The 10 best quarterbacks in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Still Curtain ranks the all-time best quarterbacks to wear the black and gold.
Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a storied NFL franchise that dates all the way back to 1933. Their longevity as a professional football program has helped them produce Hall of Fame talent at the quarterback position, and two of these iconic quarterbacks helped the team to a combined six Super Bowl wins.

Today's game is a quarterback-driven league, but the rules haven't always been in place to protect passers. The way defenses were allowed to play often resulted in more inconsistent performances and shorter careers for players at the game's most important position.

When looking at the history of Steelers quarterbacks, the top two names are easy to rank. But the list quickly thins out.

Criteria for selection

When it comes to ranking the greatest quarterbacks in Steelers history, much of this comes down to debate. So what makes one quarterback better than another?

I have taken into account numerous factors when comprising my rankings of the best quarterbacks in Steelers history. One of these is statistical production. I compared stats such as passer rating, passing touchdowns, interceptions, and yards per attempt to help dictate my rankings.

I also judged each quarterback's impact on the team according to the talent they were surrounded by and what they were asked to do for the team. I also considered the difference in eras when it comes to rules that impact statistical output at the QB position.

Additionally, I took into account longevity and consistency when formulating my quarterback rankings. To qualify, each of these quarterbacks needed to play a minimum of three seasons with the team while recording at least 250 pass attempts during their time in Pittsburgh.

The final and arguably the most important factor is the level of success each quarterback helped their team achieve. A blend of all these factors were considered in ranking the 10 best quarterbacks in Pittsburgh Steelers history.

The top 10 quarterbacks in Pittsburgh Steelers history

10. Mark Malone

The list is going to start a little rocky before we get to some Steelers legends. Mark Malone was the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round pick in 1980 and was drafted to eventually take over for an aging Terry Bradshaw. Unfortunately, his career got off to a slow start, and he never lived up to lofty expectations.

Malone sat behind Bradshaw for four years before earning the job as a full-time starter. During his seven-year career with the Steelers, Malone threw 54 touchdowns and 68 interceptions en route to a 21-24 career record in Pittsburgh. Statistically, his best season as a starter came in 1985 when he threw for 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions in just 10 games.

9. Mike Tomczak

Mike Tomczak and Mark Malone had NFL careers that overlapped in the mid-to-late-'80s, but Tomczak didn't join the Steelers until the age of 31 in 1993. With eight seasons as a professional already under his belt, he showed veteran leadership and poise to aid the Steelers to a record of 13-12 as a starter.

Tomczak started 15 of 16 games in 1996 and led the Steelers to an 8-5 record. One of his most memorable games came in Week 5 of 1996 when he passed for 338 yards while averaging 10.5 yards per attempt in a win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

In 1997, a young Kordell Stewart would claim his starting job. Following the 1999 season, Tomczak retired at age 37. He finished his NFL career with a respectable record of 42-31 as a starting quarterback.

8. Charlie Batch

Charlie Batch began his NFL career as a starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions. After his rookie contract, he served as a long-time backup QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Batch saw the field in eight different seasons in Pittsburgh -- all but one came as the backup to Ben Roethlisberger.

When Big Ben went down, Batch was often called upon to lead the charge. The savvy veteran proved he was well-prepared to step into the game at a moment's notice. This led to a 6-3 record as a starting quarterback, though he lined up at QB for the Steelers in 33 total regular-season games. Batch's 1-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't impressive, but he did more than enough to keep the season afloat when Roethlisberger missed time.

7. Bubby Brister

Born Walter Andrew Brister III, the former NFL quarterback was known as Bubby Brister. In 1986, Pittsburgh selected Brister in the third round of the NFL Draft. He would go on to sit for two seasons behind Mark Malone before taking over the starting job in 1988.

Brister had a 14-year NFL career -- the first half of which came as a member of the Steelers. During his seven years in Pittsburgh, Brister led his team to a 28-29 record with 51 touchdowns and 57 interceptions. Though his statistics weren't impressive, Brister wasn't surrounded by talent, and he was able to get the Steelers through a rough patch in the late '80s and early '90s. He finished his Steelers career with 10,104 passing yards.

6. Tommy Maddox

Tommy Maddox has one of the most interesting comeback stories you will ever see in the NFL. After serving as a reserve QB for the Broncos, Rams, and Giants from 1992 to 1995, Maddox became an insurance agent. Five years later, Maddox pursued a professional comeback with the AFL and XFL before signing with the Steelers in 2001.

