With this week’s NFL matchup between legendary California QBs Tom Brady (New England Patriots) and Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers), we thought we’d re-post our all-time state player rankings for the quarterbacks but this time as a free post for a limited time. These rankings are based strictly on how players have done after high school and not on what they did during high school. Are Brady and Rodgers the top two? Maybe someday, but we still have John Elway (Granada Hills) in the second spot.
(Note: The following players from California high schools are all ranked in order based on their success after they’ve gone on to college and to the NFL. Writeups by Sean Tennis, University of Nevada graduate).
We hope you like this free post on CalHiSports.com. It will only be free for a limited time, and will revert to Gold Club status after two days. To see our all-time state player rankings for all positions, our player rankings for the current Class of 2019 and 2020 in football plus 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 for boys hoops, please consider getting a Gold Club membership today. Cost as low as $3.99 for one month. For sign up info, CLICK HERE.
RELATED: List of all-time starting QBs in the NFL from California | More to Know about California NFL QBs (Gold Club)
1. Tom Brady (Serra, San Mateo)
Although you can still say that his sister, Maureen, was a more prominent high school athlete (she played softball at nearby Hillsdale), Brady, who has more playoff wins than any other quarterback in NFL history, is the top quarterback on our list. He has appeared in more Super Bowls than any other quarterback, and is in front of boyhood idol Joe Montana with five Super Bowl wins. In the regular season, Brady has won two MVP awards and has led his team to more division titles than any other quarterback in NFL history. Brady has been selected to 13 Pro Bowls and ranks in the top five all-time in passing yards and touchdowns. Entering the 2018 season, Brady hopes to win his sixth Super Bowl.
2. John Elway (Granada Hills)
Elway, the legendary quarterback of the Broncos, is now the Broncos’ General Manager who built the Super Bowl 50 champs. As a player, Elway was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, engineering some of the most famous drives in NFL history. A 9-time Pro Bowler, Elway lost in the Super Bowl three times early in his career before winning two championships in his final two seasons. Elway ranks in the top 10 all time in passing yards and touchdowns and is the only quarterback to score a rushing touchdown in four Super Bowls. Elway was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2004. The field at Granada Hills also is named for him.
3. Aaron Rodgers (Pleasant Valley, Chico)
After not receiving college attention in high school (mostly due to Pleasant Valley being in the under-served Northern Section), Rodgers was discovered by Cal coach Jeff Tedford while playing at Butte Community College. He has gone on to become one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Rodgers has the highest passer rating in NFL history as well as the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history. He has won two MVP awards and was the MVP of Super Bowl XLV. Rodgers already ranks near the top of all-time NFL lists in passing touchdowns going into the 2018 season.
4. Dan Fouts (St. Ignatius, San Francisco)
Fouts, the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, was a star quarterback for the Chargers during their “Air Coryell” years. He led the NFL in passing yards for four straight years from 1979-1982, setting NFL records for passing yards in three of those seasons. Fouts also led the Chargers to two AFC Championship appearances, most notably losing to Cincinnati in the “Freezer Bowl.” Fouts played in San Diego for 15 seasons, throwing for 254 touchdowns and over 43,000 yards in his career.
5. Warren Moon (Hamilton, Los Angeles)
With Moon this high, that’s another all-time great NFL QB who went to a JC first before going to a D1 college. In his case, Moon went to West L.A. College and then to Washington, where he led the Huskies to a 1978 Rose Bowl win. He later became the first African-American quarterback to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. As an undrafted player, Moon signed with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL, leading them to five consecutive Grey Cup wins. Moon then signed with the Houston Oilers, beginning a successful 17-year NFL career. He was a 9-time Pro Bowler and won the Offensive Player of the Year award in 1990, throwing for 4,689 yards and 33 TDs. Moon ranks in the top 10 all time in both passing yards and passing touchdowns.
6. Jim Plunkett (James Lick, San Jose)
He’s perhaps the best QB from California who isn’t in the NFL Hall of Fame but perhaps should be. Plunkett, the first pick in the 1971 NFL Draft, won the Heisman trophy in 1970 while leading Stanford to a Rose Bowl win. Plunkett then struggled in the NFL until a 1978 trade to the Raiders revitalized his career. He won two Super Bowls with the Raiders, becoming one of four players to win the Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl MVP. In the win over the Philadelphia Eagles, he threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns.
7. Carson Palmer (Santa Margarita, Rancho SM)
The recently retired Palmer may have enough career success to be an NFL Hall of Famer. Palmer, the 1st overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, won the Heisman Trophy in 2002 with USC. He entered the 2016 season in the top 20 all-time in passing yards and touchdowns and quarterbacked a talented Arizona Cardinals team for his final seasons. Palmer’s 2015 season was the best of his career, as he led the Cardinals to the NFC Championship and finished tied for 2nd in MVP voting. On a side note, he’s still the best prep QB we’ve ever seen in person, including recent phenoms like Jake Browning, Josh Rosen & JT Daniels.
8. Norm Van Brocklin (Acalanes, Lafayette)
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971, Van Brocklin set an NFL record for passing yards in a game (554) in 1951 that still stands today. A former standout at the University of Oregon, Van Brocklin was a 9-time Pro Bowler with the Rams and Eagles and won the 1960 MVP award, as he led the Eagles to the 1960 NFL championship. Van Brocklin’s Eagles, in fact, were the only team to defeat Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. Van Brocklin finished his career with 173 career passing touchdowns.
9. Bob Waterfield (Van Nuys)
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965, Waterfield, a star player at UCLA, was the first rookie to win NFL MVP honors after he led the Rams to the 1945 NFL Championship. Waterfield was a versatile player, with 20 career interceptions, 315 made PATs, and a 42.4-yard punting average. Waterfield led the NFL in passing touchdowns two times and threw for 97 touchdowns in his eight-year career.
10. John Brodie (Oakland Tech)
Brodie, the third overall pick out of Stanford in the 1957 draft, played 17 seasons for the 49ers before becoming a member of the Senior PGA Tour. Brodie led the NFL in touchdown passes in 1970, leading to him being named NFL MVP. Brodie also led the league in passing yards and touchdowns in 1965, leading to a Pro Bowl berth. In his career, Brodie passed for 214 touchdowns. He’s probably one of the top quarterbacks who is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
11. Randall Cunningham (Santa Barbara)
Cunningham, a four-time Pro Bowler with the Vikings and Eagles, threw for 29,979 yards and 207 touchdowns in his 16-year career. He was more known for his scrambling ability, retiring as the NFL’s leading rusher among QBs, a record that has been broken by Michael Vick. In 1998, Cunningham became the first black quarterback to lead the league in passer rating, as he led Minnesota to a 15-1 record and an NFC title game appearance. He was prominently seen at the recent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro watching his daughter, Vashti, compete in the high jump. She went to Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas. Randall’s brother, Sam, may be on a similar list we’ll do soon for the best running backs from California.
12. Mark Brunell (St. Joseph, Santa Maria)
The son of former St. Joseph AD and baseball coach Dave Brunell (who was once one of our state coaches of the year), Brunell threw for over 32,000 yards and 184 touchdowns in his 19-year career. He’s still the Jacksonville Jaguars’ all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. Brunell made the Pro Bowl 3 times with the Jaguars, winning the Pro Bowl MVP in 1997. He led Jacksonville to the 1996 and 1999 AFC Championship Games.
13. Craig Morton (Campbell)
Morton, a standout quarterback at Cal, was a 1st team All-American with the Golden Bears in 1964, despite never leading them to a winning record. Morton was drafted 5th by Dallas in 1965 and led Dallas to Super Bowl V before losing the starting job to Roger Staubach. In Denver, Morton became the first quarterback to start in the Super Bowl for two teams. He did it for the Broncos when they lost to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. In all, Morton played 19 seasons in the NFL.
14. Daryle Lamonica (Clovis)
The namesake of Clovis Unified’s phenomenal Lamonica Stadium, the two-time AFL MVP was nicknamed “The Mad Bomber” for his ability to throw deep passes in any situation. Lamonica had the best winning percentage (90%) in AFL history and is one of only two players (Aaron Rodgers) to throw six touchdowns in the first half of a game. He’s still regarded as one of the greatest QBs in the history of the Oakland Raiders.
15. Jim Harbaugh (Palo Alto)
Harbaugh, known for being a successful head coach with Stanford, the 49ers, and Michigan, was also a successful NFL quarterback. He was a Heisman trophy finalist at Michigan in 1986 before being a first round pick in 1987. In 1995, Harbaugh led the Colts to the AFC title game, was named to the Pro Bowl, and won comeback player of the year honors. He threw for over 26,000 yards in his 14-year career.
This may be the most surprising choice on this list, but DeBerg’s career totals in the NFL really are remarkable. A 10th-round pick out of San Jose State in 1977, he played for 17 seasons in the NFL with six teams. DeBerg threw for over 34,000 career yards and threw for 196 career touchdowns. In 1998, he became the oldest player to be on a Super Bowl roster as a backup for Atlanta.
17. Joe Kapp (Hart, Newhall)
Kapp, who served as the head coach at Cal during The Play, is the only quarterback to play in the Rose Bowl, Grey Cup, and the Super Bowl. As a college player at Cal, Kapp led the Golden Bears to their most recent Rose Bowl appearance. In the CFL, Kapp led the BC Lions to their first Grey Cup victory, before signing with the NFL’s Vikings. He led the Vikings to a Super Bowl IV appearance before retiring after the 1970 season.
