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NFL Analysis: The Rise of Packers Aaron Rodgers

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Fantasy Football superstar, Super Bowl MVP, Fed Ex Air NFL Player of the Year; all words to describe Aaron Rodgers as a football player. Specifically, as the best quarterback in the NFL right now.

Aaron Charles was born on December 2, 1983 in Chico, California as the second of three sons to Darla and Ed Rodgers. Football was a big part of Aaron’s life since he started watching NFL games at two years old. By five, he was updating the statistics on his football cards. His passion for football came from Ed, who was an offensive lineman at California State-Chico, where he met Darla. After college, Ed continued to play semi-pro ball for the Twin City Cougars for three years. Ed’s passion and knowledge for football were passed down to his sons.

As a child, Aaron played several sports including soccer, basketball and baseball, but he was wired for football. He learned how the game is played from his dad, and grasped the concept quickly. Along with inheriting Ed’s understanding of the sport, Aaron also inherited his dad’s competitiveness. He was a naturally talented athlete, had a strong arm, and a good head on his shoulders. Aaron was also somewhat of a born leader who had no trouble telling the other kids what to do and was scolded by his teachers for being too bossy towards his classmates.

Aaron was an avid Los Angeles Dodgers fan during the spring and summer, but come September, all of his attention turned to his favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers. His favorite player was Joe Montana and when he was nine, the quarterback went to the Kansas City Chiefs and Steve Young was named the starter. Aaron recalls wondering how he could ever root for his idol’s replacement. A little over a decade later, Aaron himself would face that same scenario.

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The Rodgers family moved to Beaverton for a few years so Ed could attend Chiropractic school. While in Oregon, Aaron attended Vose Elementary and Whitford Middle Schools where he played little league baseball and flourished as a short stop, center fielder, and pitcher. The family moved back to Chico, and Aaron enrolled at Pleasant Valley High School in 1998, setting his sights on the varsity quarterback job.

The scrawny, barely-six foot Aaron got his chance his junior year and passed for more than 2,000 yards and earned All-Section honors. The next year, he threw for a school-record 2,303 yards and also set single-game marks with six touchdown passes and 440 all-purpose yards.

Despite his personal accomplishments on the field, Aaron was undersized, and the Vikings did not have a successful program, which led him to be almost completely off the Division I radar. San Diego State showed some interest until head coach Ted Tollner was fired and the only major school to offer Aaron a shot was Illinois. In Champaign, Aaron would have to make the team as a walk-on before they would talk scholarship; he declined. Instead, he chose to play 15 miles from home for Coach Craig Rigsbee at Butte Community College.  In his freshman season Rodgers threw 28 touchdowns while leading Butte to a 10–1 record and the NorCal Conference championship. California Golden Bears head coach Jeff Tedford was interested in Butte CC TE Garrett Cross, and was looking at film when he noticed Aaron. Tedford called Coach Rigsbee and informed him he would be making the three hour drive from Berkeley to Oroville the next day to watch the Roadrunners practice. Although Mondays were walk-throughs, Rigsbee worked in enough passing drills for Tedford to evaluate Rodgers’ arm. The Bears’ skipper was so impressed, he called Aaron on the way back to Berkeley and offered him a scholarship. Due to having a 3.6 GPA and SAT score of 1300 when he graduated high school, Rodgers was eligible to transfer after only one year of junior college instead of the typical two.

Rodgers wowed Tedford and his staff at Cal with his ability to read defenses and make good decisions and found himself playing in three of the team’s first four games. He played well enough that he was named the starter against the only college that gave him an offer, Illinois. The following week in his second start, Aaron led the squad to a triple-overtime upset then-third ranked Southern California, the Trojans only loss of the season. Aaron started his Golden Bear career by throwing 98 straight passes without an interception, had a completion percentage of 68.2% over the last five games, and went 6–3 as a starter during the regular season. In the final regular season game, Rodgers had 414 yards of total offense against Stanford, setting a record for the 106 year old showdown known as the “Big Game”.

