All-Time Super Bowl Winning QB Tiers Breakdown

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Super Bowl 54 will mark the 21st matchup to determine the NFL champion since the new millennial.

During that time we've seen the likes of Tom Brady (x6), Peyton Manning (x2), Eli Manning (x2) and Ben Roethlisberger (x2) capture multiple titles, while other squads were led to a championship by glorified journeymen such as Joe Flacco, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson among other average signal-callers.

New NFL rules, as well as the evolution of the game in general, have made it progressively easier to throw the ball throughout the league's history. It can be difficult to compare QB performance across eras because of this reality.

Today we'll attempt to overcome this obstacle and rank every Super Bowl winning QB alongside this year's contenders based on their performance in that specific season relative to their peers. Obviously Patrick Mahomes was more efficient than anybody chucking the rock back in the 60s and 70s; comparing his ability to other QBs in 2019 is a more fair way of including the game's forefathers at the position.

This seems more ideal for everyone in the game's history than pretending the sport peaked in the 80s and 90s like basketball (ducks).

We'll rank every QB by year dating back to the very first Super Bowl primarily using ...

  • Adjusted net yards per pass attempt: ANY/A is superior to both adjusted yards per attempt (AYA) and net yards per attempt (NY/A) because it weighs touchdowns and interceptions (like AYA) and also subtracts sack yards from passing yards (like NY/A). ESPN's QBR is a solid metric, but only dates back to 2006. Passer Rating has some flaws such as weighing completion percentage more than yards per attempt along with not adjusting for sacks. Special thanks to Pro Football Reference for this data.

I'm refraining from putting much weight behind counting statistics. Pass volume certainly separates the men from the boys when it comes to determining who is truly the most-efficient QB. Still, it's also not super fair to necessarily downgrade a player's accomplishments just because their team happened to also boast a strong run game and/or defense.

To reiterate: These tiers reflect how the winning QB performed in that specific season relative to how his peers played that year. Trust me, I'm not trying to start a NFL100-style debate here.

Tier 1: The NFL's single-most efficient QB

  • 2009 Drew Brees

  • 2006 Peyton Manning

  • 1999 Kurt Warner

  • 1994 Steve Young

  • 1989 Joe Montana

  • 1977 Roger Staubach

  • 1971 Staubach

Brees has functioned as a top-10 QB in ANY/A in all but one season during his time in New Orleans. Still, 2009 marked the only season he led the league in this passing efficiency metric, and it was enough to bring home the Lombardi trophy.

Meanwhile, Manning posted the position's top efficiency in 2004-2006 as well as in 2012. This consistent dominance throughout his career makes Manning's atrocious 2015 campaign a bit easier to digest (more on that later).

It's probably not surprising to see the likes of Warner, Young, Montana or Staubach on this list. However, Staubach differs from those fellow HOF QBs in that he didn't win league MVP honors during his Super Bowl victories. It's a bit of a shame that Captain America was never awarded an MVP considering he led the league in passing efficiency on four separate occasions while also helping reinvent the way the position was played.

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Tier 2: Anyone's idea of an elite QB

The 2019 version of Mahomes wasn't quite as prolific as the man we saw in 2018, but the Chiefs' franchise QB was still anyone's idea of a top-tier signal caller:

  • Adjusted net yards per attempt: 8.38 (No. 2 among 42 qualified QBs)

  • Adjusted yards per attempt: 8.94 (No. 3)

  • Yards per attempt: 8.36 (No. 3)

  • Touchdown rate: 5.4% (No. 8)

  • Completion rate: 69.5% (No. 12)

  • QB Rating: 105.3 (No. 7)

  • QBR: 78 (No. 2)

Of course, Mahomes also deserves boat loads worth of style points for the manner in which he typically goes about creating big plays.

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Statistically, Brady's 2016 campaign was the second-best season of his career behind only the team's near-perfect 2007 season. Big Ben had multiple seasons with better counting stats than he did in 2005, but was never more efficient on a per-pass basis.

Favre put up the larger counting numbers. Still, Aikman had more top-five finishes in ANY/A (4) than Favre (3) during the duration of the 90s. Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and the Cowboys' world-beating offensive line obviously helped matters, although it's tough to say Aikman didn't at the very least consistently make the most out of his opportunities.

Rypien was nothing short of remarkable in 1991, ranking alongside Steve Young in pretty much every passing efficiency metric.

Montana's 1984 season was by and large the second-best campaign of his career behind only 1989. Meanwhile, Stabler and Starr easily had the best season-long performances of their career in 1976 and 1966, respectively.

Tier 3: Gunslingers and efficient game-managers

  • 2011 Eli Manning

  • 2010 Aaron Rodgers

  • 1998 John Elway

  • 1997 Elway

  • 1992 Troy Aikman

  • 1979 Terry Bradshaw

  • 1978 Bradshaw

I'm not here to debate Manning's HOF credentials. Rather, I'd like to take a second to appreciate what was easily the finest season of Elisha's career:

  • Only 2004 Donovan McNabb (20) and 1998 Randall Cunningham (19) posted more completions of 40-plus yards in a single season than 2011 Manning (18) over the past 25 years.

