Silverstein: Packers wise to be prepared in case another Aaron Rodgers falls into their lap
GREEN BAY - By the end of the three-day NFL draft, a dozen or so quarterbacks will be taken.
It’s not a particularly deep class, but as many as four or five signal callers could be off the board before the Green Bay Packers are scheduled to make their initial pick at No. 30.
It does not mean general manager Brian Gutekunst isn’t preparing for the chance a worthy quarterback prospect will be available to him sometime in the first two rounds.
Quite the opposite.
According to a source who tracks draft prospect visits, the Packers were prepared to host several of the top quarterbacks in the draft before the league canceled all visits due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The group, according to the source, included Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Utah State’s Jordan Love, Washington’s Jacob Eason and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts. It’s likely the Packers had discussions with other quarterbacks about visiting, including Florida International’s James Morgan, a Green Bay native who had an impressive combine performance.
According to an agent of one of the top 10 quarterbacks, who declined to say whether his client was invited, no one is surprised about that development. Aaron Rodgers turns 37 in December and the Packers would be foolish not to begin looking for their next quarterback.
"They are making sure they’re ready, in case another Aaron Rodgers drops to them,” the agent said. “He (Gutekunst) was there when that happened. Plus, didn’t they do that last year, too?”
The agent was correct. A year ago, Gutekunst raised some eyebrows when he brought in Missouri quarterback Drew Lock and reportedly tried to bring in Duke’s Daniel Jones for draft visits. The Packers had the No. 12 pick and there was speculation they were interested in Lock, who wound up lasting until the second round.
This year, Gutekunst is operating as though all but one or two of the quarterbacks will be available to him at No. 30 – or perhaps sooner if he chooses to move up. When he spoke to reporters last month at the combine, Gutekunst didn’t pause when asked whether he scouts the quarterbacks the Packers might have no chance of getting.
"All of them,” he said.
Gutekunst was on the scouting staff when Ted Thompson watched Rodgers drop all the way to the 24th spot after being considered by San Francisco at No. 1. Even though they had no intention of drafting Rodgers, the Packers had interviewed the University of California prospect at the combine and went to his private workout.
When there was talk of Rodgers dropping shortly before the draft, Thompson went back to the film room to study some more tape. As Rodgers dropped on draft day, Thompson was able to survey the room because his scouts had done their homework on him.
“(Under) Ron (Wolf), Ted, that’s where we start,” Gutekunst said of quarterbacks. “We’re going to evaluate them all. Even though they’re maybe guys who may be unrealistic that they’re coming to Green Bay, they’re going to be in the NFL.
“You never know when that opportunity might come, so you want to know as much as you can about them. Really, with our evaluations of players in general, it starts with college. That’s the foundation. And then obviously the pros. So yeah, we’ll scout them all.”
If there was a prospect who could drop it would be Tagovailoa, who if not for a serious hip injury suffered against Mississippi State on Nov. 10, would have been considered for the No. 1 pick. Tagovailoa dislocated his hip and suffered a slight fracture in the hip socket, resulting in surgery and knocking him out for the season.
He did not work out at the combine, but everyone got a chance to see the medical exam he underwent.
Since only a half dozen team doctors do the evaluation, each team’s medical team may want to take a closer look. Or in the case of Tagovailoa, see how well his injuries are healing and review the 2018 surgery he had on his ankle. That's where pre-draft visits normally would come in.
Reports of his recovery have been good, but all it takes is one negative report late in the draft process or one team suddenly backing off for a player to drop. Just ask Rob Gronkowski (back), Eddie Lacy (toe), Myles Jack (knee) and DK Metcalf (neck) about going from first-day to second- or third-day picks.
All of them turned out to be terrific players, but until they are selected in the first round they are just first-round prospects.
As for the other quarterbacks the Packers might have brought in, chances are they interviewed them at the combine or their pro day (only a few of the latter took place before the coronavirus-related cancellations) but want to conduct more in-depth conversations. There’s a 15-minute limit for combine visits, so in-house visits allow coaches to get an opportunity to dig deeper into a player’s personality and football IQ.
There were no indications the Packers intended to invite top quarterback and expected No. 1 pick Joe Burrow from LSU or highly rated Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert to town, but a lot might have changed over a month’s time. If there were whispers of Herbert dropping, maybe Gutekunst would have brought him in just to be safe.
Maybe there was a late-round prospect who wasn’t at the combine that he’d like to see as well.
Gutekunst has needs other than quarterback such as inside linebacker, wide receiver and tackle. But you rarely get a chance to draft a quarterback whose draft-board rating is equal or better than the spot in which you’re selecting, which is what can happen when you’re not desperate.
Every year, teams rate quarterbacks higher than they should simply because they play the most important position on the team. There aren’t that many quarterbacks who are good enough to play in the NFL and there are even fewer who can lead a franchise for a decade.
These are the first-round quarterbacks from the 2016-19 drafts (overall selection in parentheses): Jared Goff (1), Carson Wentz (2), Paxton Lynch (26), Mitch Trubisky (2), Patrick Mahomes (10), Deshaun Watson (12), Baker Mayfield (1), Sam Darnold (3), Josh Allen (7), Josh Rosen (10), Lamar Jackson (32), Kyler Murray (1), Daniel Jones (6) and Dwayne Haskins (15).
The two best players were taken 10th and 32nd.
According to one NFC scout, the quarterbacks he thinks will go in the first round this year are Burrow, Herbert, Tagovailoa and Love.
After those four, the question marks with the prospects are more pronounced. Can Eason throw on the run? Is Hurts tall enough? Is Morgan capable of playing outside the pocket?
Gutekunst at least has the luxury of being picky because his starting quarterback’s ability hasn’t shown signs of falling off a cliff. But each year he passes up taking a quarterback is another year closer to needing to reach for one in the draft.
That is why it’s smart for Gutekunst to be prepared. He wouldn’t want to miss out on another Aaron Rodgers.