Don't believe the hype.
Even though Aaron Rodgers has put together an impressive résumé that includes a Super Bowl title and an MVP award, he is not in the same class with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. In fact, he might not even be worthy of being placed above Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger on a list of the league's best quarterbacks.
This is not meant to dismiss Rodgers' numerous accomplishments over his six-year career, but the momentum of his scintillating postseason run has led many to proclaim him the league's top quarterback without fully examining where he stands against the best. That's saying a lot, considering Rodgers' numerous accomplishments over the past three years since taking over for the legendary Brett Favre in Green Bay.
Rodgers has topped the 4,000-yard mark in two of his three seasons as a starter and was only a missed game away from surpassing the feat this season (Rodgers finished with 3,922 passing yards in 15 games in 2010). He has been the model of efficiency in the pocket by compiling a passer rating over 100 in two of his three seasons, while also connecting on over 64-percent of his passes during that span. His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 87:32 is outstanding, and few have matched his success as a starter.
Rodgers' combination of poise, patience and accuracy makes him tough to defend. He shows uncanny timing and precision in the pocket, and is superb with his ball placement, hitting his receivers in stride. Although he is able to pick apart defenses with a "connect the dots" approach, he is also an excellent deep-ball thrower with the arm strength, touch and accuracy to punish defenses for creeping up to defend the short game.
In addition to being proficient from the pocket, Rodgers is a dual threat with the ability to hurt opponents with his feet and arm. He ranked only behind Michael Vick and Josh Freeman in rushing yards among quarterbacks last season, and his scrambling skills often result in big plays.
While all aspects of Rodgers' game rate highly, he is surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast that makes the game easier for him. He inherited an offense that was among the game's elite under Favre, and the continued development of the league's best receiving corps makes it hard to credit Rodgers solely for the unit's remarkable output. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones are big, physical receivers with excellent running skills. They specialize in turning short passes into big gainers.
In comparison, Rivers and Manning continued to put up big numbers despite playing with a hodgepodge of pass catchers over the past few years. Rivers, in particular, finished as the league's leading passer with a host of street free agents playing prominent roles. Granted, Rodgers can't control the level of talent surrounding him, but it is much easier to enjoy tremendous success when you have the weapons in place to thrive.
Another overlooked factor in Rodgers' phenomenal run has been the presence of the league's top defense. On the surface, it wouldn't appear that the Packers' defense would have an effect on Rodgers' play, but the added opportunities created off turnovers and three-and-outs leads to short fields and more scoring opportunities. Over the past two seasons, the defense has finished among the top six units in takeaways, and the extra possessions have certainly led to more big plays and production from Rodgers.
Manning, for example, has never been backed by an elite defense, yet he has continued to make the Colts one of the league's most productive units. The Colts led the league in 2010 with 34 10-play scoring drives, with 21 of those resulting in touchdowns.The Packers only produced 17 10-play scoring drives, but finished fifth in the league in points off takeaways.
A laundry list of impressive statistics is certainly a big part in deciding between the best quarterbacks, but it ultimately comes down to winning championships. Rodgers' Super Bowl XLV victory earns him a spot in the conversation, but it is hard to consider him better than Brady and Roethlisberger based on their multiple championship victories.
Brady, who has earned three Super Bowl rings in four tries, is considered the quintessential winner of the modern game. He became the fastest quarterback in the league to win 100 games as a starter, and his flair for orchestrating dramatic comebacks in Super Bowl has cemented his status as the top quarterback in the game.
Roethlisberger has already captured two rings in seven seasons. Although some would say he won his first title in spite of his performance, he earned his stripes with his stirring performance in Super Bowl XLIII over the Arizona Cardinals. His game-winning drive was orchestrated in dramatic fashion with a pinpoint pass to Santonio Holmes winning the game.
While Roethlisberger doesn't compare stylistically to Rodgers, his rings and winning pedigree make it hard to dismiss his standing as one of the top quarterbacks in the game.
Rodgers has deservedly earned a spot at the table with the elite quarterbacks after his scintillating postseason run that resulted in his first Super Bowl title. However, a legacy is built over time, and his résumé is simply too short to put him above some of the great signal callers still playing at a high level in today's game.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks