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Brad Oremland is a longtime commenter and a fellow football historian. Brad is also a senior NFL writer at Sports Central. There are few who have given as much thought to the history of quarterbacks and quarterback ranking systems as Brad has over the years. What follows is Brad’s latest work on the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Part I: Pre-Modern Era
Part II: 49-101
Part III: 40-48
Part IV: 31-39
Part V: 21-30
Part VI: 11-20
Part VII: 6-10
Part VIII: 1-5

This week, I’m profiling the players who rank 11-20 on my list, counting down toward number one. Please note: at this point, we’re talking about the best of the best QBs. When I mention a player’s weaknesses, I’m not trying to insult him, just explaining why he doesn’t rate even higher.

20. Y.A. Tittle
Baltimore Colts, 1948-50; San Francisco 49ers, 1951-60; New York Giants, 1961-64
33,070 yards, 242 TD, 248 INT, 74.3 rating

Y.A. Tittle retired as the all-time leader in passing yards and passing TDs. Those are holy marks, passed from Tittle to Johnny Unitas, then to Fran Tarkenton and Dan Marino, on to Brett Favre and now on their way to Peyton Manning. Tittle led the NFL in passing touchdowns three times — including 36 in 1963, a record that lasted more than 20 years.

Tittle made four Pro Bowls with the 49ers, but his Hall of Fame legacy was cemented in New York, where Tittle led the Giants to three straight NFL Championship Games from 1961-63. The most important all-pro teams in the early ’60s were the United Press and Associated Press. UP named Tittle NFL MVP in ’62, and AP named him NFL MVP in ’63. He was a consensus all-pro both years.

There’s a comparison to be drawn between Tittle, whose Giants lost three straight NFL Championship Games, and Jim Kelly, whose Buffalo Bills lost four straight title games in the early ’90s.1 I prefer Tittle because he played longer and had more outstanding seasons. And Tittle, although he wasn’t particularly mobile, was an excellent goal-line runner, who scored 39 rushing TDs — third-most of any QB in history.

I’ve ranked Tittle higher than this in the past. He was a good player for the Colts in the ’40s, he was good for the Niners in the ’50s, and he was sensational with the Giants in the ’60s. He was a top-10 QB for most of his 17-season career. But being a top-10 quarterback in the 1950s wasn’t really anything special. That was a 12-team league, so the sixth-best QB was just average. A closer look reveals that Tittle only had about seven really good seasons. That’s why Tittle doesn’t rank higher — but he played forever, made six Pro Bowls and three all-pro teams, and set important single-season and career records.

19. Terry Bradshaw
Pittsburgh Steelers, 1970-83
27,989 yards, 212 TD, 210 INT, 70.9 rating

In his first five seasons in the NFL, Terry Bradshaw never had a passer rating above 65. In the remaining nine, he was never below 65. Bradshaw is in the Hall of Fame because of what he did at his best, and if you get too caught up in his poor rookie season (6 TD, 24 INT, 30.4 rating), you’ll never understand why Bradshaw was so celebrated.2

Bradshaw led the NFL in yards per attempt and touchdowns twice each, and he was NFL MVP in 1978. He was a big-play quarterback, the greatest downfield passer of his generation. He was also an active and effective runner. Bradshaw rushed more often (as a percentage of his plays) than Fran Tarkenton, retiring with 2,257 yards and 32 TDs. In NFL history, only John Elway and Steve Young have more passing TDs and more rushing TDs than Bradshaw.

Bradshaw also has one of the most impressive big-game résumés in history. In his years as starter, the Steelers won four Super Bowls, with Bradshaw collecting two Super Bowl MVP awards. Bradshaw’s passer rating was above 100 in each of his four Super Bowls, with a collective rating of 112.8. He also had a statistical perfect game in a 1976 playoff win over the Colts: 14-of-18 for 264 yards and 3 TDs, earning the maximum 158.3 passer rating.3

This ranking is limited by Bradshaw’s relatively low number of productive seasons. He only made three Pro Bowls — the fewest for any modern Hall of Fame quarterback — and his career passing totals, while good, don’t really stand out. He also played with a Hall of Fame center, HOF running back, two HOF receivers, a Hall of Fame coach, and the best defense of all time. Bradshaw was a key player on Pittsburgh’s championship teams, but he wouldn’t have won those Super Bowls playing for the Patriots or Falcons.

18. Bart Starr
Green Bay Packers, 1956-71
24,718 yards, 152 TD, 138 INT, 80.5 rating

Bart Starr was a good regular season quarterback. In the playoffs, he was out of this world: five championships, including the first two Super Bowls, and a 9-1 record in playoff and championship games. His 104.8 postseason passer rating is the highest of all time (min. 125 attempts).

In the regular season, Starr was efficient. His interception percentage was particularly outstanding, and he had the highest passer rating of the 1960s, in either league. He made four Pro Bowls, he was second-team all-pro in 1962, and NFL MVP in 1966.4 He was praised for his decision-making, using audibles at the line of scrimmage and reading defenses.

What Starr does not have are impressive gross numbers. He never led the NFL in yards or TDs. Actually, his career touchdown total is the lowest of any QB who made my top 40, as is his single-season high of 16 — everyone else had at least 20. To some extent that’s just the shape of the offense: the Packers had two Hall of Fame running backs. But Starr’s passing was not the engine that drove the offense. Starr was 12th in pass attempts in the 1960s: he just didn’t throw very often.

He did, however, get sacked a lot. Starr lost the most sack yardage of any player in the ’60s. Sack data is incomplete before 1963, but it appears that Starr got sacked on 10% of his pass attempts, one of the highest rates in history. This certainly can’t be blamed on an offensive line featuring Jim Ringo, Jerry Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston, Bob Skoronski, and Forrest Gregg. Rather, Starr was reluctant to throw the ball away. That’s likely part of why his completion percentage was so high and his INT% so low: Starr took sacks when he was under pressure. That’s not always a bad strategy, but his passer rating is misleading: there are a lot of negative plays not accounted for.

Vince Lombardi called Forrest Gregg the greatest player he ever coached, and Sonny Jurgensen the best quarterback he ever saw. Bart Starr was a great player, and he rose to the occasion in big games, like no other QB in history. But he was an excellent game manager more than an outstanding playmaker.

17. Bobby Layne
Chicago Bears, 1948; New York Bulldogs, 1949; Detroit Lions, 1950-58; Pittsburgh Steelers, 1958-62
26,768 yards, 196 TD, 243 INT, 63.4 rating

Bobby Layne had no respect for curfew, but he always had the respect of his teammates. Hall of Famer Yale Lary described Layne’s leadership, “When Bobby said block, you blocked. When Bobby said drink, you drank.” But Layne’s partying never interfered with his on-field performance, and he was respected throughout the league. Rival coach Paul Brown called Layne “the best third-down quarterback in the game.”

A colorful off-field persona can be a blessing or a curse. When young fans begin to explore NFL history, their picture of Joe Namath is often as the flamboyant Broadway Joe, whose stats (173 TD, 220 INT, 65.5 rating) don’t back up his Hall of Fame reputation. Namath’s larger-than-life personality has come to define our memories of him, more so than his legendary quick release and the best deep ball of his generation. It’s easy to make the same mistake with Layne, to focus on his drinking and his wobbly passes, ignoring his arm strength, athleticism, and leadership. It’s hard to overstate Layne’s reputation as a winner. Another Hall of Fame teammate, Doak Walker, gave the most famous quote on Layne: “Bobby Layne never lost a game in his life. Time just ran out on him.”

On-field results support the idea of Layne as a guy who helped his teams win. The Lions won back-to-back NFL championships in 1952-53, and when Layne was traded to Pittsburgh, the Steelers recorded back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. Layne was an exceptional athlete. He was a brilliant pitcher in college, kicked field goals in the NFL — he led the league in scoring in 1956 — and was a highly successful runner, probably the greatest all-around, dual-threat QB of the 1950s. In the ’52 and ’53 championship seasons, he averaged 31.4 rush yards per game — on pace for over 500 yards in a 16-game season.

Ultimately, Layne rates here because of his reputation. He was all-pro four times, including first-team in 1956, and he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1967, going in ahead of contemporaries like Norm Van Brocklin and Y.A. Tittle (both 1971, and neither first-ballot). Layne was the hardest thrower of his generation, and the best runner who could also throw. He was the offensive standout on a defensive dynasty, the lone weapon on a team that seldom featured standout receivers. And most of all, Layne was admired for his guts, determination, and leadership. I’ve only seen clips of Bobby Layne; he’s before my time. But no quarterback of his era was more celebrated and respected.

