Drew Brees is neck-and-neck with Tom Brady for the most TD passes ever thrown
Most regard quarterback as the most important position in sports. But how do we judge a quarterback? Is it by production or winning games? That's a good debate for another time. For now, let's take a look at the list of QBs who have tossed the most touchdown passes in NFL history. This list, which covers regular-season games only, has seen a bit of a see-saw with the top spot during the 2020 season.
Note: Stats for active players (marked by *) are through Week 8 of the 2020 regular season.
NFL All-time Passing TD Leaders List
1. Tom Brady*, 561 TD passes
Brady might not end his career atop this list, but most consider him to be the greatest quarterback of all time. The reason is simple: Brady led the Patriots to six Super Bowl titles. He's also been extremely productive; he has led the league in TD passes four times and he's second all-time in passing yards with more than 70,000. Now in Tampa Bay, Brady got off to a slow start with his new team but has seemed to find his rhythm, allowing him to overtake Drew Brees on this list, for now.
2. Drew Brees*, 560 TD passes
After surpassing Peyton Manning to become the all-time leader in passing yards in 2018, Brees doubled up by becoming the career touchdown pass leader late in the '19 season. Tom Brady has since passed Brees for the latter, but the Saints signal-caller has the edge in yards by more than 3,000 as he went past 79,000 earlier in the 2020 season.
3. Peyton Manning, 539 TD passes
The No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft threw 26 touchdowns as a rookie, the start of a banner career that included two Super Bowl titles and 579 total touchdown passes (including playoff games). He led the league in TD tosses four times, highlighted by his record-breaking season of 2013 in which he threw for 5,477 yards and a league-record 55 touchdowns.
4. Brett Favre, 508 TD passes
The gunslinger from Kiln, Miss., will be remembered as one of the most entertaining quarterbacks in NFL history. He led the league in TD passes in three straight seasons, with a combined 112 scores from 1995-97, and also threw for 33 TDs as a 40-year-old with the Vikings in 2009. Favre was also prone to the mistake; his 336 interceptions are the most ever.
5. Dan Marino, 420 TD passes
Marino emerged as one of the most prolific passers in NFL history early in his career, throwing for 48 touchdowns and 5,084 yards in his second season. He followed up with two more highly productive seasons — leading the league in passing TDs and passing yards both years — before settling into a groove in which he averaged about 24 TDs and 4,000 yards the remainder of his career.
6. Philip Rivers*, 407 TD passes
Rivers has led the league in touchdown passes only once — he had 34 in 2008 — but he's ranked in the top five in the category five times and the top 10 12 times. Bottom line: Rivers has never been the best quarterback in the league, but he's always been among the very best.
7. Aaron Rodgers*, 384 TD passes
Rodgers is regarded as one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in NFL history and would no doubt be higher on this list had he not sat on the bench for his first three years and missed extensive time in two other seasons (seven games in 2013 and nine games in 2017).
8. Ben Roethlisberger*, 378 TD passes
Big Ben has been a model of consistency over the last decade, but the 2019 season was a lost one as he attempted just 62 passes (with no TDs and one INT) in two games because of an elbow injury. Roethlisberger vowed to return better than ever and so far in the 2020 season the 38-year-old has been solid. He did set career highs in 2018 with 5,129 yards and 34 touchdowns, so perhaps he'll be able to return to a similar level of production.
9. Eli Manning, 366 TD passes
Manning is one of the more polarizing quarterbacks in recent NFL history. His supporters will point to his two Super Bowl titles, his 57,023 passing yards and his 366 touchdown passes (with another 18 in 12 playoff games). His doubters will point to the Giants' recent stretch of five losing seasons in his last six years as the starter (2013-18) and the fact that he's never led the league in any meaningful passing statistic (unless you want to count interceptions, which he's done three times). With Manning now retired, his Hall of Fame case figures to be a popular topic, especially as he gets closer to the opening of his eligibility window.
10. Fran Tarkenton, 342 TD passes
Tarkenton played in a different era yet still managed to put up some gaudy numbers. He was at his best late in his career; three of his top four single-season yardage totals came in his last three full seasons, and he threw 25 TDs (second most in his career) in his final campaign.
11. Matt Ryan*, 333 TD passes
Ryan has yet to lead the league in touchdown passes but is high up this list because he has played in a pass-first offense during most of his career and has remained remarkably healthy — he's missed a total of three games in 12-plus seasons. Ryan also was the league MVP in 2016 when he threw for a career-high 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns.
12. John Elway, 300 TD passes
Elway is another all-time great who played extremely well in the latter years of his career. His per-16-game averages in his final six seasons were 3,543 passing yards and 23.7 passing touchdowns, up from 3,021 and 15.8 in his first 10 campaigns. Plus he won back-to-back Super Bowls (1997, '98 seasons) to finish out his career after losing in each of his first three appearances.
13. Carson Palmer, 294 TD passes
Palmer barely won more than 50 percent of his 181 career starts but managed to throw for a ton of yards (46,247) and touchdowns (294) in his 18 seasons with the Bengals, Raiders, and Cardinals. He led the league with 32 touchdowns in 2005, but his career high (35) came 10 years later.
14. Warren Moon, 291 TD passes
Moon would be much higher on this list had he not spent the first six seasons of his career in the CFL, where he threw for 21,228 yards and 144 touchdowns. The peak of his career, at least statistically, came in 1990, when he led the NFL in passing yards (4,689) and touchdown passes (33).
15. Johnny Unitas, 290 TD passes
Unitas was the best quarterback in the game in the late 1950s and early '60s. He led the league in TD passes in four straight seasons (1957-60) and ranked first in passing yards in three of those seasons. He was named to 10 Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro five times.
16. Vinny Testaverde, 270 TD passes
Testaverde was a good player who racked up some big stats by virtue of playing for 21 seasons. He never led the league in TD passes, though he did top the NFL in interceptions in four different seasons. He went 90-123-1 as a starter and ended his career with almost as many INTs (267) as TDs (275).
17. Joe Montana, 273 TD passes
Montana is known more for his winning ways (4-0 in Super Bowls and a 117-47 record as a starter) than his gaudy stats, but he was still quite productive in his 16 years in the league. He led the NFL in TD passes twice (17 in the strike-shortened 1982 season and 31 in '87) and was tops in completion percentage five times.
18. Matthew Stafford*, 269 TD passes
After dealing with injuries to start his career, Stafford made 136 straight starts before a back fracture sidelined him the rest of the way after Week 9 of the 2019 season. From 2011-18 Stafford averaged 4,465 passing yards and 27 touchdowns per season, one of the reasons why he's among the top 20 in both categories (42,941 yards, 18th).
19. Dave Kreig, 261 TD passes
Kreig was a three-time Pro Bowl pick who enjoyed a nice run with the Seahawks in the 1980s but was never considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the game. He threw a career-high 32 touchdowns in 1984 and led the league in percentage of passes thrown for a TD on three occasions.
20. Sonny Jurgensen, 255 TD passes
Named the top quarterback of the 1960s by various media outlets, Jurgensen led the league in passing five times in the decade and threw more than 30 TDs — a huge total in that era — in both 1961 and '67.