Aaron Brooks is the third-year quarterback of the newly-good New Orleans Saints. He has played his part in turning around a franchise that less than two years ago was the NFL's biggest joke.
Brooks played his college ball at University of Virginia, where he left in the top five in virtually every passing category. His draft stock never soared too high, however, especially in the storied quarterback class of 1999. He was the eighth quarterback selected when the Green Bay Packers plucked him out of the third round.
Brooks spent a year sitting on the bench behind Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck on the depth chart. In the offseason, Brooks's quarterback coach, Mike McCarthy, was hired as the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, whereupon he convinced head coach Jim Haslett and general manager Randy Mueller that there was a talent in Green Bay that could be the backup for the Saints' big free-agent signee Jeff Blake.
Brooks and tight end Lamont Hall were traded to New Orleans for linebacker K. D. Williams and a third-round draft pick. When Blake went down for the season with a hideous foot injury after leading the Saints on a six-game winning streak, Brooks suddenly found himself in the game. His first NFL pass was intercepted; his second went for a touchdown.
Brooks inherited a team without star running back Ricky Williams, who had been lost for the regular season in the previous week. Brooks lost that week against the Oakland Raiders, but the NFL began to notice him the following week when he threw for one touchdown and ran for two more in the Saints' 31-24 win over the division-rival St. Louis Rams.
Brooks wasn't done. He passed for a Saints-record 441 yards in a loss against the Denver Broncos, then ran for 109 yards in a comeback victory at San Francisco. Brooks is the only quarterback ever to pass for 400+ yards in a game and run for 100+ yards in a game in the same season--and he did it in consecutive games.
Perhaps Brooks's best game as a quarterback was his four-touchdown victory over the St. Louis Rams in the opening round of the playoffs. The win was the first ever playoff win for the Saints.
Jeff Blake has recovered from his injury, but he may never recover from Brooks, who was the heir apparent to start the 2001 season and was officially named the starter in preseason. Brooks has led the team to a shaky 4-3 record this season and has a mediocre quarterback rating of 74.4. Yet in starting only twelve games in his career so far he has passed for 3,071 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, with 6.9 yards per attempt and a respectable 54.6% completion rate. Numbers like these rank among those of the truly great quarterbacks of now and yesterday when they were just starting their careers; yet only time will tell whether Brooks will live up to expectations and give the Saints the Super Bowl they deserve.