It feels like each year, NFL fans are witnesses to some record-breaking performance. This year, the QB records were what got talked about most. Whether it was the career passing yards record or the rookie completion record, there’s been plenty to discuss in terms of QB play lately. Here are the top three QBs in all-time QB career records, season records, and rookie records to show who the best in the game truly are.
NFL QB season records
Who holds the NFL QB season-long records?
NFL season passing yards leader
- 5,477 — 2013, Peyton Manning (37 years old)
- 5,476 — 2011, Drew Brees (32)
- 5,235 — 2011, Tom Brady (34)
Drew Brees and Tom Brady were the first to break QB Dan Marino’s season record of 5,084 passing yards in 2011. Marino’s 1984 record had stood for 27 years, which is no small feat. Brees came close in 2008 when he finished 15 yards short with 5,069 yards, but 2011 was his year. Perhaps it was the competition between himself and Brady that pushed them both over the line.
Since that crazy 2011 season, seven other QBs have surpassed Marino, including the current record-holder Peyton Manning. Manning put up 5,477 yards and broke the record by a single yard in 2013 when he was with the Denver Broncos, only two years after Brees.
This beat Manning’s previous best of 4,700 yards in 2010 with the Indianapolis Colts. He would also put up 4,727 yards with the Broncos in 2014, giving him three seasons in the top 40 all-time.
Marino’s once impossible 1984 QB passing yards season record is now 10th on the list all-time. This goes to show how pass-happy the league has become in the last decade. It also shows just how impressive Marino was in his day, doing things in the NFL that it would take decades to do again.
NFL passing touchdowns leader
- 55 — 2013, Peyton Manning (37 years old)
- 50 — 2007, Tom Brady (30)
- 50 — 2018, Patrick Mahomes (22)
Brady’s 2007 50-touchdown performance is one for the ages and was supposed to last forever, but Manning’s 2013 campaign was a sight to behold as well. Mahomes throwing for 50 at the age of 22 was also thoroughly impressive, beating Marino’s 1984 outing of 48 when he was also just 22 years old. That’s definitely some fine company for the new kid on the block.
NFL pass completion leader
- 471 — 2016, Drew Brees (37 years old)
- 468 — 2011, Drew Brees (32)
- 456 — 2014, Drew Brees (35)
Unlike the other QB records, Drew Brees owns this QB record alone. Brees actually holds six of the top nine completion seasons in total and nine out of the top 24. Brees has basically been the ironman in staying on the field and the king of the short passes.
One thing of note is that the record of 404 completions by Warren Moon set in 1991 stood for over a decade until Rich Gannon broke it with 418 in 2002. In other words, out of the top 30 seasons for completions, only two happened before 2008, with the other 28 all coming in the last 12 years. Another sign that the game has truly changed over time.
All-time QB career records
Who holds the NFL QB career records?
NFL all-time career passing yards leader
- 82,607 — Tom Brady*
- 80,358 — Drew Brees
- 71,940 — Peyton Manning
The Mount Rushmore of NFL QBs definitely includes all three of these signal-callers. The next active player on the list is Ben Roethlisberger at seventh overall with 61,149. Brady overtook Drew Brees against his former team, the New England Patriots. Now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brady should continue to add to his lead throughout the season.
In reality, the top three in this category of QB passing yard records show how tough it is to stay on top in the NFL. All three have Super Bowl wins, and all three have played for at least 17 seasons. That is something that could be harder and harder to do as the game speeds up. The first 20 years of the 2000s have truly been magical for NFL fans, though, no doubt.
*Will be updated after each of Brady’s games during the 2021 NFL season.
NFL all-time career passing touchdowns leader
- 611 — Tom Brady
- 571 — Drew Brees
- 539 — Peyton Manning
Who would have guessed? The same names from before, just in a different order.
Brady is tops in this all-time QB records category, largely because he’s played for one year longer than Brees. Brady has eight seasons of over 30 TDs, with this past season of 40 as the second-best of his career. He’s really only missed one season due to injury and has played in 301 regular season games through 2020.
