There is perhaps no other position in professional sports more valued than that of starting quarterback in the National Football League (NFL).
And for good reason. Teams with otherwise stacked lineups at other positions have seen their success go down the drain if they lacked a quality QB or their starting QB was injured.
Indeed, it’s a position that many attempt to find success at but precious few actually do. Those who can crack the code of performing as a high-level starting quarterback find themselves among the most coveted of all sports stars. The best of those have risen to another level to find themselves among the best of all-time.
Some did it with statistical prowess, some did it with postseason success, and the truly elite found a combination of both to find themselves ranked among the best of all-time. The discussion of the best NFL QBs is a tough, debatable discussion full of truly legendary stars. Without further ado, here are the 30 best quarterbacks in NFL history:
Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys:
What’s this you say? Romo, a man who never even reached the Super Bowl let alone won one, ranked among the best NFL quarterbacks of all-time? Yes, he is, and he would have been much higher on this list had he found more postseason success with the Dallas Cowboys.
In truth, no retired NFL QB has a higher passer rating than Romo’s lofty 97.1 number. The four-time Pro Bowler has a 65.3 completion percentage, throwing for 34,183 yards with 248 touchdowns and 117 interceptions. He threw for 30 or more touchdowns in a season four times. Had the Cowboys gotten just one call to go their way in the 2014 NFC Championship Game, Romo would probably be higher on this list.
Another historic great, Baugh’s all-time accomplishments cannot be forgotten either. He was a two-time NFL champion back in 1937 and 1942. Baugh earned First-team All-Pro status six times and Second-team All-Pro twice. He led the NFL in passing yards four times and touchdowns twice. Finally, he led the league in pass completion percentage an astonishing eight times.
Obviously, his stats can’t compare to those of today. He only had 21,886 passing yards over his career, which is basically four great years for some of today’s quarterbacks. He also threw only 187 touchdowns compared to 203 touchdowns. For that reason, he isn’t higher up on this list. But as a member of the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame class, Baugh deserves a spot amongst the greatest quarterbacks of all-time.
A historic name perhaps lost to recency bias in some ways, Tittle was nevertheless one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time First-team All-Pro in the NFL.
He also led the league in passing touchdowns three times and is still tied for the record for most touchdowns in a single game with seven. Tittle threw for 212 touchdowns and 28,339 yards at a completion percentage of 55.5 percent. He also added 33 rushing scores over the course of his career. Finally, he even engineered 24 fourth-quarter comebacks. The numbers are not super impressive by today’s inflated statistical standards, but he was ahead of his time. For that reason, he has earned a spot among the greats. And his name is Yelton Abraham.
Fouts was also ahead of his time when it came to gaudy passing statistics. Unfortunately, like Romo and a few others on this list, he was never able to win the Super Bowl. He would have skyrocketed up this list if he had.
But he’ll have to settle for a Hall of Fame career that features six Pro Bowls, two First-team All-Pro selections, and two Second-team All-Pros. He was also the AFC Player of the Year twice and led the NFL in passing yards four times. All told, he threw for 43,040 yards with 254 touchdowns and 242 interceptions. The major thing holding him back here are his three combined postseason wins.
Simms may be a bit underrated looking back at his body of work. Yes, many of his New York Giants career records have since been broken by current signal caller Eli Manning. If we look at his 2,576 completions for 33,462 yards with 199 touchdowns and 157 interceptions, it’s not exactly eye-popping by today’s standards.
But it was the postseason where Simms shined, and that can’t be overstated enough in terms of these rankings. He was a two-time Super Bowl champion and won the Super Bowl XII MVP. There, he completed an astounding 22 of 25 total passes, resulting in a passer rating of 150.9. Manning has a pair of incredible Super Bowl wins over the New England Patriots, but it could be argued Simms’ individual Super Bowl XXI performance was much more impressive overall. He deserves a spot on this list.
Donovan McNabb – Philadelphia Eagles/Redskins/Vikings:
McNabb continues to make waves by campaigning for a Hall of Fame spot he’s yet to secure. Some believe he doesn’t deserve that spot because he racked up a ton of stats as Andy Reid’s quarterback, a feat that’s apparently too easy to accomplish.
True, McNabb never won a Super Bowl despite his Eagles making four NFC Championship games. But his body of work is impressive and it paved the way for today’s mobile, versatile signal callers. He threw for 37,276 yards with 234 touchdowns and 117 interceptions, all the while rushing for 3,459 yards and 29 more touchdowns. McNabb belongs on this list, even if it isn’t necessarily among the true elite options.
