The 50 Greatest Quarterbacks in NFL History (Revised and Updated, 2012 edition)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Over the next seven weeks, my plan is to release the following lists of the greatest 50 players in NFL history:


I've used the most advanced metrics, looked to combine regular season and post season, looked to incorporate peak and adjusted for era.  They're better than any previous football list I've done, aside from the all time 45 man rosters, which I think are pretty good. This is current through the 2011 postseason. I'll only list the teams with whom the players had significant careers, not every team for which they played.

It's one more year for Eli to crack the list. And also Phillip Rivers.

As always, I'm up for thoughts.

50. Trent Green Chiefs 1997-08
-From 2002-04 as good as any QB in the league.  

49. Jeff Garcia 49ers 1999-2011
-Didn't get started until he was 29, so he's all peak, I'll let you know on the list when we hit a year better than his 2000.

48. Norm Snead Eagles 1961-76
-Unlike Green/Garcia who were big peak/low career accumulation guys, Snead's all career; his best season isn't as good as the best 3-4 for either Green/Garcia, but his longevity gets him here.  

47. Vinny Testaverde Bucs/Jets 1987-07
-Speaking of a ranking based on longevity.  His best year was his first as a Raven.

46. Joe Theismann Redskins 1974-85
-Like Green, his run was ages 32-34 and not much outside of that window; first SB winner on the list.

45. Ben Roethlisberger Steelers 2004-
-Solid but unspectacular every year, that's not faint praise, 8 straight solid years to start a career isn't something we've seen yet on the list.  His two SB titles gets him here, however.  Eli joins next year, Giants fans.  

44. Steve Grogan Patriots 1975-90
-His whole career was ages 23-27, after 1980 he wasn't a very good quarterback.  

43. Rich Gannon Raiders/Vikings 1987-04
-Gannon's whole career was ages 34-7 with Oakland; his 2000 was as good as Garcia's.  

42. Dave Krieg Seahawks 1980-98
-Like Vinny, here for the longevity.

41. Sid Luckman Bears 1939-50
-Hard to compare the leather helmet quarterbacks with modern era players; the one guy you might expect on this list not to make it is Waterfield, who just didn't play enough games.

40. Jim Plunkett Raiders/Patriots 1971-86
-Probably will become the lowest ranked two SB win QB within 2-3 years; I don't know how many QB should be in the HOF, but as much as I personally like Plunkett I don't think he should be higher ranked than this.

39. Sammy Baugh Redskins 1937-52
-See Luckman.

38. Kurt Warner Rams/Cardinals 1998-09 
-His 2001 is the best quarterbacked year so far, but given the value Garcia/Gannon each had with their legs the distance between Warner and those seasons is smaller than you think. 

37. Ken Stabler Raiders 1970-84 
-Never had a great year and never really had a good year after he left Oakland - what he had was a run of Big Ben like solid seasons plus a SB.  It's not a crime that he isn't in the HOF, but if Warner gets in someone should speak up for Snake.

36. John Hadl Chargers 1962-77
-Hadl had 9 good years, a long, productive career.  

35. Phil Simms Giants 1979-93
-Lot of solid seasons throughout his 30s and a SB.  

34. Joe Namath Jets 1965-77
-The injury years really hurt him; he was on a good run culminating in the SB and then only had one good year after he turned 27.  

33. Sonny Jurgensen Redskins/Eagles 1957-74
-I think this is what a non superstar, non SB HOFamer needs to profile like; 7 really good seasons, none spectacular - but he was a little better regular season QB than Simms, for example.  

32. Jim Hart Cardinals 1966-84
-Never special, but a bunch of good seasons throughout his 20s.  

31. Drew Bledsoe Patriots 1993-06
-9 good seasons, good with Pats/Bills/Cowboys - compare his career with Jurgensen's.  

30. Roman Gabriel Rams 1962-77
-Like Hart, a lot of good seasons throughout his 20s.  

29. John Brodie 49ers 1957-73
-Good in '61, good in '71, occasionally good in between, even at 36 he was cranking out good seasons.

28. Steve McNair Titans 1995-07
-5.4 yards per rush for his career; when you see McNair here and are surprised he's this high; you want to reconsider how much value he had with his legs.  Had 9 good seasons; he's like Bledsoe without the bad years.

27. Boomer Esiason Bengals 1984-97
-Put his '88 season right below Warner/Garcia/Gannon on the list of best years we've seen so far.

26. Donovan McNabb Eagles 1999-
-9 solid seasons, you don't want to fall into the trap of comparing black quarterbacks only to other black quarterbacks, but he profiles like McNair.  

(The 25 Greatest Quarterbacks in NFL History)

25. Randall Cunningham Eagles 1985-01
-He had two years, '90 and '98, at that top level of QB seasons we've seen so far.

24. Bobby Layne Lions/Steelers 1948-62
-8 good years and a couple of them were really good, just below that elite level.  

23. Len Dawson Chiefs 1957-75
-His career profile looks like you'd expect, he hit his prime at 27 and ran hard until 33, then made his way to the end.  

