25 Greatest Quarterbacks in NFL History
Who are the best QBs in NFL History?
There is no more revered or analyzed position in the NFL than quarterback. Besides all of the statistics that are associated with signal-callers, especially in today’s pass-happy game, it’s the only position that attributes wins and losses with any regularity.
While the quarterback position has certainly evolved throughout history there have been those field generals who have distinguished themselves from their peers regardless of the era in which they played. Taking statistical success as well as team accomplishments into consideration while acknowledging when they played, here are the 25 best quarterbacks in NFL history.
Note: Statistics in tables are for regular season games.
— Rankings by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.
Stabler would spend 15 years as an NFL quarterback with three different teams, but his biggest accomplishments were achieved as an Oakland Raider. He helped lead the Raiders to their first-ever Super Bowl (XI) victory. He also made all four of his Pro Bowl appearances as a member of the Raiders, earning league MVP honors in 1974. “The Snake” was notorious for his legendary escapades off the field as well. He retired from the NFL following the 1984 season after finding little success in short stints with the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints. Stabler passed away in July 2015 and he was inducted posthumously into the Pro Football Hall of Fame a year later as part of the Class of 2016.
Namath is probably best known for his pre-game prediction that his Jets would defeat the heavily favored Colts in Super Bowl III. Not only did Namath’s unlikely prediction come to fruition, he earned Super Bowl MVP honors in the process for his outstanding performance. Namath also is well documented for his flamboyant Playboy lifestyle off of the gridiron. Broadway Joe may not have the statistical accomplishments of others on this list, but his legendary status, on and off the field, are more than enough to garner a place on the list. It would be sacrilege to have an NFL’s greatest quarterback list without Joe Willie Namath.
Fouts spent his entire 15-year career with the San Diego Chargers. He led the NFL in passing for four consecutive seasons from 1979-82, becoming the first player in history to throw for more than 4,000 yards for three straight years. For his efforts, Fouts was named NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 1982. He also was elected to six Pro Bowls during his career and is widely recognized as the most prolific passer of his era. Fouts’ never made it to the Super Bowl, which obviously hurts his overall stock to some degree, but his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993 speaks volumes.
While Kelly never managed to win the big game, he is the only quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to four consecutive Super Bowls. The Buffalo Bills' all-time passing and wins leader made his way to five Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro in both 1991 and '92. Before joining the Bills, Kelly spent two seasons with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL, winning league MVP honors in 1984. His Hall of Fame NFL career spanned 11 seasons, tallying a stellar 101-59 record with a career completion percentage of better than 60 percent.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick out of Ole Miss entered the NFL in the shadow of older brother Peyton Manning, but it wasn’t long before Eli began paving his own way into the annals of greatness among NFL quarterbacks. The younger Manning is the New York Giants' all-time passing leader and the winningest quarterback in franchise history. He is a perfect 2-0 in Super Bowl appearances, winning MVP honors in both games. He is tied for the longest touchdown pass in NFL history (99 yards). Manning ranks in the top 10 in career passing yards, touchdown passes, attempts and completions, as well as total offense. He also holds several postseason records. At age 37, the likelihood of Manning finishing his career with a different team seemingly increases with each season. Regardless of how many more years he plays (and for whom), Manning appears to be a fairly safe bet for eventual induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Big Ben, as he is affectionately known, has already staked a claim as one of the top signal-callers in NFL history. Roethlisberger has spent all 14 of his NFL seasons as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has more wins than any other quarterback in franchise history, owning virtually every Steeler passing record imaginable. He also has helped lead the Steelers to two Super Bowl Championships (XL, XLIII) becoming the youngest player in NFL history to win a Super Bowl (age 23). Roethlisberger holds several distinguished NFL records, and he has been named to the Pro Bowl six times. While this tough-as-nails, soon-to-be 35-year-old field general has contemplated retirement, he could have several chapters to write in an already storied career.
