The Top 20 Quarterbacks
The Top 20 Quarterbacks
20. Jim Kelly
Buffalo Bills | 1986-1996 | 4 x Super Bowl runner-up
The most unfortunate QB on this list, Kelly was an integral part of a powerful Bills offense in the 1990s. Immensely talented and with the intelligence to run a prolific no-huddle offense, he turned his team into a dynasty – one that went to four consecutive Super Bowls, in fact, but lost the lot.
19. Kurt Warner
St Louis Rams, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals | 1998-2009 | 1 x Super Bowl, 1 x Super Bowl MVP, 2 x Super Bowl runner-up
Plucked from the obscurity of NFL Europe to lead a Rams’ team known as ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ to victory at Super Bowl XXXIV in his first season as a starter. Warner’s later resurgence in Arizona, leading another perennial loser to the Super Bowl, lands him on this list.
18. Dan Fouts
San Diego Chargers | 1973-1987 | 1 x NFL MVP
Fouts, one of the most prolific QBs during the 1970s and ’80s, never quite led the Chargers to a Super Bowl during his 15-year career, but what a passer. Breaking the passing yardage record in three consecutive seasons, he led the league in every major passing category at least once in his career. And he had the best beard ever seen on a quarterback.
17. Warren Moon
Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs | 1984-2000 | 1 x NFL MVP
Would be higher on this list if he hadn’t spent six years in Canada at the start of his career. Shattered records there before leading the NFL in passing twice, making nine Pro Bowls and taking home the MVP award in 1990. The first black QB to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
16. Ben Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers | 2004-present | 2 x Super Bowl, 1 x Super Bowl runner-up
The first active QB on the list. Suffers from the fact that, early in his career, he was more of a game manager. But his development into a pocket passer in the past five years, and his downfield throwing ability, make him a must-pick. One more ring as an offensive focal point, and he could be top 10.
15. Terry Bradshaw
Pittsburgh Steelers | 1970-1983 | 4 x Super Bowl, 2 x Super Bowl MVP
How can one of only three four-time Super Bowl champions be so low on this list? A great arm and an excellent leader, but statistically he’s one of the worst QBs here. Although he became a greater focus later in this 1970s dynasty, his rings will always be put down to Pittsburgh’s ‘Steel Curtain’ defense and excellent running game.
14. Troy Aikman
Dallas Cowboys | 1989-2000 | 3 x Super Bowl, 1 x Super Bowl MVP
Not unlike Bradshaw, Aikman’s stats suffer from being on a run-heavy team with a top offensive line. But he was a great passer with a strong arm, a quick release and supreme accuracy. Put Aikman on a pass-heavy team, and he might be considered one of the best ever. Instead, he’ll have to settle for those three championships.
13. Fran Tarkenton
Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants | 1961-1978 | 3 x Super Bowl runner-up, 1 x NFL MVP
The Vikings QB beat defenses with Tarkenton’s arms and legs like no one before – he still ranks fourth in career rushing yards amongst QBs, and eighth in passing. He took Minnesota to three Super Bowls, sadly losing all three. At the time of his retirement, Tarkenton owned every major quarterback record.
12. Steve Young
San Francisco 49ers | 1987-1999 | 3 x Super Bowl, 1 x Super Bowl MVP, 2 x NFL MVP
Three Championships, a two-time MVP, the league leader in passer rating six times, holder of the all-time NFL passer rating record and second in rushing touchdowns by a QB. And yet always seems underrated – as the man who followed Joe Montana, he has been labelled the ultimate system QB.
11. Brett Favre
Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings | 1991-2010 | 1 x Super | Bowl, 1 x Super Bowl runner-up, 3 x NFL MVP
Favre outside the top 10 might be the biggest upset on this list. The gunslinger was part of only two losing seasons in his career. Reached the playoffs 12 times; won three consecutive NFL MVP awards. Never afraid to make an unconventional play; won games with moments of magic.
10. Bart Starr
Green Ba y Pac kers | 1956-1971 | 2 x Super Bowl, 2 x Super Bowl MVP
Many wax lyrical about Tom Brady beating the odds as a sixth-round pick, but Starr did it as a 17th-round pick in 1956. Won seven titles in total, including the first two as MVP after the Super Bowl era began. His passing numbers aren’t spectacular, but Starr was one of the clutchest quarterbacks of all time.
9. Roger Staubach
Dallas Cowboys | 1969-1979 | 2 x Super Bowl, 1 x Super Bowl MVP, 3 x Super Bowl runner-up
After winning the Heismann Trophy, Staubach had to serve for six years before joining the NFL at 27. Nicknamed ‘Captain America’, he led the Cowboys to the Super Bowl four times in eight seasons as a starter. He’s also responsible for the NFL’s first ever ‘Hail Mary’ – a 50-yard pass to Drew Pearson with 32 seconds left to beat the Vikings in the 1975 playoffs.
8. Drew Brees
San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints | 2001-present | 1 x Super Bowl, 1 x Super Bowl MVP
Do whatever you can to get a ticket to Wembley in October, to see a guaranteed Hall-of-Famer do his thing. Some knock Brees with claims of inflated stats or lack of postseason success, but how do you argue with the 19 different all-time quarterback passing records he currently holds? Brees has no fewer than five seasons during which he’s passed more than 5,000 yards. The most for any other quarterback? One.
