ESPN assembled an expert panel of former NFL coaches and executives to answer the question that everyone has been debating since the forward pass was first invented: Who is the greatest quarterback of all time? The results were fascinating and, in certain cases, surprising.
Before we get into the meat of the story, some criteria: 1) The survey focused on stats since 1978, when the league made rules changes that opened up the passing game, therefore eliminating quarterbacks such as Terry Bradshaw and Ken Stabler; 2) Panelists were asked to rank their top 10 in order; 3) Experts could vote for players from their own teams.
The panelists were a true “Who’s Who” of NFL experts: Pete Carroll, Tony Dungy, Mike Holmgren, Howard Mudd, Wade Phillips, Mike Reinfeldt, Ray Rhodes, Mike Shanahan, Al Saunders and Norv Turner.
The final results were determined by how often a player ranked ahead of other quarterbacks on all 10 ballots.
Tom Brady was ranked ahead of others 87.6 percent of the time, making him the No. 1 quarterback in the poll.
Peyton Manning finished second at 80 percent followed by Joe Montana at 78.
Tough to argue with the top 3. But as ESPN senior writer Mike Sando began to analyze the voting, some startling observations were uncovered.
Not only did Tony Dungy put Brady at No. 6 — the lowest by any panelist — the former Colts coach failed to place his own Peyton Manning in the top 3. Dungy had John Elway, Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers in his top three spots. Dungy argued that as a defensive-minded coach, it was harder to prepare for those three because of their mobility. Dungy also attributed much of Brady’s success to coach Bill Belichick’s system.
Dungy was the only pollster who did not have Brady ranked first or second.
As for Manning, Dungy had this to say: “I never had to defend Peyton, and if I did, I might have a different opinion as it pertains to this ranking. Rodney Harrison told me defending Peyton was so different from everyone else he ever had to play against. That is a little bit of a disclaimer. I put Manning and Dan Marino at the top of the nonscramblers because they didn’t have the benefit of dominant defenses.”
For those wondering, as the Colts’ coach, Dungy was 2-4 against Brady’s Patriots in the regular season and 1-2 in the playoffs.
Marino, Brett Favre, Young, Drew Brees and Dan Fouts rounded out the top 10.