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Yesterday, I explained the methodology behind the formula involved in ranking every quarterback season in football history. Today, I’m going to present the career results. Converting season value to career value isn’t as simple as it might seem. Generally, we don’t want a player who was very good for 12 years to rank ahead of a quarterback who was elite for ten. Additionally, we don’t want to give significant penalties to players who struggled as rookies or hung around too long; we’re mostly concerned with the peak value of the player.

What I’ve historically done — and done here — is to give each quarterback 100% of his value or score from his best season, 95% of his score in his second best season, 90% of his score in his third best season, and so on. This rewards quarterbacks who played really well for a long time and doesn’t kill players with really poor rookie years or seasons late in their career. It also helps to prevent the quarterbacks who were compilers from dominating the top of the list. The table below shows the top 150 regular season QBs in NFL history using that formula, along with the first and last years of their careers, their number of career attempts (including sacks and rushing touchdowns), and their career records and winning percentages (each since 1950). For visibility reasons, I’ve shown the top 30 quarterbacks below, but you can change that number in the filter or click on the right arrow to see the remaining quarterbacks.

RknameValueFirst YrLast YrAttRecWin%
1Peyton Manning11344199820117441141-67-00.678
2Dan Marino10242198319998628147-93-00.613
3Steve Young873319851999450794-49-00.657
4Joe Montana8315197919945704117-47-00.713
5Tom Brady7897200020115597124-35-00.78
6Fran Tarkenton7680196119787067124-109-60.531
7Johnny Unitas7300195619735587118-64-40.645
8Dan Fouts716619731987592386-84-10.506
9Brett Favre70301991201010694186-112-00.624
10Drew Brees679420012011568792-61-00.601
11Norm Van Brocklin668019491960303661-36-40.624
12Ken Anderson666419711986487391-81-00.529
13Otto Graham650019461955281757-13-10.81
14Sonny Jurgensen627419571974457969-73-70.487
15Roger Staubach598319691979327185-29-00.746
16Sammy Baugh563219371952304011-10-00.524
17Sid Luckman54301939195017480-0-0---
18Y.A. Tittle513419481964476378-52-50.596
19Len Dawson479719571975411994-57-80.616
20Kurt Warner479119982009433067-49-00.578
21Aaron Rodgers469720052011227341-21-00.661
22Joe Namath468319651977393462-63-40.496
23Philip Rivers462420042011320763-33-00.656
24Daryle Lamonica445519631974276066-16-60.784
25John Hadl444219621977497982-76-90.518
26John Elway4291198319987766148-82-10.643
27John Brodie426119571973477274-77-80.491
28Jeff Garcia425419992011385758-58-00.5
29Boomer Esiason424819841997552380-93-00.462
30Tony Romo415220042011273447-30-00.61
31Jim Hart403119661984536187-88-50.497
32Trent Green391619972008399956-57-00.496
33Warren Moon3874198420007281102-101-00.502
34Donovan McNabb384219992011578498-62-10.612
35Roman Gabriel375019621977486286-64-70.57
36Bert Jones371419731982278347-49-00.49
37Steve McNair369119952007479891-62-00.595
38Bart Starr367619561971348794-57-60.618
39Jim Kelly3580198619965102101-59-00.631
40Rich Gannon345719872004450876-56-00.576
41Cecil Isbell3349193819428180-0-0---
42Troy Aikman334419892000497494-71-00.57
43Bob Griese317519671980376892-56-30.619
44Charlie Conerly314719481961302958-31-10.65
45Bobby Layne313819481962398780-51-40.607
46Ben Roethlisberger311320042011362780-33-00.708
47Mark Brunell299219942011503078-73-00.517
48Terry Bradshaw2940197019834208107-51-00.677
49Jim Everett287619861997518064-89-00.418
50Matt Schaub287420042011240332-34-00.485
51Craig Morton279019651982418881-62-10.566
52Steve Grogan270919751990384075-60-00.556
53Randall Cunningham270219852001477382-52-10.611
54Earl Morrall269819561976295863-37-30.626
55Arnie Herber26901930194511750-0-0---
56Daunte Culpepper269019992009349741-59-00.41
