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How sustainable is great QB play in the NFL?

How often do quarterbacks have a great season and how many can repeat the feat?

NFC Championship - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

First we need to define what a great season is for a quarterback in the NFL. I have defined a great season in three ways

  1. Having a passer rating of 108 or better
  2. Having a 4-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio
  3. Accounting for 40 or more total touchdowns - this is the only one which is era dependent since the first time this happened was 1984 (Dan Marino).

Passer rating of 108 or better

With the minimum passing attempts requirement met (this varies depending on era), there have been 34 seasons where a starting QB has had a passer rating of 108 or better. You may not like passer rating, but it’s free and transparent (the formula is known and anyone can use it) making it much more useful for comparisons than QBR, IQR or DVOA (or any other of a host of pass rating tools).

There will not be a quiz after this.

The two biggest knocks on passer rating is that it is not situational (it does not weight completions for a first down more highly than other completions) and that it does not factor in a quarterbacks running ability and/or ability to avoid sacks - more on this later.

While we might think of great QB seasons as a recent phenomenon, the earliest season on this list of 34 is Sammy Baugh’s 1945 season. Otto Graham has two right after that in 1946 and 1947.

Rank Player (age) Rate Year Tm TD INT TD-INT TD/INT
1 Aaron Rodgers (27) 122.5 2011 GNB 45 6 39 7.50
2 Aaron Rodgers (36) 121.5 2020 GNB 48 5 43 9.60
3 Peyton Manning+ (28) 121.1 2004 IND 49 10 39 4.90
4 Nick Foles (24) 119.2 2013 PHI 27 2 25 13.50
5 Ryan Tannehill (31) 117.5 2019 TEN 22 6 16 3.67
6 Tom Brady (30) 117.2 2007 NWE 50 8 42 6.25
7 Matt Ryan (31) 117.1 2016 ATL 38 7 31 5.43
8 Drew Brees (40) 116.3 2019 NOR 27 4 23 6.75
9 Drew Brees (39) 115.7 2018 NOR 32 5 27 6.40
10 Peyton Manning+ (37) 115.1 2013 DEN 55 10 45 5.50
11 Patrick Mahomes (22) 113.8 2018 KAN 50 12 38 4.17
12 Lamar Jackson (22) 113.3 2019 BAL 36 6 30 6.00
13 Tony Romo (34) 113.2 2014 DAL 34 9 25 3.78
14 Steve Young+ (32) 112.8 1994 SFO 35 10 25 3.50
Deshaun Watson (24) 112.4 2020 HOU 33 7 26 4.71
15 Joe Montana+ (33) 112.4 1989 SFO 26 8 18 3.25
Aaron Rodgers (30) 112.2 2014 GNB 38 5 33 7.60
17 Tom Brady (39) 112.2 2016 NWE 28 2 26 14.00
19 Otto Graham+ (24) 112.1 1946 CLE 17 5 12 3.40
20 Tom Brady (33) 111 2010 NWE 36 4 32 9.00
21 Daunte Culpepper (27) 110.9 2004 MIN 39 11 28 3.55
Russell Wilson (29) 110.9 2018 SEA 35 7 28 5.00
23 Drew Brees (32) 110.6 2011 NOR 46 14 32 3.29
24 Milt Plum (25) 110.4 1960 CLE 21 5 16 4.20
25 Russell Wilson (26) 110.1 2015 SEA 34 8 26 4.25
26 Sammy Baugh+ (31) 109.9 1945 WAS 11 4 7 2.75
27 Drew Brees (30) 109.6 2009 NOR 34 11 23 3.09
Kurt Warner+ (28) 109.2 1999 STL 41 13 28 3.15
28 Otto Graham+ (25) 109.2 1947 CLE 25 11 14 2.27
30 Josh McCown (34) 109 2013 CHI 13 1 12 13.00
31 Dan Marino+ (22) 108.9 1984 MIA 48 17 31 2.82
32 Patrick Mahomes (24) 108.2 2020 KAN 38 6 32 6.33
33 Matt Ryan (33) 108.1 2018 ATL 35 7 28 5.00
34 Aaron Rodgers (28) 108 2012 GNB 39 8 31 4.88

If we look at this by decade, we find three seasons in the 40s, one in the 60s, two in the 80s, two in the 90s, four in the aughts and the remaining 22 occurring between 2010 and 2020. So it’s safe to say that this needs to be era adjusted with more than half of the “great” seasons from NFL QBs happening in the last decade.