Cal received an invitation to the Insight Bowl, and faced Virginia Tech. Rodgers threw for 394 yards as the Bears defeated the Hokies 52–49. The victory capped what is still considered one of the best sophomore seasons by a Pac -10 (now Pac-12) quarterback. Despite not starting until the fifth week, Aaron completed 61.6 % of his passes for 2,903 yards, 19 touchdowns, and only five interceptions.

In Rodger’s junior campaign, his completion percentage increased to 66.1% and he threw for 2,566 yards and 24 touchdowns. His passer rating placed him just a hair behind Matt Leinert of USC, the Heisman winner that year. The Golden Bears’ offense averaged more than 37 points per game, but it wasn’t just Aaron’s arm scoring points. Cal averaged 260 yards a game on the ground, fifth best in the nation, and RB JJ Arrington finished eighth in Heisman voting, one place ahead of his inspiring quarterback.

Rodgers seemed to make everyone around him play harder and just a little better. Cal finished the regular season 10-1, the one loss a 23-17 defeat at the hands of USC in Los Angeles. In that loss, Rodgers had his best individual game, tying an NCAA record with 23 completions in a row and connecting on 29-of-34 passes to set a school record with an 85.3% completion rate. USC and Oklahoma went on to receive the BCS bids for the National Championship game, and Aaron Rodgers would face the first of two major controversies in his career.

The controversy was surrounded around the BCS’s selection of the second at-large team, Utah being the first. California expected to get the invite, being ranked fourth in the BCS entering the last week of the regular season. Texas, who had been left out the year before, was fifth before the final BCS selections were released. Even though both teams finished with identical records, the Longhorns received enough support from poll voters to move them into the fourth slot, ensuring them the second at-large bid. Texas head coach Mack Brown was publicly criticized for pleading with voters to put the Longhorns ahead of the Golden Bears, and Tedford called for coaches’ votes to be made public. When all was said and done, Texas defeated Michigan in the Rose Bowl, while California lost to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl 45-31 and ended the season ranked ninth.

In the weeks after the Holiday Bowl loss, Aaron decided to forego his senior year at Cal and declare for the NFL Draft. He finished his collegiate career with 5,469 yards, 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Rodgers also holds Cal’s career record for lowest percentage of passes intercepted at 1.95%.

Everything just seems to work out for Aaron.  His NFL career didn’t start off as he would have drawn it up.  On draft day the camera caught every agonizing moment as Rodgers slipped from possible first overall pick to the 24th selection in the draft.  The slide caught most people off guard and half way through the first round, Torry Holt said during the ESPN broadcast that Aaron Rodgers will have the luxury to go play for Brett Favre and Green Bay.  He was hiding a smirk as if he already knew how perfect of a match the situation would be.” – Jayson Braddock

Slated as a top 10 pick entering the 2005 NFL Draft, Rodgers’ biggest competition for the overall pick to the 49ers was Alex Smith, who was coming off a phenomenal year at Utah. When the draft got underway San Francisco’s then-head coach Mike Nolan selected Smith, citing Rodgers wasn’t “athletic enough”.

Rodgers was passed over pick after pick until finally with the 24th pick the Green Bay Packers selected the California quarterback.

Sliding to the bottom of the first round was hard enough, but what was even harder to swallow was that the Packers had NFL Ironman Brett Favre securely starting under center. They had come off of three straight division titles, and had no plans to start the rookie. However, Rodgers would watch and learn from a future hall-of-famer, and one of the most beloved Packers in history.

The 2005 season was disastrous for Green Bay. Injuries plagued the Packers from the opener, when they lost WR Javon Walker and then halfway through the schedule RB Ahman Green blew out his knee. Rodgers would see action in three games, throwing for 65 yards and completing 9-of-16 passes. The Packers would end the year at 4-12.

