Sometimes my eyes see one thing, but the statistics show something else.
In past years, I would get tingly when Aaron Rodgers broke out of the pocket and extended the time of a play. I was confident that Jordy, or Davante, or Randall would break free, find an open space on the field, and Aaron would spot him and deliver a strike – often while on the run. Many of these connections were either deep downfield or to a receiver who had ample running room after the catch.
Over the past two years, and ever increasingly, however, I’ve begun to cringe when Aaron starts to scramble, or breaks out of the pocket. Aaron doesn’t seem to be having near the success he used to have on broken plays. Almost as often as not lately, he ends up throwing the ball out of bounds.
Do the statistics support or refute my unscientific impression?
Trusting my memory, for a number of years Aaron Rodgers was computed to be the top out-of-pocket passer in the NFL. I believe his passer rating when he left the pocket was annually about 120 to 130. If so, that special talent has started to decline.
The guys at Pro Football Focus analyze just about everything, and they took a look at this for the current season. On November 1 they came out with a study on “Best QBs on throws outside of the pocket.” They ranked the passer ratings of 33 qualifying QBs when they end up outside the pocket, whether by rolling out or by scrambling.
Rodgers’ rating was 103.4, based on 21 completions out of 37 passes, which gained 240 yards, and produced three TDs and no picks. Pretty good, but remember, this is a quarterback with a lifetime passer rating of 103.8. Rodgers also took off running 10 times, gaining 84 yards and picking up six first downs.
Aaron ranked fifth in this survey. Those above him were: Jameis Winston (137.3), Dak Prescott (121.8), Case Keenum (114.1), and Derek Carr (113.8).
The Age Factor
Though PFF didn’t get into it, one’s age seems to be a major factor in the success rate of scrambling QBs.
The four top QBs in the survey are, in order, 23, 24, 29, and 26. How about the rankings of the rest of the 34-and-over group to which Aaron belongs? Here you go: Ben Roethlisberger, 35 – 6th; Jay Cutler, 34 – 7th; Eli Manning, 36 – 14th; Drew Brees, 38 – 18th; Josh McCown, 38 – 22nd; Philip Rivers, 36 – 27th; Tom Brady, 40 – 28th; Carson Palmer, 37 – 29th.
In theory, one’s reaction time, ability to throw on the run, and other physical instincts and abilities should recede as one ages. I’d say the statistics support the theory. We already see Aaron’s out-of-pocket talents declining now that he is 34. As he moves into his late 30s, it’s likely he’ll drop down toward the bottom of this list – alongside Brees, McCown, Brady, and Palmer.
The upside that Aaron Rodgers has customarily gotten when he scrambles out of the pocket has been substantial, but that upside has been on the decline the last year or two, and history tells us that the decline will increase with each passing year.
I’ve previously addressed this issue, saying: “at age 34 (Rodgers’) mobility is about to start to noticeably decrease, making rapid-fire pocket passing an even more important asset – and career extender.” I followed up by comparing him to Peyton Manning, who nicely transitioned to becoming a rapid-fire passer as he aged.
This post offers additional evidence that it would be advisable for Rodgers to begin making that transition. The aging process doesn’t makes an exception for anyone.