Greatest QB of All Time: Consensus (2018)

Last year I attempted to distill the public opinion of quarterback greatness into a mathematical formula, but I left out active players which made the ranking feel incomplete (ok, it was incomplete). In this post I’m going to update the list with a new formula and active QB’s included.

I have two main purposes for this exercise: 1) To provide a baseline of the general consensus to measure other ranking systems against, and 2) I love to create rankings and look for any excuse to do so.

Methodology

Since the goal of this list is to match public opinion, it’s okay (maybe necessary) to cook the books until the formula spits out the result I’m looking for. Here are the categories and weights I ultimately decided on:


Passer Rating Index (Rate+) = (n – 80) * 2 points
Era adjusted career passer rating, as measured by PFR’s index metric. This provides a baseline for the passing efficiency of each QB. Even though I hate passer rating, it’s the rate stat of choice for the majority of football fans.

Touchdown Passes (PassTD) = n * .05 points
Career regular season TD passes. The most commonly used counting stat for quarterbacks.

Rushing Touchdowns (RushTD) = n * .05 points
Career regular season TD’s on the ground. People rarely site specific rushing numbers when discussing quarterbacks, but many give a subjective bonus to the QB’s who were known as running threats.

Regular Season Wins (RegW) = n * .3 points
Ah, the stat us analytics guys love to hate. In any other context I wouldn’t touch QB wins with a ten foot pole, but the public is fixated on assigning game outcomes to a single player.  Note that QB wins were not tracked prior to 1950, so older players are listed with an artificially low number of wins. I attempt to correct for this discrepancy as you will see down the line.

Passing Yardage Leader (YdsLdr) = n * 3 points
Number of regular seasons leading the league in gross passing yards. Yardage totals are not held in very high regard, but topping the list in a given season usually earns bonus points from the fans. In pre-merger seasons, each league is credited with its own yardage leader.

Pro Bowls (PB) = n * 2 points
Number of seasons voted into the Pro Bowl or invited as an alternate. The title of Pro Bowler has been heavily diluted in recent years, but for most of NFL history it actually meant something. For many fans, a Pro Bowl appearance is convenient shorthand for a great season.

First Team All Pro Selections (AP1) = n * 4 points
Number of seasons voted as the First Team QB by the Associated Press. The title of All Pro carries higher prestige than making the Pro Bowl, and rightly so. It’s shorthand for the best QB in any given season. Personally, I don’t believe the Associated Press voters are any more knowledgeable than those from other publications, but the vast majority of fans don’t care about the non-AP teams.

MVP Awards (MVP) = n * 6 points
Number of regular season Most Valuable Player awards as voted on by the Associated Press. The single most prestigious regular season award, although it’s really a Best-QB-or-RB-if-no-QB-stands-out award. Again, there are MVP’s named by other publications, but the public only cares about the AP.

Playoff Wins (PostW) = n * 3 points
Since NFL postseason games are decided by the only two players on the field, it’s only fair that we judge quarterbacks by their ability to win in the playoffs. And make no mistake, winning in the postseason is a special skill that only certain QB’s possess. You can’t win if you ain’t clutch.

Playoff Losses (PostL) = n * -2 points
An outcome reserved for the poor souls who can’t perform in the clutch. When a quarterback loses a postseason game, there is only one reasonable explanation: He’s a choker.

Super Bowl Appearances (SBApp) = n * 5 points
Number of Super Bowl games started. The biggest of big games is watched by over 100 million people, so of course setting foot on that sacred field is going to be very prestigious in the eyes of football fans.

Super Bowls Wins (RingzSB) = n * 5 + n ^ 2 points
Number of Super Bowls won as a starter. The ultimate prize in the ultimate team game battle of quarterbacks. That shiny ring on a QB’s finger renders all arguments against him obsolete, and all of his haters are instantly silenced; he is the king of football, king of the sports world, and if we’re being honest, the greatest man on Earth.

Super Bowl MVP Awards (SBMVP) = n * 2 points
This is kind of redundant because the winning QB is always the best player on the field.

NFL Championship Wins (RingzN) = n * 5 points
Number of pre-Super Bowl NFL championships won as a starter. The clutch gene has existed since the dawn of football, but it didn’t matter as much when hardly anyone was around to witness it. All kidding aside, fans are correct in placing less prestige on championships from the old days; there were far fewer teams and less parity between them.

AFL and AAFC Championship Wins (RingzA) = n * 2  points
Number of pre-Super Bowl AFL championships and/or AAFC championships won as a starter. The early AFL was a watered down league with sloppy play and poor competition, while most football fans probably don’t know the AAFC even existed.

