Where Does Drew Brees Actually Rank as an All-Time NFL Quarterback?

Brees retires as the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards but has just one Super Bowl on his résumé

March 15, 2021 11:55 am
Quarterback Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees reacts after a 33-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Jared C. Tilton/Getty

During a Monday morning appearance on TODAY on NBC, Drew Brees confirmed he’d be joining NBC Sports and offered a little insight about his decision to retire from the NFL.

“It’s definitely a process,” Brees told host Hoda Kotb. “Listen, I’m 42 years old, I’ve had a chance to play this game for 20 years in the NFL. The last few years, I felt like this moment was coming. It just made me so laser-focused on staying in the moment, each and every day, enjoying the moment, enjoying the preparation, enjoying the grind, enjoying the celebrations with my teammates. Just knowing that, at some point, I will retire and move on to the next chapter, and I want to be able to look back with incredible memories and knowing that I gave it my absolute best.”

As Brees, who retires with 172-114 record as a starter during the regular season, said on the show, he gave it his best during his NFL career, and he’ll go down as one of the top quarterbacks in league history.

But, when judging him against some of his peers, where does Brees rank as an all-time pro QB? Here are a few things to consider:

Brees Was a Volume Passer

Second in NFL history with 10,551 pass attempts in his career, Brees trails only Tom Brady (10,598) on the NFL’s all-time list despite starting 13 fewer games in his career, and would almost certainly be No. 1 with one or two more starts under his belt. He also retires no. 1 in passing yards, at 80,358, though Brady will surpass that number next year barring injury.

A true gunslinger in New Orleans with head coach Sean Payton calling the shots, Brees was often forced to throw the ball to keep the Saints in ballgames where their (often) subpar offense gave up points in bunches. The sheer number of passes Brees threw led to his racking up yardage and touchdowns — but also interceptions (a metric where Brees ranks 13th all time, with 243).

Point being: Brees threw the ball well during his career, but he also threw it a lot, which inflated his numbers as compared to quarterbacks from previous eras.

Brees Was Nearly Unbeatable at the Superdome

Of the 172 regular-season wins Brees had in his career, more than half (89) came on turf, with the majority of those coming at home at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

A solid outdoor quarterback (224 TDs, 100 interceptions), Brees took his game to another level indoors (323 TDs, 121 INTs) and was more than 40 games over .500 during his career when playing at home (93-52). Many of those victories were also blowouts, as Brees was 68-29 in games that were decided by 15 points or more throughout his career.

Brees Was the Best Short QB of All Time

Listed at 6’0” coming out of Purdue, Brees was projected to be a first-round pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, but he slipped to the second round due to his height. After barely playing as a rookie, Brees beat out fellow “short quarterback” Doug Flutie for the Chargers starting job in 2002 and developed into a Pro Bowl QB before becoming one of the stars of the league in New Orleans.

Gifted at moving around the pocket and blessed with the ability to read the field well despite it sometimes being difficult to see over the line, Brees and the success he had in the NFL may have been one of the reasons the Seattle Seahawks felt confident in selecting 5’11” Russell Wilson. While Wilson may eventually surpass him, Brees is currently the best NFL quarterback ever to play at 6’0” or under.

Brees’s Playoff Record Left Much to Be Desired

A one-time Super Bowl winner, Brees only made it to the season’s final Sunday once despite qualifying for the postseason 10 times. Blessed with a 13:2 TD-to-interception ratio during his first six playoff games (one with San Diego and five with New Orleans), Brees had a 14:8 TD-to-INT ratio over his final six postseason games and tossed three picks during last season’s home loss to Brady and the Buccaneers in the divisional round.

Just 9-9 overall in the postseason, Brees saw his completion rate drop from 71.43% in the Wild Card round to 63.48% in the Divisional round to 58.33% in the Conference Championship. (In his lone Super Bowl appearance, Brees did complete a ridiculous 82.05% of his passes.)

Brees Was an All-Time QB, Not an All-Time Winner

Though Brady will almost certainly pass him on the NFL’s all-time list for completions and passing yards, Brees will remain near the top of many of the league’s passing records for years to come. As noted above, some of that has to do with how much he passed the ball, but much of it also has to do with the skill with which he threw it.

An all-time passer who deserves credit for how much production he was able to get out of his undersized frame, Brees came up just a little bit short in playoff wins and will retire with fewer Super Bowl victories than peers Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Brady. And, in all likelihood, Patrick Mahomes and Wilson, who each already have one Super Bowl win and have played in the big game twice apiece, will eventually pass Brees as well.

While that ultimately shouldn’t impact his legacy or cast a cloud on his Hall-of-Fame career, Brees should probably be remembered as an all-time NFL quarterback who just isn’t all that close to the top of the list.

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