Why Aaron Rodgers is still the NFL’s top quarterback

Mike Renner explains why, following a relatively "down year," Aaron Rodgers is still the best quarterback in the game.

| 6 months ago
(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

Why Aaron Rodgers is still the NFL’s top quarterback


[Editor’s note: In Senior Analyst Sam Monson’s 101 best players reveal last week, Monson named Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers the No. 8 overall player in the NFL heading into the 2016 season, and the first overall QB. Senior Analyst Mike Renner expands on this selection here.]

“Aaron has to come to trust you, and then he’ll throw the ball to you more often. And when you get to Sundays, he may feel more confident throwing it in your direction. But it all starts there (in meetings and practice)”

In three sentences, Packers quarterback coach Alex Van Pelt summed up how Aaron Rodgers’ 2015 season went south so quickly. Rodgers might downplay it, but his actions on the field show that the trust that made the 2014 offense the highest-scoring unit in the league was completely gone last year. He’d react to pressures when none were there, pass up receivers that were winning on their routes, and throw his hands up in disgust after failed third-down calls.

The West Coast offense that Green Bay’s system is rooted in is based on timing. The quarterback has to throw on the break of the route because that’s when the receivers win. Take the most fundamental route in the offense: the slant. It personifies their system in that it’s a quick route that needs the wide receiver to create some space, but also needs to be thrown at the exact right time to be completed. In 2015, Rodgers targeted the route the second-most often of any quarterback in the NFL (54). Last season, he dropped to 12th-most (37). Below are Rodgers’ stats throwing slant routes each of the last two seasons.

2014 2015
Completions 40 24
Attempts 54 37
Completion % 74.1 64.8
Yards 517 201
Yards per attempt 9.574074 5.432432
Avg. time to attempt 1.71 1.81

Those numbers exemplify the holistic failures of the offense. Receivers weren’t winning as much, Rodgers wasn’t throwing as quickly, and the results speak for themselves. But even in a perfect storm of issues offensively, Rodgers still finished as the eighth-highest-graded quarterback, and the Packers still made the playoffs. The Green Bay quarterback didn’t all of a sudden stop being able to do this, however:

AaronRodgers

Rodgers’ combination of arm strength and accuracy is without question the best in the NFL. The sideline view of his Hail Mary against the Lions makes it seem as if the ball was shot out of a cannon. He’s a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators because of what he can do outside of the pocket. Teams will completely change the way they rush the passer because of his mobility, and because of what he can do manipulating snap counts.

He simply needs to regain that comfort that made him easily the highest-graded quarterback in 2014. In that season, he actually threw fewer deep balls (56 compared to 64 in 2015), but completed more (26 compared to 21) and accrued 355 more yards on them. His average time before throwing was a full 10th of a second lower (2.86 versus 2.96), and his yards per attempt off play-action was over 4 yards higher (9.8 versus 5.5). The problems he had in 2015 were obvious, but also very fixable. If we had to pick a quarterback to rise above the rest in the 2016 season, we’re still taking Aaron Rodgers.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Jason

    Overrated. Benefits from the best pass-blocking guard tandem in football (Sitton, Lang) that gives him clean pockets to throw from, as well as the most QB-friendly, efficiency-friendly offense that exists.

    • SeattleSteve

      ^ proof they’ve installed wi-fi in the short bus.

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      • Brian Dugan

        Steve you are a beacon of hope in this comment section.

        • Jason

          No, Rodgers is just VASTLY overrated as a QB.

          Best QB in the league is laughable.

          Guy took 46 sacks with Josh Sitton and TJ Lang on his O-line. LOL

          • Chad Lundberg

            Two linemen, do not and entire offensive line make. You put Brady or Manning with that offense, they take 55 sacks. Yes, Rodgers IS the best.

          • pobodysnerfect

            Chad, Rodgers will probably be top 10 all time by the time he retires. But he’s not the best ever. As much as I hate him, that title belongs to Brady. And if not him, then Montana and/or possibly Elway.

          • Chad Lundberg

            Why? Because he played with teams that won the Super Bowl? I judge a player on how well he plays, not the rings. We don’t judge any other position the NFL based on how many rings, so why do QB’s get such special treatment? Besides, Rodgers is bound to win more anyway.

          • pobodysnerfect

            Yeah. And Rodgers hasn’t played GREAT in big games generally in his career. And I do hope you are right about GB winning another one before he retires…

          • Jason

            “Besides, Rodgers is bound to win more anyway.”

            No he won’t. He will retire with 1 ring.

          • Chad Lundberg

            Alright Michel Nostradamus, if you say so.

          • Jason

            According to PFF the Packers have a Top 5 pass-blocking O-Line. Nice try.

          • Chad Lundberg

            So you’re just going to disregard the fact that Aaron lost as many as five receivers throughout the course of the season, and that his running back gained too much weight and only had 700 rushing yards? Yeah, nice try on you, but no cigar. You but Brady or Manning in that offense, they do far worse, indisputable.

    • AJ

      “the most QB-friendly, efficiency-friendly offense that exists.”

      Can you please elaborate on this? The play shown in the article is a good example that he can make throws that other QBs cannot make. Good systems get guys open, but Rodgers perfectly places his throws into tight coverage regularly and still does not turn the ball over.

      Similar to Peyton Manning, there really are not any numbers that can adequately describe just how good these guys are. Everyone knows they are great, but I still feel that most people don’t understand just how great.

      • Jason

        Green Bay runs the purest of WCOs. That pure WCO is designed for the QB to put up strong efficiency numbers (passer rating, for example) because the offense is based on getting the ball out quickly to shifty receivers in space to get YAC, padding the QB’s numbers.

