This past summer when the Green Bay Packers were negotiating with Aaron Rodgers on a contract extension to make him the highest paid player in NFL history, you couldn’t find anyone outside of Skip Bayless who didn’t think he deserved it. After all, he was still only 34 years old, and an argument had been made by many (myself included), that he was not only the greatest quarterback of his era, but the greatest quarterback of all-time. From 2009 to 2014, Rodgers’ Total QBR only dipped below 69.2 once and his passer rating never dropped below 101.2. The best passer rating for a career outside of Aaron Rodgers is 100.3 by Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks (minimum 1,500 attempts). This year, Rodgers’ passer rating was still a respectable 97.6, but his Total QBR, which measures the total impact of a quarterback’s play, has dropped to 60.2, good for 16th in the NFL.
So much has been made of Rodgers’ ability to avoid throwing interceptions. For his career, he holds the NFL record for highest touchdown-to-interception ratio at 4.22. Second place is Russell Wilson at 3.11. And this year, Rodgers improved his ratio by throwing 25 TDs and only 2 interceptions, including an NFL record 402 consecutive passes without an interception that was snapped in Week 15 against the Bears (the previous record was 358 by Tom Brady).
Going off of these statistics, you would think Aaron Rodgers’ 2018 season was one of the best of his career; but instead, he had arguably his worst season as a full-time starter. Let’s start with his TD passes. Rodgers finished with the 13th most TD passes this season at 25—the lowest mark of his career for a season in which he played at least 10 games.
What’s worse was his TD percentage (percentage of passes that are TD passes) of 4.2%, which is 1.0% worse than his worst mark before this season of 5.2%. Rodgers finished 21st in the NFL in TD percentage, right between Nick Mullen (4.7%) and Dak Prescott (4.2%). Rodgers should not be sandwiched between an undrafted rookie and Dak Prescott for any statistic.
Another telling stat that demonstrated Aaron Rodgers diminished play this year was his yards per attempt. Up until this year, Rodgers has been arguably the greatest deep ball passer the NFL has ever seen. But this year he averaged only 7.4 yards per pass attempt, which put him at 17th in the league and below his career average of 7.8 yards per attempt. Part of this can be attributed to Mike McCarthy’s West Coast system, where way too many of Rodgers’ throws were quick passes just a few yards downfield that were reliant on the pass catcher creating yards after the catch. But the real issue was that even when Rodgers tried to throw the ball downfield, the results just weren’t what they used to be. He was inaccurate more often than not this year when launching the ball downfield, usually overthrowing his intended receiver by at least a few yards. The pinpoint accuracy that Rodgers has displayed for almost his entire career just wasn’t there this year. It’s gotten to the point where it is fair to question if Rodgers’ broken right collarbone that he suffered last year negatively impacted his arm.
One more statistic for Rodgers’ that might be his most alarming one for the year is his completion percentage. For his career, Rodgers’ completion percentage is 64.8%, good for 8th all-time. However, this year Rodgers finished with the 26th best completion percentage in the league at 62.3%. Seven quarterbacks finished with a worse percentage than Rodgers (Case Keenum, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Blake Bortles, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Josh Allen). Three of those players are rookies, two were benched by their teams for poor performance, and only one of those players’ teams made the playoffs (thank you Lamar Jackson).
Rodgers is undeniably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, quarterback in NFL history. And for each of the last 6 or 7 years when he has been healthy, he has looked like the best quarterback in the NFL. But this year was different. For the first time since his first year as a starter, the Packers did not make the playoffs in a year where Rodgers played at least 10 games. Some of Rodgers down numbers can be attributed to Mike McCarthy’s antiquated and unimaginative offensive scheme. But McCarthy isn’t the coach anymore, and Rodgers is going to need to show that with Matt LaFleur’s hopefully much more creative system next year, he is still the best quarterback in the world.
As of right now though, a legitimate argument can be made that Rodgers is no longer the best in the league. Pat Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs had a phenomenal regular season that will most likely culminate in a MVP award. Russell Wilson also showed that he deserves to be considered as the league’s best QB after taking a Seattle team nobody thought had a chance at making the playoffs to a 10-6 record and the 5 seed in the NFC. And sure, you can point to all the weapons Mahomes has at his disposal and the system he plays in and argue that if Mahomes was swapped out for Rodgers on the Chiefs, Rodgers would put up as good, if not better, numbers than Mahomes.
But how do you argue Rodgers over Wilson? Wilson did more with less around him than Rodgers. Wilson’s best weapon last year is Aaron Rodgers current tight end, Jimmy Graham. Wilson’s best wide receiver from a year ago, Doug Baldwin, battled knee issues all season before starting to return to form towards the end of the year. And yet, even with all of that working against him, Wilson still had a higher completion percentage, touchdown percentage, passer rating, QBR, and more yards per attempt and TD passes than Aaron Rodgers. Oh, and his team finished with a better record and won a head-to-head meeting earlier this season against Rodgers.
At the end of the day, one bad season shouldn’t wipe away all the incredible plays Rodgers has made that have made him, up until this season at least, unquestionably the best quarterback in the league. But there are compelling arguments to be made for Mahomes, Wilson, and one or two other quarterbacks as the best in the NFL, and that is something we haven’t been able to say for a long time.