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Best Quarterback of All Time

Updated on January 22, 2014

The Men The Stats The Eras

The National Football League (NFL) has quickly become America's favorite professional sports association. The glamour position in the NFL and perhaps all of sports is unquestionably the quarterback. We are in a golden age of quarterbacks and offense in general. Rule modifications have opened up offensive production like never before. We watch the quarterbacks of today making a mockery of the record books and wonder how do they match up in terms of greatness to the greats of the past. I present six men with what I believe are the credentials to vie for the title of greatest quarterback of all time. Due respect to the quarterbacks in earlier times such as John Unitas, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Dan Fouts, and Bart Starr, but they will not be included in this study for a few reasons. The number one reason is that I never saw any of these guys play. While this does not diminish their greatness, I do not feel qualified to represent them in this article despite the large statistical basis I will provide for our quarterbacks. Another reason these men will not be included is that statistics were not as closely tracked during their careers nor was the analysis of the stats quite as complete. Also rule changes to the game will have severely dampened the statistics of these men as well. There will enough speculation in comparing quarterbacks from the 1980's and 90's to the quarterbacks of today, without adding in quarterbacks of the 60's and 70's. Therefore the players on our list are: Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady.

The criteria for being the greatest quarterback is made up of a combination of statistics, awards, and achievements. Achievements meaning Super Bowl victories and also conference championships. Since this discussion is on an individual basis the award added into the conversation will be the NFL Most Valuable Player award or MVP. Several statistics will be looked upon in the formula for the greatest quarterback of all time. We will look at career totals in touchdowns thrown, total passing yardage, wins, and fourth quarter comeback victories. In order to rank the quarterbacks I have put together a formula that takes all of the achievement awards and statistics into consideration, but also how long their career has been. The length of the career matters because we want to make sure that any player on our list was effective throughout his career not just a stat compiler. Length of career is also important because we want to make sure that player was effective over the course of several years not just a flash in the pan. There will undoubtedly be players that many will feel have been overlooked in this list so here is some of the best of the rest. These men have been left off the list for a few reasons, lack of championship hardware, haven't been in the league long enough, or just didn't meet the eye test compared to the men on this list. In no particular order: Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Kurt Warner. All of these men could easily be on the list but they each have their short comings. Kelly was 0-4 in Super Bowls and had pedestrian statistics compared to our listers. Young didn't have the numbers and only went to one Super Bowl which he won, but playing along side Jerry Rice it could be argued he should have at least gotten to another. Aikman had great Super Bowl legacy but wasn't even the best player on his own team(Emmit Smith). His career was cut short due to concussions as well and his numbers pale in comparison. Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers need more of a sample size and probably at least another Super Bowl appearance each but these men could be well on their way to knocking a Marino or a Favre off of this list. Warner's career was also shorter and he did not fare particularly well in a stint with the Giants showing his need to be surrounded by great players in order to win(Boldin, Fitzgerald, Faulk, Holt). Its is no surprise that there are more and more great quarterbacks coming into the league every year. Coaching and interest in football has never been at a higher level. Technology, allowing quarterbacks to advance cerebrally, is also advancing at never seen before rates. Bigger stronger faster the athletes credo, applies to football maybe like no other sport, but the greats will always be great despite eras, rules and advancements to the game.

Kurt Warner won the Super Bowl in his first year as a starter with the St. Louis Rams in 1999
Kurt Warner won the Super Bowl in his first year as a starter with the St. Louis Rams in 1999 | Source

The Formula

2 points per Super Bowl victory

1 point for a Super bowl loss

1 point for every 100 touchdown passes thrown

1 point for every 10,000 passing yards

1 point for per 50 career wins

1 point per 10 fourth quarter comeback victories

1 point for every regular season MVP

The total of the points is then divided by the number of years played.

And then so we get a nice pretty number we multiply that number by 100.

Lets look at an example: Lets call him Player X and see if you can guess who it is, keep in mind he is not on our list.

Player X

2 points for 1 Super Bowl victory

2 points for 2 Super Bowl losses

2 points for 208 touchdown passes

3.2 points for 32,344 passing yards

1.2 points for 69 career victories

.9 points for 9 career fourth quarter comebacks

2 points for two MVP awards

Total =13.3

Player X played for 12 seasons

Total Score 110.8

Can you guess who this player was?