  • When accounting for both efficiency and counting stats, it'd be reasonable to say Manning was the fourth-best QB this season behind only Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.

  • Manning threw multiple TDs in each of the Giants' first three playoff victories before completing one of the best throws in the history of the Super Bowl to Mario Manningham on his way to leading the Giants to victory.

Rodgers was actually even more spectacular in 2011 than he was in 2010, but a Super Bowl ring obviously means more than record-breaking efficiency.

Meanwhile, Elway actually saved his most-efficient season for last, undoubtedly aided by Terrell Davis and the team's Shanahan-designed rushing attack.

The Steelers relied on Bradshaw's arm more than ever during their final two Super Bowls of the 1970s. He responded brilliantly, posting some of the highest-efficiency rates of his career and even leading the league in touchdown passes in 1978. Of course, Bradshaw was basically the first version of Jameis Winston, tossing at least 20 TDs and 20 interceptions in three consecutive seasons from 1978-1980.

(Continue to the next page for Tiers 4-7)

Tier 4: Very good but not quite dominant

The 49ers are a run-first offense that doesn't ask Jimmy Garoppolo to take over games. Still, that doesn't mean we can't give the man credit for balling out with his limited opportunities. Overall, Jimmy G averaged a league-high 21 yards per deep ball attempt among 42 QBs to throw at least 100 passes. His career average of 8.22 adjusted yards per attempt trails only Russell Wilson (8.26), Aaron Rodgers (8.32), Lamar Jackson (8.34) and Patrick Mahomes (9.21) among all QBs to start at least 16 games over the past 50 years.

Still, it's tough to call Garoppolo anything more than a very good QB based on his performance relative to his 2019 peers:

  • Completion percentage: 69% (No. 5)

  • Adjusted yards per attempt: 8.3 (No. 9)

  • Adjusted net yards per attempt: 7.2 (No. 10)

  • QB Rating: 102 (No. 8)

  • TD Rate: 5.7% (No. 7)

  • INT Rate: 2.7% (No. 30)

Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman helped spearhead the passing attacks of the 2018 and 2014 Patriots, but the 2004 Super Bowl squad relied more on a healthy dose of Corey Dillon with some David Givens, Deion Branch and David Patten mixed in.

The 2013 version of Wilson was a top-eight QB by virtually any metric ... and still not as good as the 2019 version. The one key difference in Wilson's game over the years has been the offense's willingness to use him as a rusher. Overall, he averaged 151 rushing yards per season on designed runs from 2012-2018 before totaling just seven yards on non-scramble attempts in 2019.

Johnson, McMahon and Theismann each benefited from league-best scoring defenses during their respective Super Bowl runs.

Both Montana and Bradshaw earned their titles with clutch fourth-quarter drives. Griese would only attempt 18 combined passes during his two Super Bowl wins in 1972 and 1973.

Tier 5: Above average and, hey, sometimes guys get hot

  • 2012 Joe Flacco

  • 2003 Tom Brady

  • 2001 Brady

  • 1986 Phil Simms

  • 1972 Bob Griese

  • 1970 Johnny Unitas

  • 1968 Joe Namath

  • 1967 Bart Starr

The 2012 version of Flacco was vastly superior to 2001 or 2003 Brady. Bill Belichick and those early-2000s defenses sure were something.

Revisionist history reveals Mr. Elite (mostly) didn't perform at a porous level until after getting #paid following the Ravens' Super Bowl victory.

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Simms might've underwhelmed statistically during the 1986 regular season, but he was virtually unstoppable in the Super Bowl: 22-of-25 for 268 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The 1970 Colts utilized both Unitas and Earl Morrall on their way to capturing Super Bowl glory. This was also the case during their 1968 loss to Namath and company, who capitalized on four interceptions to obtain their historical upset.

Tier 6: How the heck did that guy win a Super Bowl?

  • 2015 Peyton Manning

  • 2008 Ben Roethlisberger

  • 2007 Eli Manning

  • 2000 Trent Dilfer

  • 1983 Jim Plunkett

  • 1980 Plunkett

  • 1974 Terry Bradshaw

  • 1969 Len Dawson

These QBs were mostly straight up #bad during the regular season.

  • Peyton: 41st

  • Roethlisberger: 27th

  • Eli: 28th

  • Dilfer: 31st

  • Plunkett: 16th and 18th

  • Bradshaw: 23rd

  • Dawson: 21st

The likes of Roethlisberger, Plunkett and Eli elevated their personal performance during their respective Super Bowl runs, while Peyton, Dilfer, Bradshaw and Dawson largely continued to ride the production from their teammates.

Football is a team sport, and sometimes even mediocrity at the game's best position can still produce a championship.

Tier 7: Literally only started a handful of games all season

  • 2017 Nick Foles

  • 1990 Jeff Hostetler

  • 1987 Doug Williams

Foles led the Eagles to Super Bowl glory behind some b-e-a-utiful tear-drop deep balls, one nice catch, as well as some gutsy and ferocious play from the Philly defense.

Hostetler mostly rode the coattails of the Giants' league-best scoring defense.

Williams' gunslinger mentality and at-time erratic accuracy all came together when it mattered most on his way to throwing for 340 yards and four scores during the Redskins' Super Bowl win over the Broncos.