The NFL has seen some truly exceptional quarterbacks in its 101 years of existence. If you aren’t familiar with American football or you don’t know what the role of a quarterback is, think of it as sort of spiritually akin to a striker in English football (or “soccer”); a quarterback leads the offensive line and calls plays for their team in huddles. As you can imagine, the role of the quarterback is therefore incredibly important to any NFL team, so having someone who’s going to lead the charge effectively is crucial. Here, in no particular order, are the 10 best NFL quarterbacks the sport has seen in the time since the league was founded.
It might be an obvious place to start, but Tom Brady is undoubtedly one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Statistically, his play is unassailable; his time with the New England Patriots cemented his reputation as one of the sport’s finest, and his current tenure with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sees him continuing his astonishing run of form. Analysis shows that over the course of his career, Brady has won 77.3% of his games, which is no fluke.
Despite his retirement in 2006, Flutie can certainly stake a claim to being one of the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL. In a recent interview, Flutie compares himself to athletic superstar Patrick Mahomes, and although Kyler Murray might be a more obvious choice, Flutie is right; his grace and speed made him a threat during his time with the NFL (and the CFL, in fact). Flutie may never have won a Super Bowl, but he still deserves to be remembered alongside the greats.
Drew Brees consistently overcomes his height in order to be one of the most effective quarterbacks at the professional level. He’s got incredible mechanical skill; watching him play is like watching a precision watchmaker, so masterful is his understanding of game flow and playmaking. His status as the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV should speak volumes about his abilities; Brees isn’t a quarterback you want to dismiss when you’re talking about the true greats.
The NFL can be a hotheaded place. Tempers run high and players often lose their cool when plays don’t go their way, but there’s a reason Joe Montana earned the nickname “Joe Cool” during his time on the field. Montana is characteristically humble when assessing his own legacy; he thinks Tom Brady is the best quarterback to play the sport. Still, we reckon Montana himself has a shot at that title, not least thanks to his incredible 97-yard drive at Super Bowl XXIII.
Just like Brees, Manning’s is another mind that would make for fascinating analysis. His ability to keep a calm, level head and watch the game unfold is incredible; he never loses his cool when faced with the defensive line, and he’s got an amazing knack for knowing opposing team plays. His ability to dodge pressure from his opponents is also legendary; he achieved a 303 sack rate across 17 seasons, which is pretty impressive even for a player at his level.
Watching Dan Marino pass is like watching a man possess. The springy action with which he lets the ball loose when he’s passing is unrivalled in the quarterback stakes, and for that alone, he deserves a place on this list. Marino played during an era when the NFL was unquestionably much nastier and more brutal than it is today, and the fact that he was able to notch up the records he did is all the more impressive in that light. Make no mistake: Marino is one of the OG greats.
Have you ever heard the term “football IQ”? This term refers to a player’s ability to analyse the game in front of them and understand what plays to make based on the “direction” of the game. Rodgers has an incredibly high football IQ, rivalling perhaps even Peyton Manning’s. He can act as a skilled pocket passer, avoid pressure when it’s needed, and make a quick pass in a pinch. Rodgers excels in many different areas, and although he may not match Brady for sheer star quality, he’s got it where it counts.
Now here’s an old-school player. Graham had a short career, playing for the Cleveland Browns for only nine years before retiring from the sport, but that doesn’t make his meteoric rise any less impressive. During his time with the Browns, Graham took them to the championship finals every single year that he was playing, and the Browns won a staggering seven of those games. Is that a coincidence? Given Graham’s incredible mastery of the ball, we don’t think so.
While we’re talking about the all-time greats, let’s not forget about Johnny Unitas, who brought a lot of innovation to the quarterback role. Unitas came into his own during the final minutes of a game, at which point he came alive, making incredible precision passes and dictating the pace of the game expertly. It’s Unitas who devised the two-minute drill that has become famous throughout the NFL; if a team has ever turned a game around in the final minutes, it’s Unitas they have to thank.
Rounding out our time with classic players, Roger Staubach cannot be overlooked. He was the face of the NFL for a long time; having served his time in Vietnam, he returned from the war in order to pursue a career in professional football. Staubach wasn’t the kind of showy hero that many QBs like to be today; instead, he was a workhorse, playing consistently brilliantly across every single game in which he took part. Staubach is a true working man’s hero in that regard.