Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

by Scott Kacsmar

Drew Brees needs 201 passing yards on Monday night to replace Peyton Manning (71,940 yards) as the NFL's all-time passing yardage leader. At a time when journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick is setting records for 400-yard passing games (and still getting benched), this may not come off as the most impressive record a quarterback can set, but it has always been a prestigious one.

Barring the unthinkable, the NFL's 99th season will end with Brees as the all-time passing king. With the way he has started this 2018 season, Brees may be able to push the record to a place that allows him to reign longer than anyone ever has. That would be a fascinating feat for a quarterback who has received, at best, the fourth-most recognition among his peers.

Let's review Brees' path to history, as well as which active players could challenge this record in the future.

A Brief History of the Passing Kings

Brees will be the 10th player since stat-keeping began in 1932 to hold the passing yardage record, and everyone on that list is or will be in the Hall of Fame. The following table shows those first nine quarterbacks, the season they set in which they set the record, the yards they finished that season with, and the final season through which they held the record.

NFL Passing Yardage Record Holders Since 1932
Quarterback Year Set Yards Held Thru Yards
Arnie Herber 1932 639 1942 6,749
Sammy Baugh 1943 8,379 1958 21,886
Bobby Layne 1959 22,063 1963 26,768
Y.A. Tittle 1964 28,339 1965 28,339
Johnny Unitas 1966 29,593 1975 40,239
Fran Tarkenton 1976 41,801 1994 47,003
Dan Marino 1995 48,841 2006 61,361
Brett Favre 2007 61,655 2014 71,838
Peyton Manning 2015 71,940 2017 71,940

Arnie Herber was the top passer of the 1930s before Sammy Baugh came along to set a new standard as the first quarterback with 10,000 and then 20,000 passing yards. Baugh retired after 1952, but it wasn't until 1959 when Bobby Layne surpassed him. Otto Graham is not featured on this list since AAFC totals are not included with official NFL totals. That's also why Y.A. Tittle did not take the official NFL record until 1964, his final season. Johnny Unitas was the next revolutionary quarterback, and he broke the record in 1966, the season of the first Super Bowl. Despite retiring just after the NFL moved to 16-game seasons and relaxed passing rules, Fran Tarkenton broke the record in 1976 and held it longer than anybody until the 1995, season when Dan Marino took over. Marino was surpassed by ironman Brett Favre in 2007, and Manning had just enough left to take the record in 2015 before retiring.

Beyond having remarkable consistency as a passer, durability plays a huge role in setting this record. Tarkenton only missed eight games in his whole career, and five of those came at age 37 in 1977. Favre's streak of starting 297 consecutive regular-season games is well known, but Marino also did a very good job of avoiding serious injuries outside of the time he tore his Achilles in 1993 and missed 11 games. Before the neck surgeries, Manning started the first 227 games of his career in Indianapolis, which is still easily the record for quarterbacks to begin a career.

Despite never having a fancy start streak, Brees' durability is among the best in history. He only appeared in one game as a rookie in 2001 and was benched for five games in 2003 with San Diego. He sat out in Week 17 twice for playoff rest in 2004 and 2009. That means Brees has only missed one start due to injury in his career, and that was a 2015 game against Carolina. If we can speak of "good fortune" as it relates to injuries, Brees had some in 2005 when his serious shoulder injury occurred in Week 17 of a non-playoff season. Brees tore his labrum and suffered rotator cuff damage, leading to surgery which likely would have ended his season had it happened at any earlier point.

That injury led to some teams, Miami most notably, passing on Brees in 2006. That just paved the way for Brees to land in New Orleans with head coach Sean Payton, a perfect pairing that has led to this historic production in the passing game.

Drew Brees: Worthy of the Throne

At 39 years old, Brees' legacy is not complete. However, it is likely to be a confusing one for future historians when they look back on this great era of quarterbacks. Brees has yet to win an MVP award. He likely won't be on either All-Decade team list. He may only play in one Super Bowl.

