2015 Most Important Packers No. 1: Aaron Rodgers, QB

The chip isn’t gone, but it takes up considerably less space on Aaron Rodgers’ shoulder than it once did. The lack of Division I scholarship offers coming out of high school, the draft-day snub, the awkward transition from Brett Favre understudy to unpopular successor – the Green Bay Packers quarterback hasn’t forgotten those times, but given what he’s accomplished, it’s a little harder to use the “nobody believes in me” narrative nowadays.

But that’s not to say that Rodgers doesn’t have doubters to provide him with some additional fuel for his fire, even after winning his second NFL most valuable player award.

“I think a lot of times people expect players to reach their peak and then be a diminishing player. And I think the challenge is to plateau at your peak – to get to the top of your game and stay there,” Rodgers said during a Q&A session during minicamp last month. “I think that is where you really get respect from people. Because I think a lot of people are expecting – some even hoping – for you to fall, expecting or hoping that one of these years – I know the other three teams in the division and their fans and players – are hoping every year that we fall off, I fall off.

“I think that’s the exciting challenge, to be able to do it year-in and year-out. Because that consistency is where you really grow your legacy as a player. And there’s a lot to be said about that.”

Why he’s important: Rodgers is the reigning NFL MVP, and the V stands for valuable, so yes, Rodgers’ importance is self-evident – even though the Packers’ backup spot in far better hands now with Scott Tolzien than it was two years ago, when Rodgers cracked his collarbone, missed seven games and a cavalcade of quarterbacks followed.

Although he wasn’t quite as otherworldly as he was in 2011, when he won his first MVP, Rodgers numbers were so, well, Rodgersy: He completed 341 of 520 passes for 4,381 yards with 38 touchdown passes and just five interceptions for a passer rating of 112.2. In the process, he helped the Packers to a 12-4 regular-season record and an NFC Divisional Playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 11, despite the torn calf that initially occurred at Tampa Bay on Dec. 21 and plagued him the rest of the year after he aggravated it Dec. 28 against Detroit in the regular-season finale.

If he delivers: It goes without saying, but if Rodgers stays healthy behind one of the league’s best offensive lines and with all of his skill position go-to guys back, he has what it takes to win a third MVP and put the Packers back in the Super Bowl mix by season’s end. Not only that, but their offense would certainly have a chance at the franchise record for points in a season (560, set in 2011). That would certainly constitute plateauing at his peak.

Asked if he thought Rodgers could keep playing at such a high level, new playcaller/associated head coach Tom Clements said he could. Why? “He’s a competitor No. 1, he takes care of himself, he has great physical ability, and he’s playing a position where you can play maybe a little longer than other positions,” Clements replied. “And as you get older at that position, even though you might still maintain your mobility, because of your experience, you don’t have to move around maybe quite as much. I know that happened with me as I got older. You know the game better, you can see what’s going to happen, so sometimes you don’t have to scramble out, even though you can still do it. He still does it very well and I’m confident he’ll be able to do it for as many years as he wants to do it.”

If he disappoints: For all his accomplishments, Rodgers takes his team’s playoff failures personally, including his own less-than-stupendous performances. He was masterful in three of the Packers’ four victories en route to the Super Bowl XLV title, but the Packers’ 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 playoff losses came when he was just so-so. Some of that may be circumstantial, but Rodgers’ expectations are to play at an extremely high level regardless of what’s happening around him.

It will be interesting to see whether the changes in the offensive staff – Clements taking over the play-calling, Edgar Bennett becoming offensive coordinator, Alex Van Pelt adding wide receivers to his quarterback responsibilities – have a positive or negative effect on the MVP.

Quote, unquote: “The relationship between the play-caller and Aaron Rodgers is of critical importance, and that’s a big part of the decision. Aaron has an excellent working relationship with Tom and Alex Van Pelt and really all of our offensive assistants, and Edgar and I will be part of that from his offensive coordinator position. The fit with Aaron is of the highest priority and that’s why I thought this was the right decision.” – Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, on giving up the play-calling and how it impacts Rodgers.