The top 10 QBs is one of the most heavily debated topics across sports. It is the single most important position in all of sports thus making one of the most fun debates in all of sports.
While the top 10 QBs of all time is a heavily debated topic, I believe there is a general consensus on the top 5. At least with people who are reasonable. QBs are measured by statistics and wins. It is the only position in football that is heavily influenced by wins. No other position moves the needle quite like the QB in terms of winning.
Before diving in to my top 10, I want to address a few elephants in the room. Playing quarterback 50 years ago is nothing like playing QB today.
Stats back then don’t compare to now and it is unfair to compare. I will take a case like Eli Manning who ranks top 10 in yards and touchdowns. Is he a HOF? He would have my vote, but certainly not first ballot. Is he top 10 ever with the stats and Super Bowls? Fuck no.
If we really wanted to rank strictly on Yards, TDs or even QB Rating, here is what that looks like…
- Drew Brees – 77,416
- Tom Brady – 74,571
- Peyton Manning – 71,940
- Brett Favre – 71,838
- Dan Marino – 61,361
- Philip Rivers – 59,271
- Eli Manning – 57,023
- Ben Roethlisberger – 56,545
- John Elway – 51,475
- Matt Ryan – 51,186
- Drew Brees – 547
- Tom Brady – 541
- Peyton Manning – 539
- Brett Favre – 508
- Dan Marino – 420
- Philip Rivers – 397
- Eli Manning – 366
- Aaron Rodgers – 364
- Ben Roethlisberger – 363
- Fran Tarkenton – 342
1. Aaron Rodgers – 102.4
2. Russell Wilson – 101.2
3. Drew Brees – 98.4
4. Tony Romo – 97.1
5. Tom Brady – 97.0
Dak Prescott – 97.0
7.Kirk Cousins – 96.8
Steve Young – 96.8
9. Peyton Manning – 96.5
10. Philip Rivers – 95.1
There are plenty of cases for top 10 ever, those lists aren’t it.
That being said, while the stats have progressed so has the game. While old school meat wagons may argue guys of today are softer because they don’t have to worry about getting drilled. Guys of back then didn’t need to do as much preparation before Sunday nor did they have to worry about 260 lbs. ends running 4.5 40s.
Case in point, Brett Favre admitted he didn’t know what a nickel defense was until later in his career when a back up told him. If you don’t know what a nickel defense is today, you’re dead in the water.
Each generation has their arguments for being better or worse. So let’s assume we can put that shit to bed and use our critical thinking hats here. Determining the best QB is a combination of stats, wins, championships, etc. Let’s begin…
10. Roger Staubach
Staubach was one of the most efficient passers in the 70s. When he retired, he left the game as the NFL’s highest rated passer of all time. On top of that, he won plenty of games. He never had a losing season. He finished his career with a near 75% regular season win percentage and 65% in the playoffs. That plus multiple Super Bowl appearances and wins, I give him the nod for 10.
9. Dan Marino
He was a stat god of his time. His career blueprint is very similar to Drew Brees. He had the stats, but not so much the wins. His run from 84-86 was unreal. He became the first QB to throw for 5,000 yards and then followed it up with 4,100 and 4,700 yards. He eclipsed 40 TDs twice and 30 in the other. This was a time where 4,000 yards and 30 TDs was not the norm. He finished his career with three more seasons tossing 4,000 yards and 30 TDs just once more. He made the postseason 10 times out of 17 seasons. He finished with one SB appearance and lost.
8. Steve Young
Following in Joe Montana’s footsteps isn’t easy. But Young was able to do it well. He is one of the most exciting QBs to touch a field. He never missed the postseason as a starter. He was able capture his only Super Bowl as a starter in 1994. Even more remarkable, he finished 6 of his 8 seasons as a starter with a QB rating north of 101.0. He was highly efficient as a passer, but his bread and butter was being able to escape pressure with his feet which is why he was perfect for a West Coast offense.
7. Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers is a QB who still has chance to be in the top 3-4 very easily. In fact, the case could be made for him to be higher right now. As far as arm talent goes, I can’t think of anyone I have seen who has/had the arm strength and accuracy that Rodgers does from anywhere on the field. Whether the guy is throwing from the pocket, outside the pocket, across his body or on the run, he has a hose. He is the highest rated passer in league history and the stat you have to look at for him is TD/INT ratio. He has eclipsed 8 interceptions in only two seasons (1st and 3rd season as a starter). He leads the all time list by a mile in TD/INT ratio with a 4.33. Only two other QBs in league history are better than 3.0 (Russell Wilson and Tom Brady). To boot, he only has two losing seasons as a starter. He is one of the best playoff performers in league history, very similar to a guy I will talk about later. Unfortunately, he has found himself on the wrong side of the win column. He still maintains a 10-7 playoff record with a Super Bowl win and 3 Conference Championship appearances.
