It’s June, so naturally we’re ever so close to the NFL Season but still so far away that news is sparse. To help fill the void, I decided to look at some all-time selections at six different positions—Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End, Defense and Coaching. Over the next six weeks, I’ll be giving my Top 10 at each, beginning today with Quarterbacks.
Before we jump in, I thought I’d share a bit about this process. First, I was born in 1981 and have been watching football since the mid-to-late 1980s. The NFL has been around a lot longer, but in order to make sure bias doesn’t play too big a role in choices, I’ve limited this look back to the last 41 years, since 1980. Second, this is a subjective list. While I consider stats, performance and metrics, I’m the one doing the evaluation, so ultimately it’s my list. I encourage you to share your own thoughts and criticisms each week in the comments.
Now, on to the list. The group will appear in ascending order, beginning with one or two each week that just missed. On to this week’s list!
Just Missed: Troy Aikman (Dallas Cowboys, 1989-2000)
Stats: 32,942 passing yards, 165 touchdowns, 141 INTs; 1,016 rush yards, 9 touchdowns; 94-71 career record
About: Aikman was a fixture for the Cowboys for 12 seasons. He went from 0-11 as a starter during his rookie season to winning three Super Bowls during his time in Dallas. His career was cut short due to concussions, but he’s gone on to be a good announcer for FOX. He was surrounded by some incredible teammates, including Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. But I have long thought he was an under-rated passer. He didn’t quite make this list, but he was in consideration for my last spot.
10. Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins, 1983-1999)
Stats: 61,361 passing yards, 420 touchdowns, 252 INTs; 87 rushing yards, 9 touchdowns; 147-93 career record
About: The biggest knock against Marino—who was a high-volume passer during an era where that wasn’t common—was his lack of post-season success. He reached the Super Bowl once, in 1984, losing there to San Francisco. But Marino was an NFL MVP, made nine Pro Bowls, had 47 game-winning drives and 33 comeback victories. He was a great passer who helped carry the Dolphins for several years. Despite not winning a Super Bowl, he is remembered as an All Time Great, part of a Class of 1983 that produced three players on my list.
9. Steve Young (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1985-1986, San Francisco 49ers, 1987-1999)
Stats: 33,124 passing yards, 232 touchdowns, 107 INTs; 4,239 rushing yards, 42 touchdowns; 94-49 Career Record
About: It’s fair to wonder what Young might have accomplished if he didn’t spend the first part of his career sitting behind the great Joe Montana. When he did get his chance, he flourished. Young was an NFL MVP and a seven-time Pro Bowl selection. He led the 49ers to the Super Bowl and won in 1995, adding some icing to his career. He was a great and accurate passer, leading the league in that category five times and leading the league in quarterback rating six times. He also led 16 game-winning drives and 13 comeback victories during his time. Young was one of the first dual threat quarterbacks, piling up more than 4,000 rushing yards and 40 rushing touchdowns to add to his passing numbers. He was fun to watch and was an obvious choice for this list.
8. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers, 2005-Present)
Stats: 51,245 passing yards, 412 touchdowns, 89 INTs; 3,271 rushing yards, 31 touchdowns; 126-63-1 career record
About: Rodgers has been with the Packers for 16 seasons, spending the first three as an apprentice and the last 13 as one of the best passers in NFL history. He’s one of two active players on this list. I don’t know how much time Rodgers has left, or whether it will be with the Packers, but he’s certainly done enough thus far to make the list. He’s won the NFL MVP three times, including last season and is a nine-time Pro Bowl selection. He’s led 25 game-winning drives and has 17 come back victories. He’s been to the Super Bowl once and won and the NFC Championship Game six times, including each of the last three seasons. He’s put up great numbers, been a winner and been incredibly accurate. He’s only thrown double-digit interceptions twice—once in his first year as a starter and a second time in 2010. When it’s all over, he’ll go down as one of the best to play the position no matter what happens to end his career.
7. Jim Kelly (Buffalo Bills, 1986-1996)
Stats: 35,467 passing yards, 237 touchdowns, 175 INTs; 1,049 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns; 101-59 career record
About: Kelly is an under-rated quarterback, and another member of the Class of 1983. He didn’t start in the NFL right away, instead going to the USFL for three seasons after being drafted by the Bills. But when he arrived in Buffalo, he was worth the wait. The Bills of the 1990s were prolific, making it to four Super Bowls in a row. The team lost them all, which is why I think Kelly and teammates Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed don’t get the credit they deserve. They were an incredible team to watch, and Kelly was a big part of that. He made the Pro Bowl five times and led 28 game-winning drives and 22 come-from-behind victories. I always appreciated Kelly and the way he played the position.
