Quarterbacks are by far the most important position in all of sports! No other sport has a position as critical to a team’s success. We’ve seen it throughout history. A team that has a great quarterback is automatically in contention to win a Super Bowl. There’s a reason they are the hottest commodity in the game. They always have been, and they always will be.
Throughout the great history of the National Football League, there have been many great quarterbacks who have inked their names in the history books. More than any other position in the NFL, quarterbacks are judged by the number of championships. The same cannot be said for players in various other positions.
A great quarterback must have many strong qualities. It’s not enough to simply have a strong arm. They need to be accurate, have great anticipation, and be in sync with their receivers. In addition, a QB needs to have a thorough understanding of the game and defensive schemes, in order to put his offense in the best possible formation and play call.
Moreover, as the default leader of any team, it takes a special character with leadership skills to make his teammates follow his lead. He needs to have the ability to handle pressure, and be able to persevere through the many tumultuous paths of any quarterback at the NFL level.
After being selected with the number one overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft, Aikman was the face of the Dallas Cowboys in the mid 1990s. At the time, Dallas was the strongest team in the league. Aikman helped the team reach their dynasty status as the starting quarterback who led them to three Super Bowls victories (1993, 1994 and 1996). He also received MVP honors for his performance in Super Bowl XXVII, when he threw four touchdown passes. Aikman was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Moon’s emergence as one of the first true dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL justifies his place on this list. Despite starting his career in the CFL, he eventually made his way to the NFL stage. Moon’s combination of passing and rushing prowess, made him one of the most exciting quarterbacks to watch from 1984 until his retirement in 2000. When he finally retired at the lofty age of 44, he was ranked third all-time with 49,325 passing yards (now 10th place), as well as fourth place in NFL history with 291 passing touchdowns (now 13th place). In 2006, Moon became the first African American quarterback to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Bradshaw is often ridiculed for his erratic play as the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers during his 14-year career. While he wasn’t considered a prolific passer, he was a big-moment player, who helped the Steelers win four championships in a six-year stretch. While statistically limited relative to many other players on this list, he clearly played above his typical stat-line when the big game came around. Bradshaw obviously benefited from being a member of Pittsburgh’s squad that fielded the infamous “Steel Curtain” defense in the 1970s.
From a pure passing standpoint, Fouts was one of the premier quarterbacks during his time in the league. The San Diego Chargers assured he would only play with them for the entirety of his career. The eventual Hall of Fame quarterback was the first player in NFL history to throw for at least 4,000 yard in three consecutive seasons from 1979 to 1982. Unfortunately, he was unable to translate his success into a Super Bowl ring.
In 12 seasons with the Chicago Bears from 1939 to 1950, Luckman brought home four championships to the franchise. He won the MVP award in 1943, the first year in which he led the league in passing yards and touchdowns. He repeated his league-leading ways again in the 1945 and 1946 seasons. Luckman was ultimately inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965, as a result of his achievements with the Bears over the course of his career.
The Hall of Fame quarterback was a sight to behold during his illustrious career with the Vikings and Giants. He was one of the first dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL, accumulating 3,674 career rushing yards. At the time of his retirement, he was the all-time leader in touchdown passes with 342. Unfortunately, he was much less successful on the biggest stage. His 0-3 records in Super Bowls does not do him justice. He lost all of those games as the starting QB for the Minnesota Vikings, losing Super Bowls VIII, IX, and XI.
As a quarterback, Baugh won two championships with the Washington Redskins in 1937 and 1942. He also won the NFL Player of the Year Award two years in a row during the 1948 and 1949 seasons. But Baugh was a generally great football player. While most of his accolades are for his performance under center, he was also a contributor on defense and special teams, playing defensive back and punter. This versatility is a thing of a past era, in which a top quarterback would even play any other position.
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, Broadway Joe was the symbol of the New York Jets in the 1960’s. Namath is most famous for his iconic moment of running off the field following the Jets’ victory in Super Bowl III, also winning MVP honors for his performance. He had previously already captured the 1968 AFL Championship as well. In the 1972 season, Namath led the league in both passing yards and touchdowns, in perhaps his best individual season as a pro.
Starr was incredibly successful as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers from 1956 to 1971. He was able to win five total NFL Championships, which included both of the first two Super Bowls. In the process, he was also named Super Bowl MVP for both Super Bowl I and II. What separates a good player from the great ones, is the way they play in the biggest moments. His postseason record of 9-1 is the ultimate example of just how great he was on the grandest stage the game has to offer.
Known as “Roger the Dodger” for his tremendous scrambling ability, Staubach was one of the first quarterbacks to use his legs on a consistent basis, as a way of attacking opposing defenses. As the starting quarterback for the Cowboys, he led the team to four Super Bowls, winning the big game twice – SB VI and SB XII. Staubach was also named MVP of Super Bowl VI, and was also nicknamed “Captain Comeback” for his tendency to lead the team from behind, particularly in the fourth quarter. During his career, he accumulated 15 comebacks, game-winning drives in the fourth quarter (or overtime).