Always in the shadow of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, Brees was supposed to reach their level after his Super Bowl MVP performance to end the 2009 season. It never happened because Aaron Rodgers stepped up and stole his thunder in 2010. Those three quarterbacks have consistently received more praise than Brees, but he's likely going to be the one with all the passing records in the end. He also has a higher postseason passing DVOA than the other three if that's the sort of thing you're into.

Given the data, it actually wouldn't be that hard to make a case for Brees as the greatest quarterback in NFL history, but for now we are just talking about yards. By that standard, Brees is most worthy of the throne.

  • Brees ranks first in NFL history in passing yards per game (283.6).
  • Brees has the most 300-yard passing games (118) and the most 400-yard passing games (19) in NFL history, including playoffs.
  • Brees has the most consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons (12) in NFL history.
  • Brees has more 5,000-yard passing seasons (five) than all other quarterbacks in NFL history combined (four).
  • Brees' 5,476 passing yards in 2011 set a single-season record before Peyton Manning surpassed him in 2013 with 5,477 yards.
  • Brees is the only quarterback to ever throw for more than 250 yards in all 16 games of a season (2011).
  • Brees set a single-season record for the most 300-yard passing games (13) in 2011.
  • Including playoffs, Brees has the two longest streaks of 300-yard passing games in NFL history: 11 games in 2011-12 and nine games in 2012-13.
  • Including playoffs, Brees has the longest streak in NFL history with at least 250 passing yards: 21 games in 2010-12.
  • Brees has led the NFL in passing yards seven times, two times more than any other quarterback.

As the records show, Brees is as prolific as it gets when it comes to passing yardage. If there's an argument against him, it's probably going to be that he pads the numbers at times to make up for how lousy his defense played. No sane person is going to put him on par with being The King of Garbage Time, a la Blake Bortles before the Jaguars had a defense. But it is true that Brees is no stranger to turning the two-score loss with 250 yards and a touchdown into a one-score loss with 330 yards and two touchdown passes after a final, lower pressure drive. In fact, Brees has 11 touchdown passes in the final two minutes of a game when trailing by 14-plus points while no other quarterback since 2001 has more than six such scores.

When it comes to trailing by multiple scores in the fourth quarter of a loss, Brees leads all players since 2001 with 6,917 passing yards. Eli Manning (5,223) and Carson Palmer (4,622) are the only other players above 4,000 yards. Brees' 6,917 yards in that situation are only 264 fewer than Manning (2,986 since 2001), Rodgers (2,192), and Brady (2,003) combined.

So I get that argument, but I don't think it's a good one since it's only a few thousand more yards. Besides, it's not like Brees asked to be saddled with defenses that are annually disappointing. From 2006 to 2017, Brees played with three defenses that ranked in the top 16 in DVOA and six defenses that ranked 30th or worse. The Saints are 29th on defense through Week 4 in 2018. The argument would work better if we were talking about how Matthew Stafford gets his yards, but we'll get to him later.

Next, let's take a quick look at when Brees surpassed Manning's pace.

Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning

Brees is going to break the record in his 254th regular-season game, or 12 fewer than the 266 Manning played. However, Brees has already attempted 75 more passes than Manning did in his career. For the next graph, I tracked the gap in passing yards between Manning and Brees for each regular-season game of their careers.

The only reason Manning resurfaces towards the end is because of the extra 12 games he has played. Brees is ahead by 2,866 yards thru 253 games. Manning led every step of the way until the 149th game of their careers. By game 160, Brees opened up a lead of more than 1,000 yards for the first time. In Manning's career, games 149 to 160 were his final 12 games in 2007, and he only surpassed 300 yards twice in that span. He also left the Week 17 game early that year. Meanwhile, games 149 to 160 were a prolific period for Brees in the 2011-12 seasons. He averaged a whopping 353.9 passing yards during that stretch.

The Other Challengers

We'll conclude with a look at which active quarterbacks could become the new passing king after Brees. The table below shows the age of those quarterbacks this season, how many yards they are behind Brees, and the number of games and seasons they would need to match Brees if they averaged a lofty total of 300 yards per game.

