Fantasy News & Analysis

Exception Report: Aaron Rodgers is throwing more than ever

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 18: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers in action during the 2015 NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Packers 28-22 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Welcome to the Exception Report. This series is designed to examine players and their impressive seasons, games, and/or plays. It looks for the outliers and helps understand how they are doing it and if it can continue.

This iteration will examine an already elite player in Aaron Rodgers. Fantasy owners already know his value in leagues. However, he has largely relied on efficiency, only surpassing 600 pass attempts once in his career (in 2016). This year, Rodgers is on pace for 715 passes and has the 12th-most attempts since 1950 through three games (via Pro Football Reference):

Name Attempts Season
Frank Tripucka 150 1962
Drew Bledsoe 149 1995
Brian Sipe 145 1981
Drew Bledsoe 143 1994
Tom Brady 142 2009
Jameis Winston 142 2016
Sam Bradford 141 2013
Drew Brees 140 2016
Robert Griffin 139 2013
Warren Moon 139 1990
Drew Brees 137 2012
Aaron Rodgers 134 2017

How did he get here?

Rodgers has been nothing if not consistent. Now in his 10th season as a starter, Rodgers has the lowest career interception rate (1.6 percent of attempts) and highest passer rating (103.8) of any quarterback in NFL history. In eight of those nine seasons (excluding this year), Rodgers has played at least 15 games and has at least 28 touchdown passes in all of them.

When looking to the shift in passing volume for Rodgers, the best place to start is the run game. 2016 marked a change in run volume for the Packers, going from 12th in rush attempts in 2015 to 29th overall. It has dropped even lower this year with the team ranked dead last with just 20 attempts per game. While part of the change in run philosophy has to do with personnel at the running back position, the team is also dealing with injuries across the offensive line including Bryan Bulaga, David Bakhtiari, and rookie Jason Spriggs, who is out for the season.

The second side of the coin revolves around what the Packers are calling a defense. The pass defense in particular is making life difficult for their own team. PFF has them ranked 30th in pass coverage, which is interesting considering the pass rush is ranked inside the top 10. Opponents haven’t had to throw much though, with just 82 attempts against in three games, fewest in the league. That’s largely a result of big leads by the Falcons and Bengals, both accumulating double-digit leads against the Packers. With the team having to play catchup, it boosted Rodgers’ need to throw the football.

Can he keep the pace?

Asking any quarterback, much less Aaron Rodgers, to exceed 700 pass attempts is a tall order. The current record is 727 attempts by Matthew Stafford in 2012, when he just missed hitting 5,000 passing yards (4,967) for the second year in a row. He is also the only quarterback to ever reach the 700-pass-attempt mark.

The aforementioned offensive line is a legitimate concern. Right now, Rodgers also leads the league in sacks taken (13) and is seeing pressure on a higher percentage of snaps (37 percent) than the last three seasons (31 percent). It impacts his completion rate with a 17 percent dropoff when Rodgers is facing pressure. With Bulaga and Bakhtiari recovering from leg injuries, their return to the lineup will be critical to keep Rodgers upright for the season.

Does he hit the mark?

While breaking the attempts record is unlikely, 650 pass attempts is a real possibility. It is also a tough mark, as there are only 16 instances of that number being reached. Granted, Drew Brees has found the mark on seven of those occasions, but this age of the NFL has also contributed. Only Drew Bledsoe in 1994 and Warren Moon in 1991 hit 650 attempts before 2010. Comparatively, two did it last year in Brees and Joe Flacco.

Looking down the roster, the team is built for the passing game. In six of the past seven drafts, the Packers have spent at least one draft pick on a wide receiver, including three in the top three rounds. It enabled them to transition Ty Montgomery from wide receiver to running back, where he is now the clear top option out of the backfield. He is also one of four Packers to have 20 targets in the first three weeks of the season, the only team with four players hitting the mark. The fact that Jordy Nelson isn’t one of those players (he has 17 targets) shows how willing Rodgers is to spread the ball around.

It is a leap for a guy who has maxed out at 610 attempts to add another 40, but the environment seems right for this to happen.

Confidence Level: 65%

What does this mean for fantasy?

Most fantasy analysts will tell you the importance of opportunity. Whether that is touches for a running back or targets for a receiver, it can help mask inefficiencies by using volume. Rodgers poses a different question though. What happens when an extremely efficient player is given a high level of volume?

Well, this has happened before. Brees is the poster boy of a quarterback who sees an uptick in passing volume. Going to New Orleans allowed Brees the uptick in attempts and he responded with similar accuracy, touchdown, and yards per attempt rates relative to his last two years in San Diego. If Rodgers can see the volume and maintain his touchdown and yard per attempt rates from the rest of his career; he could become the fifth player to manage 5,000 yards passing with over 40 touchdowns.


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