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Best Non-Record Breaking Seasons: Passing

On twitter, I’ve been doing some fun screenshots of player stats where you need to guess the player based only on all — or just some — of his stats. You can follow with the hashtag PFRScreenShots.

I thought this was a fun one:

Okay, you may say how the heck could I know that? Well, You have more than enough info there! The number 5235 can only be a reference to one thing in season stats: passing yards. And it’s not in bold, which means its not a league leader. So the real question is can you recall a player who threw for 5,235 passing yards but didn’t lead the league in passing?

Which got me to wondering: which passers had the most impressive raw statistics while not leading their league in that category?

Passing Yards

Here are the single season leaders in passing yards.

Rank Player Yds Year Tm
1 Peyton Manning (37) 5,477 2013 DEN
2 Drew Brees (32) 5,476 2011 NOR
3 Tom Brady (34) 5,235 2011 NWE

That’s right: in 2011, Brady threw for 5,235 passing yards, the third most in NFL history, while not leading the league in passing yards.  And 2011 Brees didn’t only steal a passing title from Brady….

Passing Touchdowns

Rank Player TD Year Tm
1 Peyton Manning (37) 55 2013 DEN
2 Tom Brady (30) 50 2007 NWE
3 Peyton Manning (28) 49 2004 IND
4 Dan Marino+ (22) 48 1984 MIA
5 Drew Brees (32) 46 2011 NOR
6 Aaron Rodgers (27) 45 2011 GNB

Yes, in 2011 Rodgers — who was the AP MVP — threw 45 TDs in 15 games.  In 2015, Brady would lead the NFL in passing touchdowns with “only” 35 touchdowns, so this was some bad luck for Rodgers. But it’s not as though Brees always was winning these races…

Completion Percentage

Last year, Bradford set an NFL record in completion percentage, even if it wasn’t a particularly good (much less great) year. And the runner-up last year had the best completion percentage for any player who didn’t lead the NFL in completion percentage:

Rank Player Cmp% Year Tm
1 Sam Bradford (28) 71.6% 2016 MIN
2 Drew Brees (32) 71.2% 2011 NOR
3 Drew Brees (30) 70.6% 2009 NOR
Ken Anderson (33) 70.6% 1982 CIN
5 Sammy Baugh+ (31) 70.3% 1945 WAS
Steve Young+ (32) 70.3% 1994 SFO
7 Joe Montana+ (33) 70.2% 1989 SFO
8 Drew Brees (37) 70.0% 2016 NOR

Brees completed 69.99% of his passes last year, but didn’t actually lead the league in passing.  This is the sort of metric that’s obviously really era-based, but still noteworthy.  The same goes for our next category.

Passer Rating

As you know, Manning had one of the all-time great seasons in 2013. But he didn’t lead the NFL in passer rating, thanks to one of the all-time great fluke seasons.

Rank Player Rate Year Tm
1 Aaron Rodgers (27) 122.5 2011 GNB
2 Peyton Manning (28) 121.1 2004 IND
3 Nick Foles (24) 119.2 2013 PHI
4 Tom Brady (30) 117.2 2007 NWE
5 Matt Ryan (31) 117.1 2016 ATL
6 Peyton Manning (37) 115.1 2013 DEN

A 115.1 passer rating *should* lead the league. And it would most years. Just not in 2013.

Interceptions (Bad)

Who threw the most interceptions without having the ignominy of leading the league?

Leaders Table
Rank Player Int Year Tm
1 George Blanda+ (34) 42 1962 HOU
2 Vinny Testaverde (24) 35 1988 TAM
3 Frank Tripucka (32) 34 1960 DEN
4 John Hadl (28) 32 1968 SDG
Fran Tarkenton+ (38) 32 1978 MIN
6 Sid Luckman+ (30) 31 1947 CHI
7 George Blanda+ (37) 30 1965 HOU
Al Dorow (31) 30 1961 NYT
Jim Hart (23) 30 1967 STL
Ken Stabler+ (32) 30 1978 OAK
Richard Todd (26) 30 1980 NYJ

Yes, that would be the Snake for all you trivia fans out there.

