When listing the top 10 of anything, it is always debatable. Opinions will vary as to who is the best based on age, being a huge fan of a particular quarterback, and the amount of interest one has in the sport of football.
Also, when creating a top ten list of athletes, which criteria has the most weight in determining the best quarterback in the National Football League (NFL)? Majority base their votes on statistics because numbers speak the truth. However, others may decide the best players based on championships and who had the overall better team. With this list, you'll see a combination of all three plus those who were able to be successful with more than one team, which proved they could play with anyone.
Seasons Played: 11
Games Played: 160
Starting QB Record: 101 – 59 – 0
Career Stats: 237 Touchdowns; 175 Interceptions; 35,467 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: 0 – 4
Accomplishments: 5 Pro Bowls; 1x All-Pro;
Playing all 11 seasons with Buffalo, Kelly developed a great relationship with Andre Reed. The two are known as one of the best quarterback-wide receiver duos in the history of the NFL. Kelly led Buffalo to the playoffs for eight of the 11 seasons but fell short of winning it all each time.
Kelly's lack of a Super Bowl title makes it appear as though he was either not the best player when it counted, or he was outplayed by a better team each time they were eliminated. The verdict is still out on which one is the correct answer.
Seasons Played: 18
Games Played: 211
Starting QB Record: 118 – 63 – 4
Career Stats: 290 Touchdowns; 253 Interceptions; 40,239 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: 1 – 1; also has 3 NFL Championships Pre-Super Bowl Era
Accomplishments: 10 Pro Bowls; 5x All-Pro; 3x MVP;
Johnny Unitas was a record setter. At the time of his retirement in 1973, he held the record for most passes completed (2,830), most passing yards (40,239), most 300 and over yards games (26), most touchdown passes (290), most consecutive games with a passing touchdown (47), and tied for most seasons leading in touchdown passes (4). Some of his records were not surpassed until the likes of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Dan Marino, Tom Brady, and Brett Favre became great players. Arguably, Unitas' case for being one of the top 10 quarterbacks of all-time can be one that is won. But who do you remove from the list to add Unitas?
Also Read: Who are Peyton Manning's kids?
Seasons Played: 17
Games Played: 208
Starting QB Record: 102 – 101 – 0
Career Stats: 291 Touchdowns; 233 Interceptions; 49,325 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: No Super Bowl Appearances
Accomplishments: 9 Pro Bowls; '90 AP Offensive Player of the Year
Moon went undrafted and started his career in the Canadian Football League (CFL). Moon led his team to 6 Grey Cups (CFL Championships). His arm strength and ability to lead a team was never a question. He had leadership skills and impressive numbers on the offensive end. However, he just could not seem to lead a team the way he was able to do so in his previous years in the CFL. If the CFL years and statistics were included in the list, Moon would rank within the top 10 quarterbacks of all time.
#10 Drew Brees
Seasons Played: 17 (and actively playing)
Games Played: 249
Starting QB Record: 142 – 106 – 0
Career Stats: 488 Touchdowns; 228 Interceptions; 70,445 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: 1 – 0
Accomplishments: 11 Pro Bowls; 1x All-Pro; '08 & '11 AP Offensive Player of the Year
Drew Brees is rising in the list due to his ability to still play the game at a high level. He holds the record the for most 5,000 passing yard seasons with five. He only trails Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, both retired, for most career yards. Still actively playing, Brees is averaging over 4,000 yards a season. Keeping at this rate, Brees will become the all-time leading quarterback in career yards. Even though he is the shortest quarterback on this list, his stock is rising as he continues to play at a high level.
#9 Steve Young
Seasons Played: 15
Games Played: 169
Starting QB Record: 94 – 49 – 0
Career Stats: 232 Touchdowns; 107 Interceptions; 33,124 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: 2 – 0
Accomplishments: 7 Pro Bowls; 3x All-Pro; 2x MVP; '92 AP Offensive Player of the Year
Playing behind the legendary Joe Montana turned out to be a great trade for Steve Young. Prior to the trade, Young led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 3–16 record. Being able to witness greatness, Young was ready to start where Montana left off after the latter got injured for the entire 1991 and most of the 1992 season. During this time, Young had 7 consecutive Pro Bowl selections, 2 MVPs and led the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory in 1994. Young did well as a running quarterback as well. To this day, he is among the top four quarterbacks with the most rushing yards.
#8 Terry Bradshaw
Seasons Played: 14
Games Played: 168
Starting QB Record: 107 – 51 – 0
Career Stats: 212 Touchdowns; 210 Interceptions; 27,989 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: 4 – 0
Accomplishments: 3 Pro Bowls; 1x All-Pro; 1x MVP
Terry Bradshaw was indispensable for the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning four titles. He was their “go-to quarterback” when it mattered most. With the fading of the Steel Curtain defense, Bradshaw was able to keep the team winning on the offensive side. Unlike a lot of the quarterbacks on this list, Bradshaw's QB ratings increased. At that time, Bradshaw became the first quarterback to win three Super Bowls. He was able to win one more at the end of the 70s. He was also chosen twice as the Super Bowl MVP.
