For most of the NFL’s history, quarterbacks have been white. Racial discrimination and stereotypes about what positions on the field Black people should play often led to coaches overlooking talented athletes who would have excelled commanding an offense. As draft scouts realized how ignorant it was to take racial makeup into consideration when evaluating college players, the floodgates opened for Black quarterbacks.
1. Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes is already the best Black quarterback ever, and he’s well on his way to becoming the best football player in the league’s history. Mahomes throws passes other QBs can’t even conjure in their minds. He’s a two-time league MVP and two-time Super Bowl champion and he’s not even 30 yet!
2. Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson revolutionized the scrambling quarterback style when he was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. Wilson’s ability to bomb the ball down the field and escape traffic with his legs made him a unique dual threat at the position and one of the most underrated stars of the 2010s.
3. Warren Moon
Warren Moon’s longevity and prolific passing attack helped Black quarterbacks in the 1980s and beyond gain wider recognition for their talent. Moon is most known for captaining the Houston Oilers, where he won Offensive Player of the Year in 1990 with 33 passing touchdowns.
4. Randall Cunningham
Randall Cunningham was doing a lot of the things Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, and Cam Newton did before those players were even out of diapers. Cunningham blazed a trail for Black QBs by demonstrating that players didn’t need to be confined to running the ball. Cunningham threw for 30 touchdown passes with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1990.
5. Michael Vick
Michael Vick remains the most inexplicable athlete to ever play quarterback. When he took off with the football, defenses were flabbergasted. Vick’s speed, quickness, and creativity in the open field rivaled some of the league’s best running backs. Dogfighting charges put a halt to his prime.
6. Donovan McNabb
Donovan McNabb’s longevity with the Philadelphia Eagles helped introduce a bevy of Black quarterbacks into the league in the late 2000s and early 2010s. McNabb became one of the first Black quarterbacks to go to the Super Bowl, often orchestrating Andy Reid’s offense to perfection.
7. Cam Newton
Cam Newton is the NFL equivalent of Shaquille O’Neal. With a 6’5’’ frame and 245 pounds of muscle, Newton trucked linebackers and safeties with otherworldly athleticism. Add in a really solid arm with excellent accuracy, and Newton was arguably the best player at his position during the middle of the 2010s.
8. Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson started out his career with the Baltimore Ravens getting disrespected because of a lack of arm talent. Once coach John Harbaugh encouraged Jackson to add more diversity to his game, it improved the team’s chances at playoff success and helped Jackson live up to his potential. There’s still no better running quarterback currently in the league.
9. Steve McNair
Due to a short prime, Steve McNair gets forgotten in the discussion of great QBs in the early 2000s. He won an NFL MVP (jointly with Peyton Manning) in 2003 and led the NFL in passer rating. McNair was such a great athlete that he almost played baseball with the Seattle Mariners.
10. Doug Williams
Doug Williams is a defining barrier breaker in football history, setting records left and right for Black quarterbacks. Williams was the first Black QB to win the Super Bowl and get taken in the first round of the NFL draft. Washington has struggled to find a better player at the league’s most important position since Williams.
11. Daunte Culpepper
Daunte Culpepper stands as one of the biggest what-ifs in NFL history. He grew every year with the Minnesota Vikings in the early 2000s, throwing the ball to Randy Moss and leading the team to the playoffs regularly. A devastating knee injury curtailed what could have been a Hall of Fame career.
12. Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott soldiers through criticism and injury to lead the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs yearly. Following in the footsteps of Tony Romo, Prescott has endured ups and downs with America’s Team, but he often gets the most out of his talent and those around him. It remains to be seen whether the team will ever get back to the Super Bowl under Prescott, though.
13. Jalen Hurts
Jalen Hurts hasn’t even played five seasons of football yet, but the young star of the Philadelphia Eagles immediately turned the team’s fortunes around after being drafted in 2020. He mixes running and passing quite well, but often settles into a high-level game manager role on an Eagles team brimming with talent.
14. Deshaun Watson
Deshaun Watson’s tenure in Houston at the beginning of his career made it seem like the star was going to be the next big QB in the NFL. Personal troubles off the field and a plethora of injuries have put the brakes on those predictions, but Watson remains a solid signal caller in 2023.
15. Frederick “Fritz” Pollard
Fritz Pollard makes the list simply because he was the first Black quarterback to step on the field. Pollard was uniquely talented for his day, playing several different positions and enduring racism and intolerance during a time before the Civil Rights Movement.
16. Kyler Murray
When Kyler Murray’s little legs get moving, there’s no telling how you’re going to stop him. Leveraging the power of his small stature and elusively avoiding tackles, Murray has taken the scrambling quarterback style of Russell Wilson and continued it into the 2020s. If Murray ever adds more arm strength and precision, he’ll move up the list.
17. C.J. Stroud
C.J. Stroud hasn’t even started an entire season’s worth of games, but he’s having one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history. With an accurate touchdown to interception ratio and maturity at the helm of a traditionally bad team, Stroud should be one of the biggest stars of the 2020s.
18. Andre Ware
Andre Ware makes this list more for his college football accolades than his NFL career. Ware won the Heisman Trophy with the University of Houston in 1989 and had a brief stint with the Detroit Lions from 1990 to 1993.
19. Kordell Stewart
Kordell Stewart was primarily a running quarterback with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He created a nice bridge into the Ben Roethlisberger era, but more arm talent could have allowed Stewart to enter the upper echelon of players at his position.
20. Tua Tagovailoa
Tua Tagovailoa wasn’t expected to translate his college football success into NFL stardom, but Mike McDaniel certainly believed in Tua. Miami Dolphins fans haven’t enjoyed a quarterback with so much talent since the days of Dan Marino.
21. Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III is another tragic injury what-if in NFL history after suffering a severe knee injury in the Wild Card Round of the 2012 playoffs against Seattle. Griffin III combined many of the traits that make the current Black quarterbacks, such as Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, and Dak Prescott, dangerous. A strong arm and whirling rushing skills presented nightmares for the other team.
22. Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick transcends sports due to his political activism and work within the Black community. Many people argue Kaepernick was blackballed from the league after kneeling during the American national anthem. On the field, Kap trampled defenders with long legs and speed for the San Francisco 49ers.