Top 10 NFL Quarterbacks of the 1980s

Top 10 NFL Quarterbacks of the 1980s
Top 10 NFL Quarterbacks of the 1980s

Top 10 NFL Quarterbacks of the 1980s

While the quarterbacks of the 1980s may not have put up the jaw-dropping numbers that the quarterbacks of today put up, there is no doubt that they moved the game of football forward. In an error where receivers and QBs did not have all of the rule advantages that give the offense an advantage over the defense, these amazing ten athletes were able to impact the game like no others. While the 80s may be known as the decade of the San Francisco 49ers and their golden boy quarterback Joe Montana, there was stiff competition in the NFL that forced all of these quarterbacks to perform at a higher level. Whether they were lining up in the shotgun and leading a run and shoot or under center in Bill Walsh’s popular and effective West Coast Offense, these QBs had the talent and leadership that propelled their teams to outstanding performances.

10. Jim McMahon

Jim McMahon · DF-ST-89-03600


Coming out of tiny Roy, Utah, few would have predicted that Jim McMahon would have made the list of the decade’s top ten quarterbacks. After a prolific collegiate career that saw McMahon set multiple NCAA single season records and lead one of the most improbable comebacks in the history of NCAA football against the SMU Mustangs in the 1980 Holiday Bowl, Jim McMahon was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the 1982 NFL draft with the fifth overall pick. McMahon was well known as a rebel with a cause, and his on-field attitude and demeanor was and still is extremely memorable for fans of the NFL and the Chicago Bears. McMahon won control of the Bears’ quarterback position as a rookie, and he went on to be named to the All-Rookie Team. McMahon was blessed with an ability to throw the ball accurately on the run, and his mobility and speed made it difficult for NFL lineman to sack him with any type of consistency. 1985 was the year when McMahon and the Chicago Bears broke through and went on to win the Super Bowl in dominating fashion. While the Bears may be better known for their defense and the Super Bowl Shuffle, McMahon was undoubtedly the team’s offensive leader. At the end of the decade, McMahon was traded to the San Diego Chargers where he led the team to a 4 – 8 season. For his NFL career, McMahon passed for over 18,000 yards and he had 100 touchdowns.

9. Warren Moon

Warren Moon a fantastic 1980s NFL Quarterback
Warren Moon a fantastic 1980s NFL Quarterback

Warren Moon was a barrier breaking quarterback who helped revolutionize the way the NFL game was played thanks to his performance in the Houston Oilers’ prolific Run and Shoot offense. With a strong arm and an unnatural ability to put the ball in the perfect place for his receiver to catch and run with the ball, Moon threw for almost 50,000 yards during his 17 year NFL career. While at the University of Washington, Moon had to combat racial hatred that plagued him throughout his NFL career. While he was the target of multiple death threats during his playing career, he was able to overcome these obstacles on the way to a Hall of Fame career. After six seasons spent in the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos, Moon set off a bidding war when he decided to come to the NFL. 1986 was the most successful for Moon during the decade, and he threw for over 3,400 yards and led the team to their first winning season since 1980. At one point, he was the highest paid player in the NFL after he signed a five year contract that was valued at $10 million. While Moon never made a Super Bowl at the helm of the Oilers, he had an extremely successful career that saw him pass for over 33,300 yards and 196 touchdowns during his 10 year Oiler Career. He went on to play with the Minnesota Vikings, the Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs before he retired.

8. Bernie Kosar

At six foot five and 215 pounds, Bernie Kosar was one of the first prototypical drop-back passers to enter the National Football League. Kosar was born in Boardman, Ohio, and was drafted by the in-state Cleveland Browns in the 1985 Supplemental NFL Draft to save the hometown team. Following a collegiate career that saw him named to the Second Team All-American Team, Kosar decided to take his future into his own hands, and his agent and Bernie concocted a plan where he would forego the typical NFL draft and enter the NFL through the Supplemental Draft. This ensured that he would go to the Browns and not the Buffalo Bills who had the first pick in the draft. Kosar instantly became a fan favorite for the Browns, and he played in 12 games as a Rookie and threw for over 1,500 yards. 1986 was a breakout season for Kosar from a statistical standpoint when he threw for over 3,800 yards. He led the team to a first place finish in the AFC only to see it come crashing down when John Elway and the Denver Broncos marched 98 yards for a game winning TD that is known simply as The Drive. Kosar bounced back in 1987 and threw for over 3,000 yards in the 12-game strike shortened NFL season. His next season was cut short by injury. His 1989 comeback was again cut down by the Denver Broncos in the AFC Title Game. Bernie Kosar is still one of the Browns’ most celebrated and beloved players.

7. Randall Cunningham

Randall Cunningham Pro Bowl
s_bukley /

While Randall Cunningham may not have the same gaudy passing stats as some of the other drop back passers on this list, his impact on the National Football League at the quarterback position is undeniable. Coming out of the University of Nevada Las Vegas in the second round of the 1985 NFL Draft, Cunningham had a mix of speed and agility that was unheard of for an NFL QB at that time. During his highlight reel career, Cunningham frustrated defenders with his elusiveness, strong arm, and all around God-given talent. Cunningham was brought in to backup Ron Jaworski, and Cunningham had an immediate impact on the game with his ability to scramble and run for big gains coming out of the pocket. In 1987, Randall Cunningham became the Eagles permanent starting quarterback, and he started to make grains in his accuracy and passing numbers. By 1988, Cunningham was considered one of the top quarterbacks in the entire National Football League, and he was named the starter for the National Football Conference in the Pro Bowl that was held in Hawaii. His performance earned him the honor of being named the game’s Most Valuable Player. 1988 was also the year when Randall was able to lead the Eagles to a hard-fought NFC Eastern Division Title. Rockin’ Randall Cunningham’s popularity soared towards the end of the decade, just like the Philadelphia Eagles as a whole, and he passed for over 3,400 yards in each season from 1988 – 1990. After leaving the Eagles, he played five more seasons for the Vikings, the Cowboys and the Ravens. Cunningham finished his career as the NFL’s top rushing quarterback of all time and set the tone for spread football.

6. Boomer Esiason

Boomer Esiason One the Best Quarterbacks of the 1980s
Boomer Esiason One the Best Quarterbacks of the 1980s. He also has a really hot daughter.

Debby Wong / Shutterstock.comThe first southpaw on our list of top QBs, Boomer Esiason led the Bengals to the franchise’s most successful stretch. Born Norman Julius Esiason in West Islip, New York, Esiason grew up answering to the nickname of Boomer due to his constant kicking in the womb. After starring for the University of Maryland Terrapins under future NFL Coach Bobby Ross, Esiason was drafted in the second round of the 1984 draft with the 38th pick by the Bengals. Boomer spent the first 9 years of his 14 year career with the Bengals, and he finished his career with over 5,200 passing attempts and 37,900 yards passing. Boomer was a great leader in the Bengals huddle from the moment he became the team’s starting quarterback in the 1985 season. Esiason stands at 6’5″, and he used his height to see over his offensive lineman to pick out receivers on all parts of the field. Boomer was surprisingly nimble for a man of his stature, and he rushed for almost 1,600 yards over the course of his NFL playing career. In his post-football career, Esiason has established a very successful foundation to raise funds and awareness for Cystic Fibrosis. The Boomer Esiason Foundation was started to help his son Gunner battle the disease, and the success of the Esiason foundation is now a huge part of Boomer’s life.