The 10 best quarterbacks in the history of New York Jets

Some of the Jets QBs on this list might surprise you
Mark Sanchez
Mark Sanchez / Sam Greenwood/GettyImages

No position in sports carries more importance than the quarterback in football. Often seen as the driving force behind a team's success or lack thereof, the quarterback serves not only as the team's primary decision-maker on offense but also as a pivotal leader both on and off the field.

Unfortunately for the New York Jets, they don't exactly have a rich history of stellar quarterback play. From forgotten veterans to infamous draft busts, the Jets have spent the vast majority of their existence searching for stability at the quarterback position.

This isn't to say there haven't been occasional exceptions to that rule, but as you might see on the following list, the bar for being a top-10 quarterback in Jets history is extremely low in comparison to other NFL teams.

Using a combination of statistics, team success, individual accomplishments, longevity, and overall impact, let's take a look at the 10 greatest quarterbacks in franchise history.

Criteria for selection

It's never easy to put together a list like this. There isn't one single metric that can be used to determine the "best" quarterbacks in a team's history. Subjectivity will always be a factor.

That said, for the purposes of this list, we will be ranking Jets quarterbacks on a variety of components. Longevity will be a major factor, as will, of course, any individual accolades or awards received by the player during their time with the Jets.

We're only taking into account what a player has done with the Jets, so someone like Brett Favre will only be judged on their Jets career.

Moreover, this isn't simply a list of the top Jets quarterbacks by a certain statistic. This won't be a straightforward statistical ranking, as various subjective factors such as memorable moments, historical impact, and overall fan perception will be taken into account.

Buckle up for what promises to be a trip down memory lane for longtime fans of the organization. Here are the 10 best quarterbacks in New York Jets history.

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The top 10 quarterbacks in NY Jets history

10. Pat Ryan

Pat Ryan may have only started 19 games with the Jets, but the former 11th-round pick spent over a decade with the organization between 1978 and 1989 serving as the team's primary backup for the majority of that time.

Ryan's lone season as a starter came in 1984 when he led the Jets to a 6-5 record in his 11 starts, throwing 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His other memorable moments with the team came during the 1986-87 season when he took over for a benched Ken O'Brien in the playoffs.

Ryan helped lead the Jets to their first postseason win in four years before suffering an injury in the Divisional Round the following week.

Due to his longevity and overall fan perception, Ryan is absolutely deserving of a spot on this list. Other players considered include Sam Darnold, Ray Lucas, Geno Smith, and Josh McCown.

9. Brett Favre

Yes, Brett Favre is really a top-10 quarterback in Jets history. Favre joined a Jets team that had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, and while it's easy to forget now, the future Hall of Famer led Gang Green to an 8-3 record before everything went off the rails.

Favre tore his biceps and proceeded to throw eight interceptions and just two touchdowns over the final five games of the season, four of which the Jets lost. The Jets finished the season 9-7 and missed the playoffs altogether.

It's worth wondering how far Favre could've taken the Jets had he not gotten injured. After all, Favre was one of the best quarterbacks in football over the first 12 weeks of the season and was second in MVP voting the year prior.

Favre's Jets tenure will always be a what-could-have-been situation, but for those 11 games alone, he warrants a spot on this list.

8. Boomer Esiason

Everyone loves a hometown hero story. That's why fans were understandably excited when the Jets traded for Long Island native Boomer Esiason ahead of the 1993 season.

Esiason was reunited with his former Bengals offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet, and the Jets sat at 7-4 through their first 11 games in 1993. But in typical Jets fashion, the team lost four of their final five games, missed the playoffs, and Coslet was fired at the end of the year.

The remainder of Esiason's Jets tenure would be derailed by inconsistency and coaching turnover, with Pete Carroll and Rich Kotite taking over in 1994 and 1995, respectively.

Esiason's homecoming never reached the heights that Jets fans would've hoped, but he gave the team some respectable quarterback play and even made the Pro Bowl in 1993.

7. Ryan Fitzpatrick

Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't have the longevity that others on this list do, at least not with the Jets, but few quarterbacks in franchise history have been able to match what the long-tenured NFL veteran did at his peak in Florham Park.

Fitzpatrick's 2015 season remains arguably the best by a quarterback in Jets history. His 31 touchdowns broke Joe Namath's single-season record, and he came just shy of Namath's passing yards record with significantly fewer interceptions.

Of course, it's impossible to discuss Fitzpatrick's Jets tenure without touching on his dramatic free-agent pursuit the following offseason and the disaster that was the 2016 season.

But Ryan Fitzpatrick etched his name into Jets history with an incredible 2015 campaign that probably should've been rewarded with a playoff berth. Let's just not talk about Kenbrell Thompkins or honestly anything from that Week 17 Bills game.

6. Richard Todd

Once hailed as the successor to the legendary Joe Namath, Richard Todd fell well short of expectations with the Jets but still managed to put together a respectable eight years with the organization.

