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Beginning on Friday the 6th, Football Perspective hosted a “Wisdom of Crowds” election with respect to that age old question: Who is the Greatest Quarterback of All Time?™ Well, Football Perspective guest commenter Adam Steele offered to count the ballots and provide a summary. What follows are his words, and the results from the contest.

Two of the greatest  quarterbacks of all time

Two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time

First, I want to offer my sincere appreciation to all the readers who participated in this project, as it wouldn’t have been possible without your contributions. We generated over 300 comments and lots of great discussion. And, as you’re about to see, every vote really did matter.

After tallying 80 ballots, 2,000 votes, and 26,000 ranking points, the difference between first and second place was just eight points. That’s insane. Well, I won’t tease you any longer, so here are the results:

This chart is sortable by total points, points per ballot (using 80 as the denominator), GOAT votes, top 10 votes, and top 25 votes. In the interest of statistical significance, a player needed to appear on at least five ballots in order to be ranked in the table below.

#QuarterbackPointsPts/BalGOATTop 10Top 25
1Peyton Manning182722.8327980
2Joe Montana181922.7167980
3Tom Brady174821.9187480
4Johnny Unitas165520.767478
5Dan Marino157319.727179
6Steve Young146218.326779
7Brett Favre129816.205180
8John Elway120615.104179
9Otto Graham115014.434071
10Roger Staubach114114.303979
11Fran Tarkenton108013.503479
12Aaron Rodgers107913.503174
13Drew Brees91811.501773
14Sammy Baugh7859.802259
15Bart Starr7699.611765
16Dan Fouts7499.40872
17Kurt Warner5667.10958
18Terry Bradshaw5086.40858
19Jim Kelly4976.20858
20Warren Moon4745.90461
21Sid Luckman4625.80950
22Troy Aikman4195.20452
23Ken Anderson3684.60245
24Len Dawson3384.20250
25Norm Van Brocklin3003.80137
26Ben Roethlisberger2893.60241
27Sonny Jurgensen2603.30233
28Y.A. Tittle2162.70038
29Joe Namath1922.40133
30Philip Rivers1431.80129
31Bobby Layne961.20018
32Tony Romo951.20120
33Bob Griese630.80010
34John Brodie560.7008
35Randall Cunningham450.60013
36Ken Stabler450.60011
37Eli Manning400.5005
38Boomer Esiason320.4007
39Steve McNair310.4006
40Phil Simms310.4005
41Daryle Lamonica220.3005
42Drew Bledsoe150.2005

According to the readers of Football Perspective, Peyton Manning is the Greatest Quarterback of All Time, narrowly defeating Joe Montana. Tom Brady and Johnny Unitas fill out the FP Crowd Mount Rushmore. However, it gets more interesting when you look at the exact vote distribution for these four quarterbacks:

1Peyton Manning329811582221
2Joe Montana1624158535211
3Tom Brady1820123634716
4Johnny Unitas611151111772224

As you can see, Manning received the most first place votes (32), almost as many as Montana (16) and Brady (18) combined. However, Montana and Brady both garnered more top three votes than Manning, with 55, 50, and 49 respectively. While Johnny U lagged behind in GOAT votes, he still registered a strong 32 in the top three, which tells me that our readers have a solid understanding of NFL history and the impact Unitas made. Brady edges Montana in first place votes, but fell 71 points short in the overall tally. Why? Brady was placed outside the top seven by 14 voters, compared to only four such votes for Montana.

My takeaway from this chart is something most of us already knew: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are far more polarizing than Joe Montana. With Manning, people either think he’s the GOAT or he’s overrated, without much middle ground. Brady seems to be a Mount Rushmore pick for the majority of observers, but way overrated according to the minority who feel otherwise. On the other hand, just about everyone loves Montana, who represents the closest thing to a consensus pick for quarterback greatness. All that being said, these trends aren’t very surprising.

Manning and Brady automatically become more polarizing because their careers happened at the same time, including a boatload of head-to-head meetings. In addition, these two men have become the favorite modern representatives for the Stats vs. Wins debate, which says something deeper about our style of football fandom, and evidently inspires a lot of passion and defensiveness.

Manning and Brady are also easy targets for criticism, though much of it is not necessarily fair (Manning can’t get it done in the playoffs, Brady can’t win without cheating). Even their personalities become a talking point: Manning is too much of a robot, Brady is too much of a pretty boy. On the other hand, Montana kind of sits comfortably in his own bubble, as history has treated him much better than it his contemporaries. While his career largely overlapped with the Elway/Marino/Kelly triumvirate, those three are more often measured against each other (perhaps because they were all members of the same draft class) than they are to Montana. It also doesn’t hurt that Montana comes across as humble, affable, cool-headed, and generally non-offensive. Even the people who aren’t particularly high on Montana don’t seem to hate him with the same passion that is directed towards Manning or Brady.

Let’s close with a table displaying the full distribution of votes, including the quarterbacks who aren’t ranked on the previous list. Note that by default, only the top 10 quarterbacks are shown, but you can change that number using the dropdown arrow on the left.

1Peyton Manning329811582221
2Joe Montana1624158535211
3Tom Brady18201236347111112
4Johnny Unitas61115111177222121
5Dan Marino26911139662741111
6Steve Young231511147613513521
7Brett Favre26468491273414451
8John Elway6684683933523233131
9Otto Graham32364736516633112131112
10Roger Staubach11239968565812342211
11Fran Tarkenton124744665425356353112
12Aaron Rodgers31245104269356333122
13Drew Brees11123274117775532122
14Sammy Baugh3151141243333433241422
15Bart Starr12124133364481224322133
16Dan Fouts132257743795134441
17Kurt Warner11322415254234433432
18Terry Bradshaw251313227134353715
19Jim Kelly12231123527364844
20Warren Moon13253161252594156
21Sid Luckman12231214411325125343
22Troy Aikman121212342185333452
23Ken Anderson111423832344342
24Len Dawson211217255333834
25Norm Van Brocklin132122553311512
26Ben Roethlisberger25122423352127
27Sonny Jurgensen11113232465211
28Y.A. Tittle111135836234
29Joe Namath111131627622
30Philip Rivers1121225762
31Bobby Layne1121222322
32Tony Romo111161126
33Bob Griese21111112
34John Brodie112211
35Randall Cunningham11111233
36Ken Stabler1112222
37Eli Manning2111
38Boomer Esiason111211
39Steve McNair111111
40Phil Simms11111
41Daryle Lamonica1121
42Drew Bledsoe1112
-Donovan McNabb1111
-George Blanda21
-Vinny Testaverde111
-Joe Flacco11
-Benny Friedman11
-Bernie Kosar2
-Joe Theismann11
-Arnie Herber11
-Kerry Collins11
-Doug Flutie2
-Michael Vick11
-Andrew Luck1
-Trent Green1
-John Hadl1
-Bert Jones1
-Archie Manning1
-Earl Morrall1
-Anthony Calvillo1
-Rich Gannon1
-Bob Waterfield1
-Daunte Culpepper1
-Jake Plummer1

I’ll leave the rest of the commentary up to you guys!

  • David

    One of the more interesting things to me about the chart, apart from the top which Adam has written about eloquently, is the relative positions of Brees and Romo.

    They are contemporaries (pretty much), so no need to worry about adjusting for era. I agree with the crowd that Brees is better than Romo, but I wasn’t expecting the huge gap between the two – 918 to 95.

    From a very quick eyeball of the stats – Romo has a slightly better career ANY/A (7.08 to 6.84), though Brees’ ANY/A during his time with the Saints is better (7.21). Brees’ career AV is much higher (142, 10th) than Romo’s (94, 180th), which is more in line with the findings above.

    Certainly, taking Brees’ 9 years with NO shows a much better player than Romo, over the same amount of time (9 years), so are people forgetting/ignoring the time Brees spent with SD? Or does it illuminate some of the aspects to which our evaluation of players is tied to the system that they play in? Manning & Brady would be great regardless of system, of course, but what about others?

    • James

      When Payton left the Cowboys to become the Saints’ HC he offered a 3rd round pick for then backup-QB Romo, but Jerry wouldn’t do it for less than a 2nd and talks fell apart. 6 games into the following season Bledsoe was benched, Romo came in, and as they say the rest is history.

      And yet one of the things I wish most of all is to see an alternate universe where that trade happens. Although it would be interesting to see where Brees goes (does he even play again after failing his physical with the Dolphins?), I really want to know how Romo would do in Payton’s system in New Orleans. Romo’s had a great career, particularly when considering his inauspicious pro prospects out of college, but I can’t help to think Payton’s offensive mind would completely unlock Romo’s potential like he did with Brees.

      • Andrew Healy

        Neat thought experiment. My prediction for Romo’s career is that it the most likely outcome is something very close to what Brees did.

    • It’s an interesting question to ask, given that I think this is the first time in awhile the national consensus would be that Romo is currently better than Brees (or, at least, was better than Brees). The Super Bowl will carry a lot of weight, especially vis-a-vis a polarizing player like Romo.

      FWIW, I view Brees’ time in San Diego as a positive for him. He had one great year and one solid year with the Chargers, and his top wide receiver that year was Eric Parker (of course, he had Gates and LT, too). But it showed that Brees could win/play at a top level outside of New Orleans.

      The thing with Romo is that he still hasn’t entered the decline phase of his career, and since he started on the bench, he didn’t play during his early years, either. For example, Romo ranks 7th in career Y/A, but he ranks 12th in Y/A from ages 26 to 34, the only years he’s thrown a pass. Starr, Unitas, Fouts, Grogan (!), and Rivers pass Romo when we include the age restrictions.

      • Adam Steele

        I agree that Brees’ time in SD was a positive. His first couple years were shaky, like they are with many QB’s, but he was great in 2004 and good in 2005. And of course Marty was his coach, who was notoriously conservative with his offenses.

    • Topher Doll

      Even more interesting when throwing Rivers into the comparison, who has career on par so far with Romo.

      • Adam Steele

        If I had to make a prediction, Rivers and Romo will end up as this era’s Ken Anderson. Great players who were unlucky to be overshadowed by legends, and never caught the breaks needed to win a ring.

    • Brees does have 900 (relatively ineffective) pass attempts before the 2004 rule changes, which probably makes just a little bit of difference vis-a-vis Romo.

      • James

        There were no passing rule changes in 2004, only a re-emphasis of rules installed in 1978. They were also emphasized in the mid-90s and before this year.

        • aw, you know what I mean …. and stats did go up (though Manning’s 04 is still the best ANY/A+ season of all time)

          • James

            Only for 2004. In 2005 and on they went right back to normal levels until the last couple of years.

            • Lessee, league ANY/A+ was 5.2 in 00, 5.2 in 01, 5.3 in 02, 5.2 in 03 || 5.6 in 04, 5.3 in 05, 5.4 in 06, 5.5 in 07, 5.7 in 08, 5.6 in 09…would need a larger sample, obviously; this seems inconclusive in either direction

        • Adam Steele

          Although passing efficiency dropped a bit in `05 and `06, the upward trend we’re still seeing today definitely started with the 2004 re-emphasis on illegal contact.

