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Aaron Rodgers, career passing leader

Posted by Chase Stuart on January 30, 2011

Mike Tanier, a regular contributor at Football Outsiders and the New York Times' Fifth Down blog, recently penned an article for MSNBC discussing Aaron Rodgers' ridiculous quarterback rating. Believe it or not, he's number one all-time in that metric:

                                                                                        
                                        Game    Pass                                    
Rk                Player From   To  Tm     G     Cmp   Att  Cmp%   Yds  TD Int Rate  Y/A
1          Aaron  Rodgers 2005 2010 GNB    54    1038  1611 64.4% 12723  87  32 98.4 7.90
2          Philip  Rivers 2004 2010 SDG    84    1564  2455 63.7% 19661 136  58 97.2 8.01
3           Steve  Young* 1985 1999 TOT   169    2667  4149 64.3% 33124 232 107 96.8 7.98
4              Tony  Romo 2004 2010 DAL    89    1326  2070 64.1% 16650 118  62 95.5 8.04
5              Tom  Brady 2000 2010 NWE   145    2996  4710 63.6% 34744 261 103 95.2 7.38
6         Peyton  Manning 1998 2010 CLT   208    4682  7210 64.9% 54828 399 198 94.9 7.60
7            Kurt  Warner 1998 2009 TOT   125    2666  4070 65.5% 32344 208 128 93.7 7.95
8     Ben  Roethlisberger 2004 2010 PIT    99    1766  2800 63.1% 22502 144  86 92.5 8.04
9           Joe  Montana* 1979 1994 TOT   192    3409  5391 63.2% 40551 273 139 92.3 7.52
10            Drew  Brees 2001 2010 TOT   138    3145  4822 65.2% 35266 235 132 91.7 7.31
11           Matt  Schaub 2004 2010 TOT    92    1288  1987 64.8% 15457  83  52 91.5 7.78
12       Chad  Pennington 2000 2010 TOT    89    1632  2471 66.0% 17823 102  64 90.1 7.21
13      Daunte  Culpepper 1999 2009 TOT   105    2016  3199 63.0% 24153 149 106 87.8 7.55
14           Jeff  Garcia 1999 2009 TOT   125    2264  3676 61.6% 25537 161  83 87.5 6.95
15         Carson  Palmer 2004 2010 CIN    97    2024  3217 62.9% 22694 154 100 86.9 7.05


Tanier points out how ridiculous it is that Rodgers, no slouch by any means, ranks first all-time in quarterback rating. He hit on the two biggest reasons Rodgers ranks inappropriately high on the list, the same two reasons I cited when discussing Tony Romo's yards per attempt ratio back in August. First, he plays in the modern era, and completion percentage and therefore passer rating are higher now than ever. Second, he's played during only the "fat" part of his career, missing out on the lean years as an inexperienced, 22-year-old and an over-the-hill, 38-year-old.

In the Romo post, I was looking at yards per attempt, not passer rating. Another key statistic is left out of both formulas: sacks. Rodgers led the league in sacks in '09, although he's matched the league average in sack rate in his other two seasons. A complete picture of Rodgers the passer would include sacks and adjusted for both era and age. Essentially, it's nothing more than trivia to note that Rodgers has the greatest passer rating in NFL history. A much better question would be, where does he rank in ANY/A+ (ANY/A adjusted for era) from ages 25 through 27? The table below shows the top QBs from 1969 to 2010 in ANY/A+, with a minimum of 672 pass attempts (224 attempts is the minimum attempts required in a single season to be listed among the leaders in per-attempt numbers) and 30 games played (to filter out players who are less comparable to Rodgers):

