Up until the now boringly successful Belichick-Brady era, the New England Patriots had traditionally been one of the more mediocre franchises in NFL-AFL history. It took the team 15 years from its inception just to make it to the playoffs, and when they finally made it to the Super Bowl after 25 years of existence they promptly got curb-stomped by the Chicago Bears. But in the last 30 years they have had their three best QBs and their two best coaches ever and in the last decade and a half have thrived with the one of the best coach-quarterback tandems the NFL has ever seen. The results have been an endless stream of division championships and playoff appearances with seven Super Bowl appearances and four wins in the last twenty years. Beyond the past two decades however the Patriots had a much wider variety of characters behind center. Here is the definitive ranking of all of the quarterbacks who have started for the New England (and Boston) Patriots over the past 40 plus years. Spoiler Alert: Tom Brady is ranked #1. But you know that already so read on to see where everyone else made it on the list.
29. Joe Kapp
After a stellar career at the University of California Berkeley, where he lead them to their last Rose Bowl in 1959 Joe Kapp was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the 1959 NFL Draft. He was never contacted by the team however so he played the next few years in the Canadian Football League. He finally made it to the NFL in 1967 with the Minnesota Vikings. Despite leading the Vikings to a 12-1 record in 1969 and an appearance in Super Bowl IV, Joe Kapp had a fairly unimpressive four year career as an NFL quarterback and was especially bad in his only year playing for the Patriots. With a 1-9 record, 44.7% completion rate and only three TDs against 17 interceptions Kapp was out of the league the next year.
28. Jeff Carlson
After playing his college football at Weber State, Jeff Carlson was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the fourth round with the 102nd overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft. He ended up playing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two seasons, playing in three games and starting one. He threw for just over 400 yards with a 47% completion rate and one touchdown before he ended up in New England where he was one of four QBs who started for the Patriots during the 1992 season. He only completed 36% of his passes as a Patriot with one touchdown and three interceptions. He had a career 43% completion rate, with two touchdowns and nine interceptions over his three years in the league.
27. Bob Bleier
A cousin of Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier, Bob Bleier made the most of his opportunity to play in the NFL during the 1987 strike shortened season. Belier played in three games in his only year in the league with the New England Patriots. After playing his college football for the Richmond Spiders he joined the Patriots as a replacement player during the strike. He was able to start two of the games during the strike with the Patriots, winning one of his starts and losing the other. He finished the season and his career with a 35% completion rate to go along with 181 yards while throwing one touchdown and one interception. He was also sacked three times and fumbled twice.
26. Don Trull
An All-American at Baylor University, Don Trull won the Sammy Baugh Trophy twice and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1963. He was drafted in the 14th round with the 111th overall pick in the 1963 AFL Draft by the Houston Oilers. He played three seasons in Houston before he headed to the Patriots in 1967. In three starts for the Patriots they lost three times and he had a 33% completion percentage to go along with one touchdown and seven interceptions. He did a little better over his full career completing 43% of his passes and throwing for almost 4000 yards over seven seasons with 30 total touchdowns and 28 interceptions. Needless to say, Trull’s time with the Patriots was not great.
25. Tom Greene
The second quarterback to ever start a game for the New England Patriots, back when they were known as the Boston Patriots, was Tom Greene. Greene played his college football for the Holy Cross Crusaders before joining the Patriots for their first season in 1960. He is one of only twenty players who have been inducted into the Holy Cross Ring of Honor. Green started in two games in which the Patriots went 1-1 with him behind center. Over the course of his only season in Boston, Greene passed for 251 yards. He also completed 42% of his passes and threw one touchdown and six interceptions with the Patriots. He played in one game with the Dallas Texans in 1961 but did not compile any additional stats.