57Tommy Thompson26531940195014496-6-00.5
58Billy Kilmer264719611978314361-52-10.539
59Vinny Testaverde264119872007711890-123-10.423
60Ken Stabler262419701984407496-49-10.661
61Joe Theismann259219741985394277-47-00.621
62Mark Rypien239919882001271047-31-00.603
63Johnny Lujack23751948195185613-6-00.684
64Bernie Kosar229519851996363853-54-10.495
65Brad Johnson219219942008457772-53-00.576
66Bob Waterfield217319451952165414-8-00.636
67Milt Plum216619571969262956-40-60.578
68Carson Palmer211920042011372250-56-00.472
69Chad Pennington211120002010263344-37-00.543
70Frank Ryan210719581970233357-27-30.672
71George Blanda206219491975420453-50-10.514
72Michael Vick202820012011278253-37-10.588
73Greg Landry191619681984261644-51-30.464
74Brian Sipe191119741983366357-55-00.509
75Matt Hasselbeck190519992011512578-69-00.531
76Doug Williams188319781989259138-42-10.475
77Charley Johnson184219611975366159-57-80.508
78Joe Ferguson178519731990483179-92-00.462
79Jim McMahon175519821996279967-30-00.691
80Phil Simms174919791993512495-64-00.597
81Ed Danowski1684193419416370-0-0---
82Matt Ryan164820082011210743-19-00.694
83Ron Jaworski164519741989448073-69-10.514
84Don Meredith164119601968256948-33-40.588
85Doug Flutie162419862005225838-28-00.576
86Neil Lomax161019811988351547-52-20.475
87Bernie Masterson1608193419404090-0-0---
88Dave Krieg155219801998580598-77-00.56
89Danny White155119761988319162-30-00.674
90Bill Nelsen153119631972205640-31-30.561
91Steve DeBerg148719781998532053-86-10.382
92Jeff Hostetler140719851997254551-32-00.614
93Bill Kenney139419801988262534-43-00.442
94Billy Wade138419541966272040-43-20.482
95Neil O'Donnell138219912003348855-45-00.55
96Chris Chandler137319882004438567-85-00.441
97Wade Wilson133519811998264536-33-00.522
98Norm Snead132019611976469552-99-70.351
99Elvis Grbac129119942001257440-30-00.571
100Jeff George128619902001432546-78-00.371
101Tom Flores125219601969187731-32-40.493
102Marc Bulger121020022009342541-54-00.432
103Bob Monnett1202193319382900-0-0---
104Bobby Hebert118319851996329956-44-00.56
105George Ratterman11311947195614509-8-10.528
106Bobby Thomason111919491957147719-22-10.464
107Eli Manning111920042011411569-50-00.58
108Jim Zorn109019761987336244-62-00.415
109Jake Delhomme102319992011310056-40-00.583
110Ed Brown101919541965218155-38-50.587
111Keith Molesworth1006193119372200-0-0---
112Ace Parker999193719467180-0-0---
113Tommy Kramer97819771990390054-56-00.491
114Bill Munson97319641979216827-34-50.447
115Steve Beuerlein96519882003366047-55-00.461
116Steve Bartkowski96319751986381259-68-00.465
117Ray Mallouf913194119493260-0-0---
118James Harris90419691979125025-16-00.61
119David Garrard87920022010246039-37-00.513
120Frankie Albert84819461952164413-16-10.45
121Babe Parilli84619521969359849-46-70.515
122Ken O'Brien83719841993395550-59-10.459
123Jake Plummer79819972006463469-67-00.507
124Jim Harbaugh79619872000427966-74-00.471
125Erik Kramer77619871999242131-36-00.463
126Virgil Carter7661968197683816-14-00.533
127Pat Haden76319761981147835-19-10.645
128Stan Humphries72419891997266050-31-00.617
129Gary Danielson72419761988211528-31-10.475
130Brian Griese71819982008298945-38-00.542
131Bob Berry70819651975134220-29-30.413
132Cam Newton705201120115526-10-00.375
133Gus Frerotte69119942008331345-47-10.489
134Drew Bledsoe68819932006718498-95-00.508
135Jay Cutler66120062011268241-37-00.526
136Jeff Blake65219922005348939-61-00.39
137Tobin Rote63319501966316648-63-40.435
138Tuffy Leemans632193619432220-0-0---
139Lynn Dickey63019711985342245-63-30.419
140Jay Schroeder61919851994301661-38-00.616
141Dutch Clark599193119381220-0-0---
142Frank Filchock580193819506770-0-0---
143Edd Hargett576196919734591-5-10.214
144Paul Governali564194619485000-0-0---
145Tony Eason51119831990174128-23-00.549
146Scott Mitchell49619912001250132-39-00.451
147Glenn Presnell492193119363090-0-0---
148Vince Ferragamo46919771986170927-26-00.509
149Harry Newman467193319352290-0-0---
150Don Strock4541974198881616-6-00.727

