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Wednesday Walkthroughs: What’s the most impressive statistical season in Packers history?

There are some amazing statistical performances in Packers history. Whose rises above the rest?

Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Bears

In their more than century-long history, the Green Bay Packers have no shortage of amazing statistical seasons. And with greats like Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Sterling Sharpe, James Lofton, Don Hutson, and more popping up throughout the history books, it’s easy to see why.

But which one is the best? That’s less clear, but we’re willing to take up the question for discussion.

Here are our picks for the best statistical seasons in Packers history. What’s yours?

Rcon14: Aaron Rodgers, The Year of 2011

I’m cheating a little by going outside of just the 2011 season, but I think it’s important to highlight just how insane Aaron Rodgers was between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011. Starting with the Wild Card game against Philadelphia, Rodgers didn’t rack up crazy yardage, but put together a three touchdown performance. He followed that up with one of the best games any quarterback has ever played, going 31/36 for 366 yards and three touchdowns as Green Bay decimated Atlanta. After a poor showing against a great Bears defense in the NFC Championship Game, Rodgers had one of the great Super Bowl performances ever. His line of 24/39, 304 yards, and three touchdowns doesn’t actually do him justice. His receivers, particularly Jordy Nelson, let him down multiple times. The game should have been a blowout, but dropped passes kept it closer than it needed to be. Rodgers’ 94.3 PFF grade in this game, against the #1 defense by DVOA, is absolutely asinine. In that game alone he had NINE big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays. Rodgers’ PFF grade is the highest for a quarterback in a Super Bowl.

Rodgers stayed on his obnoxiously hot run throughout 2011. His numbers from this season feel impossible. 68% completion, 4,600 yards, 45 touchdowns to just six interceptions, and he didn’t even play the last game! He led the league in TD% by two percentage points at 9% and was .1% from leading the league in INT%. He led the league in ANY/A by a hilarious 1.14 yards. Rodgers’ DVOA of 46.6% is one of the best the NFL has seen. By every measure, he was far and away the best quarterback in football, and that was a year that included prime Drew Brees and prime Tom Brady.

Rodgers’ 150 AY/A+ is the best single-season in NFL history, edging out 2004 Peyton Manning. Now Rodgers did take a few more sacks, so his ANY/A+ falls slightly to #3 all-time behind ‘04 Manning and 1984 Dan Marino at 147. It is important to note that while sacks are predominantly a quarterback stat, Marshall Newhouse was playing left-tackle this season, and he was terrible. I miss this Aaron so much.

Jon Meerdink: Charles Woodson, 2009

This isn’t so much about volume as uniqueness. Though Woodson did lead the league with nine interceptions in 2009, the breadth of his accomplishments is even more impressive. Woodson managed to sack the quarterback twice, force four fumbles (recovering one), defend 18 passes (the second-highest total of his career), and record nine tackles for a loss. All of this was on top of his nine picks, three of which he returned for touchdowns.

Oh, and he did it at the sprightly age of 33.

Paul Noonan: Don Hutson, 1942

In 1942, Don Hutson led the league in receptions, touchdowns, yards per game, yards per touch, yards from scrimmage, and he had the longest play of the season. His 74 receptions for 1211 yards would be impressive in modern times, but given the passing environment of the day, it’s nothing short of ridiculous, and in all likelihood the most dominant receiver season of all time. Consider that:

  • Hutson had more receiving yards than the Steelers, Giants, Dodgers, and Lions had passing yards. He was in shouting distance of the Cardinals and Eagles as well.
  • He had more receiving yards than four franchises had rushing yards (Giants, Eagles, Cardinals, Rams). In 1942!
  • As previously stated, Hutson led the league in receiving. His 1211 yards were more than the second and third place receivers combined! He outgained 2nd place Ray McLean by 640 yards.
  • His 17 TDs equaled the total of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th ranked receivers in the league combined.
  • Hutson caught 74 balls. The next highest total was the Cardinals’ Pop Ivy, who caught 27.
  • Despite the volume, he was still 6th in yards per reception for those with over 15 catches.
  • Not only did Hutson dominate on offense, he also ranked 2nd in the NFL with 7 interceptions, just losing out to the Bears’ Bulldog Turner, who had 8.

The only really similar seasons in major professional sports belong to Babe Ruth, who in 1920 hit 54 home runs to edge out George Sisler’s 19 for most in the league. We tend to ignore the Lambeau era teams because football was so different, but Lambeau was as much an innovator as anyone to come after him. In Hutson, we have the first true modern receiver. It just took the rest of the league a few decades to properly catch up. His 1942 is almost too good to be believed.