24. Neil Graff
A three year starter at the University of Wisconsin, Neil Graff was selected with the 414th overall pick of the 1972 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. Graff did not play in the NFL however until 1974 when he was picked up by the New England Patriots. He completed his only pass in 1974 for 20 yards and did not have another one until the following season. He started two games during the 1975 season, both of which the Patriots lost while throwing two touchdowns and three interceptions with 241 yards passing. He was chosen in the NFL expansion draft in 1976 by the Seattle Seahawks but did not play again until 1977 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, passing for 47 more yards in four games.
23. Tommy Hodson
A four year star at LSU, Tommy Hodson led the Tigers to two SEC Championships and a top five finish in the AP poll in 1997 before being drafted by the New England Patriots with the 59th overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft. Hodson started but lost the last six games of his rookie season. He started six more games combined over the next two seasons losing all but one. He finished his career with the Patriots with just over 1800 yards passing, seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He served as a backup with the Cowboys, Dolphins, and Saints over the next few years recording five more pass attempts for 14 more yards with the Saints before his career came to an end in 1996.
22. Scott Secules
After a record setting career at the University of Virginia Scott Secules was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round of the 1988 NFL Draft. Secules made the team but was inactive for the entire season as the third string quarterback. After the Cowboys replaced Tom Landry with Jimmy Johnson and drafted Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh, Secules was traded to the Miami Dolphins in 1989. Secules received minimal playing time in Miami behind Dan Marino and after three seasons he signed as a free agent with the New England Patriots. He started four games splitting time with rookie Drew Bledsoe until Bledsoe established himself as the number one quarterback. He finished the season with over 900 yards, two touchdowns and nine interceptions with the Patriots losing all four games he started.
21. Tom Sherman
Over three seasons at Penn State University, Tom Sherman passed for over 2500 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Nittany Lions. Sherman played in 19 total games over two seasons after making it to the pros with the Boston Patriots. The Patriots went 1-6 in games he started as he threw for 1199 yards, 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. In one start with the Buffalo Bills in 1969 he completed ALL of his passes, which was actually just two of them, with a touchdown, adding 20 more yards to his career total. He finished his football career playing in the World Football League in New York and Charlotte until the league folded and then played one more year in the CFL for the Calgary Stampeders.
20. Tom Owen
Despite only starting nine games in his entire career, Tom Owen spent nearly 10 years in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins. After completing his college career at Wichita State, Owen was drafted in the 13th round of the 1974 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He played for two seasons in San Francisco, playing more than half of his career games and compiling more than half of his career statistics in his time in the Bay Area. In 1976 he went to the New England Patriots where he played for four years. He started one game in 1981 which the Patriots lost. Over his 12 total games he threw for 655 yards with three touchdowns and nine interceptions.
19. Tom Ramsey
After a four year career as quarterback at UCLA, leading the Bruins to a win in the 1983 Rose Bowl, where he was named MVP of the game, Tom Ramsey was drafted by the New England Patriots in the 1983 NFL Draft in the 10th round. Ramsey chose to head to the USFL first however and played two years in the league, initially for the Los Angeles Express and then the Oakland Invaders. He finally joined the Patriots in 1986, throwing only one completion in five appearances. The following year Ramsey appeared in nine games, starting three. He threw for 898 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. He played seven more games the following year adding 100 yards and three interceptions to his totals. He played one more year with the Indianapolis Colts in 1989 before his career ended.
18. Mike Taliaferro
As quarterback for the University of Illinois, Mike Taliaferro did not put up big stats but nevertheless he was able to lead the Illini to a victory in the 1964 Rose Bowl over the Washington Huskies. Taliaferro was then chosen in the 28th round of the 1963 AFL Draft by the New York Jets. He played four years with the Jets throwing for 1100 yards with eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions before heading to the Boston Patriots. He received more playing time for the Patriots over the next three years and picked up 3900 more passing yards along with 27 more touchdowns while tossing 44 more interceptions. After leaving Boston he spent one more year with the Buffalo Bills before signing with the Houston Texans of the World Football League in 1974.
