Is Aaron Rodgers Still the NFL’s Best Quarterback?

The 36-year-old has been in decline since winning his second MVP five years ago

Can We Stop Saying Aaron Rodgers Is the NFL's Best Quarterback?
Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in 2018. (Dylan Buell/Getty)
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Though he’s generally regarded as the greatest quarterback of all time, six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, now 42 years old, is no longer the best quarterback in the NFL. In barrooms, boardrooms and everywhere else where football is discussed — including league offices — many still tout Aaron Rodgers as the NFL’s best quarterback. But they shouldn’t.

Sure, with his 42,944 passing yards and 338:80 career touchdown-to-interception ratio in the regular season, Rodgers can stake a claim to being pro football’s best QB, but his case — at least at this juncture in his career — has more holes in it than a Green Bay cheesehead.

Turning 36 in December, Rodgers appears to be on the downslope of his career, and Green Bay’s record in recent years reflects that. Since Rodgers won his second MVP in 2014, the Packers have gone a cumulative 30-24-1 with Rodgers under center (he missed nine games due to injury) and his personal statistics have dipped as well: his yards per passing attempt have dropped more than a yard from his previous career average of 8.3 to 7.1, while his TD rate has fallen a full percentage point, from 6.6 to 5.6 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Perhaps more concerning is that the Packers have missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons and only won six games last year, the lowest win total of Rodgers’s career since his rookie year, before his health was a concern.

Can We Stop Saying Aaron Rodgers Is the NFL's Best Quarterback?
Aaron Rodgers during the first half of a preseason game in 2019 (Todd Olszewski/Getty)
Todd Olszewski/Getty

To help right the ship, the Packers parted ways with Super Bowl-winning coach Mike McCarthy in the middle of last season and hired former Tennesee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur this offseason. Now, LaFleur will be tasked with doing something McCarthy was never able to do: get Rodgers to take what the defense gives him.

Like a reporter using an ostentatious word when a simple one will do, Rodgers has a tendency to go for the big play instead of settling for the easy throw. The ability to make those plays — and there aren’t many quarterbacks who can — is what makes Rodgers great, but it’s also what often puts him in a position to get injured and routinely leaves the Packers facing third-and-longs. It’s not a question of talent: Rodgers makes the toughest throws in football look easy. Rather, it’s an indictment of the way he plays his position.

After reviewing All-22 Coaches Film on Rodgers, analyst Bucky Brooks concluded Rodgers has an overwhelming preference “for the three-point shot over the layup.”

“Rodgers would rather launch the ball down the field off an impromptu scramble than take the ‘cheap’ yards available on a checkdown to the running back,” Brooks writes. “This prevents Rodgers from attacking the defense from all angles, the kind of approach that allows Tom Brady and Drew Brees to provide highly efficient play from the pocket year in and year out.”

When Rodgers blends his pocket presence with his scrambling ability, as he did during the 2017 playoffs against the Cowboys, it comes off like as smooth jazz. When it goes poorly, as it did last year, when he was sacked 49 times for a career-worst 353 yards lost, it leaves the Packers flat.

As Bleacher Report detailed in a piece about the end of the McCarthy era in Green Bay, that throw to Jared Cook in the ’17 playoffs in 2017 is basically Rodgers in a nutshell. “Drawn up in the huddle,” writes B/R’s Tyler Dunne. “Rodgers told an uncovered guard to pull out with him, that he’d bait in a defender and dash left. ‘That’s what you’re dealing with,’ one former Packers coach says. ‘A guy who’ll do that. He might screw up a play Mike [McCarthy] called … [but] you have to give him credit for the good, too.”‘

None of that is to say Rodgers, who holds the record for career passing rating at 103.1, isn’t an elite NFL quarterback. Clearly, he is. But he’s got competition.

Leaving older quarterbacks like Brees, Brady, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger to the side to the side, here’s a quick look at how Rodgers compares with two quarterbacks who have been starting in the NFL as long as he has: Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco.

Is Aaron Rogers Overrated?
Aaron Rodgers compared to Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. (Courtesy of Pro Football Reference)

Rodgers has the best numbers out of the three nearly across the board despite playing the fewest games. But according to PFR’s stats, he trails both in another important area: his performance in the clutch. Over his career, Rodgers has led just 14 comebacks and 20 game-winning drives, as compared to 27 and 36 for Ryan and 18 and 24 for Flacco.

The regular-season statistical gap also narrows in the playoffs (QB rating of 88.6 for Flacco, 99.4 for Rodgers and 100.8 for Ryan), while Flacco actually has the best postseason record of the three at 10-5 (Rodgers is 9-7 and Ryan is 4-6).

Another player with a better postseason record than Rodgers? Russell Wilson. Through his first seven seasons in the NFL, Wilson — who has as many Super Bowl wins as Rodgers — has regular-season numbers which are almost on par with Green Bay’s seven-time Pro Bowler.

Aaron Rodgers vs Russell Wilson
Aaron Rodgers compared to Russell Wilson (Pro Football Reference)

As the numbers bear out, Wilson, along with third-year QB Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 5,097 yards and 50 TDs on the way to winning MVP last season, has just as much right to be in the conversation for the NFL’s best quarterback as Rodgers does.

That conversation begins anew tonight, when the Packers take on the Bears at Soldier Field. Given the nature of this article, the football gods will likely see to it that Rodgers has a monster game for Green Bay. And he should. Rodgers is the most talented quarterback in the NFL — but that doesn’t make him the best.

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