Every position in seemingly every sport has the same debate, who’s the greatest of all time? It’s a loaded question, and it can be interpreted in many ways. Is it the person with the best career? The one with the highest peak? The one whose teams were the most successful? Nobody seems able to agree. When it comes to football, no position’s debate is more divisive than quarterback. With so many iconic players, there are cases to be made for nearly a dozen different greats. Watch enough sports talk and you’ll see arguments in favor of Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, even Brett Favre if you find the right Packer fan. Lately, the talk of the town has been Tom Brady, since he’s the only quarterback to win five Super Bowls, an accomplishment that is almost impossible to overstate (emphasis on almost).
When it’s all said and done, however, this shouldn’t be a debate. The greatest quarterback of the modern era, and the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, is Aaron Rodgers. If you’re skeptical, I understand. He’s won just one Super Bowl and he doesn’t (yet) have the mountainous career stats of Peyton Manning or Brett Favre. Those matter not. Saddle up, partner, and let’s talk about the GOAT.
Super Bowls Don’t Matter
First things first, let’s make one thing clear. Super Bowls are not a quarterback stat. *drops mic* If you try to argue that Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, or Tom Brady is the greatest of all-time because of how many Super Bowls they’ve won, then you’re completely ignoring the importance of a team in football. Sure, it takes a great quarterback to win a Super Bowl. It also takes a capable defense, a functioning offensive line, and a quality coaching staff. Brady has Belichick, Montana had Walsh, and Bradshaw had Chuck Noll (not to mention arguably the greatest defense ever). So, championships are great, and we all want Aaron to take home a few more titles, but he doesn’t need them to solidify his greatness. We’re arguing about the best to play the position, not who played on the most successful team.
Other Worldly Efficiency
What Rodgers has done since taking over the starting job in Green Bay in 2008 is nothing short of extraordinary. He has repeatedly proven to be the most efficient and talented player to ever play. His stats are so great that we take them for granted, but let’s take a moment to compare him to the rest of the greats.
Every dot in the graph above represents one of the quarterbacks presently in the top 50 for career passing yards. As can be seen in the labels, each of these quarterbacks is positioned by their career touchdowns and interceptions. The farther up, and the farther to the left a dot appears, the better. Rodgers is the dot farthest to the left (unsurprisingly, Brett Favre paces the field in interceptions, he’s the farthest dot to the right). He’s the 11th highest in career touchdowns while simultaneously being by far the lowest amongst the 50 quarterbacks here in career interceptions. This comes as little surprise, as Rodgers has a staggering touchdown to interception ratio of 4.12. Tom Brady is the only other quarterback in NFL history with at least 1,500 pass attempts and a ratio of at least 3 (he’s at exactly 3.0). It’s been in the news quite a bit the past couple weeks, but in case you didn’t hear, Rodgers (currently at 297 career touchdowns) will become the first quarterback to ever reach 300 touchdown passes before throwing his 100th interception. Tom Brady currently holds the mark for fewest interceptions (115) as of his 300th touchdown.
Along with the highest TD/Int ratio in NFL history, Rodgers has the highest quarterback rating in NFL history (104.9), leading the next closest player (Peyton Manning) by 7.7 points.
The graph above uses the same 50 quarterbacks as before, and plots them based on their career passer rating and TD/Int Ratio. Aaron is represented by the dot in the top right (Tom Brady is the second farthest dot to the right). Rodgers outpaces the field by such a wide margin that he’s difficult to compare. At a minimum, he’s the most efficient quarterback of all-time.
The Eye Test
Along with his numbers, it is evident watching Aaron Rodgers that he is something special. Pre-play, many quarterbacks do a quality job of evaluating defenses and utilizing hard counts to keep defenders honest. Not only does #12 put a clinic on when it comes to adjustments and hard counts, but he takes advantage of unprepared defenses more than any quarterback we’ve ever seen. His ability to get the offense to the line and catch defenses with 12 men on the field isn’t just second to none, it’s uniquely his own. It takes a great quarterback to have complete control of an offense and a team and to know your teammates perfectly. It takes a legendary quarterback to do all of that and pay constant, precise attention to the defense at the same time.
Those pre-play moments don’t take an expert to notice, and neither do Rodgers antics during plays. He’s pinpoint accurate, he’s elusive in the pocket, and he can pull the ball down and run whenever a gap opens up. For proof of Aaron’s brilliance, just take a look at this video of his top ten plays. In nearly every one of these plays he eludes defenders, keeps his eyes down the field, and throws off balance. It seems to defy logic. Watch Tom Brady’s, Matt Ryan’s, Drew Brees’, and countless others’ top plays. Most of them are great throws, behind great pass protection, to open receivers. Nobody has compiled a reel of feats quite like Aaron.
Here me out when I tell you that Aaron Rodgers is one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the NFL. People often point to several other quarterbacks that best him in fourth quarter comebacks, but they seldom point to the numerous occasions that the rest of the Packers have lost games despite Aaron Rodgers, not because of him. Take for instance the Packers’ loss to Atlanta in Week 12 of the 2010 season. Rodgers took the team down the field before rolling out and throwing a dart to Nelson to tie the game 17-17 with less than a minute to go. What happened next? The special teams gave up a large return and the Falcons promptly kicked a field goal for the win. Relive the heartbreak here.
Or what about the 2014 NFC Championship game? Everybody remembers the epic collapse, but do you remember what got the game to overtime? After the team fell apart and the Seahawks took a 22-19 lead, Aaron got the ball and promptly catapulted the Packers down the field for a game tying field goal. Come overtime he never saw the field and it was season over.
Much like Super Bowls, winning in the clutch is a team effort. Aaron has played miraculously with games on the line his entire career, and more often than not the rest of the team has squandered that effort. Despite only playing with a top-10 defense in the league for one of his nine seasons as a starter, the team has compiled a 99-52 (66% winning percentage) record in his starts.
In the end, Aaron won’t end his career with the most Super Bowls. He likely won’t have the most passing yards, touchdowns, or attempts (though he’ll have a shot at those accolades if he plays long enough), but those stats don’t matter. Aaron’s ceiling is the highest we’ve ever seen. At his worst he’s better than the vast majority of NFL starters. Simply put, he plays the quarterback position better than any player ever has. It shouldn’t be a debate, he’s the greatest of all time, the proverbial GOAT.