TD/INT Ratio

Another way to look at greatness is to look at TD passes minus interceptions (shown as TD-INT) or by TD-to-INT ratio. TD/INT ratio is better for comparing stats across eras, but it’s still needs to be ear adjusted. For example 5.34 percent of all passes were intercepted in 1971, but that is about half the interception rate in 40s and 50s.

The numerator was much smaller 50 years ago as well. In 1945 there were 109 total touchdown passes in the NFL and one QB accounted for eleven of them. That same year there were 193 interceptions. There was a grand total of 2107 passing attempts league-wide in 1945; that is about what the top four starting QBs combine to throw in one season in the modern NFL. Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Justin Herbert combined to 2439 passes in 2020. Those were the top four in passing attempts in 2020.

In 1945 when slinging Sammy Baugh threw those eleven TD passes and only four interceptions the league TD/INT ratio was 0.56, meaning that there were almost two interceptions for every single TD pass. That has been completely flipped now. Baugh also threw 182 passes in 1945 (in 10 games).

In 2020 there were 2.21 touchdown passes for every interception. The league has essentially been at 2-to-1 since 2015 or 2014.

So let us look at the list of QB seasons where a QB had a 4-to-1 ratio of passing touchdowns to interceptions. We’ll get into rushing touchdowns later. Again, this list shows quarterbacks with the minimum number of passes to qualify (which is adjusted by era). There have been 51 seasons in the NFL where a QB has had a 4-to-1 ratio of passing TDs to interceptions. But how do we compare players across eras? Should Milt Plum’s 21/5 in 1960 count the same as Steve Bartkowski’s 22/5 in 1983 or Robert Griffin’s 20/5 in 2012?

To correct for this I normalized by year. For example Plums ratio of 4.2:1.0 was amazing relative to league in 1960 which had a ratio of 0.8:1.0. So normalizing relative to league average Plum’s ratio gets bumped all the way to 17.7:1.0. By the same token, Sam Bradford’s 4.0:1.0 (20/5) in 2016 only gets bumped to 4.5:1.0 because the league as a whole was so much better at passing the ball in 2016 relative to 1960.

But back to those 51 seasons where a QB was better than 4-to-1, there are seven QBs who show up on the list multiple times.

  1. Aaron Rodgers (8)
  2. Tom Brady (6)
  3. Russell Wilson (3)
  4. Drew Brees (3)
  5. Patrick Mahomes (3)
  6. Matt Ryan (2)
  7. Peyton Manning (2)

I was surprised that Manning only has two spots on this list, but he threw plenty of interceptions in his career. In fact Manning only had three seasons in which he had a ratio of 3-to-1 or better .

Here is the entire list of 51 seasons sorted by year with the normalized TD/INT shown. I found this data here.

