Peyton Manning is the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader, passing Brett Favre on Sunday afternoon. Just how insane is his career through the air?

By Mitch Goldich
November 15, 2015

Peyton Manning set the NFL’s all-time passing yards record on Sunday on a four-yard completion to Ronnie Hillman with 10:37 remaining in the first quarter against the Chiefs, bringing him to 71,840 career yards. There was little doubt he would, as he entered Week 10 just two yards shy of the previous record, held by Brett Favre.

Manning, whose 35 yards through the air on the afternoon brought his career total to 71,871, now owns the career records for yards and touchdowns, along with the most MVP awards, but he squandered his chance to surpass Brett Favre’s wins record with a turnover-prone afternoon that resulted in a surprise benching in Denver’s 29–13 loss to Kansas City. 

Say what you want about his playoff record (or the legitimacy of QB wins as a stat, for that matter) but there’s no doubt Manning has made a case for himself as one of the best regular season quarterbacks ever, the quarterback with the best statistical career and any other number of arbitrary titles.

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At this point, comparing Manning to his peers is a pretty unfair fight. Unfortunately, Charles Woodson and Matt Hasselbeck are the only other players from the 1998 draft class still lining up to play on Sundays. And fellow class of 1998 quarterbacks Ryan Leaf, Charlie Batch, Jonathan Quinn, Brian Griese, John Dutton and Moses Moreno haven’t been heard from in a while.

So in the absence of other players, let’s compare Manning’s career passing yards to the passing stats of each entire franchise since his rookie season in 1998.

Manning vs. NFL franchises

The numbers below are accurate as of Sunday’s action. One thing to keep in mind: These are cumulative passing yards for each player on each team over that time frame. Team passing stats typically subtract yardage lost on sacks. But Manning’s individual numbers don’t lose the sack yardage, so neither should these teams’. But don’t worry—I’ve accounted for every yard, positive or negative. The Patriots get four yards from Adam Vinatieri, and the Ravens lose six yards thanks to Anquan Boldin.

New Orleans

76,626

Kansas City

63,564

Indianapolis

75,014

Oakland

63,017

Green Bay

74,080

Cincinnati

62,742*

New England

72,843

Seattle

61,930*

St. Louis

69,522

Tennessee

62,066

Denver

69,159

Miami

61,459

San Diego

67,753

Carolina

61,292

Philadelphia

67,698

Jacksonville

60,752

Detroit

67,599

Tampa Bay

60,567

Arizona

66,717*

San Francisco

60,144

NY Giants

66,981

Baltimore

59,989

Dallas

66,459

Buffalo

59,946

Minnesota

65,519

Chicago

59,577

Pittsburgh

65,412

NY Jets

58,948

Washington

64,125

Cleveland

55,015

Atlanta

64,112

Houston

50,025*

A few more housekeeping notes. Keep in mind that Cleveland has one fewer season than most other teams because the Browns didn’t return to the NFL until 1999. Along those lines, Houston was shorted five seasons because the Texans didn’t exist until 2002. And teams have played an unequal number of games this season. But to be fair, Manning also missed the whole 2011 season. 

This is always the danger in comparing counting stats. If this was a serious study, I would have converted them to yards per game for a fair comparison. But this is just for fun—Manning broke a counting stat record, and it’s more fun to look at the thousands of yards racked up than to compare smaller numbers with decimal points. Plus, I’ve done the math, and the Browns and Texans won’t suddenly be more prolific than Manning if you switch to yards per game.

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Still, we can draw some fun conclusions from the chart above. First, it seems like Manning has an astronomical amount of passing yards since coming into the league, but four teams have actually thrown for more yardage than he has! Not surprisingly, those teams were quarterbacked by Drew Brees, Tom Brady, the Brett Favre–Aaron Rodgers tandem, and Manning himself with a little help from Andrew Luck.

But the Saints, Colts, Packers and Patriots all lead Manning by a margin smaller than whatever each of those teams gained in 2011, so the list would look different if Manning hadn’t missed a season.

Mostly, it’s just fun to look at where all these teams rank since Manning came into the league, and notice things like, “Peyton Manning has thrown for 13,000 more yards than the Jets … and at least 10,000 more yards than the majority of the AFC East.”

Manning vs. first round draft classes

It’s not easy to draft a Peyton Manning. But how tough is it for an entire class of QBs to measure up to him statistically? Let’s make one more chart and compare Manning to various draft classes of first round quarterbacks.

This time it’ll only be first-round picks (apologies to guys like Tom Brady and Russell Wilson) and only quarterbacks (apologies to guys like Ladanian Tomlinson, who has 143 passing yards, and Randy Moss, who has 106). So how long has it been since an entire draft class surpassed Manning’s total? Not since his brother was drafted as part of the impressive 2004 trio (with a J.P. Losman cameo, of course). Here’s the full list.

Year

first-round qbs

passing yards

2004

Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, J.P. Losman

129,358

1999

Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper, Cade McNown

77,883

1998

Peyton Manning, Ryan Leaf

75,537

 

Peyton Manning by himself

71,871

2005

Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Jason Campbell

70,650

2003

Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman

67,446*

2008

Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco

58,891

2009

Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman

52,429

2012

Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden

42,799

2006

Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler

42,823

2002

David Carr, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey

35,075

2011

Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder

32,758

2001

Michael Vick

22,464

2000

Chad Pennington

17,823

2010

Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow

15,784

2014

Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater

11,126

2007

JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn

7,126

2015

Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota

3,954

2013

EJ Manuel

3,371

Sure, this comparison is totally unfair, dependent on how many quarterbacks came out each year and how much time they’ve spent in the league. But it’s still amazing that in the 17 draft classes since Manning entered the league, only two have surpassed his total passing yardage. And 1999 only did it because five quarterbacks were picked in the first round. In other words—couldn’t have done it without you, Cade McNown!

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It looks like both 2005 and 2008 are locks to eventually pass Manning, as is 2003 if Palmer has a few more healthy seasons. Plus the 2001 class gets cheated a bit because Drew Brees was the 32nd pick back when the first round only had 31 picks. He and Michael Vick together would have vaulted the 2001 class above Manning and all the way to second on this list.

And other classes will come along, depending on how good guys like Luck, Newton, Winston, Mariota and quarterbacks we haven’t even heard of yet can become.

In fact, many of Manning’s records will surely fall, as the passing game continues to take over the NFL and QBs are able to play longer careers.

But for now, the stats show Manning is on top of the football world, and even finding a fair comparison can sometimes take a bit of a stretch.

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