The Los Angeles Chargers quarterback situation is solidified after Justin Herbert‘s outstanding rookie season, and many other teams are foraying into free agency and looking to the NFL draft to find their own version. He’s the latest addition to a lineage of quarterbacks that stands above average comparably to the league, especially the last three early-round draft choices at the position, and set themselves apart in history from the others.
The Chargers franchise came to existence in 1960 in the city of Los Angeles, before moving to San Diego almost immediately in 1961. There they stayed until 2017 when they made the voyage up to Los Angeles once again where they currently reside. Throughout the 61 years of football, the Chargers quarterback room has been continually at the forefront of performance and conceptual football play. I’m going to breakdown who I think was the greatest to do it for the franchise, back to front.
How Did I Decide Who The 5 Greatest Chargers Quarterbacks Were?
To determine who the best quarterbacks in Chargers history were, I did a steady deep-dive through Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus to find their individual stats, accolades, what era they were playing in, their relative dominance compared to others during the era, and my personal experience (which at 31 years old is unfortunately small).
I have also gone and watched some older games to get a feel for how they looked and played in a game, and the respect the defense had for them. Luckily, out of the many Chargers quarterbacks, five blatantly stuck out above the rest.
My Personal Top 5 Chargers Quarterbacks
5 | Drew Brees | QB 2001-05 SDG
Drew Brees was drafted with the first pick of the second round in the 2001 NFL draft to be the San Diego Chargers quarterback of the future. John Butler had a conversation with Gil Brandt, a former GM, about who he was going to take with the number one pick that year. Gil made sure to tell him that he needs to work both of them out because he thought Drew was better than the incredibly athletic phenom that was Michael Vick. Butler did the workout and was pleasantly surprised that his old friend was right. That decision allowed the Chargers to take LaDainian Tomlinson in the first round, and give Brees a quarterback’s best friend.
Even though his time with the Bolts was short, he showed flashes of greatness to come in his career, culminating in a 12-4 season in 2004. Brees was the Charger’s signal-caller for 15 of the 16 games that season, throwing 262 completions in 400 attempts for a 65.5 with 3,159 yards, 27 touchdowns to seven interceptions, and the first AFC West division title in nearly 10 years. An overtime loss to the New York Jets in which he showed real grit and toughness, was unfortunately the highest point he was able to reach as the Chargers quarterback.
The 2005 season was met with uncertainty as the Chargers had traded for Philip Rivers in the 2004 draft, and the writing was on the wall for Brees, win or be replaced. The Bolts went 8-8 that year and missed the playoffs entirely in a disappointing season that added injury to insult.
In the last game of the season, while playing against the Denver Broncos, he tore his right labrum in an attempt to recover his own fumble. He was released after the season, marking an end to his time as the Chargers quarterback, and the beginning of his reign of dominance with the New Orleans Saints.
His career stats with the Chargers: 1,809 completions for 12,348 yards with a 62.2% completion rate, 80 touchdowns with 53 interceptions, and a passer rating of 84.9.
4 | John Hadl | QB 1962-72 SDG
John Hadl was drafted 10th overall to the Detroit Lions in the NFL draft, and also selected with the 24th pick in the third round of the AFL draft. For whichever reason, possibly the curse of Bobby Layne, Hadl chose to be the San Diego Chargers quarterback and became the starter in 1962. Though he was the starter, he didn’t play every series as the quarterback, as he was splitting the duties with 35-year-old journeyman Tobin Rote. In the AFC Championship game of 1963, both quarterbacks played in a 51-10 complete demolishing of the Boston Patriots.
Hadl then assumed the full starting role in 1964 and led the Chargers through the beginnings of the AFL-NFL merger, carrying a mixed bag of results with him as the years went by. With star flanker Lance Alworth accomplishing otherworldly feats in the passing game, Hadl’s stats were buoyed in a time when quarterbacks were asked to be handoff machines and stewards of the game. He finished his career with an AFL Championship, six Pro-Bowls along with one All-Pro nod, and was retroactively awarded the Walter Peyton Man of the Year award.
His career stats as the Chargers quarterback: 1,824 completions for 26,938 yards with a 50.1% completion percentage, 201 touchdowns to 211 interceptions, with a passer rating of 68.9.
3 | Stan Humphries | QB 1992-97 SDG
Stan Humphries was taken in the sixth round of the 1989 NFL draft by the Washington Football Team(Redskins). He was traded following the 1991 season after a pre-season injury to Chargers quarterback John Friesz, as Washington and San Diego ran the same offense. Humphries slid into the role with relative ease, becoming known for his deep passing attack and having a few successful seasons with the Bolts. 1992, 1994, and 1995 were years in which Stan led the Chargers to a winning record with the high point being the lone Superbowl appearance in franchise history.
