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Is Aaron Rodgers A Legitimate Fantasy Option?

The trade that shipped Brett Favre to the New York Jets mercifully closed the book on one of the most intriguing, yet bizarre soap operas in National Football League history – “The Favre Un-Retirement Saga” or whatever you want to call it – and etched in stone the status of quarterback Aaron Rodgers as the new starter for the Green Bay Packers. The fascination that many fantasy owners have with Rodgers as a potential sleeper arguably may border on intriguing, yet bizarre. Why is there such fanfare about a fourth-year pro who has never started a regular-season NFL game and now faces the unenviable task of replacing a living legend?

 

Who Is This Guy?

 

Rodgers played his college football at the

University of

California, starting two seasons for the Golden Bears (he was junior-eligible for the draft). As you may remember, Rodgers unwittingly became one of the headlines of the 2005 NFL draft. He had to sit on stage at

Radio

City

Music Hall in

New York for at least an hour or two – all the other top players who appeared in person with him had been selected – awkwardly waiting for a team to call his name. Rodgers’ draft-day slide was not a slam on his perceived talent; many of the teams picking in the middle and lower portions of the first round simply did not need a quarterback. Rodgers handled the situation with great composure and received a well-deserved round of applause from a sympathetic audience after the Packers picked him with their No. 24 overall selection to serve as the backup and heir apparent to Favre. Rodgers inked a five-year, $7.7 million deal (included a $1.5 million signing bonus) with the club.

 

Regarded as a fierce competitor and a hard worker, the 6-foot-2, 223-pound Rodgers has a quick release, outstanding accuracy and a great touch – although a majority of his 2008 preseason passes have looked like fastballs. While Rodgers possesses adequate arm strength to put some air under the ball, he specializes in short and medium patterns. The 24-year-old Rodgers is usually fearless in the pocket – his performance in an August 16 preseason game against the

San Francisco 49ers aside – and has good scrambling ability. In addition, he has all the necessary mental intangibles – awareness, decision-making and leadership – to play the position. Heading into the 2005 draft, Rodgers was considered more NFL-ready than one notable quarterback selected before him – Alex Smith (

San Francisco 49ers). On the downside, Rodgers has struggled with injuries during his pro career, missing six games in 2006 with a broken foot and four games in 2007 with a pulled hamstring. Rodgers also has a tendency to hold onto the ball longer than he should.

 

How much regular-season action has Rodgers logged? His NFL résumé is not a long one. As you surely know, Rodgers has spent his low-mileage pro career playing behind a future Hall of Fame quarterback who holds the current league record for consecutive starts.

 

AARON RODGERS NFL REGULAR SEASON STATISICS

Year

Games

Starts

Comp

Att

Comp %

Yards

TD

INT

2005

3

0

9

16

56.3

65

0

1

2006

2

0

6

15

40.0

46

0

0

2007

2

0

20

28

71.4

218

1

0

CAREER

7

0

35

59

59.3

329

1

1

Why All The Rodgers Hoopla?

Rodgers made a huge impression on the fantasy football world last season when he almost led the Packers to a come-from-behind win against the Dallas Cowboys on national television while playing in relief of Favre, who was knocked out of the contest with arm and shoulder injuries. Facing a ferocious Cowboys pass rush, Rodgers confidently operated the

Green Bay offense, rolling up some solid numbers (see 2007 statistics in previous table) against a

Dallas defense that had been giving Favre fits. Rodgers also rushed five times for 30 yards in that outing.

 

Is Rodgers another Tony Romo? No, this is not an attempt to compare Rodgers to the

Dallas signal-caller in terms of skills or pro accomplishments. However, when you think back to when Romo became the starter for

Dallas, four things come to mind: (1) Romo had obvious talent, (2) Romo was well-acquainted with the Cowboys offense, (3) Romo was promoted to the starting job after learning behind a veteran quarterback and (4) Romo inherited a strong supporting cast. Rodgers’ situation with the Packers is similar:

 

1.

 

Rodgers is obviously talented (Romo does have a stronger arm and has been more durable).

2.

 

Rodgers is well-acquainted with his team’s offensive scheme.

3.

 

Rodgers is taking over as the starter after learning behind a veteran quarterback.

4.

 

Rodgers is inheriting a strong supporting cast.

