State of the Packers: QBs

There's no intrigue at the top of the depth chart, with Pro Bowler Aaron Rodgers starting and Matt Flynn solid in reserve. But who will be either the third quarterback on the roster or the practice-squad signal-caller: Chris Pizzotti or Noah Shepard?

Our State of the Packers series continues with the quarterbacks.


Starters: Aaron Rodgers. Veteran backups: Matt Flynn, Chris Pizzotti. Rookies: Noah Shepard (undrafted).

The big picture

There's no mystery here, with first-time Pro Bowler Rodgers entrenched as the starter and third-year pro Flynn the clear No. 2.

All Rodgers did last season is lead the Packers to the playoffs with an 11-5 record, doing so behind 4,434 passing yards (fourth in the NFL), 30 touchdown passes (fourth) and just seven interceptions (first in NFL in terms of interception percentage).

Quarterbacks earn their keep by coming up big in big games, moving the chains and, in many cases, simply not losing games. Rodgers did all of the above. His first-drive interception and last-drive fumble in the playoff loss at Arizona notwithstanding, it's hard to quibble with Rodgers putting up 45 points in that game. His third-down passer rating of 133.5 in the regular season led the NFL and came on the strength of 14 touchdowns and no interceptions. Not just a dink-and-dunker, Rodgers tied for the NFL lead (with Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo) with 17 completions of 40-plus yards. Plus, he added five rushing touchdowns and 316 rushing yards — including a league-high 14 runs of at least 10 yards. He's the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 30 scores, rush for at least five and throw no more than seven picks.

Assuming the pass protection improves and Rodgers gets better at handling that fine line between trying to extend a play to make a big play and holding onto the ball too long, there's no reason not to believe Rodgers won't reach another eight or 10 Pro Bowls in his career.

Could the Packers survive a lengthy injury to Rodgers? Probably not, but the same can be said for practically every team with a top-flight quarterback. Flynn, however, looks like he could keep the Packers afloat over the short term. Showing dramatically improved arm strength over his rookie season and a better grasp of the offense, Flynn completed 7-of-12 passes for 58 yards last season, with an interception in the season finale against Arizona. Blessed with a feel for the game, the ability to extend a play and make plays on the move, it's apparent how Flynn helped lead LSU to the national championship as a senior. It's also apparent, according to a source, why the Browns showed some interest in Flynn while remodeling their quarterback platoon during the offseason.

The mystery will be who else makes the team, either as a third quarterback on the roster or on the practice squad.

Pizzotti, who starred at Harvard, was the third quarterback to spend time on the practice squad last season, replacing Mike Reilly (who replaced Brian Brohm) when the Rams signed him to the active roster late last season. A tall and spindly 6-foot-5 and 226 pounds, Pizzotti was the clear leader at the one rookie practice open to reporters, though that's obviously not a fair comparison considering Pizzotti had been immersed in the offense for about five months to Shepard's five days.

"Chris has really improved," coach Mike McCarthy said last week. "Actually, we do a video the first day of quarterback school on fundamentals, and then we do it the last day, just the number of things that we addressed and then we do it at the end of the quarterback school. I'm excited and curious to see Chris' video this year, because I think he's made a lot of fundamental improvements and I think it showed up this week, and I thought he did a nice job handling the offense this weekend."

Shepard (6-2), a four-year starter at South Dakota, is an interesting developmental because of his ability to run and throw. He threw for 8,936 yards and 77 touchdowns while rushing for almost 2,200 yards with 36 touchdowns.

"I think he's a good athlete," McCarthy said. "He has power in his body, has fast-twitch in his body. I'm looking forward to working with him."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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