NFL Passing Leaders: All-Time Touchdowns

Drew Brees, Tom Brady are closing in on Peyton Manning

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. It’s taken on added intrigue of late because there is about to be a change at the top. Barring injury, both Drew Brees and Tom Brady will pass Peyton Manning for the No. 1 spot on this prestigious list.

 

NFL All-time Passing TD Leaders List

 

1. 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 an NFL-record 539 touchdown passes. 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.

 

2. Drew Brees*, 520 TD passes

Brees has been remarkably consistent since making the move from the Chargers to the Saints in 2006. In the last 13 years, the former Purdue Boilermaker has averaged 4,776 passing yards and just under 34 touchdowns per season. Barring injury, he is a virtual lock to pass Manning during the 2019 season.

 

3. Tom Brady*, 517 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 has 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 has topped 70,000 passing yards in his brilliant career.

 

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 all time.

 

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*, 374 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 four times and the top 10 11 times. Bottom line: Rivers has never been the best quarterback in the league, but he’s always been among the very best.

 

7. Ben Roethlisberger*, 363 TD passes

The highest-ranked player on this list who has never led the league in TD passes, Big Ben has been a model of consistency over the last decade. Last year, he threw for 5,129 yards and 34 touchdowns, both career highs. He led the league in INTs in 2018 with 16.

 

8. Eli Manning*, 360 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 55,981 passing yards and his 360 touchdown passes. His doubters will point to the Giants’ recent stretch of five losing seasons in the past six years 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).

 

9. 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.

 

10. Aaron Rodgers*, 338 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).

 

11. 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 the only two Super Bowls of his career in his final two seasons. 

 

12. Matt Ryan*, 295 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 missed two games in his second season but has played all 16 games in his other 10 years.

 

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 1960s. 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 1987) and was tops in completion percentage five times.

 

18. 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.

 

19. 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 1967.

 

20. Dan Fouts, 254 TD passes

Fouts’ career was highlighted by a tremendous four-year run from 1979-82 in which he led the league in passing yards in all four seasons and topped the NFL in passing touchdowns twice. He became the first player in league history to throw for 4,000 yards in three straight seasons and would have made it four straight if not for the strike in 1982.

 

*Active player, statistics through 2018-19 season.

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