Spotlight: Aaron Rodgers

posted by Jeff Haseley on Jul 17th


Jeff Haseley's thoughts

Death, taxes and successful Green Bay QBs

Between Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the last 50 years sure seem that way. It makes you wonder what happened to Lynn Dickey? Getting back to the present day, in the last two years, Aaron Rodgers has finished as the 2nd best fantasy QB and the top ranked QB. He has surpassed 4,000 yards passing and 30 total TDs in each of his first two years as a starter. He rises above other stalwarts at the position, because of his rushing ability and tendency to find the end zone as a rusher. He averages less than 20 yards rushing per game, but his 9 rushing TDs in two years is enough to give him an edge when comparing him to other fantasy QBs. The only question is, can we count on him to keep doing it?

Are sacks helping or hurting his stats?

Rodgers was sacked an NFL high 50 times last year, which was 16 more than the year prior. Interestingly enough, Rodgers threw for nearly 400 more yards as a result. It somewhat makes sense. The more times sacked, the more yards needed to sustain drives. Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger each were sacked 50 times last year. Interestingly enough, both were ranked first and second in passing yards on 2nd and 3rd down plays with 10+ yards to go. In fact, about a quarter of Rodgers' total passing yards came on that down and distance range. In 2009, Rodgers was 14th among all QBs in passing yards on 1st and 10 or higher. This suggests he finds success when his back is against the wall. As long as he stays healthy, the sacks apparently are padding his stats not hurting them.

Is Rodgers the undisputed Top Fantasy QB?

When factoring in his 50-60 additional fantasy points due to his rushing statistics, it's hard to argue anyone is a better fantasy QB. Can we expect him to repeat those numbers again? If you're taking him as the first QB off the board, you better hope he does. For argument sake, here's how he compares to other QBs in terms of passing stats?

QBs ahead of Rodgers in passing categories

2009
Completions:(5) Schaub, Brady, Manning, Favre, Brees
Attempts:(6) Schaub, Manning, Brady, Cutler, Romo, Orton
Passing yards:(3) Schaub, Manning, Romo
Passing TDs:(3) Brees, Favre, Manning
QB rating:(3) Brees, Favre, Rivers

2008
Completions:(6) Brees, Warner, Cutler, Manning, McNabb, Favre
Attempts:(5) Brees, Cutler, Warner, McNabb, Manning
Passing yards:(3) Brees, Warner, Cutler
Passing TDs:(3) Rivers, Brees, Warner
QB rating:(5) Rivers, Pennington, Warner, Brees, Manning

Rodgers is among the top five or six in every major passing category, but he is not the leader in any of them. If his rushing yards and rushing TDs decrease, expect a Top 5 finish at best with little chance for a Top 2 finish. That may be enough to convince some people that selecting him in the first round is a reach. Six, if not seven other QBs can put up similar stats that can be selected a few rounds later.

Mr. Clutch - On third down, there is no better QB over the last two years than Rodgers, as evidenced by the below stats.

Third down passing stats 2008-2009

  • Completions - 1st (209)
  • Attempts - 1st (318)
  • Passing TDs - 1st (28)
  • Yards per attempt - 1st (9.5)
  • Passing yards - 1st (3,036 yds) The next closest is Drew Brees at 2,444 yards
  • Passing first downs - 1st (149)
  • TD - INT - 1st (23)
  • Fantasy Points - 1st (295.7)

Offensive Juggernaut

The Packers scored 50 offensive TDs last year. Only the Saints (55) and Vikings (53) scored more. If the balance of passing scores (30) to rushing scores (20) shifts in favor of passing, Rodgers could be looking at a season with 35+ TDs. There are plenty of receiving weapons, most notably WR Greg Jennings, emerging TE Jermichael Finley, veteran WR Donald Driver and up and coming WRs James Jones and Jordy Nelson. The offense is in position to be even more productive than last year, especially if third-year TE Jermichael Finley continues to develop and dominate, as expected.

Positives

  • Rodgers is a well-rounded QB that excels in several areas. What sets him apart from other high-scoring QBs is his tendency to score rushing TDs. From a fantasy perspective, the rushing aspect of his game makes him a complete QB with an outstanding crew of receivers that surrounds him. He is in a great opportunity to excel and produce in 2010.
  • He performs well in the clutch. The third down stats mentioned above tell the story. Rodgers may have been sacked 50 times last year, but he more than made up for it by producing on third down.
  • Tough, durable and gritty. Rodgers has been known to play through pain and play well. In two years as the starter, he has not missed a game.

Negatives

  • What sets him apart from other elite high-scoring QBs is his tendency to score rushing TDs - 4.5 per year. Eventually those will decrease to the point where it will no longer separate him from the rest of the best. The rushing TDs are a bonus to his overall value as a fantasy QB, but they cant be relied upon year after year.
  • Rodgers is being drafted as the first QB off the board, often late in the first round. The QB position, especially at the top, is very deep - going six to seven deep of QBs who are capable of 30 TD passes and 4,000 yards passing. The value doesn't drop off that much a few rounds later, especially if you believe the rushing TDs will decrease.
  • 50 sacks! As mentioned above, the increase in sacks indirectly resulted in more passing yards, however they can also be a danger in the form of potential injury. QBs that are more susceptible to sacks have a greater risk of injury. Rodgers would definitely fall into that category. He may have been durable for his first two years as a starter, but all it takes is one bad tackle or pile up on any given sack, to result in an injury that could shelve him for multiple games.