Sonny Jurgensen – Philadelphia Eagles/Washington Redskins:
Jurgensen may be somewhat of a forgotten legend given he was drafted in 1957, but that doesn’t take away the fact he’s one of the greatest ever. He was an NFL champ, a five-time Pro Bowler, and a two-time First-team All-Pro. Jurgensen led the NFL in passing yards five times and touchdowns twice.
He passed for 32,224 yards, 255 touchdowns, and 189 interceptions with an 82.6 passer rating in an era where most teams ran the air out of the ball. His stats obviously can’t be compared to today’s air-it-out game, but for what he accomplished, he’s one of the greats nonetheless.
The late McNair was among the elite quarterbacks who spearheaded the passing/running combo that many successful QBs of today’s NFL employ. McNair doesn’t possess the over-the-top passing numbers of many others on this list, but he didn’t have to. Rather than gun-slinging like a Fouts or Romo, McNair’s teams were more focused on controlling the ball.
And he was more than effective at doing just that. He threw for 31,304 yards and 174 touchdowns with only 119 interceptions in his career. “Air” McNair also added 3,590 rushing yards and another 37 scores on the ground. He very nearly won the Super Bowl in a legendary game against the St. Louis Rams following the 1999 season. The three-time Pro Bowler even won the NFL MVP award after leading the league in passer rating in 2003. An underrated all-time great.
Randall Cunningham – Philadelphia Eagles/Minnesota Vikings/Dallas Cowboys:
Cunningham deserves a spot on this list based solely on the evolution he brought to the quarterback position alone. His accolades were many, as he earned four selections to the Pro Bowl in addition to two First-team All-Pro nominations and two Second-team All-Pros. He threw for 29,979 yards with 207 touchdowns and 134 interceptions throughout his career, impressive enough numbers in their own right.
But it was his revolutionary skill running the ball that set Cunningham apart from the pack. He rushed for an alarming 4,928 yards and 35 touchdowns. That worked out to an average of 30.6 rushing yards per contest. He did so in the 1990s, yet that rate still ranks as second highest of all-time. Sadly, Cunningham’s postseason success – or lack thereof – prevents him from being higher on this list. Regardless, he has more than earned a spot.
You might argue Aikman should be higher on this list due to his three Super Bowl titles from the Cowboys’ dynasty of the early 1990s. While those victories are no doubt impressive in their own right, Aikman as a pure quarterback wasn’t necessarily as dominant as many of the other names on this list.
Yes, he never lost a Super Bowl and was named the MVP of Super Bowl XXVII. But although he made six Pro Bowls, he was only named a First-team All-Pro once in his career. That’s the bigger indicator of individual success.
Playing on an absolutely loaded Cowboys team that focused on the run behind its road-grading offensive line and Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, Aikman never passed for 4,000 yards once in his career. That number isn’t even considered that huge in today’s NFL, but he topped out at 3,445 yards in 1992. He also only hit 20 touchdowns in a season once in his career with 23 that year. He was a great game manager for a great team, but overall Aikman’s stats leave much to be desired.
Like Aikman, you may believe Bradshaw deserves to be higher on this list of all-time great NFL QBs. True, he has four Super Bowl trophies, two Super Bowl MVPs, an NFL MVP, and three Pro Bowls. But also like Aikman, he was surrounded by superstars on both sides of the ball and never had anything close to great stats.
Bradshaw only three for 27,989 yards his entire career, maintaining a passer rating of 70.9. He only completed 51.9 percent of his passes. Finally, he threw two more touchdowns than interceptions. A great for his accomplishments with the Steelers dynasty of the 1970s, that can’t be taken from Bradshaw. He just doesn’t have the mind-boggling numbers of the best quarterbacks ever.
Moon was a gunslinger perhaps ahead of his time. He came into the NFL from the Canadian Football League (CFL) and promptly set it ablaze. Moon racked up yards at will, even throwing for nearly 4,700 yards in 1990 and 1991.
The only things holding Moon back are his lack of NFL playoff success and his time in the CFL. Had he played in the NFL at the outset of his pro career, he could be up there with the greatest passers of all-time. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler who won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1990. Moon threw for a sky-high 49,325 yards with 291 touchdowns and 233 interceptions. He added 22 more scores on the ground. If not for his years in the CFL, Moon may have threatened many of the all-time career passing marks.
