NFL Power Rankings: Top 100 QBs Since the Merger (60-41)
60. Tony Romo (2003- , Cowboys)
When you get past the playoff chokes, botched snaps, irritating fawning from ESPN, and the fact that he plays for a team with enough front-running fans to populate Wyoming to its borders, Tony Romo has proven to be a fine quarterback. With the help of tutors like Sean Payton and Jason Garrett, Romo made many teams regret letting a player of his caliber go undrafted in 2003.
The fact that Romo didn’t throw a pass until October 2006 is especially astounding when you see that he’s never had a completion percentage below 61 percent and that his touchdown/interception ratio is the desire of fantasy football connoisseurs. He’d be much higher on this list if not for the albatross he wears, symbolic of his poor playoff record and fourth-quarter inconsistencies.
If stats translated to success, Dan Marino and Warren Moon would have more rings than just their wedding bands and Tony Romo would be far higher on this list. He’s a talented superstar who just hasn’t put it together when the chips are down and it matters most.
59. Bernie Kosar (1985-96, Browns, Cowboys, Dolphins)
Some players have rough exits from the world of the NFL, but Kosar had a controversial entry in 1985. Hatching a plan to bypass the actual draft, Kosar found his way into the Supplemental Draft, where he could be chosen by his favorite team, the Cleveland Browns. The questionable move left teams like Minnesota and Houston steaming and the NFL soon after made Kosar’s scheme illegal.
Regardless, Kosar’s time in Cleveland went swimmingly, if you can get past 3 AFC Title game losses to Denver, against another quarterback who spat on the draft process in John Elway. Through the ups and downs of leading Cleveland, Kosar posted four 3000+ yard seasons and a Pro Bowl appearance in 1987, before Bill Belichick discarded him in the middle of the 1993 season.
Kosar would eventually get his ring in Dallas, holding the clipboard for Troy Aikman, but he couldn’t get the job done while leading his hometown squad. Perhaps it’s a fitting penance for a gifted quarterback that bucked the system in favor of getting what he wanted.
58. Sonny Jurgensen (1957-74, Eagles, Redskins)
Jurgensen only started in 27 games during the post-merger era and 122 prior. His heyday with the Eagles and Redskins had largely faded by the time 1970 rolled around and none of his statistics are particularly impressive during those final five seasons. How does Sonny Jurgensen make this list, let alone crack the top sixty quarterbacks?
Jurgensen gets love here because, despite coming off the bench in his final four seasons, he managed to go 11-2 on the road to age 40. The cagey veteran had a completion percentage of well over 60 percent, unheard of in the “dead ball era” prior to 1978. In the four games he started at age 40, Jurgensen was good for 1185 yards, 4 touchdowns, and an amazing rating of 94.5.
So why did Jurgensen ride the pine for much of his twilight years? Injuries had begun to set in and coach George Allen had more faith in the safer approach of Billy Kilmer (who we’ll cover on here eventually). But to the end, Sonny Jurgensen managed to defy age with grit and grace.
57. Steve Bartkowski (1975-86, Falcons, Rams)
Anyone who’s seen an old photo of Bartkowski surely marvels at his wild mane of hair. He looked like a cross between Fabio and “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. But perhaps those lavish locks were a boon to Steve Bartkowski, much in the manner of Samson. In the early 1980s, Bartkowski managed to achieve statistical excellence to go with some Atlanta playoff runs.
In 1980-81, Bartkowski, along with Dan Fouts, became the second/third quarterbacks to post back-to-back 30 touchdown seasons, after YA Tittle. In 1980, Bartkowski led the Falcons to a 12-4 record and the NFC West crown. However, in that time frame, Atlanta’s defense fluctuated in quality, and Bartkowski’s high-octane efforts were often executed in vain.
Despite having a Swiss cheese offensive line and a defense that couldn’t keep up with his scoring output, Bartkowski remained loyal to the city of Atlanta, even after his one year stint with Los Angeles, and “Bart” is currently a member of the Falcons Board of Directors.
56. Steve DeBerg (1977-98, 49ers, Broncos, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Dolphins, Falcons)
DeBerg played for five different teams in his first seventeen years in the league, never spending more than four consecutive years in one place. Yet he’s been a puzzle piece to many notable moments. He’s also one of the toughest quarterbacks in the history of the game, playing with broken hands and mangled facial features, while inspiring many later QBs with his play-action precision.
DeBerg spent the prime of his career trying to make do on some lousy San Francisco, Denver and Tampa Bay teams. When the teams made changes, he found himself replaced by the likes of Joe Montana, John Elway, and Vinny Testaverde. When he made it to a winner in 1990, Kansas City, DeBerg threw 23 TDs and just 4 INTs in a full season. Those 4 picks were in 444 throws, an NFL record.
DeBerg made a comeback in 1998 at age 44, backing up Chris Chandler in Atlanta, and become the oldest player to start a game. When the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl, DeBerg, at 45 years and 12 days, was the oldest player ever on a Super Bowl roster.
