Patrick Mahomes

Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden had an interesting discussion on their latest All Things Covered podcast. Debating if and where Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes slots among the top-five quarterbacks in NFL history. Mahomes made both their lists, though, at different places. McFadden had him second, and Peterson had him fifth.

Though it isn’t specific to the Steelers, with a quiet weekend, I kicked around my list. All-time ones are difficult to do, comparing so many players across different eras, but after giving it some thought, here’s my top-five. Feel free to share your group below to see how it compares. No, there aren’t any Steelers on this list, but it’s hard to state a case for Terry Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger to be this high on the list.

My top-five quarterbacks in NFL history.


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1. Tom Brady (2000-2022)

It’s not easy for Steelers’ fans to reckon with the greatest quarterback ever. Even acknowledging all the scandals, there’s no debating who is number one. It’s Brady. A sixth-round pick who made 15 Pro Bowls, seven Super Bowls, the MVP in five of them, and league MVP three times. A resume that might never be matched. And Spygate simply isn’t the sole reason for his success.

An extreme competitor and perfectionist, Brady finished his NFL career as the all-time leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and fourth-quarter comebacks. He dominated the 2000’s, dominated the 2010’s, and won two Super Bowls after turning 40. In his age-44 season, he threw for over 5,100 yards and 43 touchdowns, both leading the league. No one could stop Brady. Certainly not Pittsburgh.

2. Johnny Unitas (1955-1973)

For an all-time list in a world with so many great quarterbacks, it might not be a requirement, but it’s important to acknowledge the early eras of the game. Unitas wasn’t the NFL’s first great quarterback, and as someone who cares about football history, it’s concerning names like Benny Freidman, Sid Luckman, Sammy Baugh, and Otto Graham are fading from the game’s collective memory.

While those names would’ve been worthy of the top five, Unitas stands out above the rest. He was the first true representation of a modern era quarterback with timing and precision. The one-time Steeler foolishly cut by the team, ‘Johnny U’ made ten Pro Bowls, five All-Pro teams, won three championships (one of which came in the Super Bowl era), and was a three-time league MVP. The first quarterback to ever throw 30 touchdowns in a season, he led the league in that category in four of his first five years with the Colts. Four times throughout his career, he also led the league in yards.

Perhaps his career hung on too long at the end. Looking at his numbers prior to his arm injury in 1968, Unitas threw 252 touchdowns to 189 interceptions, strong figures for the era. He was a winner whose dazzling play helped put the NFL on the map in the late 50s to early 60s.

3. Joe Montana (1979-1994)

A four-time Super Bowl champ, he benefitted from throwing to Jerry Rice, but all the quarterbacks on this list had top talent to throw to. Montana was one of the game’s most accurate quarterbacks coupled with Bill Walsh’s system helping him lead the league in completion rate four times.

He won four Super Bowls and was named MVP in three of them, including leading “The Drive” to beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. He turned the 49ers into the team of the 80s, the league’s new dynasty following the Steelers’ 70s. When he retired after the 1994 season, many considered Montana the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He’s arguably no longer in the top spot but remains in most fan’s top five.

4. Patrick Mahomes (2017-Present)

Mahomes cracks my top five. When I first started thinking about this list, I wasn’t sure if he would or not. But with his incredible resume, especially so young in his career, and the admitted advantage of getting to watch his whole career, this place is earned. It’s not just recency. Capable of making off-platform throws few have been able to do, some of his greatest highlights have been incompletions. Just go watch these plays back-to-back and tell me how absurd they are even though they fell incomplete in the one Super Bowl Mahomes has lost.

Through six starting seasons, he’s won three Super Bowls, the MVP in all of them, named league-MVP twice, has made the Pro Bowl every year, and been selected to a pair of All-Pro teams. Accolades we’ve never seen someone his age be able to achieve. Mahomes has shown the ability to evolve his game when need be, adjusting to two-high looks in recent years and playing a safer, smarter, but incredibly efficient game, winning him his latest ring.

Though Mahomes doesn’t often play from behind, when he does, he’s as good in those moments as anyone. As it made the rounds earlier this week, Mahomes is a perfect 7-for-7 when down within seven with one minute left to go in the postseason. The rest of the NFL sits under 40 percent. If (when?) he wins another ring, he’ll probably pass Montana. And he’s the only name with the chance to rival Brady.

5. Peyton Manning (1998-2015)

Manning could still reliably be argued as the best regular-season quarterback in league history. A 14-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro, his career was just a series of video game numbers. Six times, he threw for at least 4,500 yards, and his 55 passing touchdowns in 2013 remains an NFL record. Since then, only Mahomes has even cracked 50.

He was a five-time league MVP and first-ballot Hall of Famer. The only blemish is a lack of overwhelming playoff success. Manning won two Super Bowls and went to two others but barely had better than a .500 postseason record (14-13). Playing in the same era as Brady didn’t make life easy. But Manning’s production, incredible football IQ, and pair of rings still keep him in the top five.

A (rough estimate) of 6-10.

6. Dan Marino
7. Otto Graham
8. Aaron Rodgers
9. Sid Luckman
10. Brett Favre