7 Best Touchdown-Passing NFL Quarterbacks of All Time
Peyton Manning is on pace to throw 54 touchdowns in the National Football League this season. That would eclipse Tom Brady’s single-season record set in 2007 by four sweet TDs. That number would also give Manning his fourth season title, tying him for the most single-season passing touchdown records with Johnny Unitas, Brett Favre, and Steve Young. Those are some serious cannons.
Did you know only one quarterback threw more than 40 touchdowns prior to 1999, yet five have done it since? That’s proof we are truly in the era of the quarterback. These seven passing quarterbacks had the best single-season touchdown records in the history of the NFL.
1. Tom Brady
After playing college football at the University of Michigan, Tom Brady was drafted by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. At 36 years old, Brady has had 11 seasons as a starter and has led the Patriots to five Super Bowls, winning three. He has also won two Super Bowl MVP awards, has been selected to eight Pro Bowls, and currently holds the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a single season, having thrown 50 touchdowns in 2007 to break Peyton Manning’s previous record of 49.
Seasons winning the touchdown record: 2002, 2007, 2010
Team: New England Patriots
Single-season record: 50 touchdowns
2. Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning played college football for the University of Tennessee before being chosen as the No. 1 overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1998 NFL Draft. From 1998 to 2010, Manning led the Colts to eight division championships, two AFC championships, and one Super Bowl championship.
The 37-year-old quarterback has also earned a record four MVP awards, was the MVP of Super Bowl XLI, has been named to 12 Pro Bowls, and is the Colts’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes. After undergoing neck surgery in May 2011, Manning was forced to miss the entire 2011 season and was released by the Colts before signing with the Denver Broncos on March 20, 2012.
Seasons winning the touchdown record: 2000, 2004, 2006
Teams: Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos
Single-season record: 49 touchdowns
3. Dan Marino
Dan Marino is a former NFL quarterback who played college football for the University of Pittsburgh from 1979 to 1982 before being picked 27th overall in the 1983 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. Despite being recognized as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Marino was never a part of a Super Bowl-winning team, despite leading the Dolphins to the playoffs 10 times in his 17-season career.
Remembered for his quick release and powerful arm, Marino was named to nine Pro Bowls, was the 1984 NFL MVP, and holds numerous NFL records throughout a glittering career. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
Seasons winning the touchdown record: 1984, 1985, 1986
Team: Miami Dolphins
Single-season record: 48 touchdowns
4. Drew Brees
Drew Brees played college football for Purdue University and remains the Big Ten Conference record holder in every passing category: completions (1,026), yards (11,792), and touchdowns (90). He was later chosen by the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft.
After having notable success with the Chargers, Brees signed a six-year deal with the New Orleans Saints in 2006, after which the quarterback would post some of the best numbers of his career. Since joining the Saints, Brees has led the NFL in passing yards, touchdowns, and completions while earning a Super Bowl MVP award and a win in Super Bowl XLIV, setting the season record for passing yards in a season (5,476 in 2011), and setting a record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (54). Brees has also been a Pro Bowl selection seven times in his career.
Seasons winning the touchdown record: 2009, 2011, 2012
Team: New Orleans Saints
Single-season record: 46 touchdowns
5. Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner is a former NFL quarterback who played college football at the University of Northern Iowa before going undrafted in the 1994 NFL Draft. Warner is notable for having one of the more interesting paths to the NFL, becoming a star in the Arena Football League over the course of several years before being signed by the St. Louis Rams in 1998.
He would go on to earn two NFL MVP awards in 1999 and 2001, a Super Bowl MVP award for a win in Super Bowl XXXIV, and four selections to the Pro Bowl. In 13 career playoff games, Warner ranks first in completion percentage, first in yards per attempt, and second in passer rating.
Seasons winning the touchdown record: 1999, 2001
Team: St. Louis Rams
Single-season record: 41 touchdowns
6. Brett Favre
Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre played college football at the University of Southern Mississippi before being drafted 33rd overall in the 1991 NFL Draft. Over the course of his career, Favre played for the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, and Minnesota Vikings, but is best known as a member of the Packers, where he spent 16 seasons.
He is the only player to win the MVP award three years in a row (1995-1997) and has led his teams to eight division championships, five NFC Championship Games, and two Super Bowl championships, winning Super Bowl XXXI.
Nicknamed “The Gunslinger,” Favre is the only quarterback in history to have thrown for more than 70,000 yards, more than 500 touchdowns, more than 300 interceptions, more than 6,000 completions, and more than 10,000 pass attempts. He also holds the record for most starts (336) and most wins (186) while owning a number of team-based awards.
Seasons winning the touchdown record: 1995, 1996, 1997, 2003
Team: Green Bay Packers
Single-season record: 39 touchdowns
7. Steve Young
Steve Young is a former NFL quarterback best known as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. After playing college football at Brigham Young University, Young was drafted in the first round for the now-defunct United States Football League. He would later sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985 before being traded to the 49ers in 1987 to serve as a backup for Joe Montana, later taking the reins of the franchise.
Among his accomplishments, Young was named NFL MVP in 1992 and 1994, along with being named MVP of Super Bowl XXIX. A member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Young was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and is a three-time Super Bowl Champion.
Seasons winning the touchdown record: 1992, 1993, 1994, 1998
Team: San Francisco 49ers
Single-season record: 36 touchdowns
Bonus: Johnny Unitas
Nicknamed “The Golden Arm,” Johnny Unitas was a professional football player from 1955 to 1973. The record-setting quarterback spent the majority of his career with the Baltimore Colts, earning the NFL MVP in 1959, 1964, and 1967, along with being a 10-time Pro Bowl selection.
A three-time NFL Champion, Unitas is known as the prototype of the modern-era quarterback with a strong passing game, and he was one of the most popular players in the NFL during his career. His record of most consecutive games with a touchdown pass stood for 52 years until Drew Brees broke the record on October 7, 2012.
Seasons winning the touchdown record: 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960
Team: Baltimore Colts
Single-season record: 32 touchdowns