NFL Analysis


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Ranking the Top 10 Quarterbacks In NFL History

Who will win the NFC South

Ranking quarterbacks is always a difficult exercise for a variety of reasons. How do you value talent vs. NFL success when the league is such a team game?

How much do statistics matter when comparing quarterbacks? The criteria for judging the top quarterbacks ever is always up for debate, just as much as the quarterback. For today’s article, we will do our best to value all three equally.

For this article, we are only looking at quarterbacks since the NFL merger. While Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas, and Sammy Baugh deserve to be mentioned, we decided to stick with the quarterbacks during the Super Bowl era. So without further ado, here is the list!

Top 10 All-Time Quarterbacks

10. Brett Favre

Best Season: 1995

Brett Favre might be the most "fun" quarterback on this list. He also has some of the most impressive stats of the group. Favre is a three-time NFL MVP and was named to the Hall of Fame All-Decade Team for the '90s. Favre’s play style was incredibly unique and led to many exciting plays. He was also the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 35+ touchdowns in three consecutive seasons (h/t Elliot Harrison).

It also led to turnovers, which is why his interception record of 336 will never be touched. Favre won a Super Bowl in 1996 and returned in 1997. It is surprising that he never made it back, but Favre’s overall resume and playstyle get him on this list.

Favre won his first MVP award during the 1995 season, throwing 38 touchdowns and "just" 13 interceptions. He led the league in yards, touchdowns, and adjusted net yards per attempt. He was already well-established at this point, but this was his breakthrough season that made him one of the league's top quarterbacks.

9. Roger Staubach

Best Season: 1971

Roger Staubach has the least impressive statistical numbers on this list, but don’t let that fool you. He is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play, and his regular-season and postseason success backs it up.

With Staubach under center, the Dallas Cowboys had a record of 85-29 (74.5 winning percentage). From 1970 to 1978, the Cowboys appeared in four Super Bowls with Staubach. In the other two seasons, they lost in the NFC Championship Game.

Staubach was the best quarterback of the 1970s and led the league in passer rating in four of his eight full seasons as a starter. That's pretty good.

The Cowboys actually rotated their quarterbacks at the beginning of the 1971 season, but it wasn’t hard for anyone to see that Staubach was better (he alternated snaps with Craig Morton). The Cowboys went 10-0 with Staubach as the starter and 3-0 in the playoffs.

He finished second in MVP voting after leading the NFL in passer rating (104.8) and yards per attempt (8.9). Staubach was the ultimate winner, and you can make a strong case that he should be even higher on this list, depending on how much you value his win-loss record and postseason success.  

8. Drew Brees

Best Season: 2011

Drew Brees is the hardest quarterback to rank on this list. He has every stat that you would want from an elite quarterback. Brees is second all-time in passing yards (80,358), and he and Tom Brady are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history with more than 72,000 career passing yards. Brees is second in career passing touchdowns, completion percentage, and passing yards per game.

But Brees isn’t just a stat-padder at quarterback. During the 2009 NFL playoffs, Brees was incredible, completing 70.6 percent of his passes while throwing eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in the New Orleans Saints' Super Bowl run. The Saints won the NFC South seven times with Brees under center, and their offense finished first in yards six times since 2006.

However, Brees isn’t quite as high on this list because there were just too many years when the Saints weren’t contenders during his prime. It isn’t entirely Brees' fault, but elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Joe Montana didn’t allow their teams to have losing seasons.

From 2007 to 2016, there were five losing seasons in that stretch despite Brees playing every game. Brees wasn’t as physically talented as some of the other quarterbacks on this list, and his ability to "carry" lesser teams wasn’t there. Still, his elite numbers and amazing Super Bowl run in 2009 make him a must on this list.

In 2011, Brees set the all-time passing yardage record (5,476), threw 46 touchdowns, and led the NFL in six different passing categories. The Saints went 13-3 that season, scoring 34.2 points per game. Somehow, that was only good enough for second in the NFL, and Brees only received two MVP votes. What a wild season.

