Here is a list of the highest “adjusted net yards per attempt” through 7 games, going back to 1960. Rodgers is #2, behind only Tom Brady in 2007. At this point, Rodgers is leading the league in yards per attempt, completion percentage, and touchdown percentage, and barely off the lead in interception percentage. If there was such a thing as the quadruple crown, he would be in the running.
Some of the other suspects on the list of greatest QB seasons of all-time are on that hot start list, and Rodgers is right there with Dan Marino in 1984, Kurt Warner in 1999, and Peyton Manning in 2004. His 20 touchdown passes match where Marino was in his record-setting season, and are two of Manning’s record pace in 2004 (when he broke Marino’s TD record).
Passing offense has exploded with rules that limit the defense, so we must adjust to the league environment. Even with that, Rodgers is currently on pace for a Top 10 season of all-time. I’ll make reference to the league adjusted numbers at pro-football-reference from time to time, and as a reminder, a score of 100 represents league average. Every increase of 15 equals one more standard deviation better than the average. A score of 130 in a category, for example, would be two standard deviations better than the average passer, and would easily put someone in MVP consideration in most years.
Aaron Rodgers’ league adjusted scores are 151 for Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt, 152 for Passer Rating, 147 for Yards Per Attempt, 135 for Completion Percentage, and 143 for Touchdown Percentage. That’s pretty impressive. We don’t have sack rate data before 1970, but here are the Adjusted Yards Per Attempt ratings, Passer Rating score, and team points per game (with league rank in parentheses) of the seasons that would be on the short list for greatest of all-time. Here are fifteen candidates for me:
- Tom Brady, 2007: 142 NYA+, 142 Rate+, 36.8 PPG (1st)
- Peyton Manning, 2004: 149 NYA+, 151 Rate+, 32.6 PPG (1st)
- Joe Montana, 1989: 145 NYA+, 149 Rate+, 27.6 PPG (1st)
- Otto Graham, 1953: 148 NYA+, 142 Rate+, 29.0 PPG (4th)
- Steve Young, 1994, 143 NYA+, 147 Rate+, 31.6 PPG (1st)
- Sid Luckman, 1943: 147 NYA+, 143 Rate+, 30.3 PPG (1st)
- Dan Marino, 1984: 141 NYA+, 141 Rate+, 32.1 PPG (1st)
- Kurt Warner, 1999: 133 NYA+, 136 Rate+, 32.9 PPG (1st)
- Bert Jones, 1976: 143 NYA+, 139 Rate+, 29.8 PPG (1st)
- Randall Cunningham, 1998: 136 NYA+, 134 Rate+, 34.8 PPG (1st)
- Johnny Unitas, 1964: 136 NYA+, 125 Rate+, 30.6 PPG (1st)
- Steve Young, 1992: 142 NYA+, 142 Rate+, 26.9 PPG (1st)
- Joe Montana, 1984: 133 NYA+, 134 Rate+, 29.7 PPG (2nd)
- Bart Starr, 1966: 135 NYA+, 135 Rate+, 23.9 PPG (4th)
- Dan Fouts, 1981: 126 NYA+, 125 Rate+, 29.9 PPG (1st)
Right now, Rodgers is above 150 in both those categories, and the team is averaging almost 33 points per game. The defensive schedule will get a little tougher late, and the weather will come into play (though because the numbers will be league adjusted, that will somewhat be negated). If his performance holds steady at the insane pace so far in 2011, it would be in the conversation for one of the best ever. If he merely plays like Aaron Rodgers from 2009 and 2010, the guy who couldn’t win playoff games or close games but was otherwise a top five quarterback, then it will still be on that list above.
Drew Brees and Tom Brady and their offenses are both playing really well also, and in an average year would be having MVP type starts. Aaron Rodgers, though, could be having a season for the ages. I expressed my doubt about the Packers being the clear favorite, because the defense has been vulnerable. If you look at the above list, a lot of those guys did not end up winning a title and a lot can happen. But Rodgers is right there with the greats of the game. Brett Favre is probably surprised it took him this long to have a season like Peyton Manning in 2004 or Dan Marino in 1984, but after this year, we can put comparisons to Favre to rest and just bring in the rest of the game’s greats.
[photo via Getty]