6. Brett Favre
Brett Favre is one of the most interesting guys on the list because of how great he was and how awful he could be. His run from 94-97 was one for the ages. He appeared in two SBs, winning one and collected 3 consecutive MVPs. The only player in league history to win 3 in a row. The next 13 seasons would be a jekyl and hyde run of inconsistency. But, he was still able to win more often than not. Brett Favre was the ultimate gamer. He is one guy I think most fans wish was still playing. His style was fun if nothing else. He was a true iron man which led to many accolades.
5. John Elway
John Elway is another interesting case because the twilight of his career put him in the top 5 vicinity. One guy omitted from the list who I love is Jim Kelly. That is exactly the territory John Elway could be in, at least in terms of Super Bowls. Consecutive wins in his last two years help elevate him a bit I think. Rightfully so because he made three others. His numbers resemble much of Favre’s blueprint. Take away 93-98 and his career looks much different. But he won more often than not and gave his team a chance come playoff time. He is the only QB in my top 5 who you can convince me to leave outside of it.
The Mount Rushmore of Quarterbacks
4. Peyton Manning
He absolutely changed the game in terms of pre-snap and power of the QBs. He was fun to watch growing up because he did clock management better than anyone. Minus three seasons including his first and last, he was a regular season god. He set the regular season Pass TD record twice. He currently holds both most TDs and Yards in a single season. He broke both in the same season becoming the first to join the 5,000/50 club. He was a lock for the postseason year in and year out. However, his wild inconsistency in the postseason led to 9 one and done seasons. Take the good with the bad as he finished with 4 Super Bowl Appearances and 2 Super Bowl Titles.
3. Drew Brees
While I am a Saints fan, I feel I am fairly objective when it comes to Brees. The elephant in the room here is how does he rank above the great Peyton Manning? I will get to that later. I want to just talk about his accolades. Brees leads the NFL all-time list in yards and touchdowns. He was the second QB to throw for 5,000 yards. He has seven seasons tossing more than 4,800 yards. He is the league’s most accurate passer with the highest completion percentage all time. He owns five of the top 6 completion percentages over the course of a season. He is the only QB to break 70% for a season more than once. He has accomplished that six times. He has 9 trips to the postseason and may be the most unlucky QB in regards to how he loses both playoff games and MVPs. Beast Quake, Vernon Davis and Minnesota Miracle. Despite that, 3 NFC Championship Appearances and 1 Super Bowl.
2. Joe Montana
The definitive number two QB all time. He has regular season numbers that put him among the top of league year in year out at the time. MVPs. He was great in the playoffs capturing 4 Super Bowls. He was Brady before Brady.
1. Tom Brady
GOAT, period. One of the league’s best passers ever. 6 Super Bowls. Dominance for two decades. If you need more, you can read the column I wrote in the beginning of 2019 season here…The GOAT: Evolution of Tom Brady Until you read that and have any disagreement, don’t @ me.
Putting Brees over Manning Blasphemous?
Before putting this into context on why I have Brees over Manning, I want to get another elephant out of the room. The name Manning is football royalty which means there is privilege that comes with it. Peyton was a shell of himself in his final season led by a historically good defense leading to his second SB title. He started despite being worse than Brock Osweiler in 2015. Eli started in 2018 and 2017 and had no business doing so. If their last name was Jones, they would not have been starting.
Both Manning and Brees have been phenomenal QBs obviously since we are having this discussion of 3 and 4 all time. This is going to be splitting hair within another hair. If Brees would have put together another solid run this season and won, I think he blows the roof off the debate.
That being said, both have been extraordinary in the regular season. Both have been victims of their own success and ego. They always want the ball and to be THE guy even in times when they maybe shouldn’t be. I am not talking about at the end of games and the team needs a quick score, but for the course of an entire game.
On one hand you have Manning who has made the playoffs all but three seasons of his career. However, he has also gone one and done nine times. One of the arguments someone may make is he had to face Brady because they played in the same conference. However, he is actually 3-2 against Brady in the postseason. He never faced him in the first game of any playoff appearance. In fact, here is the list of QBs Manning went head to head with and lost to in those one and dones…
- 1999- Steve McNair (19-16)
- 2000- Jay Fiedler (23-17)
- 2002- Chad Pennington (41-0)
- 2005- Ben Roethlisberger (21-18)
- 2007- Philip Rivers (28-24)
- 2008- Philip Rivers (23-17)
- 2009- Mark Sanchez (17-16)
- 2012- Joe Flacco (38-35 2OT)
- 2014- Andrew Luck (24-13)
On the other side, you have Brees who has made the playoffs nine times and missed the playoffs nine times. So he has to be punished to some degree for not getting there more. But now, this is where we have to talk about supporting casts.
