I write this blog to celebrate the greatest quarterback of our lifetime, and to present the nineteen quarterbacks that now trail behind him. Rather than relying on traditional or contemporary sentiment, the methodology of this unique ranking is purely logical. In using an MS Excel formula to weigh the statistics, the success and consistency of 250 quarterbacks in NFL History (see the rough methodology at the end), I've unearthed a top 20 list that is sure to invite discussion.
1. Peyton Manning, 1998-present:
Before this season, I had Manning behind both the relatively unknown Otto Graham and the celebrated Joe Montana. It took Manning five MVPs, thirteen winning seasons, one Super Bowl in three appearances, elite statistics for fourteen seasons, and seven All-Pros to get here. His weak play off record had slowed him down. However, despite his recent Super Bowl defeat, he is the marble statue that all future quarterbacks will look to and hope to surpass.
2. Otto Graham, 1946-1955:
He is the greatest quarterback that no one has ever heard of, outside of Football experts. His legacy is hurt by having played four-seasons in a supposedly slightly lesser league that eventually merged with the NFL, and for only having played for ten seasons. In his ten seasons with the Cleveland Browns (four years in the AAFC and six years in the NFL), he went to the championship in all ten seasons. He won seven of these pre-Super Bowl Championships (three in the NFL). He was league MVP five times (twice in the AAFC and thrice in the NFL) and a seven-time All-Pro. He led the league in passing yardage five times, and completion percentage and QB rating four times. In 1947, his QB rating was 35 points higher than the next best passer. Lastly, he was swift of foot, running for 44 touchdowns in his career. It is unlikely that another quarterback will ever reach the championship ten years in a row.
3. Joe Montana, 1979-1994:
There was something other-worldly about Montana. In an era of Marino, Elway, Kelly, Moon and Esiason, he seemed to possess a certain wizardry that the others didn't have. Perhaps this was just Jerry Rice. Nevertheless, Montana was a two-time MVP, three-time All-Pro, had ten winning seasons, four Super Bowl wins, led the league five times in completion percentage, and was statistically elite for eleven seasons. He also won about 71% of his games, including 69% in the playoffs.
4. Johnny Unitas, 1956-1973:
Despite Graham's place on this list, Unitas was the Quarterback everyone wanted to be until Montana retired. Unitas is a three-time MVP and five-time All-Pro. He had eleven winning seasons, one Super Bowl win in two appearances and two pre-Super Bowl Championship wins. He led the league in yards and touchdowns four times and was statistically elite for nine seasons. He won 75% of his playoff games and was the most clutch quarterback in NFL history (i.e. led the league in 4th quarter comebacks and game-winning drives more often than any other QB).
5. Steve Young, 1985-1999:
Young is a two-time MVP, a Super Bowl winner and the second quarterback in the top five that Jerry Rice helped put here. He lead the league in QB rating six times, in completion percentage five times, in touchdowns four times. He was a three-time All-Pro. Also, he had excellent ball-carrying skills, rushing for 43 touchdowns. With his versatility and talent, he most resembled a lesser second coming of Otto Graham.
6. Sid Luckman, 1939-1950:
He was the Bears all-time leading passer for 63 years until Jay Cutler surpassed him at the end of this season. Luckman had eleven winning seasons, one MVP, and four pre-Super Bowl Championship wins. For several years he held the record for most touchdowns in a season (28) and highest QB Rating (107.5, almost 30 points higher than the QB in second place!). He won about 83% of his regular season games. Lastly, he was a five-time All-Pro.
7. Sammy Baugh, 1937-1952:
One could argue that the Baugh/Luckman rivalry was the Manning/Brady rivalry of the old NFL. He had ten winning seasons and two pre-Super Bowl Championship wins. He led the league in completion percentage nine times, led in yardage four times, and held the lowest interception percentage six times. He won over 70% of the time. Finally, he was a four-time All-Pro.
8. Tom Brady, 2000-present:
Overshadowed by Peyton Manning despite five Super Bowl appearances and three wins. Additionally, he has twelve winning seasons, two MVPs and two All-Pros, about a 77% win percentage in the regular season and 69% in the playoffs. He is hurt mostly by the consistent superior statistical performances of his three great peers: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers.