A great regular season quarterback/stats star.

Not too many surprises at the top: Peyton Manning has been the most dominant regular season quarterback in NFL history. Just like he was three years ago. You might be surprised to see that Joe Montana — ignoring postseason results entirely — comes in as the 4th best quarterback of all-time. As I’ve noted before, his reputation as the game’s best clutch passer has overshadowed how elite of a quarterback he was whenever he was on the field. His high placement validates this system and shows why football analysts need to ignore volume based passing stats in favor of refined efficiency models.

For a long time, I was probably the leader of the “Tom Brady is overrated” crowd. But that wagon has long been without wheels. Even ignoring the postseason, Brady’s statistically the fifth best quarterback of all time. He has a top-five season, two of the top-ten seasons, three of the top thirty seasons and four of the top 100 seasons — all in his last four full seasons. There’s little reason to think another monster season isn’t on the horizon in 2012, either. Thanks largely to his 2007 season, he cracked my top 20 regular season list in 2008, but his run the last half-decade has been remarkable.

Ken Anderson is the highest ranking quarterback not eligible and not in the Hall of Fame; his case has been a thorn in the side of football statisticians for years. Conversely, Troy Aikman, Bob Griese, Bobby Layne and Terry Bradshaw all rank outside of the top 40 on this regular-season only list. Layne is an interesting character worthy of a much longer post. He retired as the career leader in passing touchdowns, passing yards, completions — and attempts. But he didn’t have any historically great seasons in Detroit; if you line up all the Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the modern era by their best couple of years, Layne would probably come in at the very end. The best stretch of his career statistically was his 10-game season with the Steelers in 1958, when he set career highs in yards per game, yards per attempt, and adjusted yards per attempt.

One note as you scan the list: remember that this system is designed to pick the best quarterbacks in football history; as such, the formula is much better for analyzing the quarterbacks at the top than in the middle. If you want to compare Brady to Manning, you would want to use this formula, but if you want to compare two lesser quarterbacks, the more appropriate baseline would be to replacement level, not league average.

I’ll close with one last list. I looked at all QBs on a year-to-year and five-year basis. Who was the best QB in 1980? Who was the best QB from 1950 to 1954? The table below shows the yearly leader in converted yards over average (including post-season) and the five-year leader.

