Examining the Greatest Quarterback of All-Time Conversation

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 24: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos and Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots speak after the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 20-18. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The argument of who is the greatest quarterback of all-time is one of the most controversial subjects amongst NFL fans. Instead of analyzing the greatest quarterback throughout the entire NFL history, this article will analyze the greatest quarterback from each era starting in the 1980’s. Now, this is simply based on my sole opinion after analyzing stats and accomplishments. Everyone is going to have different opinions. But it is important to consider that the level of NFL play is completely different today than it was three decades ago. The game is continuing to evolve and so are the players.

Examining the Greatest Quarterback of All-Time Conversation

1980’s: Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino

Winner: Joe Montana

Joe Montana career stats: 40,551 yards, 273 touchdowns, and 139 interceptions.

Joe Montana was widely referred to as the greatest quarterback of all-time until Tom Brady entered the conversation. Montana earned four super bowl rings, three super bowl MVP awards, was elected to the Pro Bowl eight times and was a three-time All-Pro in his 16-year career. During his tenure, Montana broke numerous NFL records that have since been broken by some of the great quarterbacks of this millennium. While his stats may seem underwhelming to some, Montana did earn two NFL Most Valuable Player awards in 1989 and 1990, was a two-time NFL passer rating leader in 1987 and 1989 and was a two-time NFL passing touchdowns leader in 1982 and 1987.

Dan Marino is absolutely one of the best quarterbacks of all-time but since most of his accomplishments occurred in the 1980’s, I decided to pin him up against Joe Montana for the conversation of the greatest quarterback in the 1980’s. Marino didn’t match up to Montana in any way considering super bowls. Marino made one super bowl appearance and lost but he was a nine-time pro bowler and was voted the MVP of the league in 1984. He also found himself as the NFL passing yards and touchdowns leader multiple times in his career.

Dan Marino career stats: 61,361 yards, 420 touchdowns, 252 interceptions.

1990’s: John Elway vs. Steve Young vs. Brett Favre

Winner: Steve Young

Steve Young career stats: 33,124 yards, 232 TDs, 107 INT.

John Elway brought back-to-back championships with the Denver Broncos in 1997 and 1998. He won MVP the same year he won his first super bowl and was nine-time pro bowler. While his accomplishments include super bowl MVP in 1997, NFL MVP in 1987, and NFL passing yards leader in 1993, I consider San Francisco 49ers Steve Young the greatest quarterback of the 1990’s.

Young, the successor to Montana, had more accomplishments in the last decade of the 20th century than did Elway. Young had a total of three super bowl wins, one in 1994 as a starter, and even won the super bowl MVP award that year. He was a seven-time pro bowler from 1992 to 1998 and was the league MVP twice. He trumps Elway alone in super bowl championships, but also in MVP awards, as NFL passing touchdown leader, and NFL passer rating leader.

John Elway career stats: 51,475 yards, 300 TDs, 226 INT.

Brett Favre could be included in this conversation, although his accomplishments are underwhelming compared to Elway and Young. But Favre did win a super bowl in 1996, was a two-time NFL passing yards leader, and was elected to the Pro Bowl 11-times in his career.

Brett Favre career stats: 71,838 yards, 508 TDs, 336 INT.

2000’s: Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning

Winner: Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning career stats: 71,940 yards, 539 TDs, 251 INT.

Tom Brady may have more super bowl rings and super bowl MVP awards than Peyton Manning, but Peyton was a game-changer and he did not have the same type of team surrounding him as Brady did. Peyton Manning won the super bowl twice, the last in the final year of his career. What a way to go out with a bang. He was also elected to the Pro Bowl 14-times, was named the NFL MVP five-times, and was the NFL passing leader many times.

2010’s: Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees vs. Aaron Rodgers

Winner: Tom Brady

Tom Brady career stats (so far): 68,653 yards, 505 TDs, 167 INT.

Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of the 2010’s and quite possibly of all-time, but remember, I’m only analyzing by era. Brady has more than doubled the super bowl rings that Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have combined (one each) and leads them in Pro Bowl selections with 14 (Brees has 11, Rodgers has six).

While Rodgers is definitely one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, his accomplishments don’t measure up the same because, despite being in the league for 14 years, he sat out his first few seasons behind Brett Favre before becoming Favre’s successor.

Aaron Rodgers career stats (so far): 41,044 yards, 328 TDs, 79 INT.

Many now argue that Brees has become the greatest quarterback of all-time because of his record-breaking 2018 season. It’s just his lack of super bowl rings and MVP awards that is holding others back from agreeing. So far, Brees holds the NFL records for career pass completions, passing yards, completion percentage, and touchdown passes. While the New Orleans Saints are having a great season so far, they are definitely making a case for a super bowl run, which would add to the argument for the Brees.

Drew Brees Career Stats (so far): 72,781 yards, their06 TDs, 229 INT.

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  1. It’s really difficult to compare and contrast eras; the game changes so much from decade to decade. That said it’s probably Brady, who (at least at this point) is the only QB with the rings AND the huge career stats. Peyton’s 2nd ring with Denver should barely count in light of the fact that he did literally nothing to win that SB. And IMO, Pro Bowl selections are pretty much meaningless.
    And their should be at least some accounting for Brees and Manning playing so much of their careers indoors while Brady, Favre and Rodgers have not just played outdoors but also in very difficult climates.


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