Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady: Appreciating Greatness
Seriously, do you drink everyone's favorite dairy drink? When it comes to dairy, California and Wisconsin have a bitter rivalry over whose dairy reigns supreme. Personally, the milk brand I drink comes from Illinois. Maybe I'm a homer since I was born there, but this is not the place to settle the dairy debate.
What we do know, though, is that California is home to some of the most talented quarterbacks around. Neither Steve Young nor Joe Montana were born in California, but both starred for the San Francisco 49ers.
While we do not have a definitive answer to the dairy debate, we can definitively say that California outclasses Wisconsin in terms of producing quarterbacks. Wisconsin is fortunate to have one of California's finer exports, Rodgers, leading the Packers.
Just how good are California's Golden Boys?
Since Rodgers became Green Bay's starter in 2008, he has only one season with fewer than 3,500 yards passing (the injury-filled 2013), none with under 63% completion percentage, two with more than 10 interceptions, one with fewer than 28 touchdown passes (2013), and none with under 7.53 yards per attempt. Rodgers consistency is unparalleled, combining game manager qualities with gunslinger qualities harmoniously.
Brady became the Patriots starter in 2001 and immediately led them to a Super Bowl win. In his 14 full years as a starter, his completion percentage has never dropped below 60.2%, he has never thrown more than 14 interceptions, he has one season with fewer than 3,500 yards, and six seasons with fewer than 28 touchdowns. While Brady is not always as gaudy as Rodgers, he still is a remarkable mark of consistency.
Just looking at the basic statistics of these two golden boys shows how they are the gold standard at quarterback.
Digging deeper, based on our Net Expected Points (NEP), since succeeding Brett Favre in Green Bay, Rodgers has finished no lower than eighth in both Passing NEP and Passing NEP per play for quarterbacks taking at least 300 drop backs in a given year; he had the top Passing NEP in 2014 and the best Passing NEP per play in both 2011 and 2014.
Although he has only had two years where his lead receiver was not in the top 10 for Reception NEP, his play elevated Greg Jennings into a top-10 wide receiver by the metric twice. His play also helps show how much of an underrated superstar, Jordy Nelson has been at wide receiver.
For as long as Brady has started, he has only finished outside of the top 10 for Passing NEP and Passing NEP per play twice in his 13 years among quarterbacks to take at least 300 drop backs in a given year.
While Brady is known for having Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, and Randy Moss as his most prolific pass-catchers, it is amazing how much he has elevated their performances. For 8 of his 13 years as the starter, Brady's best pass-catcher did not finish in the top 10 for Reception NEP.
Of the 539 quarterbacks since 2000 to take at least 200 drop backs, Rodgers (one) and Brady (two) have three of the six seasons with at least a 200 Passing NEP, and they both have two of the top-10 Passing NEP seasons. All seven of Rodgers' years starting are in the top 100 for the metric, and eight of Brady's seasons are in the top-100. Only Drew Brees and Peyton Manning display consistency like these two.
While Brady and Rodgers compare favorably to the rest of the quarterbacks, their receiving corps fall short.
Of the 652 wide receivers and tight ends to see at least 100 targets since 2000, only two of Brady's receivers finished in the top 10 for Reception NEP, and one of Rodgers' receivers finished in the top-20. Each have had five pass-catchers finish in the top-100.
So far this season, Rodgers has 2,270 passing yards with his lowest completion (63.3%) as a starter with 21 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. This has him on pace for 4,036 yards 38 touchdowns and 5 interception, with minimal thanks to his supporting cast.
Right now, with Brady on his Goodell Revenge Tour, he has 3,048 passing yards on a 67.8% completion percentage with 24 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He is on pace for 5,419 passing yards 43 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He is doing this even with the loss of the out of nowhere star, Dion Lewis, and with Danny Amendola now filling in for Julian Edelman rather than acting as a complementary piece.
Based on our metrics, the Patriots have the most prolific passing and overall offense with the Packers seventh in each category. The Patriots still have their superstar pass-catcher, Gronkowski, while the Packers do not have theirs in Nelson, and both teams have minimal speed at wide receiver.
Right now Brady paces the league in Passing NEP (131.76) and Passing NEP per play (0.34) out of the 35 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs on the year. Rodgers is 10th in Passing NEP (62.03) and 11th in Passing NEP per play (0.19). For having his worst year based on metrics, Rodgers is still an elite quarterback.
While James Jones still leads the 100 receivers with at least 25 targets in terms of Reception NEP per play (1.32), the majority of his receiving success came through Week 5 when the Packers offense began to slow, and the lack of speed caught up to them.
Before his injury, Edelman was 10th in Reception NEP (64.39), but 37th in Reception NEP per target (0.73). Gronkowski, of 37 tight ends with at least 21 targets, leads in Reception NEP (69.31) and Reception NEP per target (0.92).
With only one superstar sharing the field with either of these quarterbacks, it is amazing to see how well they continue to perform and elevate the talent around them.
As you watch Rodgers and Brady again this week, take a step back to realize how consistently spectacular their play remains. Both are top-three fantasy football options based on our projections for the rest of the season.
While Brady is currently firmly entrenched in the debate for the greatest quarterback of all time, Rodgers is well on his way to earning his inclusion in the conversation.
These two really are Golden Boys playing the game at the highest level possible.