One of the typical tropes that gets rolled out seemingly every season (since Peyton Manning retired) is the discussion on who is better, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. It’s a topic purely to generate ratings and clicks. Brady and Rodgers are quite possibly the two biggest names in the NFL and maybe even North-American sport.
But who really is better? Talking heads like Max Kellerman would have you believe that there is no debate, that Rodgers is superior. Patriots’ fans and everybody in New England believe Brady is the best.
So who really is the best? Let us end this debate once and for all. How will we prove it? By discussing the differences between Antonio Brown and Julio Jones of course!
If you were to dream up your perfect Wide Receiver, you would imagine Julio Jones. He has the ideal height, weight, wingspan and hands for the perfect Receiver. If you look at his combine scores, they are amazing. The 6ft 3”, 220lb receiver managed the longest broad jump and the 3rd fastest 40-yard dash time despite running on a broken foot. He scored in the top ten in almost every other category. In order for the Falcons to acquire the Alabama alumni as the 6th overall pick in 2011, they traded 5 picks including two first-rounders.
Since coming to the NFL, Julio Jones has put up some fantastic numbers and has led the league in receiving once (in 2015). He has also been part of the high-octane Falcons Offence, which is filled with rushing and receiving weapons, giving Matt Ryan the opportunity to pick Defences apart using his favourite weapon. To add to this, Jones is a 5x Pro Bowl and 2x All Pro selection. The point being – Julio Jones is a thoroughbred and is pre-destined to be one of the better Wide Receivers of all time.
Then we have Antonio Brown. In 2010 Brown attended the NFL combine out of Central Michigan. The 5ft 10”, 185lb receiver was not the physical specimen that Julio Jones was. He was projected as a Returner with the ability to fill in at Receiver, (http://walterfootball.com/draft2010WR.php). Let’s look at his combine scores; he ran a 4.56 40-yard dash which is slow, his vertical leap and bench-press were below average, his 3-cone and short shuttle were good but his broad jump was the worst ever recorded at the time and was a full two and a half feet shorter than Jones’ effort. The Steelers made him the second Wide Receiver they selected in the 2010 draft after Emmanuel Sanders by eventually selecting him at pick number 195 in the 6th round.
Since coming to the NFL, Brown slowly moved his way up the Steelers depth chart until his coming out party in 2011 when he caught 69 passes for 1,108 yards. Brown too has been a part of a “pass-happy” Offence in Pittsburgh and has strongly benefited from it. What has made Brown that bit more special than most is that he really hasn’t had many top-end pass catchers, (outside of Le’Veon Bell and the occasional Martavius Bryant season) to play off of. This means that he has often played against double coverage. Looking at his personal accolades, Brown has led the league in receiving twice and is a 6x Pro Bowl and 4x All Pro. So far in his career, Antonio Brown has more receptions and more receiving yards than any other player ever had at the same stage. In 2013, he also set the record for being the only player to ever catch five passes or more for fifty or more yards in every regular season game. What this all boils down to is, Antonio Brown is on course for being not only one of the best players at his position, but one of the greatest players to ever set food on the Gridiron.
Brown, by almost every metric other than physical dimensions is the superior player. But it’s not just the metrics that make Brown superior. Whilst Jones does what he does on the field by using his “God-given” abilities, and he has been very successful. Brown on the other hand has average physical capabilities but still manages to outplay one of the best at his position by being better at his craft. What makes Antonio Brown great is similar to what made Darrelle Revis great. Neither is that physically gifted, but they have dedicated themselves to their craft to be where they are.
The tape also tells the story. Whilst the 5 catches for 50 yards might be a statistic, it shows remarkable and an unprecedented high level of consistency. Julio Jones on the other hand can go missing in games and at times seasons, take for example 2017. After four years of outstanding productivity, he appeared to suffer a Super Bowl hangover where nearly all of his measurable went down. The one that stands out the most is the Touchdowns; 3. The most physically dominant receiver in the NFL, a player built for the Red Zone, caught three TD’s. Jaron Brown, Chris Thompson and Tyrell Williams all caught four in the same season.