Todd was a frequent target of criticism during his time with the Jets, and to a certain subsection of fans, he will always be known as the Alabama product who couldn't fill Namath's shoes. But there were some bright spots in his tenure.

Todd helped lead the 1981 Jets to their first winning record in 12 years and led the Jets to the postseason again the following year, where he had New York on the precipice of the Super Bowl before a crushing loss to the Miami Dolphins in the infamous 'Mud Bowl.'

While Todd never lived up to his potential, only two quarterbacks in franchise history have thrown more passing yards and touchdowns. His longevity alone earns him a spot just outside the top five.

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5. Mark Sanchez

Say what you want about Mark Sanchez, but he was a part of one of the most successful periods in franchise history, and he was genuinely a large reason for the team's postseason success.

Sanchez's four playoff wins are more than any other quarterback in Jets history. He led the Jets to consecutive AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010, finishing his playoff career with nine touchdowns and only three interceptions while completing over 60 percent of his passes.

Sanchez never matched that level of success during the regular season, and it's fair to suggest he was a bit carried by his offensive and defensive supporting casts. Nonetheless, Sanchez's resume speaks for itself.

Few quarterbacks in Jets history have achieved more than the former fifth-overall pick. He's firmly deserving of a place in the top five.

4. Chad Pennington

One of the biggest 'what-if' stories in Jets history pertains to former quarterback Chad Pennington. The 18th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, Pennington took over as the Jets' starter in his third season and looked to be on the verge of stardom.

Pennington led the Jets to their most recent AFC East title win in 2002, leading the NFL with a 68.9 percent completion percentage, a mark that remains the best by a Jets quarterback in a single season.

Unfortunately, persistent shoulder injuries derailed the career of a player who could've been the team's best quarterback since Joe Namath. Still, Pennington is one of only two Jets quarterbacks to lead the team to three different playoff runs.

Pennington holds a special place in the hearts of many Jets fans, and you could very easily make the case that he deserves to be even higher. Spots 2-4 on this list are almost interchangeable.

3. Vinny Testaverde

The No. 1 overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft, Vinny Testaverde's 21-year NFL career is one of the most fascinating and bizarre in league history. The Jets are a storied chapter in his legendary career.

The 1998 season remains one of the greatest in Jets history, as Testaverde led the Jets to a 12-1 record in his 13 starts and a trip to the AFC Championship Game. The Jets entered the 1999 season with Super Bowl aspirations before those hopes were crushed when Testaverde tore his Achilles in the first game of the year.

While he did play five more seasons with the Jets, including another playoff berth in 2001, Testaverde never quite recaptured the magic of that 1998 season.

But from that magical 1998 campaign to his part in the 'Monday Night Miracle,' Testaverde cemented his place among the great quarterbacks in Jets history. He just misses out on the No. 2 spot on this list.

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2. Ken O'Brien

Ken O'Brien's name will forever be connected and compared to legendary Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, a player he was taken three spots before in the 1983 NFL Draft, but it's easy to forget that O'Brien had some impressive moments with the Jets.

The 24th overall pick in the 1983 draft became the first quarterback in franchise history to lead the Jets to three different playoff berths. He ranks second all-time behind Joe Namath in passing yards and touchdowns by a Jets quarterback and ranks first all-time in total completions.

O'Brien started 106 games over nine years with the Jets, marking two Pro Bowls amidst a storied and admittedly inconsistent tenure with the organization. He wasn't Marino, but he was still a good NFL quarterback for the era.

O'Brien's longevity is a major factor behind placing him above Testaverde and Pennington on this list. Combine that with a couple of genuinely very good seasons and O'Brien earns the slight not as the No. 2 quarterback in Jets history.

1. Joe Namath

This one was never in doubt. The greatest quarterback in Jets history is also arguably the most important and iconic player in franchise history. Of course, we're talking about 'Broadway' Joe Namath.

Namath led the Jets to their only Super Bowl title in 1969 as New York became the first AFL team to win the soon-to-be-named Lombardi Trophy. His "guarantee" became an iconic moment in not only Jets history but in NFL history as well.

Namath is the Jets' all-time leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per attempt, and fourth-quarter comebacks, and remains the team's only quarterback to be enshrined in Canton as a representative of the organization.

Simple statistics don't tell the full story, either. Namath was an icon of the sport and someone who directly changed the future of the NFL as a whole. You could very well argue he's one of the most influential quarterbacks in NFL history.

The league's first 4,000-yard passer (and still the Jets' only), it will be difficult for anyone to surpass him as the best quarterback in Jets history. This is his title until further notice.

The 10 best quarterbacks in NY Jets history by passing yards



Years With Team

Passing Yards


Joe Namath




Ken O'Brien




Richard Todd




Chad Pennington




Vinny Testaverde

1998-2003, 2005



Mark Sanchez




Boomer Esiason




Sam Darnold




Ryan Fitzpatrick




Zach Wilson