Eclipsing 4,000 passing yards in a season isn’t the feat it once was, especially now that the NFL added a 17th game.
The first quarterback in league history to top 4,000 yards in a single season was Joe Namath in 1967. It did not happen again until Dan Fouts threw for 4,082 yards in 1979. There were 14 4,000-yard seasons by quarterbacks in the 1980s, 22 in the 1990s, 47 in the 2000s, and 102 in the 2010s.
In 2020, 12 different passers topped 4,000 yards, with Josh Allen and Justin Herbert reaching the mark for the first time in their career. Herbert did so in his sensational rookie season, while Allen took a massive step forward as a passer to join the club.
Which quarterbacks could reach 4,000 passing yards in 2021 for the first time in their career? I have some ideas. And to not water down the prediction, I’m adding the caveat that these quarterbacks will average at least 250 passing yards per game, which was the minimum to reach the mark in the old 16-game schedule.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
As a rookie in 2020, Burrow was well on pace to reach 4,000 yards passing, but a season-ending knee injury in Week 10 ruined that opportunity. Now reunited with Ja’Marr Chase, his go-to receiver at LSU, to go with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, there’s no doubt Burrow has the weapons to produce in the passing game.
A surprising development for Burrow as a rookie was his lack of success throwing the football down the field—he was actually among the least consistent vertical passers in the game as a rookie, something he was quite strong at doing from his time at LSU. With what should be more comfort in year two in addition to Chase’s arrival, Burrow should take a notable step forward on deep passes.
Another component that should lead to a productive passing season for Burrow is the likelihood of a necessity to throw the football. The Bengals have some holes defensively that will put stress back on the offense to produce points and potentially play catch up.
With what is hopefully an improved offensive line, a loaded group of receivers, and more comfort in his second season, Burrow should have no issues averaging at least 250 passing yards per game.
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Murray came within 30 yards of eclipsing the 4,000-yard mark in 2020, but his declining production as the season progressed prevented that from happening.
In Murray’s first eight games of the season, he produced 2,130 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, and seven interceptions to go with 543 rushing yards. Coinciding with the Cardinals’ disappointing 3-5 finish to the season that kept them out of the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, Murray tallied just 1,841 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, and five interceptions with 276 rushing yards over his last eight contests.
Murray should have even better chemistry with DeAndre Hopkins in their second season together and second-round pick Rondale Moore provides an exciting boost to the Cardinals offense. Moore’s dynamic ability to create yards after the catch should help Murray find even more production.
Murray has what he needs to take another step forward in his third season and log his first 4,000-yard passing season.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
While there is no guarantee that the weather will be more favorable for the Cleveland Browns in 2021, windy and wet conditions often made life difficult for Mayfield in the passing game. In nearly half of his starts in 2020, Mayfield failed to top 200 passing yards. Those instances need to be far less frequent in 2021 for him to join the 4,000-yard club. Fortunately for Mayfield, six of those sub-200-yard outings came in the first nine weeks of the season.
Mayfield operates behind arguably the best offensive line in the NFL and has the benefit of an exceptional rushing attack anchored by the dynamic pair of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Being able to lean on that with more comfort in his second season in Kevin Stefanski’s offense should create the opportunities in the passing game necessary for Mayfield to reach 4,000 yards.
While Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are the leaders in the clubhouse when it comes to the Browns wide receiver corps, the addition of Anthony Schwartz delivers a speed component that was lacking from the unit in 2020, and Donovan Peoples-Jones should be even more comfortable in year two after some promising moments as a rookie. Cleveland also wants to utilize tight ends and the roster is full of potent weapons in Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, and David Njoku.
Mayfield has helped change the narrative in Cleveland. Now it’s time for him to reach top-tier production in the passing game.