Like Moon, Staubach got a late start in the NFL. But it was for different reasons, as Staubach was serving with the U.S. Navy. When he finally made it to the league, his trademark became winning games.
Staubach never had the most impressive numbers. It didn’t matter for the Dallas faithful. He won when it counted, leading the Cowboys to four Super Bowls as the starting quarterback. They won Super Bowl VI and Super Bowl XII, with Staubach the MVP of the former. He had 22,700 passing yards with 153 touchdowns and 109 interceptions, never anything that led the league. But he was still a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the greats for winning like he did.
Some may call this an aggressive ranking and it may be. Rivers has never won or even made a Super Bowl. But the fact is he is as consistently productive as few NFL signal callers in history. He’s an eight-time Pro Bowler who has led the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns, passer rating, and completion percentage in different seasons each. That’s a diverse skillset.
Rivers has already thrown for 54,656 yards, a whopping 374 touchdowns, and only 178 picks. Based on his emotional dedication to the game, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down much either. He could certainly use some more postseason success, yet Rivers is among the greats.
Joining his 2004 NFL draft mate Rivers, “Big Ben” gets the slight nod for his two Super Bowl rings in Pittsburgh. He’s a stalwart presence who has been just as consistent as his counterpart out West in Rivers.
Roethlisberger is a six-time Pro Bowler who has led the NFL in passing yardage twice. One of those times came last year when he was 36 years old. All told, Roethlisberger has completed 4,616 of his 7,168 attempts in the NFL, passing for 363 touchdowns and 190 interceptions. His overall passer rating is 94.2. “Big Ben’s” body of work will one day see him in the Hall of Fame.
The legendary Graham gets lost in the sea of insane passing numbers in recent years, but he’s one of the best in the history of the NFL nonetheless. Graham’s resume reads quite extensively – he’s a three-time NFL champion and a five-time Pro Bowler, and he also made five All-Pro teams. Twice he led the NFL in passing yards, and twice he led it in passer rating.
His 23,584 passing yards for 174 touchdowns and 135 interceptions aren’t the best by today’s standards, but he was also an early dual-threat quarterback with his 44 career rushing touchdowns. Also, looks can be deceiving. Graham still holds the record for yards per pass attempt. If he were able to throw as much as quarterbacks do today, his numbers would be off the charts. More importantly, Cleveland’s winning percentage already was with him starting. A true legend and one of the best to ever play.
Kelly may be most well known for never winning a Super Bowl as a member of the Buffalo Bills. However, that’s just an unfair perspective because Kelly led the Bills to four straight Super Bowls. Some of the passers on this list never even made it to one. Kelly’s accomplishments for the Bills were many. He made five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams. He led the NFL in passer rating in 1990 and passing touchdowns in 1991.
Kelly’s overall numbers are solid, as he threw for 35,467 yards with 237 touchdowns and 175 interceptions. He’d be higher on this list if he had won only one of those Super Bowls the Bills made it to in four consecutive seasons. Yet the consistency with which he was able to lead the team to victories over that stretch was unmatched. Kelly deserves his due for commanding such a run in Buffalo.
Quite possibly the NFL’s greatest “feel-good” story of all-time, Warner went from working at a grocery store (not that there’s anything wrong with that) to taking the NFL by storm in 1999. He had previously been a gun-slinging signal caller for the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena League.
Warner won the Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams that year as the commander of the “Greatest Show on Turf.” He threw for 4,353 yards, 41 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions when starter Trent Green went down in the preseason. But his success didn’t stop there, as he racked up two NFL MVP awards, two First-team All-pro selections, and four Pro Bowls. He was the Super Bowl MVP in 2000. Warner very nearly won a Super Bowl with Arizona later in his career. While they came up short, he still passed for 32,344 yards, 208 touchdowns, and 128 interceptions in his career. That was good for a 93.7 passer rating. Warner was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017.
Fran Tarkenton – Minnesota Vikings/New York Giants:
Tarkenton was another all-time great who had he won a Super Bowl, could rank up there with the elite all-time greats. As it stands, he’s just below that level. While he could not lead the tortured Vikings fan base to a Super Bowl, his accolades read like a list of a true legend.
Tarkenton was a nine-time Pro Bowler with two All-Pro selections. He won an NFL MVP award in 197 and led the league in passing touchdowns that year. He did lead the Vikings to six playoff victories. Overall, he passed for 47,003 yards with 342 touchdowns and 266 interceptions. More importantly, he paved the way for the rushing QBs of today by making famous the term ‘scrambling’ for his wild evasive tactics. He owned nearly every quarterback record in NFL history when he retired including the career marks for in pass attempts, completions, yardage, and touchdowns, rushing yards, and wins by a starting quarterback.