Brees had 10 seasons of his own over the 30-touchdown mark, all of which came in a span of 11 years, from 2008-2018. Brees has played in 14 fewer career games than Brady, and if Brees kept playing, he could have retaken the lead.
After the 2014 season when Manning broke the all-time QB record of 508 passing TDs held by Brett Favre, both Brady and Brees were sitting at 392 career touchdowns. Little did they know that they would both surpass Manning and end up at the top of the list themselves just six years later.
NFL all-time career pass completion leader
- 7,142 — Drew Brees
- 7,087 — Tom Brady
- 6,300 — Brett Favre
Once again, Drew Brees is the king of completions over his career. Over his 20 years in the NFL, Brees has completed just over 357 passes per season, an incredible feat of its own. Brees also has a career completion percentage of 67.7%, well over the next two on the list — Tom Brady (64%) and Brett Favre (62%).
With Brees deciding to retire after this season, his career QB record for completions could be in jeopardy. Brady is only 364 completions behind him, a number he has surpassed the past four seasons. If Brady plays even longer, this record could become practically untouchable. Unless, of course, the passing game takes another leap forward in the future.
This last season, Ben Roethlisberger passed Dan Marino for sixth on this list of all-time QB records for completions. That being said, Marino’s 4,967 completions are once again an outlier when looking at the numbers.
Marino played in 16 seasons, but he played at a time when passing the ball wasn’t as fashionable. Marino’s numbers are still quite impressive when you look at them in context, even though he will likely be passed again in the future.
NFL QB rookie records
Who holds the NFL QB rookie records?
NFL rookie passing yards leader
- 4,374 — 2012, Andrew Luck
- 4,336 — 2020, Justin Herbert
- 4,051 — 2011, Cam Newton
Now, we turn to the rookie records. That means Brees, Brady, and many others won’t be on these lists.
The surprise name in this category is that of Justin Herbert. The Los Angeles Chargers rookie QB was only 38 yards behind Andrew Luck’s 2012 rookie record for passing yards this season. In addition, Herbert only played in 15 games of the regular season. Herbert is legitimate and almost feels overlooked due to the performance of the other QBs in the league this year.
Cam Newton’s 2011 season broke Peyton Manning’s 1998 record of 3,739 yards by 312 yards, only to have Luck come along and crush it by 323 yards the very next season. Herbert is the only quarterback to even come close to Luck’s QB record as a rookie. To me, this is something that is being glossed over as we look back at the season as a whole.
NFL rookie passing touchdowns leader
- 31 — 2020, Justin Herbert
- 27 — 2018, Baker Mayfield
- 26 — 2012, Russell Wilson; 1998, Peyton Manning
Another surprise here is Justin Herbert easily took the rookie passing TD title this year. Herbert beat the record set just two years ago by Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield. Mayfield barely beat the previous record of 26, held by Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning, but Mayfield did it in only 14 games. At the time, Mayfield breaking this mark was newsworthy. Herbert, however, seems to go unnoticed yet again.
Herbert’s 4 more touchdowns in only one more game than Mayfield means this record could be broken again soon. Incoming players like Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and others in the 2021 rookie class should have a chance to start all 16 games. This means we may see this QB record broken as soon as next season. It should be a fun one to watch, no doubt!
NFL rookie pass completion leader
- 396 — 2020, Justin Herbert
- 379 — 2016, Carson Wentz
- 354 — 2010, Sam Bradford
Herbert almost had the rookie passing record and easily won the rookie touchdowns record, so seeing his name here isn’t a shock. Throwing 396 completions is no small feat, even if Herbert played on a Chargers offense frequently playing from behind. He also had ample short passing options to throw to, which boosted his numbers as well.
Carson Wentz and Sam Bradford are second and third on this list, respectively, but neither had long careers at the top. Wentz was benched for Jalen Hurts this year, and his future as a starter in the league is in doubt.
Bradford only played in 14 or more games three times before retiring after his ninth season in the NFL. If Herbert can keep up this kind of pace for 15+ seasons, he could start to be a name we see on the career records lists as well.