Before reading the table, note that the last column makes several bold assumptions since we are dealing with a lot of unknowns here. We don't know exactly when Brees (or any of these players) will retire, or if the league will be playing 18-game seasons by 2022. So, for starters, unless Manning has been hanging out with Tonya Harding in retirement, we're going to assume that Brees keeps playing and producing in 2018. In fact, let's just assume that all of these quarterbacks throw for the same amount of yards for the rest of 2018 so that Brees has his same gaps over them going into 2019. It's not a very good assumption, but it sure makes the math easier. We're also going to assume that Brees retires after this season, which is another bad assumption since there has been no indication of that. Finally, this is assuming no missed games for any of these quarterbacks, so good luck with that. Also, an average of 300 yards per game is not easy to do over 16 games. It has been done 21 times and Brees (seven) has a third of those seasons. Maybe the game is moving towards that, but we'll see.

All of those reasons are why it's going to be even tougher for some of these players to surpass Brees than this table already shows, so keep that in mind. Breaking a career record is meant to be hard.

The Future NFL Passing King Is…(Still in High School?)
Quarterback Age Yards Behind Brees Games Needed at a 300-yard average
Drew Brees 39 71,740 - -
Tom Brady 41 67,077 4,663 16 (play thru his age-42 season in 2019)
Eli Manning 37 52,737 19,003 64 (play thru his age-41 season in 2022)
Ben Roethlisberger 36 52,479 19,261 65 (play thru Game 1 of his age-41 season in 2023)
Philip Rivers 37 51,504 20,236 68 (play thru Game 4 of his age-42 season in 2023)
Matt Ryan 33 43,112 28,628 96 (play thru his age-39 season in 2024)
Aaron Rodgers 35 39,632 32,108 108 (play thru Game 12 of his age-42 season in 2025)
Matthew Stafford 30 35,951 35,789 120 (play thru Game 8 of his age-38 season in 2026)
Andrew Luck 29 20,204 51,536 172 (play thru Game 12 of his age-40 season in 2029)
Jameis Winston 24 11,781 59,959 200 (play thru Game 8 of his age-37 season in 2031)
Baker Mayfield 23 496 71,244 238 (play thru Game 14 of his age-38 season in 2033)

Tom Brady is 4,663 yards behind Brees, but he's two years older, which is a huge problem when neither is ready to retire. If Brady could play until 45 like he has talked about, then he should pass Brees, but that just looks so unlikely. No one has ever attempted 300 passes after their age-41 season. Beyond his own battle with Father Time, Brady's problem is that Brees isn't slowing down. In fact, Brees has widened his gap on Brady by 377 yards since Week 1 this season.

We can quickly eliminate Aaron Rodgers and the three class of 2004 quarterbacks (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger) from breaking this record. Rodgers never had much of a shot after sitting behind Brett Favre for three years and missing the equivalent of a full season to two broken collarbones. Rivers and Eli do not even seem interested in playing until they're 41 or 42. Roethlisberger might actually have the best shot of the four, but his long injury history makes that doubtful. Under this projection, he wouldn't be allowed to miss a start through his age-40 season, and that's just not happening.

Injury is also a reason to put Andrew Luck's chances at about 0 percent. He was the most prolific quarterback in passing yards in each of his first three seasons, but a lacerated kidney in 2015 and missing the entire 2017 season for his shoulder ruined that pace. Even if Luck threw for 5,000 yards in each season of his thirties, he'd still be behind Brees' pace.

Most Passing Yards Thru Year X
Years Quarterback Seasons Yards
1 Andrew Luck 2012 4,374
2 Andrew Luck 2012-2013 8,196
3 Andrew Luck 2012-2014 12,957
4 Peyton Manning 1998-2001 16,418
5 Peyton Manning 1998-2002 20,618
6 Peyton Manning 1998-2003 24,885
7 Peyton Manning 1998-2004 29,442
8 Peyton Manning 1998-2005 33,189
9 Matt Ryan 2008-2016 37,701
10 Matt Ryan 2008-2017 41,796
11 Peyton Manning 1998-2008 45,628
12 Peyton Manning 1998-2009 50,128
13 Peyton Manning 1998-2010 54,828
14 Drew Brees 2001-2014 56,033
15 Drew Brees 2001-2015 60,903
16 Drew Brees 2001-2016 66,111
17 Drew Brees 2001-2017 70,445
18+ Peyton Manning 1998-2015 71,940
Drew Brees 2001-2018 71,740