22. YA Tittle 49ers/Giants 1948-64
-Starting quarterback in the 40s, 50s and 60s. Like Layne, lots of good seasons with a couple just below elite level.

21. Warren Moon Oilers 1984-00
-Warren Moon had 11 good seasons in the NFL and 1990 was an elite season, in league with Boomer and Randall.  If anything, this ranking is too low, there is no question he had a better career than the 29 below him on this list.  

20. Jim Kelly Bills 1986-96
-If Big Ben had two more seasons in line with the rest of his career and then one okay season and then quit - that would be Jim Kelly's regular season career.  Good every year of his career until he was just okay in '96 and he quit.  Maybe should be below Moon.  I'm having some "why is Moon that low" regret.  

19. Troy Aikman Cowboys 1989-00
-Sort of like Simms in the regular season, but with the two extra titles.  I think I'd keep him ahead of Moon, maybe just flip Moon/Kelly.  

18. Bob Griese Dolphins 1967-80
-Like Kelly, good every year until he wasn't and then he stopped, but with the SBs that Kelly doesn't have.  

17. Norm Van Brocklin Rams 1949-60
-Always good, 10 good years, he might have the best final season for a quarterback on the list, he's absolutely the best QB on the list so far.  

16. Drew Brees Saints/Chargers 2001-
-On an all time great run, his 8 years from '04-'11 are probably the best of anyone so far on the list, and his 2011 is the very best season we've seen so far, just slipping by Warner.  If he retired today maybe you put him behind NVB, but no further back.  

15. Bart Starr Packers 1956-71
-Like Plunkett, really, just a handful of good seasons, but not many bad years and a ton of titles.

14. Ken Anderson Bengals 1971-86
-His '82 is one of those elite seasons; if you take Anderson's best years and string them together, that would be Brees's last 8 years.  

13. Roger Staubach Cowboys 1969-79
-His career profiles very much like Van Brocklin's.  They probably should be next to each other, maybe both not quite as good as Anderson, but both ahead of Starr.  Brees is going by all of them.

12. Dan Fouts Chargers 1973-87
-Just as a four year window, Fouts's 79-82 is the best on the list so far, and his 1982 is the new best QB season ever.  

11. Terry Bradshaw Steelers 1970-83
-9 good years, always solid, not spectacular and with all those titles.  

(The Top 10 Quarterbacks in NFL History)

10. Tom Brady Patriots 2000-
-10 good years, some of those years off the chart great, his 2006 is the new best season in history; he's going to wind up with Moon's longevity plus Fouts's top end plus Aikman's SB's.

9. Otto Graham Browns 1946-55
-10 years, all good, all really good, and a truckload of titles.  Like if Brees had Bradshaw's SB rings.

8. Steve Young 49ers 1985-99
-Joe Morgan had a 3 year run in the mid 70s as good as any in baseball history, Young had the same run from 92-4.  Brady's 2006 is still the best season, Fouts's 1982 is the second - but the next 3 are all Steve Young.  

7. Joe Montana 49ers 1979-94
-9 good some bordering on elite seasons and the greatest SB record in history.  I'm a 41 year old 49er fan, so that means Joe has a permanent place on the top of my sports list, but this is really as high as he should be, and he probably doesn't hold off Brady.  

6. Dan Marino Dolphins 1983-99
-Did you know his middle name is Constantine?  13 good seasons including the '84 year which would hit this list as the 7th best season, just behind Brees and ahead of Brady's 2011.  

5. Johnny Unitas Colts 1956-73
-13 good seasons.  He's Marino but with titles.  

4. John Elway Broncos 1983-98
-14 good seasons.  He's Unitas.

3. Fran Tarkenton Vikings 1961-78
-16 good seasons and at his best, in '67, he's just short of Young and better than Elway.  If he wins even one title, there's no one who ranks him behind Elway, as it is, if you wanted to put him behind Unitas given the lack of championships, I'd understand that and wouldnt really disagree too strongly.  

2. Peyton Manning Colts 1998-
-13 straight good years, most of them near great years, better than Marino in the regular season and the title.  Maybe you rank him lower if he's done, if you said Unitas was second/Manning third/Elway fourth/Tarkenton fifth, that would make sense.  

1. Brett Favre Packers 1991-10
--16 good seasons and the title.  It's like if Tarkenton won one of those SBowls.  I might be persuaded to bump Graham and Brady ahead of my Niners, making them 7-8 and Joe and Steve 9-10.  Marino's 6.  Takenton maybe is five, it's hard to order Unitas/Manning/Elway but I think maybe that's the best ordering - and I think I'm still Favre at number one.  

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