When Johnny Unitas retired from the National Football League in 1973, he was the only QB in the history of the game to have passed for over 40,000 yards during his career. In 1976 Fran Tarkenton became the second passer to hit that mark, and in 1986, Dan Fouts became the third. Today, 18 QBs have career passing yardage marks of over 40,000 yards. Of those 18, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre have over 70,000 yards, but there are others who might reach that mark very soon.
With today’s new rules creating more opportunities for passing stats, seemingly, more quarterbacks will have the opportunity to reach 70K yards in their careers. However, in order to get to 70K yards, a QB would have to average 3,500 yards per season over a 20 year career, or almost 4,700 yards per season if they are only able to play for 15 years. There are some QBs in today’s game who look as if they might hit that mark, while there are others who conceivably will fall short. That said, here is a list of eight NFL QBs who will pass for 70K yards in their careers, and eight others who will not.
16 Eli Manning – Will Not
Eli currently sits at over 48K passing yards for his 13-year career, but his per season average is lower than it needs to be to reach the mark, unless he plays 20 seasons. His brother Peyton played 18 season, but several of those were injury-riddled. Without the games that were missed, Peyton might have reached 80K yards, but this is about Eli. Eli is not the passer that Peyton was, and will probably reach 60K, but will probably fall short of 70K.
Eli plays for a team that is more about the running game and the defense than it is about quarterback stats. The Giants have never had a mad bomber-type passer at QB, but Eli’s last three seasons have been among his best, and the new rules will make it easier for him to compile numbers. However, he has already played 13 seasons, and he might not have enough tread left to be able to stay in the game long enough to reach 70K.
15 Drew Brees – Will
Through 16 seasons, Drew Brees has thrown for more than 66K yards, so it seems that he will most definitely reach 70K, probably during his next full season. There have been nine 5,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history, and five of them belong to Drew Brees. In addition, Brees barely missed 5K on two other occasions; one by 48 yards and the other by 130. Four of Brees’ last six seasons have been over 5K yards, and the other two were the two near misses, so it is conceivable that if he only needs 4K yards, he will definitely reach 70K yards.
Brees would only have to perform up to 80% of what he has done during the last six seasons in order to reach 70K, and barring injury, that seems like a certainty. Realistically, by game 12 or 13 of the upcoming season, Brees will become the third QB ever to pass for 70K yards in a career.
14 Ben Roethlisberger – Will Not
Big Ben is not the prolific passer that many of the other top QBs in the league are, even though he currently has arguably the best wide receiver in the league as a teammate. Only four of Ben’s 13 seasons have been better than 4,000 yards, so he would have to play a lot longer in order to reach 70K yards, but because of his style and his injury frequency, it does not appear possible.
Roethlisberger has sustained several injuries, and because he so much bigger than other QBs, he takes many more hits that the others do. The physical pounding will eventually become too much for Ben, and with him needing seven seasons of at least 3,500 yards to reach the mark, it does not seem as if he will get there. However, with nearly 60K passing yards and two Super Bowls on his résumé, a trip to the Hall of Fame does not seem out of the question for Big Ben.
13 Matt Ryan – Will
Matt Ryan has completed nine seasons in the NFL, and of those nine seasons, Ryan has reached 4K yards in each of the last six seasons, and the last five have all been over 4,500 yards. The new league rules have made it easier for a passer like Ryan to achieve haughty stats. Ryan currently sits with an average of over 4K yards per season, and with Ryan needing 33K yards to achieve 70K for his career, in his 18th season, he should achieve the milestone with no problem.
The one thing that might inhibit Ryan is the difficulty for a QB to play 18 seasons. However, with the league rules making it easier for quarterbacks to succeed, and with Ryan being one of the more prolific passers in the league, he should reach the mark in fewer than 18 seasons. Ryan will almost certainly reach the number; the question is just how long it will take him.
12 Philip Rivers – Will Not
Philip Rivers was the second of 17 QBs taken in the 2004 NFL Draft, behind Eli Manning but ahead of Ben Rothlisberger. However, not only do Big Ben and Eli each have two Super Bowl wins to zero for Rivers, each has more career passing yards than Philip. The reason for this is because Rivers sat for two seasons behind Drew Brees before being given the reins in San Diego. Though he lost two seasons’ worth of stats, he is not very far behind Ben and Eli in career passing yards.
Unfortunately, he is behind the other two, which makes it more unlikely for Rivers to reach 70K yards. Rivers has already been in the league for 13 seasons, and with him needing 25K yards to reach the mark, he is going need six seasons of over 4K yards to reach the mark. What is working in his favor is the fact that he sat for two seasons, which means that he might play longer than the other two, but he is not getting any younger.
11 Derek Carr – Will
Derek Carr has only been in the NFL for three seasons, but he already has more passing yards than RGIII, and just a few fewer yards than Colin Kaepernick and Kirk Cousins, with all having been in the league longer than Carr. Another thing that Carr has working in his favor is that he has a receiver in Amari Cooper who, if they are able to stay together for 10 or more years, will be able to post impressive stats together.
As the league makes passing easier, Carr will benefit from this, and will be able to reach 70K yards in a much quicker time than Manning and Favre were able to do. The only thing that will keep Carr from reaching the mark will be injury, but that is the case for all NFL players, so barring injury, Derek Carr is certain to hit the 70K career passing yards mark.
10 Carson Palmer – Will Not
Carson Palmer is one year older than the QBs from the 2004 draft, and as such, is much closer to 40 years old than are his contemporaries. With that in mind, Palmer will struggle to reach 70K career passing yards. The fact that Palmer has fewer career yards than Eli, Big Ben and Rivers creates a second impediment to reaching the mark, as Palmer needs more yards in a shorter span of time to be able to hit the milestone.
Palmer has also not been able to play a full season very often. Palmer has started all 16 games in only 7 of his 14 seasons in the NFL, so as he ages, it will become more difficult for him to play full seasons at the level that would be needed to reach 70K passing yards before retiring. It is unlikely that this could happen, especially since Palmer briefly left football after losing a lot in Cincinnati, and the same could happen in Arizona.
9 Blake Bortles – Will
Blake Bortles made his start in the National Football League the same season as Derek Carr, and Bortles has passed for about 50 more yards than Carr, which means that if Carr has a chance to reach 70K passing yards in his career, then so does Bortles. The fact is that both men will benefit from the way that the NFL is officiated these days, and both will throw for a ton of yards.
The difference between the two is that Carr will be leading a contending team, while Bortles might spend much of his career on a team that is near the bottom of the league. Playing for a subpar team means that Bortles will either compile a ton of meaningless stats, which will push him to the mark, or he will take a ton of hits that will knock him out of the game, or get him demoted to being a backup. For Bortles, only time will tell.
8 Aaron Rodgers – Will Not
Through 12 seasons, Aaron Rodgers has passed for 36K yards, which is an average of about 3K per year. Rodgers' first three seasons saw him sitting behind Brett Favre, which inhibited his ability to put up numbers, but since he has been at the helm of the Green Bay Packers, Rodgers has been one of the best passers in the NFL. While 36K yards of 12 seasons is 3K yards per year, 36K over 9 seasons is over 4K per season.
The problem for Rodgers is that he is 33 years old, and even if he achieves his yearly average of 4K yards per year and plays until he is 40, he will only amass 28K more yards, which will put him at 64K, leaving him two seasons short of reaching the 70K yard mark. Even though Rodgers sat for three years, just like Philip Rivers, Rodgers is not going to get younger.
7 Dak Prescott – Will
Dak Prescott completed his rookie season in the top 20 in the league for passing yards. Prescott finished just over 100 yards better than Tom Brady (more on him later). With Prescott’s running back Ezekiel Elliot leading the league in rushing by nearly 300 yards, it would seem that Prescott has little chance to reach 70K passing yards with Elliot taking many of the plays on the ground, but history might prove otherwise.
Quarterbacks typically last longer in the league than do running backs, and at some point, Elliott might not be able to run the way that he did this past season. However, good quarterbacks can last into their mid-to-late 30s and sometimes 40. If Prescott is able to carve out a career of fifteen or more years where he is a top level quarterback, he should have no problem reaching 70K career passing yards, possibly becoming the first African-American QB to do so.
