The quarterback is one of the most important positions of any sport. Most of the time they’re the leader of the team on and off the field and the offense primarily runs through them via a snap of the ball, a step back, and either handing it off or making an accurate pass all in hopes of moving the ball down the field to get in the end zone.
It’s such an important position that teams build around the quarterback, depending on what type of skill their QB has. They could be more of a mobile quarterback, more of a step-back and sling it QB, a dual-threat quarterback, a precise passer, the list goes on. Every quarterback is different and has their strengths. And throughout NFL history, there have been a few here or there whose strengths have stood out the most in the form of yardage, touchdown passes, Super Bowl wins, or a sheer grit and leadership quality that separated them from the rest.
RELATED: The 25 Best NFL Fullbacks Of All Time
Everybody on this list is in the Hall of Fame except for the quarterback who takes the top spot in this list who’s still playing in the NFL (take a wild guess who that could be) and two more quarterbacks (one who recently retired). But they’re all shoo-in Hall of Famers.
You’re about to find out, so get set, take a seat, and…hike! Get ready for the:
20 Of The Best QBs Of All Time
Thanks to the Pro Football Hall of Fame‘s list of players by position, which was helpful in compiling this list. And shout out to Pro Football Reference, where the stats here were gathered from.
Honorable Mentions: Y.A. Tittle, Bart Starr, Fran Tarkenton, Joe Namath Bobby Layne, Ken Stabler
20 – Roger Staubach
Roger Staubach wasn’t just one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL, he also honorably served our country after he graduated college. Now that’s what I call showing true service and leadership, qualities you want as a top-notch quarterback to be able to lead your team to victory. And Staubach knew how to do exactly that in the NFL.
Per the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Staubach first starred as a quarterback at the U. S. Naval Academy, where he was a Heisman Trophy winner as a junior in 1963. Following his graduation, he spent a mandatory four years on active duty, including service in Vietnam, before he was able to turn his attention to pro football. During his finest years with the Cowboys, Roger had the reputation for making the big play. He was the MVP of Super Bowl VI and provided the offensive spark in a defense dominated Super Bowl XII victory.”
19 – Steve Young
A three-time Super Bowl champion and two-time MVP, Steve Young was a dual-threat quarterback in the ’80’s and ’90’s when it wasn’t as common as it is today to find quarterbacks getting it done with not just their passing but their mobility and running to help their team win.
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “(d)uring his NFL career, the left-hander threw for 3,000 or more yards six times and had 20 or more touchdown passes in a season five times, and posted a passer rating of 100 or higher six times. Aside from his passing ability, Young was a constant threat as a runner. He ran for 4,239 yards and scored 43 rushing touchdowns.”
18 – Sammy Baugh
When you think of a present-day quarterback, it’s obvious that they be a great passer. Forward passer that is. If you look at rugby, it’s all about the backwards lateral and this was also the case with football back in the day, as well. Sammy Baugh was reportedly one of the first quarterbacks to bring the forward pass to prominence in the NFL quarterback position
Per the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “When Baugh first started with the (Washington Football Team) pro football was largely a grind-it-out ground game. The forward pass was something to be used with caution, and never inside your 30-yard line, except in desperate situations. By the time Baugh was through, the forward pass was a primary offensive weapon. Obviously, such a change could not be totally brought about by one individual. But Baugh was the catalyst that changed the game. No one had seen a passer who could throw with such accuracy.”
“Baugh arrived on the pro football scene in 1937, the same year the Redskins moved to Washington from Boston. The Texas Christian star was the team’s first round pick that year. Over the next 16 seasons ‘Slingin’ Sammy’ not only helped establish the pro game in the nation’s capital, he also was a major influence in the offensive revolution that occurred in the late 1930s and early 1940s.”The Pro Football Hall of Fame,
17 – Jim Kelly
The ‘Bulls Mafia’ knows all about Jim Kelly and the success he had in Buffalo.
“In 11 seasons in Buffalo, Kelly led the Bills to the playoffs eight times. In 17 playoff game appearances, including four consecutive Super Bowls, he passed for 3,863 yards and 21 touchdowns. At the time of his retirement, his 84.4 passer rating ranked sixth all-time and was second when compared to Hall of Fame quarterbacks.”The Pro Football Hall of Fame: Jim Kelly
They also know about how Kelly gives back to the community through his foundation and camp, showing that it’s bigger than just a game being a NFL quarterback but that it comes with a lot of responsibility, as well.