    • Adam Steele

      I see Brees and Romo as basically even in performance, although they’re very different players. The reasons Romo gets ranked lower: He hasn’t won a ring (in large part because his GM is Jerry Jones), doesn’t have the feel good story (uplifting New Orleans after Katrina), people still mistakenly label him a “choker”, and he doesn’t have as many years/counting stats on his resume. If Romo had became a starter at age 23, in a good situation, he’d probably be on his way to Canton.

  • Bryan Frye

    Hey Adam, which voter(s) had the most conforming ballot?

    • mrh

      I wonder why we don’t have the stats vs. rings debate with Unitas v.
      Starr that we have with Manning v. Brady. Is it because Unitas won his
      titles at the beginning of his career (yes, there is SB V if you want to
      count that). BTW, I was a Colt fan in the latter half of Unitas’
      career (born at the beginning of it).

      • Richie

        I think it’s because there was no internet when Unitas and Starr were playing. I think it also explains why Joe Montana isn’t more polarizing.

        • “It’s easy to bond over hating something together! The internet is total proof of that.”

          • I would bet anything that talk radio in the ’60s had a large segment of the population saying Starr > Unitas.

            • mudbone

              There wasn’t any talk radio in the 60s.

              Look at the career stats. The Pack ran much more than the Colts. If not maybe Starr > Unitas.

              Career stats say Unitas > Starr.

      • Bryan Frye

        I’m inclined to agree with Richie’s sentiments. Every quarterback fails, but now we can argue about those failures and their significance in real time.
        I also believe that the more recent adversarial relationship between athletes and media plays a small part (how many of Michael Jordan’s transgressions would have been so easily swept under the rug if he played in the internet age?).
        There is also the feeling that many historians seem to share that Starr didn’t do anything apart from Lombardi.

        • mrh

          I also agree with Richie. But to further the Brady/Starr comparison, we haven’t yet separated Brady from Belicheck though, so Starr : Lombardi :: Brady : Belicheck

          • I also throw Luckman-Halas in there, especially vis-a-vis Baugh, who played for *eight* head coaches. What Baugh would have done for Peyton Manning’s consistency at head coach 😛

            (Halas did take a hiatus from coaching during Luckman’s career but was still pulling the strings I am sure.)

            Bradshaw-Noll also fits. There are probably more.

          • sn0mm1s

            Though we do have separation of Belichick from Brady. He had a losing record and only 1 winning season out of 5 with the Browns and started off 5-13 with the Patriots. He did have a winning season with Cassel but Cassel inherited an NFL record setting team.

            Winning seasons:
            Bill is 2/7 without Brady and 13/13 with Brady.

            • Neither has had much success without the other, Brady because he’s never had the chance.

              I think there’s some consensus that Belichick was making progress with the Browns until Modell decided to move them and they collapsed in 1995…though maybe that’s just Browns fans 😛

              • Dave B

                Considering he took over a team that had a -236 point differential in 1990 and in 4 years had them at +124 pt differential in 94 in the pre salary cap era. The 3rd best point differential in 94 behind only the 49ers and Cowboys. I’d consider that a success especially when the browns have been horrid ever since.

                • well, actually they’ve kinda won two Super Bowls since then, but I think your basic point stands

          • Bryan Frye

            I can’t think of a QB with 3 or more rings who didn’t either play for a all-time coach or play with at least one more Hall of Famer. Starr, Unitas, Bradshaw, Montana, Aikman, and Brady were all great, but they also played for great teams. That’s sort of why those teams were dynasties.

      • Another factor may be that Starr lacks the volume stats Brady has.

    • James

      What would be the best way to judge that? You want to give out the most credit to (1) having the right players on your list, (2) in the right order, and (3) weight the top players more (you should get more credit for having Montana in your top 3 than Bradshaw in the high teens). It’s not as simple as I thought.

      The best I’ve come up with is the sum of the harmonic mean of consensus points and individual points for each player. Nail a player’s spot at X and get X points, but if you’re off it drags the average down to the lower value. And the further off the more disproportionately punished – rank Peyton 5 spots low at 6 and you lose 2.8 points, rank him 5 spots lower at 11 and lose an additional 3.5 points.

      If you use that method you probably should increase the max points to 40 to give some credit for guys outside the Top 25 in consensus. Otherwise there’s no distinction between having Roethlisberger (#26 in consensus) and Drew Bledsoe (#42) on your ballot!

      • Bryan Frye

        I would use something easy like RMSE, but I’m not sure if there is one right answer.

    • Adam Steele

      Off the top of my head, I believe it was topher doll

  • I’m not surprised, but it’s always a little difficult for me to understand why Norm Van Brocklin’s reputation hasn’t held up over time the way Graham’s or Unitas’s have. NVB ranked 6th in this simple formula; while that overstates him, I think he was closer to Graham/Unitas than people realize http://www.footballperspective.com/eli-manning-and-the-hall-of-fame/

    He also won titles with two different teams, which ya know, is pretty unique.

    • PTP

      I used him in my list pretty high (which the day I submitted it, the
      comments would not accept for some reason; and damn it was a good list
      lol). The Rams were a passing O, so I think his numbers might be a bit
      skewed in a league that was much different than today. But, he graduated
      early and immediately earned playing time, splitting with an All Pro,
      which was almost impossible back then. He had some major chops.

      wonders about the QB’s of yesterday. There were fewer teams and it was
      super-hard for anyone to get noticed. Even Unitas was drafted in the
      ninth round and was never given a shot in Pittsburgh. He worked
      construction before getting the Colts call. One would think there were a
      lot of players who were never given a shot at that time, and luck
      played a big part of it.

      Even on this list, Steve
      Young ranked so high. I love Steve Young, but I wonder what he would’ve
      been ranked if he played 12 seasons in Tampa Bay.

      Fun list. Thanks for everyone’s hard work!


      • Richie

        ” I love Steve Young, but I wonder what he would’ve
        been ranked if he played 12 seasons in Tampa Bay.”

        That probably applies to most guys. How many QB’s would have made this list if they had taken David Carr’s spot on the expansion Texans, or Young’s spot on those Bucs? The situation matters.

        I’m sure that Joe Montana would have suffered quite a bit if he didn’t get paired up with Bill Walsh and a situation that fit him well.

        • Some people give extra credit for starting off bad on a bad team…as long as it’s the same one you were also good on. I definitely have seen Cowboys fans argue Aikman-Young this way.

          • PTP

            Aikman was my totally biased ranking on this list. Why? Crazy 199x fantasy football.

            Aikman was known as “8”. Not because of number, but because 16-24 for 212, 1TD and no INT’s in a Cowboys 24-10 win, would score 8 in our system. He didn’t do that each week, but it felt like it, and that’s what will stick in my mind.

            Could he have thrown for Fouts yardage in a SD offense? Could he have had great numbers on a mediocre team? Probably, but my bias (probably unfairly) has him way down the list.

            • He probably could have, and he actually complains about this in the NFL Network 100 greatest players series from 2010 or 11 or so…but the fact is, he *did* have less responsibility than a Young, Favre, or Marino, and it probably or maybe even certainly helped him win more championships than those guys combined.

        • PTP

          Fair or unfair I do that often.

          I gave Brady a lower rank, not because of numbers as much as situation. Matt Cassell went 11-5 when Brady was hurt. It’s something that sticks in my mind. Ditto with San Fran; Bono and Grbac get nice contracts from playing in that system, move to another team and flame out.

          I wonder what history would look like if Archie Manning was drafted by the Cowboys. ESPN might be filled with debates about who is better, dad or kid.

          Facinating debates nonetheless. This stuff is always fun.

          • Grbac’s 1996 season could have tipped the Chiefs off, but he still had a couple decent years in Kansas City. And IIRC some 49ers fans went into 1992 wanting Bono to start since they were 5-1 with him and 5-5 with Young in 1991 (even though Young played much better).

            Sheesh, Chiefs…always picking up the backups, though I knew this trend already. To this day they must regret picking by far the worst first round QB of 1983.

            • sn0mm1s

              I actually think this is a pretty good strategy. The Chiefs are just really poor at executing it. Warner, Brees, and Manning have all been free agents within the last 10 years and all have made SB appearances with new teams. The Chiefs instead pick guys like Green, Cassel, and Smith.

          • sn0mm1s

            Matt Cassel inherited an NFL record breaking team, played against an unusually soft schedule, made a pro bowl as a starter on another team, and still missed playoffs with the Pats. I don’t think he was that successful.

            No one around that time thought Bono or Grbac (both Young backups) were anything special. The only real perk of picking them up was that they were familiar with a West Coast system. Off the top of my head, Frank Reich (Kelly’s backup), Scott Mitchell (Marino’s backup), Matt Flynn (Rodger’s backup), Brian Griese (Elway’s backup), could all be used in similar arguments as players who had a good game or stretch of games and landed/took over a starting job.

            • Mitchell is an okay comparison, but Reich stayed on the Bills for 3 years after his comeback (starting 2 games) and started 12 games after leaving (no more than 7 in a season), Flynn couldn’t even maintain through preseason the starting jobs he was gifted in Seattle and Oakland, and Griese was Elway’s successor in Denver so that’s more like a Young/Rodgers deal. Mitchell does fit the bill, however (and his 1995 season was actually good). And I guess Flynn actually does fit what you are talking about as well, even though the teams recognized their mistake quite quickly. So, yeah, you are sufficiently correct 😛

              • sn0mm1s

                They aren’t perfect comparisons – I was just naming guys that I knew did OK or got a big contract from a small sample size of games when playing backup to a HOF QB.

            • PTP

              Hi SN and HScer,

              Those are excellent points. And lol at 1983 🙂

              I think we might be seeing a trend start with system QB’s. Isn’t Mariota falling because of “system”? I have to think if Sanchez was not serviceable in that offense in Philly this year, we might be hearing less anti-steam on him.

              Cassell, Bono, Grbac, some of the players you mentioned, all ended up making money, or were rumored to sign big deals at some point. I **think** we might start seeing less of that going forward, because people are looking more at team and system instead of the player.

              • PTP,

                At the very least, teams that aren’t the Packers are certainly done signing Matt Flynn to anything more than the league minimum 😛

    • Richie

      “He also won titles with two different teams, which ya know, is pretty unique.”

      Which may be a reason his reputation hasn’t stood up. Maybe Rams and Eagles fans just don’t think of him as “theirs” since he also won with another franchise.

    • Bryan Frye

      NVB didn’t get to spend four years padding his stats against JV teams. Graham and the Browns were great – NFL great – from the word go. The problem is that no team outside of maybe the late AAFC 49ers was even sort of good.

      • Graham’s rating was 99 in the AAFC and 78 in the NFL. The latter is still Unitas level. The former belongs in today’s game and definitely has at least something to do with the competition level.

      • Look at the rosters for the Yanks and Bills. If you don’t think they were sort of good, you don’t have a good sense for that era of football. In 2003, Dr. Z ranked Otto Graham the third-best QB of all time, behind Unitas and Montana. He certainly didn’t consider the AAFC a JV league. I agree it wasn’t NFL level, but you’ve dramatically overstated the difference. The NFL was a higher-quality league in the ’50s than the ’40s, because the AAFC had a lot of NFL-level talent. NFL stats from the 1940s need to be taken with a grain of salt, too, and people forget that.

        • Bryan Frye

          We’ll have to agree to disagree here.

        • While the Browns were immediately great in the NFL, the 49ers went 3-9 and the Colts went 1-11 (losing their opener 38-14 to the eventual 3-9 Redskins) and promptly folded.