Matt Ryan might have as good of a shot as anyone here. He slipped past Manning's mark for the most passing yards through Year 9 and Year 10. He could continue wiping Manning off the list due to the seven games Manning left early for playoff rest from 2004 to 2009. It's that close, but Manning clearly fell off in favor of Brees when he had the neck surgeries and missed all of 2011. Ryan has only missed two games to injury in his career, back in 2009. He has been a Week 1 starter since he was a 23-year-old rookie. It's not inconceivable to see him have six more highly productive seasons after this one to finish out his thirties.

Rookie Baker Mayfield is really just listed to show the monumental task any young player faces in bringing down Brees. If he kept pace with Brees for the rest of 2018, then averaged 300 yards per game over his next 238 games (almost 15 seasons), then he might have the record as long as Brees retires following this season. That's all. Mayfield is actually at a disadvantage since he's a 23-year-old rookie, though Brees didn't start a game until he was 23. Sam Darnold actually has the age advantage since he's 21, but I picked Mayfield just because I think he'll be the better pro.

Age is a factor though, and that's why Jameis Winston is on the list. Winston was a 21-year-old rookie who set the record for the most passing yards through his age-21, age-22, and age-23 seasons. He has a good shot to continue that pace through his age-24 season.

Most Passing Yards Thru Age X
Age Player Seasons Yards
20 Allie Sherman 1943 208
21 Jameis Winston 2015 4,042
22 Jameis Winston 2015-2016 8,132
23 Jameis Winston 2015-2017 11,636
24 Drew Bledsoe 1993-1996 14,642
25 Drew Bledsoe 1993-1997 18,348
26 Drew Bledsoe 1993-1998 21,981
27 Matthew Stafford 2009-2015 25,976
28 Matthew Stafford 2009-2016 30,303
29 Matthew Stafford 2009-2017 34,749
30 Peyton Manning 1998-2006 37,586
31 Peyton Manning 1998-2007 41,626
32 Peyton Manning 1998-2008 45,628
33 Peyton Manning 1998-2009 50,128
34 Peyton Manning 1998-2010 54,828
35 Drew Brees 2001-2014 56,033
36 Drew Brees 2001-2015 60,903
37 Drew Brees 2001-2016 66,111
38 Drew Brees 2001-2017 70,445
39+ Peyton Manning 1998-2015 71,940
Drew Brees 2001-2018 71,740

The problem with Winston is, can he be trusted to last? He missed three games to injury last year and just wrapped up a three-game suspension to start this season. He has regained his starting job over Ryan Fitzpatrick, and this clearly is a talented offense in which he could put up big numbers. But can he do it for over a decade? I would not trust him right now.

If we were doing odds on this, then Matthew Stafford would probably be the favorite. He has the most passing yards before turning 30 in NFL history. Stafford's 35,951 yards through 129 games is another record that puts him ahead of where Ryan (33,727), Marino (33,721), Manning (33,465) and Brees (32,675) were. It feels reasonable for him to continue producing through his age-38 season, and he'd be even further ahead if he had not infamously miss 19 games to injury in his first two seasons. He hasn't missed a start since.

The concern with Stafford is if he ever gets tired of the losing in Detroit and retires early. Maybe he hits a rough patch and ends up being replaced by a young gem like what happened to Drew Bledsoe in Dallas when Tony Romo took over. Maybe he goes to a more talented team in his early 30s and secures a spot in Canton like Tarkenton did in his second Minnesota stint. Maybe he retires this offseason. Laugh if you want, but Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson didn't return to Detroit (or the NFL) for their age-31 seasons.

Did you notice these lists have been dominated by quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall? Manning, Winston, Luck, Bledsoe, and Stafford were all No. 1 overall picks. Ryan went third, but was the first quarterback drafted in 2008. Brees, likely due to his size, was the first pick of the second round in 2001 (Michael Vick went No. 1 after a trade involving Brees' Chargers). He was a prolific passer in college too. When Brees left Purdue after 2000, his 1,678 pass attempts ranked second in NCAA history (he's still 15th). That arm has been getting some serious work since the '90s.


