It’s Monday and, in order to get the cobwebs dusted off, let’s talk Top 10! This week we’re paying homage to the NFL draft, hosted in Nashville, by talking about top 10 QBs of all time.
The quarterback position is the most difficult, scrutinized and rewarded position in sports. There is no other position in all of team sports that your perceived individual success is based upon your team’s success. When we look at running backs, wide receivers, linebackers, etc. the amount of Super Bowls won is almost irrelevant. When we analyze quarterbacks it is often first in the hierarchy of criteria. How do you begin to determine what makes a quarterback greater than the other? This is a question I had to think about before writing this piece. Although I think Super Bowl wins is a factor it cannot be the end all be all. Let us all take a moment to reminisce on Super Bowl winning quarterbacks like Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and Joe Flacco.
It is important to be mindful of stats in relation to the era in which they played. Therefore, I believe three other important considerations are efficiency, longevity and the teams these guys had around them. Efficiency is obviously crucial at the position, but it also creates a more level playing field amongst the eras and balances the inflated stats. Next, the longevity of a quarterback plays a huge role in determining greatness for the obvious reasons. When your body and work ethic pushes you to higher levels than expected for a particular age it is human nature to be in awe, and fair or not, create a bias in our minds. Finally, considering the team quality that was built around them cannot be overlooked. The fact Rex Grossman and Dan Marino played in the same amount of Super Bowls tells us enough about the importance of these considerations. This list is on par with many that are out there in terms of the names, but the order will cause some heavy debate:
10. Roger Staubach– The most important thing to remember about Roger is that not only was a winner, bringing the Cowboys their first two Super Bowl’s and making them “America’s Team”, he also began his pro career at 27 and only was on the roster for 11 seasons and played 9. It is hard to imagine what his resume would have looked like if he did not have to serve in the Navy and started immediately. Also, Staubach, was the first to really have flas in their game as a quarterback. While his game was far from early Michael Vick he could outrun guys to spots, make incredible moves in the pocket while still putting the ball on a rope. Creating the style that guys like Aaron Rodgers thrive on. This is one the most intriguing unknowns in NFL history. I am ready to hear about how I am a homer and Bradshaw should be there over Staubach, but if you switch those guys in 1970 I think the Steelers win 5 or 6 and the Cowboys might get 1.
9. Aaron Rodgers- If this list was based upon talent Aaron Rodgers would be #1. The real A-Rod is the best athlete on the list with the best arm! However, because of the team performance over the last 7 years I feel like this is a fair place for Rodgers. Time after time he has made average to above average receivers look like top 10 wideouts. Did we really think Jordy Nelson was a top 5 guy or did Rogers make us believe that? Similarly with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. These were guys that were household names with average NFL athleticism. The elevation beyond “the gunslinger to replace Favre” is nothing short of astounding. There was a lot of hype to live up to and he exceeded it in every way possible. With one MVP and one Super Bowl it almost feels like a career under performance, but the story is far from over as he is still on the back end of his prime where he can really make some noise as the GOAT.
8. Brett Favre– One of my all-time favorite athletes because of his love for competition. Although Favre loves the game like Peyton Manning did it was different. Peyton loved football the way Lebron loves basketball. Favre wanted to beat his competition the way Jordan and Kobe did. It was that next level mindset. I am of course referencing Green Bay Favre, while the Vikings, Jets and not so subtle texting version of Favre was not something to celebrate. He is third all time in yards, fourth in touchdowns and played more consecutive games than anyone at the position ever. Creating perhaps the most unbreakable record in sports besides 73 home runs unless we see some real steroid usage come back. It is a fair argument that apex Favre in 1995-1996 was better in that moment as anyone we have ever seen.
7. Dan Marino– Unfortunately we have to state the obvious. The same problem we have with Karl Malone we have for Dan Marino. A physical and statistical freak that never “got it done” even though his GM rarely put a Super Bowl quality roster around him. Despite a couple of injury plagued seasons in which he only played a couple games, Marino was a top 3 quarterback for about 15 years straight. He held the record for most touchdowns thrown for a long time before the league took off with the pass happy offenses. The 1986 Dan Marino could get stuck into an average offense today and lead the league in yards and touchdowns without a doubt. I think it insane, but still conceivable, that 20 years from now Marino may be more forgotten about and it is a shame. It goes back to what we started this conversation with. Your perceived success is dependent upon team success.
