Who's the Greatest NFL Quarterback Ever?
Trying to name the best quarterback in NFL history can lead to arguments without end. If you walk into a sports bar and ask five fans who is the greatest signal-caller ever, you’re likely to get five different answers.
If you’re in Indianapolis, chances are Peyton Manning will get the nod. But Denver fans would argue John Elway is the best, just as Miami supporters would do the same for Dan Marino.
It all depends on the criteria used to determine the best.
If raw statistics are the main factor, then Brett Favre may be named. Through the 2009 season, he has thrown for more touchdowns (497) and yards (69,329) than anyone in NFL history.
But if winning the Super Bowl was the ultimate measuring stick, then Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, both with four Super Bowl victories, would be your picks as the top QBs, with Tom Brady and Troy Aikman (each with 3 Super Bowl wins) close behind.
Then again, it’s important to not overlook the early greats of the game.
The best in his era
In his book “Monday Morning Quarterback,” Peter King, who covers the NFL for Sports Illustrated, wrote that the way to determine the best players is to figure out which players excelled in their era. You have to compare apples to apples, King wrote, which is why he listed Otto Graham as the top QB of all time.
Graham played for the Cleveland Browns from 1946 until 1955, an era of football much different from today’s pass-oriented style of play. In his 10-year career, Graham won seven passing titles and led the Browns to an even more remarkable seven league championships.
If a quarterback’s primary purpose is to help his team win, then Graham has no peer, King wrote. Only Packers legend Bart Starr, with five NFL titles, approaches Graham’s unparalleled championship record.
If one follows King’s criteria in judging greatness, which measure players’ dominance within their particular era, then Graham was clearly head-and-shoulders above other quarterbacks of his era, much more so, in fact, than other great QBs -- such as Johnny Unitas, Montana and Brady -- were in their eras.
The best based on statistics
In his book “Quarterback Abstract,” an in-depth analysis of the quarterback position, author John Maxymuk uses five statistics-based criteria to determine the best QB: passing efficiency; offensive effectiveness; running ability and mobility; leadership and play-calling skills; and clutch performance.
Using these standards of measurement, Maxymuk also names Otto Graham as the top QB of all time, due to his seven titles and 103 victories over a 10-year period. And Joe Montana is the highest ranked QB of those who played after 1975, based on his four Super Bowl titles and 117 victories.
But even after all that number-crunching, Maxymuk admits in his book that if someone asked him who he'd choose as quarterback if he had one game to win, he would consider Bart Starr. Starr won five titles, after all, and owns the highest playoff winning percentage in league history, winning 9 of 10 postseason games.
But Maxymuk also happens to be a Packers fan, so he may be a little biased.