Favre hinted he would retire, but changed his mind before training camp, and once again, Aaron would spend the 2006 season on the bench. Aaron threw a total of 15 passes, and his year ended early when he broke his foot in a 35-0 loss to New England. Despite the controversy created by Favre before the season, first year head coach Mike McCarthy and the Packers improved to 8–8. McCarthy, a former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, ended the season on a high note with Green Bay rattling off four straight victories to finish at .500. After the season finale against Chicago, Favre told a TV reporter he was retiring, and then changed his mind a few weeks later.

Favre’s indecision began to paralyze the organization. They had significant money tied up in two quarterbacks, and it was unclear what the timetable would be for the reins to be passed down to a young upstart. Before the 2007 draft, there was talk of Green Bay trading Rodgers to Oakland for Randy Moss. During the second day of the draft New England traded for Moss instead, keeping Rodgers a Packer and denying him the possibility to start once again.

McCarthy garnered Coach of the Year honors as Green Bay finished the 2007 season at 13-3. Aaron’s big moment came week 13 against Dallas when Favre was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with an elbow injury. Rodgers took over the next series and led the offense on a 74-yard drive, capping it off with an 11-yard TD pass to WR Greg Jennings. In the third, Rodgers once again marched the Packers down the field as Ryan Grant finished off the 69 yard packer drive with a one yard touchdown. The Packers could not pull off the come-from-behind victory and fell 37-27 to the Cowboys, but Rodgers threw for 201 yards and a score in the losing effort. The Packers went on to the NFC Championship game, but an interception by Favre in overtime led to a New York Giants field goal, and a 23-20 loss to the eventual Super Bowl winners.

In the spring that followed, Favre held a tearful press conference announcing he would retire, and just as he did in the past, he changed his mind soon after. Favre was back in training camp that summer, but McCarthy decided it was time to commit to Aaron. The Packers traded Favre to the New York Jets and the loyal Green Bay fans were outraged. For the next few days, fans attending the Packers training camp practices heckled Aaron, and even more disturbing was the threats on his life he  talked about in the NFL Network’s America’s Game 2010 Green Bay Packers documentary.

Before September 8, 2008 no other quarterback started a game for the Packers other than Brett Favre since 1992. On that date, a new era began for the storied franchise.

“Rodgers had a lot of free time on his hands and with his hunger and talent he could study the other greats of the game, like Peyton Manning.  He perfected his craft while watching film and seeing how the great ones handle situations.  It’s easy to see Rodgers put other quarterback’s top qualities into play.  He’s a field general at the line, like Manning.  He’ll take what the defense shows him and then destroy them at their game.  No one has ever had more fun playing the game then Favre and you can see the smile and the playfulness of the QB.  He likes what he does and he’s great at it.  We all know about his accuracy and smarts but let’s get back to his poise.  That’s what makes the difference.  He’s bigger than the moment.  He prefers the pressure and his calmness gives off a silent confidence to his teammates.  You never see panic in the face of the Packers.  That’s because they follow Rodgers lead and believe in not only his ability but theirs.” – Jayson Braddock

Aaron acclimated himself well with poise, confidence, and a victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The following week, he threw for three touchdowns and more than 300 yards in a win over the Lions. Rodgers would suffer a sprained shoulder in a loss to the Bucs, but was adamant he start against the Falcons. The game would end in the Packers’ third consecutive loss, but Rodgers gained the respect of teammates and fans for his effort through the injury. With the shoulder still an issue, Aaron once again, played through the injury and pulled out a win over the Seattle Seahawks. His biggest win in his first year as starter came in Week 7, when he out-dueled Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts 34–14. Although Green Bay fans seemed to be behind Rodgers 100%, fans of teams not in Wisconsin took exception to his touchdown celebration; Aaron makes a motion as if to be putting a “championship belt” around his waist. Despite criticism, Rodgers would make the move his signature celebratory move, and it would eventually catch the attention of WWE Superstar Triple H a couple years later.