16. Dan Fouts
San Diego Chargers, 1973-87
43,040 yards, 254 TD, 242 INT, 80.2 rating

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the San Diego Chargers re-wrote the record books. They called it Air Coryell, after legendary offensive coach Don Coryell, but the man who made it happen on the field was Dan Fouts. He led the NFL in passing yards four times in a row and he was voted to six Pro Bowls. He made four Associated Press all-pro teams (twice first-team), and he was Offensive Player of the Year in 1982.

Fouts was excellent at generating yardage. His 6.88 NY/A is the best between Norm Van Brocklin and Dan Marino, a gap of more than 30 years. But there are two major arguments made against Fouts; I’m on board for one of them. The criticism I don’t support is based on his lack of postseason success. If you’re going to blame Fouts, keep in mind that San Diego made the playoffs only four times in Fouts’ career: 1979-82, the four years Fouts led the NFL in passing. He played badly in the first and last playoff games of his career, but in between, he averaged 320 yards a game, with an 88.7 rating and almost twice as many TDs as INTs. In 1980, the Chargers lost the AFC Championship Game, 34-27. You’re not going to win many games when you give up 34 points.5

The next season, Fouts threw three TDs in an epic overtime win against Miami, after which the Chargers lost to Cincinnati in the Freezer Bowl, the coldest game in NFL history, with a reported wind chill of -59°. I just don’t see how you blame those losses on the quarterback. Fouts’ prime was also San Diego’s. His best years were the team’s best years.

The argument that does have some merit concerns Fouts’ team. He played for a brilliant offensive coach, with a phenomenally talented receiving corps. I don’t believe that Fouts was simply a product of the system, but neither do I believe that he would have been equally successful passing to Reggie Rucker or Isaac Curtis. Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf worked for the division rival Raiders during Fouts’ prime years. In 2008, examining a group of Hall of Fame nominees, Wolf told Paul Zimmerman, “Hall of Famers? I don’t think so. You could add Dan Fouts to that list. I know he’s in already, but [when we played the Chargers] I never had the feeling that … the one guy we have to worry about is the one throwing the ball.”

While Fouts certainly benefitted from the talent around him, he did a lot of things well, things that other QBs couldn’t have done. Comparing Fouts to Joe Montana and Ken Anderson in 1982, Bill Walsh said, “Fouts is the most perceptive of the three, the most resourceful, the most dynamic and he had the most leadership.” Fouts had a quick drop and a strong arm, he was the first player with back-to-back 4,000-yard passing seasons, and he broke the single-season passing record more than once. He had about eight very good years, which is a lot, and he was truly exceptional from 1979-82.

15. Drew Brees
San Diego Chargers, 2001-05; New Orleans Saints, 2006-14
56,033 yards, 396 TD, 194 INT, 95.4 rating

Drew Brees ranks fourth all-time in passing yards and touchdowns. Brees and Peyton Manning are the only players among the all-time top 10 in both passer rating and sack percentage.

Brees has nine 4,000-yard passing seasons, seven 30-TD seasons, and nine full seasons with a passer rating over 90, four of them over 100. He’s made nine Pro Bowls and four all-pro teams, including first-team all-pro in 2006. He was Offensive Player of the Year in 2008 and 2011, and the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV. Brees has led the NFL in passing yards five times, in TDs four times, and in passer rating once. On paper, he is one of the 10 best quarterbacks in history.

It is Brees’ misfortune to play in an era of exceptional quarterbacks. Playing at the same time as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers, he has never been considered the best player in football. Brees is one of only three players who have thrown 200 more touchdowns than interceptions. But the other two are Manning and Brady, and it’s hard to see the third- or fourth-best quarterback of his own generation among the top 10 of all time.

As a football-viewing society, we’ve never considered Brees quite as good as his numbers. He’s smart and accurate, and moves well in the pocket. But Brees doesn’t command the line of scrimmage like Manning, doesn’t share Brady’s palpable intensity. Brees doesn’t have Manning’s two-minute drills, or Brady’s Super Bowls, or Rodgers’ seemingly effortless touchdowns. When Manning and Brady and Rodgers are on, there’s a magic about watching them, like they could do whatever they want. I don’t think we get that sense from Brees. He’s visibly a great player, but he doesn’t make those jaw-dropping plays. Everyone recognizes Brees as one of the greatest QBs in this era — but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who considers him the very best.

14. Warren Moon
Houston Oilers, 1984-93; Minnesota Vikings, 1994-96; Seattle Seahawks, 1997-98; Kansas City Chiefs, 1999-2000
49,325 yards, 291 TD, 233 INT, 80.9 rating

Most fans would consider this an excessively generous ranking for Moon. I believe it is conservative. Warren Moon’s statistics are excellent. He retired as the third-leading passer in NFL history, 4th in touchdowns. He led the NFL in passing yards twice, and he had back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons twice, for two different teams — the first player to do so. Moon made nine Pro Bowls, and probably would have been first-team all-pro in 1990, except that he and Randall Cunningham split the black vote. Compared to Joe Montana (who got the first-team nod), Moon was ahead in completions, completion percentage, yards, yards per attempt, net yards per attempt, yards per completion, touchdowns, TD percentage, fewer interceptions, INT percentage, passer rating, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total yards, and total touchdowns. And Moon wasn’t throwing to Jerry Rice.

Warren Moon was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2006, the first undrafted quarterback elected to Canton. He was a successful college player, the MVP of the 1978 Rose Bowl. But Moon was initially prevented from playing in the NFL. He spent six years in the Canadian Football League, winning five straight championships with the Edmonton Eskimos, before joining the Oilers in 1984.

Throughout this series, I have attempted to give quarterbacks credit for their accomplishments in professional leagues other than the NFL. That includes the AAFC, AFL, WFL, USFL, and CFL. I do not view accomplishments in those leagues as equal to the NFL, but I believe any fair assessment — any accurate assessment — must consider them.

Bill James wrote about baseball’s Negro Leagues, in his New Historical Abstract, “Is it silly to say that Satchel Paige was a great pitcher in 1933? Hell, it’s silly to suggest that he wasn’t. Does he have any statistics to prove this? Not really. But in rating players, why is it silly to give Satchel Paige credit for being what he was?” That’s how I feel about Jim Kelly in the USFL, it’s how I feel about Doug Flutie in the CFL, it’s the AAFC guys, and it’s six years of Warren Moon’s athletic prime. We know that Moon was a good quarterback in the early ’80s. He succeeded at every level of football, and he was the most dominant QB in the CFL. He has no NFL stats during that time, but why is it wrong to give Moon credit for what he was?

I know there are some people, including some knowledgeable football people, who refuse to consider accomplishments in any leagues but the NFL and AFL. If you can’t compare the stats — and you really can’t compare CFL stats to NFL stats — then throw it out the window. But that’s wrong. It’s factually wrong, first of all: it’s invariably an incomplete assessment of the player. How do you pretend Warren Moon didn’t play football until he was 28? That simply is not true.

It’s morally wrong, too. If you agree to simply discount six years of Moon’s athletic prime, you let the racists win. We know that Warren Moon was a good quarterback in the early 1980s, and we know that he was prevented from playing quarterback in the NFL during that time. Maybe you evaluate Moon’s CFL production differently than I do, but if you simply ignore those six years, your evaluation is flawed.

Moon’s NFL stats are comparable to John Elway’s (see table below), but his combined CFL/NFL stats show 70,553 yards, 435 TD, 310 INT, and an 84.2 passer rating, plus 3,436 rushing yards and 38 TDs. Here are the NFL numbers:

          Yards     TD     INT    +/-    Rating  NY/A
J.Elway   51,475    300    226    +74    79.9    6.1
W.Moon    49,325    291    233    +58    80.9    6.3

In 1984, Moon joined a team that had gone a combined 3-22 the previous two seasons. It took a few years to complete the turnaround — this was before modern free agency — but the Oilers made seven straight playoff appearances from 1987-93. Then Moon went to Minnesota, and the Oilers missed the playoffs for the next five years.

The Vikings were glad to have him. Moon made the next two Pro Bowls, passed for back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons — at the time, only Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, and Moon himself had ever done so — and facilitated Cris Carter’s single-season receptions record. Moon got hurt in ’96, then went to Seattle and made the Pro Bowl there, too. In February 1998, at age 41, Moon was named Pro Bowl MVP.

Here you’ve got a guy with a 23-year professional career, who could still play at a high level in his 40s. He made nine Pro Bowls, and his stats are excellent. He was Rose Bowl MVP and he won five Grey Cups, so you certainly can’t accuse him of lacking clutch performances. He passed the eye test, ran well and threw maybe the most perfect spiral in history. I don’t understand how you would rate him substantially lower than this.