          What may be more telling is looking at what happened to Graham and the ever-forgotten Frankie Albert (is this the first time his name has come up in either thread?) when they moved into the NFL. In his AAFC career, Graham had 187 Y/G and an AY/A of 9.4; in the NFL, those figures were 187 Y/G and a 7.0 AY/A. He fell from 232 Y/G and a 9.5 AY/A in 1949 to 162 and 5.2 in 1950. Meanwhile, Albert averaged 129 Y/G with a 6.5 AY/A in the AAFC vs. 107 Y/G and a 4.1 AY/A in the NFL; he went from 155 and 6.5 in 1949 to 147 and 3.3 in 1950. Passer rating would tell the same story as AY/A (Graham 99–>78, Albert 83–>58).

          I don’t doubt the AAFC had plenty of NFL-caliber talent, or that you know way more about the AAFC than I do–but how good could its defenses truly have been if Otto Graham’s efficiency numbers there look like Peyton Manning’s do now, when Graham started playing before Archie Manning was born? Even Albert’s AAFC efficiency numbers could keep a starting job in 2015. Even if “JV” might overstate the difference, the difference still appears quite sizable, to me.

          • I don’t deny that the AAFC was a lower-quality league, I just think the difference has been overstated. Look at the rosters for the ’46 Yanks or the ’47 Bills. There were some really good players on those teams. A dozen Hall of Famers came out of this league that only existed four years (granted that half of them were Browns).

    • Adam Steele

      Is anyone else shocked that Van Brocklin still owns the single game passing yardage record? That was 65 years ago!

        • TysonSm

          Uproarious that the link Chase posted explains that NVBs record could be passed given the right circumstances today by a number of QBs, the funny part being that Kyle “checkdown” Orton and Matt “pick6” Schaub are both mentioned!

    • Kibbles

      I had NVB 13th and Graham 15th on my list, so you’re preaching to the choir. If you separate out the AAFC numbers, Van Brocklin and Graham had pretty much identical passing stats. Graham had more championships and appearances, but Van Brocklin did it for two different teams.

      For me, the difference is supporting cast. It’s not like Van Brocklin was playing with a bunch of nobodies, (check out Elroy Hirsch’s 1951 the next time you want your mind blown, and remember that Tom Fears also made the Hall of Fame, even if he seems like a borderline choice who did much of his damage before NVB really broke out). Still, thanks to Paul Brown, Otto Graham might as well have been playing a different sport from his contemporaries. When two guys are surrounded by Hall of Famers on offense, tiebreaker goes to the guy who also had arguably the most influential coach of all time prowling the sidelines. So, given NVB and Graham’s very similar stats, I find Van Brocklin’s ever so slightly more impressive.

      • I think you’ve taken a good idea a touch too far. The people who watched Graham and Van Brocklin had no doubt who was better. All-pro awards, 1950-55:

        1950 — Johnny Lujack
        1951 — Graham
        1952 — Graham and Layne
        1953 — Graham
        1954 — Graham
        1955 — Graham

        They both had great stats during those years, so it’s hard to see that pushing the debate in either direction. But I believe Graham was greater from 1946-49 than NVB from 1956-60, and he clearly was a more accomplished postseason player. I don’t believe Dante Lavelli was as good as Crazy Legs Hirsch, or that the Browns had as many offensive weapons around Graham as Van Brocklin enjoyed in L.A. Van Brocklin won with two different teams, but so did Graham, really: the ’46 Browns and ’55 Browns shared only four players — Graham, Frank Gatski, Lou Groza, and Lavelli. It also bears mention that the Browns dynasty collapsed upon Graham’s retirement.

        Paul Brown was the greatest coach of all time, but I believe you’ve deflected an unrealistic amount of credit from quarterback to coach. Brown himself said, “Otto Graham was the key to the whole team … He had total composure on the field, the ability to find whatever receiver was going to come open, and the arm and athletic ability to get the ball to him … Otto was my greatest player because he played the most important position, and he played it to perfection. He was the crux of how we got things done.” At his HOF induction in 1967, Brown chose Otto Graham to present him.

        You’re right about Van Brocklin, but you’re underselling Graham.

        • A couple of graphs:

          The first is Graham and Van Brocklin in
          the “Value” statistic — i.e., ANY/A minus league average ANY/A,
          multiplied by dropbacks.

          The second is Graham and Van Brocklin in RANY/A each year — i.e., ANY/A minus league average, or Relative ANY/A.

          All-Pro voting can be funky, but I have no explanation for how Lujack got it over Graham in 1950: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/1950/passing.htm

          Well, other than QBWinz and his 11 rushing TDs. But Van Brocklin had a historically great passing year that season. We shouldn’t discount that.

          • I prefer using linear weights for stat analysis, and I have Graham a touch ahead of Van Brocklin from 1950-55. Dutch in ’50, ’51, and ’54, but Graham ahead in ’52, ’53, and ’55. The stats in those six seasons are close; certainly they shouldn’t persuade us that the all-pro voters got it wrong every season. But your graphs don’t include 1946-49, and there’s just no question that Otto Graham was the best quarterback in professional football those years, maybe even all of those years.

            It’s also worth pointing out that Graham rushed for 44 TDs and (even though the AAFC counted sacks as negative rushing) almost 900 yards, compared to 40 yards and 11 TDs for Van Brocklin. That’s not a trivial consideration — the 33-TD difference is 20% of Van Brocklin’s career mark. You can’t compare their careers exclusively with passing stats, and everything else — rushing stats, contemporary opinion, and team success — favors Otto Graham.

            I have no interest in diminishing Van Brocklin; I believe he was badly underrated in this exercise. But I also don’t believe his career was as great as Otto Graham’s, and I’m not convinced that it was especially close.

        • Richie

          Maybe we need to do a wisdom of crowds QB rating by decade. Might be an interesting way to get us to research these guys that played before we were born.

        • Kibbles

          It’s possible I’m underselling Graham. My belief is that people tend to dramatically underrate the impact that quality coaching has on a quarterback’s performance. For instance, I know of several statistical formulas that rank Montana, Young, and Anderson as three of the top 10 QBs of all time. Which do you think is more likely, that Walsh worked with three quarterbacks for an extended period and those three guys just so happened to be three of the top 10 QBs in NFL history… or Bill Walsh’s offensive system was so amazing that it made good-to-great quarterbacks look like top-10 quarterbacks? Personally, I think that second explanation is more compelling.

          Paul Brown might say that Otto Graham was the key to the whole team, but that doesn’t change the fact that thanks to Paul Brown the whole team was essentially playing a different sport. Paul Brown invented modern pass blocking concepts and the idea of a “pocket”. He invented the draw play. He brought structured practices and organizational depth charts and coaching assistants and film study. He was an organizational genius whose concepts are still in wide use today. I would say no coach has had a bigger impact on the game in modern NFL history.

          Graham did win all of those All Pros over Van Brocklin when they were contemporaries, but it’s a bit of a squidgy comparison. In 1950, 1951, and 1952, Norm Van Brocklin actually platooned at the QB position with Bob Waterfield. That’d normally be a strike against Van Brocklin, but Waterfield was a Hall of Famer in his own right, too- Van Brocklin made the pro bowl in each of those three seasons, and Waterfield made it as well in 1950 and 1951. If Steve Young had managed to platoon with Joe Montana, would that have been a negative for Young, or a positive? I’m not sure. Either way, it’s something of a unique situation.

          That really only leaves 1953, 1954, and 1955 when both players were competing head-to-head for awards on an even playing field. Which is bad for Van Brocklin, because 1953 and 1955 were far and away Graham’s two best seasons in the NFL. Also in NVB’s favor is the fact that he essentially had nearly twice as many NFL games played (140 to 72) and NFL pass attempts (2895 to 1565). Graham had the AAFC, but again, if we’re counting what he did there, I really think we have to count what Moon did in the CFL, and what Jim Kelly did in the USFL. I think the quality of competition was equal or better.

          I don’t know. It’s a hard comparison, and I ultimately had the two very close to each other for a reason. Van Brocklin had an unconventional NFL career, but I think with all things considered he was as great as Otto Graham. Or perhaps even just a little bit greater. His efficiency stats were essentially identical, he presided over arguably the greatest offenses in history, and he won championships with two different teams, all without the help of arguably the greatest head coach the game has ever seen. Had the two quarterbacks had their places switched, who would have fared better? I think maybe Van Brocklin.

          • Great comment, Kibbles. I agree with a lot of what you wrote there, but very interesting and well thought out (as always).

          • You’ve clearly given this issue some thought, and you deserve a detailed response, so I hope you won’t take offense if I Fisk your comment.

            re: Montana, Young, and Anderson — first of all, I would dispute your inclusion of Young, whose best seasons came under George Seifert. Certainly Young benefitted from his time with Walsh, but I have a hard time crediting a guy who retired in early 1989 for what Young did from 1992-98.

            There’s a similar case to be made regarding Anderson, who had two of his best seasons in the early ’80s. I also believe there’s at least a little bit of a straw man problem here. Ken Anderson didn’t make my top 25, so I’d rather not base our discussion on an assumption that he was a top-10 QB.

            Furthermore, there’s a case to be made that Walsh scouted effectively to find the right players, and not simply that he developed their talent. I believe it’s a balance of the two.

            You’re obviously correct that a coach can help his quarterback succeed, but I don’t believe the correlation is nearly as strong as you imply. Peyton Manning has had four head coaches. Unitas took three different HCs to NFL Championship Games. Baugh had eight head coaches, and so on. Most great QBs succeed with several coaches, and there are great coaches — including great offensive coaches, like Joe Gibbs — who never developed HOF-caliber QBs. Coaching is a factor, but probably not as large a factor as you’ve indicated.

            You don’t need to talk up Paul Brown for me. I have written repeatedly (including in the comment you replied to, so I’m annoyed at needing to repeat myself) that he was the greatest coach of all time. But I don’t believe you truly addressed my point; Brown said Graham was his greatest player (including Jim Brown), and the greatest dynasty in football history collapsed when Graham retired. Paul Brown never won a pro championship without Otto Graham. Again, I’m not trying to discredit Brown. But you’re not giving Graham enough credit. You also haven’t mentioned that Van Brocklin worked with Clark Shaughnessy and Sid Gillman.

            re: the all-pro votes … obviously the platooning limited Van Brocklin’s opportunities, and you’re right that splitting time with Waterfield is nothing to be ashamed of. But Graham did play more in those seasons, and I rate players on what they did, not what they might have been. What if Young had supplanted Montana in ’88? I don’t want to rate anyone based on assumptions. If you’re going to imagine what Van Brocklin might have done without Waterfield, let’s imagine what Graham might have done without World War II. He never played in the pros until he was almost 25.

            And it’s a cop-out to complain that ’53 and ’55 shouldn’t count because Graham was really good those years. That’s kind of the point. I also think you’re undervaluing Graham’s contributions in ’52: he was the Cleveland offense that year; the team was much more balanced in ’55. And it’s not just the all-pro votes; Graham was NFL MVP in ’51, ’53, and ’55, and I suspect he would have won in ’52 if any of the major organizations had named one. I have trouble dismissing a consensus in contemporary opinion. It’s obviously not the only factor, but surely it should be a factor.

