The Packers made the most shocking selection of the 2020 NFL Draft when they traded up to take former Utah State quarterback Jordan Love No. 26 overall in the first round. Love, a raw prospect with great upside, was rumored to be landing with other teams who had a QB need now or the near future, including the Saints and Colts.
Instead, Love landed in Green Bay, behind eight-time Pro Bowler and one-time league and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is 36 going into the season and will turn 37 in December.
There’s no doubt Love (6-4, 219), who doesn’t turn 22 until November, has natural promise with his arm and athleticism. He’s got prototypical size and potential to be a top out-of-pocket passer built to make plenty of big plays off-script.
With accelerated refinement, Love can deliver some of the same skills the Packers have enjoyed with Rodgers as their established, elite 2005 first-rounder. Rodgers continues to set the standard for modern passing efficiency, still as the highest-rated passer (102.4) of all time.
But for a career where he’s been consistently over the century mark in that statistic, Rodgers made it three consecutive seasons of sub-100 in 2019. During his late 20s and early 30s prime, Rodgers peaked at well over 8.0 yards per attempt. Now that mark is down to around 7.0 for four years running.
But many QBs would love to have Rodgers’ version of a slide. After several years of carrying the team, as he’s become an older QB, he’s become a more dependent QB.
Love’s rookie training camp already was set to come with a steep learning curve under coach Matt LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. The degree of difficulty was raised because of offseason restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The big question about Love has been accuracy and reports of his tentative throwing in camp suggests he’s viewed in an early developmental stage. The Packers did draft Love with the notion that he will replace Rodgers in not too long. Although Rodgers is signed through 2023, or when he will turn 40, the team has a reasonable out from him in the 2022 offseason.
With moving Rodgers before then being difficult and too costly, consider Love having two full seasons of grooming ahead. The Packers have no reason to rush Love in the process of making him a complete, definite passer.
On the surface, after Rodgers and LaFleur combined to lead the team to a 13-3 record and a playoff return last season, it would seem they have a better working relationship than Rodgers and LaFleur’s predecessor, Mike McCarthy. But in LaFleur’s rookie campaign, there was a significant pivot from a dependence on Rodgers.
More confident in an improved defense, LaFleur flipped what was a league-high 67.5 percent passing team to one that looked to throw 59.8 percent of the time in 2019. LaFleur brought his run-heavy mind-set from calling plays in Tennessee.
Rodgers’ signature in Green Bay has been what he does out of the structure of the offense. But for offensive-minded coaches such as LaFleur and McCarthy, working outside the system, even with many good results, can be frustrating.
LaFleur should be more structured, not less, after the success the Packers had running the ball with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Just as telling in LaFleur being less Rodgers-centric was the fact the team used a second-round pick on power back A.J. Dillon to complement Jones and Williams and didn’t draft wide receiver help for Rodgers.
Rodgers and McCarthy won a Super Bowl early together, but their growing uneasy rapport was well documented. Rodgers and LaFleur, only 40, have growing mutual respect as contemporaries. But the actions of LaFleur and GM Brian Gutekunst speak louder, making it clear the transition has begun to turn the page to Love.
Love can be still molded to work inside the box for LaFleur. Rodgers brings a high floor and can still hit a ceiling with his accuracy and improvisation, but that’s lowered with his advancing age. LaFleur had a chance tor Gutekunst to hand-pick his QB and didn’t pass on it.
For two more years, LaFleur will adjust to Rodgers’ mind-set and current skill set. But as it looks like LaFleur will last longer in Green Bay than Rodgers, it makes sense to move forward with a loyal Love than a “rogue” Rodgers.
Teams don’t take first-round QBs with the intent of making them high-end backups to flip for another draft pick later. It’s not a coincidence the time needed to prepare Love to start matches how much longer the Packers are truly tied to Rodgers.
Rodgers, thanks to Love, is certainly further motivated to have two more top-10 QB seasons with the Packers. He’s also intent on playing into his 40s, like fellow future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
Unfortunately, the only way Rodgers stays to play in Green Bay at that age will require Love falling flat. Unlike Rodgers behind Brett Favre, as it stands, the Packers won’t be waiting three full seasons to put Love in the lineup to replace another all-time great.