Per the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “strong-armed passer with a ‘linebacker’s mentality,’ Kelly lived up to his advance billing, as he virtually rewrote the Bills’ record book for quarterbacks. Only three players in NFL history had reached the 30,000-yard career passing mark faster. Eight times during his NFL career he passed for more than 3,000 yards in a season, and twenty-six times he passed for more than 300 yards in a game.”
16 – Troy Aikman
A staple in the broadcast booth with Joe Buck, if your team gets assigned the duo to call the game, you know it’s the biggest game of the week on FOX. Troy Aikman is the color analyst for those games and has the pedigree to know what he’s talking about. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “(w)ith 90 wins in the 1990s, Aikman became the winningest starting quarterback of any decade in NFL history at the time of his retirement.”
15 – Terry Bradshaw
You may know him as that FOX NFL analyst and more recently as the guy whose ‘money’ was being given away on a weekly basis if you guessed who won the games selected that week correctly. But before all that, Bradshaw was an all-time great quarterback with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Bradshaw was considered by most pro scouts to be the most outstanding college senior. As such, he was the first player selected in the 1970 National Football League Draft. It took…a few seasons to adjust to the pro game but once he did, he became the dominant quarterback of the NFL and led the Pittsburgh Steelers to eight AFC Central championships, and an unprecedented four Super Bowl titles in a six-year period from 1974 to 1979.”
14 – Russell Wilson
The first quarterback on this list who’s still playing in the league, Russell Wilson epitomizes a standout NFL quarterback. From his attributes as a passer and runner on the field to his will to win to his contributions as a leader for his Seahawks team and the Seattle community, Wilson embodies the NFL quarterback position. All Wilson does is win. Since his rookie year in 2012, get this, he’s started every game he’s played in (all 16 regular season games and playoff games) and has always had a winning regular season, carrying his team to above .500 each year. That’s hard to do in the NFL but Wilson always finds a way to get it done. Already with a Super Bowl and seven Pro Bowls, he’s still got a bright future ahead of him it looks like.
13 – Bob Griese
A two-time Super Bowl champion and eight-time Pro Bowler, Griese according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame “was the Dolphins’ No. 1 draft choice in their second year in 1967. He enjoyed an excellent rookie season with 2,005 yards and 15 touchdowns passing and, for the remainder of his Hall of Fame career, he was the poised leader of a classic ball-control offense that generated an awesomely efficient running attack”.
12 – George Blanda
Get ready for the pun here. There was nothing bland about George Blanda’s game. Not only was Blanda a quarterback, he was also a kicker (per the Pro Football Hall of Fame). To be precise and accurate with not only your arm but your leg, as well, all in one game takes a special set of skills!
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Blanda played pro football for 26 seasons – longer than any other person. However, he’ll probably be remembered best for his 1970 season with the Oakland Raiders. That year, in a five-game period, George provided Oakland with four wins and one tie with last-second touchdown passes or field goals – at age 43.”
11 – Johnny Unitas
If you read his Hall of Fame bio, it’s a story that’s motivating and would really be interesting to see in a documentary (oh wait, there’s already one). From Unitas playing “semi-pro football for $6 a game” per the Pro Football Hall of Fame to becoming “Mr. Clutch”, Unitas became one of the best quarterbacks the game has seen.
Per the Pro Football Hall of Fame: “Unitas’ career statistics include 40,239 yards and 290 touchdowns passing. His record of at least one touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games stood for more than 50 years. A genuine team player, Unitas was a first- or second-team All-NFL choice eight years, selected NFL Player of the Year three times, and named to10 Pro Bowls.”
10 – Dan Marino
Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins are synonymous. From 1983 to 1999, Marino was the Dolphins’ quarterback. The franchise QB was also a MVP, Walter Payton Man of the Year, and nine-time Pro Bowler. Marino is sixth all-time in touchdown passes with 420 total.
9 – John Elway
Two-time Super Bowl champion, MVP, Walter Payton Man of the Year. Elway’s accomplishments on the field, which also included a Super Bowl MVP, all came with being the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Similar to Marino, Elway and his team went hand-in-hand as he played every NFL game of his career with the Broncos from 1983 to 1998.
8 – Brett Farve
As a Detroit Lions fan, I know how good Brett Farve was. Because with the rival Green Bay Packers he would always dominate in games against the Lions, throwing accurate, long passes for touchdowns. And he would do this time and time again, against all the teams seemingly. Farve, a three-time MVP and Super Bowl champion, played 20 years in the league with 16 of those suiting up with the Packers.
7 – Warren Moon
Warren Moon was not only one of the best quarterbacks of all time, he was also a trailblazer in the game.