            I absolutely believe we should credit Moon and Kelly for what they did before coming to the NFL, but if you really think the quality of play in the early-80s CFL was as high (relative to the NFL) as the AAFC, you are crazy. That’s not a tenable position. I don’t believe there’s any question at all that Otto Graham was the best QB of the late ’40s. I suspect Graham was at least as good in his age 24-27 seasons as his age 31-33 seasons. Using NFL games and attempts is a canard; you can’t throw 1946-49 out the window if you’re doing an honest evaluation of Graham. Van Brocklin passed for 23,611 yards and 173 TDs as a professional. Graham passed for 23,584 and 174 TDs. Maybe you want to adjust the AAFC numbers downward a bit, but you can’t simply dismiss them; Van Brocklin is not substantially ahead on service.

            It is a hard comparison, and you speak to my line of thinking with the “had the two quarterbacks had their places switched” question. But Graham had comparable or (in my view) slightly better stats, he certainly was more highly regarded at the time, and his team achieved greater results. It’s disingenuous to credit Van Brocklin for two titles with two different teams, but not mention that Graham won seven championships, played in the league championship every year of his career, and generally performed really well in big games. Let’s not penalize him for staying in Cleveland.

            You seem like a bright guy or gal, and you’ve obviously given this matter real consideration — I wish more people approached the all-time question with your thoroughness — but I think you’re underrating Graham at every turn.

            • Kibbles

              Re: Steve Young- yes, it’s true that he received little playing time under Walsh himself, but Walsh was responsible for Young’s development, and to some extent I’m using “Bill Walsh” as metonymy for the entire Bill Walsh coaching system and offensive scheme. Which seems fair to me, because that’s how the rest of the world treats it. Witness: Mike Shanahan being considered part of the “Bill Walsh coaching tree” despite (a) never coaching under Bill Walsh, and (b) having a decade worth of coaching experience (including two years as a head coach) before he ever joined San Francisco.

              Re: Ken Anderson- yes, some of his best years came after Walsh left, but see my last point. Also, it’s true that neither of us had him in our top 25, but that’s not my point. My point is this, and only this: revolutionary coaching causes a player’s statistical production to outpace his true talent level. He was a guy we agree was not a top-25 QB, and yet he still put up top-10 numbers because his offense was decades ahead of its time. Otto Graham’s offense was also decades ahead of its time, so I treat his statistics with skepticism.

              Re: Walsh scouting effectively- this actually is an interesting demonstration of my point. Bill Walsh called Jake Plummer “the next Joe Montana”. Is this an example of poor scouting, based on how Plummer did in Arizona? Or an example of good scouting, based on how Plummer did in Denver? Personally, I think it reinforces the importance of coaching and the power of the West Coast Offense, properly implemented. Plummer had 4.37 ANY/A in Arizona. He had 6.32 ANY/A in Denver. I think Plummer is perhaps the biggest example of just how dependent a quarterback’s production really is on his situation.

              Re: Manning, Unitas, Baugh- you’re absolutely right that they all succeeded with multiple coaches. Which is exactly why all three made my all-time top 10. I’m much more confident that those three were not a product of their scheme or coaching than I am about, say, Otto Graham.

              Re: Paul Brown- So he says Graham was his greatest player ever. That’s awesome. That’s a data point. John Madden says Ray Guy was the greatest punter of all time. Doesn’t make it true, but it’s a data point. I think Graham was absolutely the most integral piece of those dominant Cleveland teams, but does that mean he was a better quarterback than NVB? Not necessarily. Maybe those Cleveland teams would have been even better still if they’d had Van Brocklin, and Paul Brown would instead be claiming NVB was the greatest player he ever coached. So yeah, you keep repeating that statement, and I think it’s a data point, but I don’t find it nearly as dispositive as you seem to. Bill Belichick could say that Tom Brady is the greatest player he’s ever coached and I still wouldn’t think he’s better than Peyton Manning.

              I also vehemently disagree with your claim that the Browns dynasty “collapsed” after Graham retired, unless by “collapsed” you mean “had one losing season in the next 18 years”, or “went 9-2-1 and made the championship game two years later, and then went 9-3 the year after that”. Sure, they weren’t winning multiple titles, but they were doing pretty well for a team that had lost so many Hall of Famers. Remember, in addition to Graham, you had Lavelli and Gatski retire in 1956, plus Motley retired in 1953. That’s FOUR Hall of Fame offensive players gone in a very short span.

              Speaking of collapse, though, how did the Rams do after Van Brocklin left? Philly did fine, but they had this young guy named Sonny Jurgenson waiting in the wings, which probably helped.

              I didn’t mention that NVB worked with Clark Shaughnessy and Sid Gillman, this is true. Of course, you failed to mention that NVB won a league MVP award under Buck Shaw. My point wasn’t that NVB never played in phenomenal circumstances- obviously those early ’50s Rams teams were tailor-made for huge offensive production. My point was that we saw NVB succeed outside of those situations, too, which makes me more convinced that NVB’s production was inherent to NVB himself, whereas I have far less assurance that Graham could have succeeded elsewhere. Again, it’s like Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. I’m sure Peyton could have succeeded on multiple teams for multiple coaches, because we’ve seen him do that. I’m not sure Tom Brady could have, because we haven’t. It’s possible Brady could have, but the fact that we never saw him do it hurts him in comparison to Manning.

              I never complained that 1953 or 1955 shouldn’t count. I said that Graham was better than NVB when they played together, but that was essentially a 3-year window. We can’t play the “who was better when they were contemporaries” game, because “when they were contemporaries” basically represented such a tiny portion of their total careers. It was a three-year span. Graham was better during that three-year span, no doubt, but it was a three-year span.

              You might not want to rate people on assumptions, but my original post rating quarterbacks started with the clarification that I was rating based on who I thought could “take his’n and beat your’n, then take your’n and beat his’n”. That’s naturally rating based on assumptions and counterfactuals. You’re welcome to rank some other way, but that’s how I ranked. If you want to say “any ranking system based on what players actually did and nothing more should value Graham over NVB”, I would heartily agree. Of course, I could argue that any such ranking system should probably include Ken Anderson in the top 25. Ultimately, I believe Adam said there were 80 sets of rankings, which means that there were 80 sets of assumptions and value judgments. Yours might not be mine, but given the parameters of the activity, mine were still valid.

              Likewise, I absolutely *CAN* throw out AAFC production, just like I threw out CFL and USFL production. I did not consider production that came outside of the NFL (or AFL, and even there I substantially discounted early-AFL stuff because the league was a joke for its first few years). You seem to have a much higher opinion of the AAFC than I do. It’s possible that the early ’80s CFL was substantially worse than I thought, too, but the AAFC was atrocious aside from the Browns. Look how much Cleveland’s statistics declined when they merged. Look how much San Francisco declined when they merged. Look how few other AAFC players landed on an NFL roster after the league disbanded. It was a bad league with one great team. Otto Graham averaged 9.4 AY/A against the AAFC and 7.0 AY/A against the NFL. Graham had a rating of 99.1 against the AAFC and a rating of 78.1 against the NFL. I feel quite comfortable discounting his AAFC production just like I’d discount a player’s college production, or production in any other similarly inferior league.

              Again, maybe I’m underrating Graham. I’m supremely open to that possibility, given that we’re talking about guys who played more than 50 years ago, (and I am not more than 50 years old). That’s okay though. It’s my opinion. I’ve given it a lot of thought. If opinions on Graham exist on a continuum, mine might be among the lowest, but personally I think it’s important to try to balance out those whose opinion on Graham is among the highest, (many of whom I guarantee have thought far less about this particular issue).

              I think coaching is an underrated factor in player success. I think the AAFL was a joke league. I think “RINGZ BABY” is an uncompelling argument. For these reasons, I’m destined to be lower on Graham than consensus. And I’m okay with that.

              • I am really enjoying this conversation. Just thought I would alert you both to that.

              • Kibbles, it seems I may have offended you, and that wasn’t my intention. If so, I apologize.

                I don’t want to get too sidetracked on the Bill Walsh issue, but I can’t agree about Steve Young or Ken Anderson. Young threw 170 passes for Walsh in 1987-88, and I don’t believe that and the WCO are what made him the NFL’s best QB in the mid-90s. The systems that show Anderson as a top-10 QB are bad systems. I’m willing to disagree on these issues, though, because I don’t think they’re central to our discussion, and surely we’d agree that Walsh is an exception, not the rule.

                I think you’ve misunderstood me here: “Re: Paul Brown- So he says Graham was his greatest player ever. That’s awesome. That’s a data point. John Madden says Ray Guy was the greatest
                punter of all time.”

                Madden was comparing Guy to all punters, ever, and [1] he’s biased for his guy, [2] punting is widely misunderstood. Brown was comparing Graham to his own players, the guys he coached. That carries stronger weight. But it’s also not the crux of my argument. You’re right, it’s a data point. I didn’t intend to imply that was the end of the discussion. But I don’t believe Paul Brown would agree with you that Graham was so much a product of the system.

                Browns, 1946-55: 105-17-4 (.849), 7 CS, 10 CS Appearances
                Browns, 1950-55: 58-13-1 (.813), 3 CS, 6 CSA
                Browns, 1956-62: 53-31-4 (.625), 0 CS, 1 CSA

                The Browns were a +.800, year-in, year-out championship team with Otto Graham. Their worst record was 8-4 (.667). Their average following his retirement was 40 points lower, and they ceased to be a championship caliber team. Furthermore, they fell from 9-2-1 in Graham’s final season to 5-7, then rebounded when they added Jim Brown, arguably the greatest player in NFL history. So yes, I think it’s fair to say that the Browns dynasty collapsed upon Graham’s retirement. No one considers the 1957-62 Browns a dynasty.

                The Browns won back-to-back titles without Motley; his greatest years were in the AAFC and in 1950. Lavelli was a fine player, but he absolutely would not make the Hall of Fame today. I get your point, that Graham wasn’t the only player Cleveland lost. It’s a valid point, but the ’57-58 Browns had 5 HOF players. The Browns in Graham’s era were a uniquely successful team, the greatest dynasty in the history of professional football. Immediately upon Graham’s retirement, they ceased to be that exceptional team. My interpretation is that Brown’s magic wasn’t enough in Graham’s absence.

                As stated earlier, I agree with you about Van Brocklin; we rank him the same. It’s Graham we disagree upon. You don’t need to convince me Van Brocklin was great. He was.

                re: rating methodology, of course yours is valid. But I don’t see how you can restore credit to Van Brocklin during the years he split time with Waterfield, and throw Graham’s AAFC years or Moon’s CFL years out the window entirely. As with Van Brocklin, they were obviously great QBs, but their NFL playing time was limited by unusual circumstances. It seems logically inconsistent to include one but not the other.

                I’m not suggesting you take AAFC stats at face value (or CFL, USFL, etc) — just that we need to acknowledge what Graham did during his years in the league. He was the best QB in football in the late ’40s, and any evaluation that ignores that is inevitably wrong. Warren Moon was prevented from playing in the NFL until he was 28, but we know he was a good quarterback in the early ’80s. That’s an important consideration in evaluating his career. Jim Kelly was the best QB in the USFL. We don’t have to take his stats at face value to acknowledge he had two good seasons that aren’t included in his NFL record. Signing with Houston didn’t make Kelly a worse QB. It’s hard to compare players in other leagues, but it’s better to make an educated guess than to ignore those years entirely. Graham was the best QB of the late ’40s. Moon and Kelly were good players before they reached the NFL. Those aren’t radical ideas at all; indeed, they’re obvious. All I’m suggesting is that we acknowledge this.

