As quarterbacks continue to reap benefits from modern rule changes, the position's records mean less. By the end of 2019, passers will eclipse career standards of some of the game’s all-time greats and do so in far less time.
Matthew Stafford and Joe Flacco should surpass Hall of Famer Joe Montana’s career passing yardage figure this season. In Week 3, Matt Ryan moved past Hall of Famer John Elway on the all-time touchdown pass list. Ryan required nearly five fewer seasons to get there. No logical NFL follower would view these passers as superior to the retired legends, but quarterback milestones fall constantly in the golden age of the pass, blurring the lines between impactful production and era-inflated stats.
But some numbers require immediate attention, regardless of this decade's offense-slanted NFL landscape. What Patrick Mahomes is doing separates him from some of his peers and the empty-calorie totals they regularly compile. The Chiefs' quarterback is stretching the boundaries for American sports’ highest-profile position. A host of factors laid the groundwork for a 2010s quarterback being the quickest to key statistical benchmarks.
Since the start of the 2018 season, Mahomes has 60 touchdown passes -– 17 more than anyone else. (He threw for 50 TDs last season.) Only three quarterbacks are within 1,000 yards of his 6,292 in that span. The third-year prodigy hit the 20-start threshold in Week 3; his pace totals for that career checkpoint are otherworldly. Mahomes’ 6,576 yards are 963 more than anyone in NFL history through 20 games. The reigning MVP’s 60 TDs in 20 starts lead the league's 99-year-plus field by 13. Chiefs games basically became required viewing early in this run.
The Chiefs did not draft a first-round quarterback for nearly 35 years, with its veteran acquisitions leading the team to one AFC Championship Game in that period. Since making their franchise-defining move in trading up for Mahomes, Kansas City is 1-for-1 in reaching this round. And because Andy Reid oversees Mahomes’ development, this stratospheric start somehow seems sustainable.
Had the Jaguars realized their need for a Blake Bortles replacement in 2017 and drafted Mahomes instead of Leonard Fournette, they would have inherited a version of the Chiefs’ trajectory. A Reid-run team making the pick changed the course of NFL history. The Hall of Fame-caliber offensive guru enhances Mahomes’ capabilities in a way perhaps no modern coach could. A Reid-Mahomes long-term ticket presents a rare challenge for AFC franchises based outside of New England. Unless Bill Belichick maneuvers to secure a high-end Tom Brady successor, the Patriots do not stand to have a leg up on the league’s top chess piece for much longer.
Working mostly without an injured Tyreek Hill this season, Mahomes has shined a brighter light on his unparalleled skills. He has 216 more passing yards than anyone else this season, 10 TD passes and zero interceptions. Dak Prescott and Lamar Jackson are in MVP conversations, but against an improved Mahomes, this should not be a true race. When compared to his young rivals, Kansas City’s centerpiece resides on his own tier.
Another 50-touchdown/5,000-yard season is legitimately in play, especially once Hill joins a deeper arsenal. Mahomes is on pace for 6,300-plus passing yards, which would smash the league record (5,477) held by Peyton Manning by nearly 900 yards. Manning, who holds the season record for TD passes with 55, is the only quarterback to throw for more than 49 TDs in a season twice. No one else has eclipsed 43 more than once.
Manning, Brady, Drew Brees and this revered generation of quarterbacks entered a lower-octane league and for years faced defenses with fewer constraints. Brady’s stats through 20 starts: 4,546 yards and 32 TDs. Brees’: 4,125 yards, 21 TDs. Illustrating the cozier environment for modern passers, Deshaun Watson went 5,189-41 entering his 21st start. Derek Carr stood at 32 TD passes after 20 starts; Baker Mayfield has 30 after 17.
Comparing modern passing numbers to past periods keeps losing relevance. Teams today attempt more passes, prepare more risk-averse game plans, and quarterbacks and pass catchers have less to fear from defenses. The top 27 season completion marks were set this century. Sixteen of the top-20 passer rating figures come from the past 15 years. Dan Marino’s season yardage record (5,084) stood for 24 years and has since been broken eight times, with Mahomes being the most recent. The Chiefs passer’s production compared to the current NFL QB field is a better indicator of what could lie ahead.
That said, this is the place to look for the player who will threaten the career passing records when Brees (and possibly Brady) are finished elevating them. Andrew Luck’s story showed the difficulties of long-term extrapolation, but Mahomes’ astonishing pace has him on track to surpass 87,000 yards by the time he gets to start No. 265 –- where Brees currently stands (with 74,845 yards). Manning also made 265 starts; his touchdown pass record sits at 539 TDs. Mahomes' TD pass extrapolation: a mind-bending 795. Monitoring Mahomes' progress may one day fairly soon be required for greatest-quarterback-ever debates, which have been known to surface every now and then.
As Brees and Brady play into their 40s, Mahomes could not reasonably break these records until a few years into the 2030s. A lot will change in that span, but unless Trevor Lawrence and future Gen-Z phenoms redefine the equation, Mahomes looks to have a strong grip on being his generation’s passing icon.
Regardless of challenges the Chiefs will face once Mahomes signs for $40 million-plus annually, they are in line to become the NFL’s marquee team. That has never been this small-market franchise’s place. Employing a 24-year-old passer who could be significantly better than his 20-something contemporaries gives the Chiefs a historic opportunity. Where things go from here looms as one of the more tantalizing questions in the NFL’s 100-year history.