According to The Undefeated’s Jason Reid, Moon is “(t)he only African-American quarterback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame…The Hall of Famer possesses unique wisdom, born both of a spectacular 17-year NFL career and the experience of a black man who thrived in the face of racism. Moon possessed the necessary combination of talent and inner strength to succeed despite the barriers placed in front of him. These days, he wants to help others achieve their dreams.”
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Regardless of which misguided reason motivated NFL scouts, Moon remained confident of his abilities and opted to sign with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. He went on to lead the Eskimos to an unprecedented five consecutive Grey Cup victories…Despite spending his first six professional seasons in the CFL, Moon ranked third all-time in NFL passing yardage and fourth in touchdown passes thrown at the time of his retirement.”
6 – Sonny Jurgensen
Just listen to what Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest coaches of all time and who the Super Bowl trophy is named after, had to say about Sonny Jurgensen, who according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame “(i)n many circles…was recognized as the best passer of his time.”
“Jurgensen is a great quarterback,” Lombardi said according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “He hangs in there under adverse conditions. He may be the best the league has ever seen. He is the best I have seen.”
5 – Joe Montana
With a name like ‘Joe Montana’ and being a quarterback in the NFL, it just screams: ‘America!’. And donning the 49’ers red and gold on a weekly basis, Montana showed that he could throw a ball that seemed as vast as the state of his last name, which led to four Super Bowls and two MVPs.
4 – Drew Brees
You can’t not include Drew Brees towards the top of this list. The NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards (with 80,358) is the only quarterback to have thrown more than 80,000 yards in his career. Brees showed his acumen for the quarterback position via his arm on the field and his drive to help the community off the field as a family man and man with character.
“My faith is my identity… At times we all get wrapped up in other aspects of our life… Our job, or hobbies, or who we are attempting to be. The day I made my identity as a Christian as opposed to anything else is the day a peace and understanding came over me and I know that God is always in control no matter what happens. No matter what challenge or adversity we face, it is there for a reason to mold us and strengthen us into who God meant for us to be, that we may always lean on Him and trust in Him and have faith in Him.”Drew Brees according to The Increase
3 – Peyton Manning
Omaha, Omaha! From Manning’s signature audible calls at the line of scrimmage to his football IQ to his now Disney+ show where he travels to talk to different people, including NFL players, about the game, to his two Super Bowl wins and five MVP’s, Manning goes down as one of the best NFL quarterbacks of all time. NFL quarterback and ambassador for the game go hand-in-hand with Peyton Manning.
2 – Kurt Warner
I know, I know, you’re probably like, ‘Kurt Warner’s second on this list?’. Yes, yes he is. If you’ve heard of Warner’s story, it’s one that’s truly inspiring. From being undrafted to stocking grocery store shelves to becoming a Super Bowl MVP, two-time MVP, Walter Payton Man of the Year, and Hall of Famer, Warner’s motivation to chase his dreams no matter what is best quarterback of all time-deserving (his story is literally about to be a major motion picture titled ‘American Underdog‘). And not to mention he’s a class act, a great example for everyone off the field with his leadership, his character, and his passion to give back with his family.
1 – Tom Brady
Seven Super Bowls, which is the most of any player to play in the NFL, quarterback or not. The defending champion and Super Bowl MVP with a team not-named-the-Patriots in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tom Brady aka the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) in football, is still going strong. Not bad after getting drafted in the sixth round (you read that right, the sixth round) out of the University of Michigan by the Patriots. Wanting to continue to be great at his craft, he works on his game and, per Men’s Health Paul Kita and Temi Adebowale, maintains a balanced, healthy diet.
There you have it folks. A list of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Hope you enjoyed it!
Who’s your favorite quarterback, either on this list or not? Let me know in the comments.
- 1 20 Of The Best QBs Of All Time
- 2 Honorable Mentions: Y.A. Tittle, Bart Starr, Fran Tarkenton, Joe Namath Bobby Layne, Ken Stabler
- 3 20 – Roger Staubach
- 4 19 – Steve Young
- 5 18 – Sammy Baugh
- 6 17 – Jim Kelly
- 7 16 – Troy Aikman
- 8 15 – Terry Bradshaw
- 9 14 – Russell Wilson
- 10 13 – Bob Griese
- 11 12 – George Blanda
- 12 11 – Johnny Unitas
- 13 10 – Dan Marino
- 14 9 – John Elway
- 15 8 – Brett Farve
- 16 7 – Warren Moon
- 17 6 – Sonny Jurgensen
- 18 5 – Joe Montana
- 19 4 – Drew Brees
- 20 3 – Peyton Manning
- 21 2 – Kurt Warner
- 22 1 – Tom Brady
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