6. Drew Brees– The best 6 foot and under quarterback ever and still has a chance to rise on this list. It is incredible what he is able to do amongst the trees in the trenches where he is giving up 6 to 9 inches across the board. It requires a level of accuracy, footwork and IQ that no one else at that size has been able to match. Although Russell Wilson is doing a damn good job and will be here if he continues. This past season Drew cemented himself as a first ballot hall of famer and arguably the greatest statistical quarterback we have ever seen. Not to mention the man has ice in his veins in the playoffs. His playoff touchdowns to interceptions is 33 to 11 and he averages 317 yards a game. While carrying some of the worst teams that anyone on this list was a part of to the playoffs multiple times. Since Drew is a native Texan I am certainly rooting for him to win another ring, but for now I believe this is the correct spot for him.
5. Johnny Unitas– Before Brady had his resurgence in the twilight of his career to become the GOAT, Montana had to take it from someone, and that man was Johnny “Football” Unitas. 10 Pro Bowls, 3 MVPs, 4 Titles (1 Super Bowl and 3 NFL Championships) and a household name to this day. Although the numbers are less impressive and the tape is difficult to judge the way he could dominate in relation to his era was impressive as any. Not to mention in 1958 he was part of what is considered the greatest game ever played. It was a conference championship game and the first ever overtime game in NFL history in which he threw a game winning pass. There is a certain level credit I give to Unitas as well because we didn’t have film to prep with and schemes created by football geniuses at the time. These guys quite frankly did not know shit compared to the minds that are coaching today. For anyone that thinks his legacy is merely because he revolutionized the sport is mistaken and needs to spend a little time doing homework.
4. John Elway- He really checks all the boxes on this list I just like the 3 guys ahead of him more. John has won multiple Super Bowls (been to 5), had the prototypical arm and size, led incredible comebacks, put up groundbreaking numbers at the time and showed as much love for the game as anyone. The 3 Super Bowl losses do not bother me because of the teams he was having to face. I call this the Lebron syndrome. He also played reasonably well in all of those games. Maybe I am allured by the story of him retiring and comeback to win one, but I believe you would be hard pressed to put anyone above Elway that is below him on the list.
3. Peyton Manning- It is cliche to say he is the greatest regular season quarterback of all-time, but it is completely accurate in this case. There was a point in time when it was common knowledge Peyton Manning was greater than Tom Brady. It was just a question of by how much. The gaudy numbers he produced redefined the position and in many ways the league. It was conceivable that for a 12 year span the colts could win 12+ games in the season and Peyton Manning would be the MVP. That may be a longer stretch than anyone else on the list had. I am sure there is some advance metrics fanatic that is convinced Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all-time, but the fact is I watched him get outplayed by Brady, Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson too many times. There were 3 playoff games between 2002-2006 in which Mannings QBR was below 40, Completion percentage was below 50 and he threw 1 touchdown to 8 interceptions. Not to mention only winning 1 Super Bowl with peak Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney is not a great look. All that being said the man is Top 5 in every meaningful category, has multiple rings and was the most genius in-game player. His ability to change the play at the line of scrimmage was and will be second to none. It does not hurt that he clearly is the funniest guy on this list.
2. Joe Montana- This man is a well deserving #2 and held down the top spot for over 20 years. Joe set the bar and broke the mold in many way since he possessed a much smaller frame than the majority of this list with the 6’2” 200 lb stature. The numbers do not do him justice since he played in era with far less passing and the West Coast style those 49ers teams played with did not benefit his bottom line numbers. However, in my opinion, if you are going to find a knock on him it is the fact he played with the undebatable greatest receiver of all time. One could argue Montana made Rice, but I will beg to differ every time. Jerry Rice was getting numbers when he was old as hell on the Raiders with Rich Gannon getting him the rock. The most intriguing stat is that Montana went 4-0 in Super Bowl appearances. The fact he never lost one has to put him this high on the list. Terry Bradshaw was 4-0 as well and I left him off this list because the team around him was absolutely incredible and their route there was less impressive. I see Joe holding this spot down for a while unless Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees can win multiple Super Bowls.
1. Tom Brady- The only people that will argue Tom is not the GOAT are those born before 1960 and Patriots conspiracy theorists. Participating in the Patriots hater fan club is something I’ve never fully understood. How can we respect the Spurs and Alabama so much, but piss all over the Patriots? That is a conversation for another day. Bottom line for Brady is 6 rings, 3 MVPS, 14 Pro Bowls and the unforgettable come back year after blowing his ACL out in game one. Not only are the accomplishments impressive, he is setting a new standard in terms of longevity and making us all questions when it will finally end. This man has had average receivers outside of Julian Edelman, Gronk and Randy Moss (who he did not win a Super Bowl with). When you get rings with David Givens, David Patten, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Brandon LaFell and Chris Hogan you are pretty damn good at your job. 31 other teams constantly remind themselves of how they passed on this kid from Michigan for 198 consecutive picks in the 2000 Draft.