While American football is a team game where every player must contribute for a team to succeed, the quarterback position is undoubtedly the most important on the field.
In today’s era of the NFL, passing is more prevalent than ever. The statistics that quarterbacks are racking up are through the roof. It’s the only position on the field that gets a “win-loss” record attached to them consistently.
It’s difficult to compare statistics from NFL quarterbacks from different eras due to the game’s evolution from an offensive perspective. However, what can be considered, is how much a quarterback separated himself from others during his era.
After considering all things, including championships won, here’s a list in reverse order of the top ten quarterbacks in NFL history.
Top 10 Quarterback List
#10 – Fran Tarkenton
Minnesota Vikings 1961-1966, 1972-1978, New York Giants 1967-1971
Tarkenton was the first NFL quarterback to be considered a multi-threat, being able to scramble not only to buy time, but to gain yardage. He rushed for 3,674 yards and 32 touchdowns.
He was named to the Pro Bowl nine times and was First Team All-Pro and league MVP in 1975. Tarkenton led the league in passing yards in his final season.
Despite never winning a Super Bowl, he led three teams to the game and won 124 regular season games. At the time of his retirement, he was the all-time leader in passing yards (47,003 yards), attempts, completions, and 342 touchdown passes.
Tarkenton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
#9 – Brett Favre
Atlanta Falcons 1991, Green Bay Packers 1992-2007, New York Jets 2008, Minnesota Vikings 2009-2010
Selected 33rd by the Falcons in the 1991 NFL Draft, Favre appeared in only two games, completing none of his four pass attempts.
He thrived with the Packers over the next 16 years, earning nine Pro Bowl appearances, three straight First Team All-Pro honours, and MVP of the league from 1995 through 1997.
Favre led the Packers to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning the title in 1996. He led the league in yards passing twice and six times surpassed 4,000 yards in a season. In addition, Favre had nine seasons with at least 30 touchdown passes, leading the league four times.
He made the Pro Bowl in his only season with the Jets and his first season with the Vikings. As competitive and tough as they get, Favre played in an NFL record 297 consecutive games. Brett retired with 186 regular season wins, 71,838 yards passing, and 508 touchdowns.
Favre was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
#8 – Dan Marino
Miami Dolphins 1983-1999
Dan Marino was the 27th overall pick out of Pitt in the 1983 NFL Draft. He took the league by storm in his second season, leading the league with 5,084 yards passing and 48 touchdowns. Marino’s efforts earned him a Pro Bowl, First Team All-Pro, and NFL MVP.
He led the Miami Dolphins to the Super Bowl in 1984 but never returned to the big game. Marino’s three-year stretch from 1984-1986 is among the greatest in the game’s history – leading the league in touchdown passes and yards during those years.
All being told, Marino surpassed 4,000 yards passing six times and finished with 61,361 yards and 420 touchdowns during his career. Dan was a nine-time Pro Bowler known for his cannon arm and quick release.
In 2005, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
#7 – Johnny Unitas
Baltimore Colts 1956-1972, San Diego Chargers 1973
The Steelers selected Jonny Unitas in the 9th round of the 1955 NFL Draft. Surprisingly, he never played a game for the team.
He starred in Baltimore and was far and away the best NFL quarterback of his era. Unitas led the league in passing yards in 1957 and began a string of ten straight Pro Bowl appearances. He won the league MVP in 1959, 1964, and 1967 while also earning a victory in Super Bowl V.
Unitas led the NFL in passing yards and touchdown passes four times and in quarterback rating three times. He finished a legendary 18-year career with the Chargers in 1973 and retired with 40,239 yards passing and 290 touchdowns.
Unitas was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and passed away on September 11, 2002.
#6 – Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers 2005 – Present
Rodgers was selected by the Packers 24th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. He spent his first three seasons backing up Brett Favre before taking over in 2008.
Rodgers made his first of ten Pro Bowl appearances in 2009 when he threw for 4,434 yards and 30 touchdowns. He elevated his game in 2011, winning the league MVP after passing for 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns.
Rodgers continued his greatness for some time – winning NFL MVP awards in 2014, 2021 and 2021. Although he only led the league in touchdowns twice and never led the league in passing yards, Rodgers is a Super Bowl champion and is the Packers all-time leader in touchdown passes.
He concluded the 2022 season with 59,055 career passing yards, 475 touchdowns, and 147 regular season wins.
