. Fouts currently sits at 15th all-time in passing yards and 20th all-time in passing touchdowns.
Like many others on this list, Fouts has taken up broadcasting post football and can be heard every Sunday on CBS.
21. Randall Cunningham
Randall Cunningham led quite the career for primarily two teams, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings.
A a 4x Pro Bowler, 2x first-team All-Pro, and NFL Comeback Player of the Year, Cunningham is second in NFL history for rushing yards gained by a QB and is widely considered one of the most lethal dual-threat QBs in history.
Simply put, Cunningham revolutionized the position. Despite not yet being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Cunningham is a College Football Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players to emerge from UNLV. He really was a Runnin’ Rebel.
20. Steve McNair
Considered the best football player to graduate from Alcorn State University, Steve McNair was, at the time, the highest drafted African-American QB when the Houston Oilers selected him number three overall.
After the Oilers moved to Nashville to become the Titans, Air McNair’s career skyrocketed and he became a fan favorite of the Tennessee Titans. Known for his arm strength, accuracy, and gun-slinging mentality, McNair was a 3x Pro Bowler, NFL MVP (he was co-MVP with Peyton Manning), and helped orchestrate the Music City Miracle.
Tragically, McNair was murdered in his Nashville apartment by his girlfriend, who then proceeded to kill herself.
To this day the Titans are still searching for a QB who can fill the void McNair left so many years ago. Time will tell how Marcus Mariota pans out.
19. Joe Namath
Broadway Joe gained some notoriety for drunkenly proclaiming he wanted to kiss Suzy Kolber during an interview on national television and guaranteeing a Super Bowl III victory, which he backed up. Sadly, it would be the last great thing the New York Jets have done on the football field.
Those moments aside, Joe proved to be one of the greatest QBs in history, and decidedly the best QB in Jets history. Throughout his 13-year career, Namath won a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP, was a 1x Pro Bowler, 4x AFL All-Star, NFL Comeback Player of the Year, 1972 NFL passing yards and touchdown leader, and, to this day, firmly holds most Jets QB records.
18. Roger Staubach
Roger that. After winning the Heisman Trophy at the US Naval Academy, Staubach’s football career took a brief hiatus when he deployed to Vietnam as part of his obligatory service with US Navy.
Following his tour of duty, Staubach was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and was their star quarterback for a decade. During this time Staubach became a 2x Super Bowl champion, 6x Pro Bowler, NFL passing touchdown leader (1973) and NFL Man of the Year award winner.
His college career was impeccable too, as Roger led the Midshipmen to some of their best seasons while winning the aforementioned Heisman Trophy, becoming a unanimous All-American, Maxwell Award winner, and leading his team to victory during the Army Navy Game.
17. Warren Moon
Widely regarded as one of the most successful crossover stories in NFL history, Warren Moon is considered one of the greatest dual-threat QBs of all-time.
Originally undrafted by the NFL, Moon landed in the CFL and played six seasons for the Edmonton Eskimos, where he led them to five consecutive Grey Cup Victories. Following his time in Canada, Moon took his passing and elite scrambling abilities to the States, where he starred for the Houston Oilers.
Although Moon played for a few different teams throughout his career, he is most well known for his time in Houston where he earned six of his nine Pro Bowl nominations, led them to the playoffs six times and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
In 2006, Moon became the first African-American quarterback and undrafted quarterback to be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now imagine Moon’s numbers if he didn’t spend six seasons in the CFL…
16. Bart Starr
Before Aaron Rogers and Brett Favre, the Packers had number 17, Bart Starr, slinging the ball around. And slang it he did.
Starr helped guide the Packers to victories in the first two Super Bowls ever, and in each of them was named MVP.
Starr was also named the NFL’s MVP during the 1966 season, played in four Pro Bowls, and holds the record for highest postseason passer rating. Not bad for a guy drafted 200th overall. Off the gridiron, Starr was a less than stellar head coach of his former team but will always be remembered as a key figure in the Packers’ storied history.