7. John Elway

Best Season: 1987

You can make a really strong case that John Elway is the most talented quarterback on this list. His arm strength was legendary, and his athleticism made him a threat as a runner. There have been several quarterbacks in recent years to model their games after Elway, but none have replicated him.

Elway’s stats aren’t overwhelming, but he does have multiple Super Bowl wins (albeit later in his career), and the Denver Broncos had just two losing seasons (including his rookie year) with him under center. Elway is widely regarded as one of the NFL’s most clutch quarterbacks, and the fact that his teams were always so good despite a lackluster supporting cast is noticeable.

In terms of pure talent, Elway is easily one of the most figured passers we have ever seen.

During the 12-game season in 1987, Elway threw for 3,198 yards and 19 touchdowns (while rushing for four more). He averaged a career-high 7.8 yards per attempt and was named the NFL’s MVP despite Jerry Rice catching 22 touchdowns in 12 games. One of the reasons why Elway took home the award was due to three fourth-quarterback comebacks where he needed to drive the Broncos the length of the field for the victory. 

6. Dan Marino

Best Season: 1984

It’s really a shame that Dan Marino didn't win a Super Bowl because he is one of the most gifted passers we’ve ever seen. His lack of Super Bowl success is the only reason he isn’t much, much higher on this list.

Marino had arguably the best rookie quarterback season ever and followed it up with a historic Year 2. Marino led the NFL in passing yards in four of his first six seasons and led the league in 48 different passing categories throughout his career.

The biggest knock on Marino is his play didn’t always translate in the playoffs (77.1 passer rating in the postseason vs. 86.4 in the regular season), and the Miami Dolphins were just 8-10 in postseason games with Marino. However, Marino was the first of his kind in the 1980s and would have succeeded in any era.

Not only was the 1984 season the best of Marino’s career, but you can also make a case that it was the single-best season ever for a quarterback. At that time, no player posted numbers anywhere close to his, and it was just Marino’s second year in the league.

Aaron Rodgers calls a play at the line of scrimmage
New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) against the New York Giants during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

5. Aaron Rodgers

Best Season: 2011

The debate between Dan Marino and Aaron Rodgers is very difficult, as they are two of the best passers we’ve ever seen. Both have amazing arm talent, and their pinpoint accuracy was incredible to watch.

But there are a few reasons why Rodgers gets the nod over Marino on our list. First, Rodgers has a Super Bowl win, and he was absolutely fantastic against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. During the 2010 postseason, Rodgers posted a passer rating of 109.8 and averaged a whopping 8.3 yards per attempt.

The Super Bowl win isn’t the only reason why he’s included on this list. Rodgers has four MVP wins (2011, 2014, 2020, 2021), which is the second-most of all-time. It’s a little disappointing that he’s only appeared in one Super Bowl, but maybe that will change this year.

Brees didn’t win the NFL MVP award in 2011 despite throwing for over 5,400 yards because Rodgers was the league's top quarterback by a good margin. He led the NFL in yards per attempt (9.2) and passer rating (122.5), throwing 45 touchdowns in 15 games. Rodgers was at the peak of his powers in 2011.

4. Peyton Manning

Best Season: 2004

There is only one player in NFL history with five MVP awards: Peyton Manning. He is the greatest regular-season quarterback in league history, and that isn’t a knock on him. His regular-season numbers are absolutely incredible and will likely never be touched.

During a 17-year career, Manning averaged 32 passing touchdowns per season and 4,231 passing yards. Just to put that in perspective, only one quarterback threw more than 32 touchdowns during the 2023 season (Dak Prescott, 36), and that was during a 17-game schedule. If you exclude the 2015 season, where Manning only started nine games, that touchdown number improves to 33.1.

The only reason Manning isn’t higher on this list is his mixed playoff results. Despite being the best regular-season quarterback ever, his teams went just 14-13 in the postseason. Much of that had to do with facing better overall rosters in the playoffs, but Manning’s passer rating of 87.4 is significantly worse than his regular season numbers (96.5). He wasn’t quite the same quarterback in the playoffs as in the regular season.

However, Manning has two Super Bowl wins and three appearances, so we can’t knock him too much here. He is still one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, and you can make a case that he should be even higher on this list.

