The Greatest 30 Quarterbacks in NFL History, Ranked
In football, the quarterback is usually the leader of the team on the field. In the National Football League, the quarterback is also usually the face of the team in the media. To those who play the game, a good quarterback is a necessity for a productive offense, especially one that wants to get to the playoffs and beyond.
Of course, the importance and role of the quarterback change from era to era, so it's hard to define exactly what makes the field general a "good" one. Is it the number of years he led his team to the postseason? The number of passing yards and touchdowns he has? The way he defies the odds, dominating the game well into his 40s or leading a team of mediocre players to a Super Bowl? The number of times he wins a Super Bowl?
We kept all of this in mind — along with a few other statistics — as we put together a list of the greatest 30 quarterbacks in NFL history. This is how they ranked.
There's a reason why they call him the GOAT, which is an acronym for "greatest of all time". He's in his mid-40s and still taking his teams to the postseason. He holds the quarterback records for passing yards, career wins, completions, touchdown passes, longest touchdown pass, and games started.
He's won seven Super Bowls, earned three most valuable player (MVP) awards, and he's been selected for 15 Pro Bowls. Brady has played for the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played college football at the University of Michigan.
One reason why Tom Brady holds many of those quarterback records is because Peyton Manning, the previous record holder, retired in 2016. There's been a great debate over whether Manning or Brady is the greatest quarterback of the modern era. Brady's postseason play helps give him a substantial edge, but there's no doubt that Manning is a close contender for the title.
He won two Super Bowls, earned five MVP awards, and was selected for 14 Pro Bowls. He still holds the record for most passing touchdowns in a game as well as the most passing touchdowns in a season. Manning played professionally for the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos and played college football at the University of Tennessee.
Before Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were even out of high school, Joe Montana was the GOAT of quarterbacks. After winning a national championship at Notre Dame, he spent 16 seasons in the NFL, playing for the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs.
Montana won four Super Bowls, earned two MVP awards, and was selected for eight Pro Bowls. Nicknamed "Joe Cool," Montana's game-winning pass to Dwight Clark during the 1981 National Football Conference (NFC) Championship Game is considered one of the greatest plays in NFL history.
Brett Favre spent 20 years in the NFL, and he still holds the record for starting in the most consecutive games. He's also tied with Brady for the longest touchdown pass ever thrown in an NFL game at 99 yards.
Unfortunately, Favre also holds the record for most interceptions thrown, and he probably stuck around the league a little longer than he should have, but that doesn't take away from his illustrious career, the majority of which was spent with the Green Bay Packers. Favre won a Super Bowl with the team, earned three MVP awards, and was selected to 11 Pro Bowls.
After setting some college football records at Stanford University, John Elway went on to play for the Broncos for 16 years throughout the 1980s and 1990s. During that time, he set some notable records for the era.
He took the Broncos to two Super Bowl wins, won a Super Bowl MVP Award and regular-season MVP award, and was selected to nine Pro Bowls. Elway retired as a player in 1998 but remains with the Broncos as an executive, helping them win a Super Bowl behind the scenes.
Drew Brees spent 20 years in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints, and, while he only led the Saints to a Super Bowl win once during his tenure, he set several personal and league quarterback records, some of which hadn't broken for more than 50 years.
Since then, Brady has broken some of his records, but Brees still holds a few, including most consecutive games with a touchdown pass, highest completion percentage in a season, and highest completion percentage in a game. He's also tied with Peyton Manning (and a few others) for most passing touchdowns completed during a game.
Dan Marino was a successful college football player at the University of Pittsburgh, and he had an even more impressive career during his 17 seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
While he's the highest-ranked quarterback on the list to never win a Super Bowl, he did win an MVP award and was selected to nine Pro Bowls. Both the University of Pittsburgh and the Dolphins have retired his jersey number.
Steve Young led the 49ers to three Super Bowl wins during his 15 seasons in the NFL and won two MVP awards. He was also a Super Bowl MVP Award and was selected for seven Pro Bowls during the 1990s.
Young, who played college football at Brigham Young University, is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he's known as one of the top rushing quarterbacks of all time.
