Quarterback is by far the most important position in the National Football League (NFL) and at all levels of football, for that matter. Quarterbacks receive the play calls from the sideline, call plays in the huddle, and touch the football on every single play. If your team doesn’t have a really good quarterback, you can pretty much forget about vying for a Super Bowl Championship. Undoubtedly, fans have seen some great athletes leading teams above and beyond, but only a few can be called the best NFL quarterbacks of all time.
And, if you find yourself thinking about your favorite team’s quarterback more than normal, then you should know that you’re not alone. In fact, a recent study suggests that the average NFL fan spends nearly 46 hours a month thinking about, reading about, or talking about their favorite team. For die-hard fans of an NFL team, that’s nearly two hours per day spent thinking about your favorite NFL team. Researchers polled 2,000 fans across the country and found that 84 percent drop everything they’re doing to watch the game when their team takes the field. Half would even miss a major event in their lives for tickets to see a game live.
While we’re on the topic of watching live sports events, another study found that the average sports fan is willing to travel to see their favorite team play in person. A survey of 2,000 self-identified sports fanatics examined the lengths people are willing to go to in order to watch their favorite sports team play in person. The survey found that the average fan is willing to travel a whopping five hours and 48 minutes plus spend $762.20 on tickets just to see their favorite team play live. If you’re spending that much money on a ticket, let’s just hope your favorite NFL team has a good quarterback to keep your team in contention.
So, which athletes are among the greatest quarterbacks of all time? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and football-oriented websites in an effort to bring you a consensus top five best NFL quarterbacks of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed quarterbacks from across these sites. Think your favorite signal caller was left off the list? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
The List: Best NFL Quarterbacks, According to Fans
1. Tom Brady
Easily topping the list of the best quarterbacks in NFL history is none other than Tom Brady. Whether you love him or hate him, Tom Brady is the greatest NFL quarterback of all time and it’s not even close. Brady won seven Super Bowls and lost three, taking his team to the big game a staggering 10 times over the course of his career.
“Tom Brady may not have the mobility or arm strength of some of his contemporaries, but his other intangibles—namely, accuracy, decision-making and football IQ—exist in rarefied air. His work ethic is tireless and has allowed him to overcome some of the aspects of his game that saw him fall to the sixth round in the 2000 NFL draft. He’s also one of the most consistent passers in NFL history… Brady is also changing the way quarterbacks both train for and play the game in terms of nutrition and strength and conditioning, and he may very well go down as the oldest quarterback in NFL history,” explains Bleacher Report.
Tom Brady revolutionized the way quarterbacks prepare themselves and care for their bodies. Brady was the ultimate competitor, and that competitive fire was on full display during Brady’s fifth Super Bowl victory against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.
“Tom Brady is almost unanimously considered the greatest quarterback of all time. This title was cemented with his legendary 27-3 comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in the 2016 Super Bowl. Brady has both the statistical dominance of Peyton Manning and the postseason success of Joe Montana, having won seven Super Bowls and been named Super Bowl MVP five times. His ability to perform under pressure and lead his team to victory is unparalleled, making him a true legend of the game,” adds Faceoff Sports Network.
Tom Brady led his New England Patriots back from an overwhelming deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in the first-ever overtime game in Super Bowl history. After being down 27-3 to the Atlanta Falcons, Brady rallied his Patriots in epic fashion to win a fifth Super Bowl. It’s hard to believe that Tom Brady would go on to win two more championships but that’s exactly what he did. After nearly 20 years in New England, Tom Brady signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and won his seventh Super Bowl title in his first season with his new team.
“Not surprisingly, the seven-time Super Bowl Champion lands firmly at number one on this list. A sixth-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, Tom Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, two more than any quarterback in NFL history. After nearly 20 years with the Patriots, Brady took his talents to Tampa Bay where he won his seventh ring in his first season as a Buccaneer and became the first player to surpass 100,000 yards passing (regular and postseason combined),” writes Full Press Coverage.
2. Joe Montana
Next up on the list of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history is 49ers legend, Joe Montana. Before there was Tom Brady, there was Joe Montana. He was a Super Bowl mainstay as he won a staggering four Super Bowl titles, winning the big game every time his team made it. But, Montana played at another level in Super Bowls and he’s easily one of the best big-game quarterbacks in history.
