10 Greatest NFL Quarterback Classes of All-Time

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Eli Manning and his two Super Bowl victories headline a star-studded Class of 2004.

<p> The 10 Greatest Quarterback Classes of All-Time, including John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly in the Quarterback Class of 1983; Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers in the Quarterback Class of 2004; and Peyton Manning, Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Batch in the Quarterback Class of 1998.</p>

The Quarterback Class of 2012 is off to a fast start. Led by Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, the Class of 2012 has a solid base to build on. But they have a long way to go to catch up with the greatest quarterback classes in NFL history.

Most drafts have one or two serviceable passers, the majority of these 10 had multiple Super Bowl caliber signal-callers:

1. Class of 1983
Still the standard by which all quarterback classes are measured. Of the 16 signal-callers selected — including six in the first round — 12 started in the NFL, four led their teams to the Super Bowl and three were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

To get the party started, Stanford two-sport star and No. 1 overall pick John Elway demanded a trade from the Baltimore Colts to the Denver Broncos, while Pitt gunslinger Dan Marino nearly fell out of the first round before landing with the Miami Dolphins.

Notable Names:
John Elway (Colts, No. 1) *
Dan Marino (Dolphins, No. 27) *
Jim Kelly (Bills, No. 14) *
Tony Eason (Patriots, No. 15)
Ken O’Brien (Jets, No. 24)
Todd Blackledge (Chiefs, No. 7)
Gary Kubiak (Broncos, No. 197)


Vital Stats:
3 Hall of Famers *
2 NFL MVP awards
2 Super Bowl wins
11 Super Bowl trips
499 career wins
196,787 passing yards
1,212 passing TDs



2. Class of 2004
Another blockbuster trade involving a “can’t miss” No. 1 overall pick shifted the balance of power in recent NFL history. Archie Manning’s son, Peyton Manning’s little brother and Ole Miss royalty Eli Manning forced a trade from the San Diego Chargers to the New York Giants — a deal that shipped NC State’s Philip Rivers from coast-to-coast.

Miami (Ohio) tough guy Big Ben Roethlisberger got off to the fastest start, going 13–0 as a rookie with six game-winning drives. Eli and Big Ben have combined to play in five of the last seven Super Bowls, winning four. Virginia product Matt Schaub went from Michael Vick’s backup in Atlanta to the starter for the Houston Texans and is poised to make his playoff debut this season.

Notable Names:
Eli Manning (Chargers, No. 1)
Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers, No. 11)
Philip Rivers (Giants, No. 4)
Matt Schaub (Falcons, No. 90)


Vital Stats:
4 Super Bowl wins
5 Super Bowl trips
21–11 playoff record





3. Class of 1949
Although three eventual Hall of Fame quarterbacks were selected in 1949, five passers were drafted before any of the Canton bust trio — including four of the top nine picks. George Blanda became the oldest player in NFL history (48 years, 109 days), Norm Van Brocklin still holds the single-game record for passing yards and Jim Finks was the architect of the four-time Super Bowl runner-up Minnesota Vikings after his playing days were over.

Notable Names:
George Blanda (Bears, No. 119) *
Norm Van Brocklin (Rams, No. 37) *
Jim Finks (Steelers, No. 116) *
Frank Tripucka (Eagles, No. 9)
Bobby Thomason (Rams, No. 7)
John Rauch (Lions, No. 2)
Stan Heath (Packers, No. 5)


Vital Stats:
3 Hall of Famers *
3 AFL championships
2 NFL championships
2 MVP awards (AFL, NFL)
554 passing yards (single-game record, Van Brocklin)
7 passing TDs (single-game record, Blanda)



4. Class of 1971
As accomplished as this class was, there is still a lingering feeling of what might have been. Stanford Heisman winner Jim Plunkett won two Super Bowls with the Raiders after washing out with both the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers. Ole Miss patriarch Archie Manning was beat down before siring a pair of No. 1 overall pick, Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.

Notre Dame golden boy Joe Theismann never played a down for the Miami Dolphins, opting instead to play for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts before leading the Washington Redskins to a pair of Super Bowl trips and one win. Augustana (Ill.) underdog Ken Anderson remains one of the underrated passers of his generation.

Notable Names:
Jim Plunkett (Patriots, No. 1)
Joe Theismann (Dolphins, No. 99)
Ken Anderson (Bengals, No. 67)
Archie Manning (Saints, No. 2)
Lynn Dickey (Oilers, No. 56)
Dan Pastorini (Oilers, No. 3)


Vital Stats:
3 Super Bowl wins
5 Super Bowl trips
2 NFL MVP awards
160,089 passing yards
946 passing TDs
102 rushing TDs



5. Class of 1984
Steve Young was the top prospect in the 1984 USFL and CFL Supplemental Draft — which also included future Hall of Famers Reggie White and Gary Zimmerman as well as Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier. The dual-threat lefty Young went on to become one of the greatest playmakers of all-time after serving as the most overqualified backup in the game to Joe Montana.