Warner is quite possibly the greatest success story in NFL history. From undrafted prospect out of college to grocery store clerk earning $5.50 an hour to Arena League star to Super Bowl champion and MVP. He would ultimately go on to a storybook career with the Rams, Giants and Cardinals that spanned 12 years. Warner took home NFL MVP honors in 1999, 2001 and '08. He also was named to four Pro Bowls. He eventually made his way back to the Super Bowl after a successful 2008 campaign with the Cardinals. Unfortunately, he was unable to take home a second Lombardi Trophy as Arizona was narrowly defeated by Pittsburgh. Warner is widely considered one of the most accurate and efficient passers in NFL history. He was part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017.
Slingin’ Sammy Baugh played in the NFL for 16 seasons, all with the Washington Redskins. In a time when the forward pass was still an afterthought for most NFL quarterbacks, Baugh was more than happy to go to the air, leading the NFL in passing six times. A record that still stands today. Baugh also won two NFL championships, in addition to being twice named NFL Player of the Year. He was ahead of his time and is often credited with revolutionizing the quarterback position. Baugh also still ranks as the second-leading punter in NFL history with a career average of 45.1 yards per punt. He was among the first players ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in 1963.
Bradshaw rarely put up phenomenal numbers during his 14 NFL regular seasons as quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But he did manage to garner three Pro Bowl selections, and he even took home NFL MVP honors in 1978. Bradshaw is best known for his stellar play in the postseason. Only Joe Montana can rival Bradshaw’s perfect 4-0 record in Super Bowl starts. He also was twice named the MVP of the Super Bowl (XII, XIV), while boasting an outstanding QB rating of 112.8 in those four Super Sunday victories. Bradshaw was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989. He has stayed in the limelight over the years with various television and movie appearances. Bradshaw currently serves as a co-host and analyst for FOX's "NFL Sunday."
Despite playing the first six seasons of his professional career with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League, Moon would go on to post mind-boggling numbers in an NFL career that spanned 17 years with four teams. Moon would spend the majority of his NFL career in Houston running the Oilers' famed “run-and-shoot” offense. Thanks in large part to this pass-happy offense, Moon would twice lead the NFL in passing yards. It also helped him earn NFL MVP honors in 1990. In total, Moon would receive nine invitations to the Pro Bowl. While he never made it the Super Bowl, he did win five Grey Cups (CFL championships) in his six seasons in the CFL. Moon is often credited with throwing the most perfect spiral in NFL history. He now rightfully resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well as the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
He is widely considered the best quarterback of his era, winning four AAFC championships and three NFL championships, all with the Cleveland Browns. He was a three-time NFL MVP, and he won two MVP awards as a member of the AAFC. Graham was a seven-time All-Pro selection and a five-time Pro Bowler. He was the most prolific passer of his era, which is all the more impressive when you consider that he played in an option-based offense and never played the quarterback position until he reached the professional level. Graham held the highest career QB passer rating (86.6) until Joe Montana retired in 1994. He still hold the NFL record for passing yards per attempt (9.0). Thanks to his background as a collegiate running back, Graham rushed for 44 touchdowns during his 10-year professional career. He was inducted to the Pro Football hall of Fame in 1965.
Aikman was the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 1989 NFL Draft following an outstanding collegiate career that began at Oklahoma and concluded at UCLA. He spent all 12 of his professional seasons as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Aikman is the Cowboys' all-time career leader in wins, pass attempts and completions. He played a significant role in leading “America’s Team” to three Super Bowls (XXVII, XXVIII and XXX), winning all three. His four-touchdown performance in Super Bowl XXVII earned him MVP honors. Aikman was named to six Pro Bowls and received the distinguished Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 1996. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Starr lost just one playoff game in his storied 16-year career, placing him amongst the greatest postseason quarterbacks in NFL history. He would ultimately win five NFL titles in total, two via Super Bowls I and II. Starr would earn Super Bowl MVP honors in both of those wins. He was named NFL MVP in 1966 and named to the Pro Bowl four times. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
The former Heisman Trophy winner joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1969 at the age of 27, following a four-year tour of duty in Vietnam as an officer in the U.S. Navy. He would go on to spend the entirety of his 11-year Hall of Fame career with the Cowboys, becoming one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history. He would win two Super Bowls (VI and XII), earning MVP honors in Super Bowl VI. Staubach was named the NFL MVP in 1971, in addition to being named to the Pro Bowl on six separate occasions. He has served as a hero and role model for millions, both on and off the field.