QB Year Tm Att Cmp CMP% YDS TD INT TD/INT Lg TD:INT avg Normalized TD/INT
Milt Plum 1960 Cle 250 151 60.4 2,297 21 5 4.2 0.81 17.7
Bart Starr 1966 GB 251 156 62.2 2,257 14 3 4.7 0.88 20.1
Steve Bartkowski 1983 Atl 432 274 63.4 3,167 22 5 4.4 1.01 14.8
Steve DeBerg 1990 KC 444 258 58.1 3,444 23 4 5.8 1.2 21.9
Vinny Testaverde 1998 NYJ 421 259 61.5 3,256 29 7 4.1 1.29 9.1
Brian Griese 2000 Den 336 216 64.3 2,688 19 4 4.8 1.19 14.1
Peyton Manning 2004 Ind 497 336 67.6 4,557 49 10 4.9 1.4 12.3
Damon Huard 2006 KC 244 148 60.7 1,878 11 1 11 1.25 86.1
David Garrard 2007 Jax 325 208 64 2,509 18 3 6 1.35 20.7
Tom Brady 2007 NE 578 398 68.9 4,806 50 8 6.3 1.35 22.7
Brett Favre 2009 Min 531 363 68.4 4,202 33 7 4.7 1.35 11.7
Aaron Rodgers 2009 GB 541 350 64.7 4,434 30 7 4.3 1.35 9.3
Josh Freeman 2010 TB 474 291 61.4 3,451 25 6 4.2 1.47 7.7
Tom Brady 2010 NE 492 324 65.9 3,900 36 4 9 1.47 46.1
Aaron Rodgers 2011 GB 502 343 68.3 4,643 45 6 7.5 1.47 30.7
Robert Griffin III 2012 Was 393 258 65.6 3,200 20 5 4 1.62 5.9
Aaron Rodgers 2012 GB 552 371 67.2 4,295 39 8 4.9 1.62 9.8
Tom Brady 2012 NE 637 401 63 4,827 34 8 4.3 1.62 6.9
Josh McCown 2013 Chi 224 149 66.5 1,829 13 1 13 1.6 92.5
Nick Foles 2013 Phi 317 203 64 2,891 27 2 13.5 1.6 100.3
Peyton Manning 2013 Den 659 450 68.3 5,477 55 10 5.5 1.6 13.4
Aaron Rodgers 2014 GB 520 341 65.6 4,381 38 5 7.6 1.79 24.6
Russell Wilson 2015 Sea 483 329 68.1 4,024 34 8 4.3 1.93 5.1
Tom Brady 2015 NE 624 402 64.4 4,770 36 7 5.1 1.93 8.5
Derek Carr 2016 Oak 560 357 63.7 3,937 28 6 4.7 1.89 6.8
Colin Kaepernick 2016 SF 331 196 59.2 2,241 16 4 4 1.89 4.4
Dak Prescott 2016 Dal 459 311 67.8 3,667 23 4 5.8 1.89 11.7
Sam Bradford 2016 Min 552 395 71.6 3,877 20 5 4 1.89 4.4
Aaron Rodgers 2016 GB 610 401 65.7 4,428 40 7 5.7 1.89 11.5
Matt Ryan 2016 Atl 534 373 69.9 4,944 38 7 5.4 1.89 10.1
Tom Brady 2016 NE 432 291 67.4 3,554 28 2 14 1.89 89.5
Alex Smith 2017 KC 505 341 67.5 4,042 26 5 5.2 1.72 10.5
Carson Wentz 2017 Phi 440 265 60.2 3,296 33 7 4.7 1.72 8.2
Jared Goff 2017 LA 477 296 62.1 3,804 28 7 4 1.72 5.3
Tom Brady 2017 NE 581 385 66.3 4,577 32 8 4 1.72 5.3
Aaron Rodgers 2018 GB 597 372 62.3 4,442 25 2 12.5 2.02 64.8
Drew Brees 2018 NO 489 364 74.4 3,992 32 5 6.4 2.02 13.9
Matt Ryan 2018 Atl 608 422 69.4 4,924 35 7 5 2.02 7.4
Patrick Mahomes 2018 KC 580 383 66 5,097 50 12 4.2 2.02 4.4
Russell Wilson 2018 Sea 427 280 65.6 3,448 35 7 5 2.02 7.4
Kirk Cousins 2019 Min 444 307 69.1 3,603 26 6 4.3 1.94 5.3
Lamar Jackson 2019 Bal 401 265 66.1 3,127 36 6 6 1.94 12.5
Aaron Rodgers 2019 GB 569 353 62 4,002 26 4 6.5 1.94 15.2
Drew Brees 2019 NO 378 281 74.3 2,979 27 4 6.8 1.94 16.7
Patrick Mahomes 2019 KC 484 319 65.9 4,031 26 5 5.2 1.94 8.7
Russell Wilson 2019 Sea 516 341 66.1 4,110 31 5 6.2 1.94 13.6
Deshaun Watson 2020 Hou 544 382 70.2 4,823 33 7 4.7 2.21 5.4
Ryan Tannehill 2020 Ten 481 315 65.5 3,819 33 7 4.7 2.21 5.4
Aaron Rodgers 2020 GB 526 372 70.7 4,299 48 5 9.6 2.21 32.2
Drew Brees 2020 NO 390 275 70.5 2,942 24 6 4 2.21 3.3
Patrick Mahomes 2020 KC 588 390 66.3 4,740 38 6 6.3 2.21 11.8

So there were 24 instances where a QB had a great TD/INT ratio (4-to-1 or better) and they were not able to duplicate that feat (at least not yet). Of those 24, I count 19 that have not been replicated and most likely will not be replicated. One of those 19 belongs to Brian Griese who did it with the Broncos in 2000.

The recent ones that are debatable (but will not be debated in this text) are Dak Prescott (in 2016), and Carson Wentz and Jared Goff (both in 2017). Feel free to make a case in the comments if you think that any of those three will be able to duplicate or improve upon their 4-to-1 or better seasons.

There are five other recent instances of a QB having a great season (by TD/INT ratio) for which I will go into depth here. Do you think any or all of these five will be able to duplicate/replicate their amazing season?