YearQB LeaderValue5-year QB leaderValue
1932Walt Holmer367Arnie Herber2008
1933Glenn Presnell578Arnie Herber1835
1934Arnie Herber528Ed Danowski1865
1935Ed Danowski798Arnie Herber1753
1936Arnie Herber713Arnie Herber1559
1937Ed Danowski531Cecil Isbell2114
1938Ed Danowski441Cecil Isbell3565
1939Frank Filchock903Sid Luckman3987
1940Sammy Baugh849Sid Luckman3850
1941Sid Luckman990Sid Luckman4256
1942Cecil Isbell1450Sid Luckman4117
1943Sid Luckman1739Sid Luckman4141
1944Frank Filchock620Sammy Baugh2986
1945Sammy Baugh1026Sammy Baugh3599
1946Sid Luckman852Otto Graham2968
1947Sammy Baugh1241Otto Graham2775
1948Tommy Thompson1113Norm Van Brocklin3066
1949Johnny Lujack1290Norm Van Brocklin4460
1950Norm Van Brocklin1112Norm Van Brocklin4878
1951Bob Waterfield958Otto Graham4721
1952Otto Graham943Otto Graham4247
1953Otto Graham1879Otto Graham3305
1954Norm Van Brocklin869Johnny Unitas2100
1955Otto Graham867Johnny Unitas3386
1956Tobin Rote739Johnny Unitas4230
1957Johnny Unitas826Johnny Unitas3976
1958Johnny Unitas1071Johnny Unitas3200
1959Johnny Unitas1286Johnny Unitas2972
1960Milt Plum1373Johnny Unitas3139
1961Sonny Jurgensen1251Johnny Unitas3024
1962Y.A. Tittle1132Johnny Unitas3427
1963Y.A. Tittle1363Johnny Unitas4564
1964Johnny Unitas1453Len Dawson3861
1965John Brodie1050Joe Namath4357
1966Don Meredith1170Daryle Lamonica4363
1967Sonny Jurgensen1455Daryle Lamonica4539
1968Daryle Lamonica1275Daryle Lamonica3861
1969Daryle Lamonica1191Fran Tarkenton3210
1970John Brodie1548Fran Tarkenton3488
1971Roger Staubach1124Fran Tarkenton3821
1972Joe Namath818Fran Tarkenton4792
1973Roman Gabriel1196Ken Anderson4411
1974Ken Anderson1192Roger Staubach4106
1975Ken Anderson1385Roger Staubach4961
1976Bert Jones1675Roger Staubach4228
1977Bert Jones1084Dan Fouts4099
1978Roger Staubach1085Dan Fouts5694
1979Roger Staubach1237Dan Fouts5779
1980Brian Sipe1241Dan Fouts5498
1981Ken Anderson1489Dan Fouts5440
1982Dan Fouts1694Dan Marino5513
1983Joe Theismann1378Dan Marino6519
1984Dan Marino2436Dan Marino6709
1985Joe Montana1010Dan Marino4734
1986Dan Marino1450Dan Marino4606
1987Bernie Kosar1040Dan Marino4046
1988Boomer Esiason1356Dan Marino4088
1989Joe Montana1338Steve Young4892
1990Warren Moon1115Steve Young6168
1991Mark Rypien1385Steve Young6628
1992Steve Young1727Steve Young6155
1993Steve Young1400Steve Young5486
1994Steve Young1706Steve Young5450
1995Brett Favre1175Brett Favre3644
1996Brett Favre965Steve Young2905
1997Steve Young1058Kurt Warner3953
1998Randall Cunningham1585Rich Gannon3665
1999Kurt Warner1631Peyton Manning5091
2000Jeff Garcia1570Peyton Manning6236
2001Kurt Warner1312Peyton Manning6293
2002Rich Gannon1154Peyton Manning7454
2003Peyton Manning1459Peyton Manning8019
2004Peyton Manning2314Peyton Manning7433
2005Peyton Manning1366Peyton Manning6356
2006Peyton Manning1740Peyton Manning5660
2007Tom Brady2192Tom Brady6455
2008Drew Brees1341
2009Philip Rivers1413
2010Tom Brady1434
2011Aaron Rodgers2063

I love this table, especially the five-year column. This snapshot of NFL history takes us from Arnie Herber and Cecil Isbell in Green Bay to Sid Luckman in Chicago; we see him pass the baton to Sammy Baugh, who in turns hands it off to Otto Graham. Him and Norm Van Brocklin were the stars of their era, but then Johnny Unitas became America’s quarterback. By the late ’60s, the AFL’s three star quarterbacks had become the top passers in pro football, and then Fran Tarkenton, Ken Anderson and Roger Staubach battled it out in the ’70s. Despite the presence of Joe Montana, Dan Fouts and Dan Marino take the cake in the ’80s, and then Steve Young began his remarkably efficient run in the ’90s. Brett Favre wasn’t consistent enough to become the game’s top quarterback for a long stretch, and we saw Kurt Warner and Rich Gannon have great, but short, runs as elite quarterbacks. Peyton Manning dominated the start of this decade, and now Brady has claimed the last five year run. My guess has Brady on here for a couple more seasons, and then Aaron Rodgers taking over.

