Greatest of All-Time?: Comparing Tarkenton, Manning, Unitas, Montana and Brady

Posted on November 26, 2013 at 9:40 PM

In a recent interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton made a surprising argument for his place amongst the all-time greats. In short, he considers himself and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to be the two best to have ever played the game. Opinion of the masses and public perception is not the discussion here. Much more research is required, and though it may come as a shock to some, the QBS system backs up Tarkenton's take.

The rankings listed in this article reflect the 2013 QBS results as of 11/26/13 -- if the season ended today, with John Elway's name added for the sake of comparison.

Career QBS Rankings


  • Peyton Manning: 433.5
  • Fran Tarkenton: 326.5
  • Joe Montana: 284.5
  • Johnny Unitas: 249.5
  • Tom Brady: 225.0
  • John Elway: 137.0


"Go look at my record. Go look at my record in that era and what I did, the results that I got from passing and rushing. ... In my mind, I played better than anybody that has ever played the position."

"There's a lot of great quarterbacks that didn't win Super Bowls," Tarkenton said. "And that idiot, Jim Irsay (Indianapolis owner), talked about Peyton Manning (not winning one other than for the Colts after the 2006 season). So Joe Montana is better than him because Joe Montana won four and Terry Bradshaw is because he won four. It's stupid."

"When the pundits talk about the best of all time, they don't mention much of Peyton because he's only won one. They mention Montana and Unitas (with three overall championships) and now Brady (with three Super Bowl wins). But you tell me who has had the better career at quarterback, Brady or Peyton Manning? I'll tell you, Peyton Manning by far."

"I'll give him (Peyton Manning) 1-B." -Fran Tarkenton


Because the QBS system grades quarterbacks based upon their ranking amongst their contemporaries in each individual season, the inflated statistics brought about by the modern passing game do not put today's passers at an advantage. QBS career totals reflect a quarterback's body of work by evaluating the results of their productivity (passing yards and touchdown passes), accuracy (completion percentage), efficiency (adjusted net yards per attempt) and ball protection (interceptions).

When taking a closer look at the number of Top-3 rankings, Tarkenton and Manning stand tall above other quarterbacks perceived to be G.O.A.T. candidates:

Seasons Ranked Top-3 in Passing Yards

  • Peyton Manning: 11
  • Fran Tarkenton: 10
  • Johnny Unitas: 7
  • Tom Brady: 3
  • Joe Montana: 2
  • John Elway: 2

Seasons Ranked Top-3 in Touchdown Passes

  • Peyton Manning: 11
  • Fran Tarkenton: 9
  • Johnny Unitas: 6
  • Joe Montana: 5
  • Tom Brady: 4
  • John Elway: 1

Seasons Ranked Top-3 in Completion Percentage

  • Peyton Manning: 10
  • Joe Montana: 10
  • Fran Tarkenton: 8
  • Johnny Unitas: 8
  • Tom Brady: 1
  • John Elway: 1

Seasons Ranked Top-3 in YPA/AN-YPA

  • Peyton Manning: 8
  • Johnny Unitas: 7
  • Fran Tarkenton: 5
  • Tom Brady: 4
  • Joe Montana: 3
  • John Elway: 0

Tarkenton isn't your run-of-the-mill NFL retiree speaking nonsense. He's a highly educated, highly successful businessman with fantastic analytical acumen. It wouldn't be a stretch to call him the most underrated quarterback in history and when looking deeper into the QBS results, it wouldn't be a stretch to call his opinion spot-on either.

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