The top 10 quarterbacks in CFL history

With Tom Brady’s performance in Sunday’s Super Bowl having inspired many pundits to label him the greatest NFL quarterback of all time – or GOAT – let’s take a look at a CFL version of that list.

Naming the best quarterbacks in CFL history will always be a contentious one due to the simple fact that there are so many ways to evaluate the game’s most important position. For some, stats are king, for others, it’s about team success. This ranking is my attempt to sift through 104 years of CFL history while trying to balance era, stats, wins, career length and dominance.

Without further ado, the list.

10) Henry Burris, 1997-2016

After 20 years of professional football, Burris went out in style, with a Grey Cup-winning MVP performance. Burris finishes his career with 63,227 passing yards, 435 touchdowns (374 passing, 61 rushing), 118 wins and 93, 300-yard passing games. In addition to his three Grey Cup rings, the five-time all-star and two-time MOP owns the CFL record for completions in a season (481) and an individual game (45).

9) Kenny Ploen, 1957-1967

The three-time all-star led the Bombers to six Grey Cup berths, winning four. While his passing stats might not compare with some on this list, there’s no doubt that he was one of the most dominant players of his era, taking Winnipeg to the playoffs in eight of his eleven seasons and winning 15 out of the 21 playoff games he suited up in.

8) Ron Lancaster, 1960-1978

In addition to being the first quarterback in CFL history to pass for 50,000 yards, Lancaster was one of the most winning QBs of all time, leading his team to victory 158 times. Over 18 years the seven-time all-star and two-time MOP played in 288 games with Ottawa and Saskatchewan, registering just two losing seasons. Lancaster led Saskatchewan to the playoffs 14 times in a row, appearing in the West Final 12 times, the Grey Cup five times but only winning Earl Grey’s trophy once.

7) Russ Jackson, 1958-1969

Three-time Grey Cup winner. Six-time CFL all-star. Four-time Most Outstanding Canadian. Three-time CFL MOP. The last great Canadian quarterback. In the 12 seasons he played for the Rough Riders, Jackson led them to the playoffs every season and was the league’s most dangerous dual threat; passing for 24,592 yards and 185 TDs while rushing for 5,045 yards and 54 TDs.

6) Tom Wilkinson 1967-1981

During his 15-year career, Wilkinson missed the playoffs only once and turned his eight Grey Cup appearances into five victories. The CFL MOP in 1974 was a three time all-star and one of the most clutch players in league history.

5) Joe Krol, 1942-1955

One of only four players to have his number retired by the Argos, the “King” was a four time all-star and six time Grey Cup champion. While stats are hard to come by for the era in which he played, it’s universally agreed that Krol, a triple threat to score by passing, rushing or kicking the ball, was among the most versatile and valuable players in the CFL when he suited up.

4) Anthony Calvillo, 1994-2013

Montreal Alouettes’ quarterback Anthony Calvillo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Atop nearly every CFL passing record, you’ll find Calvillo’s name. He’s got the most passing yards (79,816), most touchdowns (455), most completions (5,892) and most 300-yard games (125). But what holds him back from being higher on this particular list is his dismal record in the Grey Cup. In eight trips to the big game, Calvillo only managed to muster three wins. For an Alouette team that was consistently a regular season juggernaut, years of playoff disappointments cannot be overlooked.

3) Warren Moon, 1978-1983

In six brief years, Moon helped establish a dynasty that will never be rivaled. While throwing for 21,228 yards and 144 touchdown passes, Moon won 9 of 10 playoff games and captured the Grey Cup five straight times, twice being named the Grey Cup MVP.

2) Damon Allen, 1985-2007

It’s fair to say we’ll never see another career like Allen’s. Over 23 seasons, the dual threat QB found the end zone 487 times (394 through the air and 93 on the ground), played in 370 games and was a part of 17 playoff teams. If coming up big when it matters most is how you judge a QB, Allen’s three Grey Cup MVPs in four championship wins speaks volumes about his ability to rise to the occasion.

Upon retiring in 2007 Allen was the CFL’s career passing leader with 72,381 yards and an incredible third on the league’s all-time rushing list, with 11,920 yards on the ground to his credit. He’s also the only QB in league history to throw for at least 10,000 yards with four different teams.

1) Doug Flutie, 1990-1997

Was there ever any doubt? Nobody’s claim to the top of this list is as strong as Flutie’s. Over eight years he complied a 105-38 record as a starter, passed for 41,355 yards and 270 TDs, led the league in passing five times, was named the CFL’s MOP six times, brought his team to the playoffs seven times and won three Grey Cups.

In addition to his team success, Flutie also put up eye-popping personal stats which have stood the test of time, such as averaging a CFL record 306.3 passing yards per game. To this day he still holds the record for the most passing yards (6,619) and touchdowns thrown in a single season (48).

Though his career doesn’t boast the longevity of others on this list, it’s undeniable that when compared to every other pivot in the CFL’s storied history, Flutie stands head and shoulders above his peers. 

Honourable mentions:

Matt Dunigan, 1983-1996

Perhaps the greatest testament to Dunigan’s legacy is that despite suiting up for six different teams, he led his team to the playoffs in 13 of his 14 seasons. Five Grey Cup trips resulted in two rings but Dunigan’s biggest claim to fame is the astounding 713 yards he passed for in a single game in 1994.

Danny McManus, 1990-2006

A Grey Cup winner with three different teams (Winnipeg, BC and Hamilton), McManus passed for 53,255 yards, 259 TDs and won 103 games over the course of his 17-year career.

Sam Etcheverry, 1952-1960

A six-time all-star who played 122 games and set a CFL record with 34 consecutive regular season games with a touchdown pass. Etcheverry made three trips to the Grey Cup but never managed a win.

Tom Clements, 1975-1987

It took 1975’s rookie of the year thirteen seasons to win the CFL’s MOP award, but when he did it was the cherry on top of a terrific career. Clements passed for 39,401 yards and 252 touchdowns while playing in 182 games and going two-for-two in Grey Cup appearances.

Bernie Faloney, 1954-1967

The first QB to win a Grey Cup with both an Eastern and Western team, Faloney was a five-time all-star, a three-time Grey Cup champion and the CFL MOP in 1961.

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).