17. Eddie Wilson
After passing for over 2700 yards with 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions over his three years as the quarterback for the Arizona Wildcats, Eddie Wilson was drafted by the Dallas Texans in the 1962 AFL Draft. He played minimally during one season with the Texans before spending two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1965, he went to the Boston Patriots where he ended up starting one game in place of the long time starter Babe Parilli. In his only start for Kansas City, Wilson had led the Chiefs to a tie. Now in his only start for the Patriots, Wilson once again led the team to a tie, leaving him with the unique record of 0-0-2 in his career as a starting quarterback.
16. Tom Yewcic
Tom Yewcic is probably the best Punter to ever start at Quarterback for the Patriots… Unless Tom Brady takes up punting in which case Yewcic will just be the best baseball player to ever start at quarterback for the Patriots. After playing football and a few other sports for the Michigan State Spartans, Yewcic was drafted in the 27th round of the 1954 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead of the NFL he took a shot at professional baseball. He bounced around the minor leagues for a few years, eventually playing a game at catcher for the Detroit Tigers in 1957. In 1961 he joined the Boston Patriots and played for five seasons, mostly punting, but also starting at quarterback for four games in 1962 and one game in 1963. He finished his career in 1965 with over 1300 yards passing and 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
15. Hugh Millen
As quarterback at the University of Washington, Hugh Millen led the Huskies to a win in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma, an 11-1 record, and a number two ranking nationally in his junior year. After another solid year as a senior he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the third round of the 1986 NFL Draft. He missed almost all of his first two seasons with various injuries and when he returned Jim Everett had established himself as the starting quarterback for the Rams. He then moved on to the Atlanta Falcons where he played in eight games over two seasons before landing with the New England Patriots in 1991. Millen threw for over 3000 yards in his first year as the Patriots went 6-10 but the following year, playing injured, the team went 2-14 with Millen losing all of his starts. He was traded to the Dallas Cowboys the following year when the Patriots drafted Drew Bledsoe with the number one pick in the draft.
14. Matt Cavanaugh
As the quarterback for the 1976 Pittsburgh Panthers Matt Cavanaugh helped the team to an undefeated record mostly by handing the ball off to Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett but also by throwing for over 1000 yards and nine touchdowns himself. After another solid season as a senior he was selected in the second round of the 1978 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. He started 15 games over four seasons with the Patriots while completing 53% of his passes for over 3000 yards with 19 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. After departing New England he spent three years with the 49ers, winning a Super Bowl as Joe Montana’s backup. He then went to Philadelphia for three seasons and finished his career with the New York Giants where he won another Super Bowl as a backup for the Giants.
13. Marc Wilson
Over three years playing at Brigham Young University in LaVell, Marc Edwards’ high octane offense Marc Wilson had thrown for over 7600 yards with 61 touchdowns. He led the Cougars to an undefeated season and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1979. In the 1980 NFL Draft he was selected with the 15th pick in the first round by the Oakland Raiders. Wilson spent eight years with the Raiders, backing up Jim Plunkett during his rookie year as the Raiders won the Super Bowl and then alternately starting and backing up Plunkett over his remaining years with the team. In 1989 he went to the New England Patriots where he started 10 games over the next two seasons including 1990 when the team went 1-15 in his final season in the NFL.
12. Jacoby Brissett
With only two starts in his NFL career Jacoby Brissett could climb up or tumble down this list depending on what happens going forward. Based on the performances in his three total games he could go either way. In his short career so far Brissett has zero touchdowns and zero interceptions and has thrown for an even 400 yards. The Patriots were able to hang on in his first game which he replaced an injured Jimmy Garoppolo and managed to win his first start and lost his second. Brissett spent two years as a backup for the Florida Gators before transferring to North Carolina State where he started for his final two years. He was drafted by the New England Patriots with the 91st pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
11. Scott Zolak
The New England Patriots selected Scott Zolak out of the University of Maryland in the fourth round of the 1991 NFL Draft. He split time with three other quarterbacks during his rookie year. Once Bill Parcells took over as coach, the Patriots shook up their quarterback depth chart by drafting Drew Bledsoe and getting rid of three other quarterbacks who had played the previous year. After a couple of years as the third string QB behind Bledsoe and Scott Secules, Zolak established himself as the main backup behind the Patriots star quarterback. He ultimately spent seven seasons in New England before he found his way to the Miami Dolphins in 1999. Zolak completed exactly half of his passes in his career for 1300 yards, with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.
