Was Joe Montana or Steve Young the 49ers' best quarterback ever? What about Bart Starr, Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers for the Packers? And which NFL teams have had the best -- and worst -- quarterback play of the past 50-plus years? Those are the debates we set out to solve in our new 1-32 ranking.
We judged overall performance, peak performance and continuity to rank all 32 teams based on how productive their quarterbacks have been in the Super Bowl era, which is 1966-2019. We then picked every team's best and worst quarterbacks of the past 54 years, along with interesting stats for each team and 2020 projections for their starters from ESPN fantasy writer Mike Clay. Here's more on how we ranked the teams:
The criteria for our QB rankings
The following three categories were weighted equally to create the rankings:
Overall performance: How much value each franchise has gotten from quarterbacks on a per-season basis using Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value metric (AV). AV places a single value on every player (similar to Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, for baseball). Football stat lines aren't as in-depth as baseball, so AV is by no means an end-all-be-all stat, but it provides helpful context comparing collections of players.
Peak performance: Great quarterback performance matters. If a franchise had a QB with a great 2-3 year run (e.g. Jeff Garcia, 2000-02 49ers), it should be rewarded, rather than a long run of consistent but replacement-level production (Jim Hart, 1966-83 Cardinals). This measures each team's Pro Bowl-caliber seasons at QB, using AV as a benchmark, rather than actual Pro Bowl selections, which can be skewed, especially with the amount of replacement Pro Bowlers in today's game.
Continuity: The number of different QBs a team starts. The teams that constantly shuffle QBs experience more misery and are sometimes considered the laughingstock of the league, so the Browns (30 different starting QBs since 1999) take a hit here, while the Chargers (three different starting QBs since 2001) move up in the rankings.
Bonus: I've also added each franchise's best and worst QB. They aren't based on a formula like the team rankings, but a subjective selection based on their career production, accolades and expectations.
Best QB: Tom Brady. Is one quarterback enough for a franchise to top these rankings? Not exactly. Thanks to Brady's combination of longevity (20 seasons) and production (second all time in passing yards and touchdowns), he's essentially two Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks in one. Brady added nearly as much Approximate Value (280) in his New England career as Joe Montana and Steve Young combined for with the 49ers (304). The Patriots also got significant production from Drew Bledsoe and Steve Grogan to help them top the list.
Worst QB: Jim Plunkett. The No. 1 overall pick in the 1971 draft finished with a 23-38 record with 62 touchdown passes and 87 interceptions in five seasons with the Patriots. He later won two Super Bowl rings with the Raiders and was the MVP of Super Bowl XV.
Remember ... Doug Flutie? Although Flutie didn't start a game for the Patriots in 2005 -- the final season of his career -- the 43-year-old did convert the first successful dropkick in pro football since 1941.
Did you know? Jarrett Stidham, a fourth-round pick in 2019, will continue the Patriots' reliance on homegrown quarterbacks if he takes the reins from Brady in 2020. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, their past 423 games have been started by a quarterback they drafted, easily the longest streak in the Super Bowl era (next: 227 by 1976-90 Cowboys). The last time the Patriots started a quarterback they did not draft was 1993 (Scott Secules).
Clay's 2020 projections for Stidham: 19 TD passes, 12 INTs, 3,569 passing yards and 219 fantasy points