Along with the announcement of Peyton Manning’s retirement has come the debate surrounding his place in NFL history. The five-time MVP is one of the game's greatest quarterbacks, and some have even argued he’s the best signal caller the game has ever seen.
Manning holds numerous NFL records and is a two-time Super Bowl champion, but his inconsistencies as a playoff performer and as well as some other intangibles, prevent him from being known as the best signal caller ever. International Business Times has compiled a list of the greatest 50 quarterbacks, featuring Manning and other active quarterbacks near the top.
This list does not put a very high premium on Super Bowl victories considering the importance of defense, coaching, special teams and other intricacies. Rather, it compares and contrasts quarterbacks with the peers of their era.
There is special importance placed on how long a quarterback played at top form. While some quarterbacks spent a long time being very good, it’s important to gauge their careers when they were in their best years.
There is also some emphasis on the depth of the position before the 1980s. The game began to favor receivers with rule changes that prevented defensive players from making contact after five yards. Because of the changes, average quarterbacks in the current NFL era are able to put up much better statistics than the best players from previous decades.
Lastly, this list omits some young active players, who have yet to fully leave their mark. Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson will likely make the Top 50 should they continue to progress. Eight active players are currently listed.
Let the debate begin.
- Tom Brady* Still in top form at age 38, he has done enough to surpass his boyhood idol Joe Montana and mainly without a superstar wide receiver
- Johnny Unitas Dominated a bruising era with 10 Pro Bowl appearances, revolutionizing the position with his versatility and play calling
- Joe Montana Showed tremendous poise and decision-making in the West Coast offense, finishing as the season leader in completion percentage five times
- Peyton Manning Owns perhaps the greatest arm in football history and nobody has thrown more touchdown passes or made more Pro Bowl appearances
- Steve Young A great scrambling quarterback who led the NFL in passer rating six times, he would be higher on this list if not for sitting behind Montana and his stint in the USFL
- Otto Graham The consummate winner, he never missed a game in his career and was consistently among the best statistical leaders year after year
- John Elway One of the game’s great leaders, the Broncos legend carried his team on his shoulders with his big arm, exceptional running ability and clutch plays
- Dan Marino A cannon arm and quick release helped the Dolphins legend post enormous stats
- Bart Starr Perhaps the most accurate and efficient quarterback of his era, challenging Unitas as the top quarterback of the 1960s
- Sammy Baugh The most versatile player on this list, and the first truly great quarterback in football history
- Brett Favre Few quarterbacks have been as good for as long as Favre, who posted stellar career stats
- Roger Staubach The most talented quarterback of the 1970s, the Cowboys legend would be higher on this list if he hadn’t started his career at age 27 because of a Navy commitment
- Fran Tarkenton Arguably the all-time greatest running quarterback, the Vikings’ star found a way to keep his team in games with his ingenuity and deep passes
- Drew Brees* Though overshadowed by Brady and Peyton, Brees has been a warrior for the Saints in nine Pro Bowl seasons and remains a star
- Norm Van Brocklin Went to the Pro Bowl nine times and posted numbers nearly as good as the likes of Unitas, Graham and Starr
- Dan Fouts Like Marino, Fouts was a hard-nosed quarterback with a great arm who is overlooked because of a lack of team success
- Aaron Rodgers* Owns the highest career passer rating (104.1) and will no doubt quickly climb this list before his career is over
- Bob Griese One of the smartest minds in football helped the Dolphins finish with the highest winning percentage in the 1970s while reaching six Pro Bowls
- Sonny Jurgensen Somewhat overlooked because of Unitas and Starr in the 1960s, he deserves recognition for his precise passes, consistency and toughness
- Terry Bradshaw Surrounded by great talent, the three-time Pro Bowler was nevertheless a strong-armed leader of one of the most accomplished teams in NFL history and an underrated scrambler
- Len Dawson Probably the game’s most accurate passer, the Chiefs legend even posted strong numbers very late in his career
- Troy Aikman Like Bradshaw, Aikman won with great talent around him, but that shouldn’t detract from his excellent accuracy, smart decisions and impressive passing strength
- Warren Moon A master of the run-and-shoot offense, he played in a staggering eight Pro Bowls despite starting his NFL career at age 28
- Bobby Layne Mastered the two-minute drill, willed his team to titles, and all the while put up big numbers
- Y.A. Tittle The two-time MVP had a hard-luck career when it came to winning championships, but was an undeniable talent in the 1950s and particularly the early 1960s
- Ken Anderson Easily among the most underrated players on this list, this huge talent did so much despite being surrounded by so little
- Joe Namath Broadway Joe’s suspect stats don’t tell the story of his big arm, quick release and gutsy play
- Ben Roethlisberger* Quality talent has surrounded Big Ben over his career, but he has also proven to be a very accurate passer, a good scrambler and difficult guy to sack
- Sid Luckman Led the league in QB rating three times and helped Chicago win four titles over a span of seven seasons
- Ken Stabler In his prime years, the southpaw was crucial to the Raiders’ success and is among the most clutch players on this list
- Donovan McNabb Made the Pro Bowl six times while keeping the Eagles competitive with his consistent play
- Roman Gabriel One of the all-time strongest quarterbacks who sometimes seemed impossible to sack, the Rams star was unfortunately overshadowed by guys like Staubach and Tarkenton
- Jim Kelly Like Young, spent the early portion of his career in the USFL, but still went to five Pro Bowls over 11 NFL seasons
- Kurt Warner Began and ended his NFL career with big seasons, and threw a gorgeous spiral with tremendous accuracy
- Randall Cunningham Probably had the strongest arm the game has ever seen, and was also a gifted scrambler
- George Blanda A former backup to Layne, he played big when it counted, and also at various positions, until he was 48
- Drew Bledsoe The four-time Pro Bowler was equipped with an excellent arm and a sharp mind
- Philip Rivers* Overlooked because of a lack of mobility and team success, he still has one of the best arms in football and has posted a QB Rating over 100 in four seasons
- John Brodie Consistent, hard-nosed signal caller who was often as accurate as the superstars of his era, and even shined late in his career
- Eli Manning* Hasn't posted huge numbers compared to his peers, but often steps up when it counted and was consistent
- Steve McNair At his best, he was as good as anyone on this list, throwing bulls-eye passes and running for first downs when his team needed them most
- Michael Vick* The fastest man on this list and the only one to rush for 1,000 yards, he would be ranked higher had he not been away from the game in his prime years
- Bob Waterfield Had a short career that began after World War II, but he consistently had among the best stats in his era
- Rich Gannon A do-everything quarterback, he thrived when he had better talent around him, reaching the Pro Bowl four times with the Raiders
- Tony Romo* Has enjoyed a better career than most give him credit for, and will move up this list if he can effectively overcome recent injuries
- John Hadl Posted 33,503 passing yards in 166 starts during the 1960s and 1970s, as a four-time AFL All-Star and a two-time Pro Bowler
- Archie Manning Didn’t have the offensive line or the receivers to prove his worth, but could create plays and had a good arm
- Boomer Esiason Didn’t have the spotlight during an era that featured Montana, Marino and others, but he threw 247 touchdowns and went to four Pro Bowls
- Joe Theismann Posted some strong seasons for Redskins’ squads that were consistently competitive
- Phil Simms The two-time Pro Bowler cracks this list behind solid numbers after his 20s