For the NFL’s 100th anniversary, the league is compiling an all-time team that will comprise the 100 greatest football players in NFL history. You can see who has already made the team at https://www.nfl.com/100/all-time-team/roster
Candidates for the quarterback position won’t be announced until December 23rd. So I thought I compile my own greatest quarterback list ahead of the NFL’s announcement. I have been so fortunate in my life to see so many great quarterbacks play live and in person in Kansas City going back to old Municipal Stadium before Arrowhead.
It appears that the NFL will select ten QBs and ten WRs to finalize the all-time team of 100 players. So I will provide my top ten, then a list of fifteen other quarterbacks below for an honorable mention to round out a top 25 list.
However, I decided to do this a different way than most, to rank the greatest QBs in two separate eras: pre and post 1978. My reasoning is that it is difficult to compare quarterbacks over a 100 year timespan when passing rules were much different. In 1978, the NFL made major rules changes to open up the passing game. Defenders were permitted to make contact with receivers only to a point of five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Previously, contact was allowed anywhere on the field. The second major rule change that year was that pass blocking rules were changed to permit extended arms and open hands which aided pass blocking and gave quarterbacks more time in the pocket.
So here are my top 10 greatest NFL quarterbacks of all-time split into pre and post 1978 eras. I have underlined the quarterback’s name if I have seen them play in person.
Note: Most of the videos linked below are owned by the NFL and require you to click and watch them on Youtube in a separate window.
1) Johnny Unitas (1956-1973) – Nicknamed “The Golden Arm.” In my opinion, the greatest quarterback I have seen in person. For 52 years, Unitas held the record for most consecutive games throwing a TD pass until Drew Brees broke it in 2012. Over his career, Unitas won three NFL championships and the equivalent of three MVP awards. I generally feel that he would have destroyed the record book with today’s rules.
2) Sammy Baugh (1937-1952) – A complete player and great quarterback that did it all on offense, defense and special teams. Although “Slingin Sammy” was best known for his passing prowess, in 1943, Baugh led the league in passing, punting (45.9 yard average) and interceptions with 11. Sammy Baugh may not be the greatest quarterback of all-time but he has be considered as one of the greatest overall players in NFL history.
3) Otto Graham (1946-1955) – Graham was a three-time NFL Champion and was one of four quarterbacks to make the NFL’s 75th anniversary team. Graham was a dual-threat quarterback, he could beat you in the air or taking off and running with the ball.
4) Bart Starr (1956-1971) – A five-time NFL champion with two Super Bowl championships. He would have won more had the Super Bowl been created earlier. With the success of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as Packers quarterbacks, Starr has somewhat been forgotten a bit but he should still rank ahead of them. Starr has an unmatched 9-1 post-season record and still owns the highest postseason passer rating at 104.8 with a minimum 150 pass attempts.
5) Roger Staubach (1969-1979) – His career stats are diminished due to his service in the Navy for four years after what would been a normal collegiate career. “Captain Comeback” was one of the greatest QBs in the 1970s era. Roger Staubach was a big part of why the Dallas Cowboys became “America’s Team.”
1) Joe Montana (1979-1994) – Montana was a perfect 4-0 in Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers. Montana was known for his calmness under pressure and for engineering 32 come-from-behind victories. From the modern-era, I think Montana was the greatest quarterback. Troy Aikman agrees. So does Tom Brady who said: “I don’t ever see myself like him. He was so spectacular and I think he’s in a league of his own.”
2) Peyton Manning (1998-2015) – Peyton Manning is the only starting quarterback to win Super Bowls with two different teams. No other player in history has won more NFL MVP awards than Peyton Manning with five. Manning is also the leader in 4th quarter comebacks with 43. He is still the leader in passing touchdowns with 539. However, Drew Brees and Tom Brady will likely pass him in the coming weeks.
3) Tom Brady (2000-Present) – No quarterback has won more Super Bowls than Brady’s six. He holds nearly every major Super Bowl passing record. You can make a case that he is the greatest quarterback of all-time as many have already done. My feeling is that Brady he has benefited from playing for one of the greatest NFL coaches of all-time in Bill Belichick. I am not completely sold that he would have accomplished most of what he has during his career if he ended up with another NFL club. But you have to give him credit, Brady has made the most of the opportunity.
4) Drew Brees (2001-Present) – Drew Brees is the current all-time passing leader in yards and completions. He is closing in on Payton Manning’s career passing TD record along with Tom Brady. Brees has been a model of passing consistency during his career but has yet to win an NFL MVP award. One of three quaterbacks to have beaten every NFL team (Brett Favre and Peyton Manning).
5) John Elway (1983-1998) – As a Kansas City Chiefs fan, I saw way too many Denver Broncos games with John Elway at quarterback. Elway killed many Chiefs fans dreams. He was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 1979 MLB draft but chose football over baseball. He was mobile and had a cannon for an arm. Very few QBs had the natural ability and talent as John Elway at the position. Elway won two Super Bowls during his career, I thought he would win more when he came out of college at Stanford.
Here are 15 other great quarterbacks to round out my Top 25 list: Sid Luckman (1939-1950), Norm Van Brocklin (1949-1960), Len Dawson (1957-1975), Fran Tarkington (1961-1978), Terry Bradshaw (1970-1983), Dan Fouts (1973-1987), Dan Marino (1983-1999), Warren Moon (1984-2000), Steve Young (1985-1999), Jim Kelly (1986-1996), Troy Aikman (1989-2000), Brett Favre (1991-2010), Kurt Warner (1998-2009),Ben Roethlisberger (2004-Present) and Aaron Rodgers (2005-Present).