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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