                Otto Graham was also the best QB of the early ’50s (great stats, all-pro every year); I don’t need a ringz argument to support him. At the same time, I think his team’s success and his own championship performances are a valid consideration that can only enhance his case. If you revise your position on Paul Brown’s importance to Graham’s success, and give Graham credit for being what we know he was in the late 1940s, I imagine we’d rate him nearly the same, just as we do for Van Brocklin.

                • Kibbles

                  I’m not offended, I’m just chatting. I don’t mind a little bit of healthy disagreement in the slightest.

                  You keep bringing up Graham’s championships, which I suppose is unavoidable in any discussion of Otto Graham and the Cleveland Browns. Here’s my big problem with that. From 1950 to 1957- an 8-year span- the average rank of the Cleveland Browns in points allowed was 1.25. The average rank in yards allowed was 2.00. These figures are unprecedented- I have never seen an 8-year run anywhere close to that. Any way you slice it, Otto Graham played with an absolutely dominant defense. And I’m sure Graham made their job easier, but they ranked 1st in points allowed and 2nd in yards allowed in each of the first two seasons after Graham retired, so it’s not like we can give him too much credit. Part of that was pace, of course- Cleveland ranked “only” 2.75, on average, in yards per play allowed. (Though that was partly skewed by the fact that they were playing with so many leads). On the other hand, during Graham’s 6 years in the NFL, the Browns ranked 2.83 in points scored and 4.5 in yards gained. Again, part of that is pace- they ranked 3.00 in yards per play. But the larger point is this: Graham played with one of the best sustained defenses the league has ever seen. By any measure, that defense deserved every bit as much credit- if not more- for those championships.

                  By comparison, NVB’s Rams defense ranked, on average, 7.5 in points allowed and 9.13 in yards allowed. His Eagles defenses ranked 8.33 in points allowed and 9.0 in yards allowed. While Graham’s defenses were consistently among the top 2 in the NFL, Van Brocklin’s were consistently below average. If you average points allowed and yards allowed together, Graham played with one defense in his NFL career that ranked lower than 1.5- a 1953 unit that was 1st in points allowed and 6th in yards allowed, for an average of 3.5. At the same time, Van Brocklin played with only one defense in his entire career that ranked better than 6th by that simplistic method- also in 1953, when his defense ranked 4th in points allowed and 5th in yards allowed for an average of 4.5. So Van Brocklin’s best defense was worse than Graham’s worst defense. And Graham also played with the best coach of all time and even had the best placekicker of his generation. Sure, he made a lot of championship games, but I don’t find that to be a particularly dispositive distinction in this particular comparison.

                  I also think it’s crazy to suggest that the Browns dynasty “collapsed” after Graham retired. Words mean things, and “collapsed” means something other than what happened to the Cleveland Browns after Graham retired. In the decade following Graham’s retirement, the Cleveland Browns had ONE losing season, posting a cumulative record of 84-41-5 (65.8%). They made three championship games during that decade and won one of them. Maybe we don’t still count that as part of the dynasty any more, but I can think of 32 NFL fanbases who DESPERATELY HOPE their franchise “collapses” to the tune of a decade of 11-5 seasons, three championship berths, and one title. I mean, this is essentially identical to arguing that the New England Patriots “collapsed” after 2004. It just doesn’t make sense under any meaningful definition of the word.

                  I also like how you add the “Well, then they got Jim Brown, so that’s why they were good again”. By that definition, (we must evaluate the Browns after Graham, but we can’t include the Jim Brown era because he was also great), we’re stuck with a sample size of N = 1.

                  Anyway, what it really boils down to for me is that Otto Graham was one of a handful of offensive Hall of Famers on a team with a better defense than offense coached by the greatest coach of all time. He never led his unit to the heights of the NVB Rams’ offenses. He made a lot of championship games, but see the first sentence of this paragraph again. His NFL averages were also essentially identical to NVB’s. I suspect that Otto Graham was no better of a QB from 1946-1949 than he was from 1950-1955, so if the Browns had been in the NFL, that would still likely remain the case. (If anything, I think that if Graham had spent his entire career in the NFL, his averages would have been worse than NVB’s.)

                  Given all of that, I think NVB was maybe a slightly better quarterback.

                  • Good, I’m glad we’re on the same page.

                    I think you’ve misunderstood why I “keep bringing up Graham’s championships”. It’s part of my argument that Cleveland was substantially less successful following his retirement, which in turn is part of my argument that Graham may have played a larger role in the team’s success, and Paul Brown a smaller one, than you had previously believed.

                    When I say that the Browns dynasty collapsed, you’re focusing on the word “collapsed”, and I’m focusing on the word “dynasty”. If I re-phrase it, that the Browns were way less successful following Graham’s retirement, perhaps we could avoid any semantic disagreement. The stats are clear:

                    Browns, 1946-55: 105-17-4 (.849), 7 CS, 10 CS Appearances
                    Browns, 1950-55: 58-13-1 (.813), 3 CS, 6 CSA
                    Browns, 1956-62: 53-31-4 (.625), 0 CS, 1 CSA

                    I’ve used 1962 as the cutoff date, since that’s when Paul Brown was fired. As I understand it, you believe that Graham’s success was largely a function of Brown’s genius, and that belief is one of — if not the — main reasons you rate Graham lower than usual. I’ve presented objective evidence (Cleveland much more successful with Graham) and subjective evidence (Brown called Graham “my greatest player”, “the key to the whole team”, “the crux of how we got things done”) to support my position — that Graham was probably more critical to the team’s success than you had thought. The team’s results without Graham support Brown’s statements.

                    re: Jim Brown … Cleveland went 5-7 in the first season following Graham’s retirement, then rebounded when they added Jim Brown the following year. It seems almost certain that the team’s misfortunes would have been longer and worse had Brown not joined the team. This is not a critical element of my argument, but I think it’s obviously true.

                    You raise a good point about the greatness of the Browns’ defense, except that we’re getting
                    caught in a tangent. When I refer to Cleveland’s team success, it’s the success during the Graham Era as contrasted with the lesser success following his retirement — again, this is addressing your belief that Graham’s accomplishments were largely a product of Paul Brown’s coaching. The defense was still great in the late ’50s, but the team stopped winning championships. You note that Graham “never led his unit to the heights of the NVB Rams’ offenses”, but the Rams’ historic offensive seasons occurred while Van Brocklin was a part-time player, with Bob Waterfield. Van Brocklin’s stats in those seasons are terrific, but so are Waterfield’s, and he didn’t make the top 25. Also — and this is one of the hardest things to sort out (in various eras) — Graham’s offense in 1950-51 didn’t need to do as much as the Rams’. It might be a bit like comparing the Saints’ offense in the Drew Brees era to Brady/Manning/Rodgers. Beyond Van Brocklin’s personal performance, I’m disinclined to regard the 1950-51 Ram offenses as an important data point in this discussion, though I could potentially be persuaded otherwise.

                    My evaluation of Graham is based on his excellent stats and a consensus in contemporary opinion. Beyond his outstanding numbers and impressive collection of awards and honors, Graham is also — from the standpoint of team results — the most successful individual player in history; that reinforces my belief in Graham, but does not form the basis for it. I consider team success in my evaluation of QBs, but it is not a major factor in my rankings (for this project, I rated Brady 8th, Aikman outside the top 25). I do think it’s to Graham’s credit that he generally played at a very high level in the team’s most important games. His impressive postseason performances don’t show up in the regular-season stats, but they’re certainly a mark in his favor.

                    I think it’s great you’re beating the drum for Van Brocklin; if you look at my original response to Chase, I was pretty horrified at Van Brocklin’s relative lack of respect in the voting on this project. But I believe if you re-consider your evaluation of Graham, he comes off even better than Van Brocklin.

    • Agreed, Chase. I’m disappointed that Van Brocklin, Jurgensen, Tittle, and Layne didn’t get more support in the balloting, and I wish people who don’t know about those players would work to educate themselves before voting. Meaning no offense to the voters who did (more than half), I don’t believe a knowledgeable fan could rank either Jurgensen OR Van Brocklin outside the Top 25. And when you read contemporary accounts of Bobby Layne, or just look at his stats from 1951-58 (including three NFL titles, for the Ringz crowd), I get the sense that most voters who omitted him simply don’t know who he was.

      I’ve never written at length about Van Brocklin, but I explained last year why I rank Jurgensen ahead of Fouts, Kelly, etc. Jurgensen (1957-74) and Unitas (1956-73) were contemporaries, but Jurgensen’s TD/INT differential (+66) is substantially better than Johnny U’s (+37). How do we rank Unitas in the top 4 (as most people did) and Jurgensen off the list entirely (as most people did)? In terms of career shape (not playing style), Jurgensen is VERY similar to Steve Young. Both spent years backing up an established Hall of Famer, and both had some trouble staying healthy once they got the starting job. But when they were on the field, they were marvelous. For this exercise, more people ranked Young in the top 8 than Sonny in the top 25. I just don’t think that holds up to any scrutiny, at all.

      • Of those four, Layne is the only one I omitted, but I definitely know who he was, he just seems…well, Namath-y to me. (Sorry Chase!) You can put him in the top 25 but he is more top 30-35 for me.

        His efficiency numbers don’t match up with Baugh or Luckman, who played in an earlier time period. That might be an unfair standard, but they don’t match up with some of his contemporaries–such as Van Brocklin or Tittle–either. And a lot of his lore, just the stories handed down, comes from the “just win baby” attitude (that, and the amazement that a guy who drank that much could show up when it was time to play)…even though in 3 championship games and one tiebreaker playoff he was, I just found out, actually pretty terrible (good thing everyone’s rings hero Graham was 2-15 with 2 picks in ’53! but Layne got back at him the next year): http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/L/LaynBo00/gamelog/post/

        • I understand that reasoning, hscer, but it seems like you’re an exception: someone who knows about Layne and consciously decided, for logical reasons, to leave him out. That said, I’d like to defend Layne.

          You compared his efficiency to other HOF QBs, which isn’t necessarily the standard we want to use. Should we leave Elway out of the Hall because his efficiency was worse than Montana, Marino, Kelly, etc? Layne comes out well ahead of contemporaries like Conerly and Rote, both of whom are sometimes mentioned as HOF candidates. We shouldn’t debit him too much simply for being the weakest of the HOFers.

          And focusing on passing efficiency leaves out two real strengths of Layne’s: volume and rushing. In the mid-50s, Layne was a tremendously high-impact passer; from 1951-58, Layne led all passers in GS, attempts, completions, yards, and TDs. I’m cherry-picking those dates, but (1) it doesn’t change much if you just use the ’50s as a whole, and (2) Layne had fewer great years than Van Brocklin and Tittle. In their primes, they were probably about equal (especially if you adjust for NVB’s fantastic receiving corps), and an argument against Layne is partly a case in favor of longevity. That’s certainly a valid position, but I’m not sure it’s what you were going for.