13. Norm Van Brocklin
Los Angeles Rams, 1949-57; Philadelphia Eagles, 1958-60
23,611 yards, 173 TD, 178 INT, 75.1 rating

Norm Van Brocklin was one of the great deep passers of all time. He led the NFL in yards per attempt four times, and his net yards per attempt (7.5 or 7.6) is the best figure in history. That is a hugely important stat, and Van Brocklin’s is the highest ever.6 He passed for the most yardage of the 1950s, and he was also masterful at avoiding sacks. Although precise sack data for those years does not exist, sack yardage does, and it appears that Van Brocklin took sacks at less than half the rate of his contemporaries, by far the best of his era. Van Brocklin wasn’t a scrambler, but like Dan Marino or Peyton Manning, he was exceptional at getting rid of the ball before pressure arrived.

Van Brocklin’s greatness is further validated by his success with two teams. The Rams of the early ’50s were an offensive powerhouse, featuring two Hall of Fame receivers and the greatest run game of that era. But the Eagles were not good in the mid-50s, and Van Brocklin turned them into a winner, earning a league championship in 1960 and then retiring on top.7 He was the first QB to make nine Pro Bowls, and he still holds — 63 years later — the single-game record for passing yards (554).

Van Brocklin always played with excellent receivers. He had Tom Fears and Crazy Legs Hirsch in Los Angeles, then Tommy McDonald and Pete Retzlaff in Philadelphia. But success didn’t come to Van Brocklin; he worked hard to ensure success. Legendary coach Sid Gillman credited Van Brocklin with “contribut[ing] enormously to the development of the passing game.” Said Gillman, “Just watching what Van Brocklin did in practice was a learning experience.”

In his 1996 book All Madden, John Madden explains that Van Brocklin taught him how to watch film. “He taught me how to recognize what the defensive backs and linebackers were doing. I learned zone and man-to-man, and combination coverages. To attack those defenses, I learned how to use different pass patterns: ins, outs, comebacks, hooks, posts, ups. Sitting there watching the film, he would read the coverage and tell me what he could do against it.” Van Brocklin saw everything, and he always put his teammates in position to succeed.

We’ve sort of forgotten Dutch Van Brocklin. He played football when baseball got more attention, and he played on the West Coast before games were widely televised. He played at the same time as Otto Graham and John Unitas, and sportscasters today aren’t too interested in the third-best quarterback of the pre-Super Bowl era. But no knowledgeable analyst would rank Van Brocklin outside the top 20 or so QBs of all time. He was an every-year Pro Bowler, and two-time NFL champion, who still holds notable passing records.

12. John Elway
Denver Broncos, 1983-98
51,475 yards, 300 TD, 226 INT, 79.9 rating

John Elway had the strongest arm of his generation. He could throw the ball a mile, and his receivers would talk about the Elway cross, a mark from the end of the ball if you let one of his passes hit you in the chest.

But just as notable as Elway’s arm was his spirit. I don’t know if he was the most intense competitor I’ve ever seen at quarterback — I suppose that might be Tom Brady — but Elway had incredible will to win. Everyone wants to win, of course, but Elway needed to win. I don’t think he was a necessarily a better clutch player than anyone else, I just think no one cared about winning more than Elway did. A few years ago, I listed Elway among the greatest postseason quarterbacks of all time, despite three one-sided Super Bowl defeats:

Why did Elway, whose early postseason career was full of brutal humiliations, edge ahead on my list? Because we focus more on having great moments than avoiding bad ones. Because he finally did win two championships. Because only Montana won more playoff games as a starting QB. Because he is the only quarterback to lead his team to five Super Bowl appearances. Because of The Drive, The Fumble, The Helicopter, and Super Bowl XXXIII, a legitimate MVP performance. Because that was Elway’s final game, and he and Otto Graham went out on top like no one else in history.

Some of that’s outdated now (because of Brady), but Elway’s career was full of memorable moments. Over and over, he seemed to do the impossible. Statistically, Elway had some of his best seasons at the end of his career. Working with Mike Shanahan, Terrell Davis, Rod Smith, Shannon Sharpe, and a top-notch offensive line, Elway finally posted the great stats that often eluded him in his athletic prime, when he was the only weapon on a punchless offense. As a young player, Elway found himself needing to pull off miracles, since if he didn’t create plays, the Broncos simply wouldn’t make any.8

Elway’s 79.9 career passer rating is the lowest of any Hall of Fame quarterback to debut after the 16-game schedule, but it’s not reflective of his talent. It also bears mention that Elway was a prolific runner. He ranked among the top 10 QBs in rushing yards a record 14 times. Elway rushed for over 200 yards in a season 11 times — the most of any QB in history — and he was among the top three running QBs in 1984, ’85, ’87, and ’94. Perhaps the most memorable single play of his career was a run, The Helicopter in Super Bowl XXXII. It’s also a perfect example of what drew so many fans to Elway: his visible passion for football.

Upon his retirement, Elway ranked third all-time in touchdown passes, second in yards, and first in wins as a starting quarterback. Elway made nine Pro Bowls, and he was second-team all-pro three times. The Associated Press award voting in 1987 is hard to figure. They voted Elway the league MVP, when every other organization gave it to Jerry Rice. Yet, AP named Joe Montana the first-team all-pro QB, and Elway second-team.9 Elway is one of four HOF quarterbacks never to be named first-team all-pro by the Associated Press; the others were Roger Staubach, Warren Moon, and Troy Aikman.

11. Sonny Jurgensen
Philadelphia Eagles, 1957-63, Washington, 1964-74
32,224 yards, 255 TD, 189 INT, 82.6 rating

Vince Lombardi coached Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, and together they won five NFL Championships. Lombardi coached against Johnny Unitas every year. Yet it was of Sonny Jurgensen that Lombardi said, “He may be the best the league has ever seen. He is the best I have seen.”

People were in awe of Sonny Jurgensen. Jurgensen was universally hailed as the best pure passer of his generation. In the literature of the sport, that is the phrase you find, over and over again: “best pure passer.” No one really talks about “greatest pure passer” any more, and if they did, I suppose most people would look for someone more recent, maybe Peyton Manning or Dan Marino. But the brilliance of Jurgensen’s arm is cited everywhere.

Jurgensen led the NFL in passing yards five times, twice setting the single-season record. He led in touchdowns twice, and his career passer rating (82.62) is the highest of his generation, fractions ahead of the AFL’s Len Dawson (82.58), but comfortably in front of Starr (80.5), Fran Tarkenton (80.4), Unitas (78.2), Bob Griese (77.1), Joe Namath (65.5), and George Blanda (60.6). Jurgensen (1957-74) and Unitas (1956-73) were contemporaries, but Jurgensen’s TD/INT differential (+66) is substantially better than Johnny U’s (+37). Unitas himself said, “If I threw as much as Jurgensen, my arm would fall off. And if I could throw as well, my head would swell up too big to get into a helmet.”

Although he’s largely forgotten today, Jurgensen was highly admired during his career. He was all-NFL three times, including first-team in 1961. Sonny was renowned for his calm poise in the face of a pass rush, his quick release, and his touch on the ball. His reaction to defensive pressure was particularly remarkable. Jurgensen threw well off either foot, and if necessary, with either hand — he was 2-for-3 left-handed — when a defender tied up his right arm, Jurgensen grabbed the ball with his left hand and threw it anyway. He seldom played with an adequate line, and there are almost as many stories about his cool under pressure as there are about his golden arm.

Jurgensen’s playing style was comparable to Dan Marino’s: the greatest passers of their generations, both with lightning-quick releases and uncanny touch on both short- and long-range passes. They also shared a propensity for touchdowns. Jurgensen’s 6.0% touchdown percentage is among the highest in history, and he threw the most touchdown passes (207) of the 1960s. Sonny ranked third in career TD passes until nearly 20 years after his retirement — when Marino surpassed him.

Jurgensen’s stats are exceptional for his era, and his arm inspired outright awe. The only mark against Jurgensen, and the reason he’s seldom remembered among the greatest quarterbacks of all time, is that his teams never won a championship.

* * *

We began this series by examining the best pre-Modern Era quarterbacks: Sammy Baugh, Dutch Clark, Ed Danowski, Paddy Driscoll, Benny Friedman, Arnie Herber, Cecil Isbell, Sid Luckman, Bernie Masterson, Ace Parker, and Bob Waterfield.

Following that up, we listed the QBs who rank 49-101, with in-depth profiles on Mark Brunell, Trent Green, Phil Simms, and Vinny Testaverde.

Looking at the QBs ranked 40-48, we profiled Charlie Conerly, Jim Everett, Rich Gannon, Jeff Garcia, Jim Hart, Bert Jones, Daryle Lamonica, Ken Stabler, and Joe Theismann.