15. Jim Kelly
Prolific passer and offensive leader of the famed early 90s Bills teams, Jim Kelly is almost as famous in Buffalo as the Bills Mafia and Buffalo sauce. Scratch that. More famous than the Bills Mafia, and equally entertaining. During his time in upstate New York, Jim Kelly earned a spot in the Pro Bowl five times, was a first-team All-Pro, and led his team to a record four consecutive Super Bowls utilizing a high powered offense.
Each time, however, the Bills came up a bit too short. Wide right, anyone?
Jim Kelly currently remains at the top of most Bills’ passing records, and as of right now, this looks like it won’t be changing too soon.
14. Dan Marino
Lots can be said about Dan Marino, a quarterback who chose to remain with the Miami Dolphins his entire 17-year career.
Despite never winning a Super Bowl, Marino become one of the league’s most prolific passers and helped guide the Dolphins to the playoffs ten times, including one Super Bowl appearance. Marino also amassed nine Pro Bowl nominations, was the 1984 NFL MVP and was a 3x All-Pro.
Currently Marino is fifth all time in passing yards, touchdowns, and completions. He is also known to have one of the strongest arms and quickest releases in history, something defenses feared every Sunday.
The Dolphins are still, to this day, looking for Marino’s successor.
13. Troy Aikman
No one puts more pressure on their players to succeed than Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones. Now couple this pressure with the gigantic expectations that the number one overall pick has and you get a potential recipe for disaster.
Troy Aikman, however, not only avoided these pressures, but he defied expectations and led a Hall of Fame career as the Cowboys starting quarterback. After going number one overall out of UCLA (he transferred from Oklahoma), Aikman led Dallas to three Super Bowl victories, appeared in six Pro Bowls, and, arguably most importantly, led the Cowboys back into relevancy as “America’s Team.”
Although Aikman never dominated in any one statistical category in terms of career averages, he was a consistent winner and excellent field general for Dallas’s star-studded lineups that, at the time, were under the media’s microscope like no other team. For his ability to lead and manage the game, Aikman is considered among the game’s greatest QBs.
12. Kurt Warner
To say Kurt Warner’s road to the NFL was easy or normal would be a gross mischaracterization of the trials and tribulations Warner went through before establishing himself as one of the greatest passers in history.
After going undrafted out of college and not making any NFL team, Warner was forced to bag groceries in Iowa while waiting for a chance to prove himself. That chance came, albeit in the Arena Football League, where Warner became one of the league’s best players. His Arena League performances earned him a shot at the NFL where he’d eventually sign with the St. Louis Rams. However, before Kurt could shine in St. Louis, he had to prove himself overseas in NFL Europe, which Warner did in spades.
Finally, Warner’s NFL dream became reality and he became the Rams’ starting quarterback and leader of “the greatest show on turf.” In 1999, Warner and the Rams historic offensive season was capped off with a Super Bowl victory against the Tennessee Titans. That famed season also saw Warner win the regular season MVP, something he did again in 2001. Warner was also a 4x Pro Bowler, 2x first-team All-Pro, led the NFL in passing yards, and is eighth in NFL history for passing yards per game.
Warner officially ended his career after the 2009 season, with a career record of 1-2 in Super Bowls and a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
11. Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers might go down in history as the NFL’s greatest pure passer, and he’s already solidified himself as one of the greatest QBs in Packers history. The only knock on his reputation, which is questionable at best, is his one Super Bowl Victory and appearance.
Since stepping out of Brett Favre’s shadow, Rodgers has been torching defenses and putting up video game numbers season after season. He’s a 2x MVP, 6x Pro Bowler, 2x All-Pro and SB MVP. Rodgers holds the NFL record for career passer rating, and is already 10th in history for touchdown passes, and that includes the few years he spent as a benchwarmer. Rodgers also led the NFL in passing touchdowns in 2016.
All things considered, he’s a pretty lucky guy and has dated the likes of Olivia Munn and Danica Patrick.