Games Passing Advanced Passing
Rk Player From To Tm G Att Yds TD Int Rate Sk SkYds ANY/A+
1 Bert Jones 1976 1978 CLT 31 778 6160 45 21 92.2 61 567 129
2 Dan Marino* 1986 1988 MIA 44 1673 12425 98 59 87.4 32 227 124
3 Boomer Esiason 1986 1988 CIN 44 1297 10852 68 50 85.6 82 648 123
4 Ken Anderson 1974 1976 CIN 40 1043 8203 58 35 88.9 102 774 122
5 Brett Favre 1994 1996 GNB 48 1695 12194 110 40 95.3 104 646 121
6 Tony Romo 2005 2007 DAL 48 857 7114 55 32 96.5 45 300 121
7 Drew Brees 2004 2006 TOT 47 1454 11153 77 33 96.2 63 459 120
8 Joe Montana* 1981 1983 SFO 41 1349 10088 62 35 90.6 79 583 120
9 Troy Aikman* 1991 1993 DAL 42 1228 9299 49 30 91.7 81 489 118
10 Jim Everett 1988 1990 RAM 48 1589 12263 83 52 86.2 87 609 118
11 Dan Fouts* 1976 1978 SDG 33 849 6403 42 41 79.1 71 427 118
12 Aaron Rodgers 2008 2010 GNB 47 1552 12394 86 31 99.4 115 730 118
13 Peyton Manning 2001 2003 CLT 48 1704 12598 82 52 90.7 70 484 116
14 Daunte Culpepper 2002 2004 MIN 46 1551 12049 82 45 94.1 130 678 115
15 Scott Mitchell 1993 1995 TOT 38 1062 7567 54 31 83.5 50 257 115
16 Philip Rivers 2006 2008 SDG 48 1398 10549 77 35 93.5 74 458 115
17 Marc Bulger 2002 2004 RAM 36 1231 9635 57 42 89.7 90 692 112
18 Carson Palmer 2004 2006 CIN 45 1461 10768 78 43 91.5 80 516 112
19 Doug Williams 1980 1982 TAM 41 1299 9030 48 41 72.3 52 457 112
20 Steve Grogan 1978 1980 NWE 44 1091 8585 61 65 71.6 83 663 111
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/29/2011.

Rodgers still looks good, of course: he's a very good, if not great, quarterback. But he drops from being the best ever in a flawed statistic to merely being one of the top 20 quarterbacks over the past 40 years in a more reasoned analysis. He looks as good as Joe Montana or Troy Aikman or Dan Fouts, but not necessarily any better than Jim Everett, Daunte Culpepper or Scott Mitchell. Three of the top four quarterbacks at this age failed to make the Hall of Fame one day, although Jones was on pace before injury while Anderson and Esiason are perhaps the two best quarterbacks to have been passed over for the Hall half a dozen times or more.

The obvious response, of course, is "Are you kidding me? Aaron Rodgers has as much in common with Duante Culpepper, Jim Everett and Scott Mitchell as he does with Giselle. Those guys stunk." But that's only with the benefit of hindsight.

At age 25, Everett led the NFL in touchdown passes. The next season, he did it again, while jumping to second in yards per attempt. At age 27, he made his first Pro Bowl. From '88 to '90, Everett ranked 2nd in pasing yards each season. All three seasons, he ranked in the top ten in ANY/A, finishing 5th, 2nd and 9th.

In 1993, at age 25, Scott Mitchell replaced an injured Dan Marino and posted impressive numbers, ranking 2nd in the league in net yards per attempt and third in ANY/A. He went to the Lions in the off-season, but had a dissapointing first year in Detroit. Then, at age 27, Mitchell tore up the league, finishing in the top three in passing yards, completions and touchdowns, while ranking fifth in adjusted net yards per attempt.

At age 25, Duante Culpepper seemed to be going backwards. As a first-year starter ate age 23, Culpepper led the league in touchdown passes and averaged 7.3 ANY/A. That ratio dropped to 5.3 in '01 and then 4.9 in '02. He rushed for 609 yards and 10 touchdowns, but was regressing as a passer. But Culpepper turned things around at age 26, ranking third in the league in AY/A, fourth in ANY/A and even third in passer rating. Then he exploded in 2004, challenging Peyton Manning for much of the season for the title of best quarterback in the league. Culpepper had a 110.9 QB rating, led the league in passing yards, set a league record for most total yards in a season, and averaged 8.0 ANY/A, a mark that had only been reached eight times before 2004 in league history.

Rodgers? At age 25, he ranked 10th in ANY/A. The next year, he finished 6th, and in 2010 he ranked third in our favorite metric. He ranked 10th in net yards per attempt in '09 and then 2nd this year in that statistic. Rodgers looks the part of a great quarterback, and has almost no blemishes on his resume (although for awhile, detractors liked to say that he couldn't win close games). He's smarter than Scott Mitchell, more consistent than Duante Culpepper and more athletic than Jim Everett.

As far as consistency goes, Rodgers is part of a select group: he's one of just five quarterbacks to produce an AY/A+ of 110 or better in all three years from ages 25 to 27, joining Troy Aikman, Ken Anderson, John Hadl and Joe Montana. So I'm certainly not going to make any prediction that Rodgers will turn into the next Jim Everett. If I had to guess, I'd say that Rodgers will go on to be remembered as one of the great quarterbacks of the '10s. I just wanted to note that it's important to look at things the correct way, and using passer rating is anything but that. He looks like a current and future star, but he hasn't been so much better than every other quarterback in history that his future is preordained. While he's got some fantastic comparables, a more complete analysis would note that he hasn't been noticeably better than some guys who ended up peaking at age 27.

This entry was posted on Sunday, January 30th, 2011 at 2:03 pm and is filed under Quarterbacks. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.