NFL Passing TDs Season Leader: Bet or Pass on Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert, More
Bryan Bennett/Getty Images. Pictured: Russell Wilson.
Who will lead the NFL in passing touchdowns in 2022?
Tom Brady led the league last season with 43 TDs, just over 2.5 per game. It was the fifth time in Brady’s illustrious career that he’s been TD king. His first time winning the crown was a full two decades ago in 2002 when he led the league with 28 TDs. Compare that to last season when nine different QBs threw 33 or more TDs and you see the league’s passing explosion.
Passing TDs can be random. Quarterback TD rates — TDs per pass attempt (TD%) — are relatively stable over a long career, but it’s very normal for random season-long spikes to occur. Take Aaron Rodgers as an example. In 2021, he started the year with an excellent 6.0% career TD%, but spiked to a career-best 9.1% — a massive increase. No surprise that he also leapt from 26 to 48 TDs, leading the league and winning MVP along the way.
We can’t predict random outliers, but we can use coaching schemes, passing attempts, and TD% to dig into the numbers. There’s only one season leader, so median outcome is of no use. We need to imagine a best case scenario, how likely it is and see where the betting value lies.
We’ll start by considering the favorites, then run through other names of note. As always, it’s all about the value at the number.
Be sure to check out the other season leader bets if you haven’t already:
- Passing yards
- Rushing TDs
- Receiving yards
- Receiving TDs
- Season Leaders podcast ft. Chris Raybon & Gilles Gallant
How Many Touchdowns Do We Need?
Brady led the league with 43 last year, but six QBs threw at least 37 touchdowns and two crossed 40. That mirrored 2021, when Rodgers led the league with 48 while five guys threw 37-plus and three hit 40.
Passing volume and scoring took a huge leap in 2018 and continues to rise. We also obviously added a 17th game last year, too.
We need a QB with a strong chance of throwing at least 37 TDs to even consider him, and we’ll need a shot at north of 40 to pick a winner.
Should We Bet on the Favorite?
Tom Brady +650
With season-leader props, you have to start by making a decision on the favorite. If you like the favorite, they’re probably your only play; if you bet anyone else, you’re also inherently betting against the favorite.
Brady was our pick last year at +500 and wasn’t even the favorite. He cashed for us and led the league in passing attempts, completions, yards and TDs. Now he’s available at an even longer number, so what gives?
Nothing about last season looks like an outlier with Brady. His pass attempts have been sky-high since the back half of the Super Bowl season and his 6.0% TD rate last fall wasn’t a career outlier. Attempts multiplied by TD% gives us our TD projection, so Brady is obviously in play. He’s the correct favorite and leads my projections at 43 TDs. But you shouldn’t bet on him.
Brady could absolutely do it again. The volume will be there, and his TD% is always high. But Brady’s 45 with three new starters on the interior of his offensive line, and inside pressure has been his kryptonite. Brady shouldn’t need to pass as much since Tampa’s defense isn’t as ravaged by injury and his weapons aren’t as strong after the retirement of touchdown monster Rob Gronkowski.
Even if you don’t care about all that, you shouldn’t bet on Brady now. He opens the season with a brutal stretch against the Cowboys, Saints and Packers. Even if you do want to bet on the GOAT, you can get better value later.
Verdict: The right favorite, but don’t bet him, at least not right now.
Unlikely to Make It to 40 TDs
Derek Carr +1800
Carr has never thrown more than 32 TDs and he averages just 24 per year with a pretty mediocre 4.3% TD rate. For whatever reason, Derek Carr has just never been a big TD guy. Of course, he’s never had Davante Adams before either, but Adams doesn’t just magically mean TDs.
New coach Josh McDaniels led a run-heavy offense in New England for years. His offenses were almost always top eight in rushing attempts and bottom 10 in passing. The Patriots always ranked near the top of the league in rushing TDs too, preferring to punch it in the old-fashioned way. Carr is a bad bet.