Ten years ago, Dan Marino's 1984 season was still the only 5,000-yard passing season on record. Brees was four games into his 2008 season, when he would become the second to hit that milestone. Maybe in 2028, the 500-yard passing game will have replaced the 400-yard passing game, and the 6,000-yard season will make the 5,000-yard season look antiquated. Remember, throwing for 3,000 yards used to be a big deal. Now if your quarterback can't do it in 16 games, he must be terrible.

The game does change, but greatness still tends to look the same. If Brees can hang on to play at 41 like Favre and Brady did, then he has a great shot to be the NFL's first 80,000-yard passer. History tells us he won't be the last, but don't be surprised if Brees holds this record for 20 years.


43 comments, Last at 07 Oct 2018, 6:53pm

35 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

The play finder doesn't make this easy, but I was able to get some stuff. From 2013-2017, average passing yards per game in:

retractable roof: 239 ypg
dome: 257 ypg
outdoors: 232 ypg

Looking at road teams only, to hopefully remove the effects of the home team being very good or bad at passing:

retractable roof: 234 ypg
dome: 242 ypg
outdoors: 230 ypg

36 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

Wouldn't some of those road teams be throwing a little more to keep up with the likes of Brees and Ryan, not to mention the usual caliber of those defenses?

There's always going to be issues with this until the league starts to have a lot more indoor stadiums. For now, the data is heavily skewed by a few of the most prolific QBs in NFL history, and some pretty bad defenses. Those variables don't change nearly enough to have good data. I mean, Christian Ponder is 5th in indoor attempts since 2011, and Matt Ryan's somehow never had a top 10 pass defense by DVOA in his career. Before Stafford, a prolific passing season in Detroit since the merger basically started and ended with 1995 Scott Mitchell.

The AFC hasn't even had a true dome team since the 2007 Colts. Just retractables from the Texans and Colts (2008-present). I guess that will change in 2020 with the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers getting domes, but that adds to the problem of having it in the same division instead of being more spread out. But for now, guys like Brady, Ben, Rivers have seen an NFC dome team once every eight years.

Look at the NFC. You get Minnesota and Detroit indoors in the same division that's been stuck with Favre/Rodgers since 1992 and a Chicago team that's been looking for Sid Luckman's replacement. There was St. Louis/Arizona in the West until the Rams moved, but again, they'll be in that new stadium in 2020. Then the Saints and Falcons feature their lack of defense in a division with 3 MVP winners and a No. 1 overall pick in Winston.

37 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

Here's another way to look at it. Since 2006, when Brees joined the Saints, through 2017, the Saints have had 10,286 passing yards in 36 divisional games at home. The Sinats have had 10,388 passing yards in 36 divisional games on the road.

Home avg: 285.7
Road avg: 288.6

Now, that's for the whole team, not just Brees, because it's easier to extract that way from the Play Finder.

I looked just at divisional games as a way to increase common data points.

Another interesting note. Brees averages 307 yards/game in wins and 303 yards/game in losses (since joining the Saints). So the idea that he pads his stats in losses may not be true.

38 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

Limiting yourself to divisional games kind of undermines your analysis in this case. Warm weather stadiums aren't all that different from domes and retractable roofs as far as avoiding bad throwing conditions. You're comparing indoor to indoor or fair weather stadiums. Brees seldom plays a divisional game in freezing rain, for example.

As far as passing goes, the stadiums that help stats are indoor ones (perfect conditions) fair weather ones (less snow, rain, wind, and cold) and high altitude ones (less air resistance, less wind force for the same wind speed). Denver's a special case, since for visiting QBs the unfamiliar air can lead to inaccuracy and fatigue. It's why Denver is one of the stronger home field advantages in the league.

None of this takes away from his accomplishment. He still had to make all those passes. But it helps explain why his gaudy stats haven't lead to even more wins.

