Top 5 All-Time Browns Quarterbacks

The middle of July is rarely a time many think of football, especially when there is a baseball team as good as the Cleveland Indians in town, but Training Camp starts in a week in Berea for the Cleveland Browns. As we get into football season (and truly, is there ever a time in Cleveland where it isn’t football season?), we here at WFNY will be starting our season positional previews. Running in conjunction with those seasonal previews will be a Top 5 All-Time list in concordance with those positions, and where better to start than at quarterback?

There is no position more highly scrutinized than quarterback and the Browns legacy at the position is both rich in history with icons and well-documented failures. We are all well versed in “The Jersey”, but that is not why we are here. We are here to talk about the best quarterbacks to ever put on a Browns uniform. This list, and those in the future weeks, will be compiled of the best to ever adorn the brown and orange, but will also take into consideration those players that are noteworthy that may have missed the cut.

No. 5 Tim Couch

from 1999 to 2003
W-L record: 22-37-0
Passing stats: 62 games played in, 11,131 yards, 59.8 completion %, 64 TDs, 67 INTs, 75.1 QB rating

Where else would our list lead off than the guy who brought the team back? Ok, while he was definitely not the All Pro many foresaw when he came out of Kentucky, the relative longevity ofhis career in Cleveland lands him at No. 5 in our All Time Positional Preview. I say longevity somewhat tongue in cheek, as he only played in Cleveland for four years, but considering the majority of the quarterbacks on the “new” Browns barely lasted longer than a year, Couch seems to be the elder statesmen of the group. Throwing for the 5th most yards in franchise history, along with a respectable 75.1 QB rating (remember 1999 was the first year of the Greatest Show On Turf Rams, so passing offenses weren’t what they are now), Couch did enough to get his way onto the list. He also holds the distinction of being the only quarterback in NFL history to throw two game-winning passes of 50 yards or more with 0:00 left on the clock, so he gets some “clutch” points as well. You know, if you’re into that kind of thing.

No. 4 Frank Ryan- QB

from 1962 to 1968
W-L-T record: 52-22-2, 1 championship (1964), 3x Pro Bowl QB (1964-1966)
Passing stats: 84 games played, 13,361 yards, 51.7 completion %, 134 TDs, 88 INTs, 81.4 QB rating

Acquired in a trade after being benched as a member of the Los Angeles Rams (yes, they were in LA before going to St. Louis to later return), Frank Ryan has the distinction of being the last Browns quarterback to win a championship in Cleveland. Ryan was the general on teams that were loaded with talented players such as Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Paul Warfield and Lou Groza, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that he was able to make three consecutive Pro Bowls in 1964 to 1966. Ryan threw for 13,361 yards and 134 TDs, the 3rd most in franchise history.

No. 3 Bernie Kosar

from 1985 to 1993
W-L-T record: 53-51-1, 3 AFC Championship games (1986, 1987, 1989), 2 Pro Bowls (1987, 1989)
Passing stats: 108 games played, 21,904 yards, 58.8 completion %, 116 TDs, 81 INTs, 81.6 QB rating

We all are familiar with “The Fumble” and “The Drive”. We know what happens, and many of us have those images seared in our brains, especially since they are replayed as soon as any Cleveland team gets close to a championship. However, none of those would have happened with Bernie Kosar. Kosar was the local kid come home, playing his high school ball at Boardman High School, and was seen by many to be the prodigal son, the one to get that championship that alluded Cleveland since 1964. Despite his best efforts, Kosar was unable to get the ring, but he was a great in season quarterback, getting to the Pro Bowl in 1987 and 1989 and one of only 3 Browns quarterbacks to throw for more than 20,000 yards over his Browns career. Kosar had the second highest completion percentage by a Browns quarterback with more than 1000 attempts. Bernie was eventually cut by none other than the “this isn’t even my final form” Bill Belichick in 1993.

