The list of the quarterbacks with the most pick-sixes in NFL history is a list of Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers: Brett Favre is first with 31, Dan Marino and Joe Namath are tied for second with 28, and Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are tied for fourth with 27.
It might seem surprising that great quarterbacks threw the most pick-sixes, but it shouldn’t be. Bad quarterbacks get benched long before they have a chance to throw two dozen pick-sixes. You have to be great to play long enough to get that record. (Career records for bad plays are usually owned by Hall of Famers in all sports: Reggie Jackson struck out the most times in MLB history and Karl Malone has the most turnovers in NBA history.)
Pro Football Reference recently updated its pick-six data and now has every quarterback’s pick-six stats going back to 1950, and that serves as a reminder of how many great quarterbacks threw a lot of pick-sixes. But it also serves as a reminder of two great quarterbacks who stand out for how few pick-sixes they’ve thrown.
Aaron Rodgers has thrown just two pick-sixes in his career, while attempting 5,492 passes. That’s an incredibly low ratio; Rodgers is in the all-time Top 20 quarterbacks in total passes thrown, and everyone else in the Top 20 has thrown at least 10 pick-sixes.
Tom Brady also has a very low total, relative to his spot on the attempts leaderboard. Brady is fourth in NFL history with 9,375 pass attempts. But Brady has thrown a pick-six just 13 times. Everyone else in the Top 5 in attempts has thrown more than twice as many pick-sixes as Brady.
Throwing a lot of pick-sixes doesn’t make a quarterback bad. But throwing few of them is undeniably good. The pick-six is the worst play a quarterback can make, and Rodgers and Brady have avoided them like no one else.