With Super Bowl LI behind us, many are debating whether or not Tom Brady’s fifth ring has vaulted him into the position of “greatest quarterback of all-time.” This being the Internet, obviously we had to make a list to answer that question.
For these ranking we weighed both raw statistics and winning. Personally, I believe a quarterback is unique in his ability to create wins and losses for NFL teams. Big stats are nice, but winning is the ultimate goal of every football team. Therefore wins, championships and performance in big games were considered heavily on the following list.
With that in mind here’s our list of the 10 greatest to ever play the position.
10. Aaron Rodgers
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Some will argue Rodgers doesn’t belong on this list yet, while others will be shocked he’s not higher. At 33 years old, Rodgers has already cemented himself as an all-time great and I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.
Rodgers is a two-time NFL MVP, a six-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro and led the Green Bay Packers to a title at Super Bowl XLV, in which he won the MVP. He is the NFL’s all-time leader in passer rating (104.1), touchdown-to-interception ratio (4.13), interception percentage (1.5 percent), and is fifth in passing touchdown percentage (6.4 percent), and seventh in completion percentage (65.1). So yeah, you could say he’s been alright for the Packers.
In just nine years as a starter for one of the NFL’s glamour franchises, Rodgers has firmly established himself as an all-time great. Expect him to jump up this list as the years go by.
9. Roger Staubach
Staubach won the 1963 Heisman Trophy as a junior at Navy, then didn’t join the Dallas Cowboys until 1969 thanks to his military service obligations. He and a few other guys on this list played in a different era, so their numbers won’t be as flashy as others. That said, you can’t have a discussion about the greatest quarterbacks of all-time without him.
Staubach’s career record of 85-29 is absurd, he won two Super Bowl titles (VI, XII) while going to the big game a whopping five times (four as the starting quarterback), and he was the MVP of Super Bowl VI. He was a six-time Pro Bowler, a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1970s and led the NFL in passer rating four times during his eight years as a full-time starter.
Staubach was a winner, plain and simple and he played his best in big games. In an era dominated by defense and running backs, Staubach managed to stand out as a quarterback. That was no small feat. Staubach was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
8. Dan Marino
Marino is the one guy on this list who never won the big game, but his sheer numbers and individual accomplishments are staggering. He reached just one championship game, Super Bowl XIX in which he lost in a duel with Joe Montana.
Marino was the NFL MVP in 1984, was selected to nine Pro Bowls and was a seven-time All-Pro. When he retired he held the records for career passing yards (61,361), passing touchdowns (420), passing yards per game (253.6) and dozens of single-season records. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
Dan the Man’s quick release and rifle arm led the Miami Dolphins for 17 years and he compiled a record of 147-93 as a starter. Miami won five AFC East titles under Marino, but couldn’t get over the hump and win the big one. Still, every pass-first offense you see these days owes a huge debt to what the Dolphins did in the 80s and 90s. Their influence on the modern NFL cannot by overstated.
7. Brett Favre
Favre was the ultimate gunslinger who had one of the biggest arms in NFL history. He was a three-time MVP, 11-time Pro Bowler, six-time All-Pro and led the Green Bay Packers to the Super Bowl XXXI title.
Favre currently ranks second all-time in passing yards (71,838) and second in passing touchdowns (508), while ranking first in completions (6,300), first in attempts (10,169), first in starts (298) and is tied with Peyton Manning for first in wins by a quarterback (186). But he also ranks first in interceptions (336) by almost 59 over second place (George Blanda with 277).
Favre was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016 and was a no-brainer addition. He was great for a long time, and many of his records came because he was incredible and stuck around for so many years. That added to his greatness despite a few lackluster seasons towards the end of his career.
6. Otto Graham
Graham played for the Cleveland Browns from 1946 to 1955 and by the time he retired, was considered by many the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He became one of the first passers to actually throw the football consistently. He played three sports in college (basketball and baseball were on his menu as well), but was clearly destined to play football. He dominated as a quarterback in the 1940s and 1950s.
“Automatch Otto” was a three-time NFL champion (1950, 1954, 1955), five-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro and the three-time NFL MVP. He also led the Browns to four AAFC Championships before the team joined the NFL in 1950.
Graham was a member of the NFL’s 1950s All-Decade Team and the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965 and is still the NFL’s all-time leader in yards per attempt (9.0). Most importantly, Graham is the NFL’s all-time leader in quarterback winning percentage (81.0).
