Dougherty: Will Packers draft a QB? Five potential successors to Aaron Rodgers
GREEN BAY - The Kansas City Chiefs were coming off a 12-4 season with the serviceable Alex Smith as their quarterback when they made the big trade up from pick No. 27 to No. 10 pick overall to draft Patrick Mahomes in 2017.
The Chiefs spent a lot of draft capital to get him: a future first-round pick plus a third-rounder to move up the 17 spots. But is anyone going to question whether it showed great foresight? Is there any doubt it didn’t turn out to be a bargain?
For that matter, what if the Green Bay Packers had paid a similar price to draft Aaron Rodgers 15 years ago even while Brett Favre was their quarterback? They didn’t — they took Rodgers with their own selection at No. 24 overall in 2005. But who would be questioning the move now if they had?
So no, the question isn’t whether Brian Gutekunst, the Packers’ general manager, should consider taking a quarterback in the first round now that Rodgers is 36½ years old, almost a year older than Favre was when the Packers drafted Rodgers.
No, the question is whether there will be a quarterback worth taking at No. 30 overall, or worth a trade up to get.
Gutekunst obviously doen’t have to find a potential successor to Rodgers this year. You have to think at minimum Rodgers has a couple good years left, and yes, adding a first-round pick who can help him win the Super Bowl is preferable to one who would probably sit for two or three years, like Rodgers did, before he sees the field.
But for the long-term health of the organization, if Gutekunst has a strong feeling about a guy, like the Chiefs had for Mahomes even though evaluations on him around the league were decidedly mixed, the GM should pounce.
“(Last year Rodgers) wasn’t the guy, ‘Aaron, go out there and score 35 and win us the game,’” said Marc Ross, a 21-year NFL scout who was the New Giants’ college scouting director and then vice president of player evaluation before joining the NFL Network as an on-air analyst.
“I don’t think he’s that player anymore. You’re always looking to upgrade. At (pick No.) 30 it’s not looking good (for a good quarterback prospect being available). You could make a move (up), you never know what’s going to happen. Yeah, you always have to have your eye on the future.”
With the draft about seven weeks away, it looks like LSU quarterback Joe Burrow will be the first pick overall. Though not a given, it looks like Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa probably will go in the top five as well. Considering the cost to move up to those spots, we can pretty safely eliminate them from Gutekunst’s list.
Two other quarterbacks look like they also have a shot at going in the top 10, though their range of possibilities looks far wider: Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Utah State’s Jordan Love. Maybe one of them will be within Gutekunst’s reach for a big trade up, and there are at least some evaluators who wonder if Love might make it to 30, or at least close.
Another, Washington’s Jacob Eason, might draw interest starting late in the first round. Then there are at least a couple second-day prospects, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and Georgia’s Jake Fromm.
Whether the Packers see something special in any of these players is for Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur to decide. They don’t need a quarterback now, but if they’re wise they’re evaluating these guys as if they do. You never know what you might find.
Following are thumbnail evaluations on Herbert, Love, Eason, Hurts and Fromm by three experts: the former personnel man Ross, plus an offensive coordinator for one NFL team and quarterbacks coach for another.
It also bears reminding that evaluating players remains more art than science, and evaluators across the league often see the same player differently, sometimes dramatically so. There’s no such thing as a consensus on most players, including the quarterbacks on this list.
The offensive coordinator was lukewarm on Herbert’s college video but came away impressed after a week of studying him at the Senior Bowl and ranks him as the No. 2 quarterback in the class, behind Burrow. He sees a top-10 pick.
“(Herbert) is smart, really smart,” the coordinator said. “He’s mechanically sound – a little long in his delivery as far as space — big guys (Herbert is 6-6, 236) eat up a lot of space, he’s got a little bit of that. Accuracy was really, really good. His ability to move and throw on the run was excellent.
“The big thing was him working through a pro system there at the Senior Bowl; picked it up quickly, easily. He got through progressions. You saw a lot of good qualities in a pocket passer who has the athleticism to run. He took off (running) in that Senior Bowl game — he’s not a make-you-miss guy, but he’s definitely a see it, now take it.”
But the quarterbacks coach cringed at the thought of taking Herbert in the first round.