9. Len Dawson, 1957-1975:
Dawson has one Super Bowl win in two appearances. He also won two pre-Super Bowl Championships. He led the league in completion percentages six times, including five years in a row. He was among the top in completion percentage for eight seasons. He's a two-time All-Pro.
10. Fran Tarkenton, 1961-1978:
The first Jim Kelly. Tarkenton had three Super Bowl appearances, but never won. Nevertheless, he was statistically elite for a whopping twelve seasons. He also scores high points for clutch and mobility. He's arguably the first great rushing quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger. He was also an MVP and an All-Pro.
11. Brett Favre, 1991-2010:
Three-time MVP. Fifteen winning seasons. Led the league in touchdowns four times and was near the top three other times. 186 career regular season wins. Three-time All-Pro. He is hurt by interceptions, a mediocre playoff record, and by winning only one Super Bowl.
12. Roger Staubach, 1969-1979:
Like John Elway, Staubach had two Super Bowl wins in five appearances. Unlike Elway, Staubach was an efficient statistical machine. In a short career, he had an elite rating five times and an elite touchdown-interception ratio four times. He won about 74% of his games in the regular season and 64.7% in the playoffs. He, like Elway, was mobile quarterback. He, like Elway, never was an All-Pro.
13. Bart Starr, 1956-1971:
Very underrated. Two Super Bowl wins and three pre-Super Bowl championships for a total of five titles. He had an elite-range completion percentage six times and an elite-range rating five times. He had a 9-1 record in the playoffs.
14. Dan Marino, 1983-1999:
The most efficient quarterback to never win a Super Bowl. He had ten winning seasons, led the league in passing yards five times, and was otherwise statistically elite for eleven seasons. He was also a three-time All-Pro and an MVP.
15. Terry Bradshaw, 1970-1983:
Four Super Bowl wins is the only real reason he's even at the top 15. He's very Elway-like in that he's a winner (although, two more Super Bowl wins than Elway) with mostly mediocre statistics. He also had ten winning seasons and a 73.7% playoff win percentage.
16. Arnie Herber, 1930-1940; 1944-1945:
He is the oldest person on this list. He's helped by having had Don Hutson (the first Jerry Rice) as a wide receiver during a time when almost everyone was running. Herber has four pre-Super Bowl championship rings. He led the league in touchdowns three times, but was among the top in seven seasons. He also led in passing yardage three times.
17. Y. A. Tittle, 1948-1964:
Tittle was among the top in completion percentage for seven seasons and rating for five seasons. He was also a 3-time All-Pro and an NFL MVP.
18. Troy Aikman, 1989-2000:
Three Super Bowl wins. His completion percentage was at an elite level for at least six seasons. His playoff win percentage is at 73.3%.
19. Bob Griese, 1967-1980:
He has two Super Bowl wins in three appearances. He is a two-time All-Pro and was routinely among the top in the league in completion percentage, touchdowns and passing rating.
20. Drew Brees, 2001-present
Brees has now edged Elway off the list. Statistically, he is sort of the Marino of our time; except he has a Super Bowl win. He has led the league in passing yardage and touchdowns four times, and has also had an elite-range completion percentage for six seasons. He is a one-time all-pro.
On the way:
Rodgers (25th), Roethlisberger (26th)
Elway (21st), Warner (22nd), Kelly (29th), Fouts (30th), Moon (33rd), Namath (36th)
Top 5 careers of young players (drafted in 2011-2013):
Wilson (72nd), Kaepernick (94th), Foles (126th), Newton (139th), Griffin III (140th)
Methodology: First off, I'd like to thank Pro-Football Reference for providing any football statistics anyone could ever want. I have ranked approximately 250 NFL Quarterbacks from 1932 to the present. QBs are given points for MVP and 1st Team All-Pro (but not Pro Bowl selections). Super Bowl/pre-Championship wins and losses. Winning % in the regular season and playoffs, winning seasons, elite statistics compared to the league average of their time, consistency, mobility, longevity and clutch. Players are penalized for deficiencies in these area. For pre-merger players, players are penalized for playing in weaker leagues that eventually merged with the NFL. Older players are also slightly penalized for playing in a less competitive atmosphere for QBs. Lastly, some players get points for intangibles. Let it be known, that I have excel rankings for every position in the NFL.