Written By Jason Voorhees
We tackled the fifteen greatest QB seasons in NFL history during our last episode of top rankings, post-1980. Of course, as always, the orders provided plenty of spirited debates. With that being said, we will now shift our focus to the most outstanding individual all-time careers.
No position in sports has evolved more over the past 40 years than quarterback.
As the NFL's passing game has become juiced, so too have the stats. Before 1980, there was precisely one 4,000 passing yard season. Just one. Since that year, the feat has been accomplished 198 times. After nearly quadrupling in 40 years, air yards have sequestered a new threshold.
Four thousand passing yards has become the new norm. The same can be said for touchdowns. And with that in mind, the game has become increasingly more competitive, fueling the numbers' inflation. As we navigate this landscape of field generals, many have entered the realms of all-time great status.
With an abundance of great passers, the task of ranking the best of the best will surely be a challenge. Keeping that in mind, let's take a quick look at the ones that just missed the cut...
Steve McNair (HOU-1995-1996, TEN-1997-2005, BAL-2006-2007)- 161 Games/91-62 Record/31,304 Passing Yards/174TD-119INT/82.8 QB Rating/60.1 Completion%/3x Pro Bowl/1xMVP.
Randall Cunningham (PHI-1985-1996, MIN-1997-1999, DAL-2000-2001)- 161 Games/82-52-1 Record/29,979 Passing Yards/207TD-134INT/81.5 QB Rating/56.6 Completion%/4xPro Bowl/4,928 Rushing Yards/35 Rushing TDs.
Boomer Esiason (CIN-1984-1992, NYJ-1993-1995, ARI-1996, CIN-1997)- 187 Games/80-93 Record/37,920 Passing Yards/247TD-184INT/81.1QB Rating/57Completion%/4x Pro Bowl/1xMVP
Rich Gannon (MIN-1987-1992, WAS-1993-1994, KC-1995-1998, OAK-1999-2004)- 157 Games/76-56 Record/28,743 Passing Yards/180TD-104INT/84.7 QB Rating/60.2 Completion%/4x Pro Bowl/1xMVP
Phil Simms (NYG-1979-1993)- 164 Games/95-64 Record/33,462 Passing Yards/199TD-157INT/78.5 QB Rating/55.4 Completion%/2x Pro Bowl/2xSB Champ
Tony Romo (DAL-2004-2016)- 156 Games/78-49 Record/34,183 Passing Yards/248TD-117INT/97.1 QB Rating/65.3 Completion%/4x Pro Bowl
Pat Mahomes (KC-2017-2020)- 46 Games/38-8 Record/14,152 Career Passing Yards, 114TD-24INT/108.7QB Rating/66 Comp.%/3x Pro Bowl/1xMVP/1xSB Champ
Ok...now that you have met the honorable mentions...it's time to see the quarterbacks that made this list. Without further ado...here are the Top 20 Quarterbacks (post-1980) all-time ranked!
20. Drew Bledsoe
Before there was Brady and Belichick, there was Drew. After being selected No. 1 overall by the New England Patriots in 1993, Drew Bledsoe became the franchise's face for close to a decade. Bledsoe achieved great success early on, guiding New England to the playoffs in just his second year and taking them to the Super Bowl in 1996.
Drew was rewarded for his efforts with a massive ten-year/103 Million dollar contract ahead of the 2001 season. It was his injury in 2001 that became the most famous franchise-altering situation in NFL history. While his legacy will never be on the same level as the future dynasty, he was still one of the best quarterbacks of the past 40 years.
19. Jim Kelly
Jim Kelly was the model of consistency during his reign as the franchise quarterback in Buffalo. In his 11 seasons, Buffalo made the playoffs eight times, including six divisional championships and four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Sadly, Kelly and the Bills will always be remembered as the team that choked.
Nonetheless, Kelly put up stellar numbers while running the no-huddle offense to perfection. His best season came in 1991 when he went 13-2, while tossing 33 TDs and throwing for 3,844 yards. Kelly had 3,000 yards passing or more in eight of his eleven seasons. His greatness finds him enshrined in the Hall of Fame, a place he undoubtedly belongs.
18. Eli Manning
I'm probably going to catch a lot of flack for this pick. However, the lesser of the two Manning brothers was pretty damn good in his own right. Although he had a propensity for interceptions, Eli would guide the New York Giants to two Super Bowl championships.
While his name will always be synonymous with his controversial refusal to play in San Diego, his career will be remembered for his play when it mattered the most. Manning put up big numbers consistently, many years playing with a less than stellar supporting cast. His best overall year came in 2011 when he nearly topped the 5,000-yard passing mark.
17. Donovan McNabb
Donovan McNabb is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in NFL history. McNabb authored an extremely successful run during the early to mid-2000s, taking the Eagles to the playoffs five consecutive seasons, including four straight NFC Championships. If there is any quarterback to have done more with less, it's unquestionably Donovan McNabb.
In 2004, after acquiring star wide receiver Terrell Owens, the Eagles finally made it to the Super Bowl. Donovan had a career year throwing for 3,875 yards while tossing 31 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. McNabb is tied for the fifteenth all-time with a very admirable 2.2 Pass Interception percentage. The greatest quarterback in Eagles history also finds his home on this list.
