NFL passing yards record: Tom Brady poised to make poetic QB history in Patriots reunion

Tom Brady needs just 68 yards to pass Drew Brees for the most regular season passing yards all time by an NFL quarterback.

When he takes the field of Gillette Stadium on Sunday, this time wearing a Buccaneers’ uniform, it is all but certain that he will claim the record. It will be just the latest in a long list of records owned by the future Hall of Fame quarterback, who, among others, lays claim to the most Super Bowl rings, most touchdown passes and most wins of any quarteback in NFL history.

Brady has steadily climbed on top of the passing yards list. While three other active quarterbacks are in the top 10, none seem to be within striking distance of the mark. 

With Brady likely to take the record during “Sunday Night Football,” Sporting News is taking a look at the other names at the top of the passing yards list, the records held by Brady and who, if anyone, can reach Brady’s soon-to-be record.

NFL passing yards record

The record for regular-season passing yards has been in the hands of several different players over the years. 

Johnny Unitas retired as the leader in 1973 at 40,239, the first QB to reach 40,000. Fran Tarkenton held the record when he called it a career in 1978 at 47,003. Dan Marino held the record at 61,361 until Brett Favre passed him in 2007, his last year with the Packers. Peyton Manning took Favre’s record of 71,838 down in 2015 and retired with 71,940, a number that stood until Brees set the new record in 2018. Brees retired at the end of the 2020 season with 80,358. 

Only 11 quarterbacks have reached 50,000 regular season passing yards in their careers. Here are the players ranked by most career passing yards.

If the rankings were to include postseason numbers, Brady would have taken the edge over Brees a while ago. Brady has 12,449 postseason passing yards to Brees’ 5,366.

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What records does Tom Brady hold?

Along with the aforementioned postseason passing yards, Brady holds a number of other records. 

We won’t even begin to get into every record that he holds as there are just so many. But here’s a few of the highlights.

That’s just the start. He’s also the only quarterback with 40 TD seasons in both the AFC and NFC. 

In addition to those records, Brady has a number of recognitions where simply adding the prefix “oldest” in front is true. Brady is the oldest quarterback in NFL history to achieve achieve of the following:

How many passing yards could Brady finish his career with?

There’s no precedent for what Brady has been able to do.

Before Brady, only Favre had tallied more than 4,000 passing yards in a season at age 40 or older. Brady has done it four times, and with one of the league’s most talented group of receivers and a 17th game this season, he’s likely to do it again, health permitting.

Last year, he had 4,633 passing yards in the regular season. That’s the most of any season he’s had in his 40s. He’s off to an unreal pace to begin this year as he already has 1,087 yards to his name. If he keeps up at this pace of 362.3 yards per game, he’ll finish the season with 6,160 yards, which would put him at 85,364 for his career. Give him another season, and he might hit 90,000. Three or four more seasons, and he’s perhaps reaching 100,000.

George Blanda is the oldest quarterback to complete a pass in the NFL, having thrown a completion at age 48 in 1975. But no QB older than 42 has even started 10 games outside of Brady, according to Stathead. He said earlier this season he thinks he could play till he’s 50 years old. Can he really keep posting 4,000-yard passing seasons? Do we have any reason to doubt him?

The sport is in uncharted waters with Brady. 

Most likely QBs to catch Brady

It is going to take a long time until someone catches Brady in passing yards or touchdowns, especially since it seems he could be sticking around in the NFL a bit longer .

But players in the league will have one advantage in helping to catch Brady: 17 game seasons. Brady has spent his entire career to this point with just 16-game seasons, giving the next generation of players one extra game per year to add to their career yardage totals.

So who can catch Brady?

Starting with the obvious: Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs’ star QB is already up to 15,092 passing yards and he’s only 26 years old, the most of any quarterback in NFL history within his first 50 starts (he’s at 49). He’s thrown for at least 4,000 yards each season in which he has been a starter. Mahomes is signed with the Chiefs until 2031, and while it would take him a lot longer than 10 more years to catch Brady, he would be just 36 when the deal expires; there are four quarterbacks currently in the league 36 or older. 

There’s a few young QBs that are off to promising starts. Justin Herbert had the second-most passing yards by a QB age 22 or younger last season at 4,336, and he’s opened the 2021 campaign strong as well. Josh Allen is up to 10,514 passing yards and he’s only 25 years old with two seasons already with 3,000-plus passing yards. Kyler Murray has started his NFL career with two seasons of at least 3,700 passing yards and he’s just 24.

Then there are a few with outside chances. Trevor Lawrence is only 21 and came into the NFL with as much acclaim and hype as any QB in recent memory, but his rookie season has not gotten off to a great start. Jameis Winston had more passing yards of any quarterback before turning 26, is currently at 20,199 yards and he passed for 5,109 yards in 2019, but throwing 30 interceptions in a season won’t help him keep a starting job. Jared Goff is just about to turn 27 and has 18,972 yards, so he too at least has racked up some heavy yardage early. Yes, it’s so hard to see someone catching Brady right now that we’re looking at guys like Winston and Goff.

It’s not easy to see who could be the next all-time passing yards leader. It’s not just about the hot starts, but about staying consistent over the years. Brady has thrown for more than 4,000 yards each season since he turned 40 years old. There’s no precedent for that level of success, and even with 17 games per season, it would take that level of production to reach the record.

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