6 Joe Flacco – Will Not
Joe Flacco is a winner in the NFL. He has only had one losing season as the QB of the Baltimore Ravens, and he has a Super Bowl victory to his credits. However, Flacco is not a passer whose career stats make one believe that he will someday pass the 70K yard plateau for his career. After nine seasons in the NFL, Flacco is averaging around 3500 yards per season, which means that he would have to play 20 seasons to reach the mark.
If Flacco needs to play ten or eleven more seasons in order to be able to reach 70K career passing yards, he would be 42 or 43 by the time that he achieves the mark. In his 40s, it is unlikely that he would be able to produce at the same level that he currently is, so he would have to have several extraordinary seasons prior to his 40s, and his team simply does not require that from him, so it seems unlikely that he can achieve the mark.
5 Carson Wentz – Will
Carson Wentz is going to be a top quarterback in the NFL. His rookie year showed that he has the skills to be a top passer. Wentz might not win much, especially if he stays with the Eagles, but he will get ample opportunities to show his skills in the league. As such, Wentz will throw for a lot of yards as he tries to keep himself valuable in football, and these yards will make it easier for him to reach the 70K passing yard plateau for his career.
Wentz’s career might resemble Barry Sanders’s, as Barry produced a lot of personal stats, but could not make his team into a consistent winner. The Eagles have had a lot of turnover regarding coaches lately, and Wentz might suffer from this, but it will not prevent Wentz from producing personally. He might not win a championship, but he will almost certainly do enough to reach 70K career passing yards.
4 Cam Newton – Will Not
Cam Newton is a quarterback who may run too much to be able to achieve such a lofty passing yard mark. Cam Newton has shown that he can pass for a high number while at the same time running for a high number, but this style has not produced many wins for his team. He will have to decide between adapting a style that helps his team win and adapting a style that advances his own cause.
Newton could reach 70K passing yards if he concentrates more on passing than running, but when he does; his lack of elusiveness in the pocket causes him to take far too many hits. The accumulation of hits, over time, will shorten his career, and this, more than anything, will prevent him from reaching the mark. Newton has the skills to reach 70K career passing yards, but he will almost certainly not play long enough to make it happen.
3 Andrew Luck – Will
Andrew Luck is look at as being the future of quarterbacks in the NFL. He, along with Derek Carr, according to experts, will engage in the Manning-Brady rivalry of the future, with Carr being Brady (the winner) and Luck being Manning (the stat guy). Luck only played half of a season in 2015, but with that, he is still averaging nearly 4K yards per season for his brief career. This type of production will should get Luck to 70K career yards more quickly than some others.
It seems that Luck and Carr will compete to the AFC representative in the Super Bowl for years to come, and Luck’s contribution to the rivalry should be his stats. Luck has already produced a season that is among the top-25 passing yardage seasons of all time, and he is only five years into his career. It is likely that he will have many more extraordinary seasons, and could retire as the career passing yardage leader when he is done.
2 Russell Wilson – Will Not
Russell Wilson has taken his team to the Super Bowl twice in his brief career, wining one and losing the other to Tom Brady (more on him later). However, he was drafted in the same draft as Andrew Luck, but sits nearly 1K yards behind Luck’s career stats, even though Luck has played in ten fewer games than Wilson. Wilson’s Seahawks are one of the most balanced teams in the league, and do not rely solely on their QB as other teams do, so Wilson is not asked or expected to produce at the level of some other QBs in the league.
Because Wilson is not required to pass for 4K or more yards in order for his team to win, Wilson will simply not accumulate the stats necessary to be able to finish with career passing numbers over 70K yards. It is possible that Wilson will win more Super Bowls than some of the QBs on this list, but seemingly, he will also not pass for 70K yards in his career.
1 Tom Brady - Will
Tom Brady is arguably the greatest QB in the history of the NFL. He is the only QB, and one of only two players in the history of the NFL who has won five Super Bowls. He is also one of a handful of QBs who has never had a losing season as the starter. In addition to all of that, Brady currently sits less than 9K yards away from the 70K yard career mark, and it appears that he will have no problem reaching the plateau.
The only things that will keep Brady from reaching the mark are his age, injuries, and injuries to his receivers. Brady threw for 3,500 yards without his all-world tight end (Gronk) in the lineup, and Gronk should be back and healthy, which will make it easier for Brady to throw for a lot of yards. Brady will be 41 after two seasons, but he does not appear to be slowing down, so 70K yards is almost a certainty for Tom.