10. Ken Stabler
Da Raidaaas (Oakland Raiders for those of us with a less strong affinity towards Oakland and their black hole). Ken Stabler was the quarterback for the Raiders from 1968-1979, and during that time helped them establish themselves as one of the premier franchise in the NFL.
Stabler most notably led his team to a Super Bowl XI victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Other accolades include winning the 1974 MVP, four Pro Bowls, 2x NFL passing touchdowns leader and 1974 Offensive Player of the Year award. Stabler also holds many Raiders passing records still to this day, although some of these may be rearranged due to the emergence of star QB Derek Carr.
The famed Ken Stabler rule, which prevents players from fumbling the ball forward and having one’s own team recover the ball downfield, is rightfully attributed to the quarterback.
9. Drew Brees
When it comes to the aerial attack, few quarterbacks have done more than Drew Brees.
Initially a San Diego Charger, Brees really made his mark on the NFL while playing for the New Orleans Saints. Down in the Big Easy, Brees won a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP, has taken the Saints from perennial losers to one of the more dominant NFC franchises and has been the arm behind one of the NFL’s most potent offenses in history.
Brees, still active in the NFL, has been to 11 Pro Bowls, led the NFL in passing seven times and touchdowns four times and is third in NFL history for passing yards and touchdowns.
Brees is also an incredibly accurate quarterback and currently holds the NFL record for pass completion percentage in a single season. When Brees eventually retires, he’ll be a surefire hall of famer.
8. Steve Young
The career of Steve Young took many interesting turns and got off to a very rocky start, but that never stopped this former BYU Cougar from starring in the NFL and becoming a Hall of Fame quarterback, 3x Super Bowl champion, 7x Pro Bowler and 2x MVP.
When Young entered the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he was widely considered a bust and was traded to the 49ers after just one year. Then, during his early years with the 49ers, Young was stuck backing up future Hall of Famer Joe Montana.
When he finally did get his chance to shine, Young often found himself injured, unable to fully prove himself. Fortunately for Steve, he persisted and eventually won the full-time starting job over Montana, essentially forcing Montana’s exit out of San Francisco. After that, the rest was history and the team fully belonged to Steve Young, who cemented his status as an all-time great.
7. Brett Favre
An ironman, a gunslinger, a hall of famer, and a quarterback who gave the ball to the other team a bit more than his fans would probably like to admit. Brett Favre people.
During his 20-year career, Favre played for the Falcons, Packers, Jets and Vikings. Favre, however, is best known for being the Packers Quarterback from 1992 through 2007.
Some notable achievements of Favre’s storied career include one Super Bowl victory, 11 Pro Bowls, three MVP awards, an AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year, led the NFL in passing twice and proved to be one of the most durable players in history by making an astronomical 297 consecutive starts.
When the gunslinger finally retired, he was second in NFL history for passing yards and touchdowns, and first in NFL history for interceptions thrown. Clearly Favre had a short memory and wasn’t too concerned about his tendencies to give the ball away.
6. Johnny Unitas
If football fans are enthralled with the quarterback position, they can thank Johnny Unitas, the Baltimore Colts quarterback who set the precedent for today’s modern NFL quarterback.
By utilizing a strong arm, pin-point accuracy, mobility and a relentless work ethic, Johnny was able to attract and inject a previously unimaginable amount of fanfare and interest into football. Despite playing in an era that focused more on the running attack and had much less rules to protect the offense, Unitas managed to throw 290 touchdowns, placing him at 14th in NFL history.
Among other awards, the original Johnny Football, aka The Golden Arm, won three NFL Championships (pre-Super Bowl), was a 10x Pro Bowler, and 3x MVP. Unitas also new a thing or two about leading a comeback and ranks second in NFL history for comebacks and eighth in NFL history for game winning drives.
