Ranking All Chicago Bears Quarterbacks in Franchise History
This particular NFL organization is known for playing smashmouth football led by impenetrable defense rather than airing it out with gun-slinging signal-callers. Dating back to 1950, when our analysis begins, the 73 qualified quarterbacks have made a meager 10 combined Pro Bowl appearances.
Worse still, they’ve been spread between seven different quarterbacks, two of whom failed to submit above-average scores for the totality of their tenures and made it clear their accolade-earning efforts were just outlier years.
Perhaps Justin Fields can continue his upward trajectory and change the narrative, which at one point included the Bears potentially replacing him with a new top pick at the sport’s most important position, but that’s easier said than done.
Using the Total Yards Added (TYA) metric I developed for QB Math, which evaluates quarterbacks’ success relative to league average in four facets of the game — rushing, passing, sack avoidance, and fumble avoidance — we’re highlighting each and every one of the 73 Chicago Bears quarterbacks with at least one qualified game for the organization since ’50. These rankings will be updated continuously and are accurate heading into Week 2 of the 2023 NFL season.
Chicago Bears quarterbacks Nos. 73-11
|Franchise Rank||Quarterback||Qualified Games||Total Yards Added|
|45||Peter Tom Willis||12||-339.714|
Keep in mind that this is about career production.
Playing in more games usually means moving further away from the league-average score of zero, which is why Jay Cutler — objectively not the least-talented of the Chicago Bears quarterbacks — falls nearly all the way to the bottom of the pack despite having a far superior per-game output to other low finishers such as Caleb Hanie, Kyle Orton, and Rex Grossman.
10. Mike Hohensee
- Years: 1987
- Stats: 2-0 record, 28-of-52 (53.8%), 343 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT
- Total Yards Added: 87.035
After thriving with the Washington Federals of the USFL and the Ottawa Rough Riders and Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, Mike Hohensee got a chance to play NFL football for the Chicago Bears during the league’s strike in 1987 that mandated replacement players.
In other words? Analyze his (limited) numbers with a massive grain of salt. No one can take away his four touchdowns and single interception while going 2-0 for the Windy City residents, but it’s hard to come away too impressed.
9. Steve Fuller
- Years: 1984-86
- Stats: 6-5 record, 140-of-249 (56.2%), 1,823 yards, 6 TD, 9 INT
- Total Yards Added: 139.98
Largely backing up Jim McMahon, Steve Fuller held his own whenever the Chicago Bears called upon him — even during the famed 1985 season. Throwing more interceptions than touchdowns isn’t a positive, but that didn’t deter Fuller from serving as a dual-threat weapon in his limited run. Despite rushing just 24 times and gaining only 77 yards during that ’85 campaign, he recorded five rushing touchdowns to finish second on the squad, trailing only the inimitable Walter Payton.
8. Brian Hoyer
- Years: 2016
- Stats: 1-4 record, 134-of-200 (67.0%), 1,445 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT
- Total Yards Added: 244.118
Making a brief pit stop between similarly brief tenures with the Houston Texans and New England Patriots, Brian Hoyer took over for an injured Jay Cutler in Week 2 and then got off to a rip-roaring beginning to his time as a first-stringer by throwing for 1,318 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions in his first four starts.
Hoyer broke his arm during the ensuing contest against the Green Bay Packers, landed on inured reserve, and never played another snap for the Bears. But despite his forgettable 1-4 record as the starter in Chicago he graded out rather positively during his time in charge.
7. Ed Brown
- Years: 1954-61
- Stats: 39-25-2 record, 607-of-1,246 (48.7%), 9,698 yards, 63 TD, 88 INT
- Total Yards Added: 300.658
A two-time Pro Bowler during the mid-1950s, Ed Brown was both accurate and aggressive during his best seasons. The completion percentage masks that truth since the NFL, as a whole, was far more reliant on the ground game and featured signal-callers who rarely completed 50% of their attempts — much less 60%.
While leading Chicago to a 9-2-1 record in 1956, Brown paced the NFL completion percentage (57.1%), touchdown percentage (6.5%), and yards per pass attempt (9.9). Naturally, it was the season before — an inferior campaign, both by statistical and record-based perspectives — that saw him finish sixth in the UPI MVP voting.
Per TYA, only six seasons by Chicago Bears quarterbacks outshined his ’56 efforts.
6. Johnny Lujack
- Years: 1948-51
- Stats: 13-5 record, 404-of-808 (50.0%), 6,295 yards, 41 TD, 54 INT
- Total Yards Added: 323.165
If the TYA database went back further than 1950, Johnny Lujack would likely rise far higher in the pecking order. After all, he led the NFL in completions (162), passing attempts (312), passing yards (2,658), and passing touchdowns (23) during the 1949 campaign, admittedly while throwing 22 interceptions. Albeit over the course of nine games and three starts, he was on a similarly prolific pace as a rookie one year earlier.
