Untested Rodgers gives Packers edge at QB

The improved Vikings have bigger questions at quarterback than the Packers, even though Tarvaris Jackson has 14 NFL starts compared to none for Aaron Rodgers.

It all boils down to quarterbacking in the NFL.

That's what former NFL assistant coach Dean Dalton told me several times during a few pre-draft interviews when talk inevitably turned to his former employer, the Minnesota Vikings.

It's only a bit of an overstatement — about as obvious as pointing out that water is wet and money doesn't grow on trees — but Dalton's words resonated while reading the Dallas Morning News' offseason NFL rankings the other day.

That paper's superb NFL writer, Rick Gosselin, ranks the Packers 18th in the league (and eighth in the NFC), well behind Minnesota, which he ranked as the 11th best team in the NFL (fifth NFC).

Certainly, the Vikings have made some impressive gains this offseason.

"With the quarterback concerns in Green Bay and Chicago, the Vikings see an opening in the NFC North and took a win-now approach this offseason," Gosselin wrote. "They traded for NFL sack leader Jared Allen and signed Chicago go-to guy Bernard Berrian away from the Bears. But contention will hinge on the development of their own young QB, Tarvaris Jackson."

The NFC North championship almost certainly will be decided by the development of Jackson and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers.

Jackson is entering his third season as a pro, and he'll need to take a big step forward if the Vikings are going to beat defenses designed to stop Adrian Peterson. In 16 career games, he's thrown 11 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. With the playoffs on the line last season, Jackson threw two interceptions in a home loss to Washington, then completed barely 50 percent of his passes in a season-ending loss at Denver.

Jackson, however, has 14 more starts in his career than Rodgers. For the same reason the Packers expect to win a bunch of games this coming season — development from within, especially among a group of players entering their third NFL seasons — the Vikings figure Jackson will make strides this year.

If Jackson does, that puts Rodgers firmly behind the 8 ball. Never mind the replacing a legend stuff. If Jackson is at least a decent passer or can just hit Berrian for a big play or two every week, Rodgers will have to play well from the get-go if the Packers are going to remain atop the NFC North and contend for a playoff berth.

"The retirement of Brett Favre takes the winningest and most prolific passer in NFL history out of a Green Bay uniform this season," Gosselin wrote. "Inexperienced and untested Aaron Rodgers replaces him. This is a talented team. The Packers reached the NFC title game last January. But how much of that was Favre? Suddenly, the defense must carry the Pack."

Certainly, the defense must play better, but it shouldn't have to "carry the Pack" if Rodgers is a better quarterback than Jackson.

While Jackson has on-the-field experience on his side, Rodgers is entering his fourth season and has the benefit of better coaching. While Mike McCarthy's acumen with quarterbacks was proven last season with Favre's rebirth and Rodgers' stellar play against Dallas, Vikings coach Brad Childress cut his teeth coordinating Wisconsin's run-first offense, then moved on to Philadelphia, where Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb ran the offense.

As long as McCarthy isn't trying to show the world he can be a genius without Favre, and as long as Rodgers isn't trying to show the world he's the next Favre, the hunch is the Packers have the best quarterback in the NFC North, even with Rodgers having never taken a snap as the starter.

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com

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