After Favre had left Green Bay, rumblings surfaced that the Packers’ plan to have Favre tutor Rodgers never came to fruition, and essentially, Aaron learned a lot watching the master from the sideline and by watching tape. What he couldn’t learn from observing, was how to how to make game-winning plays when a contest hangs in the balance. Green Bay lost seven games by a touchdown or less his first year under center, including a pair of overtime defeats. Although the Packers finished 6–10, they could easily have reversed that record with a more experienced quarterback, or at least a quarterback that had been guided appropriately for years behind one of the greats.

For the opening game of the 2009 season, Rodgers recorded first comeback win when he completed a fifty yard touchdown pass to Jennings with a minute remaining in the game for a 21-15 victory over the Chicago Bears. Rodgers was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, after passing for 988 yards, completing 74.5% of his passes, and recording a passer rating over 110 for all three games played during the month. After a mediocre 4–4 start to the season and a devastating loss to a 0-7 Tampa Bay Bucs, Rodgers and the Packers began to get hot, and won the next five straight. In the win-streak, Rodgers threw for a total of 1,324 yards, 9 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Green Bay won two of their last three games, finishing the second half of the season 7–1 and an overall record of 11–5, good enough to secure a wild card playoff berth. Rodgers entered the record books; becoming the first QB in NFL history ever to throw for 4,000 yards in both of his first two years as a starter.

In his first playoff start against Arizona, Rodgers’ first pass was intercepted by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. After the turnover, the quarterback settled down and finished the game 28-of-42 for 422 yards and four touchdowns. Despite Rodger’s offensive stats, he fumbled the ball on the last play if the game in overtime, and the ball was returned for the winning touchdown. The Cardinals won 51–45 in the highest scoring playoff game in NFL history.

Despite being sacked a league-high 50 times, Aaron finished the season throwing for 4,434 yards, 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His season passing yardage made him second only behind Lynn Dickey in Packers history.

Rodgers’ regular season performance earned him a trip to his first Pro Bowl as the NFC’s third Quarterback behind the Saints’ Drew Brees and the Vikings’ Favre. Rodgers, however, became the starter after Favre dropped out due to injury and Brees was replaced due to his participation in Super Bowl XLIV. He finished the day 15-of-19 passing with 197 yards and two touchdowns, despite the NFC losing the game 41-34.

Although it wouldn’t come easy, redemption awaited Aaron and the Packers in 2010. After cruising to a 3-1 start, Rodgers suffered a concussion against Washington and fell to the Redskins in overtime. He played the following week against Miami, but the Packers dropped their second game in a row in overtime to slide to 3-3. Rodgers stepped up after that with the help of several strong defensive performances in four straight victories to run its record to 7–3.

Sitting at 8-4 by week 14, the Packers faced the Lions in what should have been an easy game. Instead, Aaron suffered his second concussion of the year after being hammered as he slid to squeeze out an extra yard on a play, and was forced to leave the game. His backup, Matt Flynn, stepped in and finished the game 15-of-26 passes for 177 yards in a losing effort as Detroit squeaked by with the 7–3 victory.

The concussion sidelined Aaron the next week against the Patriots and Flynn nearly pulled off a miracle, but a late rally by Tom Brady turned a six point lead into a 31–27 loss. In order to make the postseason for the second consecutive year, the 8–6 Packers had to win their final two games at home, against the Giants and the division-leading Bears.

As the media and fans began to worry about Green Bay’s future, Aaron returned to the lineup and guided the team to an impressive 45-17 blowout over New York in which he threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns. In the season finale against rival Chicago, with the game tied at three-all, Rodgers completed long passes to long-time Packer Donald Driver and Jennings to set up a short TD throw to the third wideout, Donald Lee. Safety Nick Collins intercepted Jay Cutler late in the game to seal Green Bay’s victory and secure the NFC’s final Wild Card berth.

