The best quarterback rooms in NFL history

The NFL has seen a number of memorable quarterback depth charts. A handful of teams have rostered multiple Hall of Famers. Here are the best QB rooms in league history.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Neil O'Donnell, Mike Tomczak & Kordell Stewart

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The Steelers used O’Donnell, Tomczak and Stewart as their primary starters from 1995-97, letting O’Donnell walk as a 1996 free agent and giving Stewart a second year of seasoning/”Slash” duty. For the ’95 season, however, Pittsburgh rostered three QBs who would eventually pilot the team to the playoffs. A game manager-type option who famously imploded in Super Bowl XXX, O’Donnell still quarterbacked the Steelers to four straight playoff berths. An ex-Bears Jim McMahon fill-in (with those Chicago chances being frequent), Tomczak started four 1995 games and all 16 in ’96. Stewart became an electric option down the line but worked as a gadget tool during his rookie year.

 

Philadelphia Eagles: Donovan McNabb & Michael Vick

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Controversial circumstances brought two 2000s stars together. Ahead of McNabb’s 11th season in Philly, Andy Reid signed Vick, who was coming off his two-year prison term for his role in the infamous dogfighting scandal. This turned out to be a 2009-only partnership, but it doubled as McNabb’s final quality season. Reid’s first franchise QB earned his sixth Pro Bowl nod in 2009, leading the Eagles to the playoffs. Vick did not mix in often, working as a package player. But he showed signs that led Reid to make the rare intra-divisional trade, sending McNabb to Washington. Vick offered a final glimpse of his Falcons form in 2010, making the Pro Bowl.

 

Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre, Mark Brunell & Ty Detmer

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Ron Wolf’s philosophy led to a number of QB draft picks, despite Favre’s presence. One of those became Brunell, a 1993 fifth-rounder. Brunell joined a QB room already housing former Heisman winner Ty Detmer, one of two Detmers to become a long-running NFL backup. The Favre-Brunell-Detmer trio ran from 1993-94, when Brunell signed with the expansion Jaguars and quickly supplanted starter Steve Beuerlein en route to a nine-year run as their starter — Brunell is by far the most accomplished QB in Jags history. The ’93 and ’94 seasons produced the first two playoff berths of Favre’s run. This group also featured a young Kurt Warner, who trekked to the Arena League after an August 1994 cut.

 

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22. Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz & Nick Foles

Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz & Nick Foles

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This duo did not age particularly well, but it must be included for its 2017 performance. Wentz delivered what turned out to be an outlier sophomore season, moving to the precipice of MVP acclaim. A 2013 Eagles third-round pick, Foles rejoined the team after two years away. The 6-foot-6 backup became needed after Wentz’s December ACL tear led to him losing an MVP race — probably unjustly, given his numbers and the Eagles’ standing — and seeing Foles go on one of the great runs in QB2 history. After a slow start, Foles offered stunning dominance to lift the Eagles past the Vikings and Patriots. Foles then helped Philly to the 2018 playoffs, replacing an injured Wentz once again.

 

Chicago Bears: Sid Luckman & Johnny Lujack

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Luckman remains the greatest QB in Bears history by a wide margin, but near the end of his career, the four-time NFL champion ceded his starting spot to Lujack. A Bears draft choice in 1946, Lujack still had two years of college eligibility. The Notre Dame QB won the Heisman in 1947 and became Luckman’s heir apparent in earnest in 1948. The two played together for three seasons, with the longtime Chicago bastion retiring after the 1950 season. Lujack started during Luckman’s final two years, throwing an NFL-most 23 TD passes in 1949. While Lujack retired after just four NFL seasons, he enjoyed a memorable Bears career.

 

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20. San Francisco 49ers: Alex Smith & Colin Kaepernick

San Francisco 49ers: Alex Smith & Colin Kaepernick

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Reborn under Jim Harbaugh, Smith won a duel with Drew Brees in a divisional-round epic to advance to the 2011 NFC championship game. The 49ers kept the former No. 1 overall pick as their starter until October 2012, when a Smith concussion thrust Kaepernick into action. Smith had completed 70.2% of his passes at that point, but Kaepernick had become too good to return to the bench. The 2011 second-rounder soared to start his NFL career, coming within a questionable non-penalty call from leading a historic Super Bowl comeback win. Prior to a February 2013 trade that sent Smith to Kansas City, this was a top-shelf duo. 

