No. 1: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

| May 3, 2012

We all know the story of Aaron Rodgers and the top of the 2005 NFL Draft. That year was seen as something of a sub-par season for quarterback prospects largely due to the vintage year that preceded it. The San Francisco 49ers with the No. 1 overall choice had to decide between Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers. They went with Smith, who has never lived up to that lofty expectation. Rodgers slipped all the way to the 24th pick and the Green Bay Packers, where he was selected as the heir apparent to Brett Favre.

Eventually the Packers parted ways with Favre and Rodgers has never looked back. He is the only quarterback in league history to throw for 4,000+ yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter. Not to mention leading the Packers to a Super Bowl at the end of the 2010 season.

Though 2010 ended with a championship ring, 2011 was Aaron Rodgers’ best season to date, and the year in which he made a legitimate case to be the best quarterback in football. Running the Green Bay offense Rodgers was a model of efficiency, completing 68.5% of his passes, throwing for 45 touchdowns and just six interceptions while also leading the league in yards per pass attempt at 9.3.

Rodgers did all this despite having 40 passes dropped by his receivers with game-changing TE Jermichael Finley in particular developing a bad case of the drops. That mark was third in the NFL with both of the players above notching at least 60 more pass attempts. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were once the unquestioned Top 2 quarterbacks in the NFL. At the very least Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have forced their name alongside that pair, and on the basis of 2011 they may well have overtaken them.

From an uncomfortable evening in the green room at Radio City Music Hall, Rodgers has developed into one of the game’s most devastating weapons, and at just 28-years-old, that’s likely to continue for a while. The season that he put together earns Aaron Rodgers the prestigious top spot on the PFF Top 101.

 

Best Game: Week 13 @ New York Giants (+8.9)

This Week 13 game may be remembered as the game that kick-started the Giants’ run to the Super Bowl. A run that ended up going through the Packers in Green Bay. However, it just may have been Rodgers’ best game of the season, even if he had better statistical games. Rodgers finished the game having thrown for 369 yards and four touchdowns on 28 completions, so it certainly wasn’t a poor day statistically. A closer look shows that the real key to the game was the final drive that Rodgers orchestrated.

The Giants had driven down the field late in the game for a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion, but Rodgers was left with 58 seconds on the clock to move the ball into field goal range. Starting from his own 20-yard-line the Packers opened up in shotgun formation with four receivers spread out. Rodgers drilled a quick-out to Jermichael Finley (despite close coverage) that picked up 24 yards and took just seven seconds off the clock. The next play saw Rodgers deliver a perfect throw down the left sideline to Jordy Nelson that picked up 27 more yards and put the Packers into field goal range. Rodgers threw this pass with two Giants linemen in his face and still put it right in his receiver’s hands. After a swing pass that went nowhere, Rodgers went back to his quick out patterns, hitting Greg Jennings for 18 yards, making the field goal attempt a far more comfortable prospect.

Rodgers carried the team on his back in the dying seconds and mounted a game-winning drive against the eventual Super Bowl champions.

 

Key Stat: Set a new single-season NFL QB rating record, finishing the year with a 122.5 rating.

The NFL QB rating is a metric that has plenty of flaws, but when you end the season with a rating of 122.5, you’ve had an incredible year. Aaron Rodgers became the only quarterback in league history to throw for 45 or more touchdowns and six or fewer interceptions in a single season. He did it in an offense that was attacking teams all over the field and not just taking the short, high percentage passes. Despite putting the ball in the air over 500 times, Rodgers was incredibly careful with the football, rarely putting it in danger, and methodically found the open receiver and delivered the pass to the right spot. While in the past Rodgers had been prone to holding the ball too long and taking sacks, this season he threw the ball away 17 times, more than twice as often as Ben Roethlisberger, who still has that same issue.

Putting the football in the air used to be a hazardous enterprise in the NFL. Joe Namath was the first quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards in a season and is in the Hall of Fame with 47 more career interceptions than touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers threw 39 more touchdowns than interceptions this season and has thrown 94 more for his career. Players like Rodgers have made passing the football safe enough to become the primary method of attack in today’s NFL. The efficiency with which he can diagnose coverage, find the open receiver and deliver the football to move the chains and attack a defense has become almost impossible to defend. For much of last season there was an air of invincibility about Rodgers and the Packers’ offense. While their season eventually ended in the playoffs, the devastation as he scythed through the league during the regular season earns him his spot atop the PFF 101 list for 2011.

 

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