Fran Tarkenton was a standout athlete in college at the University of Georgia, where he was a two-time first-team All-Southeastern Conference (SEC). In the NFL, he spent 20 years with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants.
He never won a Super Bowl, but he was a league MVP, as well as the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1975.
The late Johnny Unitas isn't just considered one of the best quarterbacks of all time, but one of the best athletes to ever play in the NFL. He spent 18 seasons in the league, playing mostly with the Baltimore Colts.
Nicknamed the "Golden Arm," Unitas set many records that weren't broken for decades until players like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady came along. He led the Colts to one Super Bowl win, won three MVP awards, and was selected to 10 Pro Bowls.
One of the few quarterbacks on the list who is still playing in the league, Aaron Rodgers has been with the Packers since 2005. During that time, he led the team to a Super Bowl win and was the Super Bowl MVP. He's also been a four-time NFL MVP, been selected to 10 Pro Bowls, and set numerous records.
He's currently the league leader for highest passer rating and lowest interception rating in a season, and he has the lowest career interception percentage of any other quarterback to ever play in the NFL.
Otto Graham played for the Cleveland Browns back during the 1940s and 1950s and went on to become a coach for decades after making his mark as a player.
The quarterback led the team to three NFL Championship games ? he played before there was a Super Bowl?and was a three-time NFL MVP. He was also selected for five Pro Bowl games. He was also the Big 10 Player of the Year when he played college football at Northwestern University.
Roger Staubach played quarterback for the United States Naval Academy and won a Heisman Trophy before heading to the NFL to become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
He took the Dallas Cowboys to the Super Bowl five times, winning the big game twice, and earning one Super Bowl MVP. He was also voted the NFL Man of the Year in 1978. Staubach was selected to six Pro Bowls and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018.
Another great quarterback who spent his career with the Cowboys is Troy Aikman. He's the player with the longest tenure as starting quarterback in team history. After attending the University of Oklahoma and UCLA, Aikman was a first-round draft pick who went on to win three Super Bowls.
He's also been a Super Bowl MVP and was the NFL Man of the Year in 1997. Aikman has had numerous college and pro highlights throughout his career, including being selected to six Pro Bowls. Today, he's a color commentator for NFL games.
Warren Moon is a unique success story. Not only did he go undrafted by all NFL teams, but he spent a few years in the Canadian Football League (CFL) before finally making it to the NFL where he spent much of his career with the Houston Oilers.
He took his team to the playoffs seven times, but he never had much postseason success. He did, however, break several passing records and find himself selected to nine Pro Bowls. He was also the NFL Man of the Year in 1989 and the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1990.
Sports fans born today may think of Terry Bradshaw as more of a TV personality than a pro athlete, but he was once one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. A first-round draft pick in 1970, Bradshaw led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl wins and earned two Super Bowl MVP Awards.
He was also the NFL's MVP in 1978 and the league passing leader for several years. Bradshaw was selected to three Pro Bowls and won the Bert Bell Award in 1978.
Former Packers quarterback Bart Starr is the only quarterback in NFL history to lead a team to three consecutive league championships, and he won five throughout his career. He also helped the team win the first two Super Bowls and was a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
Starr was the NFL's MVP in 1966 and was elected to four Pro Bowls. After his noteworthy career as a player, he went on to coach for Green Bay for more than a decade.
Former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath led the University of Alabama to a college championship game before becoming a first-round draft pick for the Jets. He led the team to one Super Bowl, was the Super Bowl MVP, and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1974.
He was the Rookie of the Year in 1965, and, in 1972, he threw more touchdowns and had more passing yards than any other player in the league. Namath, whose nickname is "Broadway Joe," was quite popular off the field, which helped him gain iconic status.
Former Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts wasn't that impressive for the first five years of his NFL career, but something happened after that, and he spent the next decade breaking records and winning awards.
In 1982, he was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year, and he was selected to six Pro Bowls during his 15-year career. He was an NFL pass completion leader, and he's a member of the Chargers Hall of Fame.
Randall Cunningham was a standout track star in high school, a star quarterback and punter in college, and one of the top rushing quarterbacks in NFL history. He still holds the record for the third-most rushing yards made by a quarterback.