Interception Rate (Good)

What about the reverse: As you probably knew, Brady had a helluva interception rate last year. What you might not have known:

Leaders Table
Rank Player Int% Year Tm
1 Damon Huard (33) 0.4% 2006 KAN
Josh McCown (34) 0.4% 2013 CHI
3 Tom Brady (39) 0.5% 2016 NWE
4 Nick Foles (24) 0.6% 2013 PHI
5 Joe Ferguson (26) 0.7% 1976 BUF
6 Tom Brady (33) 0.8% 2010 NWE
7 Dak Prescott (23) 0.9% 2016 DAL
Steve DeBerg (36) 0.9% 1990 KAN
Sam Bradford (28) 0.9% 2016 MIN
David Garrard (29) 0.9% 2007 JAX

Prescott had a 0.87% interception rate last year, while Bradford was at 0.91%. It’s incredible that as a rookie, Prescott had one of the top ten interception rates in NFL history… and didn’t even get to win the interception rate crown!

What fun non-league leading stats can you find?

  • Damon Huard. Now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time… a long time.

  • Mark Growcott

    With Rodgers being rested for the final game of the 2011 season, he watched Matt Flynn set franchise records for both Passing Yds and Passing TDs in a Game. Had Rodgers played he would have had a great chance himself of reaching 5,000 Yds and 50 TDs that season. In subsequent seasons Rodgers later equalled both of Flynn’s records. This also reminds me of the game against the Bears in 2014 when Rodgers had 6 TD Passes by halftime (matching Lamonica’s feat in 1969) and could have equalled or broken the Single Game record but McCarthy pulled him from the game early in the 3rd Qtr.

  • nicholai

    Fun exercise.

    JJ Watts 20,5 sacks in 2014 comes to mind. Tied for 7th most in NFL history, yet Justin Houston went and got 22.

    On the flip side, David Carr was tied for 3rd in NFL history with 21 fumbles lost, yet Culpepper made sure he didn’t get to ‘lead’ the league that season (2002).
    Steve Beuerlein was sacked an incredible 50 times in 1999 (7th most all time), but was kept from the season lead by Drew “The Statue” Bledsoe (55).

    • nicholai

      Oh, I forgot this one, which is probably more interesting: Both the 4th AND the 5th best seasons ever by rec yards – Antonio Brown in 2015 (1834) and Isaac Bruce in 1995 (1781) got overshadowed by better seasons and poor timing – Julio with 1871 and Rice in 1995 with 1848. And speaking of bad timing, Herman Moore chose the same season – 1995 – to have the 10th most rec yards in league history.

      • Mark Growcott

        Moore had a stellar season in 1995 setting a new record for Receptions, breaking Cris Carter’s record from the season before by 1 Reception. Carter and Rice meanwhile tied the old record in 1995 finishing 1 behind Moore and Bruce had 119. Bruce surpassed Charley Hennigan’s 1961 record for Single Season Receiving Yds but still finished 2nd in the League behind Rice. 1995 was a record breaking year for Receivers, amassing 4 of the top 5 seasons at that point in both Receptions and Yards.

  • Dr__P

    This Brady Stat reminds me of one of my favorite trivia questions – name the three horses that have run the Kentucky Derby in 2 minutes or less

    1973 Secretariat – most folks can get this one
    2001 Monarchos – ruined the question in some ways but some folks remember this horse
    1973 Sham – nobody remembers this horse. Too bad as it was one of the best of all time.

    Sham came in second in the Derby, second in the Preakness, and 6th in the Belmont Stakes.

    Sham’s time of 1:53 3/5 is tied for the fifth fastest in Preakness history.

    Sham rank neck and neck for the first half mile until at the Belmont until Secretariat ran away and then Sham faded. I always thought it was because he had a broken heart.

    Sham died of a heart attack on April 3, 1993, at the age 23. At the necropsy, his heart weighed in at 18 pounds, about twice the size of the average thoroughbred heart. He is buried on the Walmac farm.

    • Deacon Drake

      Well, that IS very interesting. Looks like I need to get invited to a party to pull that one out.

      • Dr__P

        As if anyone needs a reason for a party, but a Derby party is a great theme

        – it has a set time frame each year: first Saturday in May
        – women can dress up, derby hats are expected
        – guys do not
        – like the Super Bowl the TV is on for hours before the event as background
        – the event lasts two minutes and you can get folks attention for that long
        – there is a winner
        – party on