          The other consideration is that Layne was a successful runner. In the ’52 and ’53 championship seasons, he averaged 31.4 yds/gm, over 500 in a 16-game season. An extra 250 yards a season, in the ’50s, was a fairly big deal, and it has to factor into our evaluation.

          You’re right about the nature of contemporary accounts: many people seem as impressed with Layne’s personality as his play. But (as with Namath) it’s easy to focus too much on that. Layne carried a Lions offense with relatively few weapons (compared to CLE, LA, SF, BAL), won multiple championships, and led the Steelers to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. I hate to buy into the ‘winner’ trope, but Layne brought success everywhere he played. Paul Brown called Layne “the best third-down quarterback in the game”.

          You’ve obviously given the matter some consideration, and I think your position is reasonable, but I’m not sure you’ve given Layne the credit he deserves.

          • I certainly don’t know enough to argue against Layne too stringently and I really appreciate your post and defense of him. It’s always nice to hear more about the greats of the (relatively) olden days.

            Conerly’s career efficiency stats are actually better than Layne’s, if marginally–the AY/A difference is 0.1 in favor of Conerly, for example; but the completion percentage variance pushes Conerly’s rating up more relative to Layne. (And yes, he didn’t throw as much, almost a thousand fewer attempts than Layne.) Rote’s stats are pretty pedestrian.

            I probably would consider Layne the best among him, Conerly and Rote if we had ranked the top 40. Rote probably wouldn’t crack it for me–do I get a Tobin Rote defense now? 🙂

            I didn’t realize how good a runner Layne was so that and his volume would probably force me to rank him above Conerly. Nevertheless it’s a shame that not beating Unitas in 1958 is likely the biggest reason Conerly (has) missed out on the Hall.

            I wonder how many of Layne’s interceptions came on third and long, when a pick downfield is no worse a result than a two-yard pass. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d take the check down 😉

            • Good catch on Conerly’s AY/A; I was only looking at the ’50s (Layne 5.54, Conerly 5.34) and assumed Layne’s lead would hold up. No Tobin Rote defense — though I think “pretty pedestrian” is too harsh — but I’ll be happy to shoot down your Conerly sympathies if needed! I don’t believe we need the 5th-best QB from a 12-team league in Canton. Neither Conerly nor Rote would make my top 40.

              Okay, actually, I changed my mind on a Rote defense — but mostly just to be argumentative; I think you’re right that he’s not top-40. That said, Rote was top-10 in career passing yards upon his retirement, and he was a brilliant runner. He was genuinely outstanding in 1956, and he quarterbacked multiple championship wins (for two different teams, which some of the commenters here get really excited about), plus he played great in both championship games (6 pass TD, 2 rush TD, teams scored 110 pts). Underrated player. There! I hope I’ve not taken advantage of your tolerance for friendly disagreement.

              • Well, I was looking at Rote’s sub-100 Rate+ and AY/A+ stats (which can’t beat guys like Ed Brown’s or Billy Wade’s–two decent QB’s that I’ve heard of, but don’t belong in a Top 60 discussion) when I said that. It’s interesting how he went from out of the NFL for 3 years to AFL star, which might say something about where the AFL still was in 1963. And you can’t really play up Rote’s playoff performances too much while brushing aside Layne’s 1-12 TD-INT ratio in the postseason, can you? 😛

                Well okay then on Conerly…I can buy that, although then it goes from “a shame” to “quite silly” that a single loss, after leading late in the fourth quarter (which, if it’s just not NY media sour grapes, might have been a win if the spot on Gifford’s run on the Marchetti injury really was that bad), to one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in the most famous game of all time is all that barely kept him out of the Hall.

                • Three points about Rote:

                  1. Billy Wade was pretty good. He wouldn’t make my top 60, but he’d be close.

                  2. Rate stats are only part of the analysis. Rote just plain threw a lot, which merits some level of credit, and he was an outstanding runner, maybe the best running QB until Cunningham and Young. That’s a huge part of his legacy, and it’s not included in passer rating or AY/A.

                  3. My case for Rote is hardly based on his performance in two games, but I do think it’s in his favor. Eight TDs was a pretty good half a season, and that doesn’t show up in his regular-season numbers. It certainly doesn’t hurt his case.

  • James

    We have two pieces of information here for each player – aggregate number of points and top 25 votes – which means we can see how many points per top 25 vote each player received. For most players it won’t make much of a difference as number of ballots and ranking on those ballots should be highly correlated, but it might be revealing if we find some players were systematically over/under ranked.

    For example, Warren Moon and Sid Luckman are ranked #20 and 21 by points, but Moon was on 11 more ballots than Luckman. When you control for the number of ballots, Luckman jumps up to 18 while Moon drops all the way to 26. While you could argue this is related to dominance versus longevity, my guess is the difference is largely recency bias; more people know of Moon so he found his way onto the bottom of more ballots.

    The only other changes in the Top 20 were Otto Graham and Aaron Rodgers moving up two spots each, and Brees and Baugh switching spots. That makes sense as the top players were on most ballots so they can’t be affected much, although my guess is recency *hurt* Rodgers among non-voters because his career isn’t over yet.

    Outside the Top 20 is where things get interesting. Norm Van Brocklin moves from 25 to 21, which I think speaks to Chase’s point about his relatively lack of legacy. Those who remember him value him disproportionately more. Same for Brodie, Lamonica, and McNair (!) who moved up 6, 5, and 4 places. That said, Len Dawson, YA Tittle, and Bobby Layne saw the opposite, all falling 4-5 places and I don’t have a good explanation why.

    Three modern QBs fell 6 spots each: Rivers, Romo, and Cunningham. While they all made a decent number of ballots, almost all of their votes were in the 20s. Along with Layne they are the only ones to appear on between 10 and 30 ballots, indicating they were popular choices among people trying to round out their ballots.

    Only two players moved more than 6 places: Phil Simms flew 10 spots from 40 to 30, and Eli Manning rocketed up *14* spots from 37 to 23. I think it’s clear what they have in common that caused the disconnect from the non-voters, and it’s not that they both played for the Giants.

    • Great stuff.

    • Adam Steele

      I agree that recency bias probably led to higher ballot counts for a number of modern QB’s. There were a handful of comments basically saying, “I could only think of 20 great QB’s, so I just filled in the other slots with players I like or remember.” A couple people voted for Cunningham specifically because he was exciting to watch, and several others gave sympathy votes to Romo and/or Rivers for being generally unappreciated. Not saying that’s bad, but it definitely biases the sample for those players. I was also quite surprised how many ballots listed Warren Moon; other than gaudy counting stats, and being somewhat of a pioneer for black QB’s, I don’t really see his claim to greatness.

      There’s a recognizable trend with the older QB’s – their votes are spread out the most evenly. Look at how uniform the distributions are for Baugh and Luckman in particular. This tells me that people didn’t really know what to do with them, so they just slotted them in randomly. Conversely, the modern players’ votes tend to resemble a normal distrubtion, indicating more certainty in where to rank them.

      Rodgers is kind of a wild card. Some voters ranked him stricly by what he’s done so far, while others boosted him up for his projected value in the future. Personally, I had a harder time with Rodgers than anyone else, because I could legitimately see him finishing his career in the top three or even the GOAT. But I also can’t assume that will happen, because a lot can change in the next 10 years.
      Thanks for the insightful comment!

      • I almost left Moon off, and I think I probably did give him some credit for the pioneering. Anderson and Kelly were my 26 and 27 and I think Moon probably was better than Kelly (equally efficient over a much larger sample) but not necessarily Anderson.

        Also, Moon’s postseason stats do not match up with his record (Anderson’s don’t either but Moon played in almost twice as many postseasons)…64% completions and a 5.63 ANY/A are actually pretty decent for the 1987-94 time frame and should not probably not have led to a 3-7 record. I mean, his defense couldn’t hold a 35-3 lead in one of those games! By comparison, Kelly had a 5.55 ANY/A, basically the same as Moon, but went 9-8 in the playoffs, and of course Reich basically got him one of his famed SB appearances with the aforementioned comeback.

        If Baugh and Luckman were playing today, there would be a *huge* fuss about their head to head records. And Baugh never had a Halas, much like Manning never had a Belichick. I like my Baugh placement but I don’t know about Luckman; he could be higher or lower.

        • Adam Steele

          I see Warren Moon as the 90’s version of Matthew Stafford. Both put up big passing yardage in QB friendly offenses, decent but not great efficiency, but always a couple rungs below the best QB’s in the league. I’d give Moon an edge because he didn’t have Calvin Johnson, but that’s the closest comp I can think of.

          I’m not sure how to reconcile Moon’s playoff stats with his poor record. Scott Kacsmar has noted that Anderson’s playoff numbers were inflated by garbage time stat padding, so maybe thats’s also the case with Moon.

          That’s a great analagy comparing Baugh to Manning and Luckman to Brady. FWIW, I ranked Baugh five spots ahead of Luckman because of the Halas factor. In retrospect, I should’ve put Baugh even higher.

          • Moon feels like, and certainly was, a 90’s QB, but his NFL career began in ’84…he was around forever! He had a couple rough years at the beginning, but did pull off an 11-year, 147-start stretch with a 111 ANY/A+…that’s a decent “prime” for your age 31-41 seasons! Stafford feels like a decent comparison, but will he still be around in 2030?

            I came up with Baugh:Luckman::Manning:Brady on my own a couple weeks ago, then found out a Denver sportswriter got there first. It’s not a perfect analogy but I think it works pretty well.

            • Adam Steele

              Time to visit Moon’s PFR page and educate myself.

              • sn0mm1s

                I was debating between him, Cunningham, and Van Brocklin for #25 on my list. I went with Cunningham over Moon because I liked watching Cunningham play and Moon lost to San Diego in 2000 preventing SD’s perfect season. I attended that game and was bitter that the perfect season was ruined. I was hoping to see a bit of history and instead Ryan Leaf got a 1pt win.

          • And I just checked it Moon’s postseasons in a little more detail. Used just PFR so I don’t know how much time remained when various scores occurred. But the results surprised even me.

            In 1989, he had a 29-48-315-2-0 in a 26-23 playoff loss to the Steelers. The Oilers trailed 16-9 before Moon threw 2 4th quarter TD’s, but Pittsburgh came back and won in overtime.

            In 1991, Moon had a 27-36-325-3-1 in a 26-24 playoff loss to Denver. Houston blew a 24-16 fourth quarter lead.

            1992 of course featured the Reich comeback. Moon posted a 36-50-371-4-2.

            And in 1993 vs. Montana’s Chiefs, Moon posted a 32-43-306-1-1 in a 28-20 loss. Houston led just 10-7 to start the fourth and extended it to 13-7 before two Montana touchdown passes gave Kansas City a 21-13 lead. Moon threw a 7 yard TD to get within one, but a Marcus Allen run clinched the game for the Chiefs.

            There’s 4 of his 7 losses–his best statistically and 3 of the 4 closest losses. The other games were a 24-43-264-1-2 in a 34-10 loss, a 17-33-240-0-1 in a 17-10 loss, and 29-52-292-2-2 in a 35-18 defeat.

          • Moon joined a horrible Oilers team. Houston was 5th from the bottom in ANY/A in ’82, in the bottom 3 in ANY/A in ’83, then actually slightly above average in Moon’s rookie year in ’84.

