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The Arms Race

The NFL has seen its share of great passers, but who's the best? We crunch the numbers for the top 10 of all time
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Francis Ford Coppola, Sept/Oct 03

(continued from page 4)

In 1984, just his second year in the league, he set single-
season marks for completions (362), yards (5,084) and touchdown passes (48). Then there are the all-time markers. Marino ranked first all-time in passes (8,352), completions (4,967), yards and touchdowns (420).

With numbers like these, there's little question that Marino is—and will remain for a long time to come—the most prolific passer in NFL history.


#5 Dan Fouts: 6.78

Dan Fouts is another passer missing from the NFL Top 20. How can this be? He passed for more than 43,000 yards at a rate of 7.68 per attempt. Still, the NFL ranking puts him behind quarterbacks with less than half that many yards and nowhere near the same yards per attempt.

For his aerial splendor, Fouts gives credit to his coach Don "Air" Coryell. "It was the system," Fouts concluded. "If you check back through Don Coryell's history as a coach, you'll find he had success throwing the ball wherever he went. From the head man down to the water boys, everybody knew we were going to throw the ball and be successful doing it."

Among other things, the system relied on spot passes and exploiting mismatches. Coryell relied on his quarterback to deliver the ball not to where the receiver was, but to where the receiver would likely finish his route. The defensive line couldn't harass the quarterback since the ball was in the air so quickly. Neither linebackers nor defensive backs had time to react. It was a "ball-control" game—airborne style.

Sure it helped that Fouts had wide receivers like Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner and Wes Chandler and Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow. But Fouts was stellar, leading the league in yards in four consecutive years, 1979ñ82, and racking up more than 4,000 yards in three of those years. He made the Hall of Fame in 1993, his first year of eligibility.


#6 Johnny Unitas: 6.70

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