40 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

Most NFL games aren't significantly affected by weather. I just don't see how the stadium type does anything to explain Brees' win% unless you're going to argue that his defenses are bad because they're a dome team. That'd be pretty dubious to say of any team. Dome Patrol Saints happened too when they actually had the talent. If we just look at the Brees era, their road defensive DVOA is routinely ranked 20th or worse (a few years at 31st). Sean Payton is really just Coryell with a ring (kudos to Tracy Porter).

According to ESPN, the bottom defenses in EPA in road games since 2006 include Falcons (26th), Saints (29th), Colts (31st) and Lions (32nd).

3 In the Year 2828

'Maybe in 2028, the 500-yard passing game will have replaced the 400-yard passing game, and the 6,000-yard season will make the 5,000-yard season look antiquated.'
I can't imagine it would be a great thing to watch but I'll check back if I make it that far. Has the modern NFL ever dialed back a rule or 'emphasis' that makes it easier for receivers and QB's? I was watching LT highlights the other day and pretty much every one of his sacks would have drawn a flag. He would have been ejected early in the first quarter. Maybe on the first drive. There are plenty of ways to maintain current protection of players and still allow defenders a better chance - extending the contact zone sounds good to me.

8 Re: In the Year 2828

I recall a 'pushout' rule being introduced a few years ago, whereby defenders were forbidden from pushing a receiver out of bounds whilst in the process of making a catch, which was later shelved. Or am I misremembering?

10 Re: In the Year 2828

The change to the "pushout" rule that happened in the last ten years or so did make it easier for the defense.

The rule used to be that, if the referee felt the receiver would have been able to get both feet down if the defender hadn't pushed him out, then it was a completion. They changed it to be that the receiver must get two feet down, even if he was pushed by a defender. (Obviously, the push has to happen after the receiver has touched the ball, or else it would be pass interference.)

12 Re: In the Year 2828

And yet DBs never seem to take advantage of the rules change. In contested plays on a high ball near the boundary I never see a DB conceding the catch in the air and then just shoving the airborne receiver OOB.

15 Re: In the Year 2828

Anecdotally, it seems to happen around once a game or so. I think it's a matter of plays where a WR catches the ball (a) near the sideline, (b) in the air, and (c) with little enough separation for the DB to have a chance at contact being quite rare. The most common seem to be end zone fades, but it seems like a lot of time on those, the WR goes out of bounds due to the throw being inaccurate.

18 Re: In the Year 2828

The Eagles did that to Julio Jones on the last play of both Falcons games.

I saw it again last week, but don't recall in which game.

6 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

1. Journeymen are now regularly throwing 400 yard games. I think the weakest part of the argument is assuming passing trends won't continue.
2. If you want to era-compare, some form of cumulative ANY/A is probably the way to do it.
3. The replacement guy is probably in the league already. I think Tarkenton is the only guy who retired without his replacer being already in the NFL. Herber was replaced before he retired!

9 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

1. "Regularly" is probably an overstatement. From 2014 through this year, there have been 53 total 400-yard passing games (source). What's really weird is there are already 12 this year, when there were only 8 in 2017, 12 in 2016, 10 in 2015, and 11 in 2013.

2. That would be an interesting project, and I want to say Football Perspective has done that. They, at the very least, do a "value-added" ANY/A-based summary of QBs every week (Here is the week four version.) You'd probably still run into the issue where modern QBs, who throw so much more, dominate the top, but maybe not.

3. The only one I can see having a real shot is Stafford (outside of the total unknowns with less than three years' experience, like Goff and Watson). Even then, if Stafford averages 400 yards per game, he would need 90 more games to reach Brees's current total. If we us his best single-season yards per game (314.9), he would need 114 more games.

I guess there's a lot of futility in trying to predict who could break the record, just like trying to predict 300-game winners in baseball. To do either, you need to be incredibly healthy and still productive in your late 30's, and despite the unprecedented longevity of Brady, Brees, and Manning, that's still a tall order.

21 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

I'd say Ryan has at least an equal shot (although either is unlikely). Yes he's 3 years older, but is the best part of 2 full seasons of passing ahead of Stafford. He's never had a serious injury, is generally good at avoiding taking a beating, and has Julio and another potential stud in Ridley to throw to for the foreseeable future. And he's a bit better than Stafford.