Tarkenton revolutionized the quarterback position, playing a brand of football that was unlike any other of his era. Widely considered the NFL’s first true dual-threat quarterback, he would go on to rush for 3,674 yards and 32 touchdowns during his career. He was the 1975 NFL MVP, a two-time All-Pro selection and a nine-time Pro Bowler. Tarkenton would never win an NFL championship during his 18-year career spent with the Vikings and Giants, but he did lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl on three separate occasions. He retired in 1978 holding career passing records for completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns. All of those records have since fallen, but the Hall of Fame field general will forever be remembered as one of the all-time legends of the game.
Rodgers' NFL career got off to a late start after playing a backup role to Brett Favre in his first three seasons in Green Bay. Regardless, he has already achieved legendary status in just 10 seasons as a starting NFL quarterback. Rodgers' list of accomplishments include Super Bowl champion (XLV), Super Bowl MVP, two-time NFL MVP (2011, '14), six-time Pro Bowler and three time All-Pro. He currently has the highest career QB rating in NFL history (103.8). At age 34, Rodgers has plenty of time left to further an already impressive list of accomplishments and continue to move up this list, provided he's able to avoid serious injury. A broken collarbone limited him to just seven games in 2017.
Following a successful five-year stint with the San Diego Chargers to begin his career, the former second-round pick out of Purdue wound up with New Orleans Saints where his career really began to take off. Brees would lead the Saints to their one and only Super Bowl (XLIV) victory in franchise history in 2009, earning game MVP honors in the process. The 11-time Pro Bowl signal-caller holds records for all-time completion percentage (66.9), most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (54), most 5,000-yard seasons (5) and most consecutive seasons with 4,000-plus passing yards (12). Brees also is the fastest quarterback to reach 60,000 passing yards and ranks sixth in career wins (142). He also ranks among the top three in NFL history in passing yards, touchdown passes, attempts and completions. At age 39, Brees has put together a Hall of Fame-worthy career and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Marino spent his entire 17-year career with the Miami Dolphins following a successful college career at Pitt. While Marino never won a Super Bowl, which hurts his status on this list to some degree, he did play in the big game (XIX) in just his second season as an NFL quarterback. Marino would go on to break countless passing records during his storied career. Many of his biggest records have since been surpassed, but he still holds several NFL passing records and literally every Dolphins passing record. Marino was named NFL Rookie of the Year in 1983 and NFL MVP in '84. He also is a six-time All-Pro selection and was invited to nine Pro Bowls. Marino is best known for his cannon arm and lightning-fast release. He will go down as one of the most prolific passers in NFL history. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
Steve Young’s legacy might be even greater if he didn’t have to spend three years backing up Joe Montana in San Francisco. That, in addition to wasting his first two seasons in the USFL (1984-85), and two more quarterbacking an abysmal Buccaneers team in 1985-86. Regardless, Young will still go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. While he has three Super Bowl rings (XXIII, XXIV, XXIX) to his credit, only one of those came as a starting quarterback in Super Bowl XXIX. He was named MVP of that game, the capper to arguably the greatest season by a QB in NFL history. His resume also includes two NFL MVP Awards (1992 and '94), seven Pro Bowl selections and six All-Pro selections. His 96.8 passer rating ranks second all time, and Young’s 4,239 rushing yards ranks third among QBs. The former 49er great is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Johnny U was the quintessential quarterback of his era, leading as a shining example for every signal-caller that tried to follow in his footsteps. A Hall of Fame career, spent primarily with the Baltimore Colts, would include a victory in Super Bowl V to go along with three NFL championships. Unitas was a four-time NFL MVP and named to 10 Pro Bowls during a legendary career that spanned 18 seasons.