Cunningham played mostly for the Philadelphia Eagles and Vikings before retiring and becoming an ordained minister. He's now the team chaplain for the Las Vegas Raiders.
One of the oldest quarterbacks on the list, Y.A. Tittle was a standout quarterback and team leader during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, playing for the Colts, 49ers, and Giants. He was voted the NFL's MVP in 1963 and was selected to seven Pro Bowls.
His offenses were said to be some of the best the league has ever seen, and, for years, he was the leading passer in the NFL. Tittle is also notable for playing better in his older years than he did as a younger man, which he accredited to experience.
Ken Stabler was a first-team All-American and first-team All-SEC standout at the University of Alabama where he played on the same team as Joe Namath. A second-round NFL draft pick, he spent most of his years with the Oakland Raiders where he earned the nickname "Snake."
In 1974, he was the NFL's MVP, and he led the Raiders to win a Super Bowl after the 1976 season. He was also elected to four Pro Bowls and won the Bert Bell Award in 1976. Stabler died in 2015, but he was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2016.
An All-American college player for Purdue University, Bob Griese was a first-round draft pick by the Dolphins. With the Dolphins, he took the team to three Super Bowls in a row — a record for any quarterback — and won two of them.
He was also selected to six Pro Bowls. Griese won the Bert Bell Award in 1977 and is a member of both the College Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Len Dawson played professional football for nearly two decades, both in the American Football League (AFL) and the NFL. As the starting quarterback for the Chiefs — who were also the Dallas Texans for part of that time — he led the team to three AFL Championships and a Super Bowl win.
Until Patrick Mahomes came along in 2018, Dawson held the single-season passing touchdown record for the Chiefs for more than 50 years. In 1973, he was the NFL Man of the Year.
Back in 1983, Jim Kelly was a first-round draft pick for the Buffalo Bills, but he opted to join the Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League (USFL) instead. A couple of years later, he signed with the Bills and carved a path to NFL history.
Kelly took the team to a record-breaking four Super Bowls in a row, although they never managed to pull off a win. Throughout his career, he set several seasonal passing records and was selected for five Pro Bowls.
Donovan McNabb was a first-round draft pick in 1999, and he spent most of his career with the team that drafted him, the Eagles. Within a decade, he took the team to the playoffs eight times, including five NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl.
He was selected for six Pro Bowls. McNabb was only the fourth quarterback in league history to throw for more than 30,000 passing yards, 200 touchdown passes, 3,000 rushing yards, and 20 rushing touchdowns within his career.
Phil Simms is a first-round draft pick who spent 15 years playing for the Giants. Fans today probably know him as a studio broadcaster for NFL games that air on CBS.
Simms led the team to win two Super Bowls, and he was awarded the MVP award for one of them. He also set the record for the highest completion percentage in a Super Bowl, which has yet to be broken. Simms was selected for two Pro Bowls.
Joe Theismann spent a few years in the CFL before joining the NFL where he spent 12 seasons with the Washington Redskins. During that time, he led the team to two Super Bowls, winning one.
In 1982, he was the NFL Man of the Year. In 1983, he was the NFL's MVP and the Offensive Player of the Year. Unfortunately, in 1985, Theismann suffered a career-ending leg injury, but he has continued to be in the public eye as a broadcaster, speaker, and businessman.
Sonny Jurgensen played football and baseball at Duke University before being drafted into the NFL. He spent half his career with the Eagles and half with the Redskins. Jurgensen led the Eagles to an NFL Championship in 1960.
He was a First-Team All-Pro in 1961, and he was elected to five Pro Bowls. Jurgensen is also tied with several other players for throwing the longest touchdown pass ever.
Ben Rothlisberger retired at the end of the 2021 season after a fairly remarkable career in the NFL. "Big Ben" spent 18 years with the Steelers, starting in 2004 when he was the NFL Rookie of the year.
He led the team to two Super Bowl wins and was selected to six Pro Bowls. He currently holds the record for most career 500-plus-yard passing games as well as most career-perfect passing games and most completions in a single game.