I am about go super analytical nerd here. There is a tried and true stat to get a true pulse on how good a team is called DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average). It gives value to both sides of the ball based on down and distance and averages them out accordingly to what side means more to the team in terms of wins.
It accounts for field position and playing ahead of the chains. So when a team plays from behind constantly, it will reflect that. Playing from behind ultimately leads to garbage time stats. DVOA accounts for that. Of the playoff teams since 2006, 83% have ranked in the top 6 of the conference in total DVOA. It is a pretty good measure of the league.
To show who had better supporting casts, the common misconception in the NFL is defense wins championships…not so fast. I wrote a column about that too. Read here if you like…What matters more? Offense or Defense
Obviously a great defense helps. But if you can’t score, what does it matter? We obviously know that the two QBs we are debating about here (Manning and Brees) can score. They are top 4 ever.
Getting back to the idea of supporting cast, let’s look at the defenses Manning and Brees have had.
Manning has had seven top 10 defenses, four in the top 3. He has only had two defenses fall in the bottom five and ironically enough, it is his only two years that he missed the postseason (1998, 2001).
Brees has had five top 10 defenses (2006, 2010, 2013, 2017, 2018). None of them have been above 6th. He has made the playoffs all five seasons with such defenses. Brees has had five Bottom 5 defenses (2003, 2007, 2012, 2014, 2015). All of which the playoffs were missed. Saints have also had a historically bad defense in three of those seasons. In those seasons, no matter how good the offense was, it wouldn’t have mattered.
As for supporting cast offensively, both have had their fair share of quality offensive lines. I would give Brees the slight edge there.
But, Manning wins by a mile in terms of receivers to throw to and running backs to hand off to. Until Michael Thomas, Brees did not have a single Hall of Famer. Thomas looks like he could be headed there if he continues his pace. Not to say Brees hasn’t had anyone. Marques Colston, Mark Ingram, Reggie Bush and most of those guys are quality players. Certainly not heading to Canton though. Brees has had primarily a bunch of Dallas Clarks, meaning if there was a Hall of Really Good, they are getting in.
Manning had the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Marshall Faulk (1998), Edgerrin James, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Pretty solid names there.
The main reason I look at them differently and I give Brees a slight edge boils down to one thing…playoffs. Peyton Manning has had his good years and bad years in the playoffs. Thanks to supporting casts it sometimes did not matter though. He won two Super Bowls in awful runs for him personally.
Here is a look at Manning’s individual playoff numbers..
- Record – 14-13
- Super Bowl Wins – 2
- Super Bowl Appearances – 4
- Super Bowl MVP – 1
- Conference Championship Appearances – 5
- Rating – 87.4
- 271.8 YPG
- 63.2 Completion %
- 40 TDs
- 25 INTs
- 1.6 TD/INT ratio
- 2 4th Quarter Comebacks
- 2 Game Winning Drives
- 300 Yard Games – 8
- 400 Yard Games – 4
- > 100.0 Rating – 6
- Average Points Per Game – 22.1
- 30 Point Games – 6
- 40 Point Games – 2
- Less than 20 Points – 11
Now let’s take a look at Brees…
- Record – 8-8
- Super Bowl Wins – 1
- Super Bowl Appearances – 1
- Super Bowl MVP – 1
- Conference Championship Appearances – 3
- Rating – 99.6
- 67.0 Completion %
- 310.8 YPG
- 34 TDs
- 12 INTs
- 2.8 TD/INT ratio
- 2 4th Quarter Comebacks
- 3 Game Winning Drives
- 300 Yard Games – 8
- 400 Yard Games – 3
- > 100.0 Rating – 7
- Average Points Per Game – 27.3
- 30 Point Games – 7
- 40 Point Games – 2
- Less than 20 Points – 3
Up until the last few seasons and really the last six quarters of playoffs, Brees has been ungodly in the postseason. Because of his lack of supporting cast in comparison to Manning and because he has been exceptional even in most of his losses, I give him the nod over Manning. On top of that, Brees beat Manning in his lone Super Bowl. Brees has lost three playoff games because of crazy crunch time heroics (Beast Quake, Vernon Davis and Minnesota Miracle).
The easiest comparison I can make for Brees v Manning is the same comparison of Lebron v Curry. Lebron (Brees) is a much better player who seemed to do more with less at times. No matter what, he performed. While Manning (Curry) left a much bigger footprint on the game itself leading to QBs having more control and credibility. QBs are now the alphas as opposed to the coaches. That is in large part to Manning. Much like the three ball changed because of Curry. It doesn’t mean he is necessarily the better QB though.
I know that is reaching slightly because the gap between the level of player making is obviously much smaller with Manning and Brees, but I think you see the point I am trying to make.