Moving on with 31-39, we examined Doug Flutie, Kurt Warner, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Boomer Esiason, John Hadl, Roman Gabriel, Ben Roethlisberger, and Steve McNair.

Last week, we tackled — so to speak — 21-30 on the list: Aaron Rodgers, Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Donovan McNabb, Jim Kelly, Randall Cunningham, Troy Aikman, Bob Griese, and Ken Anderson, John Brodie.

Next week we’ll begin the top 10 quarterbacks of all time, starting with 6-10.

  1. Chase note: Tittle never won a playoff game in his career. []
  2. Chase note: You can see a visual representation of Bradshaw’s passing numbers relative to league average here. []
  3. Chase note: Bradshaw ranked as the 2nd most impressive quarterback — statistically — in playoff history based on this formula. His performance against Baltimore ranked 21st on this list, largely ranking so “low” because of the low number of attempts. []
  4. Chase note: I put Starr’s ’66 season as the 5th best ever among quarterbacks who won a Super Bowl. []
  5. Chase note: In fact, through 1980, teams were 0-32 in the playoffs when giving up 34+ points. Through 2014, teams are now 11-140 when giving up 34+ points in the playoffs, with the first win coming by… the Fouts-led Chargers. []
  6. Chase note: In related news, Van Brocklin was #1 in this metric (second table), further supporting Brad’s argument. []
  7. Van Brocklin remains the only quarterback to win NFL titles with two different teams. []
  8. Chase note: Obligatory link. []
  9. Chase note: As Brad noted, just about everyone selected Rice as MVP. The AP voting was 36 for Elway, 30 for Rice, and 18 for Montana. It’s safe to assume that the 49ers duo split the MVP vote, which explains why Montana was the AP’s first-team choice at quarterback. []
  • sacramento gold miners

    It’s tough to start combining CFL/NFL numbers, because it gives an unfair advantage to someone who didn’t play against the best. While I’ve gone on record about the quality of the CFL, the top NFL QBs like John Elway would have put together video game like numbers going up against those defenses.

    Agree about if Terry Bradshaw had played with the Falcons or Patriots he doesn’t have four SB rings, but have no doubt he would have improved those teams. That would have been a vast upgrade to the QB position, and that affects the entire offense.

    Not sure why Ron Wolf was underrating Dan Fouts, perhaps it goes back to the Raiders-Chargers rivalry. Fouts was most definitely feared, an had two great playoff wins. Came from 14-0 down at Pittsburgh in ’82, and the year before, overcame a defensive collapse to beat Miami in a classic game. Fouts would have had no problems with two quality receivers like Reggie Rucker and Isaac Curtis, when John Jefferson left, Wes Chandler stepped in to fill the void.

    • sn0mm1s

      Yeah, I don’t want to spend much time rehashing points I made arguing against Doug Flutie (because I believe Moon was a good QB and proved it over a long period of time) *but* Moon was a HOF QB in the CFL prior to joining the NFL. His prior 4 seasons in the CFL he had QB ratings of 88.9, 98.0, 108.6 and 98.3 – for a rating over those previous 4 years of 97.0. Moon’s next 4 seasons in the NFL has a rating of 70.2 when league’s rating was 72.0. Moon, a CFL HOFer was a below average QB his first 4 years in the NFL and his rating dropped 27 points going from CFL to NFL. These 4 below average years, after lighting up the CFL, are the same years that we are supposed to assume Flutie would be a better QB than he was at 36 due to aging curves. Another point, if Moon’s years in the CFL are considered prime years than Flutie’s 24-27 years should be considered prime years in the NFL (which he was a poor QB). My point being, that we should only be judging QBs based on what they did in the NFL – not Arena, not CFL, not WLAF, not USFL, and not XFL.

      • http://www.footballperspective.com/how-long-does-it-take-great-quarterbacks-to-break-out/

        How did Aikman and Steve Young do in their first few seasons? Because that’s the quality team Moon joined. That was a garbage team, and Moon was step 1 of the revival: http://pfref.com/tiny/Fz62x

        In a perfect world, we would only judge QBs based on what they did in the NFL. But when evaluating how good Warren Moon was, I don’t think it makes sense to ignore that he was kept out of the NFL from ages 22 to 27.

        • sacramento gold miners

          Couldn’t agree more about the stupidity of prejudice, but I’m still uneasy about playing the speculation game, and using that in rankings. We can’t say if Moon had been rightly drafted coming out college, what kind of success he would have enjoyed in the NFL. For all we know, Moon could have torn up a knee or moved up the depth charts slowly. We just can’t create our own history.

          Let’s say Herschel Walker suffered a career ending injury when he came over from the USFL. Based on his college and USFL production, one could speculate a healthy Walker would have earned a HOF NFL career. But in reality, Walker was healthy, and had a very disappointing NFL career.

          I just think we’re better off acknowledging success in other leagues, but not placing too much weight in that success.

          • I’m not sure how much more you expected Herschel Walker to do in the NFL. He came into the NFL as a 24 year old rookie after having two seasons in the USLF where he took over 400 carries. He started his professional football career with 1,142 carries, which is 82 more than Dickerson’s NFL record of 1,061. Throw in his 130 receptions, and his 1,273 touches still bests Tomlinson’s 1,262 record.

            After all that wear and tear, Walker put up three straight seasons over 1,500 YFS, followed by six more seasons with at least 1,000 YFS. He ranks just behind Roger Craig in career YFS, despite spending his prime years in a rival league. He averaged 1,733 YFS per season his first three years in the NFL. If he averaged even half of that in the NFL during his first three pro seasons (and it’s ridiculous to assume he wouldn’t), he would end his career with 15,684 YFS and rank 10th all time among running backs.

            • sacramento gold miners

              Herschel Walker should have done more in Dallas, and I don’t buy the idea he was physically washed up at 27. This was a gamechanger RB, and to fall off the map is startling, consider his talent. To go from a supremely talented back in college to an NFL journeyman is disappointing. At Georgia, Walker looked like the next Jim Brown. He went from a decisive runner to a tentative one, and the Vikings had a talented team.

              • I’m sorry, but to say he fell off the map is just asinine. He remained a great dual threat back until he was in his thirties. If you honestly believe averaging over 1,700 yards from scrimmage in your first three years in the NFL is falling off a cliff, I don’t know what to tell you.

                • sacramento gold miners

                  Falling off the cliff after leaving Dallas, it’s well documented. Walker was a physical marvel, and I would agree he had a nice career if this was a fifth round draft pick, but that’s not the case. Coming out of the USFL, Walker was supposed to take the NFL by storm, and to look back and see only one great NFL rushing season is amazing. I’ll give Walker credit for his receiving and kick returning, plus the long career, but it’s underwhelming to say the least.

                  • So after Walker’s first 1753 carries in professional football, he stopped being as good as he was before. I cannot imagine why that might be. After his first 1753 carries, Walker gained 6547 yards from scrimmage and continued to provide special teams value. For comparison, your man Jerome Bettis gained 6774 yards from scrimmage after a similar number of carries. A running back’s job is to pick up yards, regardless of where they come from. Walker’s post-1750th carry production compares favorably to Bettis’ despite being in a far less favorable situation. Please stop saying insane things.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      No sir, a running back’s job is to be a valuable part of a successful team. Walker amassed yards, but wasn’t the key cog of an offense after age 27 like Bettis. That’s why Walker will never be a serious HOF candidate. I would argue part of the reason Walker wasn’t in a better situation was due to his own lack of production. Bettis’ post 1750th carry production was far more valuable because he was frequently the reason his offense was successful. Walker not so much, he just faded into oblivion, the last three seasons were forgettable. While Bettis went out as SB champ, running over the Bears in a key regular season game, Walker was on the bench frequently. No comparison. Walker wasn’t even close to backs like Chuck Foreman as a dual threat.

                      The way Bettis took over games, worn down defenses, and converted third downs is something Walker rarely did in the NFL. All the pass receptions and kick returns in the world don’t add up to the value when we compare careers. Numbers aren’t the gold standard when comparing players, only a general framework. Testaverde and Kerry Collins outrank HOF QBs in different categories, but we can’t say they had the same value. Context, context, context.