#7 Troy Aikman
Seasons Played: 12
Games Played: 165
Starting QB Record: 94 – 71 – 0
Career Stats: 165 Touchdowns; 141 Interceptions; 32,942 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: 3 – 0
Accomplishments: 6 Pro Bowls
Troy Aikman's numbers do not jump off the page like a majority of the other quarterbacks on this list. However, he won three Super Bowls without putting up very high numbers. This is in part because of the Dallas Cowboys' good all-round team in the '90s. In Super Bowl history rankings, Aikman currently holds the highest career pass completion percentage of 70, and is fifth all-time for career passer rating of 111.9. Without a lot of individual accolades, Aikman was a huge piece in the puzzle for the Cowboys dynasty.
Also Read: Troy Aikman’s Net Worth
#6 Dan Marino
Seasons Played: 17
Games Played: 242
Starting QB Record: 147 – 93 – 0
Career Stats: 420 Touchdowns; 252 Interceptions; 61,361 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: 0 – 1
Accomplishments: 9 Pro Bowls; 3x All-Pro; 1x MVP; '84 AP Offensive Player of the Year
Dan Marino is the only player on this list that has not won a Super Bowl. Being that this is the greatest quarterbacks of all-time and not quarterback with the most rings, Marino set standards for other up and coming quarterbacks.
Marino was putting up modern-day numbers back in the 1980s. His best season came in 1984 when he passed for 5,084 yards, had 48 touchdowns, and 64.2% completion rate. Peyton Manning is the only other player to have a 5,000 passing yard and higher than 48 touchdown season. In his 17 seasons, Marino was the leader in passing yards five times.
#5 John Elway
Seasons Played: 16
Games Played: 234
Starting QB Record: 148 – 82 – 0
Career Stats: 300 Touchdowns; 226 Interceptions; 51,475 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: 2 – 3
Accomplishments: 9 Pro Bowls; 1x MVP
Drafted in 1991 by the MLB's New York Yankees, Elway is the only quarterback on the list that was drafted in another sport. In 1983, he was drafted by the Baltimore Colts. He was unhappy and demanded a trade from the Baltimore Colts, claiming that he'd otherwise continue playing baseball.
Earlier in his career an argument can be made that his team was not the most offensively coordinated to put up very big numbers. Elway was able to lead the team to the Super Bowl three times, all ending in losses, before winning their next two Super Bowls. Elway also earned a ring after retirement as a top executive for the Denver Broncos.
#4 Brett Favre
Seasons Played: 20
Games Played: 302
Starting QB Record: 186 – 112 – 0
Career Stats: 508 Touchdowns 336 Interceptions 71,838 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: 1 – 1
Accomplishments: 11 Pro Bowls; 3x All-Pro; 3x MVP; '95 AP Offensive Player of the Year
It's hard to believe that Brett Favre originally failed his physical when traded to the Green Bay Packers. Moving forward, Favre made 297 regular-season consecutive starts and was the first player to win the MVP award three times in a row. He is second all-time in touchdown passes and career passing yards. A not so good statistic is that he is the all-time leader in interceptions.
#3 Tom Brady
Seasons Played: 18 (and actively playing)
Games Played: 253
Starting QB Record: 196 – 55 – 0
Career Stats: 488 Touchdowns; 160 Interceptions; 66,159 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: 5 – 3
Accomplishments: 13 Pro Bowls; 3x All-Pro; 3x MVP; '07 & '10 AP Offensive Player of the Year
Accuracy and decision making are the two key components that have landed Tom Brady on the list. It goes without mentioning that Brady is one of the greatest, and oldest, to excel at the game of football. Learning more about the game each season, Brady has not fallen below 60% with his completion rate since earning the starting quarterback position.
Brady made a good case for being the best quarterback ever when he led the Patriots from being down 28 – 3 to the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. They scored 31 unanswered points. Still playing after 18 seasons, Brady can add more to his story to separate him from the other quarterbacks as the greatest of all time.
#2 Peyton Manning
Seasons Played: 18
Games Played: 266
Starting QB Record: 186 – 79 – 0
Career Stats: 539 Touchdowns; 251 Interceptions; 71,940 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: 2 – 2
Accomplishments: 14 Pro Bowls; 7x All-Pro; 5x MVP; '04 & '13 AP Offensive Player of the Year
The master of the two-minute drill, Peyton Manning was not the quarterback whom you wanted to have the ball with the game on the line if you were the opponent. Relaxed and in the zone, you knew he was more than likely going to have a successful game-winning drive. Manning is the only player to win 5 MVPs and is leading in most passing yards and touchdowns.
Even a near career-ending injury could not keep Manning from setting records. Two seasons after his neck injury, Manning finished the season with 5,477 yards and 55 touchdown yards; both single-season records. Manning was unstoppable.
#1 Joe Montana
Seasons Played: 16
Games Played: 192
Starting QB Record: 117 – 47 – 0
Career Stats: 273 Touchdowns; 139 Interceptions; 40,551 Passing Yards
Super Bowl Record: 4 – 0
Accomplishments: 8 Pro Bowls; 3x All-Pro; 2x MVP; '89 AP Offensive Player of the Year
Joe Montana won all four of the Super Bowls that he appeared in (1981, 1984, 1988, and 1989). Within those four games, he threw 11 touchdowns, was interception-free, and became the first player ever to win Super Bowl MVP three times.
Throwing to one of the best pairs of hands ever, owned by Jerry Rice, for six seasons made Montana's numbers much better. One can strongly state that he could fall in the rankings for being injured for over a season and a half, but a lot of “what-if” cases can be made for every quarterback on this list.