Which NFL QBs Have Best Chance of Breaking 5,000-Yard Mark in 2012?
The 5,000-yard club could become crowded quickly in 2012.
In NFL history, only four men—Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Dan Marino and Matthew Stafford—have passed for 5,000 yards in a season, but three of those four accomplished the feat in 2011. Brees became the only repeat member having also crossed the mark in 2008, and other than Marino, every member of the group has a chance to eclipse 5,000 yards again in 2012.
Also notable, Aaron Rodgers had a shot at the mark himself, but he sat out in Week 17 against a Detroit Lions defense that almost gave up 5,000 yards in one week to Matt Flynn. Eli Manning, too, only finished 67 yards from the mark despite an up-and-down regular season.
The current climate of "pass first, ask questions later" is the perfect breeding ground for an offensive explosion in 2012, so who has a chance to reach the 5,000-yard mark?
The Dark Horses
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Cam Newton—After crossing 4,000 yards in his rookie season, it's hardly far-fetched that Newton will improve with a full offseason under his belt. He and Steve Smith are just getting started, and the NFC South needs to watch out.
Eli Manning—Yes, Manning almost hit the mark last year, but Tom Coughlin isn't going to want to put his team in that situation again. With David Wilson drafted in the first round and a bunch of defenders coming off injured reserve, the Giants will look to keep the score and passing yardage down in 2012.
Philip Rivers—Rivers amassed 4,624 yards last year in what almost everyone considered a down year for both him and the Chargers. With a host of new targets in tow, Rivers has a real shot to bounce back and put up huge numbers.
Tony Romo—With over 4,000 yards in 15 games last year, Romo will need to be at his best to do so again without Laurent Robinson. Yet, if things finally click for Dez Bryant and Romo finds another viable target, this could be a special year for the Cowboys offense.
Ben Roethlisberger—Another guy who put up more than 4,000 in 15 games, Big Ben did so in the defensively stout AFC North. The Steelers receivers are a mess right now, but so is the running back situation, and it's easy to think Roethlisberger will need to put up some serious numbers through the air this season.
5. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
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Yards in 2011: 2,319
Highest Yards Total in Career: 4,526 (2008)
Cutler only played in 10 games last year, but even extrapolating his numbers out to 16 games leaves him short of even 4,000 yards. So, why should Chicago Bears fans expect bigger things from him in 2012?
Two words: Brandon Marshall.
The last year Cutler and Marshall were together was 2008, when Cutler put up over 4,500 yards, and he'll have even better targets this year. Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Matt Forte all return, while both Alshon Jeffery and Michael Bush join an already high-powered offense.
In a division where Green Bay and Detroit are both going to air it out, Cutler is ready to keep up with the Joneses. If he stays healthy, 4,000 yards should be easily within his sights, and 5,000 could come just as easily.
4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
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Yards in 2011: 5,038 (highest in his career)
For Detroit Lions fans, 2011 almost felt surreal—they just kept winning!
This is the team that toiled in obscurity under Matt Millen and has been rebuilt more times than a toddler's Lego set. Yet, somehow, the Lions were able to overcome obstacles and their own immaturity to make the playoffs and put up some serious offense.
Finally healthy, Matt Stafford was phenomenal, cutting apart defenses with an offense that couldn't run the ball to save its life but couldn't be stopped through the air. Calvin Johnson has become one of the most unstoppable forces in the league, and the Nate Burleson/Titus Young/Brandon Pettigrew trifecta has been a great complement.
Just like last year, it just feels like the Lions should come tumbling back down to earth, but if the magic can keep on going, Stafford could easily match his yardage totals from last year.
3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
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Yards in 2011: 5,243 (highest in his career)
What's truly crazy about Tom Brady's career is that, in 2007, when his offense was considered one of the best the NFL has ever seen, he only threw for 4,806 yards.
Last year, when Brady finally joined the 5,000 club, he had a ragtag group of receivers complementary to Wes Welker, and he spent a lot of time experimenting with a couple of second-year tight ends.
Adding Brandon Lloyd—who will not only get a bulk of his own targets from Brady, but also stretch the field for Welker and Gronkowski—should do wonders for a Patriots offense that is in absolutely no need of a miracle.
It seems crazy, but anything less than 5,000 yards for Brady would be a disappointment for the New England Patriots.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
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Yards in 2011: 4,643 (highest in his career)
Aaron Rodgers is quickly becoming one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL—if he's not already. He's as dangerous with his legs as anyone not named Vick or Newton, and the offensive talent around him is as good as it gets.
The Green Bay Packers have little use for the run game or any critiques of their running back stable. Their defense, too—which hopefully improves in 2012—isn't going to allow Rodgers' crew to rest on their laurels.
If the Packers want to beat teams like the Bears and Lions, Rodgers will need to spread the field and carve apart opponents just like he's done since taking over for Brett Favre.
Frankly, Rodgers joining the 5,000 club would be one of the least surprising storylines of the season.
1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
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Yards in 2011: 5,476 (highest in his career)
Brees has passed for 5,000 yards twice already, so there's little reason to believe it couldn't happen again in 2012. While Robert Meachem has moved on to San Diego, he was only Brees' fifth-favorite target in his record-breaking season.
In fact, remove Meachem's 620 yards from last year, and Brees still almost hits the 5,000-yard mark.
Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston are going to do a lot of the heavy lifting while Darren Sproles continues to befuddle defensive coordinators. If Adrian Arrington, Mark Ingram and Nick Toon add anything that comes close to matching Meachem's yardage totals, Brees could have another career year.
5,000 yards should be easily within his reach.
Michael Schottey is the NFL Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."