7. Johnny Unitas
Baltimore Colts, San Diego Chargers | 1956-1973 | 1 x Super Bowl, 3 x NFL MVP
NFL historians will be livid that Unitas is only seventh on our list, but with so many achievements coming before the Super Bowl era, this placing is a credit to his legacy. Originally cut by the Steelers before signing in Baltimore – he didn’t start until midseason and his first pass was picked off for a touchdown – but he turned his legacy around with his performance in ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’ – the Colts’ 1958 Championship win over the New York Giants.
6. John Elway
Denver Broncos | 1983-1998 | 2 x Super Bowl, 1 x Super Bowl MVP, 3 x Super Bowl runner-up
Like another Broncos Super Bowl winner coming up, Elway suffered from heartbreaking playoff losses that almost derailed his legacy. Some will say it’s saved by winning two rings late on thanks to the great running back Terrell Davis, but his scrambling was excellent, his deep ball was wonderful, and the fact he is sickeningly successful at everything he does means he’ll be furious at making only the top six here. Wonder if he’s reading?
5. Dan Marino
Miami Dolphins | 1983-1999 | 1 x Super Bowl runner-up, 1 x NFL MVP
Part of the great draft of 1983 that’s already seen John Elway and Jim Kelly on this list, Marino was the best of the group – but he will go down as the greatest QB never to win a Super Bowl. He was the first to pass for 5,000 yards in a season, first to throw 40 touchdowns in a year and supreme in primetime (20 wins on Monday Night Football). The great shame is that he never had a great receiver or offense around him to augment his unquestionable talent.
4. Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers | 2005-present | 1 x Super Bowl, 1 x Super Bowl MVP, 2 x NFL MVP
If you’re new to the NFL, you have had the genuine privilege to watch some of the very best of all time doing it – and Aaron Rodgers has perhaps the greatest arm, the deepest talent and the most supreme physical gifts of any QB in NFL history. He is already arguably the greatest quarterback ever to watch, but could he finish his career at number one on this list? More discipline in his play, partnered with a couple more wins in the big game, and there’s every chance.
3. Peyton Manning
Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos 1998-2015 | 2 x Super Bowl, 1 x Super Bowl MVP, 5 x NFL MVP
The greatest regular-season quarterback of all-time, and it’s not even close. For all the physical skills Rodgers has, Manning has the greatest brain of any QB. His surgical accuracy, obsession to improve and ability to read the defense and adjust meant he changed the way the position was played. It’s probably harsh on Peyton that he will always be remembered as a man who couldn’t do it in January, but his last Super Bowl win tipped his postseason win-loss ratio to 14-13 – simply not good enough, for a man of his talents, to see him higher than three on our list.
2. Joe Montana
San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs | 1979-1994 | 4 x Super Bowl, 3 x Super Bowl MVP, 2 x NFL MVP
If Manning is knocked down by his postseason record, Joe Montana’s four wins in four Super Bowl appearances saw him considered the best of all time for many years. A clutch fourth-quarter performer, an unquestioned leader and one of the coolest men to ever do it, he threw the ball with great accuracy, never gave the defense time to breathe and rarely missed an open man. Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense and getting to throw to Jerry Rice certainly helped his cause, but for many years there was no one better in the position. That is, until…
1. Tom Brady
New England Patriots | 2000-present | 4 x Super Bowl, 3 x Super Bowl MVP, 2 x Super Bowl runner-up, 2 x NFL MVP
NFL fans are probably sick of the story by now: picked in the sixth round, passed over 198 times before he was taken as the seventh quarterback in the 2000 draft. Tom Brady came into the league with a chip on his shoulder. He may not have the physical tools of Rodgers, or the perfect Super Bowl record of Montana, or even be able to say he changed the way the position was played like Manning. But by the time Sunday rolls round, Tom Brady will have started in 14 per cent of all Super Bowls and could become the first QB in the history of the league to win it five times.
Some wonder how his legacy would be considered if he had remained a three-time winner after losses to the New York Giants in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. But longevity is part of the case in his favour – the fact his fourth ring came 10 years after the third and, unlike Manning or Elway before him, he carried that Patriots team. Incredibly, he may have played even better this year, in his quest for number five.
Some say coaching has made Brady the man he is, but the truth is that he achieved these feats in a constantly evolving offensive scheme – his adaptability in 16 years at the top shows his mental ability and his will to win. The symbiotic nature of his relationship with head coach Bill Belichick, the pair feeding off each other’s obsessive need to succeed, is one factor that makes them both worthy contenders as the best of all time. Win or lose on Sunday, and even with the mild stain of Deflategate on his CV, Brady is the greatest.
Join Gridiron and Visit Houston at Bloomsbury Bowl Lanes London to watch the Super Bowl. Entry £10, including a free beer or soft drink and a free copy of Gridiron’s Super Bowl Preview Magazine. Tickets at Gridiron-Magazine.com/ SuperBowlLI or check out @Gridiron on Twitter