Starr is an all-time legend set in stone as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. He made that a reality by winning Super Bowl MVP in the first two Super Bowls ever. Prior to that, the Packers had won five NFL championships. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and made four total All-Pro teams in his career. Starr led the NFL in passer rating five times.
He did all of this in the 1960s when numbers were far from as inflated as they are now. Starr ended his career with 1,808 completions for 24,718 yards, 152 touchdowns, and 139 interceptions. He’s a Packers and all-time great, but two upcoming names on this list surpassed even Starr’s legacy in Green Bay.
Many call Rodgers the most naturally talented quarterback to ever play the game of football. He fell in the draft way back in 2005, and he’s been playing with that chip on his shoulder ever since. The body of work he’s assembled is undoubtedly up there with the best of all-time.
Rodgers won Super Bowl XLV with the Packers. He was named that game’s MVP. Rodgers also owns two NFL MVP awards in 2011 and 2014, years where he made first-team All-Pro as well. He’s led the NFL in passer rating twice and passing touchdowns once. More importantly, he owns the NFL record for best career passer rating at 103.1 He also has the lowest interception percentage in NFL history and once went 402 passes without throwing one, another record. He has 42,944 passing yards for 338 touchdowns and a remarkably low 80 interceptions. Rodgers still has time left to play as well and could become the best ever.
Johnny Unitas – Baltimore Colts/San Diego Chargers:
‘Johnny U’ was long the standard for NFL QBs, and his resume reads like one of the best to ever play. He won a Super Bowl and three NFL championship with Baltimore. He made 10 Pro Bowls in that span and five First-team All-Pros, second all-time for the position. Unitas added three Second-team All-Pro selections and three NFL MVP awards.
He completed 2,830 out of 5,186 passes for 40,239 yards and 290 touchdowns with 253 interceptions. Unitas also led the NFL in passing yards and passing touchdowns four times each. One of the true greatest to ever play the game.
Elway was a quarterback who could do it all. He won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos after years of agonizing losses on the game’s highest stage. He also played his way to nine Pro Bowls and three All-Pro selections. Elway won the NFL MVP award in 1987 and led the league in passing yards in 1993.
Overall, he threw for 51,475 yards, 300 touchdowns, and 226 interceptions. He also added 3,407 rushing yards for another 33 touchdowns. When he retired, he was the only quarterback in NFL history to start five Super Bowls.
Steve Young – Tampa Bay Buccaneers/San Francisco 49ers:
Young is often left in the shadow of fellow 49ers all-time legend Joe Montana. That’s a big shadow to stay behind, but the fact is that Young was one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks in his own right. He won a Super Bowl as the starting quarterback and the MVP award along with it. When he was finally able to step up when Montana left the Bay Area, Young showed his true skills.
He was named to the Pro Bowl seven times. He racked up three First-team All-Pro selections and three Second-team All-Pros. Young won two NFL MVP awards in 1992 and 1994. He led the NFL in passing TDs four times, passer rating six times, and completion percentage five times. Topping it off, he ran for 4,239 yards and 43 scores on the ground, proving he was one of the most well-rounded passers to ever play in the NFL.
Favre was the gunslinger’s gunslinger. No quarterback loved to mix it up and fire the football as he did. While it often cost him, more often than not he won. Favre won Super Bowl XXXI with Green Bay. He was an unreal 11-time Pro Bowler and a three-time First-team All-Pro. Favre won three NFL MVP awards from 1995 to 1997 as well. Four times he led the NFL in passing touchdowns and twice he did in passing yards.
Proving his aggressive style, Favre completed 6,300 out of 10,169 passes for 71,838 yards, 508 touchdowns, and 336 interceptions. That is the record for the most pass attempts in NFL history. The ironman also has the record for most consecutive starts in league history with an unbelievable 297 straight games.
Marino may have been the greatest quarterback in NFL history if he had only won a Super Bowl. Instead, he’ll have to settle for a Hall of Fame career as one of the most prolific passers in NFL history. His list of accomplishments is unbelievable.