 

After Romo had spent a little more than two seasons holding a clipboard for the Cowboys, he replaced struggling veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe (retired) as the club’s starter in Week 7 of the 2006 season and became the permanent No. 1 guy under center. Here is a game-by-game look at Romo’s 10 starts during the 2006 season:

 

TONY ROMO – 2006 STARTS

WEEK

Opp

Result

Comp

Att

Comp %

Yards

TD

INT

8

@ CAR

W 35 – 14

24

36

66.7

270

1

1

9

@ WAS

L 19 – 22

24

36

66.7

284

2

0

10

@ ARI

W 27 – 10

20

29

59.3

308

2

0

11

IND

W 21 – 14

19

23

82.6

226

0

1

12

TAM

W 38 – 10

22

29

75.9

306

5

0

13

@NYG

W 23 – 20

20

34

58.8

257

0

2

14

NOR

L 17 – 42

16

33

48.5

249

1

2

15

@ ATL

W 38 – 28

22

29

75.9

278

2

1

16

PHI

L 7 – 23

14

29

48.3

142

1

2

17

DET

L 31 – 39

23

32

71.9

321

2

1

TOTALS

204

310

65.8

2,641

16

10

AVERAGES

20

31

64.5

264

1.6

1.0

 

 

 

Romo’s performances were solid overall with some great games and a few poor games mixed in, which supports the old adage that talent and smarts can’t always compensate for inexperience. If you remove the unusually high numbers from his outstanding Thanksgiving Day performance against

Tampa

Bay, Romo averaged 234 yards passing, 1.1 touchdowns and just one interception per outing.

 

Rodgers’ Fantasy Forecast

 

 

 

Rodgers has inherited the same supporting cast that helped Favre post some outstanding numbers last season. Head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin are using the same multi-formation West Coast attack, but they supposedly have tweaked the scheme to emphasize Rodgers’ strengths. Wide receiver Greg Jennings has developed into an outstanding deep threat, and veteran wide receiver Donald Driver is still a capable presence. Rodgers also has displayed some chemistry with backup wide receivers James Jones and Ruvell Martin during the preseason. Favre threw to starting tight end Donald Lee regularly, especially near the goal line; however, it’s unclear how Rodgers will use Lee. Running back Ryan Grant will serve as the club’s workhorse, and backup running back Brandon Jackson is expected to receive a few touches each game. Pro Bowl tackle Chad Clifton and tackle Mark Tauscher lead an offensive line that is considered above-average. This unit is rock-solid at pass-blocking and did show some improvement in the run-blocking department during the second half of 2007. Admittedly, there is some skepticism about the interior of the

Green Bay O-line. Did Favre, using his quick release and veteran-savvy, make this group look better than it is? Yes, this is another reference to the problems

Green Bay had blocking the

San Francisco pass rush in the previously referenced preseason game.

 

Rodgers possesses most of the necessary physical and mental attributes to succeed in the NFL. However, despite his obvious talent, there are two glaring concerns about him: durability and inexperience. Rodgers, as mentioned, has missed time due to injuries and absorbs extra punishment on the field (holds the ball too long and not afraid to scramble). If he takes extra hits week to week, it’s hard to guarantee that Rodgers will start all 16 regular season games. The last time Rodgers started a meaningful game (no, NFL preseason contests don’t count) was December 30, 2004; his Golden Bears lost 45-31 to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. On the other hand, Rodgers played well in the aforementioned

Dallas game in an obvious pressure situation. The Packers will likely try to lean on their running game early to ease Rodgers into his job, which makes a ton of sense. However, this is bad news for fantasy owners; Rodgers’ early numbers could disappoint.

   

 

 

Breaking down

Green Bay’s 2008 schedule, the Packers will face seven defenses that finished 2007 ranked average or better in total defense – four of them were rated in the Top 10. There is; however, good news for Rodgers: 11 of the 16 pass defenses that he will face were ranked average or worse last season. Meanwhile, Grant will face eight run defenses that were ranked average or better in 2007, which means Rodgers can’t be a game manager for the entire season – if this is what the Packers have in mind. He will have to win some games with his arm.

 

In all re-draft league formats, Rodgers is obviously not a No. 1 fantasy quarterback this season and rates as a very risky backup. We used Romo as an example of a quarterback that assumed a starting job with circumstances that are similar to what Rodgers is facing, but is it fair to predict how Rodgers’ first-year starter numbers will measure up to Romo’s first-season starter statistics? If you project the numbers from Romo’s 10 starts in 2006 over a full 16-game schedule, you come up with 4,225 passing yards, 25 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. Should you expect more than 4,000 yards passing from Rodgers? The answer is no. Why? The answer is admittedly open to some debate: Rodgers is arguably at least a couple of notches below Romo talent-wise. Put simply: When Romo took over as the starter for the Cowboys, he was a better player than Rodgers is right now. Assuming Rodgers plays a full 16-game schedule – the bet here is that he will miss at least two games due to injury – you should expect statistics in the neighborhood of 3,300 yards passing, 23 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. Like Romo, Rodgers will enjoy some good games and suffer through some bad outings, struggling with week-to-week consistency. Let somebody else take the gamble with Rodgers as a backup. Suppose you drafted Rodgers as your No. 2 quarterback and you lost your starter for a long period or for the entire season. Would you feel comfortable rolling with Rodgers as your starter long-term based on what you know about him?

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