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Dougherty: So what are the chances of Jordan Love being a winning NFL quarterback?

Pete Dougherty   | Packers News

GREEN BAY - Since the NFL and AFL merged in 1970 the Green Bay Packers are 1-for-3 in drafting quarterbacks in the first round.

Aaron Rodgers in 2005 was a huge hit. Rich Campbell in 1981 and Jerry Tagge in ’72 were big misses.

That’s about in line with how NFL general managers have been doing picking first-round quarterbacks in more recent years — that is, in the 2000s.

The fact is the majority of first-round quarterbacks bust, and a low percentage turn out to be keepers (details to follow). Looked at purely statistically, odds are against Jordan Love, the Packers’ latest foray in the first-round quarterback market, panning out.

That would be the case even if Love were a top-10 pick. That he lasted until No. 26 overall reflects the misgivings that quarterback-shaky teams in the league have for a talented prospect at the position that matters most in this league. 

But Love has his advocates as well, and what matters most for the Packers is what Brian Gutekunst and Matt LaFleur think Love’s odds are. Their trade up four spots to get him says more than anything they might or might not say publicly.

“You look at it differently if you need one or if you don’t need one,” said a high-ranking scout for another NFL team. “Which is why I think Green Bay must really like this guy, because they don’t need one.”

NFL teams are playing two sets of odds when drafting quarterbacks in the first round: The cold, hard statistics of first-round quarterbacks’ success, and a given team’s evaluation of a specific prospect.

Let’s look at the cold, hard numbers first. Warning: They’re not pretty.

From 2000 through 2017 — it’s too early to judge the ’18 and ’19 classes — NFL teams selected 48 quarterbacks in the first round. I broke them down into three categories: good (ranging from Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton to Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes), OK (think Alex Smith, Jared Goff and Teddy Bridgewater) and bust (Jake Locker, Tim Tebow and the like).

The busts were a whopping 58 percent (28 of the 48). Breaking it down further, the bust rate for top-10 quarterbacks was 50 percent (14 of 28), and for picks 11 through 32 it was 70 percent (14 of 20).

Looked at from the other side, the good rate was only 25 percent (12 of 48) overall. By group, it was 29 percent (8 of 28) for top-10 picks and 20 percent (4 of 20) for the rest of the round.

To view it a third way, 42 percent (20 of 48) of all first-rounders were OK or better. Broken down by group, it was 50 percent of the top-10 picks (14 of 28), and 30 percent (6 of 20) for the rest of the round.

From any angle, those numbers are, shall we say, unpromising. In effect, they say that of the top three quarterbacks selected this year — Joe Burrow at No. 1 to Cincinnati, Tua Tagovailoa to Miami at No. 5 and Justin Herbert to the Los Angeles Chargers at No. 6 — one will be a good pick, one only OK, and one a bust.

Love, according to those odds, has a 70 percent bust chance and only a 20 percent chance of being a real keeper.

Gutekunst and LaFleur surely know the cold, hard stats. But they just as surely think Love’s odds are better, right?

Last week I asked four scouts and an offensive assistant coach in the league who have studied Love what they think of his chances to be a winning quarterback in this league.

Two scouts dismissed them without putting a number on it.

“I’m not as excited about him as other people,” said a scout who had a third-round grade on him. “Too inconsistent.”

“I don’t like him,” said the other.

Of the remaining three, one gave Love a 50-50 shot. The others were relatively bullish without declaring a percentage.

“(His chances are) as good as anybody else,” the offensive assistant said. “I like that guy. He throws the ball really well. He’s a pretty good kid. Really good (throwing) stroke, talent is good. There’s no reason he shouldn’t end up being good.”

Gutekunst and LaFleur no doubt think they gain an edge knowing they can sit Love for at least one year, and ideally longer. The scouts I’ve talked to about Love over the past month uniformly described him as an especially raw prospect, and that likely scared off teams unwilling to wait two or even three years before he would be ready to start.

To be sure, nobody knows how Love’s time for development will play out, because so much depends on Rodgers. The 36-year-old Rodgers has four years left on his contract, has said he wants to play until at least 40, and no doubt is profoundly unhappy the Packers drafted his replacement.

“It’s all in his hands,” one of the scouts said.

Does Rodgers go Tom Brady after New England drafted Jimmy Garoppolo, play great and take it year by year for who knows how long with a team that’s annually in the Super Bowl hunt? Does he feel too disrespected and leverage a trade next offseason even if the Packers do well? Does the whole thing blow up with a bad 2020? And what if the Packers decide Love is a bust?

The Packers can, by the way, get out of the Rodgers contract after one season if they really need to. Without getting lost in the details of cap calculation, here’s the nub: Trading him next year would put $31.5 million in dead money on their 2021 cap, but they’d still gain $4.5 million in cap room and wouldn’t have to spend big money on a new quarterback because they already have Love.

Now, no team ever wants to eat that much dead money. More importantly, the Packers don’t want Love starting any time soon. They’re surely hoping Rodgers plays for them two more years at least, to give them a chance to win a Super Bowl and provide Love time to grow. But they can get out of Rodgers’ deal next year if they absolutely must.

Gutekunst and LaFleur invited a soap opera when they traded up for Love and had to know there were numerous ways it might play out in the coming years. It’s up to them to manage it.

“They must think they have a window of opportunity to sit a guy and do it right, so let’s take it,” the assistant coach said. “They might be trying to morph into Tennessee or San Francisco, run the ball a little bit more. They’ve got money in Aaron for two years before it kind of opens up. They’re a little ahead of the curve (in drafting a successor), but they really like this guy.

“They also know Aaron is 36, he’s missed games, he’s had injuries. If he has those again and you don’t have a backup, you lose. This guy might be able to come in and win some games as he’s growing. The other thing, you hear about Aaron as (being headstrong), and this is their chance at 13 wins for a head coach and GM to power play the atmosphere and send a message, maybe that’s part of it. It’s not one thing.”

Rodgers, too, will have a lot to say about when Love gets on the field. If he and LaFleur can make it work, they could go for two more years and perhaps longer. It seems like everyone in the league thinks there’s no way Love will sit three years, as Rodgers did more than a decade ago. Maybe they’re right.

But it was unheard for a guy to sit three years when Rodgers did it, too, and he was further along as a player when the Packers picked him than Love is now. So who knows how this will go?

Regardless, first-round quarterbacks bust more often than not. Based on where Love was drafted in the round, a significant majority of the NFL thinks he’s going to be in the bust group. But Gutekunst and LaFleur clearly like what they see in Love’s talent and character, and just as surely think the time they can give him to develop swings the odds even more in his favor.

“If things play out right for him in Green Bay with not having to get thrown into the fire, learning from Aaron, I don’t think his bust factor will be (high),” said another scout. “He has a head coach and GM who obviously wanted him, traded up to get him, so they’re going to do all they can to make sure he succeeds. He’s in a really good situation.”

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