Air and Space: Rodgers' season

October, 29, 2009
10/29/09
1:45
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

This feature is one of our primary ways to track the ups and downs of the NFL’s unique group of quarterbacks. We’ve used a number of different statistics to measure Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre. Yet like many others, I think we’ve failed to adequately recognize the six-game start to Rodgers’ season.

Statistics alone are not enough to judge a player. No matter how creative or analytic the numbers might be, it can’t paint the entire picture. But statistics certainly can provide an illustrative snapshot, and I think we should all take a look at what Rodgers has done so far. Take a gander at this compilation of his performance and where it ranks among NFL starters:

Aaron Rodgers in 2009
Category Performance NFL rank
Avg. per attempt 9.3 1
Passer rating with added pressure 136.7 1
Passes of 40-plus yards 8 T-1
Rating 110.8 2
INTs (fewest) 2 T-3
Passes of 20-plus yards 24 T-5
Yards per game 283.7 6
Red Zone rating 106.6 7
Comp. pct. 65.8 8
TDs 11 T-8
Source: NFL, ESPN Stats & Information

The Packers’ passing offense has been so consistently good over the past two decades that people might simply expect these kind of numbers from whoever plays quarterback. The NFL named Rodgers its NFC offensive player of the month, and heading into Sunday’s showdown at Lambeau Field, I thought coach Mike McCarthy had an appropriate reaction.

“It’s funny,” McCarthy said. “It reminds me a little bit of the way my father raised me. You never really knew where you stood. Aaron Rodgers, he just won the NFC offensive player of the month and we haven’t even given him a game ball yet.”

Statistics increase in value as the time sample grows, so consider it this way: If Rodgers continues his current pace, he’ll finish with 4,500 yards, 29 touchdowns and five interceptions. I think we would all agree how special those numbers would be -- even if they are accompanied by a projection of 66 sacks.

Along those lines, let’s take a look at what Rodgers has done since taking over as the Packers’ starter last year, a 22-game period that admittedly includes a 10-12 record.

Aaron Rodgers since taking Packers starting job
Games Comp. Att. Pct. Yards TD INT Sacks Rating Record
22 462 720 64.1 5,740 39 15 59 98.1 10-12

As long as Rodgers maintains that performance -- and, in reality, the numbers have risen steadily since the start of 2008 -- he has to be considered one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. I think he’s pushing the top 5. Feel free to dispute this list, but here are the quarterbacks I would absolutely take before Rodgers:
  1. Peyton Manning
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Ben Roethlisberger
  4. Tom Brady

Based on this season alone, I would probably put Favre on that list as well. But his future beyond this season makes him a risky long-term choice.

Rodgers told Wisconsin reporters that his performance last Sunday against Cleveland was one of his "better games." Overall, however, he said: “I still feel like my best is in front of me. I’m always looking for ways to improve and being very critical of the way I’ve been playing ….”

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