                    • Let me make sure I am understanding what you are saying (and please correct me if I am not, because an argument over a misunderstanding is a waste of your time and mine and is just silly). When you say that a running back’s job is to be part of a successful team, do you actually mean a running back is not doing his job if he is stuck on a bottom feeding team? For example, if a running back is clearly elite but doesn’t have great team success (say Barry Sanders or O.J. Simpson), he is not doing his job because circumstances beyond his control cause his entire team to suck? I want to make sure that’s you’re saying, because if it is, I doubt we’ll ever see eye to eye on anything, Matthew.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      No problem. While a RB can contribute value as an occasional carrier, receiver, and special teamer, that’s not as valuable as a back who was the vital cog of an offense. Those key offensive players often play a role in a successful team. Bettis’ teams were usually more successful than Walker’s, partly due to his more valuable performance. The greats in Canton usually played for successful teams.

                      Agree how Sanders and Simpson didn’t play for championship teams, but the success they did have was due to the valuable role they played. Walker did accumulate yards, comparable to Bettis as you mentioned after that 1750 number, but the quality wasn’t the same, since Bettis played a much more central role in his team’s success. Numbers are a general framework, but I don’t believe they are the final word when evaluating players. After leaving Dallas, he just managed a single 1000 yard season, and I’m struggling to think of games he took over. The great RBs, or dual threats, can take control over games.

                    • After leaving Dallas, Walker posted five straight 1000 yard seasons. The fact that those yards were not all on the ground is irrelevant. He also gained 1300 split between Dallas and Minnesota when he was traded. After taking more carries in a three year span than any running back in history, Walker came to the NFL and essentially had Roger Craig’s career without the team success (or the bounty of HOF teammates).

                      He played with one top ten defense during his athletic prime. He also played with such luminaries at the QB position as Steve Pelluer, old Danny White, Wade Wilson, young Rich Gannon, and Bubby Brister. In his two seasons with a mostly healthy Randall Cunningham, he gained 1348 YFS and 10 TDs (at age 30) and 1028 YFS and 7 TDs (at age 32). He played on mostly mediocre or bad teams and, consequently, didn’t benefit from having great defenses that allowed him to run out the clock with the lead.

                      Starting in 2002 (when most would argue his “compiler” seasons began), Bettis took 53% of his carries in the second half of games. His average 3rd quarter carry came with a 2.2 point lead, and his average 4th quarter carry came with a 10.2 point lead. Overall, his average carry came with the Steelers ahead by 3.6 points. He took a total of 4 carries in the 4th quarter when Pittsburgh was trailing, and less than 30% of his total carries in that timeframe came from behind.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      It’s just not that difficult for a back accumulate 1000 yards from scrimmage seasons, Roger Craig was far more dangerous in that role for San Francisco. So was Ronnie Harmon in San Diego, and many others.

                      After leaving the Cowboys, Walker just declined, he didn’t like playing in Minnesota. I’m not impressed with roughly 700 YFS per season in two seasons with the Eagles. He just wasn’t featured the way people thought after flopping at age 27 with Minnesota. A great back doesn’t need carries with the lead, he can excel starting from the get go. I credit Walker with having a long career with some versatility, but not even comparable with Jerome Bettis and other backs. I would take Frank Gore’s productivity over Walker’s in a heartbeat. I would counterpoint Walker’s lack of being a key player on those teams contributed to mediocrity. Yes, he had a ton of carries early on, but was such an incredible talent, the decline was surprising. Good player, but well short of Canton, an what he displayed at UGA.

                      Interesting research on Bettis, it’s worth noting he was battling injuries part of 2002 & 2003, and lost carries to another back. Those second half stats indicate his value as a closer throughout the career, and wasn’t used as much when the Steelers were trailing. Fortunately, his great play as a key offensive cog led to many Steelers wins, and his overdue Canton induction.

                    • I’m not going to touch on anything else you said because I think most of it’s the ridiculous and anecdotal apotheosis of a hardcore fan, but I will point out that Walker did not have “roughly 700 YFS per season” in Philadelphia. He averaged 1244 YFS per season in his three years with the Eagles (after the age of 30). He ranks 12th all time in YFS from 30-32 and second in all purpose yards.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      What Walker did from 30-32 is nice, but don’t make up for an underwhelming NFL career. Once in a while you would see flashes of what might have been, but that’s football. Even in Walker’s second 1000 yard season, he could only muster two 100 yard games. Bettis just blows Walker away when talking about NFL impact, he was more valuable for a longer period of time. The great ones, like Bettis, don’t always need a strong supporting cast, and we saw that in his monster rookie year. Fast forward to his final season, and we saw what a HOF back can do, even in a limited role. Future HOF linebacker Brian Urlacher found that out the hard way in a pivotal 2005 game.

                      We need to be careful about overrating specific categories of stats. Bettis ranks something like fourth all time in NFL history in career 100 yard games, and that’s far important than all purpose yards. Taking over games, physically wearing down opponents, and playing a key role in winning is what Bettis did countless times over a great career. Walker very rarely displayed that ability after leaving Dallas. It’s documented, and that’s why Bettis earned the HOF while Walker is thinking about a comeback with the Falcons. Bettis goes out as a World Champ, while Walker just faded away.

                      Walker was good, better than Larry Centers and other backs. But the dropoff after leaving Dallas was inexplicable, and he wasn’t nearly valuable as Bettis, not by a mile.

                    • Walker’s career can only be described as underwhelming by people expecting him to be some sort of Jim Brown/Barry Sanders hybrid who broke every record in the book and went down as the greatest ever to play. That is simply an unrealistic and unfair expectation to set.

                      When he played in the USFL, he was clearly the best back in the smaller league. He would have probably been a top 3 back in the NFL, but we don’t need to get into that sort of conjecture.

                      When he got to Dallas, he was immediately great, posting three straight seasons with 1500+ yards from scrimmage. He only cracked 1000 yard rushing once, but I’ll definitely “settle” for consecutive seasons with 700+ receiving yards.

                      He played 5 games for Dallas in 1989 (the trade year) and averaged over 100 YFS per game. Then he was traded to the Vikings in the middle of the season and managed a respectable (but not dominant) 75.5 YFS per game for a new team and a playbook he had to learn in media res.

                      His tenure in Minnesota reminds me of Randy Moss’ time in Oakland. He was a clearly talented player who did lose interest; Moss had to deal with incompetent teammates, while Walker had to deal with incompetent coaches. Vikings coaches wanted to take a premier perimeter and space player and turn him into a bulldozer between the tackles.

                      Burns and Schnelker didn’t want Walker there is the first place. Mike Lynn wanted him and acquired him without informing the coaches, and Walker became a point of contention between a bunch of old white guys. Because of this, his workload dropped by a whopping 10 carries per game from his time in Dallas. If a guy is getting used both infrequently and incorrectly, it’s pretty easy to see why he didn’t put up impressive numbers (although he did rank 7th in DYAR in his last year in Minnesota).

                      I will concede he did become a more tentative runner when he was forced into an ill-fitting scheme that basically negated his strengths as a player. I imagine a guy like Bettis (or any other power back) would probably fair pretty poorly in an offense that asked him to be a perimeter runner. Then again, perhaps Bettis, a Notre Dame product who was taken in the first round of the 1993 draft, would make it work through sheer tyranny of will.

                      The Vikings gave up on Walker and traded him to the Eagles after he hit the dreaded 30 mark, and he nonetheless put up two straight 1300+ YFS seasons and another 1000+ YFS season. Then, I guess, he did what you would call hanging around for all the wrong reasons and contributing very little his last three years in the league.

                      But I guess you’re probably right.

                      Jerome Bettis was much different in his last few years. Bettis, the most important cog in a dynamic and dominating Steelers offense, took his team on his back and carried them gloriously to a championship. In the most storybook of fashions, he did so in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. A lot of people forget that. His 13 touchdowns from an average of 2.8 yards out in 2004 are a shimmering testament to his raw power, grit, and determination. His fumble against the Colts in the 2005 playoffs was the perfect way to build suspense into an otherwise blase game, and Jerome understands the importance of a good story. And the way he got a running start and completely ran over an almost stationary Brian Urlacher was legendary. Brandon Jacobs and Greg Jones never could have achieved such a feat of strength. His high success rates have nothing to do with his usage and everything to do with his vim and vigor.

                    • sacramento gold miners

                      This conversation is somewhat similar to comparing receivers John Jefferson and Hines Ward. Jefferson appeared headed to Canton during his time in San Diego, but faded after a contract dispute led to his trade to Green Bay. Like Walker, he’ll need to buy a ticket to the HOF, while Ward will be enshrined someday. I’m sure if Brad does a WR ranking, Ward will be ranked poorly, and we can have a discussion then. Excellence over time is more impressive than excellence over a shorter span.

