NFL Passing Leaders

The NFL has continued to push the league towards offense and points – primarily fueled by passing – which is more appealing to the general audience. Its been expedited with continued rule changes, inventive offenses, and deeper analytics. Just a week or so ago, the NFL passed rules to allow for review of PIs and non missed calls, and blindside blocks are now illegal. The league has changed so much from the 90’s to the early 00’s. Look no further than the highlight reel of Sean Taylor. Two articles I recommend reading give additional insight and color to how we got to where we are.

  1. How NFL Rules Changes Created a Golden Era of Quarterback Stats
  2. NFL’s passing fancy has changed the game

There have been significant changes made to the game and league, which is the natural progression of the any sport. The NFL has seen multiple league expansions, games added, and offensive minds and players who changed the game – like DAN MARINO. The dramatic change can be seen at a macro level – the passing leader year over year.

A few things to note in the chart (here is a link to see it larger):

  1. This is for just the yearly leader total for passing and rushing yards.
  2. The trend line is a moving average.
  3. The * denotes a significant rule change. For example, intentional grounding was adjusted in the early 90’s to allow the QB to throw the ball away.
  4. NFL rushing has really topped out at 2,000 yards for a leader.
  5. Dan Marino was special. He hit the 5,000 mark in 1984. It would be over 20 years until Drew Brees would be the next QB to do so.
  6. There have been seven QBs to lead the league with over 5,000 passing yards since 2008. Again, Marino was the first in 1984.
  7. There have been seven significant rule changes to the league since 1993, not including the rule change made this year allowing teams to review pass interference.
  8. If we were to forecast 2019 passing total it would be almost 5,500 yards.

Another interesting set of data to look at is the career leaderboard for passing. Here are some takeaways:

  1. Four of the top 10 started their career in the 2000s. Two in the 1990s. Four in 1980s.
  2. Drew Brees is almost 4,000 more yards ahead of the remaining active player, Tom Brady, in the 70,000 club.
  3. It is feasible that Brees plays for another two years and gets to 80,000+.
  4. Matt Ryan ranks 1st in his average passing yards per season at 4,247. It would take him another eight years to get to 80,000 yards.

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