5. John Elway
Elway’s career began in controversy when he was selected with the first pick in the 1983 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts and forced a trade to the Denver Broncos. It turned out to be a great move for the Broncos and their new quarterback.
He wound up being the Broncos’ greatest player of all-time and finished his career with an NFL record 148 wins, had a career winning percentage of 64.1 and is Denver’s all-time leader in offensive yards (54,882) and touchdowns (334).
Elway led Denver to back-to-back Super Bowl championships in his final two seasons, was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII, was the league MVP in 1987, earned a trip to nine Pro Bowls and was a three-time All-Pro selection. He was a member of the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team, was inducted into the Hall of fame in 2004.
4. Peyton Manning
For much of his career, Manning was known for not winning the big one despite insane levels of regular seasons success. Manning finally threw that monkey off his back at with the Indianapolis Colts at Super Bowl XLI, where he won the MVP. He added another title at Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos before retiring.
Manning has a record five NFL MVPs, while also being the league’s all-time leader in passing yards (71,940), passing touchdowns (539) and regular season wins by a quarterback (tied at 186 with Brett Favre). He ranks sixth all-time in passer rating (96.5), fourth in passing yards per game (270.5) and fifth in completion percentage (65.3). He was a 14-time Pro Bowler, 10-time All-Pro, two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year and was a member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team.
Manning will obviously be a Hall of Famer as soon as he’s eligible and there will certainly be people who read this who are shocked he’s not higher on the list. He is certainly in the discussion as the best ever, but his 2-2 record in Super Bowls and the fact that his defense carried him in his final season hold him back. That said, his career regular season record of 186-79 (70.1 winning percentage) help him out in the “winner” category.
3. Johnny Unitas
Like Graham, Unitas is unique, because when he retired in 1973, he was almost universally regarded as the greatest quarterback of all-time. A three-time NFL champion, three-time MVP, 10-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro, Unitas was in a different category than anyone who had come before him.
When he retired after 18 season, Unitas led the NFL in passing yards (40,239), pass completions (2,830) and passing touchdowns (290). He threw a touchdown in 47 straight games at one point, a record many thought was unbreakable. And it was…for 52 years, until Drew Brees broke it on October 7, 2012.
A member of the NFL’s 1960s All-Decade Team and the 75th Anniversary Team, Unitas was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979. When he stepped away from the game, there were few players as revered as Johnny U. When Unitas hung up his high-top cleats in 1973, he and Jim Brown were considered the two greatest to ever play the game. No one else was even in their league.
2. Joe Montana
Montana doesn’t have the numbers of a guy like Manning but he won and won big during his career. The Notre Dame product led the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowls, winning all four times and securing MVP honors in three of those games.
Montana was a two-time MVP, eight-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro and was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1989. He was a member if the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team and the 75th Anniversary Team and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
Montana finished his career with the most postseason games with a passer rating over 100.0 (12), is second on postseason touchdown passes (45) and passing yards (5,772). In his four Super Bowls, “Joe Cool” complete 83 of 122 passes for 1,142 yards and 11 touchdowns with no interceptions. He also had a career winning percentage of 71.3 (117-47), which is outstanding.
Montana was always at his best when it mattered most and that’s what gets him this ranking.
1. Tom Brady
This debate ended in the aftermath of Super Bowl LI. By securing his fifth Lombardi Trophy in seven appearances and his fourth Super Bowl MVP trophy, Brady has separated himself from the pack. He’s been almost as prolific as any quarterback in history, while also winning games at a rate nearly unmatched by anyone else.
At 39, Brady is still putting up MVP-level numbers. On the all-time list, he’s fourth in passing yards (61,582), fourth in passing touchdowns (456), third in passer rating (97.2) and is tied for the second-lowest interception percentage of all-time (1.8). He’s a two-time MVP, four-time All-Pro, a 12-time Pro Bowler and was named to the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team. It’s a safe bet he’ll be on the 2010s All-Decade team too. Brady’s teams have won 77.9 percent of their games (which ranks third all-time), he’s secured 14 AFC East titles, his seven Super Bowl trips are a record as are his five Super Bowl wins (tied with Charles Haley).
Brady’s spot in Canton is secure whenever he decides to retire, but given the level he’s on right now, that doesn’t look to be coming any time soon. He’s the greatest to ever play the position and there shouldn’t even be a debate about it anymore.