If winning is the ultimate standard for what makes a quarterback great, perhaps Graham should be much higher on this list. Graham was one of the most dominant quarterbacks in the history of football. He led his team to ten consecutive championship games between 1946 and 1955. He was able to win seven of those ten games. His overall record as the starting quarterback of the Browns was truly incredible – 114 wins to just 20 losses and four ties. Aside from his three losses in the aforementioned championship games, he had a perfect 9-0 record in the playoffs.
Young helped the 49ers regain hope, following their glory days from the 1980’s. He was a game-changer, who led San Francisco to a title in Super Bowl XXIX, as well as being named Super Bowl MVP. Young was the main factor contributing to that championship run in the 1994 season. He was received league MVP honors twice during his career – 1992 and 1994. Young was a highly mobile quarterback. Among quarterbacks, he is second all-time in rushing touchdowns with 43, and in third place on the all-time QB rushing yards list as well (4,239 rushing yards).
After taking over the starting quarterback position on the Packers in 2008, Rodgers took the league by storm. He managed to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory in 2010, while also being named SB MVP. Rodgers is a lethal passer, who has a rare combination of a strong arm and accuracy. To his point, he has been named NFL MVP twice during his career, for his impressive 2011 and 2014 campaigns. He is also the only quarterback to have a QB rating above 100.0 for his career (103.8).
One of the most prolific pure passers in NFL history, not many quarterbacks have been able to exceed Brees’ achievements on the field. His 70,445 passing yards rank third in NFL history, and the two guys ahead of him are retired. He should have a great chance to become the all-time passing leader in the upcoming season. He is also tied for third place on the all-time passing touchdowns list (488), a number that should also improve this year. In the 2009 season, Brees led the New Orleans Saints to Super Bowl XLIV, beating the Indianapolis Colts in the process. During the game, he completed an incredible 32 of 39 passes, throwing for 288 yards and two touchdowns, on his way to being named Super Bowl MVP. Brees is also a ten-time Pro Bowl selection.
Favre was the symbol of the NFL in the mid to late 1990’s. He is the only player in league history to win the NFL MVP Award three consecutive times, from 1995 to 1997. Favre also led his team to a Super Bowl victory in the 1996 season, and he appeared well on his way to repeat that feat, before losing in the following Super Bowl 32. Favre’s passing numbers are highly impressive. His 71,838 passing yards are second-most in NFL history. Similarly, he remains second all-time in touchdown passes with 508.
From a statistical standpoint, Unitas’ numbers are not as jaw-dropping as some of the other guys on this list. But he was a true winner, who led the Colts to three championships, including Super Bowl V. Unitas also won the league MVP award three times, during the 1959, 1964, and 1967 seasons. Unitas was different than any other quarterback in his era. He was a passing machine, as he led the league in passing yards and touchdowns four different times. For all of his accomplishments, he was recognized with ten Pro Bowl selections over the course of his career.
Elway has played in five Super Bowls, which is the second most by a quarterback in the history of the league. What’s even more impressive is that he didn’t have the surrounding talent until the latter years of his career. When he finally received the help he needed, he was able to translate his success into back to back Super Bowl victories, just prior to his retirement. He was also named Super Bowl MVP in the 1998 season. Elway was as clutch as they come, as he always played his best when the game was on the line. He was well-known for “The Drive,” during which he drove the team 98 yards down the field at Cleveland, to send the Broncos to the Super Bowl.
Manning is widely considered the greatest regular-season quarterback in NFL history. The number one overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, he quickly transformed the culture of the Indianapolis Colts into a perennial contender. He was lethal in his understanding of the game, often referred to as a coach on the field. Manning is the all-time leader in passing yards in NFL history with 71,940 yards. He also holds the record for most passing touchdowns with 539. Manning spent 14 of his 18 years in the league in Indy, where he led the team to two Super Bowl appearances and one championship. He then played for the Denver Broncos, where he played in two more title games, winning one there as well in the final season (and game) of his career.
For the longest time, Montana was considered the greatest of all time, and rightfully so. “Joe Cool” was always calm under pressure and in the biggest moments, and he was able to translate his clutch ways into a perfect 4-0 record in Super Bowls. He was also named MVP in three of those four appearances. Montana won the league MVP award twice in a row during the 1989 and 1990 seasons. He truly became the face of the NFL for a long period, as he was one of the most dominant quarterbacks to ever step foot on the gridiron. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, which was his first year of eligibility.
Brady is still playing arguably the best football of his life at age 40. He has defied all logic, on his way to his incomprehensible eighth Super Bowl appearance (so far). Continuing to win the battle with father time, Brady doesn’t have the look of a player slowing down. For all of the incredible accolades that he has been able to achieve, his five Super Bowl wins stand out the most. That’s more than any other quarterback in history, and it firmly places him in first place on this list, as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. He has also received the NFL MVP Award three times, and Super Bowl MVP four times during his career.