Jonathan Barnett: Jim Taylor, 1962

Jim Taylor led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns in 1962. The biggest reason this season sticks out is the competition for those titles. Jim Brown played nine seasons in the NFL before leaving for Hollywood. Brown led the NFL in rushing every season in his career except one. This one.

Taylor’s 5.4 yards per carry that year is the best in Packers history among players with at least 135 carries in a season. He finished the season with 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns. These were the Packers records at the time (this was the third straight season in which he had broken the team yardage record). The yardage record held for 41 years before Ahman Green broke it. The touchdown record still stands. Green and Taylor remain the only Packers to average over 100 yards per game in a season.

What makes this season all the more impressive is that he shared the backfield with Paul Hornung. Hornung and Tom Moore combined for 596 yards and 12 touchdowns on 169 carries. In 2003, only 157 carries did not go to Ahman Green (including two rushes by Craig Nall). Also, extrapolating 169 carries from 14 games to 16 (I can do that, it’s my section) would be roughly the same as 193 carries.

Taylor carried the 1962 Packers and did what no other human being ever did: win a rushing title while Jim Brown was in the league.

Shawn Wagner: Sterling Sharpe, 1992

This may be a more unconventional pick, but let me explain.

More often than not, a new NFL quarterback needs a reliable go-to receiver to help jumpstart their career. In 1992, Sharpe provided that and more for Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers in Favre’s inaugural season with the team.

Sharpe led the league and also set a then-franchise record in receptions with 108, while also doing the same in yards (1,461). Meanwhile, Sharpe led the league in touchdowns with 13, which was only shy of Don Hutson’s mark of 17 in Packers history. Sharpe was also incredibly consistent that season, leading the NFL with 91.3 receiving yards per game and also catching 66% of passes thrown his way. He started all 16 games and posted seven games over 100 yards and another two with at least 93. That kind of production made Sharpe a Pro Bowl and First-Team All Pro receiver, but also paved the way for Favre’s transition as a starting quarterback.

Sharpe would break some of his own records in the next two seasons, including a whopping 18 touchdowns in 1994 that remains one of the league’s all-time best season totals. But he may never have had a more all-around awesome year than his 1992 campaign, which was a historical feat for the Packers at the time.

Tex Western: Ahman Green’s 2003

I’ll play the foil to Jon above and argue for Ahman Green. The Packers’ offensive line in 2003 was incredible, and it is best shown in two places. The first is the team’s sack numbers: Brett Favre took only 19 sacks all season, a number that would drop even lower to a mind-boggling fourteen in 2004. But the team’s rushing numbers, mainly courtesy of Green, help illustrate both how great he was that year and how awesome his offensive line was in front of him.

Yes, Green was a tremendous workhorse in 2003. He carried the football 355 times and he caught 50 of 60 targets for a total of 405 touches. Somehow, there were four other backs across the NFL who had more touches in 2003 alone than Green did, but in the 16 seasons since only seven other players have met or exceeded that total. But despite his high level of opportunity, Green’s productivity was ludicrous; he averaged 5.3 yards per carry that season, putting him in sniffing distance of Clinton Portis’ league-leading 5.5 and nearly matching Taylor’s 5.4 mark. Green totaled 1,883 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground while adding 367 receiving yards and five more scores through the air; that gave him 2,250 total yards from scrimmage, the team record. In fact, that is the only time any Packer has eclipsed even 2,000 scrimmage yards in a season.

If DVOA existed in 2003, it would have loved Green as well. In addition to his exceptional yards per carry average, he picked up 100 first downs on the ground and another 21 through the air. That was good for over 41 percent of the team’s 293 total first downs gained, which as far as I can tell is a team record. He also moved the chains on more than 28 percent of his carries. By comparison, Jamal Lewis (who led the NFL in rushing yardage in 2003) only picked up a first down on 22% of his carries. Finally, Green’s 20 combined touchdowns are also a franchise single-season high, placing him second in the league that season behind Priest Holmes’ 27.

Green rewrote the Packers’ rushing record book in 2003. That makes it all the more disappointing when remembering how that campaign ended.

(UPDATE: Rcon14 reminded me that DVOA does exist back to 2003. Indeed, Green was great — he ranked 6th in rushing DVOA, several spots ahead of Lewis, and his success rate of 50% was a top-ten mark. Green also finished as a top-ten receiving running back by DVOA.)

Matub: Jimmy Graham, 2019

Last year Jimmy Graham put up arguably the most impressive statistical performance in the more than 100 years of Packers’ history. The caveat is that he dominated in only one stat: cost-to-performance ratio (with greater than one game started).

With a cap hit of TWELVE POINT SIX MILLION DOLLARS, Jimmy amassed 447 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. That’s over $4,000,000 per touchdown.

Just a staggering performance. Well done, James. Well done.