Answer: Kurt Warner. Not a bad career for a guy who only played 12 seasons. His statistical numbers in yards, touchdowns, and wins just don't quite make the cut, but Warner was a winner and made the most of his short career.

Tom Brady has led the New England Patriots to 3 Super Bowl victories in 5 appearances.
Tom Brady has led the New England Patriots to 3 Super Bowl victories in 5 appearances. | Source
Peyton Manning is the only player on our list to lead two different teams to the Super Bowl
Peyton Manning is the only player on our list to lead two different teams to the Super Bowl | Source

Who is Your Number 1 Quarterback of Alltime?

See results

Chapters Yet To Be Written

Two of the quarterbacks on this list are still active players in the NFL. Anyone who knows anything about football probably can guess exactly the two active quarterbacks worthy of such recognition. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are two quarterbacks for the ages and they still have football left to play. Both quarterbacks were looking to add to their legacies this season as they faced off in the AFC championship game for the third time in their illustrious careers. With the win Manning is now 2-1 versus Brady in conference championships. Aided by a modern day NFL that protects its passers like never before and gives the receivers more room to run free than in any past generation, these two men have video game like statistics. There is no shortage of hardware between the two as well. Brady has five Super Bowl appearances, three super bowl victories, and two regular season MVP awards. Manning has one Super Bowl victory, three Super Bowl appearances, one outcome yet to be determined, and an NFL record five regular season MVP awards (assuming he wins this year's award). The quarterback formula will be a bit complicated for these two as well since the length of their careers, totals stats and achievements has not been finalized yet. However we will calculate them where they stand currently, adding an MVP to Manning because if he doesn't win the 2013 award, I'm pretty sure the world will have come to an end anyway.

Tom Brady

6 points for three Super Bowl victories

2 points for two Super Bowl losses

3.6 points for 359 touchdowns thrown

4.9 points for 49,149 passing yards

2.9 points for 148 wins

3.1 points for 31 career fourth quarter comebacks

2 points for two MVP awards

Total =23.5

14 seasons played

Total Score 167.8

Peyton Manning

2 points for one Super Bowl victory

1 point for one Super Bowl loss

1 point for Super Bowl outcome TBD

4.9 points for 491 touchdowns thrown

6.5 points for 64, 941 passing yards

3.2 points for 167 career victories

4 points for 40 fourth quarter comebacks

5 points for 5 MVP awards

Total = 27.6

16 seasons played

Total Score 172.5

Brett Favre holds NFL records for passing yards and touchdowns thrown
Brett Favre holds NFL records for passing yards and touchdowns thrown | Source

The Bridge Between Eras

Only one man on this list has played against every other player on the list. Brett Favre, whose playing career began in 1992 played 20 seasons with Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, and Minnesota Vikings. When Favre began in 1992 the rules protecting quarterbacks were much more lenient than when he retired in 2011. Pass interference was called much differently as well. Favre was an old school gunslinger who brought more passion and fun to the game than any other player I've ever seen. Favre retired from the game holding almost every major passing record including touchdowns, yards and wins. He also holds the record for interceptions, which could be considered to be his only real downfall as a quarterback. Favre also fell out of popular favor when he retired and unretired several times, and went to play for his beloved Packer's rival the Minnesota Vikings. His stats, achievements and awards however cement Favre's place in history and this list.,

Brett Favre

2 point for one Super Bowl victory

1 point for one Super Bowl loss

5 points for 508 touchdowns thrown

7.1 points for 71,838 passing yards

3.6 points for 186 career victories

3 points for 30 fourth quarter comebacks

3 points for 3 MVP awards

Total = 24.7

20 seasons played

Total Score 123.5

Elway's Super Bowl Helicopter

Dan Marino played his college football at The University of Pittsburgh
Dan Marino played his college football at The University of Pittsburgh | Source

A Man Without a Ring

Dan Marino is commonly referred to as the best pure passer of the football the game has ever seen. With a lightning quick release, and a deep ball like no other, Dan Marino is the only player on the list without a Super Bowl victory. This is not a slight on Marino, but rather a tribute to his greatness, in an era where we measure quarterbacks by rings, he makes the list without one. Behind a then record 48 touchdown passes, Marino led the Miami Dolphins to a Super Bowl appearance in his second year, only to be thwarted by fellow lister Joe Montana and the San Fransisco 49ers. Marino would never again reach the Super Bowl, but his career was full of amazing statistical accomplishments despite being surrounded by average talent at best. When he retired Marino held almost every major passing record, and he did it in a much unkinder era than did Favre, Manning, or Brady.

Dan Marino

1 point for one Super Bowl loss

4.2 points for 420 touchdowns thrown

6.1 points for 61,361 passing yards

2.9 points for 147 career victories

3.6 points for 36 fourth quarter comebacks

1 point for 1 MVP award

Total = 17.8

17 seasons played

Total Score 104.7

Montana The Catch

Montana and Elway

Joe Montana is the only player on this list with four Super Bowl victories. He is also the only player on the list to have never lost in a Super Bowl. Montana was deadly accurate and possibly the most clutch quarterback to ever play the game. Montana may have had the best supporting cast of the lot as well. Winning three of his Super Bowls along side Jerry Rice who is widely regarded as the best wide receiver to ever play the game. Montana was also guided by offensive genius coach Bill Walsh. Walsh's "West Coast Offense" was revolutionary and was the perfect fit for a quarterback like Montana. The statistics for Montana are not on par with some of the more modern players on the list, but again we can attribute this to the difference in eras.

John Elway may be the most talented quarterback of this group. By far the best runner on the list Elway amassed 3,407 rushing yards and 34 rushing touchdowns and yet was best known for his rocket arm. Elway led the Denver Broncos to five Super Bowls winning the big game in his final two seasons when he was finally given a supporting cast. Elway, like Montana, was also known for his late game heroics after orchestrating "The Drive" in the 1987 AFC Championship game, in which Elway led the Broncos 98 yards to a game tying touchdown, leaving only 37 seconds on the clock. The Broncos would win the game in overtime and advance to the Super Bowl. Elway lost his first three Super Bowls, but after winning it in his final two seasons as a pro his legacy was complete. Elway too played before the major changes to the passing game rules, but he still put up very respectable statistics while playing most of his career under run reliant coach Dan Reeves.

Joe Montana

8 points for four Super Bowl victories

2.7 points for 273 touchdowns thrown

4 points for 40,551 passing yards

1.3 points for 117 career victories

3.1 points for 31career fourth quarter comebacks

2 points for 2 MVP awards

Total = 21.1

15 seasons played

Toatal Score 140.6

John Elway

4 points for two Super Bowl victories

3 points for three Super Bowl losses

3 points for 300 touchdowns thrown

5.1 points for 51,475 passing yards

2.9 points for 148 career victories

3.5 points for 35 fourth quarter comebacks

1 point for one MVP award

Total = 22.5

16 seasons played

Total Score 140.6


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    • Sam Bartz profile image

      Sam Bartz 

      4 years ago from Tallahassee, Florida

      I like the idea of having a formula. It's nice to see that Kurt Warner gets a little love here. However, I think neglecting the quarterbacks of the 60s and 70s is a mistake. The game was in no doubt different in those days, but leaving out guys like Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach and Otto Graham on a best of all time list is a travesty.

    • mschilling20 profile image

      Matt Schilling 

      4 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      This is a very interesting debate. I wish that this or some other equation would help put this debate to rest, but to even be considered one of the best is an honor itself. The biggest issue with any one equation is the eras players play in. Montana and Marino are the two best quarterbacks from the old age. So many rule changes have helped the offense nowadays, as well as little things such as an easier grip on the ball. If receivers had those kinds of footballs, there wouldn't have been as many drops. This is always a fun debate to have, but hardly anyone ever changes their opinions. :)

    • Kevinjackson47 profile image

      Kevin Jackson 

      4 years ago from North Carolina

      The game has definitely changes since Montana has played. Even with all the high powered offenses and speedy receivers of modern day football Montana is still the best!

    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 

      4 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      This is a fun debate. I go with Montana #1. I think Aaron Rogers has a chance at consideration. Brady and Manning are both great. Peyton probably climbs higher on people's list if he wins the SB this year.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      4 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Can't argue with your list at all. For me, it's Elway, Montana and Marino as the Top 3. Eventually Brady and Manning will round off the list. But the guys who played in the 80s and 90s did not have the rules that we have today. Brady and Manning have benefitted the past five years from very restrictive rules for corners. Can you imagine Dan Marino playing today? Wow. Roethelsberger will eventually be in the discussion although the numbers are not entirely there. He is a winner. But I will give honorable mention to McNabb. I know peoople either love him or hate him. But he did a lot with a little. Voted up.


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