Hall of Fame Inductee (HOF) = n * 20 points
Only counts for QB’s already inducted, as the rankings are more intuitive without making assumptions on the HOF candidacy of current players. The highest individual honor for any athlete in a team sport. While gridiron diehards quibble over the decisions of the HOF committee, general fandom takes the HOF at face value and exalts the men who have been immortalized in bronze.

Pre-modern Seasons (Old) = n * 3 points
As mentioned earlier, QB wins were not tracked before 1950. To adjust for this, I give three points for each season as a primary starter prior to 1950. In a few cases I had to make judgment calls over what constitutes a primary starter, but those calls have little impact on the ranking.

Whew, that’s a lot of categories! The overall score for each QB is simply the sum of his points earned in each category. I narrowed the ranking down to quarterbacks who attempted 1,500+ regular season passes and began their career in 2014 or earlier. This gives us a list of 185 signal callers.

Results

I’m going to post the ranking without another word, and leave the commentary up to you!
#QuarterbackRate+PassTDRushTDRegWYdsLdrPBAP1MVPPostWPostLSBAppRingzSBSBMVPRingzNRingzAHOFOldScorezScore
1Tom Brady118488171963133327108543844.87
2Peyton Manning118539181863147514134213073.57
3Joe Montana1232732011783216744312923.32
4Brett Favre109508141862113313112112512.64
5Otto Graham12717444575569334142472.58
6Johnny Unitas11129013118310436211212312.30
7John Elway1053003314819114752112272.24
8Terry Bradshaw1052123210731114544212222.16
9Steve Young12623243947328611112172.08
10Dan Marino11342091475931810112121.99
11Sammy Baugh1221879114643321132091.94
12Bart Starr113152159441191222312091.94
13Drew Brees116488181426.5111761112071.92
14Roger Staubach1211532085611642112051.88
15Sid Luckman12013742355141112051.88
16Fran Tarkenton11434232124191165311981.76
17Kurt Warner11720836714229431111981.75
18Aaron Rodgers1233132594622971111891.61
19Troy Aikman106165994611433111871.57
20Ben Roethlisberger111329161350.56138321851.55
21Len Dawson1192399947253111111851.54
22Bob Griese11319279282652211801.45
23Jim Kelly11123771015198411701.28
24Norm Van Brocklin11417311611911221111571.07
25Dan Fouts11225413864623411561.06
26Sonny Jurgensen114255156955211551.04
27Ken Stabler107194496411751111531.00
28Bobby Layne1031962580262312121500.96
29Y.A. Tittle111242397873104121490.95
30Eli Manning9833961114842221390.77
31Russell Wilson1151611665484211380.76
32Warren Moon10629122102293711370.74
33Ken Anderson115197209124112411350.71
34Philip Rivers112342310617451320.66
35Joe Namath1021737623512111111320.65
36Joe Theismann107160177721162211300.62
37Rich Gannon110180217614214311290.60
38Donovan McNabb106234299869711250.53
39Matt Ryan1092605954114611230.50
40Boomer Esiason1062477804113211170.40
41Phil Simms1051996952641111160.39
42George Blanda101236953231222111150.38
43Tony Romo1162485784241140.36
44Jim Plunkett981641472822211130.33
45Roman Gabriel10820130861411021100.29
46Earl Morrall1071618632114111100.29
47Steve McNair1051743791315511100.29
48Daryle Lamonica1091641466152451100.28
49John Hadl1042441682361021070.23
50Bob Waterfield1089713142312111060.22
51Joe Flacco9720016921051111050.21
52Craig Morton10818312815521050.21
53John Brodie10421422743211231050.21
54Mark Brunell107184157813551010.14
55Dave Krieg10726113983361000.12
56Randall Cunningham107207358241361000.12
57Brad Johnson10416687224311990.11
58Mark Rypien104115847252111960.06
59Danny White111155862155960.05
60Jeff Garcia1111612658424950.03
61Drew Bledsoe9825110984331940.03
62Jeff Hostetler10594175114111940.02
63Carson Palmer104294892313940.02
64Charlie Conerly108173105720212930.01
65Matt Hasselbeck1012128853561930.00
66Daunte Culpepper11014934411322920.00
67Bert Jones111124144711110392-0.01
68Frank Ryan108149657312191-0.03
69Jim McMahon10410016671331190-0.05
