The 25 Most Successful NFL Quarterbacks

Explanations for the system will follow the rankings.

The following grading standard was applied for grading each quarterback:

  • 10 points for a Super Bowl Ring or NFL/AFL championship
  • 1 point for every 1,000 yards passing
  • 1 point for every 10 touchdowns
  • 3 points for every Pro Bowl selection

The top 25 are listed with statistics and notes about each player. Current players are listed in all caps.

25. Dave Krieg — 73 points

0 Super Bowl Rings; 38,147 passing yards; 261 TD passes; 3 Pro Bowl Selections

Krieg's primary target, Steve Largent, retired in 1989. Needless to say, Krieg's statistics began to plummet starting in 1990. Krieg is also the quarterback who was sacked 7 times in one game by the late, great Derrick Thomas.

24. Boomer Esiason — 73 points

0 Super Bowl Rings; 37,920 passing yards; 247 TD passes; 4 Pro Bowl Selections

A good quarterback on a finicky team. For example, in 1988, Boomer threw for 28 TDs and 14 interceptions and led the Bengals to the Super Bowl. In 1989, Boomer had an even better season, with 28 TDs and only 11 interceptions, but the Bengals didn't even make the playoffs. Boomer gets the edge over Krieg for an actual Super Bowl appearance and for not having Steve Largent.

23. John Hadl — 75 points

0 Super Bowl Rings; 1 AFL Championship; 33,503 passing yards, 244 TD passes, 6 Pro Bowl Selections

Hadl was the quarterback for the San Diego Chargers though the 1960s. He played in 16 seasons, piling up the statistics, but should have retired after 12.

22. Roger Staubach — 75 points

2 Super Bowl Rings; 22,700 passing yards; 153 TD passes, 6 Pro Bowl Selections

The two Super Bowl victories were part of a fairly impressive 12-7 overall playoff record for Staubach. Though his statistics aren't amazing, Staubach was a great leader for a dominant Cowboys team throughout the 1970s. Staubach gets the nod over Hadl due to his winning record.

21. Vinny Testaverde — 79 points

0 Super Bowl Rings; 46,233 passing yards; 275 TD passes; 2 Pro Bowl Selections

The old man never gives up. Now in his 21st NFL season, Testaverde is the epitome of perseverance, starting only five playoff games in his entire career. Testaverde has been on mediocre teams throughout his life and has kept with it and amassed some amazing stats.

20. Drew Bledsoe — 81 points

0 Super Bowl Rings; 44,611 passing yards; 251 TD passes; 4 Pro Bowl Selections

Mr. Immobile himself was a good quarterback in his own right for the New England Patriots. It is rather unfortunate that he had to give way to Tom Brady right as the Patriots' true dynasty began, which we have not seen the end of quite yet.

19. George Blanda — 81 points

2 AFL Championships; 26,920 passing yards; 236 TD passes; 4 Pro Bowl Selections

Blanda is the oldest of old men. Testaverde has six years to go to match Blanda's ridiculous 27-year career. Though Blanda threw 277 INTs and had a completion % of under 50%, he was still able to hang tough nearly to age 50, and nobody else can even come close to saying that. Not to mention, he also played kicker for many seasons.

18. Sonny Jurgenson — 82 points

1 NFL Championship; 32,224 passing yards; 255 TD passes; 5 Pro Bowl Selections

Jurgenson was one of the great 1960s quarterbacks. He built large numbers in yards and touchdowns and led the league 5 times in passing yards and twice in TD passes.

17. Otto Graham — 85 points

3 NFL Championships; 23,584 passing yards; 174 TD passes; 5 Pro Bowl Selections

If you add the AAFC championships to the total, Graham would have another 40 points and be up at number six right after John Elway. I know very little about Graham and his play, but he was obviously a winner.

16. Dan Fouts — 86 points

0 Super Bowl Rings; 43,040 passing yards; 254 TD passes; 6 Pro Bowl Selections

Fouts led the Chargers through some rather lean years with some rather large numbers. Had he been on a better team, who knows how impressive he could have been.

15. TOM BRADY — 87 points

3 Super Bowl Rings; 26,370 passing yards; 197 TD passes; 4 Pro Bowl Selections

Brady will undoubtedly move up on this list and who really knows how far. He seems to be highly durable and with more weapons now than ever, he may be in the top five before too long.

