Drew Brees was too short to play in the NFL. His arm strength was questioned by more than a few. Some wondered if the Purdue standout would ever be a ‘franchise quarterback.’ Starting in San Diego, Brees became determined to prove doubters wrong. And when the Chargers let Brees walk so that they could develop Philip Rivers, he became determined to prove them wrong.
In 2006, New Orleans became home — on and off the field — and, as a thank you, Brees has delivered to the Saints six consecutive (and counting) seasons of 4,300 or more passing yards and the franchise’s first Super Bowl title. He saved the Saints in the same way Brett Favre saved the Packers two decades earlier.
Now, no one doubts Brees.
But in an era in which average quarterbacks throw for 300 yards on a given Sunday, is Brees’ body of work worthy of entrance to the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Has he done enough to distinguish himself from the many great passers of his era? Here is how his resume stacks up …
Statistics: Just 32, Brees already has more yards than Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas and Jim Kelly. He ranks 10th on the all-time passing list and, barring injury, should climb past Dan Fouts and Drew Bledsoe this year. Brees is also expected to become the seventh passer to reach the 300-touchdown club this season. Last season, he broke Dan Marino’s single-season yardage mark, and he is the only person in NFL history to have passed for more than 5,000 yards in a season twice. Through this past weekend, Brees has thrown for 300 or more yards in nine consecutive games — a record — and he is two games shy of tying Unitas’ legendary 47-game streak with at least one touchdown pass.
Success: In six-plus seasons with Brees, the Saints have posted a 62-36 record and four winning records. Prior to that the franchise had posted a total of seven winning seasons in its first 39 years. Brees does not deserve all of the credit, of course, but he certainly deserves a large chunk. En route to the team’s Super Bowl XLIV victory, Brees threw eight postseason touchdowns without an interception. He has a career regular-season winning percentage of 59.3 — better than Troy Aikman and Warren Moon.
HOF comparison: Steve Young. Both men endured a public quarterback controversy and both are recognized for their superior field intelligence. Brees slices up opposing defenses in the same manner Young did in the early 1990s, with comparable patience and precision. Young was left-handed and a better scrambler. Beyond that, the two passing greats stack up well against one another.
Accolades: Brees has never been honored as league MVP, but he has been named Comeback Player of the Year (2004), Man of the Year (2006) and Super Bowl MVP (2009). He earned a spot on six Pro Bowl squads — he is one of only a few quarterbacks to earn nods from both the NFC and AFC — and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2006.
Intangibles: Brees’ efforts in helping New Orleans to rebuild post-Hurricane Katrina will not go without mention when his candidacy is being reviewed by the selection committee. While many NFL players show up for charitable events just in time for the cameras, Brees has made helping New Orleans a life mission.
First-ballot candidate: Likely
HOF probability: 100 percent.
Brees has a Super Bowl ring and will finish his career among the top five in most passing statistical categories. He’s a lock. The only thing that could keep him out of Canton in his first attempt would be a logjam at the quarterback position, should Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady all retire in the same offseason (not likely).
If he breaks Unitas’ streak — often compared to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak — it will further cement Brees’ legacy and help him receive the same level of respect reserved for Manning and Brady.
Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010). Follow him on twitter @mikebeacom.