Ranking the best NFL quarterbacks of the 1980s

The 1980s represented the first truly great era of quarterback play around the NFL. All-time greats Joe Montana, John Elway and Dan Marino emerged as the league’s bright stars. Meanwhile, less-heralded players such as Phil Simms and Joe Theismann led winning teams in the NFC East. We also saw Randall Cunningham transcend the quarterback position and create opportunities for future generations and the modern NFL. Here’s a look at the top 10 quarterbacks from the golden decade of play at that position around the NFL.

Dan Fouts, San Diego Chargers (1980-87) 

In a precursor to the modern era, Fouts’ success under the “Air Coryell” offensive system enabled him to put up some staggering numbers. The former Oregon standout led the NFL in passing yards each season from 1979 to ’82.

He started the decade by tallying 4,715 passing yards with 30 touchdowns. Fouts followed that up by going for 4,802 yards in 1981. Both set single-season passing marks. Unfortunately for the Chargers, this did not lead to postseason success. Fouts posted a 3-4 playoff record as the team’s starter during the 1980s.

Warren Moon, Houston Oilers (1984-89) 

Al Davis made waves when he selected Eldridge Dickey in the first round of the 1968 NFL Draft. Doug Williams shocked the nation in leading Washington to a Super Bowl title. Even then, Moon is often seen as one of the players who really changed everything for Black quarterbacks and his play in the 1980s and 1990s proved why.

A product of Washington, Moon did most of his damage in the early ’90s. However, he was a trendsetter the decade before. During six years of play in the ’80s, the Hall of Famer accounted for 116 total touchdowns in part-time action. It was a precursor of things to come.

Boomer Esiason, Cincinnati Bengals (1984-89) 

Boomer was the only quarterback of this decade to go tit-for-tat with Joe Montana. It resulted in the Bengals’ second Super Bowl loss to the 49ers, 20-16, following the 1988 season. Although, it also showed us how underrated Esiason was.

He threw 50 more touchdowns than interceptions during his six seasons this decade. That included tossing 24-plus touchdowns four times in a five-year span. That was unheard of during an era of football when defense dominated the landscape of the league.

Joe Theismann, Washington (1980-85)

Sadly, Theismann is best known for the career-ending leg injury that he suffered against Lawrence Taylor and the Giants in 1985. The former Notre Dame star’s injury set the tone for teams focusing more on pass protection from the blindside.

Although, this didn’t change how well Theismann performed in his six seasons with Washington during the ’80s. He led the team to a win over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII and earned Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year honors that same season. All said, Theismann finished the decade with a 53-30 record as a starter with 110 touchdowns and 85 interceptions.

Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins (1983-89)

If it weren’t for Miami’s lack of postseason and Super Bowl success with Marino under center, he would be mentioned among the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Heck, an argument can be made that the Hall of Famer is still a top-five quarterback despite not having won a title.

Across the seven seasons he played in the ’80s, Marino threw for 27,853 yards with 220 touchdowns and 125 interceptions. Those are numbers that were not even in the NFL’s lexicon at the time. He also led Miami to an average of nearly 10 wins per season during that span while earning five trips to the Pro Bowl and the MVP award once.

Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia Eagles (1985-89)

One of the greatest players in UNLV history, Cunningham was selected in the second round of the 1985 NFL Draft by Philadelphia. The idea was that Cunningham would take over for the great Ron Jaworski. It didn’t take too long.

The dual-threat quarterback became a regular starter in 1987. In his three seasons in that role during the ’80s, Cunningham tallied a whopping 11,933 passing yards with 77 touchdowns and 58 interceptions. It was a harbinger of things to come for Cunningham heading into the new decade, laying a foundation for other black quarterbacks years later. A generational talent, Cunningham was a transcendent star in the City of Brotherly Love.

John Elway, Denver Broncos (1983-1989) 

One of less than a handful of quarterbacks who would make top-10 lists in multiple decades, Elway didn’t reach the pinnacle of his career until the 1990s. This doesn’t mean the No. 1 overall pick of the Baltimore Colts (that was a thing) in 1983 didn’t have success the decade prior.

Despite losing all three of his Super Bowl appearances in the ’80s, Elway acted as a revolutionary figure. He tallied 131 total touchdowns in parts of seven seasons as Denver’s starter, leading the team to four double-digit win seasons during that span. The only issue with Elway was a lack of individual and team-wide success in the playoffs. He posted a 6-5 record while throwing 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Phil Simms, New York Giants (1980-89) 

Simms’ long NFL career spanned parts of three decades, including the entire 1980s. While his stats weren’t gaudy, the former Morehead State star proved to be a winner during a career that saw him play exclusively for the Giants.

Simms posted a 57-30 record as a starter for the Giants from 1984-89. He led the team to a Super Bowl win over Elway and the Broncos following the 1987 season. This same span saw Simms combine for over 20,000 passing yards with 24 more touchdowns than interceptions.

Danny White, Dallas Cowboys (1980-88) 

White will be best known for failing to lead Dallas to a championship following the retirement of all-time great Roger Staubach. The Cowboys’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the 1981 NFC Championship Game stands above the rest.

Despite this, White remains one of the most underrated quarterbacks of the 1980s. He led Dallas to four playoff appearances in parts of seven seasons before the team went into full-scale rebuild mode. This same span saw White throw for north of 21,000 yards with 152 touchdowns and 126 interceptions.

Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers (1980-89) 

Debates will continue to rage regarding Montana’s status as an all-time great quarterback. Has Tom Brady surpassed him? One telling stat that favors Montana is his 4-0 record in the Super Bowl during the 1980s. Those four Super Bowl appearances saw Montana tally 11 touchdowns compared to zero interceptions for a quarterback rating of 110-plus.

Before injuries derailed Montana’s career in San Francisco, he was known as GOAT. The ’80s saw this Hall of Famer boast an 86-37 regular-season record and a 13-4 mark in the playoffs. He tallied almost 31,000 yards with 215 touchdowns and 107 interceptions in the regular season, turning that latter number up big-time in the playoffs with 36 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Unquestionably, Montana was the greatest quarterback of this decade.

Published at Sat, 04 Jul 2020 04:05:15 +0000

Source: Ranking the best NFL quarterbacks of the 1980s.

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