Aaron Rodgers Is Primed For A Big Year
by Jake Dowling
Jun 30, 2014 10:14 AM EDT
The 2011 season was Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers' best as a starter in the NFL. During that 15-1 campaign, Rodgers completed 68.3 percent of his passes in 15 starts with 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Rodgers had WRs Greg Jennings, who missed the final four games of the season, and Donald Driver, whose decline on the depth chart was only just beginning. Jordy Nelson exploded during that season too, while the team also had James Jones and then-rookie Randall Cobb making plays.
With those remarkable numbers and more than half of his weapons gone heading into 2014, Rodgers is still looking for a season that might just top that MVP year.
Jennings traded his green jersey in for the purple of Minnesota, Jones bolted back home to the west coast and Driver retired. The probability of TE Jermichael Finley not returning after suffering a neck injury last season is high as well. Despite the losses — a combined 197 receptions, 2,596 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2011 — Rodgers still has a great supporting cast around him.
Nelson is now the No. 1 receiver, and is entering a contract year. He had his best season in 2013 when he recorded 85 receptions, 1,314 yards and eight scores, despite playing with four different quarterbacks. Cobb’s breakout season was beginning to shape out nicely that year before a broken leg suffered against the Baltimore Ravens slowed him down.
Cobb, too, is now in the last year of his rookie contract.
The Packers also now know what they have in Jarrett Boykin — 49 catches, 681 yards and three TDs — who stepped up nicely last season with Cobb and Jones injured.
In addition, Green Bay added three young pass catchers behind Nelson, Cobb and Boykin with Fresno State star Davante Adams, Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis and Saginaw Valley State WR Jeff Janis, who held multiple records in college. All players enjoyed great seasons in college, so transferring that talent to the pros should not be difficult, and the Packers have turned many second-round wide receivers into very productive pass catchers. Expect the same for Adams in his career.
Aside from the three drafted rookies, the Packers also have Myles White, Chris Harper, Alex Gillett and Kevin Dorsey. All players were either drafted last year or kept on the roster or practice squad.
Players such as Boykin and Cobb developed because they have a great quarterback in Rodgers. Similar to Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and even Brett Favre, Rodgers is the type of quarterback that makes the receivers around him better.
The tight end position has taken a blow in talent with the departure of Finley, but Brandon Bostick has the size — 6-3, 250 pounds — to be a nice target for Rodgers. Packers GM Ted Thompson also added Richard Rodgers in May’s draft and brought back Andrew Quarless, who enjoyed a decent season last year.
The major upgrade is at running back. In 2011, the Packers introduced a two-headed tantrum with James Starks and Ryan Grant, but the running game was not a major factor that season, mustering only 1,301 yards on 335 carries with nine touchdowns. Last season, Eddie Lacy surpassed those numbers alone with 1,178 yards on 284 runs and 11 scores. Back is Lacy, Starks and Dujuan Harris, who had a nice stint in 2012. FB John Kuhn is back as well.
We can't ignore the importance of the running back position. Despite the league being more pass-friendly, the running game continues to play a vital role for the Packers. After the 2011 season, defenses started to play Rodgers two deep, meaning two safeties zoning in the defensive backfield. Much like the Chicago Bears "Tampa 2" scheme, it forces Rodgers to be patient and throw underneath coverage.
In 2011, this was not the case, and Rodgers could throw deep balls all day. But since that MVP season, defenses knew they would not have to honor the run and kept their safeties back. With a refreshed rushing attack, the defenses will have to bring their secondary in and that opens the field for Rodgers.
Most importantly, Rodgers is becoming that savvy veteran. He has had the athletic tools for years, but is now becoming smarter under head coach Mike McCarthy and his quarterback school. Rodgers is also in the best shape of his career, as he has taken up yoga this offseason.
The broken collarbone injury also taught Rodgers how valuable it is to play healthy. Not only that, but It taught him more about the game too, as he assisted the other three starting quarterbacks last year.
Rodgers does not need another near 5,000-yard, 45-touchdown season, but look for him to have a more effective season that yields more points, more yards and more wins than last year. Moreover, this is all cultivating to a deep playoff run in 2014 and possibly another MVP season.