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, saw the lead trade hands during the 2020 season and it may stay that way for a while.
Note: Stats for active players (marked by *) are through the 2020 regular season.
NFL All-time Passing TD Leaders List
1. Tom Brady*, 581 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 won seven Super Bowl rings, which is more than any single NFL franchise. 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 as he's closing in on 80,000. Leaving New England after more than two decades to sign with Tampa Bay as a free agent, Brady not only helped end the Buccaneers' lengthy playoff drought by throwing 40 touchdown passes, the second-most in a season in his Hall of Fame career; he also led them to victory in Super Bowl LV and was named the game's MVP.
2. Drew Brees, 571 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 becoming the first to surpass 80,000 during the 2020 season. Brees announced his retirement on March 14, as he will make the transition to the broadcast booth before eventually taking his rightful place in Canton.
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 2013 season 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. Philip Rivers, 421 TD passes
After 16 years with the Chargers and spending this past season leading the Colts to the playoffs, Rivers announced his retirement on Jan. 20. Rivers may have never been the best quarterback in the league, but he's always been among the very best and his impressive numbers only tell part of the story. Besides ranking fifth in NFL history in both touchdown passes and passing yards (63,440), Rivers started 240 consecutive games, and he is eighth all-time in career victories (regular and postseason) with 139. He has put together a resume that should eventually result in enshrinement in Canton.
6. 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.
7. Aaron Rodgers*, 412 TD passes
Rodgers is regarded as one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in NFL history and would be higher on this list at this point in his career 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). He's expected to win his third NFL MVP award (2011, '14) after leading the Packers to a 13-3 mark in the regular season with an NFL-leading and career-best 48 touchdown passes and just five interceptions.
8. Ben Roethlisberger*, 396 TD passes
After missing the majority of the 2019 season because of an elbow injury, Roethlisberger returned and helped lead the Steelers back to the playoffs. A model of consistency throughout his career, Big Ben continues to climb up not just the passing leaderboards, but he's fifth all-time with 169 career regular-season and postseason victories.
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. Matt Ryan*, 347 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 13 seasons. Ryan also was the league MVP in 2016 when he threw for a career-high 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns.
11. 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.
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. Matthew Stafford*, 282 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 (45,109 yards, 16th).
17. 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).
18. 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.
19. Russell Wilson*, 267 TD passes
A byproduct of today's pass-happy NFL, Wilson only needed nine seasons to crack the top 20 of this list. But Wilson is much more than just a quarterback who puts up gaudy statistics. He's also durable (started every game in his career), extremely effective as a passer (101.7 career passer rating is fourth all-time), a dynamic runner (career 21 rushing TDs, 5.6 ypc), and most importantly, he wins. His 107 career regular-season and postseason victories, including Super Bowl XLVIII, already place him in the top 20 in NFL history.
20. 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.