In the days leading up the 2023 NFL draft, the New York Jets traded for Quarterback Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers. To put it lightly, that move is massive from a team construction perspective, given quarterbacks are generally considered the most important player on the team. Given that importance, it is nearly impossible to discuss the Jets without Aaron Rodgers, which I’ve largely opted to do thus far in hopes that allowing a few weeks to pass would allow for a more objective discussion around the player.
Now that a few weeks has passed, I decided to finally write a more in-depth article on Aaron Rodgers. Before I do that, I wanted to lay out some disclaimers:
- Disclaimer 1. This article is not going to an Aaron Rodgers “puff” piece. If you’re looking for that then this is your moment to close the page.
- Disclaimer 2. This article is also not going to be an Aaron Rodgers “bash” piece or a discussion of his contract. If you’re looking for that then this is your moment to close the page.
- Disclaimer 3. Instead, this article is going to be my best attempt to break down some of the analytics behind Rodgers. From there, I’ll provide my own opinion (which I view as pretty neutral) but my hope is that everyone just follows the data and draws their own conclusions.
- Disclaimer 4. By no means should this be thought of as an all-encompassing overview of all possible statistics, as the sheer amount of statistics available are nearly infinite.
- Disclaimer 5. This is longer than my typical article, coming in at almost 3000 words. It’s going to take a minute to read it, but I think it’ll be worth your time and I think each part of the article is needed to get the full picture.
Overall, the intent behind this article is to provide some context on the player Rodgers was last season and the injury he sustained as well as the player he was in the years prior. By the end, my hope is that you have a better idea of the potential range of outcomes that you can expect from Rodgers in 2023 (and perhaps an idea of which outcome you think is most likely.
The beginning of the discussion: A summary of Rodgers’ performance in 2022
While many statistics are used by the NFL analytics community to discuss QB play, two of the more common are completion percentage over expected (CPOE) and EPA per play (EPA/Play). These two statistics are often used in tandem, as the information provided by each complements the other. For those who are unfamiliar with these terms:
- CPOE: Compares the QB’s actual completion % to what would be expected based on the throws a QB attempts. We can think of “expected” as derived from the combined vertical (how far down the field) and horizontal (if it’s thrown to the 40 yard line then where horizontally on the 40 yard line was it throw) planes that make up a throw. This is thought to provide context on the quality of one’s accuracy, and allows for comparisons to be made in the completion percentage of a Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs QB), who throws the ball down the field regularly, to an Alex Smith (former Washington Commanders QB), who typically operates in more of a west coast style that relies on shorter throws. For more information on CPOE, please see NFLEO’s writeup on the statistic, which also includes evidence around the stability of this measure across different seasons.
- EPA/Play: From a mathematical perspective, this simply divides the expected points a player added to their team by the number of plays, which conceptually informs on how many points a player added on the average play. This requires an understanding of EPA, which is calculated by looking at the likelihood of scoring a field goal or touchdown following a play that the player was involved in. For more information on EPA, please see NFLEO’s writeup on the statistic.
Now that we all know what EPA and CPOE are, we can examine how QBs scored on these stats in 2022.
The Expected Points Added per play (EPA/Play) and Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE) of each quarterback in the 2022 season pic.twitter.com/9Z8UHH3s2C— SumerSports (@sumersports) July 7, 2023
To confirm the usefulness of viewing these statistic in tandem, we can look at the top right quadrant. In theory, a QB in the top right would have a greater completion % than expected (was more accurate than the average QB) and generated a lot of points for their team (the average play for this QB was more valuable to the team in terms of improving their odds of scoring points than the average QB). If a QB is good at both of these things then they should be a good QB. In support of these expectations, some of the league’s best QBs are present:
- Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs) who is generally considered “the” top QB.
- Joe Burrow (Cincinnati Bengals), Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles), and Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills) who are generally considered top five type QBs.
- Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins), who was statistically excellent in 2022.
We should also see some of the worst QBs in the bottom left quadrant since that would reflect poor scores on both CPOE and EPA/Play. Once again, that’s what we see with the below QBs present in this area:
- Davis Mills (Houston Texans) whose team drafted a QB in the first round to replace him.
- Russell Wilson (Denver Broncos) whose Head Coach was fired after one season.
- Matt Ryan (Indianapolis Colts) and Mac Jones (New England Patriots) who were both bad enough to be benched during the season.
- Justin Fields (Chicago Bears) who was considered a bad passer in 2022.
After confirming the two statistics have some ability to identify the overall performance of QBs, we can then look at how Aaron Rodgers did. Rodgers falls just about at the middle point for CPOE and below average for EPA. This implies that he was “okay.” Not great, not bad, just “okay.” In further support of that takeaway around Rodgers’ play quality, other QBs who are generally considered okay are his nearest comparisons:
- Andy Dalton (New Orleans Saints) who will be a backup QB this season.
- Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh Steelers) who was a rookie QB and was viewed as being “pretty good for a rookie.”
- Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) who retired after notably saying “When I suck, I’ll retire.”
- Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee Titans) whose team spent a second round pick on a QB.
While “okay” might sound underwhelming, it is important to remember that this would still be a massive and meaningful improvement on the Jets’ QB play from 2022. Given how good the Jets defense was last year, “okay” is likely to get them a Wild Card seed if not more.
The key part of the discussion about 2022: Rodgers’ injury
However, no discussion of Rodgers’ 2022 play would be anywhere near complete without acknowledging the elephant in the room: the thumb injury he suffered on the “Hail Mary” final play of the New York Giants-Green Bay Packers Week 5 matchup. Since a QB requires his hand to throw the ball and one’s thumb is a key part of the hand, this is not a meaningless injury by any stretch. Accordingly, I think it makes sense to examine how Rodgers played prior to this injury to see if he was playing well until this point. Given that his injury occurred on the final play of the game in Week 5, this allows us to use his first 5 weeks of data to see what a “healthy” Aaron Rodgers looked like in 2022.
However, Rodger’s play in those first five games that predate his injury was still not good, at least according to QBR (which is thought to isolate QB play from other parts of the offense that are outside of the control of the QB); for transparency, I got these figures from ESPN.com. Importantly QBR is scored such that a 0 is the worst score and 100 is the best with 50 being an average performance. Within the context of 50 being average, it’s important to acknowledge Rodgers’ highest QBR during the first 5 weeks was 64.9 in Week 3 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which is a good but not great score. However, in the other 4 games, his scores were 12.7 (Minnesota Vikings), 50.3 (Chicago Bears), 45.4 (New England Patriots), 51.4 (New York Giants), which are scores that we’d expect to see from a QB that is, at best, average.
Additionally, we can also examine the end of the season’s performance if we wanted to search for support that Rodgers was simply on a bad run due to his thumb injury, with the idea that perhaps he’d play well after he’d have sufficient time to manage the injury. In theory, the last month of the season might help inform on that, but we’d have to assume that he was recovered, and we have no way of being certain of that. For that reason, I don’t put stock in these numbers, but I wanted to provide them in case anyone was curious. Importantly, Rodgers didn’t perform well during the end of the season either with QBR scores that ranged from 32.2 to 41.0 during the final 4 weeks of the season, which reflect consistently below average QB play.
Trying to rule out an alternate idea of what may have happened: Rodgers always starts slow and then he got hurt, so his first month numbers aren’t a relevant predictor of his 2023 play.
As suggested by the above statistics, Rodgers didn’t perform well during the 2022 NFL season, including in the first 5 weeks that predate his thumb injury. However, I’ve always thought of Rodgers as a slow starter so I wondered if maybe this could be a case of bad timing. Under this logic, I said to myself, “maybe Rodgers typically plays ‘meh’ in September and then he got hurt at the point where he typically improves so it looks worse than it is.” To some degree this maps onto the way that I think about Rodgers’ career so I figured it a good thing to check.
To check this, I looked at his QBR scores during the first 5 weeks of the 2020 and 2021 seasons as both ended with Rodgers’ being named the league’s Most Valuable Player and were recent.
- 2020 QBR scores during first 5 weeks: 91.4, 81.3, 89.4, 96.0, 9.5
- 2021 QBR scores during first 5 weeks: 18.8, 78.8, 80.1, 61.6, 74.5
In examining these numbers, we see a QB who was capable of having a “stinker” performance during the early part of even his best seasons (score of 9.5 in 2020 and score of 18.8 in 2021). However, we also see far more upside potential with scores in the 70s and 80s that would suggest high quality play within each of these season.
By comparison, we never saw high quality play (anything over even a 70) from a healthy Rodgers in the first 5 weeks of 2022 that predate his injury. Additionally, we rarely saw that version of Rodgers at all in 2022, with only two scores exceeding 60 at any point in the season: a Week 3 score of 64.9 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a Week 10 score of 82.0 against the Dallas Cowboys. By comparison, Rodgers had only 3 QBR scores under 60 during the entire 2020 season and only 2 under 60 during the entire 2021 season.
2022 wasn’t the only year of Rodgers’ career: What if it’s just a blip on the trend of his overall career where he’s awesome?
This is really the crux of where the review of Rodgers falls. I have yet to find any evidence that suggests that Rodgers was an elite player in 2022. Additionally, the two attempts to explain why these numbers might not be relevant (performance before injury and the “slow start” idea) came up empty and did not suggest the 2022 data was due to these outside factors. That tells me that he wasn’t great in 2022, but just because a guy has a bad year doesn’t mean all hope is lost. In the case of Rodgers, he’s only a year removed from a period where he was arguably the best QB in a league that includes Patrick Mahomes, at least if we consider the 2021 and 2020 scores of our old friends EPA/Play and CPOE.
