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Milestone Watch: Drew Brees Seeks Immortality

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He is going to be the best that’s ever been.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

It has been quite the journey over the last 21 years for Drew Brees. He completed his first pass as a college freshman back in 1997 during a 36-22 loss at Toledo. Back then he was a no name backup quarterback to Billy Dicken. He was only at Purdue because an injured knee in high school turned off his home state schools. Joe Tiller offered him and he ended up at Purdue. The rest is history.

And what an incredible amount of history it has been.

He is the only quarterback in Big Ten history to complete 1,000 passes with 1,026. His 1,678 attempts is also No. 1 all-time, as are his 11,792 yards. The difference between “Legend” and “Really Good” is often decided on the scoreboard and in the pros, however. For all three of those records a Purdue quarterback is also in second place. Curtis Painter threw for 11,163 yards, attempted 1,648 passes, and completed 987 of them. Painter was good, but there is no doubt Brees is among the best that has ever been at his position.

Tom Brady has the rings. Peyton Manning has the cachet. It is Brees, however, that will soon have almost every NFL significant passing record. He will very likely pass two important milestones sometime in the next few weeks.

NFL Passes Completed

Current Record: Brett Favre – 6,300 completions

This one could fall as recently as this coming Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. If not, it will likely fall in week three at the Atlanta Falcons. Brees only trails Favre by 41 completions with 6,259. This past Sunday in a losing effort (thanks a lot, Saints defense) Brees completed 37 passes. That was more than he had in any game last season and was the result of his team trailing most of the day. Last year Brees did not have a single game with more than 30 completions, and he has never topped 40 in a game.

This is a record Brees should hold for a while, too. The next highest active player is Tom Brady at 5,655 completions. Brady would have to play AT LEAST two years after Brees retires to get there, and he is two years older than Brees. Eli Manning (4,447), Philip Rivers (4,205), and Ben Roethlisberger (4,187) are the next highest active players and all in the top 8 all-time, but they are unlikely to outlast Brees enough to get there. Matthew Stafford at age 30 may have the best shot among active players, and he is not even halfway to Brees at 3,032.

Record Breaking Projection: Week 3 vs. Atlanta

NFL Passing Yards

Current Record: Peyton Manning – 71,940 yards

Currently Brees is technically in third place here with 70,884 yards, just 1,056 behind Manning. Brett Favre is a very close second at 71,838, as Manning barely inched past him in his final two games of the 2015 season. Famously, Manning was two yards short of Favre in his final game in Indianapolis while playing for Denver in 2015, but only played in two more games in the final eight that season, notching just 104 more yards. Brees is coming on strong here. Just this past week he threw for 439 yards against Tampa. He has made a tremendous run here because Brees has five of the nine seasons of 5,000 passing yards in NFL history. Manning, Brady, Dan Marino, and Stafford each have one to account for the other four. Manning owns the single-season mark by one yard, 5,477 in 2013 to 5,476 in 2011 over Brees.

This, too, is a record that should stay a while once it is broken. Brady currently has 66,436 and has a decent chance to get above 70,000 this year, but most likely he would need another full season after Brees retires just to catch him. Eli Manning is currently sixth at 51,906, but his career is winding down and at 37 it seems unlikely he has another 20,000+ yards in him. Roethlisberger and Rivers are also a little over 50,000. Stafford, again, may have the best chance, but he is only at 35,035 yards.

Brees averaged about 270 yards per game last season, and his 439 on Sunday was his highest total since week 5 in 2016. At a conservative estimate it is going to take four more games for him to get this mark, but if his defense keeps sucking it might take only three.

Record Breaking Projection: Week 5 vs. Washington

NFL Passing Touchdowns

Current Record: Peyton Manning – 539 touchdowns

This is going to be a fascinating one because it is a dead even race between Brees and Brady. Both quarterbacks are at 491 for their careers, tied for third behind Manning and Favre (508). Both guys will pass 500 sometime in the next few weeks, but would need 51 total touchdowns this year just to tie Manning all-time. Manning threw for 55 in 2013 and Brady threw for 50 TDs in 2007, but those are the only seasons of 50 or more touchdowns in NFL history.