16. Matt Ryan
2021 will mark the fourteenth season for Matt Ryan as the Atlanta Falcons franchise signal-caller. During his time there, he has obliterated every vital passing record that could ever be possible. As one of the NFL's true iron men, Matty Ice has only missed one start in his entire career. Over those years he has compiled quite a resume.
In 2016, Ryan had one of the greatest quarterback seasons ever, throwing for 4,944 yards while tossing 38 TDs and only seven interceptions. He led the Falcons to the Super Bowl, having an almost perfect postseason, until the team finally imploded in the big game. As Ryan's career continues, it remains a story that is not yet finished. Will Ryan ascend the list? Only time will tell.
15. Phillip Rivers
Phillip Rivers may be the most under-the-radar example of greatness in NFL history. The numbers that Phillip was able to produce were unfathomable: twelve 4,000 yard passing seasons (including eight consecutive from 2013-2020), six seasons throwing 30TDs or more, 421 career TD passes (5th all-time), 63,440 career passing yards (5th all-time), 64.9% completions (14th all-time), 7.8Y/A (10th all-time).
The statistics are impressive as they stand alone. So one must ask, how does a quarterback put these kinds of stats up without a peep from the media. The answer is he played in San Diego. And unfortunately, he played in the AFC against guys like Brady and Manning. You cannot ignore the numbers though. Rivers was indeed a machine.
14. Kurt Warner
The story of Kurt Warner is well documented. From arena league backup to bagging groceries. To then becoming one of the greatest passers of this generation. One can only imagine what could have been had Warner began his NFL career right out of college. Nonetheless, the architect of the "Greatest Show on Turf" was as good as it gets during his prime.
Not only did Warner put up gaudy numbers, but he shined brightest when the lights were on. He won the league's MVP twice, once in 1999 and again in 2001. In 1999, Kurt guided the Saint Louis Rams to their first Super Bowl victory while garnering MVP honors. In that game, he threw for 414 yards and 2TDs—certainly one of the greatest to ever play the game.
13. Warren Moon
When one said to shoot for the stars, Warren said, why not shoot for the moon! This air raid master amassed over 49,000 yards and 291TDs in the NFL alone. However, when you merge the numbers that he put up in the CFL, the stat line reads 70,000 passing yards and 400TDs. Moon obliterated the stigma that black quarterbacks could not do well in the NFL.
He entered the NFL at age 28, and there was no turning back. He piloted the famous "Run and Shoot" offense for the Houston Oilers in the late eighties and early nineties. Moon reached the 4,000 passing yard plateau four separate times in an era where that was still unimaginable. The only thing holding him back was his lack of playoff success and failure to reach the SB.
12. Ben Rothelisberger
Big Ben has quietly put up Hall of Fame numbers as the Pittsburgh Steelers' face over the past seventeen seasons. As of this writing, he has not declared whether or not he will retire. However, if he does, call it quits; it's been one fascinating career. When it's all said and done, his legacy will proclaim his greatness worldwide.
Ben Roethlisberger is the epitome of durability. He takes constant punishment but yet gets back up and to live another round. Another quarterback that shines the brightest when the chips are down. Ben saved his best season for one of his last. In 2018, at age 36, Big Ben threw 34 TDs and amassed 5,129 yards passing. A true giant of the game.
11. Russell Wilson
The man they call dangerous is an NFL defense's worst nightmare. Russell Wilson combines raw athletic ability with pristine passing and elite escapability, ala Randall Cunningham on steroids. Russ has penned quite an impressive resume during his short career thus far. But, to truly understand his greatness, one must only use the eye test.
What this young man has already accomplished is downright amazing. And to think he has only just scratched that surface is utterly frightening. If Russ can stay healthy, it would not be a stretch to see him surpass 60,000 passing yards and 400TDs. If Wilson continues down this path, the top 5 all-time is certainly within reach, especially if he can win another super bowl or two.
10. Troy Aikman
Troy Aikman cracks the top ten due to his three super bowl victories. Aikman's regular-season numbers were relatively pedestrian. But when it comes to the playoffs, there are not many that did it better. All in all, he compiled an 11-5 postseason record while earning three rings, which is as much hardware as Young, Marino, and Favre combined.
There is something to be said of system quarterbacks, and Troy may have been the prototype. Playing in a loaded Dallas Cowboys offense, the team was built upon the running game with Emmitt Smith. So it's no wonder that Aikman's passing stats were often overshadowed. Nonetheless, he proved his worth when it mattered—a game manager who managed excellence.
9. Steve Young
Steve Young's career is assuredly one of the most unusual in NFL history. From his days as an average starter in the USFL. To his failed debacle in Tampa Bay. To back up for former GOAT Joe Montana. To starter for one of the greatest teams of the era. Yes, Young's resume is filled with a full-scale encyclopedia. And the narrative reads "absolute playmaker."
Young's statistical greatness is middle of the pack when it comes to yardage and touchdowns. However, when you look at metrics that measure pass accuracy and rating, he's always at the top. Young excelled through both the air and on the ground. On top of the passing stats, he rushed for 4,239 yards and added 43TDs. Steve Young was the total package.
