The average person would love to have the "down years" that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has. Rodgers knows it, too.
“I sometimes laugh when people talk about down years for me,” Rodgers said on “The Pat McAfee Show”, “because a lot of times down years for me are career years for most quarterbacks.”
Rodgers, 36, may not quite be the same quarterback he was in his prime. But he's still one of the best the NFL has on offer as he prepares to play Tom Brady in Week 6 of the 2020 NFL season in a matchup of future Hall of Famers. If we're being literal, everyone has "down years." Patrick Mahomes didn't have as good a year in 2019 as he did in his MVP 2018. Rodgers hasn't played at absolute peak performance every single season.
But it's silly to reflect on Rodgers' worst seasons as "down years," a stat-driven fallacy created in a fantasy football-obsessed world. It's not that different from spending time arguing whether Michael Jordan or LeBron James is the basketball G.O.A.T. Rodgers' "down years" are still some of the more entertaining and impressive quarterback seasons that football has ever seen.
Was Aaron Rodgers' 2019 season a 'down year'?
When the Packers went 6-9-1 in 2018, it was Rodgers who came under a lot of the fire. It didn't matter that he threw 25 touchdowns compared to two interceptions. An all-time great wasn't supposed to go 6-9-1. But aside from Davante Adams, Rodgers didn't have much to throw to once Randall Cobb got hurt. And the Aaron Jones/Jamaal Williams backfield split hadn't quite developed into the monster it is now. Mike McCarthy was fired because of the struggles, not Rodgers.
Rodgers and new head coach Matt LaFleur took a while to get acquainted in 2019. The offense was different than the one Rodgers had been running for years. And so Rodgers didn't go out every week and throw for 300 yards. He didn't have a ton of four touchdown games. He still threw 26 TDs compared to four interceptions, but the decline in counting stats was viewed as a "down year." Only problem? Green Bay went 13-3.
The 2019 Packers didn't need Rodgers chucking it everywhere to win all those games. An improved pass rush and impressive rushing game created a more balanced team than Green Bay had had in years. If your only reason for hating on Rodgers in 2019 was because you counted on him in fantasy, that's your fault for not reading all the Sporting News fantasy articles that warned Rodgers was "riskier than usual."
So sure, if your gauge for the type of season a player had is fantasy points, Rodgers had a down 2019. But in a pass-happy NFL, he still threw as many TDs as Deshuan Watson and Patrick Mahomes, for 55 fewer yards than Tom Brady and had the lowest interception percentage in football. Pretty much everyone would take that "down year."
What's changed for Aaron Rodgers in 2020?
The Packers have decided to air it out in 2020. Some of that comes from Rodgers' increased trust in Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who he's been talking up since training camp. Valdes-Scantling is one of the league's premier deep threats but has struggled with inconsistency. Early in 2020, the Packers have unleashed him. They've also benefited from the late 2019 emergence of Allen Lazard, who looked like a long-time starter before suffering a core injury.
Of course there's still Adams, who Rodgers targets often when healthy. But it's never really been about the receivers for Rodgers. He's thrown only two touchdowns in his career to former first-round picks, both to an aging Marcedes Lewis in 2019-20. Green Bay drafted quarterback Jordan Love in the first round, drawing speculation about Rodgers moving on, but he won't be going anywhere if he keeps playing how he has to start 2020.
LaFleur letting Rodgers fling the football down the field has been a massive success — the Packers have started 4-0 and Rodgers has thrown for 1,214 yards and 13 touchdowns with no interceptions. They've still got Jones and Williams to win the ground battle, too, so don't be surprised if Rodgers has the occasional quiet week. His quiet, "down" weeks are more attributable to the different ways the Packers have to win games than anything else.
Aaron Rodgers was Mahomes before Mahomes
Again, by the definition of "down years," Rodgers has had some. They're the years he wasn't as dominant as his best years. But it's impossible to repeat some of the best years in league history. Regression to the mean is a real thing.
But Rodgers hasn't all of a sudden become a worse player. You know all those Mahomes throws that social media gawks over? Rodgers has been making them for years.
Them: Patrick Mahomes is making throws that have never been made in football history.— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) October 12, 2019
Aaron Rodgers: pic.twitter.com/eZYPJDZBSl
So at this point, there's really no reason debating whether Rodgers is having a "down year," this year or next year or the year after. Decline will set in. Retirement will come eventually. But for right now, Rodgers is in the midst of one of the best seasons he's ever had. Enjoy it.