As it stands, Lujack only receives credit for the Pro Bowl efforts he put together in both 1950 and 1951 before he returned to Notre Dame as an assistant coach.
A few other fun facts? Lujack was backed up by Sid Luckman and George Blanda at various points in his Chicago tenure, set an NFL record with 468 passing yards (and six touchdowns) in a 1949 defeat of the rival Chicago Cardinals, and managed to rush for 11 touchdowns during the 1950 season alone.
5. Billy Wade
- Years: 1961-66
- Stats: 27-20-2 record, 767-of-1,407 (54.5%), 9,958 yards, 68 TD, 66 INT
- Total Yards Added: 345.558
Billy Wade landed with the Bears via trade request after seven successful seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, and he continued to put up big numbers — relative to his era, of course — after the squad switch.
His 1963 efforts, in particular, stood out positively as he made the Pro Bowl after an 11-1-2 season that saw him score a career-high six rushing touchdowns in addition to the success he found with his right arm. Wade then led a 14-10 victory over the New York Giants to claim a championship for Chicago.
4. Rudy Bukich
- Years: 1959, 1962-68
- Stats: 17-11-2 record, 474-of-878 (54.0%), 6,254 yards, 46 TD, 45 INT
- Total Yards Added: 350.568
After functioning as a reserve on the Chicago Bears’ 1964 championship squad, Rudy Bukich took over for Billy Wade during the 1965 campaign and never looked back.
Well, for two years, at least.
Making 12 starts and 14 appearances in 1965, Bukich guided the Bears to a 9-3 record while keeping his mistakes in check (his 2.9 interception percentage was first among qualified passers) and making big plays down the field to the tune of 2,641 yards and 20 touchdowns. He finished behind only Jim Brown and Gale Sayers in the UPI MVP voting while putting together a TYA score topped by only 1995 Erik Kramer and 1985 Jim McMahon among all Chicago Bears quarterbacks.
3. Erik Kramer
- Years: 1994-98
- Stats: 18-28 record, 913-of-1,557 (58.6%), 10,582 yards, 63 TD, 45 INT
- Total Yards Added: 569.446
Speaking of Erik Kramer, how about that 1995 season?
In his first go-round as the Bears’ full-time starter, the North Carolina State product completed 60.3% of his passes for 3,838 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions while guiding his troops to a 9-7 record. He basically refused to take sacks, rarely fumbled, and limited his mistakes so well that he submitted the second-best TYA in franchise history.
Sure, that 1995 effort was a massive outlier amidst the sea of mediocrity Kramer sailed throughout his NFL career, but he still put up the numbers.
2. Josh McCown
- Years: 2011-13
- Stats: 4-3 record, 184-of-279 (65.9%), 2,243 yards, 15 TD, 5 INT
- Total Yards Added: 569.641
Josh McCown returned from a stint with the United Football League’s Hartford Colonials as a backup for the 2011 iteration of the Chicago Bears, and he never received a full promotion to the starting lineup. He did, however, make the most of his opportunities to take snaps — and even open games — when Jay Cutler was unavailable due to a wide assortment of injuries.
The journeyman played brilliant football during his five starts in 2013, going 127-of-191 (66.5%) for 1,544 yards, 11 touchdowns, and just a single interception. He even submitted a three-game stretch in which he bottomed out at 348 yards.
McCown may only have been the quarterback of record in seven contests, but he was so efficient with his limited snaps in 2013 that he submitted a top-five season in franchise history, per TYA.
1. Jim McMahon
- Years: 1982-88
- Stats: 46-15 record, 874-of-1,513 (57.8%), 11,203 yards, 67 TD, 56 INT
- Total Yards Added: 1,509.112
Was there any doubt?
Jim McMahon is the clear-cut best quarterback in Chicago Bears history, and it’ll take a sustained stretch of production from a new option to even come within sniffing distance.
Jay Cutler, Sid Luckman, and Jim Harbaugh have more passing yards for the Bears. Cutler, Luckman, and Billy Wade have more passing touchdowns. But the efficiency with which McMahon ran the show alongside a suffocating defense allowed him to avoid the negative plays that dragged down everyone else.
Sure, McMahon only has one Pro Bowl appearance (earned during the famed 1985 season as he threw for 2,392 yards and 15 touchdowns without dropping a game he started) and isn’t a Hall of Famer. But he remains the obvious top dog in this competition, lapping the field and then some in the chosen metric.