It’s 16 #DaysTillFootball so it must be time for “Joe Cool” himself, Joe Montana. Arguably the best QB ever, this Hall of Famer followed 14 seasons with the #49ers (1979-92) with a couple for the #Chiefs. This iconic No.16 Niners jersey was retired in 1997. #FTTB #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/2icrRQTrkc
— Full10Yards 🏈 (@Full10Yards) August 22, 2023
“Montana rose to unprecedented prominence in the ’80s and ’90s. During his 15-year career, Montana went to four Super Bowls and won them all. He won three Super Bowl and two league MVPs. He also led the NFL in completion percentage five times, becoming one of the most accurate quarterbacks at the time. When Montana retired, no other retired quarterback had a higher career passer rating than his 92.3. Montana found ways to win when it mattered most. Nearly enough to be the best NFL [quarterback] ever,” writes Clutch Points.
Joe Montana owned the NFL in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Montana’s 49ers were perennial favorites to win the Super Bowl, and he nearly won three championships in a row in the late ‘80s. Still, Montana was never the biggest, strongest, or fastest quarterback in the league. Instead, Montana relied on his accuracy and his football intelligence to dissect opposing defenses and win championships.
“Montana’s Super Bowl feats are well-documented. What is not as highlighted is how effective he was during a three-year span in which he almost lifted the 49ers to the first three-peat. Montana’s postseason run from 1988 to 1990 pushed him to the lofty perch of being the greatest quarterback of all time, as he posted a 100-plus passer rating in eight straight playoff games, winning all but one start,” furthers NFL.
Montana played his college football at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. It was during his college days that Montana developed his reputation as a big-game quarterback. ‘Joe Cool’ brought home three Super Bowl MVPs and went four for four in Super Bowl games.
“He passed for 40,551 yards and collected 293 total touchdowns (including rushing) in his storied career. He made the Pro Bowl eight times and won back-to-back MVP awards in 1989 and 1990. But it was his performance in the playoffs that set the Notre Dame legend apart. He proved his big-game reputation with his astounding 92-yard drive in Super Bowl XXIII, and he finished his career 4-for-4 in championship games, taking home three Super Bowl MVP awards. Amazingly, despite all the Super Bowl success, Montana’s most memorable play wasn’t even in a Super Bowl. His touchdown pass to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship is arguably the most iconic touchdown connection in football history,” adds Men’s Journal.
3. Peyton Manning
The third spot on the list of the best quarterbacks of all time belongs to the legendary Peyton Manning. He is nothing short of football royalty. His dad, Archie Manning, is a college and pro football legend while his brother, Eli Manning, is the only quarterback to beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick twice in Super Bowls. Peyton is one of the only quarterbacks to win Super Bowls with two different franchises – the Colts and Broncos.
— NFL (@NFL) November 1, 2021
“Manning holds multiple NFL records, both single-season and career. He is second all-time in career wins (regular season and postseason) with 200. He played in four Super Bowls, winning twice (XLI and 50), and was named MVP in leading the Colts to victory over the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Manning is the epitome of elite in every sense of the word. He will forever be acknowledged for his high football IQ, relentless preparation, and immense character, both on and off the field. Not surprisingly, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2021 in his first year of eligibility,” writes Athlon Sports.
It’s no surprise that Manning was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He won a staggering five MVP trophies over the course of his career – four with the Indianapolis Colts and one as quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Peyton put up huge numbers during an era that allowed NFL defenses to play a lot more physically and aggressively.
“Production-wise, Peyton Manning could’ve ended as the greatest quarterback ever but he had one kryptonite: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Manning is the greatest regular-season quarterback ever as you can tell by his 5 MVPs, an all-time high… He still holds the record for the most touchdown passes in one season (55), most season with 4,000+ yards (14), most passing yards on one season (5,477), most consecutive seasons with 25+ touchdown passes (13), and is the only quarterback with at least 6 touchdown passes in three different games. He was a baller,” exclaims BolaVIP.
Peyton Manning is considered one of the smartest NFL quarterbacks of all time. Manning was like a coach on the field for his offenses. Peyton would receive three play calls from the sideline and would adjust the plays before the snap, based on how the defense lined up. This style of quarterback play led to some high-profile matchups against some of the best defensive players the NFL has ever seen – namely Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher.
“Manning’s impact extended beyond the gridiron. He was a consummate leader and tireless worker, known for his meticulous preparation and attention to detail. His ability to elevate the play of those around him was legendary, turning average receivers into stars and revitalizing the careers of veterans. Off the field, Manning’s affable personality and quick wit endeared him to fans, making him one of the most beloved figures in the history of the game,” writes RotoBaller.
