If you watched the New York Giants and Washington Redskins play on national television way back when last season, you saw a forgettable performance by Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw not one, not two, not three, but four interceptions in an ugly 45-14 defeat. While Cousins had a miserable night, he still has a very long way to go to catch up to some of the most intercepted passers of all time.
Cousins’ otherwise uninspiring stat line at least inspired us to go through the archives and see exactly which NFL quarterbacks have thrown the most passes to the opposing team over the course of their careers. So here is a quick look back at the eight most intercepted passers in league history.
8. Dan Marino
Miami Dolphins great Dan Marino threw 252 interceptions for the aqua and orange between 1983 and 1999. He set a team record with 23 picks in 1986 and equaled it two years later, and his 22 interceptions led the NFL in 1989. Marino also threw five interceptions in a game twice (1988 versus the Jets and 1999 versus the Cowboys). Of course, all of this seems a little like nitpicking in a Hall of Fame career that featured over 61,000 passing yards and 420 touchdowns.
7. Johnny Unitas
John Constantine Unitas played professional football from 1956-1973, with all but one of those seasons for the Baltimore Colts. Over that time, Johnny U tossed 253 interceptions, including 24 picks in three different years (1960, 1961, and 1966). Like Marino, Unitas obviously is known for much more than just the interceptions, as the Colts QB threw for over 40,000 yards in his career and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
6. Norm Snead
Norm Snead threw 257 interceptions during a career that spanned sixteen seasons and five franchises (Washington, Philadelphia, Minnesota, New York Giants, and San Francisco). He led the league in INTs four different times, including 27 picks in 1973. In fact, Snead only threw more touchdowns than interceptions in four of his sixteen years in the pros.
5. Fran Tarkenton
Nine-time Pro Bowler Fran Tarkenton completed plenty of passes to his own team (3,686, to be exact), but also ranks in the top five all time for throws to the other team. Tarkenton was intercepted 266 times during his eighteen seasons with the Vikings, but actually led the league in lowest percentage of passes picked during two different years (1973 and 1976). Tarkenton threw 32 interceptions, the worst in his career, in his final season.
4. Vinny Testaverde
Vinny Testaverde (pictured) threw 267 interceptions during his time in the NFL, a number slightly (and thankfully) surpassed by his total touchdown passes — he had 275 of those. Testaverde’s worst season interception-wise came in 1988, when he committed 35 turnovers through the air. The lowlight of that year had to be a game against Minnesota, when the then-Buccaneer signal-caller was picked off a half dozen times in a 49-20 loss.
3. John Hadl
John Hadl threw for 3,473 yards and 27 touchdowns in 1968 for the Chargers, which is good, but he was also intercepted 32 times that season, the worst in his career, which is not so good. Hadl joined Testaverde in the ‘six picks in the same game’ club that year as well, tossing six interceptions against Kansas City. In all, Hadl threw 268 interceptions during his professional football career (1962-1977).
2. George Blanda
Six interceptions in a game? That’s not very impressive to George Blanda — he accomplished the ignoble feat three different times, twice in 1962 alone! Of course, Blanda played in 26 seasons from the ’40s to the ’70s, so he was bound to throw a pick or two … or 277. Blanda’s 1962 season was nothing to write home about, as the Houston quarterback threw 42 interceptions in a single year. To put that into perspective, no other QB in history has thrown more than 35 in a season. Blanda was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981, rewarding the quarterback/kicker who played in a then-record 340 games.
1. Brett Favre
Brett Favre is in a league all his own atop this list, throwing 336 all time interceptions (or 59 more than anyone else in history). On the bright side, Favre seemed to get better with age. Of the 19 seasons where he started a majority of his team’s games, only once did he throw a single-digit number of interceptions. That came at age 40 with the Vikings, when Favre was picked off just seven times in comparison to 33 scoring passes. One of Favre’s worst games came in January 2002, when the Rams intercepted him six times and ran three back for touchdowns en route to an NFC playoff win over the Packers.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.