55. Vinny Testaverde (1987-2007, Buccaneers, Browns/Ravens, Jets, Cowboys, Patriots, Panthers)
It seems appropriate to have Vinny platooning with DeBerg, seeing as they’re the NFL’s resident cyborgs. The first pick of the 1987 NFL Draft didn’t have the success that John Elway, Peyton Manning or Eli Manning garnered, but Testaverde’s standing as his generation’s ‘iron man’ has made him a memorable figure, with some legitimate achievements to boot.
Testaverde had 13 or more touchdowns in 13 of his 21 seasons, and he cleared the 3000 yard plateau six times (going over 4000 once in 1996, one of his two Pro Bowl seasons). His closest brush with championship glory came in the 1998 season when, at age 35, he led the Jets to a 10-0 edge in the AFC Title game, before John Elway, in his final game at Mile High, led the comeback.
By the time Testaverde reached his end, he’d thrown 275 touchdown passes over a staggering 233 games played. The second-to-last player to catch one of his touchdowns was Panthers tight end Dante Rosario, who is more than 20 years younger than him; an NFL record for such an age gap.
54. Jake Plummer (1997-2006, Cardinals, Broncos)
“Jake the Snake” didn’t plant opponents with the wrestling hold known as the “DDT”. But his high-velocity passing game and knack for fourth quarter comebacks were like the poisonous insecticide for opposing secondaries. Despite his ability to frustrate the opposition, Plummer’s career was marked with difficult lows, one of which led to his early retirement.
In 1998, Plummer captained the Cardinals’ first playoff victory in 51 years by beating the fading Dallas Cowboys in Arlington. Otherwise, his stay in Arizona was marred with inefficiency by himself, but mostly others. In 2003, Plummer jumped to the Broncos and made the playoffs in his first three years, with a huge upswing in his stats. Losing the AFC Title game in 2005, however, proved costly.
Plummer’s loss to Pittsburgh, in Denver, was full of turnovers and Denver traded up in the 2006 Draft to get Jay Cutler. The acrimony led to Plummer being traded to Tampa Bay a year later where he promptly retired, without playing a single game, at age 32.
53. Jim Harbaugh (1987-2001, Bears, Colts, Ravens, Chargers, Panthers)
Harbaugh shouldn’t have to lie about his pursuit of Peyton Manning; Manning will appear much higher on this list than the unranked Alex Smith, after all. But today isn't for discussing Jim Harbaugh’s snafus as the 49ers head coach, but rather his contributions as a quarterback himself, namely as “Captain Comeback” in Indianapolis and the first good successor to the Jim McMahon era in Chicago.
McMahon’s biggest success came with the Colts, where in 1995 he fell just short of taking the team to its first Super Bowl in nearly a quarter century. Sharing starting duties that season, Harbaugh won seven games and four of them came down to his clutch leadership. Wins over the Jets, Dolphins, 49ers, and, in the season finale on Harbaugh’s 32nd birthday, the Patriots, clinched Indy a Wild Card.
Harbaugh is a workaholic who spent the last eight years of his career recruiting players for Western Kentucky University as an unpaid offensive consultant under his father. His mastery of the game on all levels has made him a viable coach and an admirable football mind.
52. Michael Vick (2001- , Falcons, Eagles)
If Randall Cunningham was a mid-size, then Michael Vick’s certainly the compact equivalent. As the all-time leader among quarterbacks in rushing yards, Vick brings unpredictability to the game, especially after the pass rush fails to get the sack. In Philadelphia, Vick developed into a better pocket passer, making him a double threat when he’s healthy and on his game.
Despite being a little more one-dimensional in his Dan Reeves years, Vick was the architect of two impressive playoff victories. In 2002, Vick led the Falcons to a crushing win over Brett Favre in Green Bay at a sub-freezing Lambeau Field. Two years later, the Falcons put up 327 yards on the ground in utter obliteration of the Rams, advancing to the NFC Championship game.
After a two-year prison sentence for his part in a dog-fighting ring, Vick showed up in Philadelphia. He was to be the “wildcat” option, but an injury to Kevin Kolb led to his becoming the full-time starter. Once universally hated, Vick’s rededication and humility have earned him back some lost respect.
51. Jeff Hostetler (1984-98, Giants, Raiders, Redskins)
Steve Young will get credited as the NFL’s all-time best understudy, warming the bench while Joe Montana played out his legendary career. Hostetler would have to rank high on that list, as New York panicked in December of 1990, when starting quarterback Phil Simms broke his foot en route to a Giants playoff room. What would the G-Men do with their leader done for?
Hostetler had only started two games in the previous six-plus seasons, but he won the final two to bring the Giants to 13-3. He then led them past Chicago and favored San Francisco en route to Super Bowl XXV, where New York narrowly beat Buffalo to win their second World Title. He’d start most of the next two seasons as Simms waned, with average results, however.
Hostetler cemented his status as a true starter after four years with the Raiders, chucking 69 touchdowns and over 11,000 yards in silver and black. In other words, “Hoss” didn’t too bad for a guy who wasn’t trusted as a starter until he was almost 30 years old.