Final thoughts

Not many QBs have finished in the Top 2 in each of the first two years as a starting QB. Rodgers possesses a great balance of skills, talent, ability and surrounding cast that has catapulted him to one of the league's better QBs. As a fantasy QB, he rises above the rest, because he can score as a rusher in addition to passing. That increases the chances of more total scores on any given week. He failed to score two TDs in a game only four times last year, with seven games of three scores or more. He is a safe bet to be one of the league's Top 5 passers in 2010, but if you draft him as the first QB off the board, you better hope the rushing scores continue. If they don't there are four to five other QBs who could keep pace with his fantasy production.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

rzrback77 said:

Aaron Rodgers has two years as the starting QB for the Packers and he has finished as the #2 and then #1 fantasy QB. He has everything that he needs to succeed as a fantasy QB. He has a very solid receiving corps that provides him with multiple options, Jennings - Driver- James Jones at WR, Finley at TE, and decent receiving RBs in Grant and Jackson. He has some speed and ability to run as witnessed by his 511 rushing yards and 9 TDs over two seasons.

His completion percentage was 63.6% in his first year as a starter and went up to 64.7% last year. His yards per attempt was solid at 7.5 in 08 and climbed to 8.2 last year. His TDs went up from 28 to 30, while his ints dropped from 13 to 7. A year ago, he was rushed unmercifully and yet still managed outstanding production and his Offensive Line should be improved.

Even if Donald Driver finally starts to lose a step, the Packers have solid depth in stand-by mode with Jones and Nelson. At this point, all systems are go for Aaron Rodgers. Its only a matter if you are ready and willing to pull the trigger soon enough. His current ADP is QB 1 and 9 overall, so it will take a heavy commitment to land him on your roster.

Senior Writer Jason Wood said:

The whacky thing about Rodgers is his rushing productivity. I've seen a lot of people make the case that Rodgers should be in a tier of his own atop the standings, pointing to the fact he gets elite passing numbers but also stealthily throws in meaningful rushing tallies, too. The real question we need to ask ourselves is how random has his last two seasons been in terms of the ground game?

2008 -- 56 rushes for 207 yards and 4 TDs
2009 -- 58 rushes for 318 yards and 5 TDs

All that, while throwing for 4,000+ yards in each season.

Here are the NFL QBs in league history that have thrown for 4,000+ yards and rushed for 4+ TDs in the same season:

Jeff Garcia -- 2000
Don Jamkowski -- 1989
Peyton Manning -- 2001
Peyton Manning -- 2006
Scott Mitchell -- 1995
Aaron Rodgers -- 2008
Aaron Rodgers -- 2009
Steve Young -- 1998

Now there are nuances to this list. The first thing that strikes me is the presence of Peyton Manning, TWICE. I've been playing fantasy football and writing for Footballguys for the entirely of Manning's career and I would be lying if I said I recalled his ever rushing for 4 TDs, much less having done so twice. But a quick glance at Manning's stats tells you that he's a different beast. In one of those years, his 4 TDs came on a whopping 36 rushing yards lol.gif and the other season he ran 35 times for 157 yards.

Rodgers has run 50+ times for a much higher average, and is 2-for-2 in seasons as a starter doing so.

So out of curiosity, I changed the screen and looked instead at 4,000 yard passers with 50+ rushing attempts in the season.

Mark Brunell -- 1996
Daunte Culpepper -- 2004
Jay Cutler -- 2008
Rich Gannon -- 2002
Jeff Garcia -- 2000
Don Majkowski -- 1989
Warren Moon -- 1990
Jake Plummer -- 2004
Aaron Rodgers -- 2008
Aaron Rodgers -- 2009
Steve Young -- 1993
Steve Young -- 1998

A more interesting list of players, and more indicative of athletic passers that one might compare Rodgers to if asked for comparable analogs. But what's interesting is that only Steve Young has thrown for 4,000 yards and had 50+ rushing attempts more than once, aside from Rodgers. So understand that Rodgers will be breaking new NFL ground if he continues with his current rushing prowess.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

As I said 2 years ago, the Packers knew exactly what they were doing when they let Brett Farve go. Farve has played well but they couldn't let this talent leave so that they could play the games Farve plays every offseason. The Packers are close to being an elite team. There defense is solid, the running games is improving and it looks like they now have a very good TE to throw toin the red zone.

Aaron Rodgers is big, strong and quite simply can make some throws that other QB in the league can't make right now. Rodgers is the most dangerous QB in the league to opposing defenses. The guy can run for first downs and make 30 yard out passes off his back foot.

J-Dawg said:

There's no secret of my love for Aaron Rodgers and my view that he's one of the best dynasty players in the league right now and somebody that you can no question build a team around. I don't see him continuing to put up the great rushing numbers, but I don't see him getting significantly less either. His passing stats should hover close to the same as his first two years and given his age he's clearly the top QB in dynasty.


Aaron Rodgers projections

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