Maryland’s Boomer Esiason was the first QB taken in the amateur draft. Both Esiason and West Virginia’s Jeff Hostetler played on Super Sunday, with Hostetler winning it all for Bill Parcells’ New York Giants after taking over for an injured Phil Simms.

Notable Names:
Steve Young (Buccaneers, No. 1 – Supplemental Draft) *
Boomer Esiason (Bengals, No. 38)
Jeff Hostetler (Giants, No. 59)
Jay Schroeder (Redskins, No. 83)
Randy Wright (Packers, No. 153)


Vital Stats:
1 Hall of Famer *
2 Super Bowl wins
3 Super Bowl trips
2 NFL MVP awards





6. Class of 1998
Other than hothead flameout Ryan Leaf, this class is notable for its slow burn. Despite being in their 15th season, Peyton Manning, Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Batch have all been starting quarterbacks at times during 2012 — combining for a 12–7 record, 35 TDs and 16 INTs through Week 13. Clearly, Manning carries the statistical load, but Hasselbeck led the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl appearance, Batch has proven serviceable and Brian Griese was a solid starter during his prime.

Notable Names:
Peyton Manning (Colts, No. 1)
Matt Hasselbeck (Packers, No. 187)
Charlie Batch (Lions, No. 60)
Brian Griese (Broncos, No. 91)
Ryan Leaf (Chargers, No. 2)


Vital Stats:
4 NFL MVP awards
1 Super Bowl win
3 Super Bowl trips
128,408 passing yards
827 passing TDs



7. Class of 1979
Washington State’s “Throwin’ Samoan” went No. 3 overall but it was Notre Dame’s “Joe Cool” who went on to become arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time despite falling all the way to No. 82 in the draft.

Notable Names:
Joe Montana (49ers, No. 82) *
Phil Simms (Giants, No. 7)
Jack Thompson (Bengals, No. 3)


Vital Stats:
1 Hall of Famer *
5 Super Bowl wins
2 NFL MVP awards



8. Class of 1956
Coached by Bear Bryant at Alabama and Vince Lombardi with the Green Bay Packers, Bart Starr was the MVP of Super Bowls I and II after falling all the way to No. 200 overall in the draft. Picked 198 spots ahead was Michigan State’s Earl Morrall, who was Don Shula’s go-to guy — losing Super Bowl III for the Baltimore Colts before going 9–0 in place of Bob Griese for the champagne perfect 17–0 Super Bowl VII champion 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Notable Names:
Bart Starr (Packers, No. 200) *
Earl Morrall (49ers, No. 2)
Gary Glick (Steelers, No. 1)


Vital Stats:
1 Hall of Famer *
2 Super Bowl wins
3 Super Bowl trips
2 NFL MVP awards



9. Class of 1948
Drafted by the Chicago Bears but immortalized as a Detroit Lion, Bobby Layne was a larger than life character who regularly drank beer and smoked cigarettes at halftime. The "Bald Eagle," Y.A. Tittle was a pioneer who did everything but win an NFL championship during his brilliant career.

Notable Names:
Bobby Layne (Bears, No. 3) *
Y.A. Tittle (Lions, No. 6) *
Harry Gilmer (Redskins, No. 1)
George Ratterman (Bills, No. 139)


Vital Stats:
2 Hall of Famers *
2 NFL MVP awards



T-10. Class of 1985
After some shady wheeling and dealing, Miami’s Bernie Kosar landed with his hometown Cleveland Browns via the Supplemental Draft. UNLV’s Randall Cunningham fell just short of the Super Bowl with both the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. Boston College’s Doug Flutie and Maryland’s Frank Reich both had brief shining moments with the Buffalo Bills.

Notable Names:
Bernie Kosar (Browns, No. 1 – Supplemental Draft)
Randall Cunningham (Eagles, No. 37)
Doug Flutie (Rams, No. 285)
Frank Reich (Bills, No. 57)
Steve Bono (Vikings, No. 142)


Vital Stats:
2 Comeback Player of the Year awards



T-10. Class of 1995
The late Alcorn State great Steve “Air” McNair shared co-MVP honors with Peyton Manning and led the Tennessee Titans on one of the most memorable drives in Super Bowl history — falling one yard short against the St. Louis Rams. Penn State’s Kerry Collins threw for 38,709 yards and 196 TDs. Colorado miracle maker Kordell Stewart took the league by storm as “Slash” with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Notable Names:
Steve McNair (Oilers, No. 3)
Kerry Collins (Panthers, No. 5)
Kordell Stewart (Steelers, No. 60)
Todd Collins (Bills, No. 45)
Rob Johnson (Jaguars, No. 99)


Vital Stats:
1 NFL MVP award
2 Super Bowl trips

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