Top 50 Quarterbacks in NFL History Ranked By Unique Statistical Formula

We Say Greatness, But Some would say this Formula Ranks QBs by Overall Legacy

Len Dawson – [Public domain]

Top 75 Quarterbacks in Professional Football History, the Definitive Ranking of All-Time Quarterback Greatness – Including NFL, AFL, AAFC, CFL and USFL Accomplishments:

The reason why we made two lists, one strictly for NFL success, and one for all professional football success is because other leagues simply weren’t as competitive as the NFL. Even the AFL for the first few years. Therefore stats amassed in those leagues should be respected, but with the understanding that they are not exactly on the same level as the NFL.

Here are the 75 best signal callers in professional football history.

74. Johnny Lujack: 36 Points (NFL, 1950s)
74. Dave Krieg: 36 Points (NFL, 1980s)
73. Jim Everett: 36.5 Points (NFL, 1980s)
71. Brian Sipe: 38 Points (NFL, 1980s)
71. Drew Bledsoe: 38 Points (NFL, 1990s)

70. Carson Palmer: 38.5 Points (NFL, 2000s)
69. Mark Rypien: 40 Points (NFL, 1990s)
68. Frankie Albert: 47.5 Points (AAFC and NFL, 1940s)
67. Craig Morton: 48.5 Points (NFL, 1970s)
66. Alex Smith: 49 Points (Active, NFL, 2010s)
64. Jeff Hostetler: 49.5 Points (NFL, 1990s)
64. Tony Romo: 49.5 Points (NFL, 2000s)
62. Jim Plunkett: 50 Points (NFL, 1970s)
62. Daunte Culpepper: 50 Points (NFL, 2000s)
60. Joe Flacco: 51.5 Points (Active, NFL, 2010s)

60. Randall Cunningham: 51.5 Points (NFL, 1990s)
58. Bert Jones: 53 Points (NFL, 1970s)
58. Donovan McNabb: 53 Points (NFL, 2000s)
57. Babe Parilli: 55.5 Points (AFL, 1960s) -GB
56. Phil Simms: 57.5 Points (NFL, 1980s)
55. Boomer Esiason: 59.5 Points (NFL, 1980s)
54. Steve McNair: 60.5 Points (NFL, 2000s)
53. Frank Ryan: 68 Points (NFL, 1960s)
52. Cecil Isbell: 68.5 Points (NFL, 1940s) -GB
51. Charlie Conerly: 69.5 Points (NFL, 1950s)

50. Rich Gannon: 69.5 Points (NFL, 2000s)
49. Earl Morrall: 73.5 Points (NFL, 1960s)
48. Matt Ryan: 74 Points (Active, NFL, 2010s)
47. Eli Manning: 74.5 Points (NFL, 2010s)
45. Philip Rivers: 75.5 Points (Active, NFL, 2010s)
45. Cam Newton: 75.5 Points (Active, NFL, 2010s)
44. Russell Wilson: 77.5 Points (Active, NFL, 2010s)
43. Patrick Mahomes: 78.5 Points (Active, NFL, 2020s)
42. Joe Theismann: 81.5 Points (NFL, 1980s)
41. Roman Gabriel: 82.5 Points (NFL, 1960s)

40. Sonny Jurgensen: 83 Points (NFL, 1960s)
39. John Brodie: 84.5 Points (NFL, 1960s)
38. Ben Roethlisberger: 88 Points (Active, NFL, 2010s)
37. Joe Namath: 92 Points (AFL and NFL, 1960s)
34. Bob Griese: 94.5 Points (AFL and NFL, 1970s)
34. Bob Waterfield: 94.5 Points (NFL, 1940s)
34. Ken Stabler: 94.5 Points (NFL, 1970s)
33. Doug Flutie: 95 Points (USFL, CFL and NFL, 1990s)
32. Troy Aikman: 95.5 Points (NFL, 1990s)
31. John Hadl: 96.5 Points (AFL and NFL, 1970s) -GB

30. George Blanda: 99 Points (AFL and NFL, 1960s)
29. Daryle Lamonica: 100 Points (AFL and NFL, 1960s)
28. Ken Anderson: 103 Points (NFL, 1970s)
27. Arnie Herber: 114 Points (NFL, 1930s) -GB
26. Tobin Rote: 114.5 Points (NFL and AFL, 1950s) -GB
24. Jack Kemp: 115.5 Points (AFL, 1960s – Only played in AFL)
24. Jim Kelly: 115.5 Points (USFL and NFL, 1990s)
23. Norm Van Brocklin: 120.5 Points (NFL, 1950s)
22. Bobby Layne: 122.5 Points (NFL, 1950s)
21. Kurt Warner: 127.5 Points (NFL, 2000s)