 

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19. San Diego Chargers: Tobin Rote & John Hadl

San Diego Chargers: Tobin Rote & John Hadl

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After Rote replaced an injured Bobby Layne and led the Lions to the 1957 NFL title, he wound up in Canada for three seasons. The CFL at the time offered a competitive salary, but Sid Gillman brought the ex-Packers and Lions starter to the AFL in 1963. For two seasons, he and Hadl were on the Chargers’ roster. Rote created a bridge to Hadl, a 1962 draftee who struggled as a rookie. During Rote’s lone year as San Diego’s full-time QB, he earned AFL MVP honors and piloted the Bolts to a runaway AFL championship. Hadl and Rote yo-yoed as starters in 1964, Rote’s finale and a season that ended with a title-game loss. Hadl went on to earn six Pro Bowl nods.

 

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18. Washington: Sammy Baugh & Frank Filchock

Washington: Sammy Baugh & Frank Filchock

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Playing in the single-wing era to start his career, Baugh did not work as Washington’s exclusive passer. Filchock lined up in the backfield with the all-time great and held his own, twice leading the NFL in TD passes. Baugh and Filchock played together for six seasons, with Filchock’s time serving in World War II interrupting the run. Washington twice made the NFL championship game with Filchock on the team, though the second such appearance — in 1945, when a since-changed safety rule led to a one-point loss to the Cleveland Rams — came after a switch to the T-formation relegated Filchock to a backup role. Washington dealt its QB2 to the Giants in 1946.

 

New York Giants: Phil Simms & Jeff Hostetler

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The Giants kept this tandem in place for eight years. A 1985 third-round pick, Hostetler ended up following the longtime starter in winning a Super Bowl. In Hostetler’s sixth season, Simms suffered a broken foot in Week 15. The mustachioed backup went 5-0 as a starter, ending the 49ers’ threepeat bid and operating a ball-control opus to topple the favored Bills in Super Bowl XXV. Bill Parcells’ successor, Ray Handley, then used Hostetler as his primary starter (1991-92). One of the NFL’s longest-running QB depth charts broke up in 1993, when Hostetler signed with the Raiders. Simms played a final season as the Giants’ starter.

 

Minnesota Vikings: Fran Tarkenton, Bob Lee & Tommy Kramer

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For the final two seasons of Tarkenton’s record-smashing career, the Vikings groomed his successor. Kramer, the second-longest-tenured QB1 in Vikings history, arrived as a 1977 first-round pick. Minnesota did not turn to the rookie when Tarkenton suffered a season-ending injury in November 1977, pivoting instead to Lee, in his second tour of duty as Tarkenton’s backup. Lee piloted the Vikes to four wins, including a divisional-round upset in muddy Los Angeles, in relief of Tarkenton. The ’78 season became the Hall of Famer’s 18th and final NFL slate; Lee was also elsewhere by 1979. Taking the keys that year, Kramer was with the Vikings until 1989. 

 

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15. New York Giants: Kurt Warner & Eli Manning

New York Giants: Kurt Warner & Eli Manning

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This one-season overlap helped revive Warner’s career, and while 2004 did not feature Manning’s best work, this Giants QB room combined for five Super Bowl starts (and one season on “The Bachelor”). Future ABC leading man Jesse Palmer did not take any snaps for the retooling Giants that year, but Warner shook off his recent St. Louis rust by quarterbacking New York to a 5-4 record. Rookie HC Tom Coughlin proceeded to yank Warner upon deeming Manning ready, and the Giants then lost their next six games. But the No. 1 overall pick showed glimpses of a Hall of Fame-worthy career as a rookie. Warner soon ignited his Hall of Fame-clinching comeback in Arizona. 

 

New England Patriots: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo & Jacoby Brissett

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Brady’s stature elevates this group, but the never-ending Deflategate saga opened the door to Garoppolo’s trade value rising. The 2016 season effectively previewed Garoppolo and Brissett’s careers, with the latter — a third-round rookie — becoming needed after Garoppolo’s Week 2 injury. Brissett struggled as a rookie but has made a career out of emergency starts, most notably in Indianapolis and Cleveland. The two held down the fort for a dominant Pats team for four games; Brady then went 14-1 as a starter upon returning. The Patriots broke up this trio in 2017, trading Brissett to the Colts and surprising the 49ers with an 11th-hour Garoppolo offer.

 

Detroit Lions: Bobby Layne & Tobin Rote

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Layne’s broken leg in the Lions’ penultimate regular-season game of 1957 altered the franchise’s history, but before “The Curse of Bobby Layne” came into play, Rote offered an all-time QB2 rescue effort the likes of Jeff Hostetler and Nick Foles would emulate. The Lions acquired Rote via a July 1957 trade with the Packers, who were going with Bart Starr. Added as insurance after Layne battled injuries in 1956, Rote led the Lions to a three-score playoff comeback past the 49ers and finished with four TD passes in a 59-14 demolition of the rival Browns. Rote could not hold this form after the Lions controversially traded Layne in September 1958, however.