14. Bob Griese — 88 points

2 Super Bowl Rings; 25,092 passing yards; 192 TD passes; 8 Pro Bowl Selections

Griese led a great Dolphin team in the 1970s and took advantage of the "No-Named Defense" who helped him win two rings, one of them flawless.

13. Len Dawson — 92 points

1 Super Bowl Ring; 1 AFL Championship; 28,711 passing yards; 239 TD passes; 7 Pro Bowl Selections

A true AFL stud, Dawson helped the AFL gain some real credibility along with playboy Joe Namath.

12. Troy Aikman — 96 points

3 Super Bowl Rings; 32,942 passing yards; 165 TD passes; 6 Pro Bowl Selections

With a few less concussions, Aikman could have quite easily been a top-10 pick. Also, slightly depressing his touchdown numbers is the fact that Emmitt Smith ran in a lot of touchdowns for the Cowboys in the '90s that could have easily belonged to Aikman's arm. Aikman was surrounded by a great team and he helped build them from the ground up starting in their most dismal season, 1989.

11. Steve Young — 97 points

2 Super Bowl Rings; 33,124 passing yards; 232 TD passes; 7 Pro Bowl Selections

Steve Young is a very interesting pick. Young took Joe Montana's job and that in and of itself is amazing. He played great for many years and honestly missed at least four seasons sitting on the bench behind Montana. Granted, he probably learned a lot from Montana, but he wasn't able to pile up the stats like many of the people ahead of him on this list. Something I did not include in the statistics of this list that would have benefited Young more than anybody else is rushing touchdowns of which Young had 43.

10. Terry Bradshaw — 97 points

4 Super Bowl Rings; 27,989 passing yards; 212 TD passes; 3 Pro Bowl Selections

Bradshaw was a great leader and a real winner, going 14-5 in the playoffs. Though he threw 210 interceptions, his touchdown and yard numbers are also relatively low due to the style of Pittsburgh football. Who can blame them, though? With Franco Harris in the backfield, I would have run a lot, as well.

9. Bart Starr — 101 points

3 NFL Championships; 2 Super Bowl Rings; 24,718 passing yards; 152 TD passes; 4 Pro Bowl Selections

The winner of all winners, Starr and the Packers of the early 1960s were phenomenal. Starr's the type of man who could make a 7-3 victory as exciting as New Year's Eve in Time's Square.

8. Warren Moon — 105 points

0 Super Bowl Rings; 49,325 passing yards; 291 TD passes; 9 Pro Bowl Selections

One of three top 10 performers plagued by the zero in the first column, Moon led the massively talented Houston Oilers to plenty of disappointing early playoff exits.

7. PEYTON MANNING — 105 points

1 Super Bowl Ring; 41,626 passing yards; 306 TD passes; 8 Pro Bowl Selections

Undoubtedly, Manning will move up on this list. Manning's poise and ability to control a game are astounding. Nobody in history can drive a team down the field as fast and as efficiently as Manning. Whether or not he winds up at No. 6, No. 1, or somewhere in between depends on rings and the always important health.

6. Fran Tarkenton — 108 points

0 Super Bowl Rings; 47,003 passing yards; 342 TD passes; 9 Pro Bowl Selections

Not quite as bad as Jim Kelly (who is actually number 26 from what I can tell on this list), but 0-3 in Super Bowls isn't good for the reputation. Tarkenton revolutionized the way a quarterback could play with his uncanny ability to escape from defenders.

5. John Elway — 128 points

2 Super Bowl Rings; 51,475 passing yards; 300 TD passes; 9 Pro Bowl Selections

The majority of Elway's true success came in his last two seasons and if he didn't win rings in those seasons, he'd still be at about the same spot and I'd wonder why, but given his run of winning his last seven playoff games including two Super Bowl victories, he's a solid number 5.

4. Johnny Unitas — 129 points

1 Super Bowl Ring; 2 NFL Championships; 40,239 passing yards; 290 TD passes; 10 Pro Bowl Selections

Unitas was a real stud for the era he played in, compiling an amazing amounts of yards and touchdowns and a consistently dominant career. It's a shame that the thing he's often most remembered for is losing to the ever cocky Joe Namath in Super Bowl III.