18. Jeff Garcia (Gilroy)
Known these days as a quarterback instructor in the San Diego area, this four-time Pro Bowler wasn’t a standout in high school but went on to have a standout career. That started first at a JC and then at San Jose State, where he had over 7,000 offensive yards over three seasons. Garcia went undrafted but signed with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL, winning a Grey Cup in 1998. Following the victory, he signed with San Francisco, leading the team to two playoff appearances. In 11 NFL seasons, Garcia threw for 16,442 yards and 111 touchdowns.
19. Alex Smith (Helix, La Mesa)
A star quarterback for the University of Utah, Smith finished 4th in the 2004 Heisman race under head coach Urban Meyer. Smith was drafted 1st overall by San Francisco in the 2005 NFL draft and played for eight seasons there, leading the 49ers to the 2011 NFC Championship Game. After the 2012 season, he was traded to Kansas City, where he made the Pro Bowl in 2013. Smith is quarterbacking this season for the Washington Redskins.
20. Trent Dilfer (Aptos)
Dilfer started for 2½ years at Fresno State. He led the nation in pass efficiency as a junior and set a record for consecutive passes without an interception that stool until 2007. Dilfer was drafted 6th overall by Tampa Bay in the 1994 draft. He played 13 seasons in the NFL, making the Pro Bowl in 1997 and winning a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2000. He finished his career with 20,518 passing yards and 113 touchdown passes.
Steve Bartkowski (Buchser, Santa Clara)
Steve Beuerlein (Servite, Anaheim)
Ken Dorsey (Miramonte, Orinda)
Tony Eason (Delta, Clarksburg)
Vince Ferragamo (Banning, Wilmington)
Jared Goff (Marin Catholic, Kentfield)
Matt Leinart (Mater Dei, Santa Ana)
Colin Kaepernick (Pitman, Turlock)
Billy Kilmer (Citrus, Azusa)
Ken O’Brien (Jesuit, Carmichael)
Gino Torretta (Pinole Valley, Pinole)
Sean Tennis is the son of editor/publisher Mark Tennis. He is a graduate student at the University of Nevada and a graduate of Lincoln (Stockton). Mark Tennis can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports
Others on the bubble –
David Fales (Palma-Salinas/San Jose State/Chicago Bears/Baltimore Ravens) – broke many MWC/San Jose State passing records
Derek Carr – Bakersfield Christian/Fresno State/Oaklnad Raiders – another top MWC QB and Raiders starter.
Interesting how many Northern CA QBs in the list. Specifically 7 of the top 20 are from CCS which traditionally is a rushing league.
Derek Carr definitely on the bubble as someone who can come up.
Probably should have listed his brother at the very least because he was a No. 1 draft pick.
Running backs will be next and definitely will be interesting. What to do with O.J.?
Was Aaron Garcia from Grant (Sacramento) considered or Chad Elliot of Grant (Sacramento) ?
Chad Elliot no because he didn’t do much beyond high school. Aaron Garcia yes because of the indoor football accomplishments. That’s not the NFL, though.
Makes perfect sense Mark, I didn’t fully read your disclosure statement prior to reading the list. Thanks for your reply.
Dan McGwire-Claremont High 84-86
Played at Iowa, San Diego State-Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins
Claremont receivers had Travis Watkins-Iowa, Lloyd Bailey-Oregon State
Teams were CIF Champs
Check the list of all the QBs from California who’ve started at least one game in the NFL. McGwire is listed there. Not sure if his NFL career was strong enough to beat any of the others in top 20 and as mentioned the high school accomplishments for that weren’t considered. Those Claremont teams were great and met Travis once when he was doing some work for Student Sports.
I think Dan Pastorini is better than a couple at the bottom of the list. At least honorable mention.
What about Brian Sipe? NFL MVP in 1980
Yes, he should be listed somewhere and will do that when this list updates again. Grossmont High grad.
Admittedly I may have a slight bias, but Bartkowski deserves to be in the top 20 CA QBs. Even when he retired he could still out throw the younger NFL guys. One of the strongest QBs ever.
Jim McMahon Played two years at Andrew P. Hill high school in San Jose.
Wish he would have graduated from there but he counts as from Utah.
Brian Sipe, Bill Munson, Jeff Kemp, Tom Flores, Bobby Beathard, Jesse Freitas, Eddie LeBaron, Troy Aikman, Bob Berry, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer, Derek Carr, Jared Goff, Jim Zorn, Mark Malone, Bill Kenney, Dave Wilson, Bob Gagliano, Tom Ramsey, Turk Schonert, Babe Laufenberg and Todd Marinovich, Jim McMahon
Nice list, but ours is for those who graduated from California high schools. Aikman, Romo, McMahon did not.