5K? Passé. Senior writer Peter King says these 10 quarterbacks have the best shot at 6,000 yards
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers He's doubtful he can do it, but I'm not. "That's, what, 375 yards a game?" figures the math wizard. (Precisely.) Rodgers averaged 310 per outing last year, but he was a healthy scratch against the toothless Lions and finished with 4,643. Thinking it over, he concedes, "There are more chances for yards through the no-huddle and [last year's] new kickoff rules (which in 2011 more than doubled the previous record for touchbacks in one season). Let's say you get the ball at the 20-yard line, instead of the 35, two or three more times a game. That's what, at least 480 extra yards a year that you have a chance for?"
Coach Mike McCarthy's pushing the envelope with Rodgers, letting him do more every year. And with a struggling Green Bay running game (27th in the NFL in 2011), Rodgers has the best shot to move the chains enough over 16 weeks to hit our mark.
2. Drew Brees, Saints Based on his 5,476 yards last season, he's only 33 yards-a-game away. That's one nice post route to Lance Moore per week. "But Drew's so efficient now," says Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, a skeptic. "How many plays are left out there for him?"
3. Matthew Stafford, Lions I'm still waiting for one young bookend to Calvin Johnson, but respected football analyst Aaron Schatz of Pro Football Outsiders says that if anyone's going to reach 6,000, it's Stafford. His rationale: Detroit led all teams last year by taking a record 68% of its snaps out of the shotgun. More shotgun, more wide-open offense.
4. Andrew Luck, Colts Have you seen Luck this preseason? There's not a throw that he can't make. The Colts have a couple good rookie tight ends with whom Luck can mature, and it's easy to imagine a two- or three-year revival for receiver Reggie Wayne. G.M. Ryan Grigson will be smart enough to surround Luck with the talent he needs to make a run at 6,000.
5. Cam Newton, Panthers He'd be higher up except that he's such a running threat. Newton the rusher (who scored 14 touchdowns) is taking too many passing chances away from Newton the thrower. If the Panthers get him a young tight end and one more top receiver, he will be tempted to stay in the pocket more often and perhaps have a chance at our mark.
6. Tom Brady, Patriots He wants to play until he's 40, but the sands of the hourglass are pouring out. I'd say that his best shot is in the next two years, with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez paired, slot man extraordinaire Wes Welker still working the middle, and new deep threat Brandon Lloyd stretching defenses. Brady was 765 yards shy of 6K last year, but he threw 122 balls toward Chad Johnson and Deion Branch, producing 978 yards; in this offense, Lloyd could catch 90 balls. And Lloyd averaged 15.4 yards per catch over the last nine years, with (far) lesser quarterbacks than Brady. Do the math. It could be close.
7. Matt Barkley, USC Anyone who routinely got into shootouts with Luck (the two combined for 15 passing touchdowns, and their teams, USC and Stanford, scored 252 total points in three meetings) and who will enter the NFL with the knowledge base that Luck possesses has to have a shot at the mark.
8. Robert Griffin III, Redskins I worry about the beating he's bound to take. And Coach Mike Shanahan loves to run the ball. Eli Manning is absent from this list not because I don't think he could do it, but because he's in the wrong system for it. Griffin could do it too, but he'll need far more weapons and far better protection than he'll get this year.