Las Vegas Raiders v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Derek Carr 2016

In 2016 Carr threw 28 touchdown passes and only 6 picks. That was good for an interception rate of 1.1 percent. His career interception rate is 1.9 percent so that year was a big outlier for him both in terms of throwing picks, but also in terms of tossing TDs. His TD percent (percentage of throws that resulted in a touchdown) that season was 5.0 percent which is a little better than his career average of 4.4.

But wait, what’s that you say? Quarterbacks who can run the ball should have that factored in. Ok, sure, but Derek Carr is not one of them. He has six rushing touchdowns in seven seasons, or one less than Ryan Tannehill had in 2020 alone. Carr also has a grand total of 635 career rushing yards in seven full seasons — or less than our next quarterback has had in every one of his three NFL seasons.

My verdict - No, Carr will not have another 4-to-1 TD-to-INT season.

Divisional Round - Baltimore Ravens v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Lamar Jackson 2019

Lamar Jackson’s 2019 seasons is one of the best seasons ever had by an NFL QB. In terms of total touchdowns, it ranks 16th (tied) all-time. Jackson threw for 36 TDs and ran for another 7, giving him 43 total touchdowns. Here is where we will discuss the third measure of great QB play - total touchdowns in a regular season.

Below is a list of every season in which a QB had accounted for 40 total touchdowns or more - there have been 31 seasons where a QB has accounted for 40 or more TDs (passing, rushing and occasionally receiving)

Rank Player Year Passing TDs Rushing TDs (& rec) Total TDs
1 Peyton Manning+ (37) 2013 55 1 56
2 Patrick Mahomes (22) 2018 50 2 52
3 Tom Brady (30) 2007 50 2 52
4 Aaron Rodgers (36) 2020 48 3 51
5 Peyton Manning+ (28) 2004 49 0 49
6 Aaron Rodgers (27) 2011 45 3 48
7 Dan Marino+ (22) 1984 48 0 48
8 Drew Brees (32) 2011 46 1 47
9 Josh Allen (24) 2020 37 9 46
10 Cam Newton (26) 2015 35 10 45
11 Aaron Rodgers (32) 2016 40 4 44
12 Dan Marino+ (24) 1986 44 0 44
13 Drew Brees (33) 2012 43 1 44
14 Andrew Luck (24) 2014 40 3 43
15 Lamar Jackson (22) 2019 36 7 43
16 Tom Brady (43) 2020 40 3 43
17 Drew Brees (34) 2013 39 3 42
18 Kurt Warner+ (28) 1999 41 1 42
19 Russell Wilson (31) 2020 40 2 42
20 Steve Young+ (32) 1994 35 7 42
21 Steve Young+ (36) 1998 36 6 42
22 Tom Brady (34) 2011 39 3 42
23 Aaron Rodgers (28) 2012 39 2 41
24 Brett Favre+ (25) 1995 38 3 41
25 Brett Favre+ (26) 1996 39 2 41
26 Daunte Culpepper (27) 2004 39 2 41
27 Matthew Stafford (23) 2011 41 0 41
28 Aaron Rodgers (30) 2014 38 2 40
29 Ryan Tannehill 2020 33 7 40
30 Patrick Mahomes (24) 2020 38 2 40
31 Daunte Culppepper (23) 2000 33 7 40

To the best of knowledge, you will not find this list anywhere else. Eight of these seasons happened last century (with 1984 being the earliest) and the other 23 have happened this century. Six happened LAST YEAR: Aaron Rodgers (51), Josh Allen (46 - one rec), Tom Brady (43), Russell Wilson (42), Ryan Tannehill and Patrick Mahomes (40).

The NFL still thinks of QBs as passers only despite the recent QBs who have run for seven or more TDs in a season (Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Ryan Tannehill and Josh Allen). Newton set the NFL record for QB rushing TDs in a regular season with 14 in 2011. Newton also holds the career mark with 70 total rushing TDs in his career. Yet if you look at career TDs by QBs in the NFL, the league seems to only count passing TDs. Which I guess makes sense, because otherwise you “double count” a passing TD from a QB, but whatever.