  • Shattenjager

    Every time I see such a list, I immediately am struck by the 49ers: Tittle-Brodie-Montana-Young-Garcia is just an incredible progression of quarterbacks (and during the one significant down period, between Brodie and Montana, they also had Jim Plunkett and Steve DeBerg–two guys who had pretty good careers, even if nowhere near the greats).

    It’s also interesting at this point that Manning and Marino are pretty well entrenched at the top–there’s a sizable gap between them and then between Marino and third-place Steve Young. It will be interesting to see if Brady and/or Brees has enough big years left to reach that level or instead ends up more in the area of Young and Montana.

    I love every time you do these rankings, Chase, and this time was no exception.

    • Chase Stuart

      Brady certainly could challenge Marino. If he gets 1600 points of value this year — roughly his average the past 4 years — he’ll bring his career value up to just a shade under 10,000.

  • Oh man, Chase. No matter how small the difference between them, and no matter how laudatory you are of Joe Montana in the text, you have to know that Young over Montana on the all-time list is an open invitation for Niners fan trolling. You’ve been warned.

    • Chase Stuart

      I’m not too concerned. Statistically, Young was a better regular season quarterback than Montana. If you take a look at their best 8 seasons in SF:

      — Montana averaged 7.8 Y/A, Young averaged 8.3 Y/A
      — Montana scored 215 total touchdowns in 110 starts; Young scored 228 TDs in 111 starts
      — Montana committed 117 turnovers, Young committed 108
      — Montana did have a slightly better sack rate, but obviously Young had a large ground advantage, gaining an extra 1600 rushing yards

      But here’s something interesting. Montana’s 1989 season was similar in a lot of ways to Young’s 1992 performance, but this rates Young’s season as a bit more impressive. Why? Because the league average CY/P was half a yard higher in ’89 than ’92. Somewhat of an odd result, but basically the league average NY/A was 0.3 NY/A higher in ’89, and there were more rushing TDs and fewer fumbles by QBs. It may simply be that there was better QB play that year, making Montana less ahead of the competition.

  • Danish

    I’m always surprised how unimpressive Elways passing numbers are. Some of his rushing value may be understated by this metric (correct?), and certainly his supporting cast was weak for most of his career, but 26th is pretty low for a guy many (including me) consider a top-10 QB of all time.

    I mean it takes a lot of circumstantial evidence such as rushing value, supporting cast, come from behinds and Dan Reeves’ running philosophy to get him into the top-10.

    • Richie

      Elway’s career-high was 27 TDs. He only went over 4,000 yards once. He only had a rating over 90 twice.

      He was a very good QB for a long time, and he had a lot of success in the postseason, but he just never really put up big numbers for an entire season.

      • deflated

        Context, please. Of the 99 seasons with 4,000+ passing yards from a QB 65 of them occurred after Elway retired. The game has evolved too much to allow straightforward QB comparisons even within the last 20 years.

        For me there is such a significant jump in his rate stats as soon as he lost Reeves as a head coach (both with Fassel as OC and with Shanahan/Kubiak) that I’ll accept the anecdotal evidence that he should be ranked higher than the numbers show (unfavorable schemes, poor supporting cast, playing from behind, etc).

        • Richie

          True. But there was at least one 4,000-yard passer every year of Elway’s career, except for 1987 (strike) and 1997. So it’s not like they weren’t happening.

          Interestingly, Elway’s best yards/game season was that strike-shortened 1987 season. He was on pace for 4,264 yards that year.