Aaron Rodgers +1600
And then there’s the guy who lost Davante Adams, along with his offensive and passing game coordinators. There’s every reason to think Rodgers’ numbers should drop off this year. Green Bay’s receiver room is an unproven mess and the Packers could transition to more of a ball-control offense with the return of a strong offensive line and a potentially great defense.
The Packers play at a glacial pace and Rodgers’ passing attempts are far lower than you’d think. He could throw the ball 200 fewer times than the league leader. Rodgers has an elite 6.3% career TD rate, but even white going over that last year, he still only threw 37 TDs. This is not the year to bet him.
Dak Prescott +1400
Volume will not be a problem for Prescott, but it’s the rest of the equation that makes him a poor choice. He did spike to a career-best 6.2% TD% last year and threw 37 TDs, but he’s lost Amari Cooper and starts the year without Michael Gallup. More importantly, his line is in shambles.
Dallas lost two offensive-line starters in free agency and also lost stud left tackle Tyron Smith — perhaps for most of the season — to injury. The Cowboys dropped from 0.13 to 0.03 EPA per pass play without Smith last year, basically falling from good to below average offensively without him. Expect a drop in production.
Matt Stafford +900
The Rams typically rank around 10th in passing attempts, but their efficiency per pass took a leap under Stafford. The former Lion tied a career-high with 41 TDs and spiked to a career-best 6.8% TD rate. Of course, that included an all-time great receiving season that Cooper Kupp is unlikely to repeat, and Stafford’s career TD% of 4.7% foreshadows a regression to the mean. Last year’s 41 TDs is possible, but looks more like Stafford’s peak than a plausible repeat.
There are two more reasons to fade Stafford. He’s without retired left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who might have been the best pass blocker in the league, and he’s also dealing with a nagging elbow injury on his throwing arm. He’s just not worth a bet at this short of a number.
They Could Do It, But There’s No Value
Joe Burrow +1000
Burrow started last year with 20 TDs through eight games. A November drought slowed him down before a Week 14 change in coaching strategy increased Cincinnati’s pass frequency from 19th to 7th. From there, Burrow exploded. He threw 11 TDs the final four games with a jump from 6.1% to 7.8% in TD rate and carried Cincinnati all the way to the Super Bowl. With the attempts up and the TD% skyrocketing, is Burrow a rocket ship?
Not so fast. Include the playoffs and Burrow’s TD rate is back at 5.7% after the pass frequency leap, about what it was the rest of the season. Still great, just not outlier amazing. And history tells us these numbers don’t keep going up, they regress. The Bengals had outlier deep completion luck last year and got a few long touchdowns that may not be replicated.
Burrow could do it, but there’s little value here at 10-to-1. If he does throw that many touchdowns, you’re better off backing him for MVP or playing a Bengals ticket.
Josh Allen +900
On the surface, Allen’s raw numbers look pretty similar the past two years. When he broke out in 2020, he had 4544 yards and 37 TDs. Last year, he had 4407 and 36. Looks pretty stable, right?
Not so fast. Allen actually regressed in a major way last year after his runner-up MVP finish. He had 50% more interceptions, plummeted from 7.9 to 6.8 YPA and saw his TD rate regress from 6.5 to 5.6%. The raw numbers only stayed similar because the Bills leapt from 11th to fifth in pass attempts.
That could lead to a perfect storm, where the attempts stay high and the efficiency returns — that could get Allen into the race. I’m not sure we should bet on that, though. Buffalo’s offense is more likely to step back, not forward, without Brian Daboll and it’s not wise to bet on a player returning to what might have just been an outlier career year. Allen also tends to run a few in, which cannibalizes his own chances. He’s not the right bet.
Justin Herbert +700
Herbert has the second shortest odds on the board, and it’s easy to see why. He ranked second in pass attempts so the volume is certainly there, and he returns all of his key weapons on a team poised to make a leap. If the Chargers overtake the Chiefs in the division, Herbert will be a big reason why.