There were exactly 10 players with 10 or more rushing touchdowns in 2020 and two of them were QBs - Cam Newton and Kyler Murray. To put this another way, there were 532 rushing TDs in the NFL in 2020 and 114 of them were from QBs running the ball (21.4 percent). More than one fifth of all rushing TDs in 2020 were by QBs. Eight QBs accounted for 60 of the 114:

  1. Cam Newton (12)
  2. Kyler Murray (11)
  3. Josh Allen (8)
  4. Lamar Jackson (7)
  5. Ryan Tannehill (7)
  6. Justin Herbert (5)
  7. Teddy Bridgewater (5)
  8. Carson Wentz (5)

For comparison there were 379 rushing TDs in 1998 and 45 of them were from QBs (11.8%).

If you look at career touchdowns, Jerry Rice has the NFL record with 208, but that is rushing and receiving touchdowns NOT passing touchdowns. This hurts “dual-threat” QBs like Jackson and Newton. Newton is currently in the top 100 all-time in terms of career touchdowns (with 70 rushing TDs and 1 receiving TD), but he is the only QB in the top 100 since his passing TDs are counted separately. He has accounted for 261 total touchdowns, but only 190 of those are passing TDs.

Only eight NFL QBs have ever run for 10 or more TDs in a season, but the three who did it this century are Newton (twice, 2011 and 2020), Daunte Culpepper (2002) and Kyler Murray (2020).

Back to Jackson, for his career he has 68 passing TDs and 19 rushing TDs (no receiving TDs - yet) for a total of 87 total touchdowns. In 2019 he threw 36 touchdown passes with only six picks. His interception percent that season was 1.5 percent which is quite low, but not that far off of his career mark of 1.9 percent. So I would expect Lamar Jackson to be able to reproduce his low INT mark. What about matching that 36 passing TD mark?

Well in 2019 he had the best TD percent in the league at 9.0 percent and while his number was still really good in 2020, it was not quite as good as his MVP season (6.9 percent). Jackson’s 2020 TD percent was tied for 4th among starting QBs. I would expect Lamar Jackson to have at least one more season where he puts up passing numbers similar to what he did in 2019. 2020 was only his second full season as a starting QB in the NFL. He could still be improving.

The QB was the best career TD percentage (min 1500 attempts) is Sid Luckman with a value of 7.9 percent. Only three modern QBs are in the top 10: Mahomes (6.8), Rodgers (6.4) and Wilson (6.2). Luckman, who played twelve NFL seasons for the Bears in the 40s, started 61 games but only threw 1744 career passes, or what modern starting QBs throw in three years. Jackson does not have enough attempts yet to qualify for the career list. If he did, he would be 3rd all-time.

My verdict - yes, Jackson will replicate his 2019 season.

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Kirk Cousins 2019

Cousins, like Carr, is a pocket passer - although Cousins is fairly adept at the QB sneak (like Tom Brady - more on this later). Cousins has a total of 721 career rushing yards, but has 16 career rushing TDs. Only 29 of Cousins 230 career rushing attempts have gone for 10 or more yards and his longest career run is 19 yards. Of course counted in those 230 are his kneel-downs, which the NFL stupidly still counts as a run for negative one yard.

In 2019 Cousins threw 26 TD passes and only six picks. Of those six picks, three came in his two games against the Packers. In his other 14 starts he would only throw three picks (one each against the Eagles, Chargers and Seahawks). While his interception rate in 2019 of 1.4 percent was low for him, it was not too far off from his career value of 2.3 percent. He has also been much better at NOT throwing picks since becoming a full-time starter in 2015.

In 2012 through 2014 he had and interception rate of 4.7 percent. Since then he has had a rate of 2.0 percent. What about his TD rate in 2019? 5.9 percent of his throws in 2019 resulted in a TD, but this was not too far off of his career mark of 5.2 (5.3 since becoming a full-time starter in 2015). I would expect Cousins to have another season with a 4-to-1 or better TD/INT ratio.

Verdict - yes

Cousins fails in an area that I will explore in depth in the follow-up to this - clutch QB play. The easiest way to track this is by looking at fourth quarter comebacks (4QC) and game-winning drives (GWD). Truly great QBs succeed in when they have a chance to win a game on the final drive or when they have the opportunity to bring their team back from a deficit in the fourth quarter. Cousins has eleven fourth quarter comebacks and sixteen game-winning drives in his 104 starts. Next week I’ll explore whether his “clutch” play is good, average or bad.

While QBs on really good teams don’t have too many opportunities to lead a game-winning drive or a fourth quarter comeback, they tend to succeed in those opportunities when they have them.

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Deshaun Watson 2020

Watson just completed his third full season as the main starting QB for the Texans. 2020 was his best season so far in his career. He led the league in passing yards and he threw 33 TDs while only throwing seven picks. Watson also ran for 444 yards and three touchdowns in 2020.