        He doesn’t turn the ball over because he takes a ridiculous number of sacks. It’s a tradeoff. Rodgers took 46 sacks in 2015 playing with the best guard tandem in the NFL. A lot of that is due to indecision, holding the ball way too long, lack of pocket presence, and fear of throwing an INT.

        • pobodysnerfect

          No. They don’t run the “Purest” WCO. They’ve got WAY too many deep shots called in to do that. And RE: Lack of pocket presence, take a look at his Seattle games in 2014, 2015.. the ATL game in 2010. All of 2011..

          You don’t know what you are talking about.

          • Jason

            I know exactly what I’m talking about.

            46 sacks behind Sitton and Lang = poor pocket presence

            GB is one of the top pass-blocking lines. Rodgers makes that line look a lot worse because he takes so many sacks.

          • pobodysnerfect

            And he also throws a LOT of broken play TDs. You don’t tell Miles Davis to stick to the ink on the page. You shut up and let him do his thing. So what if he misses a few notes?

          • Austin Coleman

            Right, because everyone knows all of the top pass rushers go through the middle of the line. The tackles are basically useless because anyone can block Von Miller, Ware, Mack, Justin Houston, and Watt , whose sole jobs are to sack the QB by coming off the edge.

            Seriously, how stupid can you be?

          • Jason

            Moron, the QB’s job is to step up in the pocket when he has dominant pass-blocking guards to avoid edge sacks. jesus, how dumb can you be? Rodgers taking 46 sacks with the BEST GUARDS IN FOOTBALL is a product of him holding the ball way too long.

          • Jason

            And learn football, a quick decision-maker like Eli Manning doesn’t need great OTs. Eli took 27 sacks behind the Giants OL which featured the worst OTs in the NFL. Rodgers took 46 sacks behind the Packers OL. Which OL was better as pass-blocking? Packers by a mile. So why did Rodgers take 19 more sacks? Think about it.

          • Jason

            What’s funny is Eli Manning is a more pure fit in the WCO than Aaron Rodgers.

            http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/greg-cosell-s-film-review–eli-manning-thriving-in-efficient-giants-scheme-221841103.html

            Money quote from Greg Cosell: “You’d even have to say that the offense, as it’s drawn up on a chalkboard, is run more purely by Manning than it is by Aaron Rodgers. They’re different quarterbacks. Rodgers is a second reaction player. He’ll make plays late in the down. Manning is more of a rhythm thrower in this offense, getting the ball out fast right after the snap.”

  • crosseyedlemon

    I guess we shouldn’t mention that Matt Stafford had a better passer rating than Rodgers in both games last season. Looked like holding on the Hail Mary TD but in any event the Packers showed a total lack of class by going for 2 afterwards with a 4 point lead an no time left.

    • Brian Dugan

      As a Packers fan, the butthurt-nonsense combination in this comment is amazing.

  • Scott West

    Rodgers is good, but he’s never been the best. He one of the worst good QBs at overcoming adversity; when his teams are losing in the 2nd half, they go on to lose, far too regularly. Compare that to Brady who takes the chances and makes the plays necessary to come from behind and win.

    • O D R O G

      Like Rodgers but agree with this

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    • Chad Lundberg

      Even if that were true, that doesn’t mean he isn’t the best in the game. He is very easily the best, maybe the best ever.

    • FanMan

      There was a pretty interesting article I read a while back that talked about Rodgers record when trailing games in the 4th. I cant find it but it brought up a lot of good points. One was that GB has allowed 20 something game-winning drives since 2008 which which was the third most during that span. I think that just shows how bad the defense has been for the Packers and completely collapsing in the fourth. Just look at the Packers last two lost playoff games. Against the Seahawks Rodgers tied the game and sent it to overtime and then never touched the ball again as the Seahawks scored in 6 plays. Then last year against the Cardinals Rodgers takes the ball from GBs 4 yard line with 4th and 20 and leads to a TD to tie it only for the defense to collapse and let Fitzgerald go 75 yards on the first play.

      Another interesting piece from the article is that when trailing by 8 or less with 5 min left in the 4th quarter, Rodgers has the second highest QBR since 2008. Only behind Eli Manning and 10 points higher than Brady.

      While Rodgers is not perfect in the 4th quarter, I really do not believe he is as bad as people like to try and point out.

    • ThatBearzGuy

      Never been the best? I guess those two (2) MVPs don’t count for much.

      HE IS THE HIGHEST RATED PASSER OF ALL TIME.

    • Farnham Chatsworth III

      Brady is a cheater. Rodgers is not.

    • Arthur Jackson

      That all started with Scott Kazmir article back in 2010 right after Rodgers “failed” to make a comeback against Pittsburgh. I pointed out that that game time his previous trailing in the fourth quarter game, the 2009 Cardinal playoff game were rather interesting.

      In those two games Rodgers had three 4th quarters drives. The very first drive he trailed by two TDs. In the other five drives he trailed by one TD. Rodgers totals for those 6 drives: 15 completions on 22 attempts for 240 yards and 4 TDs. The two non passing TD drives he was 5-5 for 104 yards. Thanks to the Packer defense failing to stop either team on one single drive those go down as failures in Scott Kazmir’s big book of 4th quarter comebacks which he says is the most important measuring stick of a QB.

  • John StackDecker

    Brady is great but Rodgers is already the best of all time.

    • Jared

      Except in the playoffs, his W/L record is average. Russell Wilson already has as many playoff wins as Rodgers.

  • Rolo Tomassi

    Ayyy fuuuny
    Aron Rogets issa 12th rated QB inna leeg las yeer anna no top 100 plaaer
    ah haha