4. Johnny Unitas
Next up on the list of the best NFL quarterbacks of all time is perhaps the most legendary figure in the history of the sport – Johnny Unitas. He played nearly 20 years in an era when that sort of longevity was practically unheard of, and he’s easily one of the most iconic figures in the history of the NFL.
19 days until the #NFLDraft!
— The Blue Stable (@TheBlue_Stable) April 8, 2023
“Unitas was the idol of a generation of fans and was one of the NFL’s earliest superstar talents. The Hall-of-Famer was also a trendsetter in being a part of the league’s first dynamic passing duo with fellow HOFer Raymond Berry. They built a chemistry that many great combos like Joe Montana-Jerry Rice and Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison would follow,” explains Sportsnaut.
Johnny Unitas won three NFL MVP trophies, and he truly paved the way for the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to excel in the role of quarterback. At the time of his retirement, Johnny Unitas was the NFL’s all-time leading passer and he was widely regarded as the best quarterback of all-time for years after he left the NFL.
“Before there was Peyton Manning, there was Colts legend Johnny Unitas. A two-time NFL champion and Super Bowl V winner, Unitas dominated the passing game in an era of rush-first (and often) offenses. Unitas won league MVP three times, including in 1959 with 32 touchdown passes. He ended his career with 40,239 yards passing and 290 touchdowns. He was a 10-time Pro Bowler,” adds Full Press Coverage.
“[H]e revolutionized the quarterback position for his sheer offensive production in a run-first era. In his 1959 MVP season with the Baltimore Colts, Unitas led the NFL in passing yards (2,899), touchdown passes (32) and completions (193), numbers that stand up to the high-octane passing of the modern NFL. Unitas’ record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass stood for 52 years, until Brees broke it in 2012, underscoring how crucial Unitas was to his teams’ success,” furthers Bleacher Report.
5. Dan Marino
Rounding out the list of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL is Miami Dolphins legend, Dan Marino. Dan Marino took the quarterback position to new levels when he entered the NFL and started throwing upwards of 40 touchdown passes in a season. Marino set the record for passing touchdowns in a single season with a staggering 48 touchdowns in 1984. In fact, he held the record for most touchdown passes in a season until Peyton Manning broke it in December of 2004.
— Miami Dolphins Breaking News (@MiamiDolphinsBN) September 15, 2021
“Dan Marino was one of the most influential quarterbacks of his era, and that is saying something since he never won a Super Bowl title and reached the game just once. However, in an era where quarterbacks were legally still allowed to take an absolute pummeling and defensive backs could be far more physical, the Miami Dolphins legend stood in the pocket and carved opponents up for 17 seasons,” explains Sportsnaut.
It’s well-documented that Marino never won a Super Bowl. However, Marino did lead his Miami Dolphins to a Super Bowl appearance in only his second season in the league. Although Marino never got back to the big game, he continued to destroy NFL defenses for years to come.
“The only quarterback on this list without a championship to his name, Marino had a rocket arm with a quick release while leaving an indelible mark on the game. Marino’s statistical prowess is unmatched. He holds numerous NFL records, including the single-season record for passing yards and touchdown passes. His ability to dissect defenses and deliver pinpoint accuracy was like a surgeon operating with precision. Marino’s arm was a cannon, launching footballs with the velocity of a speeding bullet, leaving defenders grasping for air like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner,” adds RotoBaller.
Dan Marino was the only quarterback to beat the historic 1985 Chicago Bears defense that consisted of Mike Singletary and Richard Dent. Marino’s Dolphins put an end to the Bears’ winning streak that season and helped preserve the 1972 Dolphins place in history as the only team to go undefeated straight through the Super Bowl. At the time of his retirement in the late ’90s, Marino held nearly every major passing record in NFL history. To this day, Marino is widely considered the best professional athlete to never win a title in their sport.
“Evaluating NFL quarterbacks is a balancing act between stats, playing style and wins. Marino has everything you’d want from the first two categories, but his teams never won a Super Bowl, which hurts him in the great-quarterbacks conversation. But just because Marino never hoisted a Lombardi Trophy doesn’t mean he didn’t win; in his 17 seasons with the Miami Dolphins, he reached the postseason 10 times. Marino is consistently ranked lower than he should be, given that championships are team, not individual, efforts. There’s no denying Marino is special, though, as evidenced by the fact that when he retired, he held almost every passing record,” notes Bleacher Report.
You might also be interested in:
- Bleacher Report
- Clutch Points
- Mens Journal
- Full Press Coverage
- Athlon Sports
- Faceoff Sports Network
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