3. Dan Marino — 130 points

0 Super Bowl Rings; 61,361 passing yards; 420 TD passes; 9 Pro Bowl Selections

Marino was also cursed with no rings and his only comfort were the numerous records he possessed, which are almost all gone thanks to the likes of Brett Favre. Marino was a great quarterback though and helped the transformation of NFL offenses into a wide-open passing game perhaps more than any other quarterback. He did it extremely well, but he won't ever ascend to the ranks of number one with no rings on his fingers.

2. Joe Montana — 131 points

4 Super Bowl Rings; 40,551 passing yards; 273 TD passes; 8 Pro Bowl Selections

"The Quarterback" falls short of number one due to one thing and one thing only — longevity. If he could have played another four or five seasons, Montana would have another 30+ points under his belt and be virtually untouchable. In his prime, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better all-around player than Joe Montana. Such sweeping vision, deft delivery, and his unmistakable ability to lead a team from a seemingly impossible deficit are unmatched. If I could relive a decade, it would be the 1980s, purely to see Montana in every single 49ers game. Watching him simply gives me a sense of peace, as if everything in the world must make sense.

1. BRETT FAVRE — 141 points

1 Super Bowl Ring; 61,655 passing yards; 442 TD passes; 9 Pro Bowl Selections

The value of Brett Favre goes beyond mere statistics. What other quarterback can boast that during his tenure, his current division opponents (Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota) have started more than 50 quarterbacks combined? His consistency, patience, and leadership for the Green Bay Packers throughout the past 16 years have been beyond measure. But perhaps the greatest thing he brings to the Pack is his contagious attitude, his wondrous smile, and his unmatchable ability to overcome personal adversity and win in spite of it. A true number one pick, Favre maintains a high success rate, while also holding true to the intangibles that make a man great.


Note the title please, it is very intentional. This is a list of most the successful quarterbacks, not my opinion who is or was the best. It includes both AFL and NFL players, but does not include AAFC (hence why Otto Graham is No. 17 on the list and not No. 6 or better).

There are certain things in professional football that you cannot measure without being an MIT graduate, i.e. strength of teammates, coaches, or opponents; the difference between statistics in the 1960s versus statistics in the 21st century; starting 200+ straight games; being injury-prone; personal problems; or the ability to make ones teammates better players. The intangibles of being a football player are not measurable by me, so I make no attempt to do so. This list attempts to determine which quarterbacks were the most successful in the American professional football leagues of the AFL and NFL.

I personally think that the quarterbacks list came out pretty close to what I would select, although I kind of hope numbers 20-25 disappear off of the list very quickly. Perhaps Matt Hasselbeck (45 points), Jeff Garcia (45 points), Drew Brees (39 points), Ben Roethlisberger (32), Carson Palmer (30 points), and Eli Manning (28 points) will keep piling up the statistics.

Lists of a similar nature for running backs and wide receivers will be released shortly.

Comments and Conversation

February 17, 2008

Matt G:

Well I certainly am a fan of THIS list! Very good analysis…

February 19, 2008

Brad Oremland:

This is an interesting project, Andrew.

You left out several players, though, who qualify for the list in your scoring system: Sammy Baugh has 74 points, Y.A. Tittle has 74 if you count his AAFC stats, Sid Luckman has 76, Phil Simms has 78, Norm Van Brocklin has 87, and Bobby Layne has 90.

I’m not sure how you’re counting backups on championship teams, but a few of those are wrong, too. You counted some backups, but not others, and the 10 points is a big swing.

I also disagree that Boomer Esiason had a better season in 1989 than ‘88. His passing yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt, TD%, and passer rating all dropped. A marginally better INT% doesn’t compensate for all that.

I would contest that Unitas is remembered primarily for losing Super Bowl III, a game in which he barely played. His legacy is more as the greatest quarterback in the game for a decade, and for leading a pair of clutch drives at the end of The Greatest Game Ever Played, the 1958 NFL Championship Game.

And in a lifetime following football, I have never heard anyone else apply the nickname “The Quarterback” to Joe Montana.

January 29, 2012

Brian S:

Warren Moon ahead of Otto Graham? Really? Moon, Marino and Tarkington = zero championships. Graham 7 in 10 years (yes, 4 were in AAFC). The bottom line is wins are more important than stats. Ask any player.

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