                      Walker himself has admitted in interviews he had a disappointing career in the NFL, and the facts bear him out. This wasn’t George Rogers, another Heisman winner, this was a player so gifted, some thought he could have played in the NFL long before his Georgia career ended. Folks were expecting him to be a valuable back for years, the focal point of an attack. To have only one 1000 rushing season after leaving Dallas is shocking. A common game stat line for Walker after leaving Dallas was something like 50 yards rushing, 50 yards receiving, and return yardage. He rarely impacted games because of this role. Defenses weren’t all that concerned about stopping a player who simply wasn’t a focal point of the attack for years. I don’t understand your Randy Moss analogy, since he bounced back in a far greater way than Walker ever did.

                      By contrast, defenses had to worry about one of the greatest big backs in NFL history for the majority of his career. While other HOF backs had retired, Bettis kept delivering the punishment, and playing at a high level. In the most physically demanding sport, remarkable. Six 100 yard games over his last eight in 2004, helped the Steelers go 15-1. That’s value. And getting those third down and short conversions when the defense knows what’s coming is difficult. Many backs don’t get it done in those circumstances.

                      Unlike other HOF players, it wasn’t all about the money. Bettis took a significant pay cut in a reduced role behind emerging star Willie Parker in 2005. Like all HOF players, Bettis made a turnover in a playoff game. Fortunately, HOF first ballot lock Big Ben made the saving tackle. Of course, that play may have had less importance had the officials not botched a Manning interception earlier. Bettis played such a key role in winning games(unlike Walker), I can’t get worked up over hypotheticals.

                      And HOF players do have a knack for coming up big, even in the downside of their careers. While other big backs were ineffective or retired by that age, Bettis delivered. That’s value. That was a quality Bears defense Bettis shredded, and helped propel the Steelers into the playoffs and the rest is history. Usage doesn’t mean anything if you’re not on the field, and we may never see another back with both the size and production of Jerome Bettis in pro football again. The nature of his size didn’t make him a factor in the passing game, big deal. Greatness and HOF players come in many forms, and Bettis easily qualifies. I’ll take his 2004 season over most of Walker’s years.

                      Comparing NFL careers between Bettis and Walker is clearly a mismatch. And I’m going with the man himself(Walker), when he has described his NFL career as disappointing. I’m off the grid until tomorrow, adios.

        • I think Moon is a very hard player to judge. Essentially its a whole big factor of what ifs with him.. Had he been able to be a QB in the NFL at 22 would he have performed better at 28? By the same token would his body have been able to hold up as long as it did if he played against NFL talent from an earlier age?

          I think its safe to say that from age 33 onward Moon had one of the best two or three NFL careers for a QB of that age. He was basically Brett Favre without the ESPN hype machine and jeans commercials. Late 20s and early 30s he trailed many top players from that generation. Was that because of the adjustment period? I think if you match up his first few NFL years with the rookie years of others (say years 2-4 or 5)its probably behind some players many of whom came to pretty bad teams.

          • Brahmsian

            If Moon became a nfl starter at young age,his total numbers would be better,but his efficiency numbers (ANY/A,AY/A,Rate,etc)may be even worse.When he entered the nfl, he’s already a manture qb who was a superstar in CFL.
            Also,I don’t think it’s accurate to compare the evironment between Moon and Paige.In Paige’s prime years,black pitchers were not allowed to play in mlb.But before Moon,nfl already had african-american starting qbs who had some success.

        • sn0mm1s

          This is one of those situations where you are trying to have your cake and eat it too though. I fully understand that it can take a while for a QB to break out – but we are almost always discussing rookie QBs straight out of college. Even Young was only in the USFL one season. Moon had *six years* worth of starts in the CFL before entering in the NFL. He had playoff appearances and championships. He was deemed a HOF pro QB when he left – and he was below average over his first 4 years in the NFL. If the CFL is a good litmus test then we would assume it wouldn’t take nearly that long for Moon to “break out”. Instead, if we assume that the CFL isn’t much different than college (which is much closer to my view) it makes much more sense that Moon struggled when he first got the NFL. This is why I don’t think CFL performance should be factored into how great a QB was any more than I think college performance should be.

        • sn0mm1s

          Also, here is something you posted in your Warner v. Bradshaw article:

          “But first, I’m going to make another adjustment that will put Bradshaw in a more positive light. I’m going to exclude his horrendous rookie season, which drags down his career averages considerably. Is that fair? I leave that up to the reader to decide. Bradshaw was the number one overall pick in the draft, while Warner went undrafted in 1994, was cut from Packers camp that same year, played in the Arena Football League for four seasons, and made it on to the 1998 Rams as the third stringer. In that context, I think it’s fair to give Bradshaw a pass for miserable stats at age 22 when he was handed the starting job even though he clearly wasn’t ready to play, since Warner’s career stats don’t reflect his level of play at a young age.”

          I can make a similar statement. Bradshaw was number one overall pick in the draft, while Moon went undrafted in 1978 and played in the CFL for six seasons. In that context, I think it’s fair to give Bradshaw a pass for miserable stats at age 22 when he was handed the starting job even though he clearly wasn’t ready to play, since Moon’s career stats don’t reflect his level of play at a young age. Now, Warner was lighting it up in the Arena league just as much as Moon was lighting it up in the CFL – yet one guy gets a pass (2 counting Flutie)

        • Steve

          How about the quality of the team Bradshaw joined while we’re at it.

          ” but he wouldn’t have won those SBs with the Patriots or Falcons”

          Neither would’ve Joe Greene, Mike Webster, Franco Harris, etc, etc

    • Other than what I viewed as a throwaway line for historical reference purposes, Brad is not combining CFL/NFL numbers. He’s not saying “add in Warren Moon’s CFL numbers, and he’s better than XYZ.” What he’s saying is Warren Moon’s NFL numbers were great, and we should consider that institutional prejudice prevented him from entering the NFL prior to age 28.

      Let’s say QB XYZ played in the NLF from ages 22 to 36. And during those years, he replicated Moon’s career in the NFL from ages 28 to 42. What Brad is saying is that Moon should be viewed as a “better quarterback” than QB XYZ. I have a hard time viewing that as controversial, given that Moon was basically blameless in being deprived of his ages 22 to 28 seasons in the NFL.

      Brad isn’t saying combine his CFL and NFL numbers, but rather, let’s not pretend that ages 28 to 42 Warren Moon was all there was to Warren Moon. That’s not fair.

      Obviously Bradshaw doesn’t win 4 Super Bowls on a bad team, but his numbers are better than a lot of people realize. He was arguably the best QB in the NFL for an 8 year period beginning in 1975. Staubhac and Tarkenton were only their for the first half of that period, and those years were some of the down years for Ken Anderson, and Bert Jones was battling injuries, so it’s really between Fouts and Bradshaw. I agree the Wolf quote is an odd one.

      • Yes, I think the people claiming Moon’s case is based on “speculation” and “morals” and “what ifs” are misunderstanding Brad’s argument. Moon really played in the CFL, and he really had great success there — there’s nothing hypothetical about that. But the CFL is clearly not the NFL, so some necessarily imperfect and somewhat subject adjustment needs to be applied. As with Flutie, some of this adjustment is based on what Moon did later in the NFL. (That seems reasonable, as how else do you compare different leagues other than looking at how the same player played in each one?) If you disagree with Brad’s adjustment (maybe you think the CFL should count 0% no matter what) that’s fine, but Brad’s entire case for Moon is based solely on things he really did. It’s not that different than counting Dr. J’s ABA stats in basketball, or if you want a really deep cut, Joe Tinker’s Federal League stats in baseball.

        • sn0mm1s

          I understand his argument I just categorically disagree. I discount Moon’s six years in the CFL am I really letting the racists win?

          • I think you might be taking a bit of rhetoric too literally. The point, as I read it, is that is quite unfair to not let a guy quarterback in the NFL because of his race (essentially what happened to Moon out of college), and then completely ignore the years he spent kicking ass in the CFL, because it’s not the NFL. I’d much rather apply some sort of imperfect CFL discount and go from there. (You apparently feel differently.) It doesn’t seem any more problematic to me than comparing guys across vastly different eras, which is what this series is all about. I mean, was the NFL in 1983 closer to the CFL in 1983 or the NFL in 1953? Who knows?

            • sn0mm1s

              They did play exhibition games in the 1950s and the NFL was like 6-0 with decisive wins. IIRC an AFL team lost in the 1st or 2nd year of the AFL’s existence. This is also the same period where college all-stars were beating NFL championship teams. College all-stars had a better record against NFL champions than CFL had against NFL (even including the AFL). By those anecdotes the CFL wasn’t a very good league. While a lot can change over 50 years, I still see the competition level being wildly different. Jon Cornish is putting up better rushing numbers in the CFL than he did playing for Kansas. His speed score at the combine was 90 (below average).