#5 – John Elway
Denver Broncos 1983 – 1998
John Elway was a talented athlete in both baseball and football at Stanford. He played a season in minor league baseball in the Yankees’ organization in 1982 before being selected 1st overall in the 1983 NFL Draft by the Colts.
After being traded to the Broncos, Elway played his entire 16-year NFL career with the franchise.
Elway never led the league in touchdown passes or threw for 30 in a season, but he was a winner, leading the Broncos to ten or more wins in a season eight times. He was named to nine Pro Bowls and won two back-to-back Super Bowls, winning an MVP award in the final game of his storied career.
John Elway retired with 51,475 yards passing and 300 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
#4 – Drew Brees
San Diego Chargers 2001-2005, New Orleans Saints 2006-2020
The Chargers drafted Brees in the second round in 2001. He played five seasons in San Diego, including a Pro Bowl appearance in 2004, but became one of the best NFL quarterbacks in league history while with the New Orleans Saints.
Brees led the NFL in yards passing seven times, including five times over 5,000 yards. He led the Saints to the only Super Bowl franchise win in 2009 with an MVP performance.
He was named to 13 Pro Bowl teams and was once named First Team All-Pro. He retired following the 2020 season with 172 regular season wins, 80,358 yards passing and 571 touchdowns. Drew Brees will undoubtedly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
#3 – Peyton Manning
Indianapolis Colts 1998-2010, Denver Broncos 2012-2015
Peyton Manning was the prize of the 1998 NFL Draft, selected by the Colts first overall out of Tennessee. He was named First-Team All-Pro seven times and named to 14 Pro Bowls.
He led the league in yards passing three times and 14 times threw for over 4,000 yards in a season. Manning also led the league in touchdown passes three times, including 55 in 2013, in which he also won the MVP award for the fifth time and his second Super Bowl.
Manning is near the top in career wins at quarterback position with 186. He retired with 71,940 yards passing and 539 touchdowns. One of the most intelligent quarterbacks in league history, Manning was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021.
#2 – Joe Montana
San Francisco 49ers 1979-1990, 1992, Kansas City Chiefs 1993-1994
Nicknamed “Joe Cool”, Joe Montana was selected in the 3rd round of the 1979 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. Montana didn’t put up the career numbers like some others on this list, but what stands out is his four Super Bowl victories with no defeats.
Before Tom Brady took over that title, he was considered the greatest quarterback of all time.
Proof of this is evident – as he led the league in completion percentage five times and quarterback rating twice. With such a performance, he was named to the Pro Bowl eight times and was named First-Team All-Pro three times.
Joe Montana led the league with the lowest interception percentage in his final NFL season with the Chiefs. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
#1 – Tom Brady
New England Patriots 2000-2019, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2020-Present
Tom Brady was far from the most athletic player in the 2000 NFL Draft. In fact, he was selected in the sixth round by the Patriots and served as a backup to Drew Bledsoe as a rookie before taking over in 2001.
Brady quickly found success, earning three Pro Bowls over the next five seasons. All told, Brady has been named to 15 Pro Bowls, three First-Team All-Pro, and has won a record seven Super Bowl titles.
His run in New England will likely never be matched – winning 17 division titles in 20 years and six Super Bowls (the most in super Bowl history). He led the league in passing yards four times, in touchdown passes five times, and in quarterback rating three times.
Besides the Super Bowl titles, Brady’s most impressive feat is his “consistency”, even in his mid 40’s. He led the league in yards passing and touchdowns as a 44-year-old with the Buccaneers in 2021.
Brady hasn’t indicated whether or not he’ll play another NFL championship season, but the bet is that we haven’t seen the last of Tom Brady. He will likely add to his record total of 89,214 passing yards and 649 touchdowns.
With his NFL record, he easily ranks No.1 in our Top 10 NFL quarterbacks of all time list.
Our Quarterbacks Of All Time Summary
From Joe Montana’s precision passing to Peyton Manning’s record-breaking performances, these Top 10 quarterbacks have certainly left a mark on American football.
They have not only shown exceptional talent and skill on the field, but also have the accolades to back it up, with multiple Super Bowl rings, playing in consecutive super bowls and impressive passing touchdowns records.
Just missing our top ten list are the likes of Steve Young, Roger Staubach, and Ben Roethlisberger.