Favre was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the 33rd overall pick out of Southern Miss in the 1991 NFL Draft. He would soon make his way to Green Bay in 1992 where he would flourish for the next 16 seasons. Favre built a legacy in Green Bay, leading the Packers to back-to-back Super Bowls (XXXI and XXXII) and a world championship in 1996 (XXXI). The three-time NFL MVP (1995, ’96, ’97) still holds several NFL passing records and ranks in the top five in practically every statistical passing category. He is tied with Peyton Manning for second with 186 career regular-season wins. He was a six time All-Pro selection and was invited to 11 Pro Bowls. Favre also built a tough-as-nails reputation on his way to becoming the NFL’s “Iron Man,” starting in 297 consecutive regular-season games. It is the longest streak of its kind by any player, at any position, in NFL history. A record that will likely never be broken. Favre would bounce in and out of retirement over the final three seasons of his 20-year career, ending it with short stints with the Jets and Vikings. Favre headlined the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2016.
A two-sport standout at Stanford, Elway spent a season in the New York Yankees' farm system before ultimately deciding to take his chances in the NFL. He was selected No. 1 overall in the 1983 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts. Elway was quickly traded to the Broncos, having never played a single down for the Colts. He would spend all 16 seasons of his Hall of Fame career in Denver, where he would go on to play in five Super Bowls. He won two (XXXII, XXXIII), including being named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII, the final game of his playing career. He was selected for nine Pro Bowls, was a three-time All-Pro honoree, and took home NFL MVP honors in 1987. The 2004 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee excelled as both a passer and a runner. His 3,407 rushing yards rank sixth among quarterbacks. The athletic signal-caller, renowned for his legendary rocket arm, ranks among the top passers in NFL history in several categories as well. He currently serves as the Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager for the Broncos, who won their third Lombardi Trophy by defeating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
After winning a national championship at Notre Dame, Joe Cool or The Comeback Kid as he is often referred, would go on to a legendary career with the 49ers. He would ultimately become known as the greatest quarterback in Super Bowl history. A title that has since been passed on to Tom Brady. He owns several Super Bowl records including a perfect 4-0 record (shared with Terry Bradshaw), the highest collective all-time QB rating in the Super Bowl (127.8), and the most passes thrown without an interception (122 in four games). His three Super Bowl MVP selections are surpassed only by Tom Brady. Montana was no slouch during the regular season either, earning NFL MVP honors in both 1989 and '90. He also garnered eight Pro Bowl selections and five All-Pro selections. Best known for his calm demeanor and ability to overcome even the most adverse situations, Montana's legacy as one of the greatest to ever play the game is secure. He retired in 1994 after spending his final two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Montana was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
The first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft out of the University of Tennessee, Peyton Manning has garnered more accomplishments than any other quarterback in NFL history. In a storybook career that spanned 17 seasons between the Colts and Broncos, the future Hall of Famer won five NFL MVP trophies, the most of any player. He was named an All-Pro an impressive 10 times and was invited to the Pro Bowl in all but three of his seasons (14). Manning holds practically every major NFL passing record imaginable, both single-season and career. He is second all time in career wins (regular season and postseason) with 200. He played in four Super Bowls, winning twice (XLI and 50), and was named MVP in leading the Colts to victory over the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Manning is the epitome of elite in every sense of the word. He will forever be acknowledged for his high football IQ, relentless preparation, and immense character, both on and off the field.
After being selected 199th overall (sixth round) by the Patriots in the 2000 NFL Draft, no one could have ever imagined that Brady would go on to have one of the most decorated careers in NFL history. In Brady’s 16 seasons as the starting quarterback for New England, he has led the Patriots to an unprecedented 15 division titles, eight Super Bowls, and five world championships. He has made more Super Bowl starts than any other quarterback in NFL history, and surpassed Joe Montana by winning his fourth Super Bowl MVP award in 2017. Brady’s extensive resume also includes three NFL MVP Awards (2007, '10, '17), five All-Pro selections, and 13 Pro Bowl invitations. The winningest quarterback in NFL history (223, regular season and postseason), Brady needs just 12 touchdown passes to become the third player with 500 in his career (Peyton Manning, Bret Favre). Tom Terrific surely has a spot reserved in Canton, as he has cemented his place as the greatest quarterback of all time.