10. Jimmy Garoppolo
The hope among New England Patriots fans is that after a few more years (two? three? ten?) with Tom Brady running the show, Jimmy Garoppolo will eventually take over and establish himself as a quarterback that belongs near the top of this list. Nobody expects the second coming of Brady but becoming the next Steve Grogan, 2008 vintage Matt Cassel, or matching the career of his fellow Eastern Illinois alum Tony Romo would all be perfectly acceptable outcomes. Based on his career so far things look promising. This year while Brady was suspended as a result of Deflate-gate, Garoppolo started two games for the Patriots and completed 70% of his passes for 498 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions; it looked as if the future beyond Brady could have been solved. Unfortunately he was injured so the Patriots were unable to see much more out of Garoppolo but if he can keep it up the Patriots should be ok.
9. Butch Songin
After playing quarterback for the Boston College Eagles from 1947 through 1949, Butch Songin joined the Canadian Rugby Union which was a forerunner of the Canadian Football League for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. After a few years he was signed to the newly created AFL with the Boston Patriots. On September 9, 1960, the Boston Patriots and the Denver Broncos played in the first ever AFL game. The very first starting quarterback for the Patriots in the game was Butch Songin. He started 12 games in the first season and split time the following season with Babe Parilli before he moved on to the New York Titans in 1962. Songin passed for just over 3900 yards with the Patriots along with 36 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.
8. Matt Cassel
After receiving minimal playing time as a backup to two Heisman Trophy winners during his career at USC Matt Cassel may have thought he had a better chance at winning a starting job in the NFL. Unfortunately he was selected by the New England Patriots in the 2005 NFL Draft where he would be a backup to perennial All-Pro and Super Bowl winner Tom Brady. He remained on the bench for three years until fate intervened and Brady suffered a major knee injury at the start of the 2008 season. Based on the ensuing full season as the starter while Brady sat out, it looked like Matt Cassel was on his way to ending up higher on this list. But despite leading the team to the playoffs with a 10-5 record while throwing for almost 3700 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions Cassel was traded the following year to the Kansas City Chiefs. He led the Chiefs to the playoffs in 2010 but outside of that year, his numbers were inconsistent and unimpressive. He has bounced around the league to Minnesota, Buffalo, Dallas, and Tennessee occasionally starting but mostly as a backup since leaving the Chiefs.
7. Doug Flutie
During his senior year at Boston College, Doug Flutie was a consensus All-American, set a number of passing records, collected a handful of major awards including the Heisman Trophy, and in his most iconic moment threw the hail mary touchdown pass in the final seconds to beat the Miami Hurricanes. Flutie was then selected in the 1985 USFL Draft by the New Jersey Generals. When the USFL folded the following year, Flutie’s NFL rights were traded to the Chicago Bears where he spent the 1986 season. He was traded again in 1987 to the New England Patriots and played 13 games over the next three seasons. In 1990 he went to the Canadian Football League where he spent seven years setting a number of passing records, winning the Grey Cup three times, and was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player six times. He headed back to the NFL in 1998 signing with the Buffalo Bills where he played for three years before heading to the San Diego Chargers for another four seasons. He played his last season in 2005 with the Patriots.
6. Tony Eason
The first QB to ever lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl was Tony Eason. Unfortunately he led them right into the deathtrap that was the famed 1985 Chicago Bears defense where he was the first QB to not complete a single pass in a Super Bowl game, going 0-for-6. Despite his misfortune at having to face one of the best NFL defenses of all time in the biggest game of his life, and then being pulled in the second quarter, Eason did have a few pretty good years in New England. He threw for over 10,000 yards and 60 touchdowns in his six seasons with the team. Eason also has the fifth most wins of any QB in Patriots history and is one of the few QBs with a winning record for the team.
