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Aaron Rodgers in Context: Touchdown percentage among NFL’s all-time best

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We look at a stat that illustrates how far ahead of his peers the Packers quarterback has been in his career.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

To understand how great Aaron Rodgers is, one needs to look at historical context for his numbers. The NFL is far more of a passing league now than ever before, and that requires raw passing yardage, touchdown, and interception totals to be examined with a critical eye.

One way to evaluate the best players at the quarterback position is on a per-pass basis. Statistics like yards per attempt, touchdown percentage, and interception percentage are the easiest of these stats to find and can take at least the volume aspect out of the equation.

Over the next few days, we’ll look at how Rodgers’ numbers in these areas stack up against the all-time greats on the NFL’s record book, both in terms of his career totals and his finest single-season performances. Today we start by looking at touchdown percentage, which is a simple calculation: it is the number of touchdown passes divided by the total number of pass attempts.

Career rank: T-5th all-time (6.4%)

Rodgers’ 6.4% touchdown rate ranks first among all active players, and it comes in at 5th all-time in NFL history. He also is significantly ahead of modern greats at the position as well, with Peyton Manning holding a career 5.7% number and Tom Brady landing at 5.5%. In fact, only two other “modern-day” QBs show up within a full percentage point of Rodgers: Tony Romo at 5.7% and Russell Wilson at 5.5%.

Clearly, the advent of the short passing game is a factor here overall, as more shorter passes means fewer opportunities at the end zone. The fact that Rodgers can even sniff this leaderboard is astounding in and of itself. Looking up and down the career leaderboard is a who’s who of great quarterbacks from the 1940s through the 1970s, as Rodgers is the only player in the top 16 all-time who played after 1976.

Best single season: 2011, 15th all-time (9.0%)

The career numbers obviously put Rodgers among the league’s all-time greats, but what is equally interesting is looking at his 2011 single-season numbers. That year, Rodgers posted the best TD% number of any season in his career (and his most TD passes overall with 45) as he won the NFL MVP award in a landslide. His 9.0% mark was not only the highest in the league that year; it beat the second-best mark (posted by Drew Brees) by a whopping 2 percent!

In historical context, this number gets even crazier, however. Only two quarterbacks since 1976 have posted a TD% value at or above 9.0%: Rodgers in 2011 and Peyton Manning in 2004, who had an absurd 9.9% when he broke Dan Marino’s TD record with 49. Every other player with a full-season TD% in that range posted his number between 1942 and 1976.

It is also worth noting that there are almost no repeats above the 9% mark - in other words, most players showing up on the list do so as the result of a single outlier season. The 18 seasons where a QB was at or over that 9% value came from 16 different quarterbacks, meaning that just two signal callers — Frankie Albert of the 49ers and Len Dawson of the Chiefs — hit that mark more than once. Rodgers’ next-best number was only 7.3%, his number when he won the MVP in 2014.

It’s unlikely that Rodgers can duplicate the success he had in 2011; after all, the history mentioned in the last paragraph indicates that it is unlikely, as do modern offensive strategies. But the fact that he’s even on the list is impressive on its own.

(Bonus fun fact: Cecil Isbell of the Packers was the first to reach 9%, hitting that number on the dot in 1942. 17 of Isbell’s 24 TD passes went to Don Hutson as both men set career highs.)