            But from ’87 to ’95, he was really, really good.


            And that was at ages 31-39. His arm was unreal, and he had a lot of
            success when the team around him improved. Had Moon played with a good
            team in his 20s, I think his numbers would have been quite impressive. And as for coaching, well, Moon got stuck with a pair of DCs in Glanville and Pardee.

            • Young with a 133 on that table–Warner ’99 and Rodgers ’14 level, but in 2400 attempts. Stoopid.

            • Moon had a 109 ANY/A+ at age 41. Over 528 attempts. He had some good players around him (Joey Galloway, near-the-end Chris Warren, rookie Walter Jones, Kevin Mawae), but that’s still one of the more impressive achievements of any NFL QBs.

            • Adam Steele

              I have to be honest – I did not realize Moon was that consistently good for almost a decade. Definitely better than Stafford 🙂

          • Steve

            I had Baugh higher, but it should be noted that Baugh did have Ray Flaherty as his HC for a while. He maybe wasn’t Halas, but he was no slouch. Very innovative.

          • Preston

            Rodgers as the GOAT? How? Just explain

            • Adam Steele

              Who is saying that?

            • Travis Jones

              How about because he is the highest rated passer as well as having the highest ANY/A of all time? Coupled with the general consensus that he is either one of or the single greatest pure thrower of the football, with the greatest combined arm strength/accuracy ever seen? Passes the eye test, passes the number check, must be something there…

              • Richie

                I am a Rodgers fan, but I am getting concerned that he may be heading down the Peyton Manning path of “struggles in big games”.

  • Bart Starr and Otto Graham have votes in 24 different places (counting that some left them off the ballot).

  • sacramento gold miners

    Great topic, but we should also realize, just like in all sports, no statistical analysis alone can ever determine this type of ranking. In addition, it’s extremely difficult to rate QBs most of us have either never seen play live, or very limited film exists of these players. It would also be interesting to ask the participants in this study how many of these QBs they saw live as well. I didn’t have time to put together a ranking, but my opinions have never involved a player’s personality. We should also not discount the importance of the postseason, because that’s fair game, and winning will always be the primary objective in sports.

    Looking at the rankings, I would have had Montana and Unitas at 1-2, there’s no doubt in my mind they would have put together video game-like numbers in today’s game. Peyton Manning’s postseason problems are a real issue, and I can’t rank a QB as the best ever who also struggles in cold weather. Brady’s also on the short list, but there are still valid questions about the legitimacy of three of his rings, especially when you combine the hasty NFL investigation with the fact New England was also taping preseason games during the Spygate era. It certainly raises the real possibility the Pats taped the Super Bowl practices of the Rams, Panthers, and Eagles. The other aspect which hurts Brady is his mediocre performance in the 2008 Super Bowl. I don’t think the # 3 rated QB in history would blow the chance for a perfect season under those circumstances.

    Don’t understand the rationale for ranking Ken Anderson(a borderline HOF candidate) ahead of Ben Roethlisberger(a HOF lock if he retires tomorrow). Also, I would rate Ken Stabler over Tony Romo at this point. Right now, Romo is Donovan McNabb without a SB appearance.

    • Richie

      “It would also be interesting to ask the participants in this study how many of these QBs they saw live as well.”

      I bet the median age of list submitters is somewhere around 35. That means half the people never saw these players in their primes:
      Montana, Fouts, Unitas, Graham, Staubach, Tarkenton, Baugh, Starr, Bradshaw, Luckman, Anderson, Dawson and Van Brocklin. That’s 13 of the top 25.

    • Adam Steele

      Roethlisberger has played with far better defenses than Anderson. If Anderson had the 2008 Steelers D behind him, I’ll bet he wins a ring. Or the Steel Curtain, they were pretty good, too.

      I disagree with your comparison of McNabb and Romo. McNabb was not very accurate, and especially struggled with intermediate throws. Romo is a more complete QB, whose only real weakness is his propensity for the occassional boneheaded decision. McNabb’s Eagles generally had better defenses than Romo’s Cowboys, and almost certainly better coaching. The `01-`03 Eagles were defensive oriented teams with average offenses; only the 2004 team was led by the passing game.

      • Agreed that it’s silly to compare rings with Roethlisberger and Anderson given the defenses.

        As for McNabb: it’s worth remembering that he played with some of the worst receiving groups in the NFL. From ’00 to ’03, his receivers were James Thrash and Todd Pinkston. McNabb did have a couple of great ANY/A years, and he was always good at avoiding INTs. I don’t think McNabb is HOF-worthy, but I think he was a really good quarterback.

        • Adam Steele

          True, his wide receivers were terrible before T.O. arrived. However, I think that’s somewhat balanced out by having Westbrook catching passes out of the backfield – one of the best checkdown targets of all time. I also don’t put much stock in his INT avoidance, partially because it just doesn’t make sense. Like Flacco, he was erratic and threw deep a lot but somehow managed to avoid the INT. I know he maintained that for most of his career, but it always struck me as more luck than skill. I give McNabb more credit for his early career scrambling ability than his low turnover rate. All things considered, I’d rank him about 40th all-time.

          • Adam, I think you’re misremembering McNabb’s career. You can’t possibly dismiss his INT% — one of the best in NFL history — as a fluke. The numbers stabilize before 5,000 attempts. I don’t think 40th is a terrible ranking (I have him around 30-35), but “erratic and threw deep a lot” is not at all how I remember McNabb. In his best seasons, he was a playmaker, single-handedly generating the offense on a team he led to back-to-back-to-back-to-back NFC Championship Games. He was 2nd in NFL MVP voting in 2000, and he looked like an MVP candidate in ’02 and ’06 before season-ending injuries. That he managed to create so many positive plays, with so few turnovers and so little help from his offensive teammates, speaks very highly of his talent.

            • Adam Steele

              Okay, calling him erratic was a bit harsh, but McNabb was not a precise passer. His completion rates were mediocre and he had a troubling habit of hitting his receivers in the feet.

              That said, he definitely was a playmaker. Perhaps early career Elway is a better comp – made plays and won games in spite of a poor supporting cast.

        • sacramento gold miners

          Understand the point about the Steelers having a better defenses than Cincinnati, but having a quality defense doesn’t assure a ring, just ask Fran Tarkenton. It’s still difficult to project a title on a QB if we change circumstances. Dan Marino didn’t have strong defenses, but his body of work is overwhelming, while Anderson’s is borderline.

          I don’t feel we should penalize a HOF bound QB who happens to play with a great defense. Griese, Staubach, Montana, and Aikman all had superb defenses, but those players still had to produce. In 2008, Big Ben had a meager running game, yet still pulled off comeback wins, including the Super Bowl, when the defense made a big mistake on the Larry Fitzgerald TD.

          If we look at non SB winning QBs, it still looks like Anderson has a weaker case. So yes, it seems weird to have a borderline HOF candidate ahead of a HOF lock like Roethlisberger. Big Ben has been better for a longer period of time, and has been a key part of the Steelers success. Anderson did have his playoff opportunities, and just didn’t capitalize on enough of those games.

          • Steve

            Meager running game and arguably the poorest overall o-line of any SB winner

  • Thanks for running this Adam!

    That’s basically a statistical tie for first, really…

    • In fact it was so close to a tie that had the intentional non-vote from poster alias “hawk” counted, Montana would take over #1 even if he had put Manning 10 spots higher.

      • Adam Steele

        Actually, any of the three deleted ballots would have swung the outcome if they had counted. Sighs relief…

    • Adam Steele

      It was my pleasure, hscer. Thanks for being engaged throughout the process!

  • Andrew Healy

    In the long run, I do fear that the general discussion (not just stats-inclined) will treat Manning only a little more kindly than Marino, assuming he gets no more rings. That’s completely unfair, of course, but Marino has been fading and Montana only elevating over time. Thought experiment I’d like to do: What does Marino’s ring total look like – and where does he end up historically – if he has the above average defense almost every year, as Montana did? By SRS, the Dolphins had a below-average defense eleven years in a row in the heart of his career (1986-1996).

    • Richie

      Also, Marino’s lack of running game. This may be a chicken-egg thing, but here are the top rushing seasons for Miami during Marino’s career. How many of the top-25 QB’s have had this much trouble running the ball?

      Player Year Att Yards Y/A
      Karim Abdul-Jabbar 1996 307 1116 3.64
      Karim Abdul-Jabbar 1998 270 960 3.56
      Mark Higgs 1992 256 915 3.57
      Mark Higgs 1991 231 905 3.92
      Karim Abdul-Jabbar 1997 283 892 3.15
      Bernie Parmalee 1995 236 878 3.72
      Bernie Parmalee 1994 216 868 4.02
      Sammie Smith 1990 226 831 3.68
      Lorenzo Hampton 1986 186 830 4.46
      Andra Franklin 1983 224 746 3.33
      Mark Higgs 1993 186 693 3.73
      Tony Nathan 1983 151 685 4.54
      Tony Nathan 1985 143 667 4.66
      Sammie Smith 1989 200 659 3.30
      Troy Stradford 1987 145 619 4.27
      Woody Bennett 1984 144 606 4.21
      J.J. Johnson 1999 164 558 3.40
      Tony Nathan 1984 118 558 4.73
      John Avery 1998 143 503 3.52

      • I think there is definitely a chicken and egg dilemma regarding Marino’s running games. How much is direct (Marino) or indirect (Shula) is the real question.

        • sn0mm1s

          There is also the thought of – does it really matter? Plenty of guys have won with poor, unspectacular, or ineffective running games.

          • Adam Steele

            I agree with you on this. Running games are a bonus, but not a necessity, for great QB play. Besides, RB performance tends to heavily regress toward the mean, so most teams will end up pretty close to average over a 3-5 year span. Now, Marino really did have less running help than most QB’s, but I think his defenses were the real problem.

          • Steve

            Including Montana and Brady

      • PTP

        When one of your best running backs was a delivery truck guy at FedEx or UPS or whatever, you make a strong point 🙂

      • Andrew Healy

        That is quite a list. It is amazing how bad his supporting cast was all around from 1986 on. I don’t remember it super well, but I want to say the Marks dropped a lot of balls.

    • sn0mm1s

      I think Manning will get treated a little better than Marino – but I think he will fade a bit if he doesn’t win another ring. TBH, I don’t know how he garnered so many 1st place votes. On most other sites I frequent he is well behind Montana and Brady and it isn’t really close.

      Marino is the only QB that gets a pass from me due to the below average D during his physical prime. Still, poor D or not, I would think that he would make a few more SB appearances since he played in the AFC.

      • Adam Steele

        Interesting trend: There were far more #1 votes for Manning during the first few days, but by the end the favor had shifted almost entirely to Montana and Brady. I would theorize that FBP regulars mostly voted early, and they tend to be pro-Manning. Then, once the link from FO was created, more traditional minded fans gave their votes to Montana and Brady.

      • jarrett

        he also had absolutely no running game. Name one running back that played with him?

        • sn0mm1s

          The running game is pretty irrelevant. Plenty of guys have won with no running game and there isn’t a single RB to ever lead a team through the regular season and postseason. RB is a glory position – but not all that important.

  • Young being ahead of Favre here, and easily, might be the push I need to put Young above Favre on my own lists, which I want to do anyway. But as one person pointed out, Favre’s longevity edge is just *so* huge. And Favre pulling off that 2009 season at that age has to moderate, at least some extent, the image of him just compiling counting stats in the last 10 or so years of his career.