It amazes me how Tua is talked about like he's the exact same player he was last year.— Billy Flowers (@halfblackmcvay) November 22, 2021
Expected Points Added/Play: 0.034 (26th/33)
Completion % Over Expected: -1.2 (28th/33)
EPA/Play: 0.128 (14th/33)
CPOE: 3.5 (9th/33)
Composite: 13th/33 pic.twitter.com/AwMGfjkmKB
As shown here, Rodgers was one of the QBs in the further part of the top right corner of the chart. This means he was excellent in 2020 and 2021 and he’s only a year removed from that. If the Jets get that Rodgers? Yeesh, that dude’s a baller. That dude is the type of good that means your team can compete even if the defense is trash... and the Jets’ defense is not trash based on 2022. Pair that guy with the current Jets’ defense and great things will happen.
Well if he was bad throughout 2022 then why we might think it’s a blip in the radar instead of a trend: The context of the 2022 Packers
Simply put, why might Rodgers’ 2022 season have been bad even if he’s still “got it?” Well, for one, Rodgers was apparently miserable. His favorite coach and offensive coordinator had moved on to a head coaching job in Denver. His favorite wideout was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders. He avoided OTAs. He apparently had personal issues with the General Manager and the Head Coach. He was regularly combative with the media. And being miserable at work? That isn’t typically a recipe for huge success, especially within a job as demanding and time intensive as NFL quarterback.
By comparison, all seems to be well in Aaron Rodgers’ world since he was traded. He’s regularly seen with teammates. He’s attending OTAs. He’s even been able to bring some friendly faces that he’s fond of with him in the form of wide receivers Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard. To the point that Rodgers is happier, a current and former teammate of Rodgers, Offensive Tackle Billy Turner, said as much in a quote about Rodgers that relayed by TheComeback.com:
“The dude just shows up to work, and he’s just so [freaking] happy right now,” Turner said. “It’s very cool to witness and see because it doesn’t matter how long you’re in this profession; it’s the type of profession where regardless of how long you spend in it, you can always experience something new. And he’s experiencing something new for the first time in his career, and it’s cool to be part of and watch.”
Beyond the idea that Rodgers may benefit merely from being happier at work, there are also some on-the-field aspects may help him perform better. For one, Rodgers has been reunited with Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who helmed Rodgers’ superb 2020 and 2021 seasons. He’s also in what is likely a better wide receiver situation; specifically, 2nd year of Garrett Wilson, Corey Davis, Mecole Hardman replaces 1st year of Christian Watson, 1st year of Romeo Doubs, and Amari Rodgers, while Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb were present on both rosters. Additionally, the Jets defense was notably better than the Packers defense in 2022, which should be a benefit to Rodgers from a pure “winning or losing games” perspective.
So overall, what do I think?
Like I said early on, my hope is to provide the data for everyone to draw their own conclusions.
However, the piece feels incomplete without me giving my thoughts. So, for me, the data says the Jets are likely in better hands with Rodgers than they were with the QBs they had in 2022. While Rodgers was basically average in 2022, and while the data doesn’t suggest that was due entirely to his injury, that would still be a huge upgrade on the below average play they got from the position in 2022. However, the degree to which they’re going to be better off is pretty wide in scope and uncertain.
Specifically, his 2022 play level would be an upgrade for the Jets, but it would still be average. While average is better than what the Jets are used to, it’s still very tough to be a championship contender with an average QB.
On the other hand, there are alternate explanations for why Rodgers played poorly that don’t mean he can’t be better than he was in 2022. Among others, he’s back with the coach that called his plays during his 2020 and 2021 MVP runs. If the MVP version of Rodgers returns? Yeesh. Sky is the limit. A championship run is 10,000% on the table and someone should go ahead and get quotes on how much a New York Jets Aaron Rodgers statue will cost to install in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
However there is also a third scenario... I’ll call this the nightmare scenario. Rodgers’ 2022 play does seem to be rather worse than his 2021 play. If that trend continues? Well, to put it lightly, that would be a disaster given the price the Jets paid to acquire Rodgers. In that case, calls might need to be made to some GM and Head Coach candidates rather than the statue maker.
So, in summary, I have no way of knowing which version of Rodgers will come to be this season from my seat. In an ideal world, it’s the one where Rodgers turns back into an MVP candidate. However for that to happen, Rodgers will need to improve on his 2022 season as an MVP level was simply not a level he approached at any point in his most recent season.
What level of play do you expect from Aaron Rodgers in 2023?
This poll is closed