Ranking the NFL Quarterback Trios of the Past 30 Years

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So yesterday afternoon, while driving across the state of Tennessee, I started wondering if the New York Jets had the worst quarterbacks of all time. I started toying with the idea in my mind, then breaking it down, team by team. Then breaking it down again. And again. I decided to ponder only players I’d seen. Which led me to the past 30 years.

Then I made it a blog post.

I wanted to see which franchise had the best quarterback trio of the past 30 years. Which franchise had the worst. Here, just for kicks, are my rankings—as scientific as a desk lamp. I’d love to hear your thoughts …

1. San Francisco 49ers

Joe Montana• Steve Young•Jeff Garcia

Thoughts: One could argue for Colin Kaepernick over Garcia, but one would be wrong. Montana and Young are Hall of Famers. Easy choices for 1 and 2. Garcia was fantastic.

2. Green Bay Packers

Brett Favre•Aaron Rodgers•Don Majkowski

Thoughts: Like the Niners, the Packers feature two Hall of Fame-worthy QBs. Majkowski was great for a season, OK for a couple—then vanished. He’s no Garcia. Hence, the runner-up status.

3. Denver Broncos

John Elway•Peyton Manning•Jake Plummer

Also two Hall of Famers. But Manning is only a short-term Bronco, and Plummer could drive one to drink. Still, the Broncos are closer to the 49ers and Packers than they are the Colts.

4. Indianapolis Colts

Peyton Manning•Andrew Luck•Jim Harbaugh

Easy to forget that Harbaugh was awfully good in Indy, and probably deserves to be ahead of Luck—who oozes phenomenal.

5. Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers

Warren Moon•Steve McNair•Chris Chandler

Would have never thought the Titoilers would rank so high, but Moon was phenomenal, McNair was terrific and Chandler was very good. Strong stuff.

Simms and Manning—in. Dave Brown, uninvited.

Simms and Manning—in. Dave Brown, uninvited.

6. New York Giants

Eli Manning•Phil Simms•Kerry Collins

I’ve never much cared for Collins—but he did take the Giants to a Super Bowl. Manning and Simms are awfully good.

7. New England Patriots

Tom Brady•Drew Bledsoe•Hugh Millen

Brady is obviously all-time elite, and Bledsoe had a Simms-esque career. But the dropoff is a plummet. I picked Millen, but could have gone with myriad so-so nobodies.

8. Cincinnati Bengals

Boomer Esiason•Carson Palmer•Andy Dalton

The Bengals are surprising. All three quarterbacks are very good, none all-time fantastic. I almost put them above the Pats, but the Brady factor was too much.

9. San Diego Chargers

Phillip Rivers•Dan Fouts•Stan Humphries

I almost put the Chargers in the Top 5, because I thought Rivers, Fouts and Drew Brees was an amazing trio. But by the mid-1980s Fouts was a shell, and Brees was merely good with the Chargers. So, hey.

Hugh Millen: Confused how he earned an invite. But happy to be here.

Hugh Millen: Confused how he earned an invite. But pretty damn happy to be here.

10. Dallas Cowboys

Troy Aikman•Tony Romo•Steve Pelluer

Aikman was terrific, Romo is maddening, Pelluer is Gary Hogeboom without the talent.

11. New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees•Bobby Hebert•Aaron Brooks

I could see people thinking the Saints are too low. Brees is gonna end up in the Hall, Hebert led a revival and Brooks had spectacular moments. Alas, moments are fleeting. And Hebert seems better in hindsight.

12. Philadelphia Eagles

Donovan McNabb•Randall Cunningham•Michael Vick

When I was growing up, there was still a stigma about black quarterbacks. That was really dumb. All three of these guys could play, though Vick could drive to drink.

13. Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams

Kurt Warner•Jim Everett•Mark Bulger

Could be a tad higher. Warner was brief but magical, Everett was very good and Bulger was probably propped by great receivers. Still, not a bad trio.

14. St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals

Neil Lomax•Jake Plummer•Kurt Warner

Man, Lomax was really, really, really good—especially with Roy Green going deep and O.J. Anderson lined up behind him. Plummer was erratic, and Warner was fleeting.

Neil Lomax: Really good.

Neil Lomax: Really good.

15. New York Jets

Ken O’Brien•Chad Pennington•Boomer Esiason

I thought the Jets would rank last. Then I thought about it. Like Lomax, O’Brien was a helluva quarterback, and Pennington and Boomer both could play. Not bad.

16. Kansas City Chiefs

Trent Green•Joe Montana•Steve DeBerg

Green was a solid NFL starter, Montana’s Kansas City time was brief and DeBerg—one of my boyhood favorites—can make a man celebrate and hang himself on a single play.

17. Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson•Dave Krieg•Matt Hasselbeck

I wasn’t going to rank Wilson the best of the three, but … he pretty much is. Krieg had some awesome years throwing to Steve Largent and Brian Blades, and Hasselbeck was better than sold.

18. Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan•Chris Chandler•Michael Vick

I like Matt Ryan a lot, but he shouldn’t be your team’s best all-time quarterback. Vick was wild and erratic in Atlanta. But also electric.

Culpepper: The Future—for a very brief period.

Daunte Culpepper: The Future—for a very brief period.

19. Minnesota Vikings

Daunte Culpepper•Brad Johnson•Wade Wilson

A big, fat meh. Culpepper was the future of the NFL for about six weeks. 

20. Cleveland Browns

Bernie Kosar•Vinny Testaverde•Tim Couch

Kosar was fun to watch—all angles and awkward slings. Vinny started to find himself in Cleveland. Couch was a waste.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger•Kordell Stewart•Neil O’Donnell

You’d think the Steelers would be higher. Big Ben is elite. Kordell was more flash than substance. O’Donnell was a system quarterback. He was exposed with the Jets.

22. Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton•Jake Delhomme•Steve Beuerlein

The Panthers have only 20 years, but they’re repped pretty well. Cam is a star. Underrated, yes. But a star. Delhomme was entertaining and did nice things with Steve Smith. Beuerlein beats out Kerry Collins solely because he didn’t use the n-word.

23. Oakland Raiders

Rich Gannon•Jeff Hostetler•Jay Schroeder

Gannon is one of two Blue Hens on this list. Schroeder is one of many brutally awful quarterbacks on this list.

Jay Schroeder battles to make the list.

Jay Schroeder battles to make the list.

24. Miami Dolphins

Dan Marino•Jay Fielder•Ryan Tannehill

Such an enormous dropoff. I still consider Marino to be the best quarterback of all time, and Fiedler the second-best (Jewish) quarterback of all time.

25. Buffalo Bills

Jim Kelly•Ryan Fitzpatrick•Doug Flutie

Another enormous dropoff. I actually think Kelly is a bit overrated. He’s not Elway or Marino. Closer to an Esiason-O’Brien. Fitzpatrick is OK, Flutie was fun and novel.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars

Mark Brunnell•David Garrard•Byron Leftwich

I know the Packers didn’t need Brunnell, but they got nothing for an excellent quarterback. I liked Garrard a lot, until he started stinking.

27. Detroit Lions

Matthew Stafford•Rodney Peete•Joey Harrington

Any grouping that includes Joey Harrington is a flawed grouping. Peete was better than you think.

28. Chicago Bears

Jim McMahon•Jay Cutler•Jim Harbaugh

Not a good list. McMahon was over-hyped. Good player, little more. Cutler is still something of a baby. Harbaugh was better as a Colt, but still edged out Rex Grossman.

29. Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco•Kyle Boller•Trent Dilfer

Just brutal. There are some trios Flacco doesn’t even crack. He’s a solid NFL quarterback who, despite his Delaware pedigree, is painfully overpaid.

Gus, don't do it ... don't do it ... doh.

Gus, don’t do it … don’t do it … doh.

30. Washington Redskins

Mark Rypien•Jason Campbell•Gus Frerotte

Just how bad is this? I almost included Heath Shuler.

31. Houston Texans

Matt Schaub•David Carr•Sage Rosenfels

A train wreck of quarterbacking. Schaub was very good for a handful of seasons. And that’s that.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Brad Johnson•Trent Dilfer•Josh Freeman

It’s amazing. It really is. Johnson was a game manager who won a Super Bowl. Nothing but love for him. But Dilfer was b-r-u-t-a-l, and Freeman a flash in the pan.

8 thoughts on “Ranking the NFL Quarterback Trios of the Past 30 Years”

  1. I think I would substitute Tony Eason on the Patriots list, and Danny White on the Cowboys. As a Lions fan, I would take Charlie Batch and Eric Hipple over Harrington…

  2. Jeff, i know the Giants have the Super Bowl rings and Big Fan, and the Eagles have agita and Silver LIning Playbook and Invincible and the tough loss in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but you really need to re-think where they are in the standings. Randall had a slightly better to much better career than Phil Simms, and ditto Donovan over Eli. that brings us to Mike Vick vs. Kerry Collins. i hereby accept your apology and revoke your desk lamp.

  3. Entertaining post, Jeff! My UCD degree requires me to thank you for praising Ken O’Brien here.

    I’m also a big fan of Matt Ryan, but you’re probably right that him being the franchise’s best QB over the last 30 years means Atlanta shouldn’t rank in the top half.

    If you care, there are a few typos with “Fielder,” “Brunnell” and “better than sold” in the Seahawks section.

  4. You said that O’Donnell was exposed with the Jets as a system QB. Brady would have been the same if he was on that team. As for Plummer in Denver, he did lead them to the playoffs three straight years, so, he wasn’t that bad.

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