Despite amassing 3,922 passing yards, 28 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and a passer rating above 100 for the second straight year in 15 games, Rodgers was snubbed for the Pro-Bowl in one of the biggest head-scratchers in voting history. Green Bay was the hottest team entering the playoffs, but reaching the Super Bowl looked nearly impossible, as they would have to win three games on the road.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packer’s Super Bowl journey started in Philadelphia against a high octane Eagles offense that had many weapons. Rodgers seemed fully prepared for the challenge throwing two first half touchdowns, and adding a third in the second to shock the NFC Champions 21-16 at home.

Next on Green Bay’s slate was a trip to Atlanta to face the top seed in the NFC. After a 12 yard touchdown run by Michael Turner to open the scoring in favor of the Falcons, Rodgers and the Pack took control and cruised to a 48-21 win, the most points scored in franchise post-season history, as he completed 31-of-36 for 366 yards and three TDs and added a score on the ground.

The Packers headed into Chicago for the NFC Championship game as favorites over the NFC North winning Bears. The Packers led 14-0 at halftime, and the defense knocked Cutler out of the game, diminishing Chicago’s chance of a comeback. Despite a hard fought effort by the Bears’ backup and third string QBs, the defense kept the Packers securely in the lead. Rodgers did not have a particularly impressive game, completing only 17-of-30 passes and throwing a pair of picks, but Green Bay prevailed 21-14 against their long-time rivals.

As Super Bowl XLV approached, the Packers were favored by three points over Pittsburgh, and Rodgers and the Packers were confident they could win by air or by ground over a highly touted Steelers defense. When February 6, 2011 rolled around, Rodger’s performance was nothing short of sensational. Although the Packers could not establish a rushing attack, the signal caller stayed poised, calm, and cool in the pocket, delivering one on-target pass after another.  On several occasions he fell victim to drops by his receivers, and the Steelers orchestrated the beginning of a comeback; but Rodgers rallied his troops like a true champion taking time off the clock to put them in position for a field goal. The Packers defense held on strong as ever on the final Pittsburgh possession to end the game 31-25.

Aaron Rodgers was the easy choice as Super Bowl MVP, after he completed 24-of-39 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns. He remained in total command, even facing one of the fiercest pass rushes in the NFL.

As Aaron held the Lombardi Trophy, a symbol of everything he had dreamed of, worked hard for, and sat patiently waiting years for; teammate Clay Matthews placed a replica of the WWE Championship belt on Rodger’s shoulder.

“Nay sayers will talk about the talent that surrounds Rodgers and give credit of his success to the organization.  But much like Peyton in Indy, Rodgers elevates the level of play around him.  Not saying that this isn’t a talented roster in Green Bay but Aaron takes them over the top.  If you add Aaron Rodgers to the Jacksonville Jaguars at the start of the 2011 season, they would make the playoffs.” – Jayson Braddock

The Packers have begun the 2011 season off to a 7-0 start on the hunt of another Super Bowl. Rodgers has continued his momentum from last year, completing 70.5% of his passes for 2,372 yards, 20 touchdowns and only three picks.

An early favorite for the first annual RotoExperts Fantasy Player of the Year Award, Rodgers has not disappointed fantasy owners and if he can stay healthy, is almost a lock for the award.

“Aaron Rodgers is simply the best player in Fantasy Football right now. His QB rating is an off the charts 122.5 and his TD: INT ratio is 17:3. Considering he has over 200 passing attempts, those numbers are ridiculous. What makes Rodgers especially unique is that he can not only sit back in the pocket and throw, but he throws equally as well on the run. He has 67 rushing yards and two rushing TDs already, which means that he easily could end up with another 200-300 yards rushing and five more rushing TD’s by season’s end. If I were starting a team in both the NFL and in Fantasy Football, Aaron Rodgers would be at the top of my list.” – Dr. Roto

Dory LeBlanc, covers Gator sports for Gators First and BourbonMeyer.com. Not just a college sports enthusiast, Dory is also a fan of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Born outside Philly, she moved to Tampa, and now resides in Illinois, giving her a broad perspective on the sporting world. You can follow Dory on twitter @DoryLeBlanc