          • Chase Stuart

            Elway’s season by season breakdowns:

            1985--16--605--3891--22--23--38--307---0---5--4.4--- 3--31
            1984--14--380--2598--18--15--24--158---1---9--4.6-- -2--29
            1989--15--416--3051--18--18--35--298---3---7--4.7- -48--39

            You can Dan Reeves it all you like, but with only three top-five performances, he’s not going to rank too highly here. I’m sure there are those who would prefer Elway to Young, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But statistically, it’s a no brainer. Of course, that’s why these are still supposed to be starting points: I have no problem with the argument that even though Young’s numbers were way better, Elway was the better quarterback because of X, Y and Z.

        • Then how come almost every QB thrived under Reeves except for Elway?

    • Rich

      John Elway is the most overrated player in NFL history and this statistical analysis backs that up.

  • Danish

    I’ve long considered Young to be underrated, but even I was surprised to see him above Montana (This will probably change tomorrow when I assume playoff games will be added).

  • Richie

    Regarding Brady; does an unusually high portion of his career value come from the 2nd-half of his career? I also think he was probably overrated early on. But the last 6-7 seasons for him have been phenomenal. Does his recent suggest suggest that maybe he REALLY WAS that good early in his career, or does it mean that he just got better?

  • Richie

    So Kurt Warner was the best QB from 1997-2001, despite only playing in 54% of the games during that period? Wow.

    • Chase Stuart

      Yep, and it wasn’t even all that close. Warner was just so dominant from ’99 to ’01.

      Here are the top QBs in total value from ’97 to ’01:

      Value	GS	QB
      3953	43	Kurt Warner
      2877	64	Peyton Manning
      2768	42	Jeff Garcia
      2510	64	Rich Gannon
      2457	80	Brett Favre
      2216	73	Mark Brunell
      2193	33	Steve Young
      2145	73	Steve McNair
  • Tim Truemper

    Judging from the comments above, it is interesting to see how strongly our subjective impressions want us to diminish or qualify the numbers and their outcome. If I understand the approach by Chase, the data analysis emphasizes how these QB’s performed efficiently over a particular period of time, with decreased weighting of “mass” or raw productivity. Additionally, you have a weighing system by percentage of their best years in a descending/deceasing order of weights (from best to worst with 5 percentage point increments.
    Having read “Think Fast, Think Slow” by Kahneman (a book recommended at Smart Football) of the tension between our subjective/intuitive thinking and our slower, but more objective/analytical thinking, I can’t help but to notice some of this happening when Chase carefully laid out his method, the results of that method, and then the comments that suggest “But it just doesn’t feel right.”

  • Ryan

    Chase…thanks for the updated lists…your posts on the pfr blog were often a great read and I am glad I stumbled across your site.

    Couple questions I had for you:
    Thanks for the Elway statistics, do you have anywhere I can download a list of the other players by year?
    If not available for download, what would the all-time regular season and playoff rankings look like if you removed negative seasons from a players total?
    Will you be running revised rankings for running backs, wide receivers, etc?
    Do you have a personal hall of fame that you planned to share with the readership?

    Thanks for the fine articles and best of luck!

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks Ryan. I’m glad you found the site. Unfortunately I don’t have a downloadable list of players, but there will be revised lists in the future on all positions.

  • Chase Stuart

    I just realized that the career lists do not zero out negative seasons. I guess this gives me a good reason to re-do this in the summer.

  • Howard McTaggart

    I think you have to consider more than passes attempted and completed and wins you also have to consider the teams they played for and the protection they had as well as the receivers they threw to and the running attack the team had to keep defences honest, and a real big issue is how their opponents reacted to playing against them, and in these terms my number one is and always will be Sir Fran Tarkenton, cause to me he was a knight. he was better than any of the others listed here bar none.

  • eagle97a

    Hi Chase would you consider adding up the playoff numbers with SOS and weather adjustments for a total value ranking like what you did a few years back? I’ve always enjoyed these rankings, very informative.