Should Aaron Rodgers Be Drafted Ahead of Tom Brady in Fantasy Football?
There are some things in life that will always baffle me.
For instance, why do we park in driveways, but drive on parkways? Why do we swing "Take Me out to the Ball Game" when we're already there? And, more importantly, how is Aaron Rodgers the consensus QB1 in fantasy football over Tom Brady this year? That's what is happening right now in MFL drafts, which currently have Rodgers going nearly 10 picks ahead of Brady.
While this may seem fair since the Green Bay Packers' signal-caller finished as the QB1 in fantasy last season and Brady -- who was suspended for the first four games -- was fourth at the position, it's not that simple.
Who Was Really Better in 2016?
As we just mentioned, going by season-long fantasy stats, Rodgers was the better quarterback to own in fantasy last year, but does that mean he was actually better than Brady? Not according to our metrics, namely Net Expected Points (NEP) and Passing Success Rate.
NEP measures the expected point value of a play, given down, distance-to-go, and yard line. A five-yard gain on 3rd and 4 is much different than a five-yard gain on 3rd and 10. NEP accounts for that. Success Rate is the percentage of plays which result in a positive NEP gain. You can read more about NEP and Success Rate in our glossary.
The table below details how Brady and Rodgers compared to one another last season with regard to Passing NEP per drop back, Passing Success Rate, and adjusted yards per attempt. Keep in mind that the league average for Passing NEP per drop back in 2016 was 0.23.
|Player||Passing NEP per Drop Back||Success Rate||Adjusted Yards per Attempt|
Brady clearly had the upper hand. If we branch out to more statistics in this comparison, like passing yards per game, passer rating, touchdowns, and completion percentage, Brady was superior in every category last year except for touchdowns, which is the most fickle statistic on a year-to-year basis (plus it's a counting stat, which hurts Brady, who missed the first four games).
While the highlight-reel plays are still there with Rodgers, consistent performance is not. Not only did he struggle in 2015, but it seems as if many have forgotten how poorly he played through last season's first 10 weeks. Green Bay produced just a 4-5 record during this time and also ranked outside the top 10 with regard to Passing NEP with a mark of 62.66. The Packers were also 17th in the league in terms of Passing NEP per drop back during this time.
Rodgers obviously turned it on over the second half of the year, but this helps show just how much he legitimately struggled through the first half (compared to his lofty standards) for the second year in a row. Meanwhile, Brady's production was consistently elite once he returned from his four-game Deflategate suspension.
Passing Volume Outlook
Volume was a crucial aspect behind Rodgers outscoring Brady in 2016 -- Rodgers tossed the pigskin 610 times (38.125 per game), while Brady did it just 432 times (36 per game). However, with Brady eligible for all 16 games, that's not something we should expect to continue.
Rodgers' 610 passing attempts from last season were 38 more than his previous career high, and in 10 years as a play-caller, Packers head coach MIke McCarthy has averaged just 562.6 pass attempts per season. The spike in passing rate likely occurred due to Green Bay's backfield injuries, as they lost their top two backs, Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
They eventually transitioned Ty Montgomery from wide receiver to running back in the middle of the season. With Montgomery getting more reps at running back and the organization drafting both Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones to fill out their depth chart, it wouldn't be shocking to see a more balanced offensive approach, especially since McCarthy has publicly expressed his desire to do so in 2017.
It also wouldn't be surprising to see Brady throw more often than he did in 2016. This may seem odd since the New England Patriots added two running backs in free agency, and we just used the same argument to demonstrate why the Packers will throw less often.
However, Josh McDaniels, the Patriots offensive coordinator, has called an average of 586.9 pass attempts per season in his 10 years as an offensive play-caller. Plus, New England's offseason moves make it appear as though New England wants to maximize Brady's efficiency.
|Situation||Passer Rating||Completion Percentage||Adjusted Yards per Attempt|
Additional Passing Game Weapons
Prior to last season, Brady really struggled with Rob Gronkowski on the sideline. That's partially why the veteran signal-caller's 2016 production was so impressive as Gronk was only active for eight games.
The below chart (information courtesy of NFL Research), shows exactly how effective Brady had been with and without his tight end between 2010 and 2015.
|Category||With Gronk||Without Gronk|
|W-L||68-16 (.810)||11-5 (.688)|
In the 16 games he played without Gronkowski during this time, that 82.5 passing rating from Brady was actually below the league average (86.8). However, Brady's stats from last season -- which include a 112.2 passer rating, 67.4% completion percentage, and 296 passing yards per game with 28 touchdowns and 2 interceptions -- are actually even better than when Brady had Gronk healthy from 2010 to 2015.
One hot-button topic in fantasy football circles this offseason has been Brandin Cooks' value. While his true value remains unclear at the moment, it's not hard to see what kind of potential upgrade he could be for New England, and he gives them added insurance should Gronkowski again get injured. Among wide receivers with at least 70 targets last season, Julio Jones' 0.89 Reception NEP per target was the only one higher than Cooks' 0.84 mark.
As for Green Bay, the only major upgrade they made in the pass game was replacing tight end Jared Cook with Martellus Bennett. While that's certainly an improvement -- Bennett's 0.77 Reception NEP per target was the third-highest mark among tight ends with at least 50 receptions in 2016 -- it's seemingly outweighed by not only the addition of Cooks, but the return of a healthy Gronkowski.
Brady was clearly more efficient than Rodgers last year, and if not for insane volume, we might be talking about Rodgers going through something of a mid-career hiccup instead of him being the consensus QB1 in fantasy football. Meanwhile, coaching history indicates the Patriots will throw more often in 2017, while the Packers will go in the opposite direction.
With no signs of slowing down and a great situation surrounding him, Brady's volume looks set to catch up to the efficiency he displayed last year.