5 most surprising NFL passing leaders in history

For most of recent history, we've seen the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning lead the NFL in passing years. However, there are always years like 2019, when Jameis Winston led the league. Who are the strangest passing leaders in NFL history?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) / Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
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The NFL is led by the quarterback position. It is the most important position in sports. It has more indication of who wins and loses than starting pitchers in baseball, goalies in soccer and hockey, and even point guards in the NBA. Good quarterbacks can win with a bad team and bad quarterbacks can lose with a great team.

That's why it's so surprising to go through the NFL record books and see the names that aren't Manning, Brady, Brees, or Marino. Heck, even the names Rivers, Roethlisberger, Fouts, and Moon don't stick out. We know they are all great players, most making it to the Hall of Fame. Yet, there are always names that make fans say, "How?".

Some of these players had long careers but never did much of note. Others were downright bad players who found lightning in a bottle once in their career. Then, there are the young dynamos who could never figure out how they accomplished their feat to repeat it. These five players have a place in the record book as a single-season passing leader, but that's the largest footnote on their Wikipedia page.

5. Joe Ferguson, 1977 Buffalo Bills

There are many reasons why Joe Ferguson is on this list. He's also the oldest name on this list, as the NFL was dominated by names like Fran Tarkenton and Ken Anderson in this era. However, a young guy who was thrown into the fire from day one finally hit the nail on the head and led the league in passing. Joe Ferguson was the Bills starter since he was their third-round pick in the 1973 NFL Draft.

Ferguson had a long career with the Bills. He played over a decade in Buffalo to pretty terrible results. He led the Bills in virtually every passing record before Jim Kelly broke most of them. He was there forever, but it never led to anything. In 1977, he was the king of garbage time before we knew that was a thing.

He threw for a league-leading 2,803 yards. It is the lowest recorded number of yards to lead the league in the Super Bowl era. Yes, that includes pandemic seasons, strike-shortened seasons, and lockout threats. The very low total needed to lead the league was as surprising as who held the league lead. Despite his numbers, Ferguson also led the league with 24 interceptions. He went on to win just three of 14 games, amid another lost Bills season.