NFL's Toughest Quarterback?

Aaron Rodgers has assembled more than a few impressive titles in his short professional career – first-round draft pick, Packers starting quarterback, Super Bowl champion and MVP. But perhaps there is one more title that has been overlooked. Matt Tevsh lays out the argument.

The NFL lockout has the Green Bay Packers' annual quarterbacks school on hold, giving their signal-callers an unexpected break this month in the offseason schedule.

For Aaron Rodgers, the extra break is well-deserved.

The Super Bowl MVP, who has yet to miss a quarterbacks school since coming to Green Bay, endured a long, yet satisfying season in 2010. No quarterback played in more games than Rodgers (19, including the postseason) on his road to a championship.

But the tread on his tires only tells part of the story. Rodgers had a trying season physically, as well. Two concussions raised some concern, and a nasty hit by Julius Peppers in the NFC Championship Game left him with a bloody lip while giving Packers fans a reason to hold their collective breath.

Through it all, Rodgers missed just one game. The Dec. 19 game at New England is the only game in the past three seasons he has not been a part of. For that, he is one of the most durable quarterbacks in the league.

Only four quarterbacks – Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Joe Flacco – can better Rodgers' mark of regular-season starts (47 out of 48) since 2008. None of those four, however, can match what Rodgers has gone through.

Through part fault of his own and part fault of his offensive line, Rodgers has been one of the most-sacked quarterbacks in the league. All told since becoming a starter, he has been taken down for a loss 115 times, a number topped only by Ben Roethlisberger (128 times) and David Garrard (117) over the same time span.

While numbers on quarterback hits are much less accurately calculated and open to interpretation, Rodgers ranks highly in that category, too. In 2009, a season in which Rodgers was sacked a league-high 50 times, a study by Football Outsiders said Rodgers was among the top 10 quarterbacks in getting hit (46 times). Garrard led in getting hit 85 times.

By contrast, using the same study, Manning (29 hits) and Rivers (33 hits) were among the 10 regular-starting quarterbacks hit the fewest times. Roethlisberger, perhaps not surprisingly granted his reputation as being tough to bring down, was also on the list, getting hit just 31 times.

Though the study is a snapshot of just one season, there is little reason to believe Rodgers ranks any lower over his other two seasons as a starter. At the least, he has taken some vicious shots comparable to any of the worst absorbed by quarterbacks around the league. Two of the more notable ones were a helmet-to-helmet hit against the Redskins last season that gave him his first concussion and a nasty hit in the pocket delivered by the Steelers' Lawrence Timmons in 2009 that left him with a swollen chin and jaw.

Outside of the concussions, perhaps the worst injury of Rodgers' career came in 2008, when he badly sprained his right shoulder while diving for a first down in a loss at Tampa Bay. Though he returned in that game – even throwing a laser for a 48-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings – he winced in pain and eventually failed to finish. The injury kept him out of practice for much of the following week, and though he returned for the next game vs. the Falcons to post a 313-yard, three-touchdown performance, he admitted after the season that the injury was worse than he led on. Yet he never missed a game that season.

An added element to Rodgers being even more in the crosshairs of defenders is his frequency of taking off and running with the football. Few quarterbacks in the NFL are as much of a running threat as Rodgers, who ran for 356 yards and four touchdowns on 64 carries, fourth most among quarterbacks in 2010. Over three years, only Garrard (216) has more rushing attempts than Rodgers (178). The second of Rodgers' concussions came, of course, on a run out of the pocket last season at Detroit, where his head bounced off the Ford Field turf after being hit hard by the Lions' Amari Spievey and Landon Johnson. Rodgers was ordered to stay home and miss practice the following week, leading to the first missed start of his career. Said longtime Packer Report columnist Art Daley, who covered the Packers from 1941 through 2010, about Rodgers: "To me, he's about the runningest quarterback (in Green Bay) since Tobin Rote (1950-56). Rodgers I think has more damn guts on the field than anybody."

The NFL is starting to find that out. Super Bowl MVP status notwithstanding, Rodgers has earned his spot as more than just a pretty passer.

Is he the toughest quarterback in the league?

If not, then the nature of his injuries, the number of times he has hit the turf, and his continued ability to bounce back certainly makes him part of the discussion.

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

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