It only took one week for the Russell Wilson MVP season to take a back seat to the Aaron Rodgers 2020 Revenge Tour. A big part of that is Wilson playing fruitless Miami in Sunday’s early slate rather than roasting the winless Falcons on Monday night, but the fact is Wilson already has major competition from Rodgers, who seeks his third MVP and first since 2014.
On Tuesday, Rodgers took to Pat McAfee’s show and had this exchange about his so-called down years and how they would be career years for most quarterbacks:
If he’s counting backups, then of course he’s right about this. Rodgers has done more in the first four games this season than most backups have done in their whole careers.
But if we’re expanding this to the other 31 starting quarterbacks in 2020, then Rodgers is really stretching the definitions of “most” and “career years.” Even if we’re being generous and looking for 15 quarterbacks to qualify, he still comes up short, and it’s only a number as high as it is because of the current youth movement at the position with a lot of first and second-year starters in place.
Step 1: Which Seasons Are Down Year Aaron?
First, let’s figure out what “down years” are for Rodgers so we can count how many quarterbacks haven’t had a career year as good as them. His first year as a starter (2008) was good as far as expectations should go for a first-year starter in that era, but we’ll ignore that one since he technically had nothing to come down from at the time. I’m also going to overlook 2017 when he broke his collarbone again and missed nine full games.
This leaves three obvious choices, which also happen to be Rodgers’ bottom three seasons in ESPN’s QBR and completion percentage:
- 2015: The Jordy Nelson-less year, the 6-0 start, then the Denver nightmare and fall from grace.
- 2018: Mike McCarthy’s swansong as Rodgers fell in love with throwaways in a 6-9-1 season.
- 2019: The Packers made it to the NFC Championship Game, but Rodgers finished lower than ever (20th) in QBR and barely threw for 4,000 yards.
These are the three seasons we’ll work with.
Step 2: Cross Out the Obvious Ones
While we are undergoing a transition period at the position, there are still plenty of accomplished players, both young and old, at quarterback in the NFL. So let’s cross out all the obvious ones who have a career year better than any of Rodgers’ down years. Some of the peak years I’ve chosen could be debated (some have multiple listed for that reason), but there is no debate that these quarterbacks can say they’ve had a career year better than Rodgers’ 2015, 2018 or 2019.
- Tom Brady (peak: 2007)
- Philip Rivers (peak: 2008/2009)
- Drew Brees (peak: 2011)
- Matthew Stafford (peak: 2011)
- Nick Foles (peak: 2013)
- Ben Roethlisberger (peak: 2014)
- Cam Newton (peak: 2015)
- Russell Wilson (peak: 2015/2019)
- Matt Ryan (peak: 2016)
- Dak Prescott (peak: 2016)
- Derek Carr (peak: 2016)
- Carson Wentz (peak: 2017)
- Patrick Mahomes (peak: 2018)
- Jared Goff (peak: 2018)
- Deshaun Watson (peak: 2018/2019)
- Lamar Jackson (peak: 2019)
- Kirk Cousins (peak: 2019)
- Jimmy Garoppolo (peak: 2019)
- Ryan Tannehill (peak: 2019)
That’s already 19 quarterbacks, leaving 12 left besides Rodgers.
Step 3: The Dirty Dozen
As I list these 12 quarterbacks, note their years of experience in the NFL in parenthesis. Seven of them are in their first or second season.
- Joe Burrow (1)
- Justin Herbert (1)
- Kyler Murray (2)
- Gardner Minshew (2)
- Daniel Jones (2)
- Dwayne Haskins (2)
- Drew Lock (2)
- Baker Mayfield (3)
- Sam Darnold (3)
- Josh Allen (3)
- Teddy Bridgewater (7; peak in 2015)
- Ryan Fitzpatrick (16; peak was 2015 or 2018)
Let’s quickly call off the dogs from at least four fan bases, starting with the Bills Mafia. Yes, if Josh Allen plays anything like he has the first four games for the rest of the season, then he’ll be added to the previous group to make it an even 20 quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert are rookies just three or four games into their careers. If the starts are any indication, they won’t have a problem soon outdoing Down Year Aaron. Kyler Murray’s had a couple of disappointing games after a good start to 2020, but he’s just 20 games into his career. Give him time.
Given the draft prospects of Gardner Minshew (sixth-round pick) and Daniel Jones (expected bust), their rookie seasons were way better than expectations. They still have potential. Drew Lock has only started seven games, so there’s hardly any certainty there. He’s still better off than Dwayne Haskins, who may not have the job by November at this rate.
Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold were the first two quarterbacks off the board in 2018, and they’re certainly looking like disappointments relative to Allen and Lamar. Maybe if Darnold can get away from Adam Gase and/or the Jets he’ll have a shot, but it hasn’t been pretty so far. Mayfield’s rookie season (2018) actually stacks up pretty close to Rodgers’ 2018 from an efficiency basis, so he’s not that far off here. He just is much more likely to throw interceptions, but we’ll see if he can get the Browns back to the playoffs this year.
The only starters with more than three years in the league are Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Bridgewater actually won the division over Rodgers in 2015 before suffering that catastrophic leg injury in the following offseason, so this is only his third year as a full-time starter. This could be his career year for a Carolina team no one expected much from.
That means Fitzpatrick is the only quarterback who has started full time for more than three years and hasn’t really beaten out Down Year Aaron, though he was in the ballpark in 2015 with the Jets when he threw 31 touchdowns for a 10-win team. Fitzpatrick actually finished higher in QBR (62.0; 10th) than Rodgers (60.0; 14th) that year. Almost splitting hairs here. Fitzpatrick is just a Tua placeholder in Miami these days.
If we went back to the 2015-19 period of starters, then we’d still have a lot of quarterbacks who clearly have a better peak year than Down Year Aaron, including Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, etc.
However, Rodgers would at least win the argument over Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler…
Conclusion: Rodgers Was Wrong
So when Rodgers claimed his down years are career years for most quarterbacks, he may have had the Brett Hundleys and Jordan Loves of the world in mind. He probably didn’t think he was just dunking on Fitzmagic, Cheesecake Factory Baker, Teddy’s Wounded Knee, and that hot mess that plays at MetLife Stadium right now. When you go through the starters in this league, what Rodgers said about his down years is simply not true.
Hey, it’s just the facts, bro.
(If you listened to the end of the McAfee clip, then you already knew how I was going to end this)