How Many Quarterbacks Have Thrown for 5,000 Yards in a Season?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady has a chance to make NFL history yet again, because of course he can. Nothing, not even playing the entire season at 44 years old, can slow the three-time NFL MVP down.

Neither age nor the pandemic has kept Brady from crushing opposing defenses all season. Assuming he starts in Week 18, the Michigan product has an excellent opportunity to become the latest quarterback to throw for over 5,000 yards in a single season.

Tom Brady can clinch the NFL’s 13th 5,000-passing yard season in Week 18

After shredding the New York Jets’ defense for 410 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-28 comeback win in Week 17, Brady is on the brink of NFL history. The 15-time Pro Bowler needs only 10 yards against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Jan. 9, to record his second season with 5,000 passing yards.

Brady previously joined the 5,000-yard group in 2011, when he threw for 5,235 yards (the third-highest total in NFL history) and 39 touchdowns on the New England Patriots.

As of publication, there had been 12 instances of a quarterback throwing for over 5,000 yards in a single season. Miami Dolphins legend Dan Marino founded the club in 1984, when he threw for 5,084 yards, and he stood alone until New Orleans Saints great Drew Brees joined him in 2008.

Despite throwing for 386 yards in the regular-season finale that year, Brees finished 15 yards short of surpassing Marino. Three years later, he terrorized defenses en route to a then-NFL record 5,476 passing yards. Brees also threw for over 5,000 yards in 2012 (5,177), 2013 (5,162), and 2016 (5,208).

Brees’ former Saints teammate, Jameis Winston, is the most recent member of the 5,000-yard club. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner passed for 5,109 yards — the eighth-highest total entering Week 18 of the 2021 campaign — two seasons ago.

Eight different quarterbacks, including Peyton Manning, are currently in the 5,000-yard club

As with many clubs, the amount of times an event has happened does not match the number of members who have achieved the feat. Eight quarterbacks, including Brady, have combined for 12 5,000-yard seasons. He’s up there with the aforementioned trio of Brees, Marino, and Winston.

After battling injuries in his first two seasons, Matthew Stafford threw for 5,038 yards in 2011. As of January 2022, the 2011 campaign is the only time three quarterbacks — Brady, Brees, and Stafford — all threw for 5,000 yards in the same year.

Peyton Manning’s 5,477 yards in 2013 remain an NFL record, as do the 55 touchdowns he threw that year. Ben Roethlisberger (5,129 yards) and Patrick Mahomes (5,097 yards) each joined the group in 2018.

The 5,000-yard club should remain difficult even in the 17-game era

In theory, the 17-game season should allow for more quarterbacks to throw for 5,000 yards. If eight quarterbacks did it 12 times in the 16-game era, what’s stopping that number from skyrocketing with an extra week?

Things are never that simple. All it takes is one poor outing against an elite defense or for the team to adopt a more run-oriented game plan in inclement weather for the per-game average to plummet. Brees hit 5,000 yards as often as he did in part because the Saints’ defense allowed 28.4 points per game in 2012 and 2016.

A quarterback must average 294 yards per game to hit 5,000 on the season if they start all 17 games. Previously, quarterbacks needed to average 312.5; Brady is currently averaging 311.9 YPG in part because he has five games this year with 250 or fewer passing yards.

As for a quarterback throwing for 6,000 yards, good luck finding a quarterback who can average 353 passing yards per game.

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