No. 2 Brian Sipe

from 1974-1983
W-L-T record: 57-55-0, NFL MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, and Pro Bowl (1980)
Passing stats: 125 games played, 23,713 yards, 56.5 completion %, 154 TDs, 149 INTs, 74.8 QB rating

It was a harder decision on who should be No. 1 than I thought it would be, looking objectively at the numbers, but ultimately, Brian Sipe is our No. 2 quarterback on the list, and it’s well deserved. With nine years as quarterback, Sipe was able to amass numbers that put him near the top, also not to be outshadowed was his 1980 Most Valuable Player award, as well as Offensive Player of the Year award and Pro Bowl appearance the same year. If you thought Couch was clutch, Sipe was the originator. He and the “Kardiac Kids” engineered eight comebacks and 11 game winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in two years from 1979-1980. Unfortunately, Sipe is probably best known for being the quarterback during the “Red Right 88” play that ended the Browns chances in the playoffs in 1981.

No. 1 Otto Graham

from 1946-1955
W-L-T record: 57-13-1, 3x MVP (1951, 1953, 1955), 3x NFL champion (1950, 1954, 1955), 5x Pro Bowl (1950-1954), 4x All Pro (1951, 1953-1955)
Passing stats: 126 games played, 23,584 yards, 55.8 completion %, 174 TDs, 135 INTs, 86.6 QB rating

Are you that surprised Otto Graham is No. 1, really? When it comes to Browns quarterbacks, and perhaps ALL quarterbacks, Graham is the GOAT, (apologies to Jose Ramirez, but he was first). Graham has the most touchdowns thrown at 174, along with being second in yards thrown, beaten by a measly 200, he dominates the win percentage debate hands down, winning 80% of the games he played in. Otto also was the model of quarterback during the leagues formative years. He won three MVPs, three championships and set records that stand to this day. When considering this list, he was the only quarterback I knew where I was going to rank heading in.

Honorable mentions: Derek Anderson had a few good seasons, including making a Pro Bowl appearance in 2007. Anderson threw for over 7,000 yards as a Brown and 46 TD passes in four years with the Browns, being one of the best of quarterbacks the Browns have had since returning to the league. Milt Plum has the distinction as being the player with the highest quarterback rating amongst Browns quarterbacks at 89.9. Plum quarterbacked the Browns from 1957 until 1961, throwing for 8,914 yards and 66 TDs and only 39 INTs.

  • mgbode

    The two discussion points on here are around the 2,3,4 spots and who gets the default inclusion at No. 5.

    I’d have gone Kosar at 2 (more AFC playoff success, higher QBrating, better story), Sipe, Ryan

    Gosh the discussion at No. 5 is a bunch of busts, flashes in the pan, and mediocre guys given enough snaps. Couch is as good as anybody to consider for the list (let’s throw Testeverde on the pile), but here’s hoping that Kessler or Kizer will be an obvious QB to add in a few years.

  • Saggy

    Yes – Kosar at 2 would have been my choice. He played in 3 AFC title games, and in none of those did he make the play that cost the Browns the game.

  • mgbode

    Oh, missed it in editing and perhaps that is better, but Cody Kessler has the highest QB rating among Browns starters. Unless you put a cut-off of games started above 8 (which you might have).

  • RGB

    Gary Danielson!

  • mgbode

    Brian Brennan has a perfect 158.3 QB rating in his career with the Browns (2-for-2 w/ a TD).

  • Joe Gerberry

    I did mean to note that there was a cut off on Plum, I think I had it at 1000 attempts.

    To me, the 4 more wins and the one MVP/Offensive Player of the Year/Pro Bowl year made Sipe the better choice at #2 over Kosar. And I say this having been born on Kosar’s first start and having a personalized autographed football from Bernie.

  • mgbode

    You went too far in proving you weren’t biased 🙂

    It’s pretty much a tie between all three of them, so I’d factor in narrative and there is nothing better than the Youngstown kid rigging the supplemental draft to force his way to his hometown team.

