Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Joe Montana is still the greatest all-time quarterback, but it’s getting closer

Former San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Joe Montana (1979-94) led the 49ers to four Super Bowl championships in a storied career.
Former San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Joe Montana (1979-94) led the 49ers to four Super Bowl championships in a storied career.

Top 10 quarterback debates are nothing new. Everybody has them and they always include pretty much the same set of names.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. And in putting together my personal Top 10 NFL QBs of all-time, I’ve paid special attention to postseason success. After all, isn’t that how quarterbacks should be judged?

Which is why, I suppose, I gave Eli Manning a look for the Top 10 before ultimately deciding he hadn’t done enough in the regular season to warrant inclusion. Get Eli to the postseason and he’s a special quarterback with an 8-3 record and two Super Bowl wins. But in the regular season, he’s just 91-76 as a starter for the New York Giants.

Anyway, here’s my Top 10, working from the bottom to the top. I’ve included regular-season statistics for all.

10. Terry Bradshaw – Four Super Bowl rings can’t be wrong, can they? So although Bradshaw ranks only 53rd all-time in yards, and completed less than 52 percent of his pass attempts during a 14-year career, he’s on this list because of a 14-5 postseason record and four titles. Bradshaw was far, far, far from a one-man team with those great Steelers teams. He probably had more help than any other winning QB in history thanks to Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and a steel-tight defense. But the guy won on the biggest stage.

Bradshaw regular season: 14 years-2,025 completions-3,901 attempts-212 TD-210 INT-27,989 yards.

9. Bart Starr – Starr ranks only 70th all-time in passing yardage, but throw that stuff. He was 9-1 as a postseason starter and led Green Bay to wins in the first two Super Bowls over the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. In 10 postseason games, Starr passed for 15 touchdowns with only three interceptions.

Starr regular season: 16 years-1,808 completions-3,149 attempts-152 TD-138 INT-24,718 yards.

8. Dan Marino – Marino is the greatest quarterback ever without a Super Bowl ring, a distinction that probably doesn’t help him sleep better at night. His 8-10 postseason record is the reason Marino isn’t higher on this list. Marino quarterbacked in just one Super Bowl, a detraction from his incredible regular-season statistics which make him the No. 3 all-time passer.

Marino regular season: 17 years-4,967 completions-8,358 attempts-420 TD-252 INT-61,361 yards.

7. Steve Young – I loved Young as a quarterback. He was daring, exciting, provocative. He threw left-handed and played with no fear. He was 94-49 as a starter (91-33 with the 49ers) and 8-6 in the postseason. His performance against San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX (24 of 36, 325 yards, six touchdowns) is one of the greatest in Super Bowl history. Young, who never hesitated to run, added 49 rushing yards in that game. If you like a swashbuckling quarterback, Young is your guy.

Young regular season: 15 years-2,687 completions-4,149 attempts-232 TD-107 INT-33,124 yards.

6. Johnny Unitas – Johnny U. passed for more than 40,000 yards during an era when running the football was still the way to go in the NFL. He passed for 290 touchdowns and was 118-64-4 as a regular-season starter. In the postseason, Unitas was 6-2, although he played just a few snaps in his only Super Bowl appearance, Super Bowl V, when the Baltimore Colts beat Dallas, 16-13, with Earl Morrall as the starter.

Unitas regular season: 18 years-2,830 completions-5,186 attempts-290 TD-253 INT-40,239 yards.

5. Brett Favre – i’m not a Favre fan. I think he butchered the end of his career badly. But that doesn’t change his incredible numbers and an all-time best 71,838 passing yards. Favre was also 13-11 in the playoffs and he guided Green Bay to a Super Bowl XXXI win over the New England Patriots. Favre did throw 336 interceptions, 59 more than any other quarterback in history.

Favre regular season: 16 years-6,300 completions-10,189 attempts-508 TD-336 INT-71,838 yards.

4. Peyton Manning – Some will strongly disagree with Manning being only fourth on this list. But it’s because of his 11-13 record in the postseason. A quarterback this good should have more than one Super Bowl ring, don’t you think? Manning is 179-77 as a starter and probably the most prolific passer to ever play. But you don’t jump past the top three quarterbacks on this list with an 11-13 postseason record.

Manning regular season: 14 years-5,927 completions-9,049 attempts-530 TD-2324 INT-69,691 yards.

3. John Elway – Where would Elway be on this list if he hadn’t won those two consecutive Super Bowls late in his career with Denver? It’s an interesting question, but undoubtedly those victories helped vault him higher in everybody’s QB rankings. Elway was 14-7 in the postseason and 148-82-1 during the regular season. He passed for 300 touchdowns but had 226 interceptions, a below-average ratio when you’re talking about elite quarterbacks. But you can’t deny the guy’s flare for drama and all of those late-game comebacks.

Elway regular season: 16 years-4,123 completions-7,250 attempts-300 TD-226 INT-51,475 yards.

2. Tom Brady – Deciding who was No. 1 and who was No. 2 on this list took time. And if Brady Leads New England to a fourth Super Bowl under his leadership, there could be a flip-flop. Brady has had an astounding career, especially considering he hasn’t had as much offensive talent to work with, especially in the running game, as some of his contemporaries. But it hasn’t seemed to matter – year after year Brady has been great. He’s 160-47 in the regular season and 19-8 in the postseason.

Brady regular season: 15 years-4,551 completions-7,168 attempts-392 TD-143 INT-53,258 yards.

1. Joe Montana – Montana is a three-time Super Bowl MVP and four-time winner. He won 16 of 23 games as a postseason starter and was 117-47 in the regular season, including a pair of 14-1 seasons. Montana has been at the top of my quarterback list for a long, long time. Brady is definitely on his heels, but for now the Mighty Joe is still No. 1.

Montana regular season: 15 years-3,409 completions-5,391 attempts-273 TD-139 INT-40,551 yards.

Who just missed the list?

Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Fran Tarkenton, Troy Aikman, Jim Kelly, Otto Graham, Warren Moon.

Thanks for reading. I’m sure you have your own Top 10. How does it compare?