Packers still searching for quality depth at quarterback

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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Cleveland Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer (7) scrambles from Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (55) and free safety Jermaine Whitehead (35) during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium.

First in a 10-part NFL draft position-preview series looking at prospects who might be of interest to the Packers. Today: Quarterbacks.

GREEN BAY – Since the 1970 merger, never have four quarterbacks been selected among the first 10 picks of the NFL draft.

Only four drafts have included a trio of quarterbacks in the top 10: 2012, 2011, 1999 and 1971.

In seven drafts, including three this decade, quarterbacks were taken with the top two picks. The only year quarterbacks were drafted with each of the top three picks was 1999, when Cleveland called Tim Couch first, Philadelphia selected Donovan McNabb second and Cincinnati took Akili Smith third. Couch and Smith were busts, while McNabb became a borderline Hall of Famer.

With Cleveland once again picking first, the 2018 quarterback class promises to be historic. Not only could quarterbacks be drafted with the top three picks, but four could go in the top five: USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.

It’s practically a lock four quarterbacks will be taken in the top 10 for the first time. The bigger uncertainty is whether a fifth, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, could somehow sneak in.

“The strength of this class,” said NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah, a former college scout with the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. “I really like the quarterback group. I think it’s deep. I think there’s a lot of intriguing guys there.

“I think it’s going to be a crazy draft.”

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With the 14th overall pick in the draft, the Green Bay Packers have the luxury of watching the quarterback frenzy unfold before them.

This much is clear: if the Packers’ franchise-record streak of eight consecutive playoff berths had to end at some point, they picked the right year. Each quarterback off the board before No. 14 pushes a desirable defensive target closer to them.

That doesn’t mean the Packers will avoid plucking from the quarterback class. At the NFL scouting combine in February, mid- to late-round quarterback prospects said they interacted with Packers representatives.

Four days after the combine, general manager Brian Gutekunst traded cornerback Damarious Randall to the Cleveland Browns for DeShone Kizer, who will compete with Brett Hundley to be Aaron Rodgers’ backup.

It seems unlikely the Packers would carry Kizer and Hundley on their 53-man roster this fall. Even if they do, the Packers may prefer to stash a fourth quarterback on their practice squad. Such a pick would be a luxury, but perhaps one the Packers could afford with 12 picks.

“There should be a fourth guy there,” coach Mike McCarthy said at the combine. “I mean, think about it, why doesn’t every team have a minimum of four quarterbacks? That’s where I hope the game goes.”

With the Kizer trade, Gutekunst showed he’s serious about upgrading quarterback depth that proved to be fool’s gold in 2017.

For two offseasons, the Packers were content to patiently develop Hundley. Their preseason plan a year ago focused mostly on getting him as many snaps as possible, at the expense of letting Taysom Hill and Joe Callahan play consistently. So confident were the Packers in Hundley’s ability to back up Aaron Rodgers, former general manager Ted Thompson exposed Hill to waivers instead of retaining him on the active roster.

When Rodgers broke his collarbone last October, Hundley went 3-6 as a starter. The Packers were 3-7 in games Hundley finished and twice shut out inside Lambeau Field. A former fifth-round pick, Hundley finished near the bottom of qualified quarterbacks in several primary categories, including yards per pass, completion percentage and passer rating.

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On paper, Kizer should be a better prospect than Hundley by virtue of being drafted three rounds higher.

Kizer (33rd overall) was the fourth quarterback taken in last year’s draft, behind Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky (second), Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (10th) and Houston’s Deshaun Watson (12th). Hundley (147th overall) not only was drafted 116 picks later than Kizer, but also was the sixth quarterback taken in his 2015 class, behind Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston (first), Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota (second), New Orleans’ Garrett Grayson (75th), the Los Angeles Rams’ Sean Mannion (89th) and the New York Jets’ Bryce Petty (103rd).

Interestingly, the Saints moved on from Grayson last season, and the Jets are expected to release Petty before this fall.

The Packers also appeared to move on from Hundley this spring. Despite the organization’s claims of confidence, it was damning when McCarthy determined in his season review Hundley was unready for his role. It’s hard to see Gutekunst trading a top cornerback for a backup quarterback he doesn’t intend to make the roster, so Kizer arrives in camp already holding that advantage.

“I expect him to come in and compete for a job,” McCarthy said of Kizer at the annual league meeting, “no different than Brett.”

Even if Kizer earns the top backup job, there’s no guarantee he’ll be successful. The most aggressive approach Gutekunst could take to ensure quality depth would be drafting a quarterback prospect later this month. While several NFL teams search for starters to change the fortune of their franchise, the Packers merely need a backup capable of keeping their offense afloat in Rodgers’ absence.

It has proved harder than expected in the past.

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