Why Aaron Rodgers Is the NFL's Most Valuable Player
That's what Aaron Rodgers told Packers' fans after Green Bay got off to a 1-2 start this year. He wanted them -- and everyone else -- to relax.
At the time, Rodgers wasn't playing like Rodgers. Or, maybe I should say that Rodgers was playing just average when we've come to expect greatness from him. The Packers were indeed one game below .500 way back then, only beating the hapless Jets in a game that very easily could have gone in the other direction. Rodgers, per our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, was the 22nd-best passer in the league after Week 3. Kirk Cousins was better. Brian Hoyer was better. EJ Manuel was better.
But when Rodgers told Packers fans to relax back in late September, what he really meant to say was, "I-M-A-B-O-U-T-T-O-M-A-K-E-H-I-S-T-O-R-Y". Because that's what he did, and that's why he's this year's NFL MVP.
The First Three Weeks
To show just how strong Rodgers' season has been, it may be best to show how average it was to start. To be honest, his raw numbers really weren't horrible, depending on which raw numbers you choose to look at. Through the first three games of the season, Rodgers had five touchdowns to just one interception, and he averaged a little over 230 yards per game. At the time, he was completing 62.7% of his passes.
But those numbers don't exactly tell the whole story. Enter Net Expected Points, which shows how well a player performs on the field versus an average player, or against what's expected. (Read more about NEP in our glossary.)
The chart below -- and some of this I've already alluded to -- shows Rodgers' NEP numbers through the first three games of the season against his average throughout his career entering 2014.
|Passing NEP||Per Drop Back||Success Rate|
|First Three Games||7.17||0.06||50.45%|
Without considering the seasons he sat behind Brett Favre, Rodgers' per drop back NEP was 0.19 points lower through the first three weeks of the season versus his career average, while his Success Rate -- the percentage of positive, by NEP, throws made -- had dipped nearly a full percentage point. At the time, we had no real idea how good the Seahawks, Jets and Lions secondaries were -- we could make an educated guess, but three games worth of data wasn't incredibly useful. Today, we know that Seattle's secondary was studly, and Detroit's was really strong as well. That, of course, could have made a huge impact on Rodgers' early-season numbers.
The reason I wanted to run through this exercise is because what Rodgers did after this point in the season was masterful. And that descriptor may not even be strong enough.
The Next 13 Games
Aaron Rodgers finished the 2014 NFL season with the highest Passing NEP total, the best average NEP added per drop back, and the second-highest Success Rate (Tony Romo ranked first). This, of course, came after a start of the season where he averaged just 2.39 Passing NEP per game, which was a bottom-third rate in the NFL.
The table below shows Rodgers' numbers from Week 4 through the end of the season, as well as his season-long totals.
|Passing NEP||Per Drop Back||Success Rate|
|Next 13 Games||181.24||0.41||54.23%|
Over the final 13 games, Rodgers had a 0.41 per drop back average to go along with a 54.23% Success Rate. Since 2000, Rodgers' per drop back efficiency has only been hit four times: Peyton Manning in 2004 (0.45), Manning in 2013 (0.41), Tom Brady in 2007 (0.43) and Rodgers himself in 2011 (0.43). Those four seasons are talked about as the four best quarterback campaigns of all time, and each of those players won the NFL MVP during those seasons.
Aaron Rodgers, after Week 3, was just as good.
Perhaps the craziest part about Rodgers' performance after the team's loss to the Lions in Detroit was that he actually had one game -- Week 15 against Buffalo -- where he compiled a Passing NEP of -12.21. For fun, if that game just never happened, Rodgers would have averaged a 0.49 Passing NEP per drop back rate over the final 12 games of the season. Had he done that the whole season, we'd be talking about the greatest quarterback year ever.
He's Your MVP
Again, that's just for fun. The fact is, Rodgers, didn't play well to start the year, and his yearlong numbers aren't as good as a result.
But in historical context, Number 12's season was still really, really freaking good. His Passing NEP total of 188.41 ranks 10th since 2000, and is just three expected points off from 7th. With each drop back, Rodgers was helping his team more than all but seven quarterback seasons over the last 15 years.
And then you factor in rushing, something the aforementioned Peyton Manning and Tom Brady never really had in their favor. This season, Rodgers added another 25.85 expected points with his legs, which ranked fourth in the league among signal-callers. Factoring in those points, Rodgers' 2014 season ranks seventh best since 2000.
He helped make everyone around him better, too, a sign of a true MVP. The Packers offense was the best one in the league this year, with an Adjusted NEP (adjusted for strength of schedule) of 188.08. Looking back over the last 15 years, that's the ninth-best offense the NFL has seen.
Give the Packers the Colts' offense (which ranked ninth this year per our metrics), and you'd expect to lose roughly 83.39 points over the course of the season, or 5.2 per game. That margin alone could have swung three to four games out of the Packers' favor.
There's just no doubt that Rodgers impacted his team more than any other player in the NFL this year. That is, at least, on the offensive side of the ball.
A lot of people reading this article will probably want to give the MVP award to JJ Watt, who compiled 20.5 sacks, scored 4 total touchdowns and led the Texans' defense to the top-rated one according to our metrics.
There's a good argument to be made for Watt, and no one should be upset if he ends up as the league's MVP. But there's also the side that shows his team not making the playoffs -- something that's been important for MVP winners in the past, though I don't fully agree -- as well as his defense barely being better than the second-ranked Buffalo Bills (1.70 expected points, if you want to be exact).
To me -- and to numbers -- it's Aaron Rodgers. He's been the most valuable player in the NFL this year.