22 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

Re: #2, Brad Oremland came up with a stat that tries to combine efficiency and volume (TSP), as you mentioned below. Here is a link to his updated 2018 list:


Brees is #4. Manning, Marino, and Brady are ahead of him.

25 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

Yup I think there are a number of things that could easily see Brees' expected benchmark getting overturned.

1) Passing trends are on the up.
2) QBs are being ever better protected both by the rules and quick-passing schemes. Potentially they suffer less injuries / wear&tear.
3) With Tom Brady taking down the myth of "QBs can't play well past 37 years old".
4) Does Roger still want the 18-game season, or is that just a bargaining chip for CBA?
5) QBs being asked to start from day 1 to get the benefits of rookie contracts.

All in all, 42-year-old QB plays 21 18-game seasons averaging 350ypg ... 21 x 18 x 350 = 132,300 yds.

Very realistically a 15-year QB playing 16 games at 325yds = 78,000yds.

26 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

I do think you're dramatically overestimating how easy it is to average that much passing yardage per game.

Even this year, which has been crazy high for passing offense, only two players - Roethlisberger and Goff - are averaging 350 or more. Only six - Roethlisberger, Goff, Cousins, Carr, Fitzpatrick, and Ryan - are averaging 325. Over a sixteen-game season, 350 yards per game comes out to 5600 yards total, more than Brees has ever had. Brees himself doesn't even average 300 yards per game (he's at 284).

In 2017, no QBs hit the 4800 yard mark (300 per game). In 2016, only Brees, Ryan, and Cousins did, with only Brees hitting 325 per game. In 2015, only Brees averaged 300 per game (though Rivers and Brady each fell less than 100 total yards short).

So in reality, you're looking for another player with Brees's per-game ability to throw for tons of yardage, who is also as durable as Drew Brees. Very few QBs in history have met either of those conditions, let alone both.

Now, like you say, an 18-game season changes the calculus a good bit (a player with as many healthy seasons as Brees would need only 252 yards per game to match his annual output). I personally feel this is more a bargaining chip from the owners than a realistic scenario, but it's well within the realm of possibility.

27 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

Also, it seems like the assumption is that as passing becomes easier, that favors star QBs to play better. But could it be the opposite? It's trendy right now to invest in the rest of the roster while a QB is on his rookie contract; could that become even more prevalent? Will contracts like Cousins's and Ryan's - to QBs who are very good, but not Rodgers, Brady, or Brees - become less common? Will teams pay less for QBs if they feel that you're better off maximizing the rest of the roster and coaching a competent QB to be effective while he's cheap? Do more QBs retire in their early 30's, less tempted by making $15 million a year instead of the $30 million they make now?

I'm not sure. Either direction seems possible to me.

29 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

" I think Tarkenton is the only guy who retired without his replacer being already in the NFL."

That's an interesting anomaly. Tarkenton's last season was 1978, and Marino's first year was 1984. Considering Tarkenton played mostly during 14-game seasons, and the 16-game schedule was instituted for his final season, it seems like somebody who began playing in the mid-70's would have eclipsed Tarkenton.

Some near-candidates:
- Warren Moon would have been a rookie in 1978 - Tarkenton's final season - if the NFL would have taken a chance on him out of college. And Moon ended up with more career passing yards than Tarkenton.

- Dan Fouts finished 4,000 yard behind Tarkenton. But since he didn't play much his early years, he only had about 11,000 yards through age 27.

There were 8 QB's drafted in the top 10 overall between 1970 and 1978. Only 4 of them even made it about halfway to Tarkenton's 47,000 yards (Bartkowski, Plunkett, Manning and Bradshaw).