5. Jim Plunkett
Primarily known for winning two Super Bowls with the Raiders late in his career, Jim Plunkett was originally drafted with the first overall pick of the 1971 NFL Draft by the Patriots. Plunkett had been awarded the Heisman Trophy for the Stanford Cardinal while also leading them to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1952 where they beat the Ohio State Buckeyes. Plunkett played for the Patriots for five seasons compiling over 9,000 yards passing and while throwing 62 touchdowns. After the Patriots drafted Steve Grogan in 1975 Plunkett was fazed out of the starting lineup and eventually traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 1976 where he played for two years before making his way across the bay to Oakland. He remained with the Raiders for the rest of his career.
4. Babe Parilli
Having three quality QBs playing for over 30 years worth of the franchise’s history means finding the fourth best QB takes us pretty far back. One of the first QBs to make a mark and stick around for the Patriots, back when they were the Boston Patriots, was Babe Parilli. Starting his career with the Green Bay Packers where he played for four total years between seasons with the Ottawa Rough Riders, Cleveland Browns, and Oakland Raiders, Parilli made his way to Boston in 1961 where he spent the next six years. Parilli was the third QB to ever start for the Patriots and set most of the teams career and season passing marks which stood for decades before the top three Patriots QBs started surpassing them. In 1964 Parilli threw for almost 3500 yards and 31 touchdowns, a record that would stand until Tom Brady broke it over 40 years later.
3. Drew Bledsoe
The guy who was on his way to becoming the greatest Patriots QB of all time just happened to be injured at the wrong time and replaced with the wrong backup. If Bledsoe had remained healthy, or if Brady had performed like a normal second stringer, Bledsoe probably would have returned as the starter and remained in New England for the next three-five years or more. Instead everyone knows what happened next with Tom Brady taking over and never relinquishing his job. Despite being prematurely replaced in New England, Bledsoe is still the third best Patriots quarterback of all time. He is second all time in total yards and fourth quarter comebacks for the Patriots and third in all time wins and touchdowns with the team. In his overall career he is 13th on the all time passing yards list and 20th on the all time touchdowns list. Despite being one of the best QBs to ever play in the NFL, he might also be the unluckiest having lost his job to one of the top five QBs of all time.
2. Steve Grogan
The man with the second most wins, second most touchdowns, and third most yards in Patriots history is Steve Grogan. Having spent his entire career in New England, Grogan was a mainstay behind center for almost a decade. He remained an important part in his later years when he was slowed by injuries and shared time with Tony Eason and Doug Flutie until he retired after the 1990 season. In his second season in 1976 Grogan lead the Patriots to their first 11 win season in franchise history. He also set a QB record for rushing TDs with 12 that was not broken until Cam Newton scored 14 in 2011. Grogan helped the Patriots make the playoffs five times during his career and came in as a backup to Tony Eason in Super Bowl XX against the Bears. He was the only QB to score against the Bears in the playoffs that year.
1. Tom Brady
The top ranked Patriot quarterback of all time is pretty much a no-brainer. Easily one of the top five best QBs in the history of the NFL, there are not a lot of QB rankings he is not at the top of. He would be the top ranked sixth round draft pick of all time, the top Michigan Wolverine quarterback to play in the NFL of all time (sorry, Harbaugh!), the top ranked quarterback who was ever suspended for deflating his balls of all time. You get the jist of it, Brady is the one of the top QBs in any QB list of all time anywhere and definitely here in the list of top New England Patriots quarterbacks of all time. With four Super Bowl wins (and counting), three Super Bowl MVP awards (and counting), two NFL MVP awards (and counting), and over 61,000 passing yards and 450 passing touchdowns (… you know what I’m gonna say), Tom Brady is, if not the GOAT, then definitely among the very small herd of GOATs.