 

Baltimore Colts: Johnny Unitas & Earl Morrall

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Morrall’s journeyman career reached an unexpected apex as a result of a Unitas preseason injury. The 1967 MVP suffered a severe arm injury, leading Don Shula to acquire Morrall from the Giants. The Colts became the fourth team to trade for the former No. 2 overall pick, but instead of landing an emergency stopgap, Baltimore obtained a player who surged to the 1968 MVP award. While this did not end well for the Colts, as Super Bowl III remains an infamous NFL event, Unitas and Morrall coexisted for three more seasons. They teamed up as a 36- and 37-year-old tandem on a Super Bowl V-winning squad in 1970 and voyaged to the AFC title game a year later. 

 

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11. Green Bay Packers: Arnie Herber & Cecil Isbell

Green Bay Packers: Arnie Herber & Cecil Isbell

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We will adjust for era here, as these two Don Hutson copilots overlapped from 1938-40. But both Herber and Isbell were All-Decade-teamers. Isbell is the only Hall-eligible All-Decade QB not enshrined in Canton. Retiring after five seasons led to Isbell falling short of a Sammy Baugh- or Sid Luckman-level legacy, but he was at the controls for Hutson’s record-smashing 1942 season. Isbell retired with the single-season passing records, Herber with the career marks. They were each part of the 1939 Pack’s championship team, both throwing a TD pass in the title game. This duo joined Hutson in authoring one of the more interesting chapters of Curly Lambeau’s career.

 

Dallas Cowboys: Roger Staubach & Danny White

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Staubach had barely begun his storied starter run when the Cowboys drafted White in the 1974 third round. Fully committed to the future Hall of Famer by this point — after trading Craig Morton to the Giants at the 1974 deadline — the Cowboys rostered White as a backup for six seasons. The second-generation NFLer served as Dallas’ full-time punter for four years but was well-versed in Tom Landry’s nuanced system by the time Staubach retired after the 1979 season. White’s imprint could not match Staubach’s, but he led the Cowboys to three NFC championship games in a starter stretch that lasted most of the ’80s.

 

Kansas City Chiefs: Alex Smith & Patrick Mahomes

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This partnership lasted only one season, but it remains a sought-after model. Having stalled out with Smith, the Chiefs identified Mahomes as a project in the 2017 draft, trading up 17 spots with the Bills — who were a year away from their Josh Allen investment — to acquire Mahomes at No. 10 overall. Despite Mahomes’ gifts, Andy Reid stuck with Smith throughout the ’17 season. The five-year Kansas City starter delivered his best season in 2017, topping the NFL in passer rating and notching his lone 4,000-yard year. The Chiefs lost in the wild-card round, however. After Kansas City dealt Smith to Washington in 2018, Mahomes became an instant superstar.

 

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8. Oakland Raiders: Daryle Lamonica & Ken Stabler (feat. George Blanda)

Oakland Raiders: Daryle Lamonica & Ken Stabler (feat. George Blanda)

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The Raiders chose Stabler in the 1968 second round but parked the future MVP and Hall of Famer behind Lamonica for five seasons. The Raiders drafted Stabler months after trading for Lamonica, who was just 26 when the team made that pick. The AFL MVP in 1967, Lamonica remained an elite deep thrower and earned three more Pro Bowl nods. Stabler only started two games over his first five seasons but made an important cameo in the “Immaculate Reception” game and took over a stacked Raiders team for good in 1973. The Raiders technically rostered three MVP QBs, though Blanda — an ex-champion as an Oiler — was used as a kicker and emergency passer by this point.

 

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7. San Francisco 49ers: Y.A. Tittle & John Brodie

San Francisco 49ers: Y.A. Tittle & John Brodie

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The 49ers sported a two-MVP QB depth chart for four years, the first three featuring Brodie backing up the future Hall of Famer. But the former No. 3 overall pick saw extensive action during Tittle’s final San Francisco seasons. Tittle collected his first All-Pro honor in Brodie’s rookie year (1957), though the 49ers blew a 17-point playoff lead. Brodie started 16 games from 1958-60, and the 49ers’ coaching change — from Frankie Albert to Red Hickey — led to the younger passer being prioritized. The 49ers traded Tittle to the Giants in 1961. He played in the next three NFL championship games, winning MVP acclaim in 1963. Brodie started into the ’70s, winning his MVP in 1970.