              Also, I have posted numerous times on this site and others that I will rarely rate a player high on an all-time list if the majority of their career was played prior to 1975 due to huge gulfs in competition. To me there are 3 eras of the NFL, pre WW2, post WW2 – 1975, and 1975 on.

          • Yes.

            We can differ on how much credit Moon deserves for his excellence in the CFL, but if you ignore Moon’s CFL seasons when assessing him as a player, you have allowed racists to dictate how you view his career.

            • Clint

              First, I love Warren Moon. Had a fascinating career and his boldness regarding why he thinks he didn’t get drafted is awesome. He says he wasn’t drafted “cause I’m black”. Love the honesty.

              However, he was far from impressive in college. There wasn’t a year where he had 200 passing attempts. You can’t expect to be a high draft pick if you aren’t throwing the ball much. If he were as great as we are led to believe he should have been, he would have been drafted. If someone can play, someone will give them a shot. It seems that race definitely was a factor, but if he would’ve had gaudy numbers, he’d probably still be able to say “I was only a 6th round pick because I’m black”.

              -No I’m not racist. McNabb, Moon and eventually Bridgewater (calling it) are among my favorite QBs all-time.
              -And yes, I realize there were a gazillion rounds in the draft back then.

              • Moon led the Pac-8 in AY/A in ’77:


                The two runners up in that metric were drafted in the 2nd and 5th rounds. The 4th place finisher actually performed worse statistically the following year, and then was the 3rd overall pick in ’79. He was the Rose Bowl MVP. I think he was pretty impressive in the college, and certainly impressive enough to be drafted.

                • Clint

                  He was efficient with his 100+ passing attempts per season, but he was throwing just over 10 times a game. That hasn’t been enough to evaluate an NFL QB since the 50s.

      • Thanks, Chase, and very well put. I don’t know what I have to do to convince people that I’m not taking CFL stats at face value.

        “I do not view accomplishments in those leagues as equal to the NFL”

        “Does he have any statistics to prove [that he was good outside the major league]? Not really.”

        “you really can’t compare CFL stats to NFL stats”

    • Topher Doll

      I greatly agree with your first paragraph for a few reasons, most of which you outlined, but it’s a weak argument he makes for Moon being so high. Now it’s his opinion, and as with any list or ranking there will be disagreement but his reasoning for Moon is based on morals rather than production (since that doesn’t measure up, purely on my opinion, which is just that), which bothers me.

      • Moral direction rather than production? I went into some depth explaining why Moon’s NFL stats don’t tell the full story of his career, because I knew some readers would disagree, but I began the Moon section with this: “Warren Moon’s statistics are excellent. He retired as the third-leading passer in NFL history, 4th in touchdowns. He led the NFL in passing yards twice, and he had back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons twice, for two different teams.

        I also compared his NFL stats to Elway’s; pointed out that the Oilers made seven straight playoff appearances with Moon, but missed the playoffs for five straight years immediately upon his depature; brought up his back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons with the Vikings; his nine NFL Pro Bowls come up several times; and the closing paragraph reminded readers that “his stats are excellent”. I think you misunderstood my argument.

  • Being an unabashed Brady fan, I was with you on stashing Aaron Rodgers away at 21 for now. But looking at this list of people ahead of him, I now think you’re severely overestimating the “not done yet”-element. Sure, Rodgers might make every record explode, but looking at these resumes, Rodgers is pretty much ALREADY THERE. He might only have 7 seasons as a starter, but I’d take those 7 against the 7 best seasons of pretty much anyone ranked 11-20. Both in raw counting stats, advanced stats, and in “relative dominance against contemporaries”.

    Rodgers could retire tomorrow and still deserve to be ahead of anyone except maybe Jurgensen, IMO.

    • Yeah, I understand. I’m a big Rodgers fan, and I would not argue with a higher ranking. But I tried to be conservative with active players, rating them on what they’ve already done and not projecting for what we expect them to do. I’m not a big fan of counting stats across eras, because of the way the game has changed. Ranking him ahead of Elway or Van Brocklin seems premature to me, and don’t forget that several of the QBs in this piece had excellent postseason careers which don’t count toward the regular stats.

      That’s why I ranked him where I did, but you certainly have a valid point.

  • Brahmsian

    I accept guys like Manning or Brady should be ranked higher than Brees.But why did Brad rank him lower than Elway whose numbers are much less impressive?I know that Elway’s supporting cast was not very good in the 1980s, but if a player is considered as one of the greatest quarterbacks, he should has the ability to overcome it.

    • Kibbles

      He should.

      Doesn’t “making the Super Bowl three times” count as overcoming it?

      • Brahmsian

        But his effeciency during 1980s was mediocre.Also,AFC in the late 80s was a weaker conference than NFC.
        1986 and 1987 are the best seasons for Elway in 1980s.Other than these two years,he’s a below average passer.
        In 1989,Broncos had a strong defence,that’s the big reason why they entered the super bowl.

        • Wolverine

          Your efficiency will be mediocre when you have to basically carry your entire offense.

          • Brahmsian

            Elway had mediocre peformances during the 1980s, partly because he had mediocre offensive weapons. But when he had impressive numbers later,we cannot forget that he had excellent supporting cast.Even guys like Brister,Griese and Frerotte had very good performances with them.

            We all know that old Rich Gannon had great seasons in Oakland when he had old Brown and Rice.When old Elway had outstanding seasons with outstanding receivers and offensive linemen,do they have huge differences compared with Gannon’s? Elway wasn’t even the most valuable player in his team when they won two super bowls.
            The gap between Brees and Elway is big,I don’t think Brees’ huge advantage should be dismissed by the supporting cast.Should we rank McNabb higher than Manning, because McNabb didn’t have great receivers in most of his career? Also,Drew’s best WR in his career is Colston(a good but not great player).
            Elway is a great qb,but he’s not greater than Brees.

            • John

              Not greater than Brees? What did Brees ever win before Payton? The Chargers drafted a QB #1 overall early in his career because he wasn’t playing well.

              I could live with Peyton being the #1 QB ever (like this guy says), but Elway is top-5. The Broncos went to the SB’s in the 80’s because of him alone.

  • Brad, you’re the reason I have looked forward to Tuesday mornings for the last few weeks. I haven’t commented much because I’ve been busy, but I am really enjoying this series. I don’t always agree with your rankings for players, but I definitely appreciate the following things:
    – the research that went into determining the rankings
    – the well-reasoned rationale for putting players in their respective places
    – your willingness to be open to other views but also fight to the death for the issues you find fundamental

    I think we all know who will be in your top ten, but I’m looking forward to seeing the order.

    • Thanks so much, Bryan. I’m glad people are enjoying the series.

  • mrh

    The Tittle write-up brings up a couple of big points: Pro Bowl appearances, all-pro awards, and championships are much harder to come by when there are a lot more teams. Kelly and the Bills had to win several playoff games just to make the Super Bowl, Tittle and the Giants “just” had to win their division. Obviously wild cards give teams another chance to make the playoffs, so it’s not all one way, but a good team and QB are much more likely to prevail over 14 games than over 1. This is just another factor making it so hard to compare players across eras.

  • Dr__P

    trivia time

    Bobby Lane and Doak Walker go way back as they went to the same High School. The curse of Bobby Lane, left on Detroit after being traded, might eventually be mitigated by another guy from the same high school – the current Detroit QB Mathew Stafford.

    Not surprisingly that high school has won more games than any other in Texas history.

    • Wolverine

      Stafford has been an average quarterback by current NFL standards, but he’s still neck and neck with Greg Landry as the second-best quarterback in Detroit Lions history, which I suppose is kind of sad…

      • Dr__P

        He is what he is, but the key point was that he was from the same high school as Layne

        • Wolverine

          I wasn’t trying to detract from your overall point, just making an observation about the statement “The curse of Bobby Lane….might eventually be mitigated by…”, and the probability of it actually happening (not that I believe in curses, anyway).

          • Dr__P

            Fair enough, I don’t believe in curses anyhow. It was just a literary device to link the two players at the same position years apart on the same team. Though there was a lot of media hooey about the curse at the time.

            I agree that Stafford is not on the same level of play but by definition few are.

            • Clint

              Can I get a “What’s up” for Scott Mitchell?

              • Wolverine

                Mitchell had an impressive year in 1995, with perhaps one of the best skill position supporting casts in the league outside of Dallas and San Fransisco. Every other year in a Lions uniform, he ranged from below average to terrible. Stafford has had multiple years with one great receiver, but no running game, and no reliable secondary receiver (aside from one year of Golden Tate), yet has still comfortably outperformed Mitchell (even when adjusting for era). If you want to go further, both stand at 0-2 in the playoffs, but Mitchell’s poor play was a primary factor why the lost those playoff games, while Stafford, for the most part, played fairly well in losing efforts. In addition, Mitchell had a terrible attitude, had major case of entitlement, and was generally disliked by his teammates (basically the opposite of what teammates say about Stafford). I’ll take Stafford over Mitchell a thousand times over).