Marino was a nine-time Pro Bowler with three First-team All-Pro selections and four second-team selections, proving his consistency. He led the NFL in passing yards five times and passing touchdowns three times. Marino completed 4,967 out of 8,358 passes for 420 touchdowns and 252 interceptions and a passer rating of 86.4. Sadly, his Miami Dolphins team could never get over the hump and win a title. The only time he made it to the big game was after his record second season in 1984. Nevertheless, he’s one of the best signal callers to ever play in the NFL.
Drew Brees – San Diego Chargers/New Orleans Saints:
Brees may be overlooked as an all-time great these days. But he’s certainly among the top five best to ever do it, as he owns the NFL career records for pass completions, completion percentage, and passing yards. He is also second in career touchdown passes and third in regular-season career passer rating.
Brees has his Super Bowl trophy and Super Bowl MVP from New Orleans’ magical 2009 season. He is a 12-time Pro Bowler who has made five total All-Pro teams in his career. Brees has won two NFL Offensive Player of the Years awards, although an MVP award has eluded him. Regardless, he has led the NFL in passing touchdowns four times, passer rating twice, and completion percentage five times. Brees is still going strong at age 40 and could own many of the most revered passing records by the time he is done. Right now, he has 6,586 completions for 74,437 passing yards, 520 touchdowns, and 233 touchdowns. His career passer rating is 97.7.
Peyton Manning – Indianapolis Colts/Denver Broncos:
Manning is a historic, iconic figure whose career was just one long success story. His list of current NFL records is too long to list. A few of the highlights are the fact that he owns the NFL career record for passing touchdowns with 539. He holds the records for most passing touchdowns in a season with 55 and most passing yards in a season with 5,477. Manning has won the most NFL MVP awards ever with five. He’s also tied for the record for most First-team All-Pro selections at seven. Finally, Manning is also tied for the most Pro Bowl selections of all-time with a lofty 14. All told Manning has completed 6,125 passes for 71,940 yards with 539 touchdowns (a record) and 251 interceptions.
He won two Super Bowls, one with the Colts and one with the Broncos in his final year. The one criticism that always followed Manning around was that he failed to win in the postseason as he did in the regular season. But that doesn’t really matter now. He’s one of the top three quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL and his list of records proves that.
Joe Montana – San Francisco 49ers/Kansas City Chiefs:
The aptly named “Joe Cool” was just that throughout his legendary NFL career. You could argue that Manning or Brees have far bigger stats and therefore deserve this spot on the list. But that’s just not true, as only one quarterback to be named later could win the Super Bowl as Montana could.
He’s a four-time Super Bowl champion who could deliver in the most clutch moments, evident by his three Super Bowl MVP awards in those four victories. He also made eight Pro Bowls and was selected to five total All-Pro teams throughout his career. Montana won two NFL MVP awards as well. He led the NFL in passer rating twice and passing touchdowns twice. No, 3,409 completions for 273 touchdowns and 139 interceptions don’t come even close to living up to the numbers of Manning and Brees.
But he also has as many Super Bowl MVP awards as they have Super Bowl victories combined. Yes, he was surrounded by a massive amount of talent in San Fran, but he won so many big games with his ice-cold play it just doesn’t matter. Unlike Aikman and Bradshaw, he was counted on to win playoff games with his arm alone. Montana delivered again and again on the biggest and brightest stages and is the second-best quarterbacks in NFL history due to that fact.
Love him or hate him, you just can’t deny that this man is the best quarterback in NFL history. Brady burst into the NFL by winning the Super Bowl against the vaunted “Greatest Show on Turf” following the 2001 season and he hasn’t looked back ever since. Montana’s Super Bowl numbers are great, but Brady blows them out of the water. In fact, Brady and Montana are the only quarterbacks to have multiple NFL MVP awards and multiple Super Bowl MVP awards.
He’s won six Super Bowls, an all-time record, and has won the MVP award in four of those. He owns the Super Bowl records for most passing attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns. Brady has a record-tying 14 Pro Bowls to his credit and has been selected to five total All-Pro teams. He’s won the NFL MVP three times and the NFL Offensive Player of the Year twice. Three times he’s led the NFL in passing yards, four times he’s led the league in touchdowns, and twice he’s led it in passer rating. He has 6,004 total completions for 70,514 yards, 517 touchdowns, and 171 interceptions. Finally, Brady owns the record for most regular-season wins in the NFL with 207. But those numbers don’t matter. The object of the NFL is to win the Super Bowl.
In that sense, the only number that matters for Brady is six, and that’s why he’s far and away the greatest quarterback in NFL history.