Drafting a backup plan

Several mid-round QB prospects could interest the Packers, who need depth behind first-year starter Aaron Rodgers. PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence breaks them down with the help of some experts.

Aaron Rodgers is entering his first season as an NFL starting quarterback.

Rodgers has more significant injuries (two) than touchdown passes (one) in his first three seasons.

Because it was a dreadful free-agent market, Packers general manager Ted Thompson didn't sign an experienced backup.

Over the last quarter-century, quarterbacks taken in the bottom half of the first round — Rodgers was No. 24 in 2005 — have mostly been busts (see "Rodgers faces ugly draft history" story).

So, yes, the Packers will be shopping for a quarterback when the draft starts one week from today.

The question is, when will Thompson strike? Will he pounce if a Brian Brohm falls into his lap at the end of the first round? Picking a Brohm, Chad Henne or Joe Flacco in the first two rounds would provide a talented insurance policy should Rodgers fall flat or get injured, but that would only add to the enormous pressure Rodgers faces in replacing a legend and guiding a Super Bowl contender. Imagine the pressure on Rodgers should he struggle in the opener against the Vikings and the fans start to get restless.

"Historically, you're not going to invest that much if you believe in Rodgers," said Dean Dalton, a former NFL assistant coach who maintains close contacts in the NFL. "A, it puts pressure on the incumbent, and B, it puts the coaches in a bad spot because they have to develop a guy that the personnel folks will want to see on the field because they're paying him all that money. And the fans, too, if Aaron isn't lighting it up early."

Thompson needs Rodgers to succeed, so the guess is Thompson will wait until the middle rounds for a developmental prospect, then bring back Craig Nall or sign a veteran like Tim Rattay to be the No. 2.

Most scouts agree that once you get past the second tier of quarterbacks — Brohm, Flacco and Henne — then you can throw the rest of the guys in the hat to determine who will be taken in the third round and who will be taken in the sixth, depending on what team likes what prospect. Those opinions vary wildly.

The big name: John David Booty, USC

He's the safest of the bunch, though that might work against him, since he doesn't have a huge upside, either. He won two Rose Bowls and put up good numbers (62.4 percent, 52 TDs, 19 INTs), but he doesn't have a big arm or the athleticism to make something out of nothing.

"I can sum up Booty with a name you should be familiar with — Trent Dilfer," Scout.com's Ed Thompson wrote in an e-mail interview. "He reminds me of Dilfer in that he's a smart, confident guy who is efficient and accurate as a passer. But he's not going to be a consistent deep threat or someone who has the mobility to concern defenses if he's forced out of the pocket. He keeps his mistakes to a minimum, except for when he gets flushed out of the pocket. So, like Dilfer, he would be successful with a team that has a strong defense and that just needs the offense to have moderate success and to avoid mistakes, much like the situation Dilfer had in Baltimore."

The small-school star: Josh Johnson, San Diego

How are these for numbers: As a senior, Johnson threw 43 touchdown passes and one interception. For his career, he tossed 113 TDs and 14 INTs. He completed at least 66 percent of his passes all four seasons.

The caveat: He accomplished that while playing in the Football Championship Subdivision (aka Division I-AA).

"Josh Johnson is a very athletic kid and well developed," said DraftInsiders.com's Frank Coyle, who is quick to point out he had Rodgers, not No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, as the top quarterback in the 2005 draft. "He was the best player on the field almost every week at his level, but he did real well in the East-West Game (where he was MVP), so it shows those skills can translate."

"He reminds me a lot of Aaron Brooks from Virginia, who the Packers drafted," Scout.com's Chris Stueber said. "He's that kind of athlete. Not that Aaron had that kind of accuracy, but he had that strong arm."

The Heisman hopeful: Colt Brennan, Hawaii

In three seasons directing the run-and-shoot offense, Brennan threw a NCAA-record 131 touchdown passes. As a junior, he completed 72.6 percent of his passes, and he connected on 70.4 percent as a senior in leading Hawaii to the Sugar Bowl.

But, as some are quick to point out, run-and-shoot quarterbacks have an infamous history in the NFL, from Andre Ware to David Klingler. Brennan will be years away from being able to run an NFL offense, where the reads are infinitely more complex. His mechanics are a mess, too. Others, however, compare him to Jeff Garcia as an athletic, savvy player who knows how to move an offense.

"Colt Brennan is an interesting guy who fits the West Coast offense perfectly because of the intermediate routes," Stueber said. "He's highly accurate. The thing about him is his velocity isn't great, and he's gained some weight. And people wonder about him after surgery (two weeks ago for a torn labrum)."

The skills but not the stats: Kevin O'Connell, San Diego State

As a senior, the three-and-a-half-year starter threw 15 touchdown passes with eight interceptions and merely a 58.5 percent completion percentage. That's not impressive. What is impressive are his measurables: He's 6-foot-5, 222 pounds and ran the 40 in 4.62 seconds at the combine.

The problem? O'Connell wasn't surrounded with much talent. So, was he weighed down by his supporting cast, or was he guilty of not lifting that supporting cast to a higher level?

"Kevin O'Connell is interesting as a No. 3 quarterback who isn't going to be pressured into playing right away," Coyle said. "He needs to come in as a No. 3 and work on his footwork and release point to hopefully improve his accuracy. Like Josh Johnson, he's a kid that could be a surprise starter at some point."

The SEC stars: Erik Ainge, Tennessee, and Andre Woodson, Kentucky

Ainge, the nephew of former Boston Celtics guard Danny Ainge, capped his career by throwing 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 62.6 percent accuracy. At more than 6-foot-5, he has superb size, but he lacks his uncle's athleticism. He torched Wisconsin's strong defense for 365 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Outback Bowl.

"Ainge is a big, gangly kind of guy," Coyle said. "He played well in the Senior Bowl (where he was the South's MVP. He had and up and down career. You'd get impressed with him, then he'd have a bad game. Like a lot of these guys, he's the type of kid that needs to settle in as a No. 3."

Woodson carried an OK Kentucky team to an 8-5 record, including a bowl victory over Florida State and upset win over eventual national champion LSU. He threw for 3,709 yards with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a senior, including a combined 14 touchdowns and four interceptions over SEC powers LSU, Florida and Tennessee. He threw an NCAA-record 325 passes between interceptions.

"He's another guy who needs his mechanics improved, and hopefully his accuracy will improve as a result," Coyle said. "He has a big windup, which doesn't translate at the NFL. Plus, he's a 6-foot-5 kid, but you don't see the arm strength of a 6-foot-5 kid. He has nice touch and decision making, but he needs to develop his footwork and get stronger. He's got to sit for two years like (the Chargers') Philip Rivers did."

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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