7 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

I realize this article / research was focused primarily on Brees’ yardage totals, and touches upon the lack of defense driving some of his larger numbers, but I really wish there was more focus there. Certainly biased here, but I think the guy doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done and dealt with due to a variety of factors not under his control. The theorist in me believes that if he’d played in New York he’d be hyped as the greatest qb player that ever played, his head to head match ups with other qbs would be lauded as impeccable, and the argument of how terrible his defenses have been would finally be heard. But alas, he’s played in New Orleans, in the heart of the south, with a minor league fan base, minor league journalists, and certainly no propaganda machine like Peter king to flout successes. After the saints lost to the Bucs this year after scoring 40 points this year, I heard the stat that this was the 60th time the saints had lost while scoring over 30 points with brees at the helm. Brady, Manning, and Rodgers were all under 25 during that same time. Let that sink in for a bit. I just don’t think people understand how bad the Saints’ denfenses have been. Of all sports, football may be the most team oriented sports that relies upon chess-like differences in the skills of individual players. And amazingly, the most important player on that team is on the field only half of the game. Yet when we attempt to determine the bet qb of all time - that is - who was best at playing their position - we look to the team accomplishments. I’m not sure why we do though. It certainly doesn’t correlate with the ever lasting argument that “defense wins championships”. Which by the way still holds true. Go back and look at the defensive rankings for points allowed and you’ll find that of the top 4 qbs of the era, (Brady, Brees, Manning, Rodgers (in alphabetical order)) you’ll find that Brady has had had by far the best defenses during that period. Brees has had by far the worst. So, I’d be interested in hearing football outsiders look into whether or not we’re giving proper credit where credit is due. It seems as though we love to say that defense wins championships, except for when that argument doesn’t suit our end goal of crowning an individual player at a singular position.

16 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

The theorist in me believes that if he’d played in New York he’d be hyped as the greatest qb player that ever played, his head to head match ups with other qbs would be lauded as impeccable, and the argument of how terrible his defenses have been would finally be heard.

And yet if he played in New York his stats would be significantly worse.

33 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

'If there's an argument against him, it's probably going to be that he pads the numbers at times to make up for how lousy his defense played'

Bad defense or not, since signing with the Saints in 2006 Brees' career has benefited from playing for a pass happy head coach who has given him the greenest light in NFL History as far as throwing the football, though not Brees fault per se, it's just a fact.

Most pass attempts per game for a career in NFL history (notables): Brees 37.4, Peyton 35.3, Brady 34.8, Marino 34.5, Favre 33.7, Rodgers 33.0 and since the start of the 2008 season all the way through Week 4 of the 2018 season (includes NE's win from Thursday night over Indy), Brees has attempted 39.8 passes per game and has the most total attempts (6440) over second place Tom Brady (5342) who averages 36.6 per game. Meanwhile Aaron Rodgers, who ranks 9th in total attempts (4992) in that span, averages 34.2 pass attempts per game.

The two stats in Brees career that really sums up his legacy vs his contemporaries/other legends is that:

A.) He has more 600+ pass attempt seasons (9) than the previous three passing yardage record holders combined Marino 3/Favre 2/Peyton had 2 (7). For what it's worth, Tom Brady is second with 5 seasons of 600+ pass attempts.

B.) Aaron Rodgers 2016 season where he threw a career high 610 passes, would only rank 10th highest in Brees' career.

31 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

This article really illustrates how much of a perfect-storm situation Brees had. I bet Manning would never have held the record at all if he'd stayed in Indy.

34 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

I used Bill James' "Favorite Toy" formula for baseball and applied it to passing yards. I feel like the formula still probably works for QB's. https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Favorite_toy

If Drew Brees averages 300 yards/game the rest of this year and then retires, he would finish with 75,340 yards.

The favorite toy says:
Brady 19% chance to catch Brees
Stafford 10%
Ryan 6%
Winston 7%
(Luck, Eli, Ben, Rivers and Rodgers are all 0%.)

If Brees plays past 2018, then it would seem like 80,000 yards is likely. He would need to average 295 yards over the next 28 games to get there. His career average with the Saints is 306 yards/game.

The favorite toy only gives Stafford (4%) and Winston (3%) a chance at getting to 80,000 yards.

42 Re: Drew Brees: The NFL's Passing King

I think Stafford has the best chance to pass Brees on the passing yardage chart, because of the passing volume and I think he's more durable now than Rodgers. Not that this particular record is all that important since it's just stat accumulation. I think Brees completion rate over all those years is a better measure just how great he has been.