Manning threw 55 touchdowns during the 2013 season, five more than any other quarterback in NFL history. However, his 2004 season was more impressive.

Manning threw 49 touchdowns that season, helping lead the Colts to a 12-4 record. He averaged a league-high 9.2 yards per attempt and posted a career-best 121.1 passer rating. This was the best version of Manning, as he had full control of the offense and still had a lot of heat on his passes.

Close-up of Patrick Mahomes celebrating
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) gets ready prior to a 2024 AFC Wild-Card Game against the Miami Dolphins at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. (Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)

3. Patrick Mahomes

Best Season: 2018

Is it too early to include Patrick Mahomes as the third-best quarterback ever?


He has already surpassed several all-time great quarterbacks, and his most recent Super Bowl win put him in rarified air. There are so many different stats and numbers to back up Mahomes' ranking, but one of the most staggering is that he has reached the AFC Championship Game in all six seasons as a starter. In those six seasons, he’s advanced to the Super Bowl four times and already has three Super Bowl wins.

What really sets Mahomes apart from his peers is his performance in the playoffs. Most of the other quarterbacks on this list see their passing stats and efficiency drop in the postseason.

That isn’t the case for Mahomes, who has a higher passer rating in the postseason (105.8) than he does in the regular season (103.5). And by the way, Mahomes has the second-highest career passer rating in the regular season, just narrowly behind Rodgers (103.6).

Mahomes is a cheat code who is already in the conversation for the greatest quarterback ever. If he completes the three-peat during the 2024 season, we can start having a serious conversation about his GOAT status.

It’s not often that a quarterback’s best season is his first as a starter, but that was the case for Mahomes. Not only did the Chiefs go 12-4, but Mahomes led the NFL in touchdown passes (50) and QBR (80.3).

He received 41 of the 50 MVP votes and led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game. If weren’t for a Dee Ford offsides penalty, Mahomes would have also led the Chiefs to that Super Bowl.

2. Joe Montana

Montana deserves to be at the No. 2 spot for several reasons, but look no further than how he performed in the biggest games. In four Super Bowl appearances, Montana threw 11 touchdowns with no interceptions while averaging 9.3 yards per attempt. His passer rating in those four games is a combined 127.8, and the San Francisco 49ers won all four contests.

It’s unfair to judge a player only on their Super Bowl stats, but no quarterback was cooler under pressure than Montana. It also doesn’t hurt that his regular season stats were incredible, too, posting a passer rating of 94.0 from 1981-1992.

Montana was 33 years old during the 1989 season, but it was his best year to date. He completed more than 70 percent of his passes and averaged more than 9.1 yards per attempt that season. He continued that success in the postseason, throwing 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in three games.

Montana was the clear-cut best quarterback of the 1980s and was widely considered the greatest passer ever until the 2010s when the No. 1 quarterback on our list won his fourth Super Bowl.

Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls a play against the Carolina Panthers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports.

1. Tom Brady

Best Season: 2007

There should be no surprise at No. 1. Tom Brady is the all-time leader in completions, attempts, passing yards, touchdowns, Super Bowl wins, and on and on and on. Brady cemented his GOAT legacy after the 28-3 comeback win against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, and his next two Super Bowl wins separated him even further from Manning and Montana.

Brady’s resume is loaded with unbelievable stats, ridiculous comeback wins, and an unbelievable record. In his 23-year NFL career, Brady had just one season with a losing record, and that came in his final season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9). Even in that season, the Buccaneers won the NFC South and hosted a home playoff game.

Brady finished his career with a postseason record of 35-13 in 48 career starts. That is three full seasons of playoff appearances, and his team's postseason winning percentage of 73 percent is absurd. Other quarterbacks are more talented than Brady, but his overall resume will never be touched.

There are several amazing seasons to choose from for Brady's best, but 2007 stands alone. Not only did he break the previous touchdown record set by Marino, but the Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season, and Brady led the league in every notable passing category.

He was unstoppable that season as the Patriots averaged 36.8 PPG. That is until the final game of the postseason, which we won’t bring up any further

>> READ: Ranking NFL's Best All-Time Playoff Moments