UPDATE: You can see my most recent post on this topic here.
With the New England Patriots gearing up for their fourth Super Bowl Championship in seven years, there is much discussion as to where Tom Brady ranks among the all-time great NFL quarterbacks. Though finishing just his eight NFL season (and seventh as a starter,) he is definitely in the discussion of the best ever.
I decided to do some research and see if I could figure out who might be the best of all-time. It is difficult to compare players from different eras, so it is not enough to rely purely on statistics (e.g. total passing yards, touchdowns, etc.) One must also take into account team success, individual accolades and how a given player compared with his peers during the era in which he played.
Considering these factors, I selected 25 quarterbacks who are generally considered among the best to have played the game and compared them based on twelve different categories: Completion Percentage, Total Passing Yards, Total Touchdown Passes, Interceptions, Quarterback Rating, Rushing Yards, Rushing Touchdowns, NFL Championship/Super Bowl Appearances, NFL Championship/Super Bowls Won, All-Pro Teams, Pro Bowls, and NFL MVP Awards.
After examining these numbers, I then selected a final ten to be considered the best ever. I compared each of the ten finalists with each other on the above mentioned categories and totaled up their rankings for a final score. Here are the top ten, in descending order:
10. Tom Brady - Brady has certainly accomplished a lot in his short time in the NFL and has potential to be the best ever after a handful of more years in the league. His highest rankings were in completion percentage, quarterback rating and Super Bowls won.
9. Dan Marino - Marino's relatively low ranking on this list may surprise some. Dolphin Dan is arguably the greatest passer ever, but his lack of playoff success and inability to be a dual-threat QB hurt him. He played in nine Pro Bowls and ranks second in passing yards and touchdowns.
8. Peyton Manning - With still some good years left, #18 will likely move up on this list. After another handful of solid seasons, Manning could go down as the best ever. But as long as Brady keeps winning Super Bowls, he will not be considered the best of his era.
7. Johnny Unitas - Johnny U. threw for over 40,000 yards during a time when nobody passed the ball like that. He won three championships, won three MVP awards and was selected to an astounding ten Pro Bowls.
6. Fran Tarkenton - Tarkenton was a threat on the ground and in the air for the Minnesota Vikings. He led the Vikes to three Super Bowls during the 70's (failing to win any of them) and ranks as one of the best ever in passing yards, passing touchdowns and rushing yards for a QB.
5. John Elway - This Broncos signal caller appeared in five Super Bowls in the 80's and 90's. Only two men have thrown for more yards in the NFL than Elway and he was picked for nine Pro Bowls.
4. Otto Graham - The oldest of this bunch, Graham was simply a winner for the Cleveland Browns in the forties and fifties. Over one ten-year stretch, he led his team to the league championship game each year. He was named All-Pro ten times and rushed for an amazing 44 touchdowns as a quarterback.
3. Steve Young - A bit of a surprise coming in third on this list, Young only won one Super Bowl as the starting QB for the 49'ers. But he ranked first among the top ten QB's in completion percentage, quarterback rating and rushing yards. Had he not started his career in the USFL and been a backup to Joe Montana for a few years, he might very well have topped this list.
2. Brett Favre - One of the most beloved players in the history of the NFL, Favre ranks first in passing yards and passing touchdowns all-time. In addition, he has won a record three league MVP awards and been to nine Pro Bowls.
1. Joe Montana - Montana tops many people's list because of his four Super Bowl wins as the quarterback of San Francisco. But it was his overwhelming consistency and versatility (his rankings on this list were anywhere from 2 to 7) are what won him the coveted spot of greatest quarterback ever.
Those also considered in this ranking were (in alphabetical order) : Troy Aikman, Sammy Baugh, Drew Bledsoe, Terry Bradshaw, Len Dawson, Dan Fouts, Sonny Jurgensen, Jim Kelly, Donovan McNabb, Warren Moon, Joe Namath, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Norm VanBrocklin and Kurt Warner.
So those are my rankings. Who do you think is the greatest ever?
UPDATE: ESPN.com just published an article by Mike Sando that answers the subject of this post. Though the order is slightly different, we agreed on eight of the top ten. You can read it here.