70Brian Sipe10615411571110187-0.09
71Ron Jaworski1021791673144187-0.10
72Neil Lomax1101361047120186-0.11
73Chris Chandler1021701267221186-0.11
74Cam Newton97158546231134185-0.13
75Tobin Rote981483748121311185-0.13
76Jack Kemp9611440657224283-0.16
77Billy Wade10412424401210182-0.17
78Alex Smith102183148832582-0.17
79Billy Kilmer1061522161125182-0.18
80Bernie Kosar10812455313481-0.19
81Trent Green10816265620281-0.19
82Matt Schaub106133447121181-0.20
83Neil O'Donnell105120455134181-0.20
84Chad Pennington1121027442481-0.20
85Frankie Albert113115271311180-0.21
86Vinny Testaverde97275159022380-0.22
87Jake Delhomme100126756153179-0.22
88Steve Bartkowski106156115921379-0.23
89Jim Everett10320346412378-0.25
90Jim Hart98209168740277-0.26
91Jay Cutler10022797411177-0.26
92Babe Parilli9917823491311177-0.27
93Ken O'Brien10712805020275-0.29
94Greg Landry10898214410175-0.29
95Don Meredith105135154731375-0.30
96Tony Eason1066162832174-0.32
97Steve Beuerlein103147547111174-0.32
98Charley Johnson10117010591174-0.32
99Brian Griese105119545172-0.35
100Jeff George10415424611272-0.35
101Milt Plum103122135620172-0.35
102Jim Harbaugh101129186612371-0.36
103Tom Flores10793531170-0.38
104Andy Dalton102167186330470-0.38
105Marc Bulger10412284121270-0.38
106Matthew Stafford102216146010370-0.39
107Kirk Cousins10899132610169-0.39
108Andrew Luck100132144333369-0.39
109Kerry Collins922081081234169-0.39
110Michael Vick97133366142369-0.40
111Tommy Kramer10015985412269-0.40
112Norm Snead971962352469-0.40
113Joe Ferguson97196117911368-0.41
114David Garrard10489173911168-0.41
115Colin Kaepernick10172132842168-0.42
116Doug Williams9510015384311166-0.44
117Bobby Hebert10313515610366-0.45
118Steve Grogan9918235750365-0.46
119Trent Dilfer881135581511165-0.46
120Steve DeBerg1011967531365-0.46
121Bill Nelsen1039824012365-0.46
122Lynn Dickey10014194511165-0.46
123Stan Humphries988975033164-0.48
124Bill Kenney103105534164-0.48
125Gary Danielson106817280163-0.50
126Elvis Grbac1029974011262-0.51
127Eddie LeBaron100104928462-0.51
128Archie Manning1001251835262-0.52
129Jay Schroeder9511456113261-0.53
130Jeff Blake1001341439161-0.53
131Bill Munson1048432760-0.54
132Wade Wilson1009993612358-0.58
133Jake Plummer94161176912458-0.59
134Derek Carr99103028358-0.59
135Ed Brown96102145320156-0.62
136Jim Zorn98111174456-0.62
137Chris Miller9812323411155-0.62
138Aaron Brooks9812313381155-0.63
139Ryan Tannehill9910663755-0.63
140Jon Kitna9616911500154-0.65
141Sam Bradford9910123453-0.66
142Richard Todd9512414482253-0.66
143Erik Kramer100925311253-0.66
144Vince Ferragamo967632733152-0.68
145Dan Pastorini9110385613251-0.69
146Jason Campbell988763250-0.71
147Doug Flutie9886103810250-0.71
148Jay Fiedler986911371250-0.71
149Kyle Orton9610144250-0.72
150Don Majkowski966612261149-0.73
151Mike Livingston9756731148-0.74
152Ryan Fitzpatrick92173134848-0.75
153Rodney Peete947616451147-0.76
154Scott Mitchell989511320247-0.76
155Bubby Brister95818371147-0.77
156Steve Bono976272810146-0.78
157Frank Tripucka94696172145-0.80
158Charlie Batch976162545-0.80
159Kordell Stewart9077384812244-0.81
160Cotton Davidson95731119244-0.81
161Gus Frerotte9311464510244-0.82
162Byron Leftwich975810240143-0.84
163Mike Tomczak90889423242-0.84
164Josh McCown9497132340-0.87
165Matt Cassel9210453610140-0.88
166Tim Couch956422240-0.88
167Tony Banks927763539-0.90
168Mark Sanchez868613374236-0.95
169Eric Hipple935513280136-0.95
170David Carr926592335-0.97
171Blake Bortles89907212133-0.99
172Marc Wilson90865320132-1.01
173Josh Freeman908142532-1.02
174Rex Grossman855642522128-1.09
175Chad Henne885831824-1.14
176Billy Joe Tolliver885951524-1.15
177Dave Brown864472622-1.17
178Joey Harrington857902622-1.18
179Mike Phipps855513380221-1.20
180Derek Anderson856052019-1.23
181Kyle Boller854822019-1.24
182Mark Malone836018231118-1.25
183Mike Pagel854941718-1.25
184Jack Trudeau84423190114-1.32
185Rick Mirer815092412-1.35