    • Kibbles

      From 1991-1994, Steve Young’s ANY/A+ figures were 140, 142, 133, and 143. That’s B-A-N-A-N-A-S. For comparison, in Favre’s back-to-back-to-back MVP seasons, his ANY/A+ was 130, 121, and 120. That’s a four-year run where Steve Young was basically 2007 Tom Brady / 2013 Peyton Manning in terms of passing efficiency. And, oh yeah, he was also rushing for the equivalent of 450 yards and 4.5 TDs per 16 games during that run. There have been 25 seasons in history where a QB has posted 8.0+ ANY/A. Steve Young did it three times in four years. If you look at straight AY/A, Young led the league in 6 of the next 7 seasons after earning the starting job in 1991.

      I don’t believe there has ever been a quarterback who has sustained anywhere near the level of dominance over a multi-year stretch as Steve Young did in San Francisco. And again, that’s strictly as a passer, with all of his rushing production just serving as gravy. Sure, he didn’t have the longevity of a Brett Favre, but I find it hard to fault a guy who struggled to beat out Joe Montana when he was young and whose career was ended early by concussions. But for a glorious 8-year run after he stole the reins, Young was untouchable.

      As far as I’m concerned, it’s Young- and not Joe Montana- who stands as the best quarterback in San Francisco history. And were it not for the record-destroying robot that is Peyton Manning (whose peak was not quite as high, but who managed to sustain it for an even more impossible-to-believe length), Young would have been #1 on my list with a bullet.

  • snoth cambin

    I didnt know people loved Bledsoe that much.

    • Adam Steele

      I’d guess Bledsoe’s votes were a result of people scanning the all time passing yardage chart. That’s literally the only thing he has going for him.

      Bledsoe’s career VALUE is an ugly -788, including eight seasons with negative value.

      • I was passingly (so to speak) familiar with Bledsoe’s playoff stats, but that 10-21-102-1-0 performance in relief of Brady was actually at least Bledsoe’s second-best playoff game, maybe even his best! Crazy.

        • Wow. I don’t know if I had ever looked at Bledsoe’s playoff stats before. That is one ugly collection of games.

      • Not the ONLY thing. I mean, the man’s middle name is McQueen. And . . . okay that’s about it.

      • I don’t get any of the Bledsoe love. Testaverde was a superior quarterback, and I think a rich man’s version of him even though that doesn’t appear to be how they are remembered.

        • Bledsoe-Mirer is a less extreme form of Manning-Leaf…OK, that shouldn’t play into it at all, and probably doesn’t ;p

        • Adam Steele

          Yes, Testaverde was the better player, especially when you account for supporting cast. He was also the rare player to be productive at age 40.

          I wonder if Bledsoe is remembered more favorably simply because he played the majority of his career in mega markets like Boston and Dallas, while Vinny was stuck in the no-man’s lands of Tampa and Cleveland.

          • David Condon

            Bledsoe played 1 and a third seasons in Dallas. Testaverde played 1 season in Dallas. Was Boston a mega market when Bledsoe was playing? I figure the Giants would’ve had the bulk of their fans back then kinda like Houston can’t compete with Dallas even though that’s also technically a huge market.

            • People in NE hate NY (City) teams. It goes back to the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry (or to a lesser extent Bruins/Rangers). I suspect if there hadn’t been a local team, the Bills not the Giants would be the favorite in the area. NE may be a “small” market compared to NY, but it is much more cohesive. Root for the home team or root against the NY team, it’s the same thing.

        • someguy

          Bledsoe love is all about his home market. He was the starting QB for Patriot teams that went to the playoffs 4 times in five years, unprecedented at the time in the teams history. He was not only famous, but good, during that time. According to approximate value he was the MVP of the team in 3 of those 4 years. A lot of people in New England become fans of the Patriots, or football in general, in large part because of Bledsoe.

          • The Bledsoe love is probably significantly about his “home” market (especially NE, which is everything N of some town in CT and E of the NY border). Before Bledsoe, the Pats were an iffy playoff team at best. Bledsoe made the team contenders. Watching him play was especially revealing. Yes, he could hold onto the ball too long and end up getting sacked, but he did so because we was trying to make plays, which he often did. I think it is worth noting that Parcells (a generally well-respected coach) took Bledsoe with him to Dallas, as he was trying to rebuild the Cowboys. (Although I have always been a fan of the Broncos, because I was living in NE at the time, he made the Patriots worth watching.) Remember that Brady got his chance only because Bledsoe was injured, before that Bledsoe had a lock on the starting QB position. So, people who respect Brady have to recall that at one time Bledsoe was considered the better QB.

            Just be glad Doug Flutie, another NE favorite, wasn’t a reasonable candidate. If the list had be the top 50, I’m sure he would have gotten nominations also.

  • Alex Oalor

    This entire article is a joke.

    2 people didn’t vote for Manning or Montana in the top 10
    6 people didn’t vote for Brady or Unitas in the top 10.
    9 people didn’t put Marino in the top 10.

    Split hairs on who the best QB of all-time is, but the fact remains that the ballots turned in include the above facts, it really destroys any credibility this blog post has.

    • Richie

      Hi Alex,

      This is a wisdom of crowds experiment. I’m not sure the blog post loses credibility. The post even explains that this is wisdom of crowds. The idea is to get the opinions of many people to see what rankings the consensus provides.

      Do you see anything terribly out of line with the overall ratings here? That’s the idea of wisdom of crowds. The crazy people who exclude Montana from their top 10 are mostly canceled out by the crazy people that exclude Manning. So you end up with a list that, I think, provides a decent picture of who the best QB’s are. Though discussion in this thread points out that guys like Van Brocklin, Tittle, Layne and Luckman may be rated a little lower than they should. We may have done better if we had gotten more 70+ year olds to vote.

      (I’d be curious what the median age of pollsters was. I’m guessing 30-35.)

      • Bryan Frye

        Full disclosure here: I’m 30. I didn’t see NVB, Tittle, Layne, or Luckman play; but I have studied NFL history for several years now. I had a rationale for where I put (or didn’t put) each of those cats. I would like to think other people around my age did too.

        • Bryan, I think you had one of the best ballots in this exercise; it’s clear that you took the process seriously, and I think you did a pretty good job trying to evaluate older players.

          Do you feel comfortable, though, that 7 of your top 25 all-time QBs are still playing, with two more recently retired? Four of your top six played while you were in high school. Also, since you specifically mention “the lack of racial integration in the NFL prior to 1952”, but no black QBs made your list, I’m curious whether you feel like Warren Moon was overrated.

          I’m just curious, and you seem good at explaining your process.

          • Bryan Frye

            1. Yes, I feel comfortable with that.
            2. I think the question of Moon being overrated depends on the person/people doing the rating. I have him in my top 30, and he probably would have been higher if he didn’t have to waste so many years in Canada. However, he did, so tough luck for Moon. I’m sure he’s not losing any sleep over my ranking of him. If you’ve read CHFF, you’d see that Kerry Byrne doesn’t think Moon belongs in the HOF at all. I think he, and the people who agree with him, underrate Moon. I’ve heard other people say he wouldn’t be in the HOF if he was white. I think his numbers are near the bottom as far as HOFQBs go, but they are definitely still worthy. I guess what I’m saying is…it depends.

            • Byrne probably just sees “3-7” when he sees “Warren Moon” and doesn’t care how he got there.

          • sn0mm1s

            Racial integration really didn’t happen until much later. It wasn’t until 1962 that the Redskins even had a single black player on their team (Bobby Mitchell) and I wouldn’t call that integration across the league. Green Bay’s 1962 Championshipt team photo:


            Here is their 2012 photo:


            That is a significant difference.

            • Bryan Frye

              George Marshall seemed like a great guy.

      • sn0mm1s

        The problem is that the article shouldn’t have said it was a wisdom of crowds study and then detailed the scoring system. Too much bias is introduced when that happens as it encourages people to try to manipulate their lists to make sure their guy/guys climb the rankings. I would also argue that it should’ve asked for names only – no commentary. Commentary should be for after the results are tallied. Have you ever checked out PFR’s elo rater? It is more or less the same sort of thing and it takes very little manipulation to cause a dramatic change in the rankings. Given just a little bit of time I could probably get Buzz Nutter to be ranked the GOAT.

        • Actually the ELO rater is a decent comparison, although it’s done via head-to-head comparisons–but the ranking there does constantly make some very dramatic shifts.

    • Passer rating identified Brian Griese as the league’s best passer in 2000. In 1995, going by ANY/A would rank Erik Kramer, Jim Harbaugh, Scott Mitchell and Neil O’Donnell higher than Dan Marino, John Elway, or Steve Young.

      Fluky data points don’t make those stats invalid (okay…per se, at least, anti-rating people) and they don’t make this survey invalid.

      (By the way, I can’t help but wonder: did you up-vote your own post by accident or on purpose?)

    • As Richie indicated, in a Wisdom of Crowds experiment, the “outlier” votes tend to cancel each other out. Thank you for stopping by, although I am sorry to hear that you found this to be a joke. Would you mind letting us know what a non-joke list of the greatest 25 QBs of all time would look like?

  • The Awful Truth

    I think Moon is probably rated too high for two reasons.
    First, the man was one of the worst fumbling QBs ever. Take his two best two years. In 1990 he threw 33 TDs vs 13 ints which looks really sweet– but he had 18 fumbles. In 1995 he was 33/14 in TD/ints – but with 13 fumbles. I think this has to knock him out of the top 20.
    Second, the run and shoot seriously inflates his yardage stats. Accumulated yardage is the biggest reason for Moon getting into the HOF and the run and shoot jacks up yardage like no system before it.
    On the other hand Moon’s playoff woes are probably also due to the run and shoot which was abandoned in its pure form because it was seen as not good in bad weather and unable to hold a lead.

  • nobodyaskedbut .

    Graham is by a large margin the greatest of all-time. He and his coaches Paul Brown (also the GOAT) and asst. coach Blanton Collier invented the modern T-formation offense which is still used today. They had nobody to copy. Graham could and did do everything on offense. He STILL holds the all-time record for rushing TDs by a pro QB with 44. He won FIVE STRAIGHT League title games (6 if you count the 35-10 win over the 2-time defending champion Eagles in Philly in the Browns’ 1st game NFL game in 1950). After that 1st season the Browns were not very popular around the NFL. Opponents were often allowed to take liberties in their physical treatment of Graham. Despite this Graham and the Browns still dominated the league. Graham led them to TWO 11-1 seasons and six straight title games including 2 more title wins. He led his league in passer rating in 5 of the 10 seasons he played and his yds/per/att career ave is an astounding all-time record of 9.0. Most coaches agree that this stat is the most telling single passing statistic. As far as playing on a “real good” team goes every highly successful QB played on a real good team. In terms of top individual performance AND high team success goes Graham’s career clearly combined the two better that any other QB in history.

  • Dustin Cobb

    I think its #1 bart starr stats or not when he threw he was better than anyone. Plus lombardi didnt have starr play every game all 14 seasons. He liked to show weakness when actually he had the best qb.
    #2 johny unitas
    #3 fran tarkenton
    #4 joe montana
    #5 brady