Herbert’s 5.2 and 5.7% TD rates his two years in the league are well above average, in range for a spike that could take him to the top. He threw 38 TDs last year, third most, and could get even more opportunities to run up the score on a potentially great team. Remember, Austin Ekeler rushed for 12 TDs last year too, so a regression there could directly lead to a passing spike.
The Chargers also have a great schedule the first half of the season. The Raiders and Chiefs will be tough out of the gates, but they’re not stout defensively. LA then faces five soft opponents over the next six games, with a visit from Denver in between. That could be a chance for Herbert to get out to a lead and maybe never look back.
The case is there. The volume is there. The talent is certainly there. The only thing that’s not there is value at +700. I can’t fault you for believing, but it’s just too short a number to play when we haven’t seen it enough.
The Best Favorite on the Board
Patrick Mahomes +900
It’s really never a bad idea to bet on Mahomes. The man threw 50 TDs in his first season as a starter — taking home this crown — and he’s thrown 38 and 37 the past two years. Kansas City has ranked top-three in passing attempts both of the past two years and Mahomes is always efficient. He’s been at 5.4% or better TD rate every season with a career 6.4%, historically great.
Mahomes did lose Tyreek Hill, but the Chiefs reloaded at receiver and still have Travis Kelce. And while Kansas City faces a tough division and schedule, that also means Mahomes will probably have to play all 17 games and keep throwing. There’s no question about it — he’ll have the volume and efficiency to be in this race all the way.
Mahomes may not win, but he’s always a good bet at this number and should give you a nice hedge opportunity if nothing else. If you want to bet on one of the favorites, he’s your best bet.
However, if you prefer a couple longer shots, there are two value plays on the board.
The Best Values Available
Kirk Cousins +2000
The Vikings mostly return the same players offensively, but the big change is new head coach Kevin O’Connell, who arrives from the Rams ready to add pre-snap motion and scheming that will open up this offense. Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook give Minnesota some of the best weapons in the league, and O’Connell’s Rams’ offense elevated past quarterbacks to career-bests in both efficiency and counting numbers.
Cousins has already been quite efficient, so a further boost, along with a rumored increase in passing volume, could produce some eye-raising numbers. Cousins has never topped 35 TDs, but has a robust career 5.3% TD rate, and that has already increased to 6.2% over the past three years. An increase in both volume and TD% could push him to 40 TDs or more.
Cousins probably doesn’t have anything close to a 50-TD season in him if one QB really starts to pull away, but at 20-to-1, he’s an intriguing long shot.
Russell Wilson +1600
Remember how Aaron Rodgers had outlier great TD rates the past two years and won this TD crown in one of them? His OC, Nathaniel Hackett, is in Denver now and has a new protege in Russell Wilson. Oh, and Wilson has a new pair of weapons in Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy.
Russell Wilson’s 25 TDs last fall were his fewest in five seasons, but he was playing injured on a miserable team. Wilson has an elite 6.2% career TD rate, up even further to 6.7% over the past five years. Even with Seattle’s always-low pass frequency, he’s had 34, 35 and 40-TD seasons this past half decade and has already led the league once.
Will Wilson’s volume go up in Denver? Hard to say, though it can’t be much lower than it was in Seattle. And remember Rodgers was more pristine efficiency than huge volume. If Wilson’s TD% goes up even further under Hackett, he’ll be a huge threat at any volume. If the volume also goes up, Wilson could top his 40 TDs from two years ago.
Wilson has better blocking in Denver, two great receivers and the best playcaller he’s ever had. I project him at 42 TDs, just one off the lead. That makes him a slam dunk value at this number and the one must-play on the board.
Passing Touchdowns Verdict
If you prefer one of the favorites, Mahomes at +900 is your guy. Cousins is the best long shot available at +2000, but the one must-play on the board is Wilson +1600 to lead the league in passing TDs.