Relative to Cousins, Watson is much more “clutch”. Despite having zero 4QC and GWD in 2020, Watson already has eight 4QC and ten GWD in 53 career starts.

Watson’s career TD percent is 5.9 so the 6.1 that he posted in 2020 is pretty close to his “usual” level of performance. His career interception rate is 2.1 percent. His 1.3 in 2020 is low for him, but like Lamar Jackson, he could get better. His 2020 interception rate might be closer to what he does going forward.

My verdict - yes, unless his legal troubles sink his career.

Tennessee Titans v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Ryan Tannehill 2020

Much like Cousins, Tannehill has gotten better at playing QB in the NFL “late” in his career. Unlike Cousins, though, Ryan was his team’s starting QB from the get-go. Tannehill has found a perfect fit for his skills in the Titan’s run-heavy offense - much like the fit that Ben Roethlisberger had with the Steeler’s offense at the beginning of his career.

Tannehill threw for 33 TDs with only seven picks in 2020. He also ran for another 7. His 40 total TDs in 2020 is tied for 31st for all-time. His interception rate was 2.6 percent while playing QB for the Dolphins, but he has lowered that to 1.7 percent with the Titans. His career touchdown rate in 4.8 percent, but he has been much better with the Titans where his TD rate has been 7.2 percent. Remember that Luckman’s league best for a career is 7.9 percent.

Tannehill has been playing at an extremely high level over the past two years, but while he is a seasoned veteran now he will only be 33 this coming season. He realistically could play at this level for four or five more years.

My verdict - yes, barring injury. I actually expect Tannehill to have another season in 2021 similar to his 2020 season.

The specter of injury

With the discussion of dual-threat QBs, I have to bring up the historic precedent that most “running QBs” in the NFL don’t stay running QBs for long.

Michael Vick might have broken that mold if legal problems had not derailed his career. Cam Newton, who is built like a tank, has proven than you can have a long career as a running QB, but it’s really hard to look at his play and not think that all of the hits he has absorbed have NOT hurt his ability to throw the ball.

One of three things happens to QBs who gain yards and score touchdowns on the ground. They either get injured which stops their running (or curtails it) or they get told by their team and coaches that the risk of injury is too great so they need to stop running with the ball. The third thing is Father Time happens and they lose their ability to run with the ball.

Below are the top 10 (by rushing yards) QBs in NFL history

Rank Quarterback Carries Rushing yards YPC Rushing TDs
1 Michael Vick 873 6,109 7.00 36
2 Cam Newton 1071 5,398 5.04 70
3 Randall Cunningham 775 4,928 6.36 35
4 Russell Wilson 803 4,506 5.61 21
5 Steve Young 722 4,239 5.87 43
6 Fran Tarkenton 675 3,674 5.44 32
7 Steve McNair 669 3,590 5.37 37
8 Donovan McNabb 616 3,459 5.62 29
9 John Elway 774 3,407 4.40 33
10 Aaron Rodgers 652 3,271 5.02 31

Note that John Elway is fifth in carries, but ninth in yards. I should also note that some of the top 10 in QB rushing TDs are not on the list above. Jack Kemp had 40 rushing TDs, Kordell Stewart had 38, former Bronco Tobin Rote had 37, Steve Grogan had 35, and Culpepper had 34.

But when do running QBs really stop their running? In part two of this I’ll go into each of the top 10 by yards and look at how far into their careers they got before they really stopped using their legs to gain yards and score touchdowns.

I’ll finish this by saying that at his current rate, Lamar Jackson will move into the top 10 all-time in QB rushing attempts in one more season. He is averaging 161 carries per year through his first three NFL seasons. He currently has 482 carries and is 154 behind Tom Brady (#10 with 636) and Aaron Rodgers (#9 with 652). Because of how Tom Brady runs (QB sneaks), he continues to get about 30 carries per year. He had exactly 30 in 2020. For his career he averages 1.6 yards per carry. He also has four times as many kneel-downs (125) during his career as he has carries for 10 or more yards (30).

Poll

Which topic should I cover next?

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  • 38%
    The career arc of QBs who run the ball frequently in the NFL
    (58 votes)
  • 59%
    How often NFL QBs lead fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives
    (90 votes)
  • 2%
    A study of year by year QB rushing TDs in the NFL as a percentage of total rushing TDs
    (4 votes)
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