Brees’ best season here was 46 in 2011, so it has been 7 years since he put up huge numbers in this market. He has been ridiculously consistent, however. He holds the NFL record for consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass at 54. Had he not had a TD pass called back on a penalty in a November 29, 2012 game against Atlanta the record would be at 100 games, as he had a streak of 45 immediately after the 54 game streak was broken. Brady is second there at a paltry 52, and the longest active streak is Andrew Luck at 23.

It is very likely this record will last into next season, where it depends on if Brady returns or not. Brees is under contract through next season, so he should have a shot at it. He had just 23 touchdowns last season, his lowest since 2003 back when he was in San Diego. He is already at three this year, however. If you conservatively project 32 for him this season (he had nine straight seasons of 32 or more before last year) Brees can get the record in the middle of the 2019 season.

But again, where will Brady finish?

No other active quarterback has more than 350 touchdowns. Philip Rivers has 345, Eli Manning, 339, Roethlisberger 330, and Aaron Rodgers 316. Their longevity doesn’t project well, making this a “Brees or Brady” race. No active QB under 30 even has as many as 200 TD passes.

Record Breaking Projection: 2019 Midseason

NFL Passing Attempts

Current Record: Brett Favre – 10,169 attempts

This is not as sexy of a record because random chucking can get there. Basically, if you hang around long enough you’ll climb the list, kind of like Bartolo Colon on baseball’s all-time strikeouts list. Favre is the only player that has ever thrown 10,000 NFL passes. Brees is currently third at 9,339 attempts, and with 41 attempts this week he will tie Manning for second place. He needs 830 attempts to tie Favre.

That would put this record well into next season, as Brees attempts over 600 passes a year in New Orleans. Last season he attempted 536, but before that he had seven straight seasons of at least 625 attempts. Brady trails Brees here by 495 attempts, so like the yardage and completions records, he would need to play at least a full season after Brees retires.

Eli Manning is currently 6th on this list at 7,433, with the usual suspects below even 7,000 attempts. Stafford, again at age 30, is about halfway there at 4,896. Once Brees gets this record too it seems like it will hold for a while.

Record Breaking Projection: 2019 Midseason

NFL Passing Completion Percentage

Current Record: Drew Brees – 67.0%

This is a testament to the remarkable consistency of Brees. This is his 18th season and he has thrown close to 10,000 passes in his career, yet he is completing them at a 67% rate. The No. 2 player on this list (with a minimum of 1,500 career attempts) is Chad Pennington at 66.0%. Pennington was 1,632 for 2,471 in his career to get that mark. Brees has nearly four times that and is better.

It’s going to take A LOT of incomplete passes from Brees at this point for him to lose it. Oh, and last season was Brees’ best here as he completed an astounding 72% of his passes. He was at an astonishing 82.2% on Sunday against Tampa. Brees has been over 70% for a season four times in his career and at age 39 is somehow getting MORE accurate.

The best mark for an active player is Kirk Cousins at 65.3%. Even the great Peyton Manning was “only” at 65.3%. Somehow, after nearly 10,000 career passes, Brees is making this mark even better. The best case scenario for someone breaking this record is to hit the minimum qualifications of 1,500 attempts (can be done in three years) and be ridiculously accurate in those three years. You also need good receivers too, as you can lay in the perfect pass but if the receiver drops it, this mark takes a hit.

Record Breaking Projection: Already Done

NFL Passing Yards Per Game

Current Record: Drew Brees – 283.5 yards

I am including this one because it is yet another one that Brees seems to be adding to. As things stand he has a five yard per game average over the next best competitor in Stafford, who has averaged 278.1 yards per game. Again, this is a testament to his consistency. If you want to break this record you have to put up nearly 300 yards per game every game for YEARS. Brees has seven seasons where he has averaged more than 300 yards per game. There have only been 26 such seasons in NFL history. The man is a human metronome.

Record Breaking Projection: Already Done