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Aaron Rodgers in Context: Packers QB is the best ever at avoiding interceptions

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Nobody avoids throwing picks like the Packers QB - in fact, nobody ever has in the history of the NFL.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-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.

After examining Rodgers’ rankings in touchdown percentage yesterday, we today examine how he stacks up against his peers and against history in interception percentage. It’s the same concept as TD%, as it is simply the number of interceptions thrown divided by the total number of passes attempted.

Career: 1st all-time (1.5%)

To put it simply, Rodgers is the best quarterback in the history of the NFL in terms of avoiding throwing interceptions. His 1.5% average is 0.3% lower than the next closest candidates. The top six players (in other words, the ones with the lowest INT%) are all active, but only Rodgers and Brady entered the league before 2010 and therefore only those two are on the same scale in terms of career pass attempts.

Overall, the rate of interceptions has dropped drastically in the past two decades, and it is an even more precipitous reduction over the past five years. This makes it hardly surprising to see a group of recent players on this list. A few weeks back I noted that in 2011, the Packers’ defense was one of nine teams to have 20 or more picks, but not a single NFL team intercepted 20 passes in 2016. Going even farther back, the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” team finished 12-4 in 2003, but they did so while committing a stunning 42 turnovers in 17 games. Those Rams teams played fast and loose with the football throughout that period, as they even had 37 turnovers in 19 games during their run to a Super Bowl win in 1999.

Looking way back, it’s not uncommon to see Hall of Fame quarterbacks with INT% numbers above 4%. Bart Starr’s value for his career is 4.4%, while Johnny Unitas’ was 4.9%. In general, there is a pretty close correlation between interception rates increasing as you go back in time.

All of that means that overall, offenses and quarterbacks are taking better care of the football now than ever before, but Rodgers is still far and away the best of the bunch. Even more astounding is the fact that of all of the seasons put up by all of the quarterbacks in all of the NFL, only 49 times has a quarterback posted a single-season INT% lower than Rodgers’ career 1.5% value. And with that, it’s time to shift gears over to Rodgers’ single-season numbers.

Best season: 2014, 11th all-time (1.0%)

Whereas Rodgers set his high-water mark for TD% in his first MVP year (2011), his best year taking care of the football came in his second MVP season, when he threw just five picks against 38 touchdowns.

Now although Rodgers’ 2014 season doesn’t even come in among the ten best INT% seasons of all time, it’s his consistency that sticks out here. Remember above, when I said that only 49 seasons in history had an INT% less than 1.5%? Rodgers alone is responsible for a whopping six of them, including the last three years in a row along with his 2009, 2011, and 2012 seasons.

Like with the TD% leaderboard, many of the names on this list are single outlier seasons. The only other players with more than two years under 1.5% were — you guessed it — Tom Brady, who had five, and Rodgers’ draft-mate in 2005, Alex Smith (with three). Coming in with two each are Brad Johnson, Josh McCown, and Neil O’Donnell. That means that of the 35 players to have a season with an INT% under 1.5%, 29 of them only ever did so once.

Also, underscoring the extreme reduction in picks last season is the fact that five of the 15 best INT% seasons ever came in 2016. Rodgers’ 1.1% was somehow tied with Derek Carr for fourth behind Brady, Dak Prescott, and Sam Bradford.

Rodgers may not have a ten-best INT% season, but he dominates the list of the top 50, consistently performing in that range. Only one other quarterback can say that he is close to Rodgers’ equal in consistently avoiding interceptions, and it’s yet another reason why Aaron is absolutely one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.