So, how does this all fit into Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers? The thinly veiled allegory should have been transparent enough. Put simply, Tom Brady is the Quarterback version of Antonio Brown and Aaron Rodgers is Julio Jones, (to be fair to Julio Jones, the difference between Brown and Jones is much closer than Brady and Rodgers).
Of the two, Aaron Rodgers is the physically gifted prototype Quarterback. He is slightly shorter than Brady, but stockier in build. Whilst their Combines took place 13 years ago or more, Rodgers was by far the more athletic coming out of the draft and was also more highly sought after being picked 23rd overall.
Forgive me if you have heard these phrases before when discussing Aaron Rodgers talent:
• “He throws a great ball”
• “He’s a real game changer”
• “He is the complete Quarterback”
• “If Rodgers stays healthy the Packers will win it all”
• “He is the best in the league at extending a play”
• “Did you see that Hail Mary throw?”
None of these are really tangible, factual concepts. The facts in favour of Brady are there to be seen both in the record books and the game tapes. We could compare all the records here, but they have been trotted out before and are heavily in the favour of Brady, (to be fair to Rodgers, Brady has a few more years on him).
Where the two really separate is in the playoffs. Like Antonio Brown, Brady steps up his game. His playoff record is phenomenal. Let’s look at the facts:
• 5 Super Bowl Wins for Brady, 1 for Rodgers
• 8 Super Bowl appearances for Brady, 1 for Rodgers
• 27 Playoff Wins for Brady, 10 for Rodgers
• 73% Winning Percentage in the Playoffs, 56% for Rodgers
• 2 First round playoff losses for his career, compared to 3 for Rodgers. Brady has been to the playoffs 7 more times
Brown like Brady has maximised his physical abilities and honed his craft to become the best at their position currently. Rodgers and Jones are physical anomalies that are still tied up in their potential, (to a point) and what ifs, (Jones to a lesser extent). What if Rodgers had a better receiving core? What if Rodgers had Belichick? What if Rodgers played in the AFC East? What if Rodgers had a good Defense? As FPC’s own Ian Glendon (@iglen31) so eloquently put it, Brady has “been without multiple lineman, his top receiver for four games, his best tight end for multiple games, his best running back for several games (in addition to losing two other running backs for most of the season)”.
The quintessential Rodgers “not being on the same level as Brady” moment came, (not in the games recently) but in the 2014 NFC Championship game between the Packers and the Seahawks. Rodgers fans will bemoan the fact that Rodgers never got a chance to get the ball on Offense in Overtime. Looking at the game in isolation we see that the Packers Defence was fantastic. They intercepted Wilson four times, providing Rodgers with a short field to work with. They also forced and recovered a fumble on Doug Baldwin and another on Wilson, which wasn’t recovered. Five turnovers in total. Rodgers stat line in that game? 19/34 for 178 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT with a 55.8 passer rating.
Two weeks later Brady would face the same Seahawks Defense and went 37/50 for 328 yards, 4 TDs and 2 INTs and a 101.1 passer rating. The Patriots Defence generated only one (albeit the most important one in Super Bowl history) turnover. Circumstances that were as close as one can get. The odds are firmly in Rodgers’ favor regarding the turnovers and his Defence consistently giving him good field position. However, he just couldn’t get his team over the line.
The above is only a snapshot that signifies the difference between the two and I am not so one-sided to say that the two situations are exactly the same, they weren’t, but it is as close as you can get in the NFL. Two teams playing the same opponent in the postseason in back-to-back games.
I could go on but there really isn’t much more to say. If you believed that Rodgers was the better player before reading this, you still probably do. However, your argument is based on “flashes” and “moments” that you have witnessed. Rodgers has taken my breath away on a few occasions with his Hail-Mary passes and throws on the run. Brady has done it so many times that it is now expected of him. The media do not fawn over Brady anymore. Why would they? They see him do it time after time, to the point that it isn’t special anymore. We know what the outcome will be. We are numb to how good he is. We can’t accurately pinpoint Brady’s “moments” because there are so many of them. That is why he is better and always will be.
-Luke O’Brien is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots and the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @lukeobrien21