                • Clint

                  I was joking about Scott Mitchell. Haha. Had a couple of good seasons though. He was one of the first backups who had a good -but short- run as a starter and got a huge deal in free agency. Pretty sure he had 4,000 yards in a season, when that was actually a big deal.

                  • Wolverine

                    Hehe, I guess I forgot to turn on my internet sarcasm detector.

                    I’ll give Mitchell his props for his really good year in ’95 (4300+ yards, 32 TD, 12 INT). That team was a lot of fun to watch (To bring the discussion back to Brad’s QB rankings, that was the year they had the Thanksgiving day 44-38 shootout with the Warren Moon-led Vikings). Of course he then proceeded to be godawful in the Wildcard playoff loss to the Eagles.

                    Outside of that, he was pretty painful to watch. He wasted the prime years of Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, and Brett Perriman.

      • sn0mm1s

        It is pretty sad that they had the best runningback of all time for a decade and probably a top 5 receiver of all time, if CJ’s career doesn’t get completely derailed, and they have managed 1 playoff win in the past 55 years.

  • jtr

    I find it interesting that Van Brocklin tends to avoid the “system QB” knock that do often gets applied to Fouts. Both put up huge running an innovative passing game under a legendary coach with a great set of skill players. Yet Fouts’ production is often dismissed as mostly being a product of Coryell, while I never hear the same about Van Brocklin being a product of Gilman. Perhaps it’s just that people still remember Fouts playing while Van Brocklin is not much more than an ancient stat line, or perhaps it’s the influence of the COUNT DA RINGZZ school of player assessment.

    • Kibbles

      Or it’s because Van Brocklin later went on to win league MVP on a Philadelphia Eagles team where he was the de facto offensive coordinator.

  • Wolverine

    Mostly agree with the Warren Moon write-up, but I’m surprised you didn’t mention the turnovers. I know he played most of his career in pass-heavy offenses, but he threw a lot of interceptions and fumbled a lot. I would have still ranked him in the top 20, but you did downgrade other QBs based on turnovers.

    I think one of the reasons that the ’93 Oilers locker room was so toxic was that the defensive players resented the ungodly amount of turnovers the offense produced, and this probably prevented them from advancing to the Super Bowl.

    • Moon did commit a lot of turnovers, and I wouldn’t want anyone to think I meant to gloss them over. Bbut I anticipated — correctly, it seems — that people would feel 14th was too high, so I focused on explaining the positives that contributed to my evaluation.

  • “When Manning and Brady and Rodgers are on, there’s a magic about
    watching them, like they could do whatever they want. I don’t think we
    get that sense from Brees.”
    What’s interesting about this statement to me is that I would say I DEFINITELY get that sense about Brees but do not get it from Brady. Brees sometimes seems like a perfect football-throwing machine in a way that only Peyton Manning has ever matched since I’ve been watching the NFL. Of course, this is entirely an emotional reaction and not something that one would necessarily expect others to share, but it’s interesting to me that you feel rather the opposite of how I do.

    I do think Brees should rank higher, but I think that argument is less interesting than that line.

    This series has been fantastic, Brad!

    • Adam Steele

      I agree. Especially in ’09 and ’11, there were a number of games where Brees put on magical performances, like he could’ve scored 70 points if he felt like it. I also get the sense that he’s carrying the entire city of New Orleans on his back, which gives Brees a certain air of heroism that most QBs lack. Watching Brady I don’t feel any magic; I just see a ruthlessly efficient team executing their game plan. Of course that’s totally subjective, but it’s interesting that two of us have the opposite impressions of Brees and Brady.

    • That is interesting. I certainly agree that the ‘magic’ is more obvious with Manning and Rodgers than Brady. I just stumbled across something I wrote in Week 2: “Brees’ career is statistically comparable to Tom Brady’s, and he’s never
      had the kind of teammates Brady did in the Super Bowl years. Brees
      might be among the 10 best QBs of all time, and I don’t think his career
      gets the recognition it deserves.” I definitely understand the argument that Brees could rank higher! I just don’t know who I could move down.

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying these articles. Thanks very much for the positive feedback.

      • My feeling about the guys at the top is that Manning is the clear GOAT and then there is a large-ish tier of guys who can go in any order: Brady, Elway, Tarkenton, Staubach, Young, Montana, Unitas, Graham, van Brocklin, and Brees. So, I don’t feel he’s some horrendous amount too low. I would put him above Jurgenson and Moon, but not by so much that I find that criminal.
        When we did the WOC GOAT list I ranked Brees third, but 15 is not that different to me.

        • Clint

          It always feels like Brees is “just there”. Every year he’s going to get over 4,000 yards and his team is going to have a disappointing season. We’ll look back and go “man, he was really doing that the whole time? why didn’t I care?”

          • Wolverine

            Brees came to the Saints when they were a joke of a franchise, and he got them to the playoffs immediately, later one a Superbowl, and a won a few playoff games. Any disappointment in the Saints seasons has usually been a result of their defense sucking, not because of Brees.

            • Clint

              I wasn’t trying to insinuate that it was his fault. My point was that he’s putting up these crazy statistics every year, and it’s mostly taken for granted.

              • Wolverine

                Okay, misunderstood your post.

                I think Brees has been saddled with some incompetent defenses compared to the other great quarterbacks, and as a result has been to fewer conference championship games and superbowls.

  • Adam Steele

    I don’t quite understand why you give Bradshaw a pass for his rough early years. His rookie season, fine. But in the early 70’s there were legitimate questions of whether Bradshaw should be benched for Terry Hanratty! You dock Warner for his bad years and being benched, so why not dock Bradshaw as well? It’s not like the Steelers gave him a terrible supporting cast (quite the opposite). Yes he was great for eight years but also sucked for several years before that with no real excuses.

    • I expected people to accuse me of underrating Warner and overrating Bradshaw, so I tailored their summaries to explain my reasoning. Bradshaw developed in a way that’s easy to understand, while Warner’s career arc is more or less unique. But I did rate Warner on his good seasons (all 4½ of them). I didn’t penalize him for having bad years, exactly, I just pointed that out to explain why he doesn’t rate higher: he had a very short career as a productive player.

      For Bradshaw, I wanted to explain why he doesn’t rate lower. We all remember Kurt Warner, but in evaluating older players, many of us begin with stats, and Bradshaw’s career stats aren’t at all reflective of his peak. Also, I don’t think you and I view the pre-1974 Steelers the same way.

      • Adam Steele

        That makes sense. I agree with your ranking of Warner; he is one of the most commonly overrated QBs, especially among younger fans (including me until I really stopped to look at his career in proper context). I don’t necessarily disagree with Bradshaw at 19, I was just curious as to how you deal with bad seasons. He’s one of those QBs who is overrated by one measure (rings) and underrated by another (stats). The truth is somewhere in between.

  • Tom

    I second what Bryan says…this series is absolutely awesome. I’m learning about players I’d never thought much about, and I’m kind of re-thinking how I assess how “great” a player is. Your reasons for including “non-NFL” league data are solid, and I completely agree. Also, gotta say I love the take on Drew Brees…you absolutely captured the way I think a lot of us think of him: an insanely great quarterback, but somehow lacking that “magic” (whatever that is). Not sure I’d have him above Bradshaw, but that’s probably because I’m hypnotized by the RINGZ, and in any event Brees isn’t that much higher. Great post, thanks Brad.

    • I’m really glad you’re enjoying these posts, Tom. I love football history, and it’s fun to share that with other people. Sportswriters tend to get a lot of negative feedback, so it’s really rewarding to hear when people appreciate something I’ve put as much research into as this series. Thanks.

  • Just a quick reply to Chase’s footnotes…

    [1] If we’re going to bring that up, let’s also point out that Kelly lost twice as many postseason games as Tittle. The playoffs were so much smaller then, it was usually the championship game or nothing.

    [9] The Sporting News and Newspaper Enterprise Association both had Elway first-team all-pro and Rice as MVP. What I found interesting — and I don’t think I did a good job of communicating this — was that it’s strange to see that — in a year when several major outlets did name Elway first-team all-pro — the one organization that broke ranks to name him MVP did not give him first-team all-pro recognition.

  • Clint

    I’m just glad Damon Allen wasn’t on here.

  • I don’t forget Sonny!

    One of my favorite little tidbits of minutia has become this: Terry Bradshaw won as many MVP awards as Dan Marino (1).