“Not a chance in hell (at 30),” he said. “There are a lot of people that will (like him) just because he looks the part and he’s been up there on so many lists, people will have grades up there because of that. He might develop, but the likelihood of him developing into a starting player is less than some of the other guys. I don’t think he processes that fast. Not that accurate. Hard to develop things that are kind of natural things that good guys have.”
His interceptions ballooned from six in 2018 to 17 last season under a new coaching staff. He also was charged with marijuana possession before Utah State’s bowl game, though the charges were later dropped.
Love (6-4, 224) has a potentially wide window for getting drafted, from fringe top 10 to the later first round. Ross, for instance, sees a major arm and athletic talent who had a poor supporting cast. He rated Love the No. 2 quarterback, ahead of Tagovailoa.
“For sure (top 10) talent-wise, it all depends on how he interviewed with teams last week,” Ross said. “I’ve heard some good, some OK. But it just takes one to really fall in love with him as a person and his mentality and intelligence, because the on-the-field talent is there.
“… I know they like him there (at Utah State), very positive at the school. It just all depends on how he was in those meetings (with NFL teams), and of course teams are going to bring him into their facility and work him non-stop.”
The quarterbacks coach said he’d draft Love at No. 30 but was unsure how far up he’d move to get him.
“He’s good,” the coach said. “A very natural player, very instinctive player. Liked him a lot. Really young. Body’s young, maturity is young.”
Said the offensive coordinator: “He’s got the skill set. The big thing with him is whether he can process it quickly. … Probably has the second-best arm talent of the class. He’s pretty accurate. His mechanics are good — he’s a little bit long with his draw on the release, but it’s not bad at all. He definitely can spin it. … If you think a guy is going to be the face of your franchise, (the marijuana arrest) would be a red flag. But I think he could be there in the 20s.”
A big (6-6, 231 pounds) pocket passer with a major-league arm and minimal mobility.
“He’s really gifted, his arm is really good, probably best arm talent in the draft as far as being a power passer, driving the ball down the field, has quickness to it,” the quarterbacks coach said. “… There’s a whole package to consider, processing, those kind of things. Hasn’t shown all those yet. He could (end up being a starter and winner) more easily than Herbert can, because he can walk out there and throw it anywhere he wants to. Herbert can’t do that. I like that. … Not for me (late in the first round), but I can see how somebody would who values the quarterback position. There are some things that say yes.”
Ross, though, doesn’t see a player worth late first-round consideration.
“He can throw it hard as can be,” Ross said. “The thing is he just throws it as hard as he can no matter what. He doesn’t have much touch. He’s a pocket passer, and even when things are clean he’s the not the most accurate. He’s not a playmaker with pressure in his face or the ability to re-set his feet or when he moves out of the pocket. He’s a streaky pocket passer.”
Took Alabama to a national championship game twice but lost the starting job to Tagovailoa; transferred to Oklahoma and lost in the semifinals last season. Ran the second-fastest 40 (4.59 seconds) of the quarterbacks at this year’s scouting combine. Questionable arm talent, probably won’t go higher than the second round.
“He’s very deliberate, almost mechanical in what he does,” Ross said. “You love his makeup, unprecedented guy, plays at Alabama and Oklahoma, player of the year in both conferences, and he’s been a winner. You just love his internal makeup and mentality. Just think he is more of a backup in the right system, but a quarterback you want, you want his entire makeup of a quarterback on your team.”
Said the offensive coordinator: “He’d be a perfect backup in a Lamar Jackson system. I don’t think he has the passing talent. He threw well at the combine, I’ll give him that. He didn’t throw great at the Senior Bowl, it was 50-50 whether it would spiral or not.”
Beat out Eason and Ohio State’s Justin Fields at different times to win the starting job at Georgia, which caused both to transfer, but there are serious questions whether he has the physical talent (6-2, 219, 5.01 40) to thrive in the NFL.
“He’s a low-level starter and a high-end backup,” the quarterbacks coach said. “He’s one of those guys like Case Keenum. If there’s above-average talent around him he’s going to play really well. But if he has to make the plays and not just be a ball distributor, it’s tougher, because there’s not the physical skill to make plays with.”
Said the offensive coordinator: “I wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole. He makes some plays, but he’s a small guy, he doesn’t have a big arm, he’s got a lot of mechanical issues, big release, big head movements. There’s a lot there that would scare me away.”