From 1 to 82: Rodgers tops list

QB Aaron Rodgers (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

We conclude our first-annual player rankings with the obvious choice of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The dog days of summer are coming to a close. Training camp is only 3 days away. At this point, the Packers have 82 players on their roster. The limit is 80, but the draft picks don't count until they're signed. With the Packers officially at 80 players, the team will have to make a corresponding roster move when linebacker Clay Matthews III and defensive lineman B.J. Raji are under contract.

With that said, we conclude this series ranking the players from No. 1 to No. 83 (a figure that includes Carson Butler, who was released last week). This list doesn't necessarily list the players from best to worst, but we take into account the players' importance on the roster and other factors such as contracts and potential.

Packer Report Ranking: 1

Aaron Rodgers, QB: Who else could it be? Rodgers is the Packers' highest-paid player and an ascending talent at arguably the most important position in professional sports.

"I think Aaron has done a very good job," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in June. "I think he's a lot more mature, the way he handles himself in different spots. He does a great job being around the teammates, putting in the extra time. I know the strength staff feels very good about his conditioning. He's done a great job in there. He's definitely put the time in. That creates credibility, and I think it shows when he's on the field."

Statistically speaking, Rodgers' first season as the starter was a success. Doubted for his toughness, he started all 16 games — fighting through an injured shoulder along the way. Questioned about his skills after a couple of poor cameo performances earlier in his career, Rodgers finished sixth in the league in passer rating and fourth in yards and touchdowns.

Sure, there were missteps along the way — notably, the Packers' 0-7 record in games decided by four points or less and his late interceptions against Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Jacksonville. But Rodgers wasn't a complete dud in the clutch. When the Packers blew a big lead at Detroit in Week 2, he drove them to the go-ahead field goal. He drove the Packers to a tie against Tennessee, into position to win at Minnesota, into the lead against Carolina, into position to lead vs. Houston until a holding penalty and into position to win at Chicago.

The Packers saw enough to give Rodgers a six-year, $65 million contract extension to prevent him from becoming a free agent at the end of this season. However, the Packers went just 2-7 after Rodgers inked the deal that handed him $20 million in guaranteed money.

What does Rodgers have to do to improve? He absorbed 34 sacks last season, seventh-most among quarterbacks. And forget about the late-game stuff for a moment. How about the start of the game, when the Packers scored two touchdowns and two field goals on 16 opening drives and were one of the least-productive teams in the NFL with 65 first-quarter points?

But quarterbacks with his combination of arm strength, athletic ability and intelligence are rare in the quarterback-starved NFL. With Rodgers having successfully gone through a 16-game season and with McCarthy more familiar with Rodgers' strengths, expect the coach to give the quarterback a longer leash this season.

"The biggest growth this offseason has been with Mike and I's relationship," Rodgers said. "We were already close, but I feel like there's even more of a trust between the two of us. He sees how hard I work and how bad I want to win, and I see how hard he works."

With a superior group of pass-catching threats, the Brett Favre Circus officially behind him and with him emerging as the new leader of the Pack, expect Rodgers to be more Sophomore Sensation than Sophomore Slump.


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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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