How lucky are the Green Bay Packers.
Ten years ago last Thursday, they snared 21-year-old Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the NFL Draft when basically no other team wanted him. At the time, it was a polarizing decision for Packers fans and media alike, considering the Packers had an able Brett Favre, albeit at 35 years old.
Even Ted Thompson, intuitive about Rodgers, could never have known his first pick as Packers general manager would turn out to be his best. The selection was part sound philosophy and part risk with maybe a little fate mixed in.
“Leading up to it over the course of the last couple of days, you kept seeing mock drafts where all of a sudden he’s not going, because he was going in the top two or three all along,” recalled Thompson in a USA Today article this past January before the Packers’ divisional playoff game with the Dallas Cowboys. “All of a sudden, he’s not going. It didn’t have anything to do with him — it was nobody was picking a quarterback. Everybody had other needs. So, I went back and put myself in a dark room, and I watched all the tape I could watch. And then I got comfortable. I still didn’t think there was any way he was going to even get to us, or we’d work it out where we could take him. But lo and behold, he came right to us.”
Four years after his selection, Rodgers became the Packers’ starter. In six years, he helped them win a Super Bowl. In seven years, he won his first MVP. And now, having completed his 10th season and winning his second MVP, he is regarded by many as the best quarterback in the NFL -- even with veterans Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo and youngsters Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson playing at a high level.
“I think the quarterback play is better,” said Rodgers this past season in the days leading up to an Oct. 22 game at New Orleans. “It’s just gotten better. You look at every level. The little guys playing in elementary school to high school to junior college. I go back and watch Butte (College) and Butte’s team is better than the team we had there then. They’re doing more. The quarterback is asked to do more. There’s more checks at the line of scrimmage. You’re seeing quarterbacks coming into the league and being able to play Year 1. That didn’t happen 10 years ago when I was a rookie. Myself, Alex (Smith) and Jason (Campbell), who were all first-round picks, we would all say to a man the quarterback now is way more prepared to play in the league.
“I think that’s due to coaching and the way the game has grown. You’re seeing guys continue to transcend the game. Use the rules to their advantage, but I think quarterback play, this is the generation of a lot of guys playing at a really high level.”
While quarterback play may have gotten better, finding a franchise quarterback in the first round remains a difficult task. At least two prospects – Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota – are expected to go in the first round before the No. 24 selection that Rodgers went at. But if the past decade serves as any indication, the likelihood of finding success at quarterback from Nos. 1-23 is only slightly better than those taken after.
Of the quarterbacks taken over the first 23 picks in each of the last 10 drafts, eight have been selected to at least one Pro Bowl and seven have winning records as starters. Luck, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco have probably had the most success, while other “franchise” throwers based on contract value or consistent starting time may fall on a level below. These players include Jay Cutler, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford and Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 2005 Draft.
By comparison, of the quarterbacks taken after No. 23 since 2005, six have been selected to at least one Pro Bowl and eight have winning records as starters (not counting Stephen McGee, who was 1-0 with the Dallas Cowboys, or Dennis Dixon, who was 2-1 with the Pittsburgh Steelers). Rodgers, Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have probably had the most success while the second tier includes Andy Dalton and Nick Foles.
Of course with many more quarterbacks taken after the No. 23 overall pick (100 compared to 23 before), there are many more opportunities to land a winner. There is also less risk considering, the pressure and often times unrealistic expectations placed on quarterbacks taken higher.
A year ago, three of the 14 quarterbacks taken in the 2014 NFL Draft – Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater – started a majority of their team’s games. A fourth – Zach Mettenberger – might have, too, had it not been for an injury. The only 2005 rookie quarterback (out of 14) to start at least half his team’s games was Kyle Orton with the Chicago Bears.
Orton retired after the 2014 season with the Buffalo Bills, his last of five stops in the NFL. Take away Rodgers and Smith, and Orton has posted the best record as a starter (42-40) among all the other quarterbacks taken in 2005. Orton was taken No. 106 overall (fourth round) and although he was never looked at as a franchise quarterback, he did make a name for himself in the league.
Since the Rodgers pick, 121 quarterbacks have been selected in the NFL Draft. Seventy of those quarterbacks have started at least one game but only 42 - or just more than one-third - have started at least a season’s worth of games (16) in their careers.
Fourteen quarterbacks drafted since 2005 have earned Pro Bowl recognition – a list that includes Derek Anderson (sixth round), Matt Cassel (seventh round), Cutler (first round), Dalton (second round), Foles (third round), Robert Griffin (first round) and Vince Young (first round). Rodgers is the only one of the bunch to earn All-Pro honors and win at least one MVP. He is one of only three to win a Super Bowl as a starter (Flacco, Wilson).
How lucky are the Green Bay Packers.