6. Brett Favre (Atlanta Falcons, 1991, Green Bay Packers, 1992-2007, New York Jets, 2008, Minnesota Vikings, 2009-2010)
Stats: 71,838 passing yards, 508 touchdowns, 336 INTs; 1,814 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns; 186-112 career record
About: Favre was one of the best and one of the most entertaining to play the game. He ended up playing for four teams in his career, but it was his time with the Packers that made him a household name and a legend. He was a two-time MVP and 11-time Pro Bowl selection. Favre made the Super Bowl twice and one the big game once. He also led 43 game-winning drives and 28 come-from-behind wins. He still ranks at No. 4 all time in passing yardage and passing touchdowns. He was a lot of fun to watch and remains one of the best I ever saw sling it.
5. Drew Brees (San Diego Chargers, 2001-2005, New Orleans Saints, 2006-2020)
Stats: 80,358 passing yards, 571 touchdowns, 243 INTs; 752 rushing yards, 25 touchdowns; 172-114 career record
About: Brees was one of the under-rated quarterbacks during his career, which came to a close in January. He was never once named NFL MVP but made 13 Pro Bowls and was the MVP of the Super Bowl in 2009, when he brought a title home to the Saints. He also finished as the No. 1 all time leader in passing yardage and No. 2 all time leader in passing touchdowns. He also led 53 game-winning drives and 36 come-from-behind victories. He was a special player who, when teamed with coach Sean Payton, created magic for years in New Orleans. I loved watching Brees play and, while his reputation isn’t as big as some of the guys already on this list, he was an incredible player who deserves the call to the Hall of Fame in five years.
4. Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts, 1998-2010, Denver Broncos, 2012-2015)
Stats: 71,940 passing yards, 539 touchdowns, 251 INTs; 667 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns; 186-79 career record
About: Speaking of Hall of Fame, we get to The Sheriff. He got his Hall of Fame call and will be inducted in August, and it’s well deserved. He was a five-time NFL MVP, two-time Super Bowl champion with two different teams and still sits as No. 3 All Time on the Passing Yardage and Passing Touchdown list. He made the Pro Bowl 14 times, led 54 game-winning drives and had 43 come-from-behind victories. He was prolific as a leader on the field and prolific as a commercial actor off the field. I had a love-hate relationship with Manning. When he was with the Colts, dominating everyone, I hated playing against him. When he came to my beloved Broncos, I loved having him. He’ll remain one of my favorites at the position and one of the greatest of all time.
3. John Elway (Denver Broncos, 1983-1998)
Stats: 51,475 passing yards, 300 touchdowns, 226 INTs; 3,407 rushing yards, 33 touchdowns; 148-82-1 career record
About: Elway is the final entry of the Class of 1983 on this list, and probably my favorite all time players. His stats don’t look incredible compared to the modern NFL, but he was epic in his time, doing things players weren’t doing. He carried the Denver Broncos for many years, taking the team to three Super Bowls that they lost in the 1980s. Finally, with Mike Shanahan, he was able to get there and win in 1997, beating Favre and the Packers, then again in 1998 before calling it a career. He finished with 40 game-winning drives and 31 come-from-behind victories. He was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, an NFL MVP and a two-time Super Bowl champion, winning Super Bowl MVP honors in his final season. This might be a personal choice, but I loved Elway and he’s always been near the top of the heap for me when it comes to quarterbacks.
2. Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers, 1979-1992, Kansas City Chiefs, 1993-1994)
Stats: 40,551 yards, 273 touchdowns, 139 INTs; 1,676 rushing yards, 20 touchdowns; 111-47 career record
About: Joe Cool was the man when he starred for the 49ers, and one of the most successful quarterbacks of all time. He finished as an eight-time Pro Bowler, two-time NFL MVP and four-time Super Bowl champion. He took the 49ers to the Super Bowl four times and never lost. His career in San Francisco ended in inglorious fashion, but he still made the most of it and turned in a couple fine years with the Chiefs, including some memorable finishes. Montana was a great surgeon with the ball, doing things no one had done at the position at the time. He remained calm under pressure and was great in the biggest moments on the biggest stage. He is universally regarded as one of the best of all time. Which brings us to…
1. Tom Brady (New England Patriots, 2000-2019, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2020-Present)
Stats: 79,204 passing yards, 581 passing touchdowns, 191 INTs; 1,043 rushing yards, 25 touchdowns; 230-69 career record
About: When it comes to the Greatest of All Time, there is only really one option. Brady has done everything you could ever want from a quarterback, and he’s still going into his mid-40s. He’s been to the Pro Bowl 14 times, been a three-time NFL MVP and won the Super Bowl seven times with two different teams. Brady sits No. 1 all time in passing touchdowns and No. 2 all time in passing yardage, and he’s still going. He’s also the career leader in victories, and I don’t suspect his numbers are going to be beaten any time soon. Nor do I believe his seven Super Bowl victories will be equaled ever. He’s had an incredible career and we’ve all been along for the ride. Some day when he retires, he’ll merely need to wait five years to get into the Hall of Fame. He’s a polarizing player for fans, but it’s undeniable that he’s achieved things no one else has on the field.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.