20. Roger Staubach: 128.5 Points (NFL, 1970s)
18. John Elway: 131.5 Points (NFL, 1980s)
18. Fran Tarkenton: 131.5 Points (NFL, 1970s)
16. Warren Moon: 135.5 Points (CFL and NFL, 1990s)
16. Sid Luckman: 135.5 Points 1940s)
15. Dan Marino: 138.5 Points (NFL, 1980s)
14. Sammy Baugh: 140 Points (NFL, 1940s)
13. Y.A. Tittle: 142.5 Points (AAFC and NFL, 1950s)
12. Aaron Rodgers: 148.5 Points (Active, NFL, 2010s) -GB
11. Terry Bradshaw: 154 Points (NFL, 1970s)

10. Drew Brees: 181 Points (Active, NFL, 2010s)
9. Steve Young: 187.5 Points (USFL and NFL, 1990s)
8. Bart Starr: 190.5 Points (NFL, 1960s) -GB
7. Brett Favre: 192.5 Points (NFL, 1990s) -GB
6. Len Dawson: 200.5 Points (AFL and NFL, 1960s)
5. Joe Montana: 207 Points (NFL, 1980s)
4. Johnny Unitas: 250.5 Points (NFL, 1960s)
3. Peyton Manning: 297.5 Points (NFL, 2000s)
2. Otto Graham: 315.5 Points (AAFC and NFL 1950s)
1. Tom Brady: 330 Points (Active, NFL, 2000s)

There they are, the top 75 quarterbacks in professional football history with contributions from all major North American leagues included.

Looking at how this top 25 shook out, it really does feel right. It feels like the collection of the best 25 signal callers in professional football history. The inclusion of Dawson, Moon and Kelly into the top 25 all-time, because of accomplishments from other leagues, is an important development in our opinion.

Here are a few other notable quarterbacks that you may have been curious to see how their points totals shook out:

Mark Brunell: 34 Points (NFL, 1990s)
Michael Vick: 33.5 Points (NFL, 2000s)
Don Meredith: 33 Points (NFL, 1960s)
Jim Hart:
31.5 Points (NFL, 1970s)
Jeff Garcia:
31 Points (NFL, 2000s)
Kordell Stewart: 30 Points (NFL, 1990s)
Ron Jaworski: 29. 5 Points (NFL, 1970s)
Andrew Luck:
27 Points (NFL, 2010s)
Vinny Testaverde: 26.5 Points (NFL, 1990s)
Trent Green: 25 Points (NFL, 2000s)
Colin Kaepernick: 23.5 Points (NFL, 2010s)
Lynn Dickey: 22.5 Points (NFL, 1980s) -GB
Andy Dalton: 22.5 Points (NFL, 2010s)
Jeff George: 21 Points (NFL, 1990s)
Matt Stafford: 20.5 Points (Active, NFL, 2010s)
Archie Manning: 20 Points (NFL, 1970s)
Jay Cutler: 19 Points (NFL, 2000s)
Marc Bulger: 17.5 Points (NFL, 2000s)

Oh, Jay… just brutal. And for Detroit Lions fans that like to scream “Stafford is elite! Look at his passing yards! Blah, blah.” No, he simply is not elite and his legacy, specifically his legacy as determined by this formula, proves that he is not.

Elite quarterbacks amass points in this formula, non-elite ones do not. The numbers do not and cannot lie.

Stats from Other Leagues:

For the AFL, all stats were included as that league was the closest to the NFL and merged with the NFL. The same goes for the AAFC, all stats were included as the two leagues merged. However, for the CFL only “Pro Bowls”, MVPs, Championships and Championship Game MVPs were included. The same goes for the USFL, although rating and wins finish were also included as the competition was, while short-lived, stiffer than the CFL. We just did what we considered most fair to the NFL players, while still respecting the history of North American professional football as a whole.

Doug Flutie, ranked highly on this list, only had 11 points in the NFL. So take his position with that information in mind. Warren Moon, ranked much higher, had a lot more success in the NFL, with 61.5 points the best league in the world.

All of this research was done with ample mindfulness and with an attempt at fairness.

Observations:

Adding in other league’s stats, primarily the AFL of course, changed the all-time quarterback list substantially. Len Dawson is obviously the name that jumps out, as he vaulted up to 6th all-time. But it’s interesting to note that Jack Kemp, Tobin Rote, Daryle Lamonica, George Blanda and John Hadl passed many “legendary” NFL quarterbacks. It’s notable that all of those men passed Troy Aikman and Ken Stabler. The AFL in its final five seasons was nearly on par with the NFL, so there definitely is something to these guys’ accomplishments.

You’ll notice Aaron Rodgers “fell” to 13th in this ranking. Whereas, Otto Graham joined Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks above the 300 point mark. Elite territory.

Most Overrated:

Joe Namath, Tony Romo, Doug Flutie and Matt Stafford.

Namath is one of the biggest names in football history. His point total from the NFL alone was low (just 29.5 points), but even when his AFL stats are included he still didn’t top the 100 point mark. No player in NFL history has a legend that’s this much larger than his actual accomplishments. But hey, maybe the NFL and AFL don’t merge without his guarantee and subsequent win in Super Bowl III, so I’ll cut him a little slack.