5. Terry Bradshaw
For many millennials, Terry Bradshaw is known as the looney analyst on Fox NFL Sunday. But before Bradshaw’s time wearing a suit and analyzing games from the studio, he was the fearless offensive leader and quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Steel Curtain teams of the 70s.
During his career, Bradshaw won four Super Bowls, two Super Bowl MVP awards, one regular season MVP award, and three Pro Bowl nominations. What’s even crazier than his impressive stat line was his ability to read defenses and call his own plays, which is now a relic of the game due to all quarterbacks having in-helmet microphones connected to their coordinators.
Bradshaw was also the man behind one of the greatest catches in NFL history, when he threw the immaculate reception to Franco Harris against the Raiders in the divisional round of the playoffs.
4. John Elway
The first of two Broncos quarterbacks to make this list is John Elway, leader of Denver’s Orange Crush in the 80s and through the late 90s.
Elway was another first overall pick who managed to exceed the immense pressure and scrutiny that comes with being drafted number one overall and lead an incredibly successful professional career. Some career highlights of Elway include winning two Super Bowls, becoming a 9x Pro Bowler, winning an NFL MVP award, and being the NFL passing yards leader in 1993.
Elway is also in the NFL’s top 10 in history for passes completed and total passing yards.
Elway also proved to be one of the toughest QBs in history, as he was sacked the second most amount of times yet bounced back time and time again.
3. Peyton Manning
Drafted by the Colts first overall out of the University of Tennessee, Peyton Manning proved to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
He won two Super Bowls with two separate teams (Colts and Broncos) and two different head coaches, has one Super Bowl MVP award, an astounding five regular season MVP awards, and holds NFL records in total passing yards, touchdown passes thrown, and single season passing touchdowns.
Unfortunately for many Manning and Colts fans, his meteoric rise to NFL stardom coincided with Tom Brady and the New England Dynasty, which no doubt limited the amount of Super Bowl rings that Peyton Manning wears.
Manning memorably retired from football on top as a champion after the Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
2. Joe Montana
One of essentially two quarterback mentioned in the hotly contested GOAT (greatest of all-time) debate, Joe Montana finds himself just short of Tom Brady.
What people traditionally use as leverage for Joe’s side of the GOAT debate would be his perfect Super Bowl record. Montana led the 49ers to four Super Bowls and won all of them, and in three of them was named MVP. During his career he was also named a 2x regular season MVP, 8x Pro Bowler and NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
Montana was also known for his inate ability to lead a comeback and currently ranks 11th in NFL history for career comebacks, earning him the fitting nickname “The Comeback Kid.”
Ultimately, however, he is listed as number two because his resume simply isn’t as complete as Brady’s and the undefeated argument is seriously flawed. Those who think LeBron is the GOAT would agree with this logic, too. Or if the criterion for GOAT simply depends on having a perfect Super Bowl record, shouldn’t players like Eli Manning or Drew Brees be mentioned in the conversation?
1. Tom Brady
After winning five Super Bowls, four Super Bowl MVP awards, three regular season MVP awards, and countless other personal and team accolades, there shouldn’t be any question as to who the GOAT is. Despite the numerous cheating allegations and scandals that have clouded the Patriots dynasty, a receiving corps that is constantly in flux and perpetually lacks star power, and a coaching carousel at the coordinator position, Brady has kept a level head through it all.
Besides his insanely impressive individual resume, Brady has successfully led his teams to eight Super Bowls and given practice-squad caliber players successful careers in the NFL. Only a GOAT would be able to do such things.
Bonus points for Brady: he was the 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft and is married to a Brazilian supermodel.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Mahomes
It’s a bit early for Mahomes to make it to the list, but everyone is extremely confident in his bright future following his championship win over the 49ers. He’s the fifth-youngest quarterback to win the big one at 24-years-old and even took home the MVP.
In just two years in the NFL, Mahomes has broken records and is widely viewed as the most exciting player to watch. This year alone, he threw for over 5,000 yards with 50 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. This guy has a lot of potential, but only time will tell where he truly belongs on this list.