Can Thompson pass on Leinart or Young?

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue walks to the podium, and in his monotone sort of way, announces, "The Green Bay Packers, with the fifth pick in the 2006 NFL draft, select Matt Leinart, quarterback, USC."

While the consensus is the Packers will wind up with linebacker A.J. Hawk out of Ohio State, there's an excellent chance one of the top quarterbacks — yes, Leinart, though more likely Texas' Vince Young — will be available.

It seems unbelievable the Packers would select a quarterback with the fifth pick — especially after using last year's top pick on Aaron Rodgers — but general manager Ted Thompson hasn't ruled it out.

Sure, that may be simple draft subterfuge — practically everything uttered by GMs and coaches at this time of year is an out and out lie. But when Thompson said passing over Young would be akin to passing over the athletic Michael Jordan to take the so-called sure thing in Sam Bowie, well, that's pretty strong talk.

Now, as for my mock Tagliabue announcement with Leinart, that's not as outlandish as you might think, as my brief mock draft will show.

Picking first, Houston, of course, will take USC's Reggie Bush.

Picking second is New Orleans. This, as I said last week, is the key pick of the draft. The Saints don't need a quarterback and, therefore, would like to move out of this pick, but, at this point at least, they have been underwhelmed by trade offers. Thus, the Saints stay at No. 2 and pick the guy the Packers want, defensive end Mario Williams from North Carolina State.

Picking third is Tennessee. The coaches love Leinart, mostly because he can play today, and they need wins today to keep their jobs. The general manager — no doubt thinking back to his gamble on a raw but talented Steve McNair — loves Young. There's some sentiment to get the home-state product, quarterback Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt. Since NFL draft war rooms are not a democracy, the Titans go with Young.

Picking fourth are the News York Jets. With so much money invested in the quarterback position already with brittle starter Chad Pennington and insurance policy Patrick Ramsey, there's a decent chance they'd go with offensive tackle D'Brickshaw Ferguson to give them some protection.

Voila. Leinart is available at No. 5.

So, Ted Thompson, what do you do?

Sure, Leinart isn't Michael Jordan. But he's a winner, and given a few months to catch up, he'd almost certainly be better than Rodgers by the time the regular season kicks off.

You'd think that, at least, but only Thompson and the coaching staff know what they have in Rodgers. Since reporters weren't allowed to watch practice last season, nobody outside of the Packers' football people knows a thing about Rodgers' development.

So, if Rodgers made strides and showed enough promise to be the starter this season or next, then the Packers will giddily shop the pick to all comers, move down a slot or three, acquire some more picks, and get a few players they like and need. But, what if Rodgers' development has been a disappointment? Then what? Do the Packers take Leinart (or Young or Cutler, depending on how the draft actually unfolds), at the risk of wasting a year's worth of money and coaching on Rodgers, not to mention almost certainly pushing Brett Favre out the door?

It's a huge, franchise-turning decision.

By taking quarterback No. 1 again, the Packers in essence have drafted no players of instant impact for two consecutive seasons. That's not the way to improve your team. Sure, the Packers would trade Rodgers, but they'd be lucky to get a second- or third-rounder for him, since 23 other teams could have drafted him in 2005, and everyone knows the Packers would have to unload him.

And, of course, there's no such thing as a sure thing when you draft a quarterback in the first round. More than half of them wind up busts, so no matter how sold you are on Leinart (or Young), there's no guarantee he'll turn into the star you're sure he'll become.

Then again, doing the safe thing isn't always the wise thing. Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers, who wound up with Bowie but could have had Jordan.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

Packer Report Top Stories