Romo also has a certain aura that is much larger than his accomplishments. He’s not even close to a top 50 quarterback all-time in professional football history. What else needs to be said about Stafford? Year after year analysts say, “He’s actually an elite quarterback…” Okay, maybe he’s an elite talent, but he’s not an elite quarterback. You simply have to lead the league in something meaningful, win a meaningful award or win a meaningful game to be elite. His ranking reflects his lack of all of those things.

Flutie, despite his legendary status in Canada and the fact that he played in three different major North American football leagues, he didn’t do enough in the NFL to really cement his legacy. For his size though, he did put together quite the career.

Most Underrated:

Len Dawson, Jack Kemp, Warren Moon and Tobin Rote.

It makes sense that it’s players that starred in the AFL that would make the underrated list here. Dawson, specifically, was a transcendent player. Even if his competition wasn’t always as hard as it would have been in the NFL, there’s no debating his spot in professional football history. He’s a top 10 talent, no doubt.

Warren Moon – Mike Morris [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) Image Cropped]
Kemp is an interesting quarterback on this list because he amassed well over 100 total points and is bumping shoulders, and is ahead of, multiple Hall of Fame quarterbacks. He’s interesting because he played his entire career in the AFL. Kemp is the only player on this list that never played a down in the NFL. Sheesh. There is an argument that he’s Hall of Fame worthy, despite that fact.

Rote was a great quarterback for the Green Bay Packers during some rough seasons in the 1950s, then led the Detroit Lions to a championship before going on to star in the new AFL. He was one of the best players in both leagues for a multi-year stretch. His point total suggests he should actually have a bust in Canton.

Warren Moon, like Flutie, had a huge career in Canada, but he was able to translate that success into the NFL seamlessly. Not enough people truly understand how good Moon was at throwing the ball. He deserves more credit than he receives.

Had Moon spent his entire career in the NFL his legend would be much larger, obviously. The difference between Moon and Flutie (and their point totals) was how they each performed in the big league.

Looking Forward:

It’s unlikely that another American football league will pop up anytime soon that raises to the level of stats being included, so likely all future quarterbacks will amass all of their career stats in the NFL. I suppose it’s possible another passing star in the CFL would then make the switch to the NFL, but we’re not holding my breath. The same goes for a passer in the XFL as it’s currently capturing America’s imagination… yawn.

What’s amazing is that this list will evolve after every single NFL season and until the end of time. NFL history is vast, but it’s anything but static. We couldn’t be more excited to see what will happen next as NFL history, and professional football history, rolls on.

Thank you for taking this journey, fellow football buff. Check back after the 2019 season to see how the list has changed.

To see some case studies within this ranking, and to dive into the results a little bit further, check out some of the realizations mentioned on Page 4!

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3 Comments

  1. The requirements of the position are so different over time that the criteria should be qualified by era – basically now all that is looked at is passing, but that was just a small part of the position for the first two decades and more of the NFL.  People have to remember that at one point the rules decreed that a passer had to stand at least 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, roughing the passer was allowed, a team was penalized for incomplete passes on consecutive plays, and an incomplete pass in the end zone resulted in a turn-over – not to mention the shape of the ball which was more designed for drop kicking.  And the quarterback, along with all the players, also did the duty of special teams today since once you were taken out of a game you could not go back in until the next quarter. If you asked who was the best quarterback when the position required blocking, running, kicking, punt and kick off returns, playing defense, and calling plays with no direction from the coaching staff – that would be a totally different list.

    • Definitely hear where you’re coming from. You’re a true steward of ancient NFL history. Love it. I think there’s something to be said about trying to find a way to rank those players from the 1920s against each other because the game was SO different then, but that would take an incredible amount of work! Thanks for reading.

  2. There are many variables that make choosing the best QBs a very SUBJECTIVE thing. First off, if the QB had a great supporting cast, esp. offensive line &/or receivers, that alone makes a HUGE difference. Brady is probably the most outstanding example who (as even Belichick has stated) was and is not a great athlete (in comparison to other QBs). Brady benefited (massively) from a superior head coach and coaching staff, organization AND a consistently great offensive line. This last fact is the most overlooked and under-talked about variable. If Rodgers had had the consistent offensive line and coaching that Brady had, he would have four superbowl rings at least. Mike McCarthy wasted Rodgers years at GB. But, the whole GB organization suffered from poor ownership most likely as a result of Green Bay being a tiny community. Secondly, football is a team sport. Praising QBs as great makes no sense without considering the whole team effort (all pro players, coaches, etc.). This is totally overlooked in assessing greatness.

    Third, QBs from the last 50 years are better athletes over-all due to competition and training. Intelligence, discipline, fortitude, etc. are important also. Hence, Rodgers makes better decisions and throws far less interceptions. Last comment, QBs from bigger cities and regions always are praised and hyped more by the media, consistently. There is a significantly failure when evaluating QBs to try to eliminate the hype which is, of course, a challenge.

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