Whitlock has a top 10 of all time QB list out. I don't want to split hairs with him; it's not the worst list ever, even if his criteria is all over the board. His comments about Manning are what they are. Thanks to Garrison for the link.
Personally, I don't think you can rank QBs, but rather you have a pool of guys who did the most ever at their position. I like the tier idea more than a straight list. Here's a rough idea of who would make my top tier. My criteria are:
1. Impact on the game. How was the game different because they played?
2. Fear they inspired
3. Huge numbers over a long period of time.
4. Unique skills
In no real order at all my all time top tier is:
Unitas-I love originals. The first one to do something new gets massive credit with me...even if others came along and did it better later. No one played QB like Unitas before Unitas. That earns him crazy cred with me. Inventing the two minute drill in the greatest game of all time? Seriously. Nothing can ever beat that.
Montana-I love the passer rating. It's my favorite stat. The reason is because it was the stat that Montana dominated. Four Super Bowls is nice, but Bradshaw won four, and he's nowhere near this list. Montana might have been a 'system' QB, but he was the first of his kind in Bill Walsh's West Coast offense. That makes him special in my book. Sure he had great talent, so what? Football is different because he played.
Elway-Yeah, I know he doesn't have the numbers, but he had a unique set of skills. My all time favorite non-Colts game was the Elway/Montana Monday Night shootout. Incredible game. When I was a kid, Elway was the man, and everyone knew it. The two late in his career championships directly lead to Favre coming back this year. Every old QB has hope for one more like John...
Marino-Same boat as Elway. I don't worry about the postseason nonsense. Marino was incredible. I saw him play a half dozen times live at least, and it was always a thrill.
Staubauch-Way underrated. In doing my "Old Manning" research, he was the player who fascinated me the most. His volume numbers were suppressed by a career in the Navy. No way I dock him for that! As a late bloomer, he gives hope to every 26 year old QB who hasn't figured it out yet.
Young-Again, I love me the passer rating and he's #1 all time (sorry Aaron Rodgers, I'm not counting you yet). He could run and throw. He was accurate and could hurl the deep ball. He was good right up to the very end of his career. He may have been best two way threat from the QB position ever. Because he could throw better than run, I love him.
Starr-If I have to acknowledge the Brady/Aikman/Bradshaw crowd, I'm going to put Starr on the board well before any of those guys. You want championships and post-season glory? He had his fill first.
Tarkenton-Another giant. Still ranks high on the all time lists in a lot of stats despite decades of retirement. He may not have one THE big one, but he won plenty of big games along the way.
Manning-He is altering the way football is played forever. To me that trumps everything else. I've never seen other coaches fear a player as much as they clearly fear him.
The next tier for me is littered with right place/right time guys: Brady, Aikman, Bradshaw types. Honestly, the two players most likely to break into my elite tier are Roethlisberger (if he stays healthy) and Brees (he lead the league in passer rating...of course I love him). I love Roethlisberger because as I've said many times, he does something Manning can't. He is the only guy in the league who possesses a skill Manning doesn't have...he's a freak to tackle. It'll get him killed before he's 30, but I love the way he plays. I suppose Brady would make the tier if he wins big with the Pats fielding a mediocre defense. Those three have the best shot.
Anyway, sorry for the generic 'fan' post with no real numbers or stats. It's not my finest work, but consider it a conversation starter for the weekend. Until the book is done, I'm saving my heavy research. Next week I'll get around to updating some of the preseason prediction pieces.