 

New England Patriots: Drew Bledsoe & Tom Brady

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The 2001 season became an NFL turning point, but Brady and Bledsoe were teammates in 2000 as well. Bill Belichick was a Patriots assistant during part of the former No. 1 overall pick’s 1990s starter stay. Even after a 5-11 2000 season, Bledsoe signed a 10-year, $103 million extension during the ’01 offseason. The rest of this story is NFL lore by now, with Brady going from sixth-round pick to legendary sports figure after a Bledsoe-Mo Lewis collision ended his eight-plus-season run as the Pats’ starter. Months before a trade to Buffalo, Bledsoe displayed his chops by replacing an injured Brady in an AFC championship win in Pittsburgh.

 

San Diego Chargers: Drew Brees & Philip Rivers

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Neither player was particularly close to his best during this period, but one surefire Hall of Famer shared a QB room with a borderline Canton inductee for two seasons. Seeing inconsistency from Brees over his first three seasons, the Bolts took part in the unique RIvers-Eli Manning swap. While the Giants would have taken Ben Roethlisberger had the Chargers refused Manning’s pre-draft ask, Rivers benefited from the two years developing behind Brees. The incumbent also took a step forward in 2004, earning a Pro Bowl nod and guiding the Bolts to the playoffs. A Brees labrum tear made San Diego’s 2006 decision easier, and the choice set up the Saints for 15 years.

 

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4. Philadelphia Eagles: Norm Van Brocklin & Sonny Jurgensen

Philadelphia Eagles: Norm Van Brocklin & Sonny Jurgensen

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Jurgensen went through an extended apprenticeship in Philadelphia. The Eagles acquired Van Brocklin from the Rams in 1958, and the veteran did not miss a game in his three seasons with the team. This led Jurgensen — a 1957 draftee — to QB2 status. Van Brocklin piloted Philly to the 1960 national championship, winning MVP honors in his walk-off season. Jurgensen earned All-Pro honors in his first starter season (1961) and followed Van Brocklin into the Hall of Fame, though the rifle-armed passer is best remembered for his Washington tenure. The Eagles traded Jurgensen to their rivals in 1964, a move that backfired quickly.

 

Los Angeles Rams: Bob Waterfield & Norm Van Brocklin

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Joining the Cleveland Rams in 1944, Waterfield played five NFL seasons before Van Brocklin created a unique setup in Los Angeles. Beginning in Van Brocklin’s second season (1950), the Rams shifted to a two-QB arrangement. That lasted three seasons. In two of those, the Rams journeyed to the NFL championship game. Year 1 of this unusual plan produced a still-standing NFL points-per-game record (38.8), and although the Browns ousted the Rams in a classic season-ender, the 1951 Los Angeles edition won the rematch. Van Brocklin began that season by setting the single-game passing record (554 yards, which still stands). Waterfield’s 1953 retirement ended the partnership. 

 

Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre & Aaron Rodgers

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Favre’s retirement tour was years away, but the all-time great had begun floating the notion he would walk away. The Packers then pounced after Rodgers unexpectedly fell to No. 23 in the 2005 draft. This Packers-only modern grooming plan, one they have since replicated with Jordan Love, panned out. Though, the team suffered through multiple down seasons — including a 4-12 2005 — before nearly booking a Super Bowl XLII berth a year later. Favre retirement No. 1 opened the door for Rodgers, who prevailed in a messy divorce once Favre unretirement No. 1 commenced. The two combined for seven MVPs and 21 Pro Bowls, giving Green Bay an unmatched 31 straight seasons of Hall of Fame-level QB1s.

 

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1. San Francisco 49ers: Joe Montana & Steve Young

San Francisco 49ers: Joe Montana & Steve Young

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The 49ers formed their legendary QB duo after Bill Walsh expressed concern about Montana’s durability. The Bay Area icon had missed a chunk of the 1986 season due to a back injury, and the 49ers outflanked the Cardinals to acquire Young from the Buccaneers in 1987. Needing to send Tampa Bay only second- and fourth-round picks for the former No. 1 pick, the 49ers formed an extended bridge. Young did not become the 49ers’ full-time starter until a 1991 Montana elbow injury, but he contributed often during the team’s late-’80s reign. This often-awkward partnership lasted six years, before Montana requested a 1993 trade. Steve Bono, who later succeeded Montana in Kansas City, teamed with both from 1989-92.

Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.



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