The following season, Maddox earned the job as Pittsburgh's starting quarterback after recording just four NFL starts by age 30. He miraculously led the Steelers to a 7-3-1 record while throwing 20 touchdown passes in just 11 starts in 2002. In the postseason that year, he helped his team make it to the divisional round while scoring 67 points in two playoff games.

Maddox's brief stint wasn't meant to last, and the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft following a 6-10 season in 2003. The 2002 Comeback Player of the Year finished his Steelers career with a record of 15-16-1, but his phenomenal '02 season in Pittsburgh will forever be remembered.

5. Bobby Layne

Long before joining the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bobby Layne had already established himself as an All-Pro quarterback with the Detroit Lions. Though his professional career began in 1948, he didn't come to The Steel City until 1958 when he earned Pro Bowl honors at 32 years old and averaged 8.7 yards per attempt.

During his five-year Steelers career, Layne recorded 66 touchdowns and 81 interceptions while completing 49.2 percent of his passes. These would all be poor numbers for today's NFL, but it's important to remember how different the passing game looked back then.

Layne was one of the best players of his generation -- earning an 80-48-4 career record at quarterback. However, the Hall of Fame quarterback built his legacy in Detroit. With the Steelers, he earned a record of 27-19-2.

4. Kordell Stewart

Kordell Stewart, a 1995 second-round pick, was forced to exercise patience early in his career before winning the starting job in his third season. He took the NFL world by storm with his ability to move the chains with his legs and keep his team in games.

While some would argue that Stewart was carried by a strong defense -- particularly in the early 2000s -- he did his part to keep the Steelers competitive. Statistically, he wasn't impressive as a passer with 70 touchdown passes compared to 72 interceptions to go with a 72.3 passer rating in Pittsburgh. However, his rushing ability greatly aided the offense.

Stewart earned Pro Bowl honors in 2001 and finished his Steelers career with an impressive 2,561 rushing yards and 35 rushing touchdowns.

3. Neil O'Donnell

For being considered among the best quarterbacks in Pittsburgh Steelers history, Neil O'Donnell didn't possess many traits that set him apart from the rest of the QBs in the league. However, O'Donnell proved to be pivotal in aiding the coaching transition from Chuck Noll to Bill Cowher in 1992.

O'Donnell, a 1990 third-round pick, played for the Steelers from 1991 to 1995. As a rookie, he unseated Bubby Brister for the starting gig and never looked back. In his second season, O'Donnell led the Steelers to a 9-3 record in 12 starts while earning Pro Bowl honors.

However, O'Donnell's biggest accomplishment was leading the Steelers to a Super Bowl appearance against the Dallas Cowboys following the 1995 season (a game Pittsburgh ultimately lost 27-17). O'Donnell finished his Steelers career with a 39-22 record in the regular season.

2. Terry Bradshaw

It's easy to figure out which quarterbacks claim the top two spots on the list of greatest QBs in Steelers history, though there has been much debate as to which player deserves the top spot. I have Terry Bradshaw coming in second.

Bradshaw earned Hall of Fame honors for his outstanding run in the '70s which included four Super Bowl wins. While much of this came with the aid of the Steel Curtain defense, Bradshaw was a great player in his own right with an outstanding career record of 107-51 -- all of which came as a member of the Steelers.

Bradshaw, the 1970 first overall pick, struggled as a rookie but turned things around by his third NFL season. He made his first Pro Bowl in 1975 and was dubbed NFL MVP following the 1978 season. He finished his Steelers career with 27,989 passing yards.

1. Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger earns the No. 1 spot on my list of the greatest quarterbacks in Pittsburgh Steelers history. From career stats to longevity to postseason success, Big Ben had it all.

Roethlisberger recorded a 13-0 record as a starting quarterback during his rookie season before leading his team to a Super Bowl win in his second season in 2005. From there, he brought home Pittsburgh's sixth Lombardi Trophy following the 2008 season (his second Super Bowl win) and led his team to a third Super Bowl appearance following the 2010 season.

By the end of his career, Roethlisberger had crushed every Steelers passing record, throwing for 64,088 yards and 418 touchdowns. He earned a career record of 165-81-1 as a starting quarterback for Pittsburgh and played from age 22 in 2004 to age 39 in 2021.

The 10 best quarterbacks in Pittsburgh Steelers history by passer rating



Years With Team

Career passer rating


Ben Roethlisberger




Neil O'Donnell




Tommy Maddox




Kordell Stewart




Mike Tomczak




Terry Bradshaw




Bubby Brister




Bobby Layne




Mark Malone




Jim Finks