The Packers are taking a big risk by drafting quarterback Jordan Love

Jordan Love has the potential to be the Packers quarterback of the future. However, drafting him in the first round was a big risk.

The Green Bay Packers’ 2019 season ended with a loss in the NFC Championship game, one win away from reaching the second Super Bowl of Aaron Rodgers’ illustrious career. Going into this draft, most people expected them to bolster their arsenal of wide receivers, or shore up a run defense that allowed 285 rushing yards against the San Francisco 49ers in that aforementioned NFC Championship game. Instead, in one of the most confusing selections of the entire draft, the Packers traded up to 26th overall and selected Jordan Love, a quarterback from Utah St.

This is a familiar scenario for Aaron Rodgers

The move is highly reminiscent of the circumstances in which Rodgers himself was drafted; late in the first round, set to spend multiple years backing up a future Hall of Fame quarterback. The similarities don’t end there either. Favre was 35 when Rodgers was drafted and had three years remaining on his contract. Meanwhile, Rodgers is 36, with four years remaining in Green Bay.

Much like Favre, who famously gave a young Rodgers the cold shoulder after he was drafted, it is difficult to imagine that Rodgers was happy about Love’s selection (I would give anything to hear the first conversation between him and general manager Brian Gutekunst after learning of the pick).

After all, the Packers were on the doorstep of greatness last season, two wins away from bringing the Lombardi Trophy home to Green Bay for the fifth time in team history, and the first time since 2010.

Has Rodgers played poorly enough to warrant the Packers drafting Love as his future replacement at quarterback?

Rodgers was likely hoping that the team would draft a player that would push them over the edge. Instead, the Packers decided to draft for the future, selecting a player who likely won’t start in the NFL for several years.

In some regard, it is difficult to blame Green Bay’s front office for their decision. The last several years have undeniably been difficult for Rodgers. His 2017 and 2018 seasons were both disrupted by injury; he missed nine games in 2017 after breaking his collarbone and played almost the entire 2018 season with a shin fracture he suffered in Week 1.

Unsurprisingly, his play suffered as a result. This decline wasn’t necessarily reflected in his conventional statistics, but his PFN Offensive Share Metric (OSM) grade, which quantifies the impact a player had on their offense’s production, fell dramatically during that time period.

In 2016, he received a respectable overall grade of 26.94. Then, over the next two years, his grades fell significantly, dropping to a 19.68 in 2017 and 20.68 in 2018. However, even last season, when both he and Green Bay returned to prominence, his season grade failed to improve, actually getting slightly worse at 19.6, ranking 31st in the NFL. The implication is that even though the Packers improved as a team in 2019, Rodgers’ play was not the major contributing factor.

Rodgers’ 2019 OSM grade was below the league average

As you can see in the chart below, almost all of his weekly grades were below the league average, represented by the yellow line. His grade in Week 12 was actually in the negatives, indicating that his play actively reduced the Packers offense’s overall production.

 

Looking at Rodgers’ advanced statistics, it’s easy to see why most of his grades were so low. His season-long completion percentage of 62% was below the league average, 1.7% lower than expected according to the NFL’s advanced metrics, meaning that he failed to connect on throws that should have been completed.

More importantly for calculating his grade, his completed passes only traveled an average of 5.4 yards in the air, which only accounts for about half of the yards gained on each of his completions. In other words, a large percentage of his passing production was created by his receivers after the catch.

Rodgers’ receiving core was well below-average last season

In Rodgers’ defense, the players he was throwing to didn’t perform much better. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given where they were drafted. His top target, Davante Adams, was a former second-round pick, and he didn’t even reach 1,000 receiving yards last season. He’s had an impressive career, often outperforming that initial selection.

But at the same time, I don’t think most people would argue that he is in the same class as players like Tyreek Hill or Michael Thomas. His OSM grade backed this opinion up; at 35.13, it ranked 19th among qualifying wide receivers. That’s far from a terrible grade, but it isn’t a great one either.

After Adams though, the talent on Green Bay’s roster fell off incredibly quickly. Their next two best receivers in terms of yardage were Allen Lazard, an undrafted free agent, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, a fifth-round pick. Neither of them had more than 500 yards, and their OSM grades of 34.22 and 27.18 ranked 31st and 89th, respectively.

Jimmy Graham was one exception

The only pass-catcher on Green Bay’s roster to receive a grade that ranked in the top ten at his position was Jimmy Graham who, with a grade of 37.73, ranked tenth (as a caveat, Aaron Jones is not included here because the OSM does not take receiving numbers into account for running backs).

Unfortunately, while that grade indicates that Graham contributed a great deal to his own statistical production, he is far from the elite player he was several years ago. At this point in his career, Graham should be a supporting player, not the most efficient pass-catcher on the roster.

Overall, Rodgers’ passing targets failed to contribute much to the offense. Relative to their positions, they were often even less effective than Rodgers was. You could easily argue (and I’m sure Rodgers has) that his play last season, and in many seasons past, was hampered by the by a lack of supporting talent.

Notably, Love is the first offensive skill-position player the Packers have drafted in the first round since Rodgers himself was selected 15 years ago. Maybe if Rodgers was given better talent, he would have played better, and the team would have seen greater success.

Why would the Packers draft Love to be their quarterback?

The data clearly shows that the Packers’ passing offense was not very efficient. That said, they still performed well enough to help the team make a deep playoff run. Given that, what reasoning could Green Bay’s front office possibly have for drafting Love? Rodgers will obviously need to be replaced eventually, but why make the move now, when they are so close to greatness?

The only logical possibility that I can think of is that Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur consider Love to be a transcendent talent, a player so good that it is worth sacrificing potential immediate success to secure the future of the franchise. That is to say, even if it makes their chances of winning a Super Bowl next season lower, drafting Love gives them an insurance policy for when Rodgers leaves or retires at some point in the next five years.

In some ways, this strategy makes sense. After all, it worked for the Packers before with Favre and Rodgers. However, the two situations, while almost eerily similar in many ways, aren’t really comparable.

Love the prospect vs Rodgers the prospect

Rodgers was a much better prospect than Love was coming out of college, setting multiple records at Cal. The expectation was that he would be selected very early in the 2005 NFL Draft, and his fall to the 24th pick came as a big surprise. Green Bay was incredibly lucky to be able to draft him there.

On the other hand, Love has consistently been projected as a mid-to-late first-round pick. He has the physical tools to become the next Patrick Mahomes, but he is also incredibly raw, showing serious problems with his accuracy and decision making during his senior year, which led to him throwing 17 interceptions during his senior season.

There is no guarantee that he will be able to fix those issues. And if he can’t, the Packers will have sacrificed a chance to win the Super Bowl in the next few seasons for nothing.

Should Rodgers force his way out of Green Bay?

Even worse, drafting him only serves to further damage the relationship between Rodgers and Green Bay’s front office. Many have suggested that the Packers drafting Love to replace Rodgers at quarterback was disrespectful and that Rodgers should seek to leave the team.

And I wouldn’t be overly surprised if he felt the same. After years of arguing with former head coach Mike McCarthy, Rodgers finally got a fresh start, only for the new guy to draft his replacement a season later. Who could blame him for wanting to leave?

When we look back at this draft in the future, it’s possible that we view Love’s selection as a brilliant move by the Packers, one that netted them their third elite quarterback in a row. Unfortunately, it’s also possible that we remember it as a catastrophic failure, one that ruined their chances at Super Bowl glory and drove Rodgers out of Green Bay for good.

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