Positional Review: Quarterbacks

Rodgers (Benny Sieu - USA Today Sports)

We look back at the season with our featured performer, depth chart, unit grade and look ahead to 2013. Most seasons, Aaron Rodgers would be considered a prime MVP candidate after putting up monster numbers and overcoming challenges to win 11 games and the NFC North.

Featured performer

He led the NFL with a 108.0 passer rating.

He ranked second with 39 touchdown passes, third with 67.0 percent accuracy, tied for fourth with eight interceptions and finished eighth with 4,295 yards. His touchdown-to-interception ratio of nearly 5-to-1 led the league by a mile.

He dominated on third down (first with a 110.8 rating), in the red zone (second with a 109.9 rating) and against the blitz (fourth with a 117.4 rating).

He helped his team overcome a bunch of injuries, including to his top two threats in the passing game, to win 11 games and a division championship.

In most seasons, that would be enough to make Aaron Rodgers a leading candidate for NFL MVP honors when the award is handed out on Saturday.

This is not most seasons. Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson had remarkable comeback seasons and are the overwhelming favorites to claim the top two spots. Manning, rebounding from a spate of neck surgeries and a year out of the league, landed in Denver and helped the Broncos improve from 8-8 to 13-3 by throwing for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns. Peterson, staging a stunning recovery from knee reconstruction, powered the Vikings' improvement from 3-13 to 10-6 by falling 9 yards short of the NFL single-season rushing record.

Rodgers was last year's MVP after posting arguably the greatest quarterback season in the history of football. This season, he was merely outstanding in navigating a minefield of issues.

"If you look at it from his perspective, he's coming off a Super Bowl MVP (in 2010), he was the league MVP last year," first-year quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. "He comes in, our offensive coordinator (Joe Philbin) moves on, Tom (Clements) moves up (from quarterbacks coach). So, he's got a new offensive coordinator -- even though he knows him and has a relationship there – (and) I move into the quarterbacks job. That's two changes. We have two new centers that he plays with. We had some injuries in the O-line; we had to move some guys around there. We had a stable of backs that he had to play with. Week to week, you had to prepare the receivers to play but you weren't quite sure because of injury which ones were going to be playing each week. So, with all those changes, plus with the way teams were defending us, I think he may have been more valuable this year than he was last year."

Statistically, Rodgers needs to be considered among the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Five years as the starter isn't a long enough body of work, obviously, but he's the league's career leader in passer rating, interception percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio by wide margins. He also inched back ahead of Tom Brady for the top spot with 28.1 points per start.

Quarterbacks, however, are measured by playoff success. He's 5-3, with his losses to Kurt Warner (Hall of Fame), Eli Manning (led Giants to Super Bowl win) and Colin Kaepernick (led 49ers to Sunday's Super Bowl). The Packers allowed an average of 44.3 points in those losses. Could have he played better against the Giants and 49ers? Certainly, but he would have had to be off-the-charts brilliant to win those games.

Rest of the depth chart

On the strength of a strong preseason finale, Graham Harrell won the backup job and the right to wear a baseball cap for most of the 18 games. He completed 2-of-4 passes for 20 yards. His only noteworthy play was tripping and fumbling in the red zone against New Orleans in Week 4.

"He really does a nice job of preparing himself to play with limited reps, and that was exciting to see," McAdoo said. "Really going through the season, seeing him move in and out of the pocket and playing faster – and he's going to continue to work at playing faster – it'll be good to see. We anticipate him making a big jump here this next offseason. It'll be a second offseason in the program, he knows the offense, has the foundation and now he can really focus on the footwork, the detail in the passing game, some eye control, things like that."

Unit grade

A-minus: Even by his own lofty standards, Rodgers had an excellent season. There were a couple black eyes, however. He absorbed a league-high 51 sacks. It's part of the give and take of Rodgers game, and with his ability to avoid big hits, the team can live with some extra sacks in exchange for some big plays. He went 3-5 against playoff teams, including the sweep by San Francisco. It's a team game, to be sure, but Rodgers never got close to solving the 49ers and showed an uncharacteristic lack of patience on his ill-fated bomb to Jordy Nelson in the playoff loss.

Looking ahead

Rodgers will turn 30 late next season (Dec. 2). He should remain at the height of his powers for at least a few more years. Nonetheless, when Brett Favre won a Super Bowl in his sixth season and reached another in his seventh, it seemed a sure thing that he'd be a multiple-times champion. It never happened. Rodgers won a Super Bowl in his sixth season and 15 games in his seventh. Can Rodgers get back to the top of the mountain?

Despite some growing pains, Harrell essentially never was challenged en route to being the No. 2 this season. That might not be the case next season. Rookie B.J. Coleman, a strong-armed seventh-round pick, spent the year on the practice squad. This will be a critical offseason to see if his raw tools can translate into a capable professional quarterback.

"His fundamentals are different here than what he's been used to in the past," McAdoo said. "So, you see a little bit more rhythm in his body, you see a little less chatter in his feet. He's come a ways. He still has a ways to go, but the guy's going to work at it, we know that. He's excited to learn and we're excited to teach him."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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