No one expected them to get past the Dan Marino-led Miami Dolphins, let alone the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they somehow willed themselves to the Superbowl behind Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison, and Stan Humphries to play the San Francisco 49ers against future Hall of Famers Steve Young and Jerry Rice. The Chargers were destroyed 49-26 with Young throwing 6 touchdowns, 3 of them to Rice, in a game they never should have been in. Still, Humphries was the guy to get them there, and he gave the Bolts a playoff ride many will never forget. This game was the very first football contest I remember seeing when I was five years old, so Stan will always have a soft spot with me.
Humphries’ career stats as the San Diego Chargers quarterback: 1,335 completions for 16,085 yards with a 56.9% completion rate, 89 touchdowns with 84 interceptions, and a 77.1 quarterback rating.
2 | Dan Fouts | QB 1973-87 SDG
Dan Fouts was selected 64th overall in the third round of the 1973 NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers out of Oregon. Filling the shoes of John Hadl was a tall task in itself, as he was a self-professed fan of the former Chargers quarterback, but Dan Fouts exceeded all expectations as he developed into one of the most prolific passers the NFL had ever seen.
The beginning of Fouts’ career wasn’t very noteworthy, under the coaching staff of Tommy Prothro, as he was merely directing a running attack that passed only as often as necessity dictated. When Don Coryell was hired midseason in 1978, Dan Fouts took flight, and Air Coryell was officially born.
In 1979 Fouts produced the most accurate season of his career, finishing the season with a 62.6% completion percentage while playing all 16 games for the first time in his career as the NFL expanded to the new 17 week schedule. The Chargers earned 12 wins to only four losses in the winningest season in franchise history.
It was just the beginning of a 3 year stretch of offensive dominance the NFL had never experienced before, as the Chargers set a new standard for how a passing attack could be executed. Though he never won the Superbowl, he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer for how exciting and explosive his quarterback play was.
The 1981 season was the Chargers’ best chance at winning a Superbowl, even more so than the one opportunity we had! The offense was operating at its peak, and while the secondary of the defense was porous and faulty, their pass rush was formidable enough to be challenging in the playoffs to opposing passers. Unfortunately, the Chargers had to deal with the extremes of weather to make it to Superbowl XVI, being forced to play the Miami Dolphins into overtime on a balmy 88 degree December night, to “The Freezer Bowl”, a wind chilled -62 degree pain game in Cincinnati the next week. If not for the most drastic weather change imaginable, those 1981 Chargers could have been NFL champions.
His career statistics as a Chargers quarterback: 3,297 completions 43,040 yards with a 58.8% completion percentage, 254 touchdowns to 242 interceptions, and an 80.2 quarterback rating.
1 | Philip Rivers | QB 2004-2019 SDG
Philip Rivers was drafted fourth overall in the 2004 NFL draft and was immediately traded to the San Diego Chargers in an infamous draft-day trade for Eli Manning. Manning’s family had come out and openly stated they wished for Eli to play elsewhere, which many Chargers fans took as an insult.
Being thrust into the middle of an unpleasant situation, Rivers ignored the noise and played some damn good football. Easily the most prolific passer in Chargers quarterback history, Rivers deserves the number one spot on this list.
Philip earned our respect when he played the 2007 AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots with a torn ACL in one of the gutsiest performances in NFL history. The Chargers lost 21-12 in a defensive slugfest, but no one could ever accuse Rivers of being weak or soft. That day he was established as a cornerstone to the franchise, a standard we could hold every Chargers quarterback to for the future.
He was an eight-time Pro-Bowl player, led the Chargers to six playoff berths with four AFC West titles, and won five games in the post-season. The franchise was under notable scrutiny from fans for the way the offensive line performed… or didn’t perform… for Rivers during his career.
Many seasons were wasted with Rivers getting pummelled, but no matter how many sacks and hits he took, he never missed a start while he was the Chargers quarterback. Being an Ironman was another amazing attribute that endeared him to Chargers fans. He always gave his all on the field.
Philip Rivers statistics as a Chargers quarterback: 4,908 completions for 59,271 yards and a 64.9 completion percentage, 397 touchdowns with 198 interceptions, with a 95.1 quarterback rating.
Thank you for reading my article on who I thought was the top five greatest Chargers quarterback in franchise history!
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