8. Brett Favre
"The Gunslinger" needs no introduction. Brett Favre is 2nd all-time in wins to Tom Brady with 186. He's 4th all-time in both passing yards (71,838) and touchdown passes (508). Favre has won a super bowl, 3 MVPs, made 11 Pro Bowls, and garnered numerous other hardware. Not bad for a quarterback that was red-shirted as a rookie.
Not only was Favre a winner, but he was also made of steel. Look no further than his record 17 straight seasons without missing a start. Pretty insane for a quarterback that played with such reckless abandon. The only thing holding him back from a higher place on the list is his propensity to throw picks, which hurt him in the quest for multiple rings.
7. Dan Marino
Dan, "The Man" Marino, was a magician. Marino didn't just set records during his day; he shattered them. Blessed with one of the quickest releases in NFL history, Dan burst onto the scene as a rookie and never looked back. His legendary 1984 season was a season for the ages. But many forget that he led the league in passing three other times.
The thing that made Marino's numbers more impressive was that he accomplished this feat during an era that no one was doing what he did. In 1986, his 44TDs were 19 more than the nearest competition, which still stands as an NFL record. If Marino had played during this era, the adjusted stat-line from 84' would read 5,668 yards and 58 touchdowns. The only thing missing is a ring.
6. Drew Brees
Drew Brees is the next-gen Marino. Gaudy Numbers. Machine-like production. And just like the energizer bunny, Brees keeps going and going. Drew seems to surpass new milestones every year at light speed. He owns five of the eleven 5,000 yard passing seasons, which is just insane. What's even more impressive is his seven-time passing leader record.
Not only has Brees put up monster stats, but he has also done this in accurate fashion. He has completed over 70 percent of his passes four times. To put this in perspective, no other QB has reached the hallowed feat more than once. Drew Brees is a loveable character that everyone wants to root for. If he retires this year, it will have been one wild ride.
5. Aaron Rodgers
Some people will fret about this choice, but not the real ones. Aaron Rodgers is elite folks. He has an astounding TD-INT ratio clocking in just south of 5:1. He's third all-time in passer rating with an unbelievable 103.9. The only two QBs ahead of him are DeShaun Watson and Pat Mahomes, neither who have yet to pass five years of service.
And let's not forget that Rodgers rode the bench behind Favre his first three seasons. So if Rodgers plays six more years, and averages his career numbers, he will end up with close to 75,000 yards, 602TDs, and less than 150INTs. Those numbers would put him in range of all-time GOAT status. Rodgers already has one ring and if he can win one or two more, he could jump into the top 3!
4. John Elway
Before there was Favre, there was Elway. John Elway may have been the most talented QB ever to grace a football field. He may not have the glorified stats that most other all-time greats share, but he sure did win—so many memorable comebacks. Elway was a human highlight reel.
Most remember Elway for his two super bowl victories at the end of his career. However, it was young gun John that genuinely showcased the immense skill of his arsenal! During those early days, Elway was often a one-person wrecking crew, one that willed Denver to wins all by his lonesome. His 1991 Divisional Round comeback against the Oilers is legendary!
3. Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning has all the numbers: 539TDs (3rd all-time), 71,940 yards (3rd all-time), 5 MVPs (most all-time). He's won two super bowls with two different teams. He's done everything that a successful quarterback could to highlight his greatness. So what about Manning sets him apart from his peers, you may ask? That's a simple question to answer.
Peyton's ability to call a game from the line of scrimmage was second to none. It was this skill that shouted his greatness from the beginning. He could leave the huddle, recognize the defense, change the play, and execute the audible with flawless precision. His pocket awareness, along with the killer stats, leaves him oh so close to the top.
2. Joe Montana
When you win four titles, your auto GOAT. Broadway Joe was undoubtedly a California dream. And his novel always had a Hollywood ending. Middle of the pack when it comes to stats. But when the stage was burning, Joe was at his absolute best. Some try to argue that he had so much talent around him and that he can't be the goat. However, Joe brought out the best in everyone.
One cannot ignore Montana's regular-season stats. But when you add them to his postseason record, none did it better. Overall 16-7, 4 SB victories, 5,772 yards, 45TD/21INT, 7.8YA. He was an early pioneer of the west coast offense. It used to be Montana-Marino in every QB debate. Say hello to four rings.
1. Tom Brady
The GOAT is enshrined here. That's the tweet. All joking aside, it's impossible at this point to argue against Brady. He has it all. He has the monster statistics: 1st all-time TDs (581), 2nd all-time passing yards (79,204), 1st all-time in wins (230). And he also has the rings, seven to be exact. What's even more remarkable is the consistent nature in which he's produced.
When the haters are going to hate, Brady says, hold my beer. After fleeing the Patriots this past offseason, many figured that his career was over and that he would finish out being middle of the pack and then ultimately retiring. But Tom had other ideas. At 43 years old, he had his second-best statistical season and took the upstart Bucs to championship gold. Amazing!
About Jason Voorhees
Jason resides in Norristown, PA and writes about all things sports and heavy metal music.