Rajan Nanavati
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Rajan Nanavati

The 10 Greatest Quarterbacks In NFL History

It’s one of the oldest barstool debates known to sports fans: who’s the greatest quarterback of all time. How exactly are you supposed to measure that, with all the different players and styles of play through the history of the NFL? Do you give it to the guy with the best stats, the guy with the most wins, or the guy with the most Super Bowl rings?

With the NFL’s 2017 Divisional Championship weekend featuring four of the best quarterbacks in the NFL — along with a couple that might be among the best ever — here’s one man’s attempt at ranking the quarterback “GOAT”: greatest of all time.

10. Drew Brees — After shattering all sorts of Big 10 records as the quarterback of the Purdue University Boilermakers, Brees got off to a slow start in the NFL, after being drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2001. In 2005, Brees tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder, and people wondered if his career would ever take off. But once he got to New Orleans and teamed up with head coach Sean Payton, Brees became one of the most productive passers in NFL history. The nine-time Pro Bowl selection led the league in passing yards seven different times between 2006 and 2016, including setting a new single-season passing record in 2011 with 5,416 yards. He’s the only player in NFL history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in five different seasons. No other quarterback in NFL history has done it more than once in their career.

9. Roger Staubach — Roger Staubach might be the guy most responsible for making the Dallas Cowboys “America’s Team.” Nicknamed “Captain America” himself, Staubach won the Heisman Trophy at the U.S. Naval Academy, served a tour of duty in Vietnam, and then led the Cowboys to five Super Bowl appearances — including four as the starter — in his 11-year career. But Stabauch might’ve been best known for his late game heroics, leading the Cowboys to 23 game-winning drives (15 comebacks) in the fourth quarter during his career, with 17 of those in the final two minutes or in overtime. The six-time Pro Bowl selection was named to the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team. Staubach is also one of four players in the history of the NFL to win both the Heisman Trophy and the Super Bowl MVP award.

8. Fran Tarkenton — Fran Tarkenton was the “original dual-threat” quarterback who terrified teams with his combination of throwing and scrambling ability. After his 18 year play career was over, Tarkenton owned basically every major quarterback record that existed, including career records in pass attempts, completions, yardage, and touchdowns; rushing yards by a quarterback; and wins by a starting quarterback. Tarkenton was named to nine Pro Bowls and two All-Pro Teams, and was given the MVP award in 1975. The only thing that eluded Tarkenton in his successful career was a Super Bowl win. He led the Vikings to three Super Bowls in the 1970’s, but could never manage to pick up a win in the big game.

7. Johnny Unitas — When he first came into the league, people didn’t know how to pronounce his name. But by the time Johnny Unitas retired from the league, he became the guy that future quarterback legends were compared to. Between 1955 and 1973, Unitas was named to 10 Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams. He’s one of only four players to win the NFL’s MVP award three times. For all his career accolades, Unitas is probably best known for leading the Baltimore Colts over the New York Giants in the NFL Championship game in 1958, which is often referred to as “the “greatest game ever played” and credited with sparking the interest in professional football in the United States.

6. Dan Marino — Plain and simple: Dan Marino was born to throw the football. We have seen very few quarterbacks in the history of the NFL who could throw the ball with the strength, quick release, and accuracy that Marino had. He threw for a record-breaking 5,084 yards in just his second season in the NFL, which was an absolutely absurd yardage total at the time; that record held for just under 30 years. He led the league in passing five different times, and led the league in touchdown passes three times. Marino was named to nine Pro Bowl teams and seven All-Pro teams, but sadly will be most remembered for never having won a Super Bowl.

5. John Elway — Even to this day, people consider John Elway as the greatest quarterback prospect to ever come out of college. The All-American quarterback from Stanford University had it all: unparalleled athleticism, incredible arm strength, and the ability to win games in the clutch. After he forced his way out of Baltimore and became the quarterback for the Denver Broncos, he lived up to almost all of the hype that surrounded him coming out of college. He’s one of only six quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for at least 3,000 yards in 12 seasons. Known for tormenting teams (like the Cleveland Browns) with his late-game heroics, Elway led Denver to 35 comeback wins in the 4th quarter & overtime, tied for third all time with Johnny Unitas. And to cap it all off, Elway became the first quarterback to ever start in five different Super Bowls, winning back-to-back titles during his last two seasons in the NFL.

4. Brett Favre — The “Gunslinger” himself, Brett Favre brought two Super Bowl titles back to the NFL’s “title town” in Green Bay. When Favre finally retired, once and for all in 2011, he left the game as the as the all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns. He’s the only quarterback in NFL history to win three consecutive NFL most valuable player awards, and the only quarterback in league history to win a playoff game over age 40. His 186 career wins is tied with Peyton Manning for the most ever by a quarterback. But for all his career achievements, he might best be known for the 297 consecutive starts he made during his 20-year NFL career.

3. Joe Montana — When you look back, it seems ridiculous that 81 players were taken in the 1979 NFL Draft, before Joe Montana. But, after winning a national championship as quarterback of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Montana went on to become the most decorated quarterback of his generation in the NFL. As the starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, Montana won four Super Bowls, went to eight Pro Bowls, and was named to the NFL’s All-Pro team five times. He was the MVP of the league in 1989 and 1990, and became the first player in the history of the league to be named MVP of the Super Bowl three times. With his numerous fourth quarter comebacks, Sports Illustrated named Montana as the number one clutch quarterback of all time.

2. Peyton Manning — You can very easily make the argument that Peyton Manning deserves to be #1 on this list. You practically need an encyclopedia-sized book to list all the records that Manning has set or broken through the course of his 18-year NFL career. He currently holds the record for most career passing yards, most career touchdown passes, the most passing yards in a single season, the most touchdown passes in a single season. He’s the first quarterback to reach 200 career wins between the regular season and the playoffs. No other quarterback in NFL history has been named to 14 Pro Bowls, or been awarded five MVP trophies. The only reason he doesn’t take the top spot is because of his 2–2 record in Super Bowl appearances.

1. Tom Brady — Tom Brady is living proof that, when it comes to the quarterback position in the NFL, the intangibles are far more important than the tangibles. He wasn’t the most athletic or physically gifted quarterback in the 2000 NFL Draft, which is why he fell to the sixth round (infamously taken with the 199th pick). But what teams didn’t realize is that Brady might go down as one of the most accurate, competitive, and clutch quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. Only Joe Montana has as many Super Bowl rings as Tom Brady (four), and Brady looks to be on pace to make that five in a matter of weeks. He’s been named to 12 Pro Bowl teams (second all time) and four All-Pro teams, and was named the NFL’s MVP twice; it’s very possible he could add a third MVP trophy in a matter of weeks as well. He broke Dan Marino’s single-season touchdown pass record, throwing 50 touchdowns in 2007. With 183 career wins to date, and his aspirations to play several more years after this season, Brady will easily finish his career with the most wins by a quarterback in NFL history.

This article was originally written in a freelance capacity for TheSportsDrop.com

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One man’s irreverent take on sports, marketing, food, health, and life in general.

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Rajan Nanavati

Rajan Nanavati

Indian American. Sports Junkie. Marketing Dude. Freelance Writer. Aspiring Life Hacker. Enthusiastic Gourmand. Husband. Canine Parent. www.hailtothedistrict.com

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