Drew Brees didn’t get much of a headstart on his way to becoming the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards. As you know, Peyton Manning is the current leader in that category, having retired with 71,940 passing yards. Manning and Brees both entered the NFL at the age of 22, but Manning started 16 games as a rookie, while Brees played in just one game. Young Manning was also a bit better than young Brees: that fact, combined with Manning’s 3,518-yard edge as rookies, and Brees missing 5 games at the age of 24 gave Manning a huge early lead.
Thru ages 26, 27, and 28, Manning had a lead of over 8,000 yards on Brees. But beginning at age 29, Brees started to fight back. Through age 34, Manning’s lead had dwindled to 3,747 passing yards, though they remain the only two players with over 50,000 passing yards through age 34. Manning would miss all of his age 35 season with his neck injury, which allowed Brees to finally pass him and become the career leader in passing yards through age 35.
Since then? Well, Brees continues to match Manning, even putting up his own 5,000-yard season at age 37, which is what Brees was in 2016. For Manning, age 37 was his last great season, age 38 was his last good season, and age 39 was his final year, where he threw for just 2,249 yards. In other words, if Brees has made it this far, the tough stuff is done: exceeding Manning’s production through age 37 was the hard part.
The graph below shows each player’s career passing yards through X. It’s color-coded by team, showing Brees’ time with the Chargers and Saints, and Manning’s with the Colts and Broncos. As you can see, Brees has had the edge on Manning over the last three seasons: [click to continue…]