  • tigersbrowns2

    Bernie is one of my all-time faves , but look at Ryan’s winning % & he has a ring as well as 3 pro-bowls.

  • scripty

    Graham was in 10 title games in 11 years.

  • scripty

    The story about Shula being angry at Browns for throwing late TD in 64 title game and having his Colts cheapshot Ryan in the Pro Bowl, ruining his shoulder that was never the same after. Wild if accurate.

  • tigersbrowns2

    when i first fell for the Browns , Mike Phipps was the QB … he had a so-so record of 24-25-2 on a so-so team , but his 40 td’s & 81 int’s (as a Brown) was horrible !!

  • RGB

    Connor! Connor! Connor!

  • mgbode

    Not seeing him play works against him. He probably does deserve it.

  • No real arguments from me here. Now for the Dreamiest QB Rankings


  • Skulb

    Well this changes everything. The Browns were obviously dominant during the Truman administration and don’t get to complain anymore.

  • mgbode
  • BenRM

    Can we include Josh Cribbs because he played QB in college? I think he was more important to the modern Browns than Couch was.

  • mgbode

    I still give the Thursday Night win over the Steelers to Cribbs as the designated QB, not Quinn.

  • RGB
  • mgbode

    We dominated through JFK and even a little into LBJ. I blame ‘Nam for the collapse of the Browns.

  • Skulb

    I agree with your statement.

  • RGB
  • Garry_Owen

    “This list, and those in the future weeks, will be compiled by the best to ever adorn the brown and orange”

    Maybe a bit self-indulgent. You’re good, but . . . did you ever wear the brown and orange?

  • Garry_Owen

    Gets my vote.

  • MartyDaVille

    Joe, I can’t see Couch being on this list. Two QBs (from a very different era) who were better than Couch were Plum and Bill Nelsen (1968-72).

    Plum made the Pro Bowl in ’60 and in ’61. He held the NFL record for highest single-season passer rating (100.4 in ’60) for 29 years, until Joe Montana broke it in 1989. As you noted, his career passer rating here is still the highest all-time among Browns QBs with 750 or more attempts. He clashed with Paul Brown over Brown’s insistence on calling the plays, and I guess PB got fed up with it, because he dealt him to Detroit after the ’61 season.

    As a starter, Nelsen led the high-scoring Browns offense to two NFL championship games (both drubbings), and he also made the playoffs in ’71. His playoff record was 2-3. He made the Pro Bowl in ’69. Sadly, his knees were jelly, and the Browns drafted Mike Phipps to replace him.

    Finally, I think Kelly Holcomb was better than Couch.

  • tsm

    Bernie still holds the all time NFL record for most passing yards in a playoff game – Jets. Otto is clearly the goat, but Bernie was my favorite.

  • MartyDaVille

    Not quite scripty, 10 in only 10 years.

  • Skulb

    Btw, I have now scoured the web for an appropriate anti-war slogan to go with your claim that Vietnam ruined the Browns, but I can’t find one. The closest I got was Drop Bush Not Bombs! I guess we’ll have to go with that.


  • CBiscuit

    Well at least it wasn’t the famous NSFW water throw pic

  • scripty

    My history’s a little hazy Cassius, but shouldn’t the Barbarians lose the battle of Carthage!!

  • mgbode

    If only Reggie was drafted by the Browns, it would work.

  • mgbode

    I make one edit to add a bit of flavor…

    But, I have seen pictures of Gerberry in brown & orange shirts, so let’s go with yes.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi CB … deep down inside you know you want to see it … so here you go.

  • I figured it was burned into all of our brains by now anyway.×150.gif

  • Skulb

    Unless of course there was another evil bush involved in the Vietnam war too of course.

  • CBiscuit

    The Dolphins won that day or lost. I don’t know. Damn you for this!

  • mgbode

    What? Did the Viet Cong ask for a shrubbery?

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    We are the knights who say “NI!”

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